Monday, August 07, 2006

A Slice of Vancouver - "Uptown" to Downtown

It always amazes me how abruptly some of our neighbourhoods change. I like to go for walks, and one noteable example is how suddenly West Hastings turns into the "Downtown Eastside" in the matter of a block. It's almost like there's some sort of invisible wall that keeps the respective regulars on their side of the wall. I take some joy in crossing boundaries like that, and observing city life. Myself lying in a sort of middling spot economically, I can peek at the excessively rich buying their designer handbags with as much interest as observing the homeless going about their day. Well, I went on another single street walk that struck me as being another Vancouver spectrum. First, I had dinner at West (2881 Granville St., 604-738-8938), one of Vancouver's most touted fine dining establishments. It sits on Granville and 13th, in the heart of the "South Granville" neighbourhood, and afterwards, I walked all the way down Granville Street, over the bridge, to where it crosses Robson Street, taking me through what I think must be Vancouver's largest collection of porn shops around. But even this side of Granville Street is undergoing a transformtaion, and I stopped in on one of the new trendy eateries opening up on what used to be a much grittier area. Whineo's (pronounced "Wino's," I believe, 1000 block of Granville St., and surprisingly difficult to find on the web) was the one I stopped into, Sanafir is across the street, and a very modern looking sushi bar was next door. I think this trio just shoved that invisible wall over one block South. The other wall seems to be the bridge itself. What will happen to that shrinking grungy porn area? It's down to a couple of blocks now. I think The Templeton, a long-time fixture on that block, brings in plenty of the un-grungy into the area, but it somehow manages to blend in with it's surroundings, with it's old diner looks. I think we'll be alright in the end as long as no one plunks down a GAP on Granville. Anyhow, at least for now, exploring Granville makes for an interesting evening.

In a White Bread World...
The early bird prix fixe menu at West is great if you want to see what it's like to live like an uptown girl, without spending nearly as much as one normally would for dinner. Arriving at 5:30 pm, for $45, Runny Cheese Woman and I experienced a three-course dinner, complete with amuse bouche and petit fours, and excellent service. Each option has a wine pairing by the glass, which is a nice touch. To start, we were given a little cup of hot tomato cream velouté, I think. I don't remember exactly what the soup was, but I do remember it being quite tasty. The bread was served with organic butter and organic olive oil. The butter was fine, the oil either slightly rancid or not to my taste, I'm guessing the latter.

We both chose the salad pictured below. Apologies for the fuzzy photo - I was extra self-conscious about taking photos in this room. It's very bright and open, with good sight lines, and the staff always seem to have an eye on us. Not a restaurant I'd think of for a romantic evening out, incidentally. My photo doesn't do the dish justice, as what really struck me, even more than the taste, is how pretty this looked when it came out.

Crispy Duck Confit Salad with Beetroot and Candied Walnuts, Honey Essencia Syrup

It's a nice salad. I really like the Essencia Orange Muscat dessert wine that I'm assuming is the base for the syrup, but I didn't really "get it" when I tasted the syrup. What I mean is that the syrup was a nice accompaniment to the salad, but it could have easily have been made with anything else, with a much cheaper product, and it would have had the same impact (aside from making the menu description sound interesting). I think I should have ordered the ravioli of ricotta and goats cheese instead. Or maybe the wild mushroom soup with blue cheese beignet.

Runny Cheese Woman enjoyed this risotto main dish.

Risotto of English Peas and Chanterelles

Fillet of Wild Spring Salmon with Dungeness Crab Beurre Blanc, Parsley Pomme Puree

This salmon dish is offered on the regular meal. I was quite pleased with it. The parsley in the potato puree gives it a beautifully striking colour and it was very tasty too, in a mild, refined way. The salmon was perfectly cooked, and the crab beurre blanc was delicious, as you would expect it to be. Take good wild salmon, butter, and could that be bad? Nothing mind blowing yet, but certainly pleasant, and mild-mannered, much like the entire restaurant itself and the staff.

It's funny though. I was really expecting David Hawksworth's cooking to be the star, but really the wonderful desserts from Rhonda Viani stole the show. Perhaps this has to do with having the prix fixe instead of the regular menu. It would be interesting to go through their tasting menu, I think, but I'm not entirely convinced that I would get really excited about the place even then. I think, for me, it's missing a bit of that really personal touch that gets me excited about a place. I never really felt like I belonged there, as pleasant as the staff were, I only felt the warmth flowing strongly from the one who came out to serve us a couple of times with the white apron on (someone from the kitchen?). I'll report fully on Elixir a little later, a meal I was ecstatic with a couple of weeks later. I think it helped me pinpoint what I was missing from my West experience. It's not that the food was technically better at Elixir, but that it contained more interest, and was served with more warmth, and for lack of a better term, a bit of charming humility. Top that off with a room (actually three) that I actually felt like staying in, and you get an all around beautiful evening. Again, it's all personal taste. If I were the power business lunch type, I think West would be a very safe bet. Oh, but the desserts did wow me. They were really amazing, and I'd put up with (almost) any amount of smugness to eat them.

Fresh Summer Berries with Buckwheat Honey Ice Cream, Coconut Wafers and Canteloup Coulis

Cantaloupe (with or without the e at the end) Coulis is a wonderful idea by the way. So good, in fact, I wondered why I've never encountered it before. Go pulverize a ripe melon and serve it under something sweet right now. So refreshing!

Dark Chocolate Torte with Creme Caramel Ice Cream, Rum Marinated Bananas and Sesame Florentine

This chocolate dessert was absolutely the highlight for me. It was much smaller and thinner than I expected (almost like a square or bar, rather than a torte), but it was delicious. The rum flavour of the banana concassé was intense. It was all so tiny and perfect. I could have eaten two or three of their desserts. The coffee I had with it, an Americano, was great. We ended with petit fours of banana cake with a caramel topping, and oat covered "truffles" with a bit of chewy apricot centre. I preferred the truffles while my dining companion preferred the banana cake. Adorable. Nice.

Petit Fours

And Now She's Looking for a Downtown Man...

Well, maybe not a downtown man, but it's almost like having too much sugar, and suddenly finding yourself craving salty things - I went searching for a downtown experience with some character to balance myself out on my way home. Plus I wanted to poke around and peek into the new places popping up. I looked in all the windows, thought about stopping in at the Yale, and wound up stopping into the young and earnest Whineo's, where there was only one other group there. It was still early in the evening. Had great service, a glass of wine (Big Yellow, $11.50) , and a $7 cheese plate of a tiny wedge of a single cheese (I chose a BC camembert) with apple slices, tiny pita wedges, and three interesting spoonfuls of condiments. Can't really evaluate them based on that, but I'm sure they'll do fine. I felt mostly neutral about the place, but I left feeling like I wanted a bit more for my twenty bucks. Really what I should have done, if I could have fitted it in, was gone to The Templeton and had a coffee and a deep-fried Mars bar. Or simply a few beers at the Yale. But perhaps then I'd run the risk of really finding that "downtown man." I'll save that adventure for another night.


kontemporary said...

how were the wine pairings that night? my last experience at west was not the food that awed me (dessert was too sweet, even), but the terrific execution and wine matching. sometimes i feel west is quite wine-forward in their approach, with the food complimenting the wine. otherwise the food sans wine would be a little, i dare say, bland even; west is all about subtleties.

love the atmosphere though; definitely not romantic.. but professional, business-like. tells you all about their approach. an important place to take important people - versatile room.

Dumpling_Girl said...

Thanks for your comment, kontemporary! Yes, I think it's a bit too subtle for my liking, or for even my detection. I do admit that wine can be lost on me, though I have been enjoying the process of learning what I can from pairings. I'm not really a wine person, and am just starting to learn (as much as I can within the confines of having an extremely low tolerance). I was dining with a woman with child as well, so I just ordered the one glass with the salad, and while I remember enjoying the wine, I didn't really pay much attention to it or how well it paired really. It didn't really grab my attention. If West is fairly wine-centric, then it will never really be my cup of tea :) Like the room, it's all of a matter of personal taste. I like places where everyone is considered an important person.