Friday 31 August 2012

A Wonderful Wanderlust Weekend in Whistler: Part 1- Alta Bistro

Alta Bistro

104-4319 Main Street  Whistler, BC V0N 1B4
(604) 932-2582

Tastiness Factor: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved: Enthusiastically YES (the majority of their produce comes from a farm in Pemberton which is just 20 minutes from Whistler and our their menu is comstantly evolving to reflect the changing harvests)

My husband and I found the perfect excuse to go to Whistler for the last weekend in August- the Wanderlust Yoga festival for me and a few rounds of golf for him.

As soon as I found out the Wanderlust dates, I immediately started research Whistler's foodie hot spots.  It seems as though bistros are the New trend as the two restos that came up again and again both Bistros- Alta Bistro and Bearfoot bistro.   This is not surprising, as bistros seem to fit very well with the Whistler vibe- casual and unpretentious (although I can't say that Bearfoot actually fit this description- more on that later).


First, let's talk about Alta Bistro, our Friday night choice.  This certainly did have a casual vibe to it which is what we were looking for after a long day at work and the evening drive from Vancouver to Whistler.  I really liked the decor.  At the front of the restaurant near the entrance is the semi-open kitchen and just passed that is a cozy bar.  Along the back wall are several shelves adorned by mason jars with all sorts of preserved produce.  A very welcoming space indeed.


Service was very much in keeping with the decor.  Our server was very friendly and laid back but, while also being very knowledgeable about the dishes' ingredients (he was able to tell me where all of the produce was grown without hesitation).  He also offered us excellent wine pairings at very reasonable prices (a nice sparkling wine to start, followed by two half glasses of whites for me).  He was was attentive to all of our needs throughout the meal (my water glass was never empty) and I appreciated the time he took to answer all of the questions I had about ingredients and preparation of the dishes.  He was stellar.


Alta offers a three-course menu for $29 (no a-la-carte option).  I really appreciated the fact that the three courses included 3 savory plates and dessert could be added at an extra charge.  I am not much of a dessert person so it's inclusion in a prix-fixe menu is often a deterrent for me.  Getting the selection of 3 savory courses is ideal as you have the opportunity to sample a greater variety of flavors.  It is quite a unique concept that I wish more restaurants would offer.  In some reviews, Alta has been faulted for its courses being too small, but with 3 savory dishes, I thought that the small plates concept worked nicely.  I was not "stuffed to the gills" when I left but was certainly very satisfied.  My only caution is that you should probably not expect to actually pay $29 for your meal as there is a supplemental charge to almost half of the dishes.  While this may be a bit misleading, I was not bothered by it, as frankly the meal that I was served, made with quality local ingredients was certainly worth more than 30 bucks. 


Here is the lowdown on 6 dishes that Alta is presently offering.  If you like the sound of these dishes, you better get there quickly as there is a big emphasis on seasonal ingredients so, with summer coming to an end, this menu will likely not be around for much longer!

Dish 1: Summer Salad.  This dish was made which beautifully fresh Pemberton farm vegetables including beets, onions and some fried sage for textural contrast.  The roasted pistacios and almonds were done to perfection and the dressing was tasty yet subtle so that the freshness of the vegetables could shine through.



Dish 2: Scallop ceviche.  If ceviche or tartare is on the menu, my husband will order it (see my review of Whistler's Beafoot Bistro for a review of their tuna tartare).  This was a light and fresh summer dish and the chef made a wise decision in leaving it plain and simple. It certainly met my husband's standards.


Dish 3: Farmhouse goat cheese and buttermilk mousse with heirloom tomatoes.  This was my second dish which I chose mainly because of my love of goat cheese.  The goat cheese mousse was very light and airy, making the locally made goat cheese was that much more fitting for a summer dish.  The freeze-dried olives added a nice contasting flavor. The Pemberton-grown tomatoes were sweet and delicious.  Again, simple and perfectly executed.



Dish 4: Pickled Fraser Valley Veal Tongue.  Although this was my husband's last favorite dish of the evening, he did enjoy the slaw and the bite of the dijon mustard which was served alongside in large kernels.  The veal tongue was also perfectly cooked.  He is not a celery fan and this taste element may have been why this dish rated a little below the others for him.  Kudos to their for daring to have veal tongue on the menu- great to see them using all parts of the animal. 


Dish 5: Seared Halibut Filet with House Curry Spices.  This was my final and main dish.  The halibut was perfectly cooked and served on a radiantly-coloured carrot puree.  The starch was a small bed of pearl barley which was plump and well seasoned.  Alongside was some fresh, seasonal summer squash and the sweetess carrots I have ever tasted.



Dish 6: Pork shoulder with chipotle spaetzle and onion ketchup (the nightly special).  My husband had planned to get the bison shortribs but when he saw this on the blackboard of nightly specials, he knew he had to have it.  The pork had been pulled off the bone and served amidst the spaetzle (small fried potatoes).  The onion ketchup was too die for.  This was a winner for sure.


