Friday 28 June 2013

The Tale of Two Tasting Menus at West Restaurant Vancouver

2881 Granville St  Vancouver, BC V6H 3J4
(604) 738-8938

Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved?  MOST DEFINITELY (Their slogan is "Contemporary Regional Cuisine" and they certainly do their region proud.  Impressive dedication to locally-sourced ingredients, especially in the world of fine dining.  A mention is given to the local producers supplying the ingredients in a number of the dish descriptions.  The detail that our server was able to give about where our food originated from was also very commendable).

There is nothing like having many things to celebrate at once, and no better way to celebrate than going out for a nice dinner.  With my aunt visiting from Boston, and a big milestone that I had come to in my career, I was looking for something extra special.  And the first place that came to my mind was West.

We are fortunate to have West, one of the most well reputed restaurants in Vancouver, within a stone's throw from our residence.  Although it is close, it is a place that we reserve for special occasions.  We last went on our wedding anniversary last year, at which time we treated ourselves to the tasting menus.  We were blown away and have had it in the back of our minds to return but have been waiting for another special occasion to justify the cost of going "all out".  And fortunately for us, that time came just last week.

West is located in a quiet location in South Granville, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.  The storefront is quiet small and inconspicuous, which is quite a contrast to the large, deep room with high ceilings.  At the front is one of the most beautiful bars I have ever seen.  On the wall behind the bar is a wall with little cubbies filled with wine (temperature controlled), and a moving ladder used by staff to reach them.  The bar manager, David Wolowidnyk, has won numerous awards around the globe for his very creative cocktails.  Many of his award winners remain on the menu, but he is constantly pushing the envelope and creating new imaginative drinks to add to the list.

Past the bar is the main dining room, and then at the very back is the semi-open kitchen with two adjacent "chef's tables" (by far the best seats in the house). The room itself is quite formal and grand, a rarity in a city where many view fine dining as "passé".

Service at West is outstanding. Our server was very gracious and remarkably knowledgeable about both the cocktail list and the food menu.  He was able to suggest a wonderful cocktail based on my description- not too sweet and unique.  The Passage to India fit this description perfectly.  It was made with house-made mango liqueur, rum, lemon and spices including curry and chili.  The way that the flavours evolved in your mouth was quite remarkable- first sweet then a kick of heat at the very end.  Hubby had the Sazerac, a classic cocktail made with Rye and lemon zest, which was very well executed. 

The impressive service continued into dinner service as well- dishes were served simultaneously by multiple servers in perfect synchrony and then wicked away discreetly at just the right time.  I can find fault in nothing when it comes to service. 

Although West has a wonderful a-la-carte menu, I would highly recommend their tasting menus.  They have three choices of tasting menu- land, sea and vegetarian.  It is rare to find a vegetarian tasting at a fine dining establishment and, although the sea tasting is fantastic, I have gravitated to the vegetarian menu on both of my visits.  Hubby, who ordered the meat menu last time, was considering the sea tasting on this return visit but because he had such an incredible meal on our anniversary dinner, he just had to go for take two of the meat menu.  My aunt was also considering the sea menu, since she was in Vancouver after all, but the foie gras on the meat menu could not be passed up.  

And so the tale of the two tasting menus begins.

The story began with an Amuse Bouche, with a different one for each of the tasting menus.  Both were very artfully presented and sophisticated.

Then followed our tasting menus, which I will go through one dish at a time, first the vegetarian then the meat.

Vegetarian Tasting:

Hannah Brook Farms Asparagus-  The asparagus in this dish was wonderfully fresh, and grown at a nearby farm that sells its produce at the farmer's market that I visit every week.   It would be a crime not to include an asparagus dish at this time of year, and chef Quang Dang has it covered.  The dish was actually different than what I had pictured by reading the menu description ("hen's egg, shallots"), as I expected to see an egg or pieces of it.  Instead, the egg was made into a custard-like base for the asparagus.  It complemented the asparagus beautifully, without overpowering it.  The asparagus was undoubtably the star, making it the perfect start to this vegetarian tasting menu.

