Thursday, November 17, 2011
The catalyst for my entire trip to Vancouver was to see Anthony Bourdain speak. Lyndon got a hold of the tickets and sent out a Facebook message to see if anyone was interested in going to Vancouver with him for Bourdain's lecture and I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I have always been a big fan of Bourdain, I read Kitchen Confidential for the first time when I was a line cook in high school at a Kelsey's, and of course at that impressionable young age it really spoke to me. SO cliche, right? I will be the first to admit it, but cliches are generally cliche for a reason. I continued to follow his work as I grew up in industry and as I gradually got older, I gradually saw the sensationalized nature of his writing, but I didn't care. It still spoke to me in a romantic story telling kind of way. I am a believer what when a writer sensationalizes events, it is to convey the emotions that they were feeling at the time to their readers. It is like reminiscing and getting nostalgic about earlier and harder time in our lives. We focus on the good and it's not that we block out the bad, but getting through it makes us that much better so we have a different view of it in hind sight.
The evening was upon us! Lyndon and I dressed up a bit for the evening and grabbed a burger at Stackhouse with Jordan and Allyse before hand. More on Stackhouse in a later review. After the burgers we still had a few hours to kill before the lecture, so we hit up a few places for drinks including Hawksworth.
His lecture itself was very much what I expected, he rehashed a lot of the things he has said in his books slightly revised to reflect the changes in his life that have come with being in the entertainment business for ten years and especially with being a father. When he was trying to make a point he showed clips from the show, some famous, and some not as well known and he would segue from topic to topic. I really enjoyed it for what it was and I was entertained.
Towards the end is when things started to resonate with me. The focus became on the universal nature of food within culture, and the significants it plays no matter who you are or where you are from. Everybody eats, it is one of those few consistent truths across the entire planet. The consistency ends there, although everyone has to eat, another constant truth across this planet is that we eat in very different ways. What I am trying to get at is that food can help bridge the gap between people as well as celebrate our differences and diversity. Now I am trying to say that food will save the world, but it is a good starting point. Think about all the interactions, experiences, and memories you have associated with food. Think of all the genuine experiences you have had over the ritual of breaking bread with people. There are many reason why we eat, with the bare minimum being for nourishment. For me it is the reason I do what I do, why I like to cook, why I like to travel, and why I like to eat. It is the journey. The search for genuine experience and human interaction.
I was pumped at the end of the lecture, and I would have been really happy to end the experience there and then, but we had these meet and greet tickets for after the show, along with at least two hundred other people. This is where the night went sour for me. We had to wait in line for at least an hour to have thirty-seconds with Anthony Bourdain to take a picture, get a signature, and say a few words. It felt really fake and contrived to me. The opposite of the genuine experience I was talking about above. It wasn't that he was an asshole or anything, in fact he was very gracious to us for waiting in line and coming to his lecture. It just felt forced, and it shows in the photos we took with him.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
My second night in Vancouver was highlighted with dinner at Chambar, with Lyndon, Mackell, Robin, and Alyssa. Mackell, Robin, Alyssa and I all went to high school together and the three of them moved out to Vancouver over the past few years. I don't recall the last time the four of us were in the same room together hanging out, so it was nice to spend an evening in their company.
Lyndon and I arrived first and although our table was ready we decided to sit at the bar and have a cocktail while we waited for the others to arrive. Robin came in first and sat at the bar right next to me and gave me this goofy look. I gave back a puzzled look before realizing that it was him as this was the first time I have seen him in about a year, we embraced and it was a nice reunion. Shortly after Mackell joined us, and the last time Mackell, Robin and I were together was in Iceland more then two years ago. We reminisced for a short time before Alyssa sneaked up behind me and tap me on the shoulder. We hugged and chatted for a short time before we were ushered to our table.
Chambar562 Beatty Street, Gastown, Vancouver, Canada
8 cocktail + 3 bottle wine + 6 course tasting menu for 5 < $500CAD
We sat down at our table located towards the back of the restaurant, and right behind us were these huge windows with a cool view of the surrounding buildings and urban area, which was all lit up in the darkness of the night. The view just highlighted the rest of the chic design of the room, with its unfinished brick walls, visible ceiling beams, and ultra sleek light fixtures. The walls were cover in modern art from local artists that could be purchased and upon inquiry of the art, I was shown all the pieces and given all of the artists information.