We both throughly enjoyed our first evening of our weekend getaway at Alta Bistro.  The food was simple and amazingly fresh.  The chef obviously has a very skilled hand in his use of local ingredients.  The service was casual and friendly, yet very attentive to detail.  What a way to start the weekend.  A new favorite in Whistler.

Alta Bistro on Urbanspoon

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!




Sunday 12 August 2012

A Memorable Anniversary at Hawksworth


801 West Georgia Street  

Vancouver, BC V6P 1C7

(604) 673-7000

Yumminess Factor: 4.5/6

Service: 4.5/5

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved? Yes (seasonal tasting menu constantly evolving to reflect local and seasonal ingredients, bonus points for a commendable number of organic wines made using sustainable practices)

Hawksworth has been high on my wish list for a while now and so it was my top pick for our third anniversary dinner last weekend.  It is a relatively new hot spot in Vancouver (opened in mid-2011) but in that short time, has managed to win a multitude of awards for its food, most recently 7 different Vancouver Magazine restaurant awards.  The awards reflected excellence not only in food, but also for wine (Best Sommelier), atmosphere (Best Design) and service (Premier Crew).  It is evident that these guys really really have all bases covered.

I managed to make it to Hawsworth for brunch in early 2012 and, after a great experience, knew I had to make a return trip for dinner.  The brunch and dinner exeriences are quite different, with a much more casual feeling at brunch (I went in my Lulus after the gym and did not feel out of place), and a much more refined feeling for dinner.  

Hawkworth is located in the Hotel Georgia right in the heart of downtown Vancouver.  The hotel is reminiscent of a more sophisticated and formal time and makes you feel as though you have stepped right into an episode of Mad Men.  The restaurant is composed of 4 rooms, which each have a slightly different ambience.  We sat in the Art Room, which, with its artwork from local artist Rodney Graham, made it very fitting for a locavore like me.  My husband, who has been here with his work coleagues, prefers the Pearl Room, which is ornate and stately.  

Obviously, the food at Hawskworth is top-notch (I will get to that next) but this establishment must be first commended for its superb service.  Our server offered a lovely balance of formality and approachability, which is difficult to acheive.  Most impressive of all was our sommelier.  We chose to go all out and do the wine pairings with our tasting menus and therefore, were treated to a very detailed description of each wine.  The sommelier was also more than happy to answer all of our questions.  His genuine passion for wine and his impressive knowledge really helped to make this meal a memorable one.  I also really appreciated the wine pairing selections.  There was a nice mix of local and foreign wines, most of which were organic and made at small, unique wineries specializing in a variety of techniques. I will certainly be hunting down some of these wines at my nearest specialty wine store.

Last but certainly not least is the food created by David Hawsworth and his team.  As previously mentioned, my husband and I chose to have the tasting menu, comprised of 6 courses that highlight seasonal ingredients. There was not doubt that this was a summer menu.  As a whole, it was light and refreshing, just perfect for a warm summer night.  The progression of courses was also commendable, with each course flowing very nicely into the next.  The plating presentation was superb and reflected the simplicity of the summer season.   As with the service, attention to detail is obviously paramount.


Dish 1: Vanilla cured fluke.  It was as light as the summer breeze, with very subtle flavours that were the perfect tease for the palate.  I learned that the fluke was imported from Korea specifically for this dish (no, not local, but a sign that this chef knows what he wants and will go to the ends of the earth to get it!).



Dish 2: Yellowfin tuna tartare.  My husband and I agree that this was a standout.  the tartare was topped with a light-as-air jalepeno foam and some brioche croutons which added a perfect textural contrast.  The fennel salt at the side of the plate was very subtle, but added another layer of flavor to the dish.  

Dish 3: Citrus confit side striped shrimp.  I am not a fan of dishes with broth or the flavor of lemongrass so I was a bit apprehensive about this dish.  Fortunately, my worrying was for not as chef Hawsworth gave us yet another successful dish.  The star of this one for me was the artichoke agnolotti, which were light and fluffy, and stuffed with a divine artichoke filling.  The colours in this dish were beautiful, and the broth poured tableside added a nice touch.  A real piece of art.

Dish 4: Soft poached egg.  We agreed that this was an upscale version of bacon and eggs for breakfast.  It was an interesting choice for the middle dish (I would love to know the chef's inspiration for this one, perhaps a little summertime cheekiness?), but we both loved it.  It is a very fun dish, as you must break through the crust bread top to discover the perfectly done, runny egg at the bottom of the dish.  You have the choice of paying a $10 supplement to add truffles, which I highly recommend you do.  I really appreciated Hawksworth's playfulness with this dish.

