Saturday, 21 January 2017

Casual Eats At East Van's Crowbar

This corner at Kingsway and Fraser is becoming a foodie's dream come true.  Solvio Volpe, Faux Bourgeois, Sal y Limon and now Crowbar which we checked out last weekend

Atmosphere:  Crowbar is a tiny space with a few tables against the far wall and the rest of the seating around the bar.  We were initially told it would be at least 30min to get in as a large group had snagged all of the tables.  Fortunately we persevered and went back 10 min later after realizing that others restaurant in the area (the always-packed Solvio Volpe and ever-popular Faux Bourgeois) were also at capacity and we managed to get the two bar stools facing the semi-open kitchen.  In my mind, they are the best seats in the house, right next to the heater which was key on this cold winter's night, and with a prime view of the chef prepping our dishes.  I was a fan of the decor as well, with spirit and champagne bottles behind the bar, and even a saber knife to open the bottles with!  The super-chill vibe is great for a low-key drink and meal any night of the week.

Service:  Crowbar has a small but mighty team, with just one chef in the kitchen, one bartender and a few others to do all of the other jobs.  They clearly have a pretty good system worked out, as we were seated, served drinks and had food in front of us in near record time.  We were asked several times how we were doing and how we were enjoying everything, and they gave us great menu suggestions. For a small crew, these guys got it together.

Food: Crowbar has a small menu that changes very frequently (often weekly) with 8-10 small plates and 2-3 larger plates, all mean to share.  There is also "dealer's choice" pasta and risotto options, and we were told that the chef has ins with some of the pasta makers in the city.  There is a nice mix of veg, fish and meat dishes to please just about any diner.  The dishes we enjoyed were all very easy to split between the two of us.

Suffice it to say that all of the dishes we shared (6 in total) were amazing.  Both the conception and the execution were spot on.  It is pretty remarkable that one chef could pull all of this off solo.  What talent!  Here is a sneak peek, minus the delicious vegetarian winter pasta with buckwheat noodles, potato and cabbage in a creamy sauce which we dove into before snapping a picture.

"Nicky Santoro"- Cachaca, becherovka, beetroot, lime, mint bitters

Grilled endive- salsa bolzanina

Albacore tuna- cured and smoked, cucumber salad, castelvetrano

Scallop Tonnato- sweetbreads, fried capers, evoo

 Pork Cheeks- tomato caramel, roasted pistachio, brussels

 Salted chocolate chip cookies- chantilly cream

Overall verdict?
Crowbar far exceeded our expectations and it is certainly in the running to become on our new Friday night haunts with its super chill and casual vibe.  It adds to an already great food scene, and is the perfect compliment to the more upscale Solvio Volpe and Faux Bourgeois.  Crowbar's food can compete with the best of the best in Vancouver, and should not overlooked.  This is a place I will definitely find myself again soon!

Crowbar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, 20 January 2017

A Taste of Latin America in Kits at Cacao

There have been many new restaurants popping up around Kits recently, including this tiny little space on Cypress near Cornwall.  I recently visited with friends in early January, a few months after its opening.

Atmosphere: This new little space located near Kits beach on Cypress is in a great area, surrounded by other restaurants in a quiet hub off busy West 4th Ave.  The room is certainly very intimate, with barely 20 seats to its name with fairly sparse decor and wooden tables.  Looking back toward the semi-open kitchen at the back of the space, you can occasionally catch glimpses of Chef Alvarez surfacing out of the back to put the finishing touch on dishes before sending plates out.

Service: There were a few hiccups at the beginning (a harried-looking server clearly did not have my reservation noted but they managed to find us a table) but these things are excusable considering the place just opened last month.  One thing that was rather obvious that they need to start working on is the pace of the meal, as not everyone will enjoy 3+ hours for a 6 course dinner.  There was a full house on the Thursday night of our visit so perhaps more staff is needed as weeknights get busier?  I did appreciate the genuine excitement that the servers had for the dishes when they were brought to our table, and appreciated the chef coming to get our reviews at the end of the meal.

Food/drink: Cacao has a small wine menu (quite pricey) but I would recommend choosing from their unique drink menu with latin-inspired drinks with recommended alcoholic options.  The basil drink I had was delicious and refreshing, and my friends really enjoyed others off the same menu.   The food menu is offered with a la carte dishes, but we chose their tasting menu (5 courses + dessert).  We had the option of letting the chef choose our dishes, or crafting our own 5 courses menu from the a la carte offerings and we chose the latter (3 smaller plates and 2 mains).  Since they had only 1 pescatarian main, they kindly made one of the meat mains into a vegetarian dish for me.  The presentation of the dishes was remarkable, and each dish had a very impressive number of balanced components that worked together to create harmonious dishes.

