When service decides a return trip.
When looking for a restaurant to impress and one our foodie friendly birthday girl has never been to before, I started searching for places out of dowtown and out of Vancouver. Not many would think of Burnaby when looking for a nice fine dining option. So my search brought me to “The Pear Tree”. They have been in operation since 1998 and they don’t seem to be loosing steam based on what I have read and what I have heard from others.
The exterior looked different from all the other buildings in the neighbourhood, and inside even more so. It was polished and modern with its flat panel front. No worn awnings, no sandwich boards, and no posters plastered on the glass. It was clean and definitely spoke to the sophisticated cuisine being served within.
I arrived early and had some time to kill so found myself visiting their webpage as I waited in their lounge for my guests. The lounge was right by the entry way with a clear view of the hostess stand. It was dimly lit and only slightly brighter than the scene in the dining room, something I noticed when I looked to the other side. Here they housed several of their awards on display. Their chef was a culinary champion with the metals to prove it. He had won a bronzed plate and a silver whisk. And the restaurant he and his wife ran had been awarded a few accolades from Vancouver Magazine over the years. They were both in today, or at least I think so based on my comparing them to their online bios.
I originally came early to drop of a custom made cake in secret, only to be called a few hours before the reservation that, that was against the policy. This isn’t a new thing, but some more advance notice would have been helpful. So there my cake sat in the car melting. But the host/owner arranged one of their desserts to be brought out with a candle after dinner and we would provided the song.
The dining room was sober in candle light and whispering conversation. This was polite dining in close quarters, and what you would expect from a fine dining establishment. White table cloths, a succulent at every table, cloth napkins, and cutlery I have never seen before. A flat spoon-like flipper with a dent and a cake cutter with our entrées. Though the restaurant revealed its age with the use of carpet and its stains, that is why you don’t often see carpet in a dining room.
On the walls were large photos related to their name: pear trees. A lone tree in a field and leaves changing colour on a branch. Though no actual pears in any shot. They weren’t the most artistic, so I assume it held sentimental value, maybe even taken by the owners?
All together things felt like a hotel or someone’s home, especially with the wine cellar and the kitchen adjacent. From where I sat, if I angled myself just right I could see the work that went into each place, how the entire kitchen staff huddled around each completed dish, and waited with baited breath held as the last smudge was wiped clean. It was one of the most quiet and composed kitchens I have ever seen, or maybe I am just too use to “Hell’s Kitchen or “Master Chef” concepts.
The menu is limited as they specialize and take the time to perfect each plate they put out. If you have dietary restrictions, you can ask for the vegan and vegetarian options, on a separate menu. They offered to split everything into individual servings, knowing we would be sharing, but for the sake of my photos I had us share bites and spoonfuls at a time. After each course new flatware was dispensed. As I mentioned before, we were confused by how they look, but found it easy enough to guess their function.
Our meal began with bread. Not served in the typical basket for everyone to share. But we each had our own slice served right to our side plates, with the butter in a dish to share. The butter was so perfectly oval, like it was set in a chocolate mould. This was in-house made brioche. Fluffy and moist, it was more like cake.
The items I ordered were recommended by friends who have already been. The three appetizers we choose ended up perfectly balancing each other. And each dish covered salty, sour, creamy, and tangy.
The “Flamed Gin and ‘Cascade’ Tomato Soup” was served with a chive whipped cream. The two came separated and were brought together at our table, like a show. The plate had the solid dollop of whipped cream sitting over a tender piece of carrot, lone at its centre. The tomato and gin soup was then poured out of a gravy boat, over the cream. The hot soup would then melt the cream down, or you could just stir it in. I appreciated the art and the live table action. The soup itself was refreshing in its light tang. You also got the the sharp gin taste that its description promised. I would have liked a crisp cracker with seeds, or something to nibble on with this.
Another must try is their “Lobster Cappuccino”. Even its name peaks your interest. It is a lobster bisque foam with Dashi custard and poached lobster pieces. The half soup half beverage is served in a double walled cup with a squid ink chip on the side. This chip is made from tapioca and tasted like crisp saltiness. Together they were a fun take on “biscotti” to go with the “espresso”. The foam was as its name led you to believe, light and airy with tiny bubbles on its surface. It got thick and smooth towards the bottom, where the tender chunks of lobster meat sank. Each drop was full of fishy lobster flavour. The birthday girl liked it so much that she scraped the portion clean.