Dish 5: Milk fed veal loin/grilled sturgeon.  The veal that my husband had is the actual dish on the tasting menu but because I do not eat meat, I asked for a substitute (they charged $5 for the substitute which seemed a bit petty to me but I was impressed that the sturgeon dish that I received was specially desiged to go with the tasting menu and was not the same sturgeon dish that appeared on the a-la-carte menu.  My sturgeon was cooked beautifully and was served on a beautiful tomato salsa that was exploding with the flavours of tomatoes which are now in season here.  My husband also really enjoyed his veal, which was served with parisienne gnocci (we joked that this must be an incredibly upscale wasy to say "french fry!") and asparagus.

Dish 6: Dark chocolate.  Although this is what the dessert course is called on the menu, I think it would be better named "dark chocolate +++".  The dish was literally a party on a plate with many different elements including vanilla bean ice cream (my favorite part!), chocolate cake, some colorful cremes and more.  It may sound and look a bit confused and disjointed at first, but it magically all worked together beautifully and was a very whimsical end to a summer meal.  We also very much appreciated the lovely Happy Anniversary white chocolate ornament.

Our whole experience at Hawsworth was about as close to perfection as one can get. Vancouver is very fortunate to have such an establishment to call its own.  Needless to say, we will be returning to Hawsworth in a couple of months to see what master chef Hawksworth has up his sleeve for his fall tasting menu.  

Hawksworth (Rosewood Hotel Georgia) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Yoga and Brunch- the perfect combo!

Before coming to Vancouver, I must admit that I was a "yoga virgin"   My perception of yoga certainly did not jive with my A-type, go-go-go personality.  

Shortly after moving to Vancouver, where there is a yoga studio on almost every street corner, I wanted to see what all of the hype was about and gave it a try.  I did a few classes at my gym, Steve Nash Sports Club, and realized that it was a relaxing way to end the day.  Soon after, I tried my first class at Semperviva and since then I have not looked back.  I am hooked!  I still have a long way to go (I only attend Power Vinyasa classes currently as I don't think I have yet mastered the art of sitting still for long enough to try a YIn class!) but I slowly learning that it is OK to relax!  All of the yoga instructors at Semperviva are excellent and I highly recommend checking this place out.  You body, mind and spirit will thank you!

So when one of my favorite Semperviva instructors, Christie, mentioned that she was doing a Sunday yoga and brunch, along with a friend of hers who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in France, I knew I had to check it out!  As per usual, work got in the way for the first couple of Sundays, but last weekend I was finally able to go!

The event was held in the penthouse of a beautiful condo at Cambie and Abbott.  The yoga portion was held on the rooftop patio, which completely ours for the whole day.  It happened to be the hottest day of the whole summer, and the sun was beaming down on us in our downward dogs.  As usual, Christie led a great (and sweaty!) flow yoga class to stimulate our appetites before brunch.  My only regret was bringing a black yoga mat, which was practically on fire by the end of the class!  Guess I got my daily dose of Vitamin D for the day:)


We were then treated to a lavish, multicourse brunch made by classically-trained chef Jennifer Bentall, who is the chef and co-creator of Dinner, a small two-women catering service that specializes in personal dinners and small cocktail events.  I really respect Jenn's style of cooking- she has taken the skills that she learned at Le Cordon Bleu and has adopted them into her much healthier and clean style of cooking.  Absolutely EVERYTHING at the brunch was homemade, even the almond milk accompanying the granola (homeade of course!) to the lemon curd paired with the delicious muffins.  She uses coconut oil in many of her baked goods, adding a tons of healthy fats and yummy flavor.

This particular brunch included the aformentioned granola with almond milk and muffins with jams and lemon curd, two frittatas (one with califlower and gruyere, the other with swiss chard) and a big plate of bacon (the men would have protested had this not been included!).  Everything was absolutely delicious!!!







Next week is sadly the last week for Yoga and Brunch 2012.  Of course, I jumped to sign up again for this Sunday, to spend another morning with fellow yogies and enjoy an exceptional, homemade brunch.  Can’t wait!!!


Friday 3 August 2012

Yay for Gay Pride in Vancouver

Just wanted to send out a quick post to wish everyone a happy Vancouver Gay Pride 2012!  I paid a visit to Whole Foods Cambie this past Wednesday for their Gay Pride Food Vendor Fair, featuring lots of yummy Whole Foods products with a special Gay Pride flair.  There was certainly a summer theme to the event with ice cream, cold drinks and sauces for the BBQ as main features.  All featured products were created by local producers who showed such enthusiasm in their offerings.  What a treat!

Last week, Capers on Robson held a Pride Breakfast with proceeds going to Loving Spoonfuls, which provides nutritious meals to those living with HIV.  Unfortunately, I could not make it out to this one (at work, boo) but I heard it was a success.  

Way to go Whole Foods Vancouver for showing your Pride support!

Fortunately, I have tomorrow off and my husband and I will be heading downtown tomorrow for brunch with some friends.  Tomorrow is the Pride Parade starting at Robson and Denman (12 noon) and the Pride Festival and Market (11am-6pm).  Downtown will be an explosion of excitement so check it out!

Happy Vancouver Pride 2012 everyone!  Enjoy!