The menu changes regularly based on seasonality, with slight adjustments have already been made in the 2 weeks since we have been there.  Here are the dishes that we enjoyed in our 3 tasting menus:

Overall Verdict?
Cacao exceeded my expectations and the more I think back to it, the more I like it.  I hope this is the beginning of more casual tasting menus popping up in the city.  The most redeeming quality is how novel the ingredients and the flavour combinations are, making it vastly different than anything else I have tasted in Vancouver.  Chef Alvarez has created a unique, well-crafted menu that weaves Latin flavours into Pacific northwest fare.  This may just be the most exciting meal I have had in Vancouver and I cannot wait to go back!

Cacao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Unrivalled Elegance at NYC's Per Se

The Shops at Columbus Circle
10 Columbus Cir, New York
+1 212-823-9335

Reservations required?  YES- Even on a Wednesday night, we had a tough time snagging a 9:30pm reservation.  So call 4 weeks ahead to the day to avoid disappointment.

Atmosphere: Per Se is located on the top floor of a swanky shopping plaza which also houses its sister shop, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. Restaurants in malls and hotels usually ring some alarm bells in my mind, but once I walked through the majestic blue doors at Per Se’s entrance, all my worries were put to rest.  A classy bar area acts as a corridor into the lavish dining room, split into two levels and decorated with the utmost elegance. Hubby and I were fortunate enough to be seated at a spacious table for two by the window, overlooking the lights of the New York streets below. Although the room was grand in its décor, its relatively small size allowed it to maintain a certain level of intimacy, which made for the perfect romantic setting.

Service:  Per Se has succeeded in striking the perfect balance between professional and personable.  When making our reservation, we had told them that this was our anniversary dinner, and throughout the night, every server who came to our table wished us well on our special day and even knew which year of anniversary it was.  When our menus arrived at our table, our names and a “happy anniversary” greeting was written at the top and we received a glass of champagne as a celebratory gesture.  Our main server was extremely personable and, despite a busy dinner service, took time to chat with us on several occasions.  Likewise, the sommelier was delightful and helped us choose an excellent bottle of wine to accompany our dinner.  Not a ounce of pretention to be found throughout the flawless service.

Food: There are two tasting menus to choose from- a Chef’s Tasting (Hubby’s Choice) and a Vegetable Tasting (my choice).  There is no better time to do a vegetable tasting menu then in the middle of summer when all the produce is at its best, and the team at Per Se showcased it perfectly.  Corn, peas, tomato, melon and much more, were used to make innovative, imaginative and playful dishes that screamed summer.  Hubby’s menu was similarly creative, with a nice mix of summer veg, fish and meat (supplements of truffle, wagyu and foie gras were available at extra cost).  We noted a few repeat dishes from our meal at the French Laundry last year (salmon cone, oyster and pearls, coffee and doughnuts) but I kind of enjoyed seeing Keller’s all time favorites appear again to provide some continuity between dining experiences.  A word of “warning”- save LOTS of room for dessert because it just keeps on coming and coming!

Here is a peak at our nine course anniversary feast: 

Amuse Bouche

Chef's Tasting Menu: 

Oyster and Pearls- "Sabayon" of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar

"Terrine" of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras- rolled oat "tile", black fission figs, celery branch salad and greek yogurt served with toasted brioche

Sauteed Fillet of Meditarranean Lubina- bluefoot mushrooms, broccoli rabe and "beurre rouge"

Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster- roasted artichoke tapenade, garlic scapes and moroccan olive puree

Thomas Farm's Squab- Brentwood corn pudding, sicilian pistacios, ruby beets and "sauce perigourdine"

Saddle of Elysian Fields Farm's Lamb- slow roasted eggplant "lasagna", petite basil, "papered" and "j'eau d'agneau"

Meadow Creek Dairy's "Grayson"- Hobb's Shore's bacon, Frog Hollow Carm's apricots, english walnuts and belgian endive marmalade

Vegetable tasting menu:

Sweet Corn Sorbet- haricots verts, togarashi spiced cashews and hass avocado puree

Salad of Compressed Summer Melon- french breakfast radishes, lemon cucumbers, candied peanuts and pickled chilies

"Tartelette" of greenmarket squash- smoked eggplant ricotta, marinated tomatoes and garlic scape "tempura"

Tamari Glazed Trumpet Royale Mushroom- snow pea "emince", young ginger cream and shishito pepper "aioli"

Norwich Meadows Farm's Pole Beans- fingerling potatoes, melted holland leeks, "soubise" and "sauce goulash"


Mascarpone enriched sunchoke "agnolotti"- cocktail artichokes, parisian carrots, pearl onions and "barigole" emulsion

Nettle Meadow Farm's "Kunik"- slow roasted by beets and english walnut "linzer"

 Dessert (and more dessert!)

