Thursday, 11 July 2013

A Great Find for Herbivores and Carnivores Alike at Grub

Tastiness Factor: 7.5/10

Atmosphere: 3/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved?  "A" for effort- According to our server, they try to buy local within the limits of the prices they charge.  While I completely appreciate that buying local is sometimes more costly and that they want to make their food accessible to different price points, I think they could at least try to better incorporate seasonal vegetables into their dishes (based on previous reviews, it seems as though brocollini seems to appear on every dish since at least January!), especially since they are doing such great things with veggies in their veg/vegan menus.  To their credit, their veg specials did include some current farmers market finds like sweet peas and leeks.  Glad to see them at least putting some thought into "locavorism"!

After a wonderful night of fun and food last month with a group of former co-workers at Acorn (see review here), it was time for another render-vous, this time at Grub.  One of my dining companions spoke very highly of it, and I have also heard rave reviews from other friends, so I was looking forward to checking out what all of the hype was about!

Grub is located in East Vancouver, just north of King Edward on Main St.  The storefront, like the restaurant itself, is quite small and unassuming, and it would be pretty easy to miss it while walking up the busy street, especially at night.  There is only seating for about 30 max inside.  Based on the advice of previous online reviews, I made a reservation several days in advance for 5 people at 8pm, although I think that we may not have had trouble getting in as walk-ins as there always seemed to be a table or two free  (found this a bit odd for a Friday night).  We had nice seats tucked in the back next to the white bar.  The kitchen is in the back and totally closed off (I have become so use to open kitchens which I much prefer), as is a patio which we all found a bit confusing.  It was over 20 degrees and would have been a perfect night for alfresco dining but no one seemed to be eating out there.  On the walls is some funky wallpaper that seems to tell a story with its many pictures, but the company I was with was too good for me to want to spend the time to figure it out.  The room was cozy enough but with the white bar and the light coloured seats and tables, I thought it could do with a blast of color to brighten up the atmosphere.

Service was very attentive.  Our water glasses were kept full throughout the meal, we were constantly asked if we wanted more drinks and our food arrived in good time.  My only complaint was that I felt a little rushed throughout the meal.  I can fully understand that, in such a tiny restaurant, they want to keep the flow moving but, as previously mentioned, there was never anyone waiting at the door for a table.  One of our appetizers was even whisked away before we had a chance to finish it.  Overall though, service was good and I understand the mindset of needing to turn tables with so few tables and such reasonable prices.

One of my favourite things about Grub is its chalkboard menu, a concept that I wish more restaurants would adopt.  The menu changes nightly, and includes dishes featuring a protein (meat, fish) or, for the vegetarians of the crowd, a vegetarian and a vegan dish.  Grub should be applauded for its creativity in developing unique veg and vegan dishes, which are such a refreshing change from the ho-hum "pasta and sauce" veg options offered at many restaurants.  In addition to the chalkboard menu, there is also a pre-printed menu, including appies (shared plates and single plates) and desserts which do not change nightly (they do have a nightly vegan dessert feature- huge pat on the back for that!).  One of the most popular options here is their three courses dinner ($35 for meat/fish, $30 for veg) that include a choice of appie (salad, soup or personal size share plate), a main from the chalkboard and a dessert (there is a choice of 4 including the nightly vegan option).  This is quite a steal for the money and, unlike many prix fixe menus, it is not overly restrictive in what it includes.

The noteworthy cocktail list includes a variety of interesting options, including the one that I chose.  My sangria based cocktail whose name included the word "Picnic" (wish I could remember the exact name, I swear I only had one drink!) was quite lovely, with just a hint of sweetness from apricot and pear juice, as well as elderberry.  It was a delightfully refreshing summer's drink made even better by the fact that it was served with a straw in a mason jar.  How cute is that!  I just wish the cocktail list had included some non-alcoholic options for my one dining companion who was choosing not to imbibe that evening.

My other dining companions chose from beer and wine from a list of menu options (would like to have seen more local varieties) and our server was very helpful in choosing some very good ones to suit their tastes.

