Saturday 27 May 2017

A Must-Go in Tofino: Wolf in the Fog

Reservations required?  YES- With all of the great press this place has been getting, you had better book ahead to avoid disappointment, especially in the summer months.  We booked a month ahead (albeit on the May long weekend) and could only snag a 10pm reso.  Walks ins are accepted, but I would not take chances!

Atmosphere: Wolf in the Fog has the perfect balance- not too fancy for ultracasual Tofino yet still very smartly decorated to make you feel like you are having a special night out.  Dress remains very low-key (who wants to get all dressed up after surfing the whole day?) so no need to stray far from jeans and a t-shirt.  The room is divided into tow levels, with a bar on the lower floor and a sizeable dining room with a large patio for additional outdoor seating above.  There is also a very well-stocked bar on the far wall just adjacent to the semi-open kitchen.  There are tables for two and four, as well as a large communal table through the middle to increase dining capacity.  Decor is quite simple, with lots of wood and beach/surfing-inspired photography.  All plates are charmingly mismatched (apparently staff pick them up at local flee markets on their days off) and waitstaff are dressed in all different patterns of plaid.

Service: The service at Wolf in the Fog was particularly noteworthy, thanks in large part to our excellent server.  Despite it being their busiest nights of 2017, our server remained extremely energetic, enthusiastic and passionate from the beginning to the end of our meal.  He had a wealth of knowledge about the food and the wine, and was able to rhyme off every ingredient in every dish without the blink of an eye.  Even with the packed house, our food came out in good time and we were checked in on often.

Food/drink: Wolf in the Fog has an impressive drink list.  It starts with a thoughtful and well composed bar list with everything from creative house cocktails to "dressed up brews" (beer cocktails) to dessert cocktails and, most notably, their punch bowls which couples can drink simultaneously through straws on either side.  They also have a sophisticated wine list with a great selection of wines from all over BC.
The menu can be tackled in many ways.  Diners can opt to order a small plate and a main for themselves, or order a bunch of dishes to share.  The menu is divided into "snacks" (don't let this fool you, some of these are still pretty sizeable), "small plates", "plates to share" (the largest, all meat and fish dishes) and sides.  There are a number of vegetarian options offered, including the "green soul" (a vegetarian daily creation) and a small dessert menu.  And don't forget the "six pack for the kitchen"  that will garner you a loud cheer from the kitchen!

Here are the dishes we enjoyed (sorry, so were taken after we had already dug in!

Cedar Sour- cedar infused rye, lemon, thyme, egg white

Samosa- nettle & english pea, chutney

Black Apron Beef Tartare- matsutake mushrooms, radish, black garlic

Bread with goat cheese and olive hummus

Chopped Kale & Grains- nuts, seeds, fresh cheese, camelina dressing

Hot Smoked Char- asparagus, ramps, creme fraiche, roe, crouton

Spruce Cured Tuna- radish, spruce mayo, cucumber, lemon olive oil

Overall Verdict?
Wolf in the Fog deserves every ounce of the hype it is getting in the foodie news.  They have managed to keep themselves approachable (important in ultra laid back Tofino) while making food that is exciting and expertly executed.  They are lucky to have such great ingredients to work with on Vancouver Island and we are lucky that they know how to make them shine.
There are so many great reasons to travel to Tofino and Wolf in the Fog is definitely one of them!

Wolf in the Fog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday 14 May 2017

"Noma Two Ways": Noma Mexico

Here is the latter part of a two-part blog post on our experiences at Noma over the past year (click here to see part one about our visit to Noma Copenhagen).  Detailing them back to back really puts Redzepi and his team's talent into perspective, and the .  It is hard to believe that the same chef conceptualized these two tasting menus, with vastly different ingredients, cooking techniques and presentations.  For his food at Noma Mexico, Redzepi and his team learned about the bounty of Mexico from the locals (farmers, foragers, chefs and of course, tortilla makers), then created his menu using a mix of traditional and novel techniques to create a jaw-dropping 15 course meal as you will see below.

Noma Mexico is Noma's 3rd pop-up restaurant, and the first to open after the closing of the original Noma in Copenhagen.  His other two pop-ups in Sydney and Tokyo were huge successes so it is not surprising he went for a 3rd.  The location in Tulum was a bit more of a gamble in terms of remoteness of location, but nonetheless, it easily sold out within a few hours.  It goes to speak to the following that Rene Redzepi has garnered all around the globe.

