Number 18 on Vacay.ca’s 2015 Top 50 Restaurants in Canada, Vancouver Magazine’s 2014 Restaurant of the Year and Best in Casual Dining, countless more accolades, critical acclaim and a constantly booked restaurant. What does it take to be this type of restaurant in Vancouver? Not much apparently.
Perhaps our experience here would have been different had we not ordered the tasting menu. But delving into the words that described each of the evening’s a la carte offering failed to peak our interest. There was not even one item that called us. And so by default, the decision was made to venture into their “taste of spring” menu.
Our sojourn into their flavours of the season started decently with a bowl of fresh humboldt squid and carrots thinly cut into spaghetti-like shapes. The texture was pleasant, crunchy from the carrots and sinewy from the barely-cooked squid. But the carrots marinated in verjus barely had an acidic kick. Then what was supposed to follow right after was a dish primarily made of hop shoots, but instead we were served a plate of beetroots, beef bavette, bits of bone marrow and horseradish. Rare and juicy beef bavette complemented by rich bone marrow cut by the beetroot leaves and shavings of horseradish. The entire dish was the highlight of the evening, carried predominantly by the beef bavette.
At this point the meal was looking good and the hopshoots that were forgotten by the kitchen staff finally came when we prompted our server. A minor mistake, which was quickly forgotten due to the succulence of the beef we just had and the natural meatiness of the hopshoots thereafter which required no protein on the dish.
The restaurant’s infamous onion butter followed with some sourdough bread, and we understood why its reputation preceded it. The hours of labour put into disintegrating the all-mighty onion without burning it was evident in every bite. Sweet and creamy, it was a wonderful delight. And a piece of halibut, clams and kohlrabi that followed was not only well cooked but also drenched itself with the taste of the sea.
Unfortunately, it is shortly after the half-turn mark that a decent meal turned into a comedy of errors. Sloppy service, long waits and a disjointed tasting menu were just a few of the reasons we could no longer overlook the mistakes that were happening earlier on in the meal. It started when the evening’s first seating was just about done and the inflow of late diners started to come in. What was initially a good flow to the meal, ended up almost an hour wait for a supplement of foie gras with rhubarb mistakenly served to the diners next to us. The time it took for the dish to arrive at our table was colossal. And we never thought foie gras could be ruined until we had bits of plastic along with it. This was from the plastic used to create the puck-like structure of the torchon. Unfortunately, not even foie gras can save us from the off-putting flavour and texture of plastic.
The final savoury course of the evening looked like a plate full of burnt greens arbitrarily thrown onto the plate but was actually brocollini with sprouted emmer warmed in a mushroom broth. The dish tasted like it looked, lacking any overall flavour aside from that of charcoal. If the grains were the main star of the dish, it would have not only elevated the flavour but the rationale behind its position on the menu would have been understandable. When the server asked me why I could not finish the dish, I explained my thoughts. He then proceeded to say that they were trying to show people that greens could be served at the end of a tasting menu. If there was a legitimate reason to putting this dish at the end, we would have loved to hear it, but to put an item such as this simply “to show people” that it could be done sacrifices the fluidity and progression of the meal.
The dolce crema with yukon gold potatoes, watercress and sage blossoms that served as the intermediary between the dessert and mains was a bit odd. It was supposed to be sweet but they may have put salt instead of sugar because that was the overriding flavour. It was also served to us separately with one coming some time before the other. It was as if they had forgotten a dish yet again except this time they also served the wrong cutlery, presenting us with just a knife at one point.
When the blackberry sorbet with blueberries, black tea and maple buds came out, we found ourselves once again (for at least the third time during this nine-course meal) without any cutlery. Absolutely inexcusable as we watched our sorbet melt before our eyes and we were left waiting to flag down our server as he finished chatting about. This all could have been easily forgotten if the dessert did not produce the rare combination of sickly sweet and bland at the same time. How is that even possible?
It is not only the food and the service staff that were underwhelming during our time here. It was also the cooks who have been instructed to serve dishes to the table. We see this action becoming more and more prominent in today’s modern restaurants and we find it an effective way to teach diners a little more about the restaurant’s suppliers and the processes they and the kitchen staff use to produce what lay before us. Having first experienced this style of service at Noma in Copenhagen and then at several places thereafter including the Willows Inn just south of the border, we found it gave us a greater appreciation for the food and a vehicle to converse with the people preparing our meal who work closely with the producers. However, only at this restaurant did we find it more of a trendy, ineffective and contrived action as all of the cooks were inaudible and would retreat to the comforts of their kitchen as soon as whatever phrase they said was done.
I would like to say this was the end of a horrendous hour plus that brought us less than half of the meal, but it only took half an hour more after we finished our sorbet to get our bill and pay for it. Our server was so engrossed in his conversation with a diner, he didn’t move for that half an hour. Only when someone cleaning the dishes in the back saw us trying to flag someone down were we finally able to process our payment and leave. If looks could kill I would have died a thousand deaths from the glares my brother bestowed on me during those final two hours of our time there. Perhaps it would have been a different experience had we not gotten the tasting menu, but we do not dare return to such a place that has treated us so poorly and where the food was quite simply mediocre. It is another restaurant that has proven that often times these hyped-up modernist Vancouver restaurants turn out to be nothing more than fashionable and poorly executed. But when the press love you and your restaurant is constantly full, there is no incentive to change.
To view pictures of our meal in its entirety, please click here.
Thanks for reading and happy eating,
Carla and Sonny