We drank our cocktails and looked over the menus. As we all looked and discussed what we were going to ordered, Robin looked at me and told me that he wasn't really sure what to do and that he would leave it in my hands. Mackell agreed, and Lyndon said all he wanted was more foie gras. So we all chatted about the things we wanted to try and the direction we would go in. Eventually the sommelier came over to our table to see if we wanted any wine with dinner. I took the lead immediately. I asked if we could possibly work out some sort of tasting menu for the table to share, it was a bit later in the night and the kitchen was not too busy so he figured it would not be a problem.
As the sommelier and I chatted about how much we wanted to eat and how much we wanted to spend, we decided that we would have six courses with three bottles of wine. We wanted the foie, the scallops, the mussels, and we did not want to have beef for our entree. He suggested the bison as an alternative, which sounded good to us.
Foie de canard “villa lorraine”
Spiced foie gras terrine, port reduction, kriek granita & truffled brioche french toast.
The foie was pretty good, again though, Lyndon preferred it at Hawkswort, I believe he will always be chasing that damn Hawksworth foie gras for the rest of his life. This was Robins first time trying foie as well, he said he liked it, but I could tell it was a bit different for him.
Les coquilles st. jacques
Qulicum Beach scallops, smoked kurobuta pork cheek, pickled green beans & horseradish vinaigrette.
The scallops were great, the key with scallops is to not over cooked them, and these were cooked just right. The pork cheek was delicious and salty, and added a nice flavour and texture.
Thon et chorizo
Lightly seared toro, marinated sweet peppers jalapeno vinaigrette, crispy chorizo,cilantro.
The peppers and cilantro on this dish seemed to take the whole thing over, no other flavours really came through. Everyone agreed that this was our least favourite of all the things we tried.
Mussels cooked with a tomato coconut cream, smoked chili & lime, fresh cilantro.
These mussels were excellent, very tasty. This time it had just the right amount of cilantro to complement the chilli and lime. They were so good that Robin just started drinking the jus right out of the ladle when there were no more mussels to eat.
The mussels also came with two orders of frites which were a nice addition to munch on. I think Robin was starting to feel more comfortable and possibly a little intoxicated, as when the sommelier came around Robin said to him, Now, what is the application of these? holding up a fry thinking he was being clever or something. The sommelier also being quite comfortable with our table took Robins hand dipped the fry and moved Robins hand towards his mouth. Making fun of Robin a little and we all had a good laugh.
Bison et choron fumé
Peppercorn crusted bison flatiron, wild forest mushrooms, caramelized baby potatoes, cornichons, smoked tomato béarnaise
By the time the bison entree came we were starting to get full. That was okay though as the portion size was just large enough for everyone to have a few tastes. Everyone really liked it.
Apple crepe terrine, whiskey milk jam, crab apple jelly & maple bacon ice cream.
Le Café Belge
Espresso cheesecake with belgian chocolate mousse, crème de cacao gelée & crisp chocolate wafers
By this time we were all a little pissed up, and well, we devoured the dessert selections with little regard for enjoying or savouring the flavour. From what I can remember they were both quite delicious, but the consensus pick was the apple. The maple bacon ice cream was to die for and worked so well with the apple terrine. The chocolate was extremely smooth and very good as well.
After dessert we all ordered one more drink to finish off the meal. I had some port, I don't really remember what anyone else got, but my port was excellent, I do love to end a meal with it. We continued chatting with the sommelier while finishing up. We built quite a re pore with him, he was excellent and catered to all our needs and requests. He had just the right amount of banter with us balanced with professionalism that made us very comfortable.
Before going to Vancouver I had heard that Chambar is quite pricey and has been costing on past reputation. Although it was indeed a little expensive, I feel we received value for what we spent. We were there for just over four hours, all the food was excellent, we were full and drunk when we left, and we had good conversation in a wonderful setting. I was very satisfied with my experience at Chambar, and I would recommend it for most any occasion.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
L'abattoir was only a short walk down the road from Guu, located right in the heart of Gastown. The six of us made our way down, a bit slow and slightly discombobulated due to the level of intoxication at this point. I make it sound worse then it was, and we did find our way fairly easily, and once we arrived we waited no more then five minutes to be set up at a very nice table in the back of the restaurant.
217 Carrall Street, Gastown, Vancouver, Canada
1 bottle sparkling wine + 5 cocktails + 6 appetizer < $250CAD
My communication with Shaun had cooled down a bit due to the fact that there were now six people in a semi-inebriated state, with several conversations going on at once. Although he did have a few instructions to follow at L'abattoir and our texting started to pick up again. He insisted on starting with the poached egg and then moving on the foie gras with a Pear Williams.