Atmosphere: Noma Mexico was literally located in the middle of the jungle, with an open air dining room and kitchen.  Aside from a small Noma sign and a few casually dressed hostesses, you would never know that one of the best restaurant's in the world had set up shop.  Upon entering, guests walk through sand (high heels ere discouraged!) past a small bar and back to the "dining room" with wooden tables with a backdrop of jungle foliage.  The kitchen was located right at the back, notable for a large Mexican-inspired oven on display for all to see, and then a closed kitchen where Redzepi's staff was plugging away under his direction (from our table, we could hear every word!).

Service: Redzepi brought his Noma staff with him from Copenhagen and we recognized quite a few familiar faces from our meal at Noma Copenhagen.  In addition to the Noma staff, Redzepi enlisted the help of some locals, most notably some Mexican women in traditional dress in the kitchen making tortillas.  The quality of service was similar to that in Copenhagen with a few excusable slip-ups (we were delivered the first dish twice in error) which was understandable since we dined with them during their first week of service. In general, the staff seemed like they were having a lot of fun in their new surroundings, feeding into the more relaxed and low-key vibe at Noma Mexico.

Food/drink: Tickets to Noma Mexico included a 15 course tasting menu (constantly evolving) plus beverage pairings.   The beverage pairings consisted of a mix of alcoholic drinks, including a mix of beer, wine and spirits, and some non-alcoholic juices that all paired beautifully with the dishes.  After our meal, we were escorted over to the bar where we were offered another 3 options for cocktails, specially crafted for the evening.
The 15-course tasting menu was remarkably different than our Noma dinner in Copenhagen, as it was completely grounded in ingredients from the region.  I was treated to ingredients, spices and flavours that I had never before encountered.  It seems pretty risky to create a menu with unfamiliar ingredients, but Redzepi nailed every single dish.  I felt excited and intrigued from start to finish, and by the end had even more respect for Redzepi and his staff's enormous talent.
Here is a look at the dishes Hubby and I enjoyed:

Pinuela and tamarind

Melon clam from the Sea of Cortez

Salute with dried tomatoes and chapulines

Cold masa broth with line and all the flowers of the moment

Young coconut and caviar

Tropical fruit and chile de arbol

Banana ceviche

Chaya taco with fresh Bahia Falsa oyster

Giant kelp and mussel michelada

Whole grilled pumpkin

Tostada with escaroles

Just cooked octopus with "dzikilpak"

Cerdo Pelon and fresh milled corn from Yaxunah

Fried soft shell crab and fresh milled corn from Yaxunah (pescatarian substitution)

Dessert of grilled avocado and mammy seeds

Chocolate from native Jaguar cacao and Mixe chile

Overall impression:
This dinner was one of my most memorable I have had to date .  The surroundings were spectacular (how often do you eat a Michelin star meal in the jungle?) and the ingredients and flavours were so different from anything that I had experienced before.  The fact that Redzepi and his team could prepare dishes to such a high level with ingredients that they had discovered only weeks before is truly astounding.
Having now dined twice with Redzepi and crew, I must admit that I am now "hooked" and am itching to see what that brilliant mind of his will come up with next.

"Noma Two Ways": Noma Copenhagen

This blog post is a long time coming, and in fact, I have been back to Noma a second time since I first  visited Noma and drafted this review last August (2016).  I can now share my experience at Noma Copenhagen back then, followed by a look at Noma Mexico where I recently dined just last month (April 2017).   I hope that by posting the two in sequence, you will gain an appreciation for how truly skilled Redzepi and his team are in working with any ingredient, whether it be a familiar vegetable in Copenhagen, or an exotic plant in Tulum.  Heck, they can even make insects approachable and delicious!  What I have come to learn is that for them, it is not about transforming ingredients, but instead it is about elevating ingredients and showcasing them to the best of their potential.  The flavours they create are novel thought-provoking, moreso than any other place that I have been, and it is this that will keep me following Redzepi wherever he decides to go next!

This two-part blog will first review our first meal at Noma Copenhagen.  Read on to the next post to take a look at Noma Mexico (click here to go there directly).

