1600 Howe Street Vancouver, BC V6Z 1R8
Tastiness Factor: 4/5
Locavore approved? YES- pride themselves in local, sustainable seafood and also used a remarkable array of seasonal produce in their dishes (turnips, parsnip, arugula, squash, etc)
C Restaurant has intrigued me for some time now. When I first moved to Vancouver and lived in Yaletown, I remember taking a walk along False Creek and seeing the restaurant and saying "I gotta go there!". I LOVE seafood of all types and the fact that "C" sits right on the water with a ton of fresh fish all around it is obviously a huge draw. When I returned from my walk, I went online to look at the menu, and was both perplexed and dismayed to see that its ratings on the popular restaurant rating sites (Urbanspoon, Yelp, TripAdvisor) unanimously gave "C" poor reviews. But why?
It is because of this bad press and also some negative "word of mouth" reports from others that it has taken me this long to make it to "C". With some many amazing restaurants popping up around Vancouver and my ever-growing restaurant wishlist, why would I waste my time and money on a place that has potential to be bad?
And then came the Groupon. It seems that the 10-course Groupon that they offer at regular intervals is a main attracting factor for many (you can tell just based on the online reviews from the last 2 months). For someone that likes deals as much as I do, it is hard to turn down a $250 meal for half the price. So I took the "plunge" into "C".
Before I continue, just a note of caution on using the Groupon- you must reserve by phone (not online) and BOOK EARLY! If you don't you will never get a weekend spot, as they only allow for so many Groupon customers each night (if you are not already aware, every Groupon has a fine print!). Some have also said that those with Groupons get treated to a worse experience because they are not full-paying customers, but I do not believe that this was true for our experience.
Because we had to change our reservation late a few weeks before our scheduled weekend spot due to a work commitment, we ended up being stuck with a Wednesday night. The restaurant was surprisingly full for the middle of the week. It is quite a large space (2 floors) with a nice view of False Creek. Unfortunately, our table was on the other side of the room from the window and I felt a bit cramped. On the far wall where we are sitting, there is some rather awkward wood panelling that os not very visually appealing, and I felt that our little table for two was squat right into it. I may have had a much different feeling about the atmosphere had we been at another table.
But worse than the atmosphere was the service. If this was Earls or Cactus Club, I would have been fine with it. But when customers are paying the kinds of prices they are charging at "C", there is a certain degree of finesse that is expected that is lacking here. Fortunately, we did not have the problem of slow service that has been voiced by many on the online reviews and blogs (the progression of the meal was actually well-done), but certain other things just missed the mark. First of all, our main server, while nice enough, always seemed a bit rushed. He never took the time to go through the menu with us when he took our order and did not really have too much advice to offer when I asked him about menu suggestions. He certainly did not seem passionate about the restuarant or its food. Additionally, the servers who brought out our dishes almost had the "deer in the headlights" look. It seemed as though it was everyone's first night on the job. They did try to describe the dishes but sometimes they had things a bit mixed up, and mis-naming some of the dishes components. The mix-up that sticks in my mind the most (there were several) We were told that the veloute was sweet pea when it was actually parsnip. The lines of communication are obviously breaking down somewhere along there way...
While the atmosphere and service both get a thumbs down (or at least thumbs sideways) in my book, I cannot discredit the talent of the chef and his team. Overall, the meal was certainly top-notch and could rival many of the fine dining establishments in the city. The presentation especially was very elegant and for the most part, the dishes were well thought through and well executed. I felt that the first half of the meal was more succesful than the latter half. Here is the play-by-play account:
Dish 1: Arancini- This generous-sized amuse-bouche was unique and certainly an "amuse" for the "bouche". The arancini (basically a fried risotto ball) was crispy on the outside and oh-so creamy on the inside. The smoked onion soubise it was resting on had subtle Indian flavours, an interesting choice with a traditionally Italian dish, but surprisingly it worked very well. The shrimp wrapped around the top was a nice touch. The presentation was playful, with the arancini and sauce nestled in the top of a mason jar.
Dish 2: Arugula Salad- This had the potential to be boring, but fortunately ended up being quite delecious in its simplicity. The small pieces of roasted squash, so fresh and sweet at this time of year, added both flavour and texture. It was also topped with crisp prosciutto for saltiness, and a lovely mild cheese to round it out. Arugula is also is season at this time so the simple flavours of this salad were just enough to elevate its freshness to the next level.
