Thursday, June 19, 2008


I was pleasantly surprised by Century Restaurant and Bar (432 Richards St. between Pender and Hastings St., 604-633-2700). Even though I know enough to take the reviews on a particular post-your-own-restaurant-review type website with a grain (or a big pinch) of salt, I was still a bit wary having read the reviews after choosing the restaurant. Well, I wound up having a really satisfying meal there with great service, and left completely impressed. The restaurant has changed chefs a few times, so this restaurant has likely been different places at different times during its short life, possibly explaining the mixed reviews in its past. The building itself has certainly been different places during its long life, starting out as bank at the turn of the century. However, there's no dispute online or otherwise that the current decor is amazing, and I was looking forward to seeing it. The architectural details of the 1911 bank are all there, with the beautiful barrel vaulted ceilings, chandeliers and even the old bank vault. The restaurant design is also gorgeous with it's hip Latin cowboy feel, Che Guevara and cowboy murals in rich browns, and beautiful suede-covered curved booths. The seating was not only attractive but extremely functional and roomy. Sitting in the half circle bench feels very cosy, and the half circle tables can be put together for larger groups. The restaurant is actually a bit smaller than I imagined and very comfortable. It's a room that makes you want to live in it. Imagine it as the ultimate party loft with a big bar for all your swanky parties...even if you don't have swanky parties now, with a pad like that, you'd have to start.

But when we arrived at the beautiful refinished heritage building, we initially felt a bit of trepidation as there appeared to be only one customer - a man at the bar - and no staff in sight. In actuality, there was a table in the back around the corner, and the one server was just away getting something. Another large party did arrive later in the evening, but I do hope that people come to this restaurant and keep it alive.

I started with an "El Che" ($7.75) - one of several tasty sounding cocktails. I liked it so much, I even reproduced a version of it at home later. It's made with pomegranate vodka, apple juice, fresh cucumber, and fresh jalapeno. Spicy hot and refreshing at the same time. The server was sweet, genuine, down-to-earth and personable (which seems to be increasingly rare in the mid to fine dining scene). And she made a great "El Che" too.

The evening involved a bit of indulgence. First, this was simply because I was dining with Bac'n Girl. We seem to naturally enable each other's food splurging on any occassion. Secondly, we were talking about boy trouble, and that always seems to warrant a "what the hell, go for it" attitude with the ordering. I'll start worrying when I start instigating the boy trouble just to get the great post-break-up wallow-meal. Until then, it's merely a happy side effect.

Bac'n Girl has a thing for chicken tostadas apparently, so we had to order it. This one ($10) with its fried corn tortilla and chicken topping and mesclun, was nice and tasty, though I could have taken more spice and heat in the chicken filling personally.

We then had their queso relleno's ($10), which was on top of cheese crisps that tasted just like parmesan crisps (though the menu now says warm manchego) with a tasty chipotle potato filling on top.

We then went with a fairly safe choice by sharing a nice steak. We chose their Alberta ribeye ($22), and the fun thing about their mains is that you get to choose the sauce and two sides. Mix and match can be fun if there are some tasty sounding choices, and you are cocky like the two of us in our food matching skills. We decided easily on the green peppercorn port sauce, grilled veggies and barbecue frites. No regrets at all. The steak was properly cooked to our preference. In other words, we ordered a medium rare and received a medium rare, just the way it should be. It had tasty charred bits of fat on the outside and a rich flavour (ribeye is my preferred cut), and the accompaniments all had good flavour too. I remember the sauce being particularly tasty.

I like the Latin-inspired menu quite a bit, and there seems to be many things on there that I would like to order. There very easily could be some misses on that menu too, but we didn't order any that night.

The dessert menu was similarly tempting. I settled on the Century cheesecake ($7) - a continuation of the Latin themes, this was an avocado lime cheesecake, sour cream mint topping, praline crust, served with fried plantains, sesame candy, lemon sorbet, raspberry coulis, and strawberry garnish. The cheesecake was delicious. It was smooth and creamy and really tasted of avocados and limes. The crust was a perfect accompaniment (a bit of a sticking point for me, as I seem to be a bit particular about pie and cheesecake crusts in general). The fried plantain slice was fantastic with it too, and the contrasting texture and acidity of the lemon sorbet was also a great choice. With dessert, I had a nice satisfying post-meal coffee in one of the most comfortable mugs I've ever held (use it in your right hand).

Bac'n Girl had the Dark Chocolate Fortress ($7), a somewhat phallic mocha glazed, dark chocolate tunnel with a crème anglaise centre spilling out the end, served with French Vanilla ice cream and almond brittle. This was also very good.

I found out later that the old bank vault is actually a private dining room. That is SO cool - definitely worthy of my mental list of possible large dinner party venues. That tickles the same part of my brain that made me as a child vaguely yearn to have a birthday party in a McDonald's caboose whenever walking past one. Their upstairs lounge has a perfect name to reference the old bank building, "Heist." I'd like to check that out sometime too. I think this place might be suffering a bit from an awkward location, but it is not difficult to find. It just seems to have a bit of an "out of the way" feeling. Which makes it even more appealing to me, as I don't always like the hustle and bustle of the latest new thing. I like the idea of a secret little retreat. I think it's worth looking for. On this one visit, I saw reasonable prices, good flavours, an interesting menu, comfortable seating, great service and a great relaxed atmosphere (mid-week). I'll check it out again.

No comments: