Monday, October 13, 2014

Gobble, Gobble at Burnaby's Hart House Restaurant

I love turkey dinner.  This year, family Thanksgiving dinner dropped down to only two of us - my Dad and I.  It's the second year without my Mom and I think she would have loved this quiet fine dining version of Thanksgiving that we did.  Also, my brother recently split up with his partner, which actually takes away three from our usual Thanksgiving table as her kids have been joining us in previous years too.  My Dad was not up to cooking this year (though he makes a mean turkey dinner), which I suspected might be the case (and I wasn't up to it either), so I found a Burnaby restaurant close to him that could do turkey and managed to get him out of the house (though not my brother, who doesn't really like turkey anyway).  I was hoping for a hotel or casino buffet but couldn't find one that would be really good and serve turkey for sure.  So we went for something a little fancier.  I've always wanted to try Hart House Restaurant, and it's a bit silly that I've never dined there because it is really close to where I mostly grew up.  And as I found out, is quite a nice restaurant with a chef with serious skills.  Overall the experience was great, but I wouldn't say that everything in this meal was completely to my taste, but I would definitely come back and would only change very minor things.  

The Tudor style house is 102 years old, and was lived in right up to 1979 when the Municipality of Burnaby purchased it.  It's in Deer Lake Park, close to the Burnaby Art Gallery, Heritage Village, and the Shadbolt Centre.  Some of the tables have a beautiful view of the park.  We parked (free parking) and walked in from the drizzle to the warmth of a roaring fire in a beautiful massive fireplace original to the building in the lobby area.  Coats were taken and my little note that we were coming for turkey dinner from my online reservation was acknowledged when the host showed us the menus.  To me, this little thing is an indicator that the front of house was well organized.  According to their website, they regularly offer a $36 three-course prix fixe which changes weekly and I had a very quick response on facebook when I inquired about turkey for Thanksgiving too.  

I ordered a glass of cava ($8, Codornui, from Spain), figuring a sparkling would go with everything we were eating, and it was very nice and quite sweet which suited me.

The amuse bouche was a spoon with a fine salmon tartare, tiny shaved fennel and a tiny blini.  My Dad liked that they used a Chinese spoon - I've been so used to this trend, I had forgotten that a Chinese spoon here is out of its usual context.  The amuse bouche was tasty and very interesting with its different components (and my Dad actually ate raw fish without any protest, which is a big thing.  It's possible he might not have known...).  We were given a nice basket of very warm sliced baguette and some cold butter also, which was nice, as I always appreciate it when the bread is warm. 

The prix fixe had two options for each course, and between the two of us, we tasted everything except for the salmon main - coho salmon cioppino, mussels, prawns, fennel, saffron tomato broth (also offered a la carte for $28).

Dad had the soup, a butternut squash and coconut velouté which had a luxuriously smooth texture, and a definite nutmeg note (I think), which I personally am not a big fan of, but it was a great soup.  Dad liked it.  

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Curry Oil, Pickled Squash

I started with a pickled beet and burrata salad with orange segments, watercress, pine nuts, and sherry vinaigrette, but when the food came, I honestly forgot that there was supposted to be burrata in it (from the facebook menu) which I was looking forward to trying as I've seen it on shows and from people talking about it or eating it next to me, but it's not a cheese that I know very well first hand.  Anyhow, I remember the slices of what I thought were Grana Padano or Parmesan or a similar firm cheese, but I do not remember any burrata (nor do I see any in the photo, unless it's underneath which would not make sense) and anyway, I think I would have noticed it if it was there.  It might have been changed on the actual menu that we read in the restaurant.  The salad was quite nice.  I liked those tiny orange segments, and the variety of beets and treatments of the beets.  The dressing didn't sing to me, but was fine.  I think a soft cheese would have been great here though. 

Orange Segments, Watercress, Pine Nuts, Sherry Vinaigrette

The real star of this menu was the turkey breast!  I'm always a little leary of white meat on turkey as it's so often dry, but I still enjoy the taste of white meat.  I prefer the flavourful dark meat of turkey, but knew that I would still get some in this dish in the stuffing.  What I wasn't expecting was how tender and moist the turkey breast would be.  Honestly, it might be the most tender turkey breast I've ever had, and again because I didn't pay enough attention to the menu, I found myself wondering if they had a waterbath back there and cooked this sous vide without saying so on the menu.  What they actually did was poach the meat in buttermilk.  This is the way to cook turkey breast.  It was really good.  Then the chunk of stuffing had delicious dark meat with mushrooms and bread.  The jus (gravy) was fabulous, though I would have liked a bit more.  The baby brussel sprouts were excellent, but again, I would have liked more.  In fact, I would have liked a lot more vegetables.  Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed that the regular menu included a side of vegetables for $5 (and wouldn't have anticipated needing that with a set three course dinner, but wished I had noticed it in the menu so that I could have thought of it when I was eating the dish and thinking I wanted more veg).  The facebook menu mentioned pommes mousseline, and some sort of mashed potato would have been very welcome, but was missing from the dish.  However, the turkey portion was very generous and the whole thing much more filling than it appears (plus my Dad was giving me parts of his dishes that he couldn't finish).  I used the cranberry compote as I'm a big fan of cranberry with turkey, but I didn't really enjoy the dried cranberry texture and would have preferred more of a sauce or jelly instead.

Dark Meat & Mushroom Stuffing, Pommes Mousseline?, Brussels Sprouts, Cranberry Compote, Turkey Jus

For dessert, Dad wanted the pumpkin cheesecake, and I had the apple cinnamon parfait.  I'm always one to gravitate to any cake type desserts, so I was looking forward to the cake layered with creamy custard.  The pumpkin cheesecake was very pumpkin-y and low on the cheesy-ness.  The chantilly cream and the caramel sauce were very nice (I didn't taste an almond), and it was a nice solid dessert and very nicely presented.

 PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE (a la carte 10)
Caramel Sauce, Vanilla Chantilly, Toasted Almonds

My parfait was okay.  I liked the chantilly cream on top, and the cream underneath, but I think it wasn't custardy enough (like a trifle).  It needed to be richer, I think.  The apples cubes were very firm - but again, that's a subjective thing, and I would have gone quite a bit softer, but they had a good flavour.  It was nicely spiced.  The cake was somewhat hard and a bit dry, like a day-old cake (which  was probably made fresh, but with a very dry style).  It really needed to be soaked in sherry, brandy or jelly like a trifle would be (or like how tiramisu is soaked in coffee/coffee liqueur).  The menu says "berries" so maybe if there had been a berry sauce or berry compote layered in there, or even whole berries, it might have worked (and maybe that was the intention?).  It would have also been prettier with another layer of colour.  I'm pretty sure that the only berry in mine was the nice little raspberry on top.  Also, perhaps because I'm shorter, I found the goblet a bit awkwardly tall, and would have preferred a lower dish, though I recognize that the stem does make it look more like a little trifle.  I think I would have been happier with these four components (chantilly, custard cream, poached apples, spiced sponge) just set on a plate without the cake crumbled, with a berry sauce or several more berries.   I ate all of the chantilly on top though, which was very nice.  We had coffee, but Dad wanted decaf so I joined him with that and regretted not getting regular.  It wasn't good, but wasn't terrible.

Spice Sponge, Poached Apple, Custard Cream, Chantilly Cream, Berries

Now that I've thought the meal through, almost all of my minor criticisms with the meal look like they were simply execution omissions that would have been solved if they stuck to their original menu.  It was the last night of this Thanksgiving week prix fixe.  Could they have just run out of certain ingredients?  There is obviously a lot of skill and classic French technique demonstrated in the food here at Hart House, as well as a very well-thought out menu, and I wonder if it might just be the execution this night.  Burrata here, potato mousseline there, and berry layer here would have filled the gaps that I instinctively found unbalanced about the meal.  Plus a few other small vegetable pieces on the turkey plate (say a baby carrot and a couple of haricot verts?) would have been great.  The dressing for the salad also might have just been a simple execution issue - a tiny bit more of "brightness" would have changed that whole experience.  

Service was excellent, and the room felt warm, inviting, and not too stuffy.  You can dress up for dinner if you like and it can be a nice special occasion restaurant, but you wouldn't feel too out of place if you didn't want to get really dressed up.  It certainly feels out of the way, so could be a fun special date outing as it feels like a bit of a destination, since you wouldn't normally be out in the area at night otherwise.  You could walk around Deer Lake Park first, and then head in for dinner on a dry evening.  We were there with the extremely early crowd on Sunday on Thanksgiving weekend, and it's a very traditional place, so there were mainly seniors and families.  It was nice and quiet, but started to fill up more as we were leaving.  I would love to go again on another day of the week and try another prix fixe menu.  And don't forget, poach your turkey breast in buttermilk!  Just brilliant.  

No comments: