Monday, November 27, 2006

...And the Winner of the Nancyland Best (New) Vancouver Restaurant of the Year Is...

Rare Restaurant (1355 Hornby Street, at Pacific, 604.669.1256 )! This is a pretty bold declaration since I've only been able to go once, but that one time was a really fabulous experience. And, having had the pleasure of briefly meeting Tim Keller (at the enRoute Magazine event that I will post about soon), and having read about many of their events, including frequent charity dinners and black box type dinners which sound like a blast, I am fully prepared to declare Rare my new current favourite restaurant (with the caveat that I've just been once). That night the restaurant operated as if it could do no wrong though. It was the whole package - food, service, and atmosphere. In other words, tasty, charming, and good-looking. I was thoroughly seduced. Details like the personalized menus, being given the table for the entire evening (yes, they only have one seating a night), and being treated to wonderfully personal and knowledgeable service makes this a great place to celebrate a special occasion. In this case, it was my impending birthday that gave fellow foodie, Cheeseboy, and I an excuse to splurge. I had been wanting to go since before they even opened, as I was following their opening soon blog, and also because there was some talk about developing innovative non-alcoholic drink pairings, which I think is still a great idea.

I arrived to a tastefully elegant, yet cosy room in neutral tones, and fabric covered surfaces. A smiling, and very gracious host greeted us. We were originally attracted to the restaurant for that evening by a promotional prix fixe three course dinner, but when we got there, I really just wanted to have the chef give us whatever he thought best with the six-course tasting menu. In my opinion, the six courses for $65 is a bargain, and definitely worth the splurge. There is also a very convenient option to have them pair wines for $25, $40, or $65. I say, just go for it, and have the pairings. Cheeseboy was driving that night, and I'm a lightweight with alcohol, so we shared a $25 pairing, and our server very generously split it for us, and served every pairing in two glasses for us. I had expressed an interest in the Guinness Bread Pudding dessert, and the server very kindly arranged for us to get both a cheese plate and bread pudding for dessert. He had also arranged to get the prix fixe menu that I enquired about initially specially printed for us too. Really, even without the spectacular food, this evening would have been worthwhile for the service alone. Since the chef created the menu for us, I don't have a written version of the menu, and I won't be posting detailed descriptions of the dishes. It was one of those meals that you just have to sit back and enjoy all the sensations - all the flavours and textures popping out at you, and how they combine with the carefully chosen pairings. Any effort to make fastidious notes about wines and plate components would have detracted from that experience, and this night was all about indulgence, baby. It's all a happy blur in my memory. I didn't take a photo of the bread, or the amuse bouche, but like all the details, they met the high standards that Rare has set for itself. Plus, this was a birthday celebration after all, and I can start blaming my fuzzy memory on my age now. With apologies to the chefs, I will just make up my own names for the dishes.

Chanterelle Soup That Eats Like a Meal

Tender Octopus Sous Vide with the Best Ratatouille Ever

Prawn-like Animal with Incredibly Crispy Little Potato Thingies

Quail and His Friends, Fresh Fig, Yummy Sauce, and Chanterelle

Tasty Beef and What the Hell, Go Ahead and Put Cheese On Top Too!

At this point, we were starting to lose count of where we were in the meal, so my reaction was an excited "oh my god, there's a beef dish too!" Remember kiddies, today's special word is "INDULGENCE." But I wouldn't say it was over the top, because while this beef dish would have been great without the melty cheese on top, it was even better with it.

Mango Sorbet and Lemon Curd Sauce Pleasing Palate Cleanser

Really Good Cheese Platter with Cute Grapes

Guinness Caramel Sauce Bread Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream

This sweet sauce was smooth and the Guinnessy quality made it through without having any unpleasant "beer aftertaste" for those of us who aren't big beer drinkers. A great dessert for a cold evening. The flavours of the entire meal were classic, and exceptionally well-executed.

If you'd like to know about one of the people behind all this, Chef Quang Dang is featured in EAT Magazine's November/December issue. I picked mine up at the wine store on Davie St. And it's a fantastic piece - he's submitted recipes for the magazine's "black box" feature, where he was asked to come up with dishes for quail, duck, pheasant, cornish hen and squab. The photos are beautiful too. To my delight, I noticed right away that the delicious ratatouille is included. I've never been a fan of ratatouille until now. Perhaps because I've only had very harsh, acidic versions. His version (or perhaps it's Brian Fowkes') was mellow and delicate, yet still packed with flavour. The article notes that Chef Quang Dang has now left Rare to deal with personal matters in Calgary, but I believe he was in the kitchen that night in mid-October.

