Monday, February 06, 2006

Christmas Day Dinner at Fleuri, The Sutton Place Hotel

My Chinese-Canadian family usually has the traditional Christmas Day turkey dinner at home, but this year my brother's travel plans gave my parents and I a good excuse to have Christmas dinner at a restaurant. Guess what? I got to pick the restaurant! Not to worry, we still didn't miss out on the home-cooked turkey feast - it was simply postponed a day, so I wasn't necessarily looking for turkey. As far as I could see, the main choices were either any Chinese restaurant or a nice hotel meal. Kirin was one choice, and there weren't any problems getting a table there. But there really isn't anything that I could get at a Chinese restaurant that I don't feel like I've had before, so I couldn't resist an opportunity for a nice multi-course fancy schmancy evening, and get the opportunity to show my parents a place they would never venture out to on their own. If you find yourself looking for a spot next year, book as early possible. I was doing this more than a week ahead of the day, and some holiday feasts were nearly all booked up. I guess people especially love those hotel big lunch buffets. Personally, when I'm splurging, I like to remain seated.

If you're looking for a classically elegant room to have a quiet refined meal, Fleuri, at the Sutton Place Hotel (Burrard St. downtown, just off Robson St.), is perfect. Over the years, I've done their Chocoholic Buffet, a beautiful Valentine's dinner with chocolate buffet for dessert, dropped in for dessert and coffee on a girls' night out, and booked a full afternoon tea in one of the hotel's private rooms for a bridal shower gaggle of girls. A perfect place, in other words, for indulgence. Fleuri has this wonderfully feminine flourish to me. And she's not just a pretty place. She's got substance too. The enticing menu is made up of interesting flavour combinations in well-executed classical cooking. And where else would you expect to find superlative service, but within the walls of a fine hotel. On our Christmas Day visit, we were greeted with a cute sugar showpiece of a winter scene in the hotel lobby. The dinner was a five course prix fixe meal for $74 per person. Credit card number was required for the reservation in case of cancellation.

Sugar Show Piece in the Lobby

Rare Ahi Tuna Loin with Crab and avocado Salad and Young Micro Green Salad in a Ponzu Dressing

We all started with the Rare Ahi Tuna Loin appetizer. This was quite an enjoyable light tiny salad starter, with the tender texture of tuna being the star of the show, and all of the flavours being quite subtle, including the dressing. It was delightful and interesting because of the different components, but a part of me thinks that I'd almost rather have just a couple of chunks of fresh albacore sashimi at a decent sushi restaurant, in terms of flavour. In the context of this meal though, this dish was a very nice start.

Celery Root Soup with Seared Jumbo Scallops and Grainy Mustard Creme Fraiche

This soup was velvety and flavourful. I've had many good soups in my life, and this one was really stellar and I was very impressed with it. My parents enjoyed this too.

Sun Dried Tomato Marinated Lamb Chops with a Roasted Pepper and Caramelized Onion Pave in a Fig Jus

There were three choices for the main. As much as I was tempted by the Sea Bass Filet on a Blanquette of Clams and Fava Beans with a Porcini Mushroom Ragout in a Black Truffle Sauce, I had found out ahead of time that Chilean Sea Bass is not recommended by Ocean Wise affiliates, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch due to overfishing and potential population depletion. Too bad, because it's a damn tasty fish, as I found out, because my Dad had no moral problems with ordering it, and went ahead, and allowed me a taste. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of it, but the sauce and the fish were delicious, and I thought that the clams were a nice addition. Note that Black Sea Bass is a different fish than Chilean, and in less peril, and I did get confirmation that they were using Chilean for this menu. My Mom and I went with the lamb chops. This was very good, with a substantial chop, perfectly medium rare (and I didn't mind at all that they didn't ask us how we wanted them done, because medium rare is the way to go, and to hell with those well-done people). It's pretty hard to go wrong with lamb chops in general, but this was a particularly nice dish. I enjoyed the roasted red pepper pave with the meat, as well as the sauce. Also, there was a tasty little potato stack with it. The third main course option was roast turkey with traditional trimmings, and I was definitely tempted to order that just to see it, but the parental units were going to be making turkey dinner the next day anyway.

Spiced Dark Chocolate Marquise on a Winter Compote and Christmas Biscotti

The spiced dark chocolate marquise was decadent, rich and airy all at the same time. With a chocolate buffet every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at this restaurant, I know I can expect good things from their chocolate desserts.

Another View of the Spiced Dark Chocolate Marquise Posted by Picasa

We ended with their Mignardise, which included one mini sugar cookie Christmas tree, a couple of beautiful hazelnut cookies, and a couple of berry jam filled cookies. Just a little note here - it seemed quite odd to me that three people were served five cookies. This just sets us up for awkward splitting, where one person feels they get less, while two people get to have two cookies. Serving one additional bit would solve this easily as that would allow two per person (each person getting a different combination of two). Now serving odd numbers of items in a shared plate is a fairly common restaurant practice, and I completely understand the aesthetic reasons for this. Groupings of 3, 5, and 7 do look better than those of 2, 4, and 6. I'm personally in favour of sacrificing the look, though, for the avoidance of the messy affair of "oh you can take the last one"..."oh no, you take it"...and so on. Or, alternatively, especially when it's a really tasty item, the occasional tussle for the last one. It wasn't really an issue this evening, as my parents were full, and, being parents, would give me the last cookie if they were dying a slow death of starvation anyways. And if it had really been an issue with another group, I'm sure I could talk a server into snagging another cookie. But it would all be easier if more than enough was sent out in the first place. But this is a little quibble amongst a stellar line-up of dishes and a lovely evening. Our server, not only working Christmas night instead of being home with family (he may not celebrate Christmas anyway, of course), but was also losing his voice! I hope he had a chance to rest eventually. Despite this, timing was perfect, and there were no service problems. The term "formal" best encapsulates the type of service here and the feel of the room in general, which I find fun and exciting for special occasions simply because it's different from everyday life.

Fleuri makes it onto my list of favourite fine dining restaurants and feels a bit like an unsung heroine in Vancouver to me. The name, Fleuri, feels right, and dining at the restaurant reminds me of rediscovering a favourite serene garden that's always flourishing quietly, and consistantly going about her business with grace and style.

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