Spring Pea Soup- This beautifully green soup was quite light, a nice transition from creamy "winter"soups at this time of year.  The pea flavor really came through, as did the little bite of bite from the fromage frais as it became incorporated into the soup.  A treat for the eyes and the palate.

Ancient Grain Salad- As soon as this dish was put in front of me, I immediately thought of a forest coming into bloom, with the herbs as the foliage, the fennel and eggplant as the tree trunks and the eggplant puree and grains underneath as the soil.  Stunning.  The flavors of the dish also matched this theme- rustic and full-bodied.  The creamy eggplant puree was a perfect textural contrast to the chewy grains, as were the fava beans with their little bit of "pop".   Exquisite.

Porcini Mushroom Tortellini- This may sound odd, but I have never tasted as "meaty" of a vegetarian dish as this.  The different preparations and varieties of mushrooms in this dish really took this dish to another level and they were the obvious principal component, with the pasta as the accompaniment.  I have never in my life tasted such earthy flavors.  I appreciated the progression of the dishes from the two lighter courses to start, followed by the deeper flavors of the 3rd course, and now ending so successfully with this hearty finale.

Pineapple sorbet (pre-dessert)- Served with both the vegetarian and meat tastings, this was a nice palate cleanser before the dessert that I enjoyed very much.  However, I did find the pineapple to be a bit of a peculiar choice for this spring menu and would have preferred a local fruit-based sorbet.  Especially with such lovely strawberries and raspberries at the markets right now:)

Maple Pecan Cake- This dessert was the perfect portion for a tasting menu when you just want a little something sweet to finish things off right.  This particular dessert was a bit on the sweet side for me with the cherries, the maple and cream cheese ice cream and I thought that a lighter choice, such as a meringue, may have been a nicer end to a vegetarian menu than a rather heavy cake.  That said, I still enjoyed every last bite and did appreciate the cherries even more when the server told us that they had been preserved from last year's Okanagan crop!

Meat Tasting:

Although I cannot go into as much detail about the meat tasting since I did not personally try much of it (I am pescatarian), I can give a little insight into the dishes based on the comments of Hubby and my aunt.

Beef Tartare with Sweet Onion, Soy, Sesame and Shallot- This was quite a fresh take on the traditional tartare, both in terms of presentation and taste.  The meat was complimented by other elements that helped to lighten the dish, make it a great way to start.

Twice Cooked Foie Gras with Cherries and Brioche-  Apologies for the blurry picture but I had to snap it in a hurry before it got whisked off the plate!  This was a lovely, balanced plate with just enough foie gras and brioche to give guests their "foie gras fix" but to still leave plenty of room for the courses to come.  The cherries came in the form of a "dust" under the foie gras which had a pleasant flavour, and added lightness and playfulness to the dish.

Thiessen Farm Quail with Potato and Herb Roti and Chevre- Although it was initially though that the Foie Gras would come out the front-runner of the evening, it was this dish that ended up being the favourite.  This succulent quail was cooked beautifully and had perfectly crispy skin and all of the other elements on the plate had nice mild flavours such that the bird took centre stage.

Braised Bison Shortrib with Spring Vegetables and Pepper Broth- This dish really showcased Quang Dang's skill, both as a chef and as an artist.  This jaw-dropping beautiful dish took the traditionally heavy shortrib and lightened it by using bison and by pairing it with these colourful, dainty spring vegetables.

Strawberry Lemon Cream Tart with Fresh Strawberries and Mint Frozen Yogurt- This was a nice, light end to the meat tasting.  Lemon and mint are the perfect end to any meal and to have them together was a real treat for the tastebuds! It was nice to see the fresh strawberries that are starting to pop up all over our region right now.

There was a pre-dessert and a dessert, so of course there had to be a post dessert!  This rich, amazingly smooth truffle was our final farewell from West.

And so, while other fine-dining restaurants have come and gone, it is quite evident that West is continuing to thrive and and hold its spot as one of Vancouver's greatest restaurants.  Service, ambience and food are all outstanding, and the tasting menus that we enjoyed really showcased chef Dang's unparalleled raw talent.  

Thank you West for such a fabulous evening of celebration.

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