Here's another little tidbit I'm very excited about. While chatting with restaurant director and sommelier, Tim Keller, I got the scoop that he's working on opening a new restaurant downtown, near the Canada Place side! It's going to be called Metro, is a large space, and is replacing a Japanese Restaurant at 200 Burrard. That's all I know for now. Keep your eye open for an opening soon blog, like the one chef/owner Brian Fowkes and co-owner Tim Keller wrote in setting up Rare.

One last note of interest for Rare - their website says they are open for lunch Monday to Friday for the month of December. They also have a "lounge" area in the upper, back part of the restaurant that I've been meaning to pop into too. I hope to visit again soon, to see if I have another great experience. It will definitely be high up on my list for intimate, indulgent celebration restaurants, right up there with C. I love tasting menus; it's like dinner and a show all in one package. It might be funny to call a $90/person meal ($65 six-course meal plus $25 wine pairing) a bargain, but I think it's probably one of the best fine dining bargains in town and definitely the best tasting menu bargain.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ode to Adam's Eve (Vancouver)...Or An Elegy?

Sadly, there are only 38 days left before Adam retires from his incredibly thorough directory of Vancouver Restaurants, Adam's Fabulous Vancouver Dining Guide at He has had a note on there for a while about taking over, purchasing, or leasing the site, but I've never really been able to wrap my head around how much work it would be to maintain that site to the level that he does. Yes, even eating at restaurants and writing about it can be hard work. Thank you, Adam. I can't even count the number of times I've used that site to locate a restaurant, or to help me pick a place to eat. The geographical organizational scheme of that site is very handy in many ways. Here's hoping someone takes over. But even if someone does, I'm sure I'll miss Adam's style, his discerning palate, and his particular take on the restaurant scene. I'll miss his ranting about bastardized dishes, and most of all, his delight in a really great find.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Thank You Adventurous Nancylanders!

A very belated thank you to the Nancylanders that came out to the first ever Nancyland meet on October 14th, 2006. It was great to meet some of the people who have stumbled onto my blog, and confirm my suspicion that Nancylanders are a pretty neat bunch of people, at least judging from the brave souls that ventured out to Le Piazza Dario Ristorante that night to have dinner.

Embarassingly, the restaurant let me down in a big way, being downright rude, as well as serving rather mediocre food. An Italian restaurant seemed like such a safe choice, too. I mean, how many times have you had bad service or bad food at an Italian restaurant? This is a culture that usually knows how to entertain. Also, I had a great birthday dinner (a friend's choice for her birthday) there, in a half-full room, a year before that was really exceptional in both food and service, and I even loved the decor (see October 2005). But this place was really dismal the night we went. We were rushed, and given a time limit upon arrival without having been told about the time limit at the time of booking. There is a diplomatic way of doing this, and then there is the way they did it that night - to the point of actually being discouraged from ordering dessert with the line "you have 15 minutes left, if you think you can finish dessert in that time." The food was just okay, and the decor loses its romantic charm when the room is full. We did have some last minute cancellations, but I had someone call ahead about that before the dinner started. We offered to move to a smaller table or to move over so that they could change the arrangement of the table, but they didn't accept the offer. We did have a bit of a late start, but I was pretty open about that happening when I made the reservation in the first place. They were abrupt enough with us, that I will not bother giving them another chance though. I'm not going to worry about it too much, because the food wasn't really that great anyway.

Don't let this discourage you from future Nancylander events though. It was great fun to meet more people who love to eat, and, well, to eat with them! Maybe we should get a gang together for Daniel's new Senhor Rooster location, now that he has moved to a bigger space, on Renfrew St., just a couple of blocks south of Hastings. He was telling me before that there will be a dancefloor!

Below are some pictures of some of our food at Le Piazza Dario. But since I can't recommend the restaurant, I will recommend one of my favourite dependable Italian places again instead - Amarcord, which I have not been disappointed with in my four visits there. It's not somewhere I would think of for a large group, but a very lovely place for a small number of people (particularly for two).



Spaghetti with Turkeyballs

Lamb Posted by Picasa