Overall verdict?

Our experience at Per Se exceeded my expectations all around, and surprisingly I enjoyed it even more than the French Laundry.   The romantic ambience made it the perfect setting for our anniversary dinner and our night was made extra special by the very hospitable service staff.  My summer vegetable tasting menu was sublime, and showed that simple vegetables can be transformed into a complete, phenomenal meal.  This is a dining experience not to be missed.

Per Se Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Vegetable-Focused Genius at Brooklyn's Semilla

No. 5, 160 Havemeyer St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
+1 718-782-3474

Reservation required?  This one Michelin star restaurant is a fairly easy reservation to get, and on the Tuesday night that we were there, there was even enough space left for 7 walk-ins around the 18-seat counter.  This may soon change as news spreads about how great it is!

Atmosphere: After a few nights of fine dining, Semilla was a welcome, refreshing change for us.  It is located in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is a pretty easy subway ride away from downtown Manhattan.  The street it is located on is pretty nondescript (and maybe just a bit sketchy), dotted with a mix of fast food chains, repair shops and convenience stores.  Keep your eyes peeled for a small metal sign hanging above Semilla’s doorway (it is easy to miss in the dark).  Inside, you will find a very fun atmosphere, with loud music and a hip U-shaped counter that extends around the kitchen.  The décor is basic, with a few trendy elements scattered around the room (like a bunch of garlic hanging in the corner).  The high stools around the counter are pretty close together, so be prepared to sit snuggly next to your dining partners.  You will also be well entertained by watching the small but mighty team of chefs preparing your food in a cramped kitchen at the back.

Service: I am quite amazed at how such a small staff of chefs and servers is able to accommodate 18 guests at a time and do it so effortlessly.  There is one main hostess who does everything from greeting guests to laying out cutlery to clearing and serving dishes.  The chefs, who already have their hands full preparing the food, also serve many of the dishes, including the head chef Josa Ramirez-Riz himself, which allows you to get your questions answered by those who know the food best.  The sole sommelier, who also does many other odd jobs throughout the service, did an amazing job selecting special drink pairings for our dinner, including a 1990 Riesling from Germany and an interesting port-like Chardonnay.  Everyone working here is clearly passionate about what they do and hardworking beyond belief.  And a special surprise- you will receive a copy of the night’s menu the next day via PDF to bring back the good memories.

Food: Semilla calls their food “vegetable-focused”, meaning that vegetables form the basis for the dishes.  On any given night, there may be some seafood or meat thrown in (we had cuttlefish and scallops) but the vegetables are clearly where its at here.   If anyone can make a carnivore love vegetables, it would be Chef Ramirez-Ruiz.  The way he is able to use seasonal vegetables (think summer peas, beans, mushrooms and rhubarb woven throughout) and a generous portion of fresh herbs to make dishes that were evocative, creative and downright delicious, was absolutely astonishing.  The 8-10 course tasting menu is guaranteed to delight and satisfy vegetarian and meat eater alike (including meat-loving Hubby!).   There were a few standout dishes that were knock-outs, beating out the dishes I had at 3-Michelin meals on the same trip.  And I feel the need to make a special mention of the made-in-house bread (sourdough and potato on the night of our visit)- hands down the best bread I have ever had, and I made such a fuss about it that Chef Ramirez-Ruiz brought us along a second helping! 

Here is a peak at the dishes we enjoyed on our visit (only one tasting menu option available, but they will accommodate vegetarian requests/allergies with advanced notice).  You may not see these same dishes again as the menu is constantly evolving to keep pace with seasonally-available ingredients.

 Kohlrabi and green pea soup with trout roe

 Summer lettuce wrap with fermented green garlic dressing

Rhubarb marinated scallops with green tomatoes and strawberries

Charred beans with buckwheat groats and whey 

Potato and rye sourdough with cowbell butter and buttermilk 

Nettle-stuffed morels with cuttlefish and flowers

Ricotta-stuffed blossoms with truffle

Green tomato granita with olive ice cream and basil

Rhubarb and wild rose tart

Overall verdict?
I would (and will) go back to Semilla over and over again to see what other amazing vegetable creations Chef Ramirez-Ruiz has up his sleeve.  Surprisingly, Hubby the self-professed carnivore, feels exactly the same way and maintains that Semilla is among the best 1-stars he has ever been to.  This speaks to Chef Ramirez-Ruiz talent in showcasing vegetables in new and interesting ways, and to the fun and vibrant vibe that Semilla emits.  For the price (85$ for the 10 course meal), Semilla really cannot be topped.  Semilla is certainly one to watch in the coming years as it is no doubt destined for more great things to come.

Semilla Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato