Sunday, December 30, 2018

Notch8 for an Elegant Sunday Brunch Buffet, Hotel Vancouver, Downtown

Let's buffet like it's 1999!  Diets weren't meant to last forever.  I had a very good holiday meal here.  My kind of New Year's fireworks?  Blowtorch flames on motoyaki sauce.

Chef Will Lew flaming the motoyaki sauce atop the customized egg and toast.

I found this Sunday brunch while I was looking for a buffet to lavishly celebrate the New Year with a feast and it fit the bill for me, even though it is a day early and in the afternoon.  I normally don't get to do Sunday brunch because of my work, so I was particularly excited for this and I took joy in studying the menu thoroughly ahead of time and even looked at some videos online in anticipation.

Customized egg on toast

I admit that I was already a fan of the restaurant and the Chef's creative ecosystem/nature themes, having dined there a couple of times before. I've also been eyeing the menus for the fantastically themed afternoon teas and hope to try one eventually. I loved meeting Chef at the egg and toast station.  There are many options to choose from, but I asked for the sous vide egg with smashed avocado and crab meat, and asked for anything else he thought would be good with that.  Pictured above, it also has some herbed cream cheese, salmon slices, and shrimp on there, topped with motoyaki sauce and torched.  One of my favourite things about dining out is experiencing ingredients that I have never had before or becoming more familiar with their distinct taste.  In this dish, the garnishes of micro shiso and arctic char roe did that for me. So now I know that I like cute baby red shiso which is milder than the grown-up green type. Fun! It's so nice when people are as friendly as the chef was and happy to answer questions.  I was also curious about the sous vide egg texture so I liked the opportunity to try it.  This one had a very runny yolk, so the technique is a bit lost on me since my personal preference is a thicker yolk anyway.  But I could see how effectively it can completely cook the white without cooking the yolk at all.  And I love this version of a buffet egg station because I'm much more of a poached egg person than an omelette person, so the sous vide eggs work well for this. And the end result is therefore more eggciting than an omelette which has become a standard at buffets. 

For me, the atmosphere put together in the room can really make a big difference in a dining experience.  This place is so cozy with low ceilings, a nice fireplace, and stylish furniture.  In general, this results in a much more "civilized" easy-going vibe than a typical noisy buffet and I appreciated it.  

Service was pretty good. I thought that the hostess was great. Servers do try to clear dishes right away and replace cutlery.  I'm kind of a stickler for a clean table (at this price point especially), so if I could pick one thing to improve for this experience, I would say that the dirty dishes could have been tidied and replaced better (started pretty good, but especially at the end when my dining companions had to leave and I was staying for a bit, some of their dirty dishes were there for a while and not sure why he would leave them when he would have been the one to deal with their bills.  Also, once I had cutlery taken away while I was gone but when I got back, I had to wait for the server to get close enough for me to ask for a new set). 

I also think that the server could have offered the Caesar and therefore explained the Caesar situation (he did offer coffee/tea though) because I wound up asking the bartender for a glass at the Caesar station and he had to tell me to go back and ask the server and it seemed a bit of a run around (and not particularly friendly), until I realized that the server also puts the vodka in the glass and that this is how they keep track of each guest getting just one. The bartender could have taken the extra second to explain that in a friendly way right away, instead of just "ask your server for the glass", which made it seem at first like he wasn't willing to give me a glass that was right there. He explained a bit more when I looked awkwardly confused, but a smile would go a long way, and I'm sure I'm not the first person to be confused by this, and he needs to remember that it isn't the customer's fault that when they are confused, especially considering how much I studied for this meal, lol. When my guests arrived, the server did remember to ask them and I had it all figured out by then. I think I got all the service misfires for our table. However, we did have a nice carafe of coffee for the table which meant that there was usually some coffee available without having to rely on the server to refill, water was refilled, and he was definitely polite and friendly, so it was fine. When I arrived, and was shown to our table, there was another four top right next to it that had better lighting and I politely asked about it, but they said that was for four people, and my group had three, which I accepted, but honestly, I don't think it should have mattered to them that much since both of the tables were meant to hold up to four with reasonable flow and I was clearly showing a preference for that table when the party that was going to fill might not even have a preference. I had reserved a table for four weeks in advance (but someone cancelled).  

Hotels are all about service, so these small things do stick out more because of that standard. It wasn't the type of service where everything is thought of for you, or they keep checking on you, and you don't have to flag someone down to ask for anything.  But it wasn't bad enough for me to not want to come back plus you never know if you'll get a different experience with different people anyway.  

Caesar Station (one shot is included in the buffet price)

Coffee or tea is included, and juices and nice smoothies are out on the table too.  The $59 cost includes a Caesar, which you can make yourself at the Caesar station once the server gives you your vodka shot in a rimmed glass.  I think they could have done with some skewers for the multitude of garnishes as some were shorter than the glass, but I guess at least it saves some waste by not having them there. There wasn't a Notch8 mixer (if you wind up studying the menu too, lol), just Clamato and Walters.

My first plate. Gotta hit that prime rib.

The carving station is usually a priority for me at a buffet, and here it did not disappoint!  Make a bee line to it like I did.  I was actually planning to start taking more photos first, but I couldn't help myself and had to pick up some meat first.  They cook their prime rib overnight, and it was beautiful. So tender and all of it nice and red.  I ate every bit.  There was also Yorkshire pudding, jus, horseradish, and the wonderful addition of chimichurri sauce. 

