Sunday, 19 August 2012

A Night in the Underground at NFA

Dine In Vancouver


Tastiness factor: 4.5/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Service: 3/5

Locavore approved: YES- Chef Steve takes great pride in using only the freshest of ingredients in his dishes and buys most everything on Granville Island.  One of the highlights of the meal was learning all of his favorite fish mongers, butchers and suppliers (all of whom are local!).  If he cannot find an ingredient whose quality is not up to his standards, he will not put it on the menu!  

When you think about it, the whole concept of eating out is sort of boring.  You go to a building with a big sign with the restaurant's name on it where you are greeted front-of-the-house staff who find you a table.  You sit down, wait for your server, order from a menu that you have already looked at online (I am really bad for this- rarely do I go to a restaurant without knowing what I want to order!), get your food, pay the bill and leave.  And then the next time you eat out, it is the same drill all over again.  

So if you feel stuck in an eating out rut and are ready to spice things up a bit, No Fixed Address (NFA) is just the ticket.  NFA is one of the few "underground restaurants" in the city.  An underground had little of what you generally typically expect in a restaurant- no store front, no sign, no front-of-the-house, no set menu, and no extensive waitstaff.  Did I miss any of this at NFA? Nope, not really because NFA has all the only thing that really matters-  a creative who is passionate about quality ingredients and has the skills to tranform them into beautifully presented dishes that tickle every taste bud.  

Chef Steve, the CFO (Chief Food Officer) as stated on his business card, runs this underground joint in his own home, at a location that you find out only on the day before your dinner.  It is certainly a tiny little space that houses only 3 things- a large table for guests, a crowded kitchen with every cooking applicance known to man and a bathroom.  The night of our dinner ended up being on a muggy summer's night and when I walked through the door, I thought I had been transported to the Sahara desert.  Fortunately, Steve had been kind enough to set up a makeshift air-conditioner with a fan and a bowl of ice that also served as our wine chiller (underground restaurants do not have liquor licences so it is BYOB all the way!).  

NFA caters to both large and small groups, but he likes to get at least 10 people on a given night so if you go in a twosome or foursome, expect to have other diners around the table with you.  I was able to get a group of 10 friends together (four couples, two singles) which is really ideal as you then have the whole place to yourselves.  It is like having a dinner party and not having to host!  All you have to do is email Steve and he will arrange everything.  We appreciated the fact that he was very open to designing a menu based on a fair number of food preferences and allergies (a pescatarian, a nut allergy, a non-pork eater and a pregnant women).

Service is not the focus at an underground restaurant so if you are someone who likes to be pamperped and waited on hand and foot, this may not be your thing.  You pour your own wine, keep the same cutlery and, in our case, wait a long time between courses (between the first and second course was about 45 minutes..).  But in the end you get what you paid for.  At $65 a person for an amazing 6 course dinner, who can expect 5-star service?  I really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and really appreciated Chef Steve's introduction of every course, with a description of the ingredients, preparation technique and a chance to ask lots of questions!  Steve is very approachable and willing to share lots of his secrets!

Now food time.  As was mentioned before, Chef Steve does a 6 course dinner and posts the courses on a chalkboard by the table.  On the night we went, the board had not been updated from the night before, so each course was a surprise!

First course: Herb salad with tri-color beans, prosciutto and harissa dressing

This salad was as fresh-tasting as fresh can get.  On top of a mixture of herbs and arugula laid the most beautiful beans (I have never seen black and purple beans- Chef Steve was inspired by them that day on Granville Island!), a generous portion of prosciutto and a tangy harissa dressing with a scattering of almonds. This was not your typical green salad- it showed a lot of creativity and skill in elevating simple ingredients to the next level.


Second course: "Fish and Chips"

This dish stole my heart as the favorite dish of the night.  This was anything but your run-of-the mill deep-fried fish and chips.  Instead, it was a beautiful spring salmon tartare (spring salmon is my very favorite, reminds me of the Altantic salmon that I was raised on in NL!) done two ways- one with Asian flavours and the other done Meditarranean-style with capers.  In the middle of the two was a little pile of plump and crispy french fries.  The simplicity of the presentation was very clean and appealing.  Trust me, you will not find a better dish than this at any fine-dining establishment in the city.

Third course: Lamb with White Gazpacho and Marguez

This extremely well-presented dish was another winner.  The white gazpacho was made with an alomond base and was creamy yet light.  Small pieces of avocado laid atop the gazpacho added to the creaminess.  The lamb was cooked sous-vide and was tender and juicy and the marguez sausage was perfectly spiced. Because I do not eat meat, he made me a similar version of the dish for me but instead lamb, he made a tower of panko-crusted eggplant.  Everyone was pleasantly surprised when he brought a plate of leftover lamb to the table for everyone to share! That is certainly not something you would ever see done at your average restaurant!

Fourth course: Grapefruit sorbet

This was a lovely palate cleanser- the perfect balance of tart and sweet to tickle the tastebuds.

Fifth course: Seared tuna with moroccan-spiced eggplant

Chef Steve had very strong feelings about his tuna and will only buy it at one particular shop on Granville Island.  If they don't have it, it will not be on his menu, plain and simple.  The tuna was perfectly seared and was topped with just a small drizzle of harissa vinaigrette (similar to the one found on the salad) so that the tuna could really shine.  I really appreciated the simple preparation and it really showcased Chef Steve's confidence in the kitchen- who needs to cover things up when they are so beautiful on their own?


Sixth course: Banana bread pudding with whipped cream and cherries

I must admit that when I first saw this dish, I thought to myself "this is not my kind of dessert- too clunky and heavy for the end of a meal".  But was I ever wrong!  When I started eating it, I just could not stop!  It was made with croissants instead of bread, with gave it a nice fluffiness and refinement.  I liked the use of local and seasonal cherries.  I finished every last bite!!!

Overall, this was a fabulous meal.  The meal progression was very well thought through and, even with the dessert being on the heavier side, we all left satisfied but not feeling stuffed.  Some of the carb-lovers at our table commented that they would have liked more carbs and less protein but I think this is a matter of personal preference.  Chef Steve wanted to showcase the fresh fish and lamb without the use of unecessary fillers and distractions, which I highly credit him for.  The quality of this meal was certainly on par, if not superior to any of Vancouver's hot spots and his friendly and good-natured personality certainly played a big role in the success of this meal.

I HIGHLY recommend that you get a group of friends together and set up a rendez-vous with Chef Steve at NFA.  I know I will be doing so again before the end of 2012!




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