Sunday 19 January 2014

Spanish Tapas Local-Style at Espana

1118 Denman Street
V6G 2M8

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved?  MOST CERTAINLY- I was very impressed with the use of primarily seasonal ingredients on their menu, especially in the winter months when produce is limited.  Mushrooms, pumpkin, leeks, potatoes, brussel sprouts and beets were used throughout the dishes in very creative and tasty ways.  This is a place that is worth revisiting on a regular basis, as the menu is constantly being reworked to incorporate what is local and fresh.  Now that is the mark of a truly great restaurant!

On the second night of Dine-Out Vancouver, Hubby and I were wanting to escape the crowds and were looking for restaurant that was not participating in this city-wide restaurant extravaganza.  With well over 200 restaurants participating this year, this proved to be a bit of a challenge but I finally thought of the perfect solution.

Espana is Spanish tapas restaurant located on Denman St. in Vancouver's downtown.  I had the pleasure of dining there with a few of my work colleagues back in the summer and, after a great meal, had vowed to go back with Hubby.  With Dine-Out going on, we figured this would be the perfect night to check it out since we may be able to avoid the long line-up of customers that understandably flocks flocks to Espana on the weekends.  Lucky for us, we walked right into a lovely table right at the back!

Inside, the space is quite narrow with a bar on one wall and seating on the other wall.  It makes for a cozy and casual atmosphere, perfect for drinking good wine and sharing top-notch food with friends or a significant other.

In keeping with the atmosphere, the service is friendly and down to earth, while still being attentive and polished.  I have had the same server on both visits, and she is wonderful.  She knows the menu inside out and makes great wine suggestions.  After ordering, food comes out of the kitchen very quickly and subsequent dishes follow at a consistent pace.

The drink menu has a variety of options, including cava (spanish bubbly), sherry, cocktails and a nice selection of Spanish wines (I really enjoyed the Botani Moscatel 2011).  The food menu is composed of small plates in true Spanish tapas style.  It is divided into several sections, including bar snacks, toasts, cured meats, salads, vegetables, fish, meat, cheese and dessert.  By selecting a few things from each category to share with your dining companions, you will really get a feel for how talented the chefs here are.  Our server recommended 2-3 dishes/person, and we were satisfied with 6 dishes between the two of us, plus dessert.  If you are pretty hungry and choose lighter dishes, you may need to order more and, after seeing for yourself how good the food is, you will certainly want to!

Here are the dishes that we enjoyed:

Smoked sardines and paprika yogurt, chili and mint toast

Roast pumpkin, goat cheese, walnuts, orange blossom honey toast

Serrano ham (aged 14 months)

Grilled leeks and peppers

Mussels cooked in cider

Pedro ximenez braised beef


We thoroughly enjoyed all of the dishes, but I would have to say that my favourites were the Pumpkin Toast (great texture with the perfect amount of sweetness) and the Leeks and Peppers (the grilled leeks are like nothing I have ever tasted before, and are topped with a perfect Romesco sauce).

I just love Espana.  Its concept of making authentic Spanish tapas using mostly local ingredients is awesome and the fact that their menu is constantly evolving with the changing seasons means that you will want to visit again and again.  I know that I personally cannot wait until my next visit!

Until next time Espana!

Espana Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday 12 January 2014

Korean Sharing Plates in Chinatown at Dunlevy SnackBar

433 Dunlevy Street 

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 3/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved? Not really, but this is really not what they are going for here and I get that.  The menu stays pretty constant with the exception of the Bibimbap that changes nightly so do not expect much in the way of seasonal ingredients.

Hubby loves Asian food and do, after reading a review of SnackBar by Alexandra Gill in the Globe and Mail (see here), he just had to check it out.  And so, on a typical rainy Friday night in Vancouver, we ventured down to Gastown to see what all the fuss was about.

Dunlevy SnackBar is located on a little side street in Chinatown called (you guessed it), Dunlevy. Both the outside and inside are quite unassuming and plain.  The space is quite small and narrow (it used to be a hair salon) however the tables are well spaced so we did not feel cramped.  It has a bar and (very tiny) open kitchen on one side and benches and tables on the other.  Decor is pretty minimal, aside from a few paintings behind the bar, some star-shaped lights above the tables and some paper streamers near the entrance.  At the back after 9pm, you will find a live DJ who seems to draw the crowds as this place certainly came alive between the time that we got there at 8:45 and left at 9:30.

Service was friendly and laid back.  Our waitress was easily able to answer all of our questions about the menu and suggest a good amount of food for us to share.  Behind the counter, we watched the chef single-handedly prepare all of our dishes and get our first dish to our table in less than 5 minutes, with the others following just as quickly.

The menu is brought out on a clipboard and contains about 8-10 snacks, all priced between $4-10.  Dishes are pretty small and between Hubby and I, we ordered about half the items on the menu.  The food is Asian, with a predominantly Korean influence.  The drink menu is pretty limited (they offer only 1 type of both white and red wine), and I regret not trying one of their cocktails which are rumoured to be very original and well composed.

Here are the dishes that Hubby and I shared:

Assorted Preserves, spicy pumpkin seeds

Yam/potato salad, spicy mayo

Fried Chicken Tostasda

Fried Chicken Steam Bun

Bibimbap (with pulled pork)

Overall, we enjoyed our "snacks", especially Hubby who was quite impressed by the flavours that really hit a high note for him.  Our unanimous favourite was the Bibimbap, which had a good balance of veggies, rice and pulled pork, all brought together by a perfectly runny egg and a great sauce.  Highly recommended!  The steam bun was also pretty special, largely due to the soft, pillowy bun.

If you are a fan of Asian food, Dunlevy Snack Bar is a place that you should definitely check out.  This place is all about the food, and this is where they excel.  Check it out and see for yourself!

 Dunlevy Snackbar on Urbanspoon