Our server at L'abattoir was excellent, she had an extensive knowledge of the menu and what to pair with it. I explained to Lyndon that this is something that separates the real thing from the pretenders, front of the house staff that know the menu just as well as the cooks and who have probably tasted everything on it.
We ordered a bottle of sparkling wine for the table to enjoy while we looked over the menus and discussed what to order. After chatting with our server about any of her recommendation I ordered the poached egg, the foie, the sweetbreads, and the tuna for Lyndon, Mackell, and I to share. Alysse and Jordan ordered the beet salad, and the scallops. I tasted them both and they were very good but unfortunately I did not get photos of either so I will just be talking about the four things I ordered.
Pan fried veal sweetbreads on toast - Sauce gribiche with veal tongue
These were excellent sweetbreads, cooked perfectly, nice texture, and the reduction on the plate was rich and beautiful. May have been the best I have had.
Terrine of duck foie gras - Toasted brioche, quince, yogurt
Lyndon and I both agreed that we enjoyed the foie at Hawksworth earlier in the evening better. With that said, this was still very good. It was a bit lighter then I expected, but paired very nicely with all the components on the plate.
Confit of albacore tuna - Smoked pork fat, egg, crispy bits
This dish was a bit of a miss for me. The smoked pork fat was nice, and crispy bread was good too but it felt like it was missing something.
Poached egg and black truffle - Potato gnocchi, leeks, pecorino
Everything about the poached egg was right. The texture of the egg, the subtleness of the black truffle, smoothness of the gnocchi, and the sharpness of the pecorino all complemented each other superbly.
By the end of the meal I think most of the people I was with were in a bit of a food coma and being a little drunk on food and liquor at this point I don't know if they fully appreciated L'abattoir for what it truly is.
I loved L'abattoir, and I would absolutely love to go back and enjoy a full dinner there. Although a little pricier then some, it was well worth it. The detail and care that is taken in ever aspect of the restaurant is what set them apart for me. It is that last ten percent that is one hundred percent harder to achieve that makes the difference.
At this point we were done with eating. My cell phone was on the verge of dyeing, and the night was definitely on the decline. We decided to go and check out The Alibi Room for a pint of beer before calling it a night.
Not bad for my first night in Vancouver, covered an extraordinary amount of ground, and had an excellent evening with some new and old friends. Couldn't have asked for anything more, I went to bed that night completely satisfied.
As Lyndon and I waited outside of Hawksworth to meet up with Ian(Mackell) we chatted a bit with the doorman, mostly about other restaurants in the city and food in general. Eventually Ian showed up and we had a somewhat awkward, hey I have not seen you in two years and a lot of things have changed since we last spoke but it is really good to see you, moment, but it quickly passed, and things were fine. Throughout the night we slowly caught up with what had been going on in each others lives but more on that some other time. We were off to Guu to meet with the rest of our party which consisted of Lyndon's two brothers, Jordan and Cori, as well as Jordan's girlfriend Allyse. We were staying at Jordan's and Allyses's house at the time, and we were happy that they joined us for dinner.
GUU Otokomae375 Water St, Gastown, Vancouver, Canada
2 bottle sake + 2 bottle beer + 8 entree + 6 cocktail < $180CAD
The three of us arrived at Guu first and went up the stairs to see if there was a table that could accommodate us. The restaurant was almost full but after about a fifteen minute wait the six of us were cramped into a small table meant for four. That was just fine with us though, when sharing plates as one does at Guu it is nice to cramp together for a nice intimate dinner.
Everyone browsed over the menu and selected a few dishes they wanted to try. When our server came over, who spoke fairly good english, I took the lead and ordered us a couple bottles of hot sake, and a couple of big beers for the table. We then placed the rest of our order one by one.
We ordered the Guuud! Ale which is exclusively served at Guu's five location and is done by a BC micro-brewer called Russell Brewing Company.
Guu Tataki - seared beef sashimi with ponzu sauce, garlic chips, green onion
This was one of my picks, it seemed like a safe choice, and we had ordered lots of seafood dishes already. It was quite good and flavourful.
Maguro Tataki - seared tuna sashimi with ponzu sauce, garlic chips, green onion
This was my second pick, I love tuna sashimi, it is one of my favourites so it was a natural choice for me. We even got Lyndon to eat it and he went as far as saying that it tasted good.
Halibut Karaage - deep fried halibut in a seaweed sauce
The deep fried halibut was very good too. It was nice a crisp, and the fish tasted quite fresh, although there was not really any other flavour to it other then the fish itself.