Dish 3: Veloute- The soup was poured tableside overtop a few dainty croutons, crisp sage and mushrooms at the bottom of the bowl. I was confused when the veloute came out of the pot a subtle orange color after our server had labeled it as a "sweet pea veloute" but, after consulting the menu and my taste buds, I concluded that it was actually a parsnip veloute. That little blunder aside, this was a delicious and well-placed course. The veloute was rish and creamy, and the serving size was enough to get your fill but not too much that it got sickening. I really enjoyed the crispy sage, which actually maintained much of its crispness even when it was submerged in the veloute. I am not usually much of a crouton fan, but ended up being one of the stars of the dish for me, as they were full of buttery goodness and added another textural component.
Dish 4: Albacore Tuna Cru- My husband was most looking forward to this dish as he absolutely loves raw tuna in any way, shape or form. I had flagged other later dishes as ones more likely to be my favorite, but this one really blew me away. The tuna itself was extremely fresh and had a mouthwatering taste and consistency. It was served very simply (as it should be) atop a think slice of pickled cucumber with a few shimiji mushrooms layed over the top. A very visually beutful dish. The only prounounced flavour on the plate was a few dots of chili jam which added the perfect little bit of heat but did not detract from the tuna.
Dish 5: Seared Scallops- My husband loves scallops so chose to stick with the original offering and of course he let me try a little bite! The scallops were a bit overcooked for my liking, but I really liked the squid ink and black truffle puree underneath. The crisp calamari on the side was a nice textural element.
Dish 5 Upgrade: Lobster- The reason I chose to upgrade on this was actually not the lobster itself, but what it was served with. The promise of nettle gnocci was too much to resist and the gnocci ended up being the best thing on the plate (and one of the highlights of the meal in fact). They were soft and fluffy, with the subtle taste and color of the nettle- yum! Also on the plate were the cutest little turnips (so pretty) and a salted meringue (could have taken or left this). I thought the lobster itself was a but overcooked but the portion size was generous as far as lobster is concerned.
Dish 6: Wild Salmon- This one was a bit of a disappointment, especially since I had expected it to be one of my favorites. Again, the salmon was not cooked properly, with the edges being overdone. It was served over a whiskey chowder that had little flavour. The only part of the dish I really liked was the piece of crisp salmon skin that had been rolled up into a cone like a seashell- very visually appealing.
Dish 7: Baked Sablefish- I had flagged this as one of my favorites (I LOVE Sablefish!!!) and fortunately I was right. The sablefish was cooked very nicely and served with delicious cubes of maple turnips. There was a vibrant orange carrot puree at the bottom of the dish which was absolutely beautiful. The only criticism I have would be the walnuts which added nothing to the dish and were a distraction from the beauty of the plate.
Dish 7 Upgrade: Roasted Tenderloin- My husband, the carnivore, wanted some meat after all of those fish courses so he opted for the $15 upgrade. The meat was cooked to perfection, but for this point in the meal, there was WAY too much of it, especially with the mashed potatoes, onion and spinach as accompaniments. He was unable to finish it. The wild mushrooms were lovely though (I eagerly helped finish those off)!
Dish 8: Blue Cheese Cake- I do not think it is fair for me to comment on this one as neither me or my husband likes strong cheeses, and you really have to love cheese to enjoy this dish. It is not really a cake, but more of a very large piece of blue cheese, with little else except some black pepper almonds (they tasted cadied to me). Could not get on board with this one.
Dish 9: Pistachio Mousse- This one was a bigger success than the cheese "cake" for sure, and a nice light finish to a large meal. I did find the mousse a bit tasteless (pretty color though) but the little cookie at the base was tasty. Overall, nothing special.
Dish 10: Macaroon- I would not really call this a "course" per say (this is really a 9 course tasting menu) but the little one-bite gingerbread macaroons were a nice end to a holiday season meal.
Despite a few low points in this tasting menu, the food at "C" actually exceeded my expectations. The fact that the service is not up to snuff is quite tragic and I think that it is this that keeps bringing this place down. I feel that the chef and his team are done a disservice by the management team, who really need to get their act together and do a complete overhaul on the service aspect of "C". If they could succeed in bringing their elevating the service to the level of the food, I really think that this "C" could begin competing with the heavy-hitters of the Vancouver food scene.
<a href="http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/14/1412689/restaurant/Downtown/C-Restaurant-Vancouver"><img alt="C Restaurant on Urbanspoon" src="http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/link/1412689/biglink.gif" style="border:none;padding:0px;width:200px;height:146px" /></a>