Reservations required?  YOU MISSED YOUR CHANCE:( - Unfortunately, Noma is temporarily closed, and will never again be in its original form.  Redzepi and his team are opening in a new location (you can find out more, as well as watch a short visit about Noma past and present here) with no set opening date.  
Noma has always been one of the toughest reservations in the world to get (Hubby and I tried 3 times and failed to get Noma Copenhagen, and enlisted the help of multiple family members to get Noma Mexico).  I am sure that when the new Noma opens it will be at least as difficult, if not harder, to snag a reso!
***Note- Redzepi has recently opened a new, more casual restaurant called 108, located fairly close to the old Noma if you are dying to get a taste.  

Atmosphere: Noma is located just outside downtown Copenhagen in an old historic brick building.  There has just been a new bridge built that drops you almost at its doorstep but even so, you may walk right by if you are not purposefully looking for the “Noma” sign.  A little rock garden has been built by the side underneath the windows to give guests some privacy from curious onlookers. 
When you enter the front door, the first thing that will greet you is its busy kitchen, bustling with its 24 paid staff and perhaps a few of its 24 interns.  It is clearly the focal point of the room.  The d├ęcor is quite rustic with exposed wooden beams, wooden tables and some garlic bulbs decorating the walls.  It is exactly what I would of expected from one of the world’s greatest locavores.  Plating is also extremely rustic, with many of the dishes being plated with moss and rocks to simulate nature.
At the end of the meal, we had the privilege of being taken for a tour of the restaurant which, for a foodie like me, was an absolute dream come true.  There we saw the kitchen itself (and got a group photo with the staff!), the barbecue hut out back, the fermentation huts (so cool!) and the test kitchen, complete with tanks housing the crabs and lobster we ate that night and an indoor herb garden.  The tour highlights the incredible amount of work, innovation and talent that goes into preparing the meal at Noma.  It is truly unparalleled.

Indoor garden
Fermentation room

Service:  You will meet many servers during the Noma experience, and will also have some dishes delivered directly by kitchen staff.  Every server is very knowledgeable about every single ingredient and has a load of passion to back it up.  One thing that really struck me was the obvious comradery and team-mindedness between staff at Noma, something that I have never noticed at other such restaurants.  There were team chants coming from the kitchen, servers helping each other out and even joking amongst themselves.  This made the overall atmosphere that much more uplifting and pleasant.   There were also special touches throughout the service, such as the tour (see above), a map we were given with suggested restaurants and bars around Copenhagen for visitors and menus to take home.

Food/drink: The food at Noma is like nothing I have ever had before.  Noma is not doing variations on great food like many other Michelin restaurants, but instead are doing its very own thing.  I have rarely felt so excited, inquisitive or challenged by food.   Redzepi, along with Canadian-born head chef Ben Ing, are not in the business of “wowing” with big bursts of flavors but instead creates very subtle pulses of unami that develop as you eat the dish.  I tasted things at Noma that I had never before tasted anywhere else, and may never taste again.  The Noma team is constantly experimenting with dishes, testing out new combinations for fermentation and pushing the boundaries of creativity.  This is all while using only the finest and freshest locally sourced ingredients, like the sweetest local crab at our dinner that was killed moments before being prepared and eaten and the herbs picked moments before being put on our plate.  Noma’s food is about as avant-guard as it comes without being too flashy or complicated.  Despite the elaborate behind-the-scenes work, every dish maintains a degree of humility and modesty and, most importantly, put the ingredients at the forefront.

Here is a look at our tasting menu (August 2016):

Rhubarb and seaweed

Vegetable platter- flatbread and ant paste, pickled quail egg, blackberry currant berry

Radish pie

Bread and cow's milk butter

Fresh milk curd, green strawberry and goose tongue leaves

A light stew of fruit and vegetables

Lobster, lavender and rose oil

Crisp of wild roses and danish peas

Steamed king crab and egg yolk sauce

Charred green and scallop paste

Turbot grilled on the bone with sweet shrimp

A dessert of sheep's milk and ant paste

Grilled rose ice cream and elderflower

Moss cooked in chocolate, cep mushroom

Egg liqueur, wild berries

Overall Impression?
I had been waiting to dine at Noma for years and it now seems surreal that I was finally able to experience it.  To tell the honest truth, Noma was not what I expected.  I simply could not have conceptualized such food before actually getting the chance to taste it for myself.  It opened my eyes to a whole new world of cooking that Redzepi and his team have created and continue to evolve.  I have never been so curious to discover where a chef and his team team will go next and I cannot wait to follow along.  Noma truly is the experience of a lifetime.