Monday, 11 May 2015

The Much-Anticipated and Long-Awaited Grapes and Soda

Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved?  Resoundingly YES-  Just like her big sister, Farmer's Apprentice, Grapes and Soda is built around the locavore philosophy.  Local ingredients make their way into every dish and even every cocktail at this wine bar, never overshadowed and always respected.  There is no greater homage to local fare than this.  

The time has FINALLY come!

David Gunawan has done all of us South Granville dwellers mighty proud with the overwhelming success of The Farmer's Apprentice.  Since its opening just shy of 2 years ago, it has won a multitude of awards, including top spot in Vancouver Magazine and, and runner up in En Route Magazine (just behind Tofino's Wolf in the Fog).  Gunawan sure has done us proud.

We were therefore super excited when, last May, Gunawan and his team announced that they would be opening a 25-seat wine bar right next to the Farmer's apprentice.  We couldn't wait to find out what Gunawan had up his sleeve, but unfortunately, the wait proved to be much longer than anticipated, just short of a year to be exact.  We do not know all of the details about why they have been so delayed in opening but the important thing is that everything is now worked out.  We visited them on their 4th day of being opened (their first-ever Saturday) to see if all of the blood, sweat and tears were worth it.

Just like the neighbouring Farmer's Apprentice, Grapes and Soda is quite a small narrow space, with a very cool wooden bar on one side that greets you as you walk in, and seating for about 20-25 guests on the other side.  At the back is a tiny kitchen that takes care of the small food menu (separate from the Farmer's Apprentice kitchen).  Be sure to take a peak at the the side of your table facing you to discover a neat design feature- a built-in drawer just large enough for your cellphone/smartphone!

The service on the night of our visit was extremely attentive and polished, with no obvious wrinkles to be worked out, with more staff than would be anticipated for so few tables.  We had a very kind and knowledgeable female server take our order, answer our questions about the cocktails and explain all of the food dishes (she obviously knew them inside out).  Another male server (perhaps a manager?) refilled our water without once leaving us with less than a quarter glass and constantly checked in to ask how we were enjoying things.  No newbie service glitches here.  All pretty seamless for its fourth day of existence!

The philosophy at Grapes and Soda mirrors that of Farmer's Apprentice- uber seasonal and local right to the core.  Pretty much everything they offer, with the expectation of the wines which are curiously all from France and Italy, is made/grown locally.  This includes not only the food, but also the cocktails, many of which had unexpected earthy ingredients such as herbs (sorrel and lemon thyme)  and even more "out-there" additions like parsnip sorbet and beet shrub.  Do not leave without sampling at least one of these genius concoctions!

The food menu is quite limited as is to be expected at a wine bar, with a handful each of plated dishes and cheeses.  Each plate is paired with a suggested wine pairing underneath (available by the glass).  They very kindly spilt the glass into two so that Hubby and I could each enjoy a half glass with our dishes and the pairings were spot on.  If you are looking for a nice way to end your evening, they also offer a couple desserts that adhere to the same local-inspired theme with components like wild honey,  sorrel sorbet, juniper and elderflower.

Here is what we enjoyed on the night of our visit:

Grapes and Soda- This cocktail, the first on the menu for obvious reasons, was a nicely balanced blend of grape shrub (a syrup of grapes, sugar and vinegar), dry vermouth, benedictine and soda.

GNS Clover Club- This tequila-based cocktail was my pick and I could not have been happier with my choice.  I loved the beet and rhubarb syrup base (sweet and sour) with a hint of thyme.  Isn't it pretty?

Smoked trout, endive, ikura, rhubarb, olive oil- I really appreciated the subtlety of flavours in this dish.  None of the components overwhelmed the other, so that you could taste a hint of lightly smoked trout, a sniff of rhubarb and a bit of crunch from the endive and ikura (roe).

Pairing- Maupertuis "Pink Bubbles" '13, Auvergne, FR- The best sparkling wine I have ever had!  Made with 100% Gamet grapes according to our server.

Asparagus, goats yogurt, sprouted wheatberries, lemon zest- What a debut to the asparagus season!  Thinking of this dish still makes my mouth water.   While the asparagus was fortunately front and centre, the accompaniments made this dish even more special.  The goat yogurt on the bottom was creamy and delicious and the wheatberries on top added nice crunch.  A bite with all of the these components together was just out of this world.

Pairing- Clos Roche Sauvignon Blanc No. 5 Touraine '12, Loire, FR

After a very lovely experience at Grapes and Soda, with our cocktails and few light dishes, we turned our minds to dinner, which was a bit of a no-brainer with the Farmer's Apprentice right situated right next door.  Our server kindly went to check on table availability and fortunately, there was the bar-top table right by the window that has just been freed up.

I have previously blogged about Farmer's Apprentice back in 2013 when it first opened (see here) and sadly we have not been back for dinner since then until now.  Our experience was great the first time, and this time the food blew us away even more, making us kick ourselves for not coming back sooner.  Every dish was created and executed with the utmost care and attention to detail, and the plating was visually breathtaking.  Here are the dishes that we enjoyed:

Porcini mushroom, book toy, XO, salt cured duck egg- The meaty mushrooms and thinly-sliced book choy were a great duo in this Asian-inspired vegetarian dish.  Normally this would not be Hubby's thing but the vegetarian XO sauce, with its characteristic fishy-salty flavour, made him love even his least favourite veggies.

Octopus, spring veloute, green tomatoes, puffed rice- This dish is nothing short of perfection and lends itself very well to sharing (if you are feeling generous).   The smokey octopus was perfectly prepared and the brilliantly green veloute was so delicious that I felt compelled to scoop up every last drop.  PLEASE leave this one on the menu for as long as possible, it is way too good to let go!

Sweetbread "dan dan", hazelnut, peashoots, chill, king oyster mushroom-  This dish immediately caught Hubby's eye as he had enjoyed dan dan at David Chang's restaurant in Toronto and wanted to see how this one measured up.  It took only one bite and Hubby was completely mesmerized, saying little else but "WOW" as he devoured every last bite.  He loved the potato "noodles" (just slightly heavier in texture than rice noodles) and raved about the sauce the whole way home.  His favourite dish of 2015 so far!

And to finish off a wonderful evening- elderflower jellies for the road!

Overall Verdict?
Dave Gunawan has succeeded yet again, in a big way.  Grapes and Soda is the perfect compliment to Farmer's Apprentice, and I highly suggest that you not check out one without also experiencing the other.  I cannot think of a better way to spend the evening than enjoying a drink and a light snack at Grapes and Soda, and then heading next door to Farmer's Apprentice to treat yourself to some of the most beautifully plated, most creative and most deliciously local food in Vancouver.  If that is not a dream come true, I do not know what is.

Grapes & Soda on Urbanspoon

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