Grilled Black Cod - Grilled cod with white wine saikyo and miso sauce
This was one of my picks and a must try if you ever go to Guu. The fish was cooked perfectly and tasted fresh and flaky. The sauce complemented the delicate flavour of the fish wonderfully.
Duck Breast - Red wine and soy sauce braised duck breast with otokomae red wine sauce, mango sauce, sauteed mushrooms
We had two orders of duck both Lyndon and Jordan picked them. It was not the best duck breast I have ever had, but it was still tasty. The mango sauce went quite well with it and balanced out the saltiness.
Nkuzyaga Croquette - deep fried panko-breaded mashed potatoes with crab, carrots, onion
This was one of Allyne's picks, as we had already had quite a few things with red meat which she does not eat. It was quite good, pretty standard for a breaded seafood cake.
The sea urchin was one of Mackell's picks. He said he had always wanted to try them and that they were full of protein. They were a bad call, pretty disgusting. I don't mean to offend anyone if the happen to like the stuff, but everything from the look, smell, taste, and texture was not very appealing. Good pick Mackell.
We decided against dessert and we would rather try some of the interesting cocktails on the menu. We all tried something different, I had the Sake Mojito, which was delicious. Everyone seemed to enjoy what they ordered.
Guu is a must try restaurant in Vancouver, no matter which of the five locations you can make it too. The wonderful food, the high energy atmosphere, the authentic feel of it all, and to top it off how reasonably priced it is makes Guu impossible not to check out for yourself.
The next stop in our culinary hopping adventure was L'abattoir, which was just a short walk into the heart of Gastown, although with all the drinks consumed I think it took us a few extra minutes to get there.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Throughout the first day and night I spent in Vancouver my Chef, Shaun who just moved to Edmonton from Vancouver, was in almost constant communication with me. From the moment I stepped off the plane he was texting me, Where are you now, Oh! You need to go here, Order this or that, take a picture of that and send it to me. He was giving me a guided tour of his Vancouver, my excitement was his excitement, the experience was vicarious for him. This carried on into the evening as Lyndon and I did a little restaurant hopping. We hit up Hawksworth, Guu Gastown, L'Abattoir, and then finished the night at Alibi Room. It was an incredible way to be thrust into food and cultural diversity that makes Vancouver everything that it is.
801 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada
2 cocktail + 3 appetizer < $100CAD
As I mentioned above we started our evening sitting at the bar at Hawksworth for a quick drink and a few apps as we did not have a reservation and it was a packed house. I don't want to say that we peaked early but the food at Hawksworth was incredible. The atmosphere itself was not exactly our scene, with all the wealthy and beautiful people that filled the bar, it came off a little bit pretentious. Although this feeling passed after we ordered and the bartender observed that we ordered exactly what he would have, and we got to chatting about our trip and other places around town to try out.
Foie Gras parfait, green apple, walnut, brioche
This was Lyndon's first experience with foie gras and the bar has been set so high it may have ruined foie for him forever as he may always be chasing that first taste. But in all reality it was an excellent foie, I have been eating the stuff consistently for probably just a couple years now and as my palate develops, I can say it is the best I have had in recent memory.
Maple bacon sweetbreads black truffle, kohlrabi, preserved lemon
Again this was Lyndon's first experience with sweetbreads as he had never even heard of them before. I had him take a bite and try them before revealing anything about them. We talked about the texture and taste as I told him what they were. Again these were some of the best I have ever had, the textures were perfect, not overly chewy or gummy, they were very delicate. The flavour worked wonderfully together.
Yellowfin tuna carpaccio avocado, cucumber, yuzu, cilantro, puffed rice
Lastly we ordered the tuna carpaccio, and again this was something Lyndon had not tried before. Lyndon is not big into seafood, although nor am I for that matter, but I tend to eat a lot more of it when I am on the coast. Although we agreed that it was our least favourite of the three dishes we ordered it was still very good. What stood out as it should, was the freshness of the tuna. The other flavours were understated so that the tuna would really come through.
We were probably at Hawksworth for just under an hour, we had two whisky sours, and three small plates to share. A quick hit and run as we did have a long night ahead of us. I would love to return to Hawksworth for an entire evening with multiple courses and wine, but that will have to wait until another time.
Next we were off to GUU in Gastown to meet up with a couple more people. One of them being an old friend, Ian who moved to Vancouver two years earlier and who I have not seen since we were in Iceland together over two years ago.