I believe that if you were to come for dinner, just a main dish of prime rib without any drinks or appies would cost $49, so while $59 might seem high for a brunch buffet, I feel that it was well worthwhile because you are getting dinner quality food, but are just eating it in the afternoon.  Just as a local buffet pricing comparison, right now even the mediocre River Rock is charging $50 (without alcoholic drink) for their buffet because of the Christmas season.  The other carving item changes, but today it was my other favourite, turkey!  I had some of the dark and the white and was surprised at how nice it was - it was moist and tender, and not dry. You will not get that at the River Rock, lol.  Gravy and cranberry sauce accompanied.  There was a mixed veg dish that had different colours of cauliflower plus kale, brussel sprouts, with chili flakes, parmesan, lemon that would go nicely with this, but not pictured on this plate.  I also tried the various smoked salmons, salmon candy, cold prawns, cheeses, porchetta hash, and some other things.  I liked how the salmon offerings were served on halved logs, but I was so distracted that I forgot to take photos. 

It's nice that there are pre-made back bacon eggs bennies as an option, but don't forget, you can get a customized egg and toast.

Not pictured, but the chicken and pork sausages were tasty and I think I can be a bit picky about sausages as I have definitely met a sausage or two that I didn't like.  There were crepes, waffles and the usual breakfast suspects but I didn't have the room to try them.

Some of the breakfast pastries

I tried the mini almond croissant and really enjoyed it. I skipped all the other breads, cereals, two types of yoghurts because I didn't have room, but it all looked nice. Wish I could have tasted more of the mini muffins and pastries.

One of the people I dined with reported that the salads were very good.  I liked the fresh fruit and smoothies here.

Several beautiful desserts with pretty garnishing were available. In my buffet imagination, I thought that I was going to try a bit of all the desserts but I hit the wall after I started the first few. I chose the mini crème brûlée as someone came by with a tray of fresh ones, and it was nice.  I also had a tiny tiny pumpkin pie topped with a layer of apple jelly glaze, and pumpkin seeds, and I liked that the plate was decorated with long chocolate sticks like a sweet game of pick up sticks. I also had a slice of this nice fluffy holiday white Bûche de Noël (there was also a brown one). I prefer to spread my food out on the plate and just go up more often but I still wound up overdoing it like a buffet newbie. Walked it off for a bit, and just won't need to eat for the rest of the day.

My final plate...for the day.

Thanks, Notch8, for this feast!  Keep rocking the buffet at full throttle!  Btw, I love the train theme elements in the restaurant name and I think in the design of the cute little curtained booths in the dining room. I won't have a Sunday off for a while, but they do a breakfast buffet all of the other days too that might be worth checking out but it probably won't have that prime rib... Chugga chugga, choo choo!

Friday, January 19, 2018

6 Degrees Eatery - A Coal Harbour Café

This is all you would want in a neighbourhood café.  It's a great little friendly, relaxing, and comfortable place.  Food and drink are good.  I've had cappuccinos, Earl Grey tea, wine, almond croissant, truffle mac and cheese with ham, and ale stew, and all were high quality.  Great service, good value for the area, especially with happy hour specials and a view of the harbour, comfortable decor, and pretty dishware and cutlery.

I've often wanted a café where you can not only stay a while having coffee, but also have the option to have some savoury food.  I feel comfortable doing either here.  And they even have beer, wine, and spirits!  It's been a while since I've been there, but they did full table service.  I actually enjoyed that, because they really didn't rush me out on any visit even though they were tending the tables.  They also have a little convenience shop going on in the corner, presumably so that people in the nearby hotel (and maybe even the condos) can grab necessities like milk or other items, and take them to their room.  

For warmer weather, they have a little patio area, and even encourage dogs by having a banana shaped dog bed out there.  You can watch people strolling along the seawall while enjoying your coffee or a glass of wine.  In the window, i imagine the pedestrian traffic is too slow for them to stay open at night, but I hope they are able to open at night again when the weather warms up.  

Longer night hours, along with a couple of larger substantial main dishes (though their food tends to be more tapas style), and a few special house cocktails, would make this place perfect.  

Monday, January 01, 2018

"Secret" Cuchillo

I admit it, I was intrigued by Cuchillo because it had no other sign than its beautiful purple neon skull.  No menu posted in the window, or hours, or a name.  But there's always Google maps.  I stumbled across this place on Powell St amidst so many other hipster-filled restaurants and cafés (in the Crosstown and Chinatown area), and I'd been having bad luck with them, finding them overpriced and, well, too "hipster-y" (y'know, trying to be cool, but just ending up impractical in an arrogant yet clichéd way...).  I am a big fan of Latin food, and I'm so glad I gave Cuchillo a try.  While I still spent quite a bit there, I found prices really reasonable and large portions helped make it feel like good value.  The food was delicious.  The cocktail was refreshing, and even though it had typically sweet flavours (lychee, lemonade), it was well balanced, and not cloying.  Service was warm and attentive.  Another server besides my main server checked in with me also during the night.  The vibe was good - somewhat relaxed, even with large groups of people having a good time.  My only quibble, that I can put up with, is that they have almost exclusively high top tables and stools, and as a shorter person, I always prefer low chairs.  But I'd definitely go back.  

 The Secret Garden

Blistered shisito chilies with coriander hummus, salsa mocha, patacone, $9

 Cornbread Azul, guajillo chili butter, $9

 Lamb (meatball) taco topped with popcorn and cheese, $12 for 2 tacos