Posted by George Froehlich of Savvy Insider
By George Froehlich
There is a lot to be said for good old-fashioned cooking and dining.
Good old fashioned cooking sticks to the tried and true, those classic timeless elegant dishes that are wonderful, robust; bursting with flavour and texture.
The kitchen at Le Gavroche in Vancouver’s West End is a perfect example.
A mainstay of the city’s culinary scene for 32 years this gently refurbished Victorian house (circa 1910’s) is a perfect spot for a romantic dinner that hits the spot.
At Le Gavroche small elegant touches (so important) are still evident such as having your Caesar salad or cherries jubilee prepared tableside.
A recent five-course dinner was an amazing journey of excellent food and service.
The first course – a small platter of fresh oysters with Champagne Mignonette, Lobster Sablefish fritters and gazpacho, was a delight in contrasting flavours and textures. The oysters, fresh, clean with that classic sea taste were nicely contrasted with the acidic champagne sauce. The fritters, creamy and smooth and that lobster taste came through in droves. The gazpacho a perfect little cup of garden goodness.
The fresh seared scallops from Qualicum on Vancouver Island served with tiny roasted Campari tomatoes from Oliver and a spicy basil vinaigrette fulfilled all the elements of a superb dish.
Seared sablefish slightly smoked (in house) with beautiful crisp skin on the outside, the inside, white soft-textured, mild and like butter, was outstanding. A tiny salty seaweed, sea asparagus, a delicacy from Vancouver Island and a classic lobster emulsion (a sauce) with tiny pieces of lobster in it topped off the fish.
A classic Caesar salad was perfect. The salad; crisp pieces of Romaine lettuce, the dressing coating the lettuce instead of drowning it as often is the case in many restaurants.
Another small but important detail that escapes a lot of chefs.
The Salt Spring lamb rack, medium rare, mustard crusted with rosemary garlic jus, was another classic dish well done.
And finally dessert – cherries jubilee.
What a way to finish off a classic dinner. The fresh cherries were bathed in sugar, orange liqueur, brandy and orange peel – all flambeed tableside, sitting atop some house-made vanilla ice cream.
Le Gavroche 1616 Alberni Street Vancouver 604-685-3924
Gastown’s Pourhouse – Wonderful Comfort Food
By George Froehlich
There is nothing quite like.
It’s simple, straightforward and it packs a myriad of flavours.
Its recipes are time-honoured.
And now a number of restaurants are coming on to the Vancouver culinary scene perfecting new flavour combinations and ingredients – all in the quest for the perfect comfort food.
In Gastown, Pourhouse, is yet another small place carving out a clientele that loves plain old comfort food that is simply delicious.
Pourhouse reminds you of one of those old-fashioned, back of the century saloons, steeped in the traditions of history.
Dark wood, exposed brick, old fashioned chandeliers, dim lights, are all part of the decor that says come in, relax, enjoy, enjoy some good old-fashioned comfort food.
Take the simple grilled cheese sandwich.
At Pourhouse it is divine and decadent but never forgetting its classic roots. Three cheeses are packed between two slices of dark bread – pan fried in butter.
The end result is something that is yummy and outstanding.
It comes with a roast vine ripened tomato soup. The soup, almost a bit sour and tart, the acidity of the tomatoes cutting through the richness of the sandwich.
It is a perfect pairing.
And that Sloppy Joe sandwich – flavours galore singing in unison from the shredded pork and beef, both simmered for hours to develop their fullest flavour profile.
The Slopping Hill pork, rich and succulent. The Pemberton beef, robust and hearty.
The house made Bap, a large roll, it originated in Scotland, is soft in texture, a perfect place for the beef-pork mixture.
And that warm chocolate cake, oozing dark rich sweet chocolate, as soon as you spoon into it, surrounded by a lovely smooth caramel.
On top a caramel salt infused ice cream – a perfect antidote to that rich sweet chocolate filling.
Double espresso, packing a mean wallop of bitterness, the best we ever had.
Pourhouse is all about attention to details.
The server was terrific, explaining all the dishes in detail.
Everything is made from scratch in the kitchen. The chocolate cake alone took 15 minutes to prepare.
Its espresso machine is one of only 10 in all of Canada. The coffee comes from J.J. Bean a local supplier and roaster.
It is only kept for 10 days after that oxidization kicks in and the coffee loses its punch.
Pourhouse – serving excellent comfort food in an atmosphere of history and tradition.
Rob Feenie’s Signature Dishes At Cactus Club
By: George Froehlich
Rob Feenie. A Canadian culinary superstar.
For the last few years he has been working as a food concept architect for the Cactus Club.
Before that he was the chef at one of Canada’s top restaurants, Feenie’s in Vancouver, before a falling out with his business partners.
When Cactus Club hired him he was handed a singular mission – kick it up a notch, the food that is.
And he has certainly done that.
His Cactus Club dishes, all have the RF logo beside them.
And they deliver what Feenie is known for – superb food with great flavours and textures.
Our adventure into RF land was a tapas-style meal – four appetizers in all.