And then the meal began!  Here is the "grub" that what we enjoyed:

The Herbivore- This is a shared plate from the "everyday" menu.  It included little toasts for scooping (they were kind enough to bring us a few extra too!), hummus (not sure what gave it the colour but delicious and creamy), amazing veggie pate), ratatouille (my fave- eggplant), marinated mushrooms, pickled cabbage and cauliflower, olives and burrata.  It was easily enough food for 2 or even 3 people as an appie, and was only $15!  What a nice way to start.

Grub House Salad- This was a simple and fresh salad made with greens, pear, candied walnuts and perfectly dressed with a light and tangy dijon vinaigrette. Although it was nothing too special or creative, it worked well as an appie here at Grub since it is a nice light compliment to the mains which tend to be quite heavy.

Tomato chickpea with coconut and lemongreass (soup of the day)- This hearty soup was made with a light yet creamy tomato base and tons of chickpeas and had a lovely hint of coconut.  It came with a long piece of baguette on the side, which you probably do not need if you have a main on the way (may be hard to resist though!).

Halibut- This PERFECTLY cooked halibut (generous portion) was served with saffron risotto with crab and lemon marscapone, fennel and watercress salad and topped off with a caper aioli.  The creamy risotto was creamy with great flavour but was a just little overcooked.  One of the only things that did not work for me was the wallops of marscapone that made the heavy dish even heavier.  The watercress salad was a nice touch for color and added some much needed lightness.  This was perhaps the best composed dish of the night.

Arctic char- As per the description on the chalkboard, this was served with a salad nicoise, poached prawns and lime avocado salsa.  Unfortunately though, the salsa was about the only part that worked for me in this dish.  The "salad nicoise" was not a salad nicoise at all.  Instead, it was made of lettuce and a very unusual mixture of potatoes and tofu that had an off-putting texture, especially when you were not expecting it.  The poached prawns were just thrown on top as if they were an afterthought.  There was just WAY too much happening on this plate and it just became a bit of a mumble-jumble, which I would generalize to a criticism that I have about the restaurant generally.  This was the least successful dish of the night.

Lamb- My dining buddy who had been to Grub before had enjoyed the lamb so much on her first visit that she just had to order it on this return visit.  This roasted rack of lamb was cooked to perfection (medium rare) and, according to my friend, was quite succulent.  It was served with a lovely, simply-spiced israeli couscous and a cooling mint cucumber yogurt.  This dish had nice middle-eastern flair.  That is, until you dug into the couscous and discovered the goat-cheese Okanagan pudding which was admittedly very tasty but totally unnecessary and confusing with the rest of the plate's elements.  The large portion of couscous plus the rich sweet potato made for "starch overload", to the point of becoming overwhelming.  Overall a nice dish, but they should have stopped while they were ahead!

Vegan- First of all, I feel the need to once ahead commend Grub on its creativity in creating a new vegan dish each night of the week.  Kudos to you for that!  And there was certainly no lack of substance or flavor in this dish!  The "meat" of the dish was a cauliflower and white bean stuffed pepper, sitting atop a delicious and beautiful coconut sweet pea puree (peas are one of the freshest in-season veggies right now!).  On the side was a fried polenta cake which was again just a distraction that had no place on the plate.  The stuffed pepper was way too good to be overshadowed by mediocrity!

Because two of my friends had ordered the prix fixe menu, they each got a dessert to finish off the meal and were kind enough to share!  The first dessert was the Lemon Tart, a lovely dessert with a flaky crust and a delicious lemon filling, dressed with a few berries.  One can never go wrong with lemon for dessert in my mind!  The other dessert choice, on the recommendation of our server, was the vegan dessert special (also gluten free), a cashew chocolate torte with summer berry compote and cream (non-dairy I presume).  If you are a fan of chocolate, this dessert is for you!  The chocolate filling had intense chocolate flavour and was very creamy.  The crust was mouthwatering (maybe even better than the lemon tart) and the berry compote complemented the chocolate beautifully.  I was so happy to see that, unlike most of the other dishes, the desserts were not overcomplicated and were delicious in their simplicity.

At the end of the week, Grub is a great place to go and unwind with friends over a few drinks and a nice meal.  Grub has many things going for it including tasty food, a laid back vibe and affordability.  I just wish that the chefs here would recognize that simple is often better.  By putting too many things on one plate, the flavours become muddled, which is a shame considering how great the main components of the dishes tasted.  There is no doubt that the chefs here are very creative and I would certainly return to see what else they have up their sleeves!

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