Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Senhor Rooster: The East End, Portugese Bishop's
The Assortment of Sauces (Tangi-Fruit, Piri-Piri, Jalapeno, Mango-Ginger, BBQ, and Extra-Hot)
Meet Senhor Rooster (3885 Rupert St. at 23rd Ave. 604-434-1010). That bird makes a mean sauce! Actually more like six of them...and counting. This little Portugese restaurant in the middle of nowhere (yes, I'm being downtown-centric), is one of the best restaurants in Vancouver that I've been to in a long time. And it's not about the decor, which is fairly humble, intimate, and comfortable, with white tablecloths in a place you initially might not expect them. Partly, it's the unexpected pleasure of finding such tasty dishes with such complex sauces, with a wonderfully friendly staff in such a low key place. But there are tasty, friendly, ethnic non-fancy places in plenty of areas. Why does this place grab me so much? To me it's like the East End, ethnic version of Bishop's. You've got a warm, hospitable chef/owner, who seems to have a passion for food, popping out of the kitchen to serve the customers himself, with an exceptionally homey little restaurant. This restaurant accomplishes the same feeling that John Bishop does at his place - like he's hosting a dinner party at his own home, and you are his (very fortunate) guests. Both chefs also allow the ingredients to speak for themselves in a fairly uncluttered way. You've also got phenomenally tasty food, and on top of all that, (this is where the comparison falters) you're getting it all for amazingly low prices in this hidden away gem. Starters were under $10. I think our prawns were $8 or $9 and entrees between $10 - 15. Yet another reminder that there really aren't many good reasons to go to those casual chain restaurants whose mains start at prices above that.
To begin, nice Portugese buns and butter are brought to the table, as well as a collection of sauces for dinner. Sample them all, and you'll see why the foodies are raving about this place. Rumour has it that chef/owner Daniel Alexandre used to work in the Il Giardino kitchen. Things are simple here. No wine list, but whatever the red was that night (I don't remember), I enjoyed. I'm not even sure how much our glasses of wine cost, but looking at the total of the bill, it must have been next to nothing. We started with prawns in the delicious piri-piri sauce. Some of the sauces have some nice heat like the piri piri, and some are sweeter and milder. If you can't get enough of the stuff, he has bottles of the sauces available to take home. We had one additional, unlabelled sauce in the collection of the table that was very hot, which I think was a newer addition to the line-up.
Prawns in Piri Piri Sauce
Daniel himself came out to tell us the specials that evening, and he was listing away, when he said, "we have horse." After we did the inevitable verbal equivalent of a double-take, and Daniel assured us he wasn't joking, my dining companion, Martini Man, quickly jumped on the opportunity to try it, and there was nothing else on the menu for him. Well, I wasn't so sure, and anyways, I don't think I was THAT hungry. Daniel continued his list of specials, then tacked on that he had rack of lamb too. That was it for me. I think it may help to call ahead and ask, if you are looking for that. We did make reservations, and I would definitely recommend making them if you go, as the word has been out on this place for a while (it sounds like it's become an eGullet clubhouse). The night we went, most of the restaurant was filled with one huge birthday group (maybe 36 people), who took up three long lengths of tables. The restaurant seemed to handle this very well, and the tables got big mixed grill platters of meat. Yet our server, a very sweet Portugese gentleman, was quite attentive, and made our experience at Senhor Rooster very warm and comfortable.
Horse in a Rosemary Tomato Based Sauce
The horse meat was actually pretty good. Pounded thin, tender, and very mild with no gamey taste at all. It was served with potato and a wonderful assortment of mixed vegetables, including a few pretty lotus root slices. The rosemary flavoured tomato sauce was really good. Martini Man ate his whole entree, but we both definitely preferred the lamb. Oh, the lamb... So incredibly tender, and yes, it was an entire rack! I shared some with Martini Man, but somehow, I had no trouble putting almost all of it down. Yes, it was more expensive than the other mains, at $35, but it is worth every penny (and probably more). Eight perfectly cooked, flavourful chops, covered in a rich brown sauce, and served that evening with potato and mixed veggies. High styling presentation, using unusual ingredients in odd combinations is a lot of fun, but this simple, homey plate with big, rich flavours just speaks to me, and is the perfect antidote to fancy-trendy-restaurant overload.
Rack of Lamb
To finish off, we shared a sweet, creamy Portugese dessert called babas de camelo. Just a really nice soft, texture, and with several quick scoops with our spoons, it disappeared in seconds.
Babas de Camelo
Daniel, the consummate host, treated us to a little extra something at the end of the meal - he brought us two snifters of a cherry liqueur he had made himself, and it was delicious, just like everything else he served. His quietly swooping over with a "Try this, I made it myself" just made things feel all that much more irresistably personal. Oh, and as if I haven't gushed enough, I love the name of the place too! In short, the restaurant is simple, genuine, light-hearted, and very good at what it does. Gawd, it feels good to be able to wholeheartedly recommend a restaurant once in a while!