The beef carpaccio, a peppercorn-crusted tenderloin, was tender and moist, the Dijon mustard aioli, gave the thinly-sliced meat punch and pizzazz, pickled shallots, added required acidity, a great counterpoint to the richness of the tenderloin. Parmesan and five-herb crostini, provided crunch, a new direction for traditional carpaccio.
But, and this is a big but, the deep fried capers were like little salt balls, dominating the dish and thus spoiling it.
The Butternut squash ravioli, bathed in a truffle beurre blanc sauce, huge super sweet sauteed prawns atop the three ravioli’s, was outstanding.
Wow, what a dish.
The ravioli’s were topped off with tiny crumbs of Amaretti (an Italian cookie made with almonds, sugar and flour) and a bit of shaved Reggiano Parmigiano.
The perfectly cooked al dente pasta with the creamy, yet earthy butternut squash, were the perfect complement to that stunning truffle beurre blanc sauce.
Crunchy pine nuts and crisp sage leaves atop the squash added another dimension to a simple yet complex divine dish.
The Rocket salad of sliced chicken breast breaded with Panko and Parmesan, was light and so flavourful.
Baby arugula, cucumbers, tomatoes and big sliced chunks of zucchini with cubed colored peppers, provided a great medley of garden greens.
The flavour of the chicken and the cheese came through the tartness of the lemon caper sauce dressing.
Our three cheddar cheese bacon mini-burgers were terrific. You could actually taste the beef, unlike so many other hamburgers that taste like dried sawdust. Again a wonderful combo of different flavours made these hamburgers so delish.
The red pepper relish completed the dish.
Desert, key lime pie, did not have the required tartness of these tiny little gems, the Graham cracker crust sweet, but salt dominated it. It all added up to something that lacked real flavour and taste.
Perhaps Rob Feenie should step in and work his magic on this desert.
Bin 941, A Vancouver Chefs’ Favorite Pick, Consistently
By George Froehlich
Every major city in the world has them.
Restaurants that serve excellent food at reasonable prices.
As a rule they tend to have a bohemian chic look and feel to them.
The wait staff is young, knowledgeable and really knows their stuff.
And above all, people in the know – waiters and restaurant staff favour these places.
Vancouver is no exception.
There are at least two of them.
Bin 941 is on Davie Street just off Burrard.
Bin 942 is on West Broadway around the corner from Granville Street.
We have chosen Bin 941.
A funky, off the wall, decor gives this long narrow room a decidedly with-it look.
By six o’clock on a weekday evening the place is full, in fact people are waiting to get seated.
We are given a menu and even a choice of seats because we arrived as soon as Bin 941 opened at 5 p.m.
Menus come quickly and our questions are answered with knowledge and by someone who knows their stuff.
Bin 941 is a tapas parlour – a place where they serve portions small enough so you can taste a lot of different foods.
We order four dishes for three of us, one, the Bison flat iron steak is a recommendation from the server.
The other three are, a salsa, crab cakes and duck breast.
Each course, it is explained, will come separately and only after the previous one is eaten.
What a great and leisurely way to dine.
First up is the salsa.
Now this is no ordinary salsa. This is salsa that is sublime. It come as a big square, solid looking and surrounded by different tiny lines of different dipping sauces, atop a tiny piece of goat cheese. Several slices of Navajo fry bread are there for dipping into the sauces and topping them off with the salsa.
In one word outstanding. The salsa has a definite kick to it, sharp and yet the full-bodied essence of the tomatoes is there. The bread – we’ve never heard of it, let alone tried it, is the perfect accompaniment to the salsa, crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.
The taste is somewhat like a donut without the sweetness.
Next up are the East West crab cakes. The presentation is awesome. Several crab cakes atop each other, surrounded by burnt orange chipotle sauce, charred baby bok choy, cucumber salsa and tobiko, a flying fish roe.
Yum yum yum. Everything comes together perfectly; the flavours all complement each other. The crab cakes are crisp on the outside and moist and sweet tasting on the inside. And that bok choy with a slightly bitter taste and that amazing salsa (light and refreshing) with a chipotle sauce – a marriage made in heaven.
The Yucatan spice rub Bison flat iron steak is another perfect combo of flavours, textures and taste. But when you consider the ingredients it comes as no surprise.
The steak has a tequila lime sauce with it, pumpkin spiced pearl onions, jicama fried yuca salad (what a surprise, you could not tell it was fried, it was crunchy and had a bit of a tart taste to it), cilantro and poblano chile sauce.
Last was the crispy skin free range Wentzel duck breast. The duck tender, bursting with flavour, sauced lightly with a port sundried cranberry sauce.
Small stalks of green beans with a touch of truffle to them came with a heavenly potato hash that had pancetta and goat cheese in it. This was the best we ever had.
To round it all off, we chose a creme brulee made with Mexican chocolate and Bailey’s Irish cream liquor. To die for.
And here comes the best part – the bill and this included a couple of beers, a fine Chardonnay and some sparkling water, was well under $100.
No wonder the place is packed early and the restaurant industry loves it.