Sunday, 14 April 2013

Sardine Can: Spanish Tapas Gastown-Style

26 Powell St.

Vancouver, BC


Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore approved?  Not really (as with Pied-a-Terre, the focus is more imported, fine quality product)

After a very successful dinner at Pied-a-Terre last weekend (see my recent review here), I quickly started the wheels turning on organizing a dinner with some friends for their sister restaurant, Sardine Can, this weekend.  Thankfully, four of our friends (2 couples) were free and were up for trying this relatively new Gastown tapas bar (opened early 2012).  

It is a good thing that these guys have a noticeable sign, since the restaurant itself is so tiny you might just walk right past.  There is room at the counter (6-8 stools) overlooking the miniscule space that acts as kitchen/prep space/bar.  In addition to this seating, there are 3 tables that can sit 6 people each.  Although some may say feel a bit crammed in, I actually really like the setting that reminds me of other Gastown tapas joints such as Judas Goat and Salt.  In my mind, the more intimate space works perfectly for tapas, which are meant to be shared amongst friends who do not mind snuggling up a little to enjoy good food.  

Service was friendly and very efficient.  Our server very correctly advised us to order every item on the menu to share between the 6 of us.  As soon as we agreed, plate after plate literally flew out of the kitchen (dishes are served made to order) and we happily ate our faces off for the next hour.  Our server came back at regular intervals to check in to see if we needed more drinks/food, refill our water and bring us more bread.  In there short year of life, these guys have the art of turning tables down to a science, without making customers feel rushed.  

Sardine Can is a tapas style (small plates) restaurant with most dishes meant for sharing.  I HIGHLY suggest coming with a group of friends so that you can try as many dishes as possible.  Between the 6 of us, we ordered every dish on the menu, with one repeat and one dish off the daily nightly special board, and excluding desserts.  With the bread that is served alongside to soak up the delicious sauces, this was the perfect amount and we all left satisfied.  The wine menu consists of European wines, with several wines available by the glass.

So here is the rundown of practically the whole menu based on our experience.  I have put stars beside the real standouts: 
***Para picar- A nice preamble to the meal while we waited for our hubbies to arrive. The chickpea spread was creamy, the nuts sweet and crunchy and the olives smooth and salty. All of the tastebuds were prepped to begin the feast!

***Smoked sardines on toast- I had read many rave reviews of these little toasts and they lived up to the hype. I urge you to shed any preconceptions that you do not like sardines. You do not want to miss out on these salty wonders!
Smoked ham wrapped prunes stuffed with Mahon cheese- These were the unanimous table favorite. The sweet prune was wrapped in paper thin salty ham and stuffed with dab of Mahon cheese (a tangy cow's milk cheese from Spain). These little bites were irresistible, so much so that we ordered an extra plate! 

***Zucchini carpaccio and marinated artichoke- Being the veggie lover that I am, this was one of my personal favorites. This vegetarian play on carpaccio (usually a meat dish) was surprisingly jam packed with flavor. I have no idea how they managed to pack so much punch into such a thin little piece of zucchini! The artichokes were also prepared beautifully.

Tomato and manchego toasts- Although not as tasty as the sardine toasts, these were still quite delicious. I appreciated the simplicity of these toasts, which let you really appreciate the quality of the tomatoes and the cheese.

***Piquillo peppers stuffed with tuna- This was the runner-up table favorite (second after the prunes). With one per person, everyone got to savour the sweet peppers stuffed with quality tuna. Outside was a single anchovy which added an extra layer of saltiness.

Dry cured Spanish pork loin ham- For anyone who likes prosciutto, this is a must-try. Fortunately, baguette kept on being served to our table throughout the meal, so we had the perfect vehicle with which to carry the hame to our mouths.

Tuna consomme with scallions and tomatoes- This was one of the specials of the evening and was ordered by a member of our party who does not eat pork and therefore could not partake in some of the other dishes. This was pretty much the only dish that was not meant as a sharing plate so he got it all to himself. Lucky man!

Full-flavoured chorizo sausage cooked in sherry- This very simple dish was all about the chorizo, plain and simple. When you have a quality product such as this one, why mess with it?

***Spicy garlic prawns- Wow. These were awesome. They were cooked to perfection, and covered in a spicy tomato sauce that we happily swept up with bread (there was not way we were going to leave a drop of that good stuff!). Also among the favorites.

***Roasted fingerling potatoes, garlic aioli and tomato- Sardine Can's version of patates bravas was heavenly. The tomato sauce was fresh and light, while the aioli added the perfect amount of richness.

Morrish spiced chicken kebabs, pomegranate- This dish deviated a bit from the Spanish theme of the evening and, while they were OK, they were not too exciting. A bit of a throw-away dish in my opinion.

Pork belly- This dish, not found on the website menu, was a welcome surprise for the carnivores at the table. Rich and flavorful as every good pork belly should be. The garlic chips on the top added a nice textural contrast.

Octopus, white bean and chard stew- After the heavy preceding few dishes, this was a nice light dish with great Mediterranean flavor. The tomato broth was perfectly spiced.

***Clams steamed with chorizo sausage- While the clams were nice, it was the tomato broth that really stole the show. We could have made a meal out of the broth and baguette alone!

Meatballs cooked in tomato and Rioja- Like the chicken, this was much less memorable than the other dishes. While there was nothing particularly offensive about it, the consensus was that it lacked flavor.

Mushrooms in sherry cream sauce- Again, this dish proved that the chefs at Sardine Can are "sauce experts".  This cream sauce was creamy without being so heavy as to overshadow the mushrooms.  I must admit that when our bread ran out, we happily dug in with our spoons and finished it off straight up.

Truthfully, our night at Sardine Can was one of the most fun night's out that we have had in a while.  This hip little spot lends itself perfectly to going out with friends and having a relaxing evening and, of course, eating great food.  From the beginning to the end, with our bill served on an actual sardine Can, these guys have nailed it.

 Sardine Can on Urbanspoon

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