“Orange caramelized scallops with double smoked bacon risotto”. A dish so popular that they give you the option of making it an entree portion for more. The saltiness of bacon made a good companion to the mild buttery scallop, but the latter was slightly over cooked. The rice was also a little more watery than I expected, although it’s flavour was still light. This was good as a taster between three people. I don’t think I would have enjoyed a whole portion to myself, I would grow tired of its one tone taste.
This was my favourite dish of the night. I am not typically a fan of fish, but this “Pan Roasted Lois LakeSteelhead” served with Pomme dauphine and butternut squash was amazing. It was the most buttery piece of fish with a perfectly seared crust I have ever had. It was not the least bit dry, it practically melted. Similarly were each of the tender vegetables surrounding it. I liked the cheesy potato bites the most, or at least that is what they tasted like.
The “Braised Alberta Lamb Shank” came with Cauliflower Fritters and Eggplant Puree. Like the fish, the lamb was tender to the point that it fell off the bone. The fritters tasted like they were filled with polenta, mashed smooth, but still grainy by nature. The brown meat sauce was the most flavourful, and really hid my ability to taste the cauliflower in the purée; instead the purée simply added cream to the texture.
The “Twice Cooked ‘Berkshire’ Pork Belly” came with a white bean cassoulet. The pork belly didn’t have enough flavour, just like the bed of rounds that accompanied it. I felt like it could have used a thick gravy instead of another purée. The meat and vegetables were already cream-like. So it was missing some crunch, an element with more chewing involved. Like crispy pork skin, instead of melt in your mouth pig fat. It was also extra dry with the sandy texture of beans and peas together, and could have used another sauce here. Overall we didn’t feel like it was special enough for the price.
The “Carrot risotto” was off the separate vegetarian menu. It is made with fresh carrot, squash, and celeriac; then topped with shaved grana padano. The texture was smooth like porridge with the promised flavour of carrot in abundance.
Our entrees also came with a complimentary bowl of pea shoots to share. A bite of this could have easily freshen up any plate, it certainly matched all the ones we had.
The “Chocolate Ganache” with a crisp nut base, salted caramel, and a scoop of orange chocolate sorbet was our birthday cake substitution. If you don’t like sweet desserts, this one is for you. Rich in dark chocolate and deep in smokey hazelnut. It doesn’t look like anything more than a slim chocolate bar, we judged too soon. It was so decadent that a bite was enough to have you satisfied, we were glad to have to share it. This one would have been nice with tea to wash it down.
But the sweets did not end there, we were again treated to in house made pear jellies with the billfold. You could taste the freshness in the fruit used. It was a little sweet for most of my guests, so I relished in having more than one piece. It was like biting into a solid pear jello dusted in sugar crystals.
I think the service stiffen and the hospitality grew cold as we began to critique. It is something I personally encourage when I dine with my guest, as I take their comments and make them my own; for a post such as this. However given the smaller venue and the quiter room, I felt that most of what we said could be heard, and offence was taken to it by the two staff that served. When discussing this later, my guests argued that such comments were within their right to make and that it is something typical when dining out. “You critique your meal, you discuss your shared experience”. “It was not like we weren’t enjoying ourselves”, we were just being overly critical for this content. As I am often too honest I will not leave any more of such thoughts here.
I truly did like the place and even more the food. And I would have liked to return again, if not for the service. Given the cold reception towards the end of our meal, I will not be returning. It didn’t help that I accidentally spilled my red drink over their white table cloth and myself, and that I had trouble trying to grab my coat from the unattended hostess booth when trying to leave. I felt like both made a scene. So now I feel a little too sheepish to dare a return trip, lest I be noticed and receive the same cold shoulder again. I truly felt like we weren’t wanted. Like when I accidentally spilled my Caesar on myself and the staff noted but didn’t flinch, it was a little shocking. I had to claim all my guest’s used napkins to dry myself off before some more were handed to me by our server. Though we felt like we earned the right to be here tonight, accident or not. We certainly paid for the time in food. We had three cocktails, three appetizers, four entrees, and one dessert; totalling over $200. It is not often I spend this much on meal, so I would like it to be as special as I can have it, given I can’t afford this place every day.
Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
As true to many fine dining restaurants, the portions were smaller, but were just as filling. The food was good and the service had its up and downs. Though the lack of concern and my description above won’t have me back in for a second try. But once again this shift in attitude only came after our honest to average comments. It’s hard not to judge solely on the food, as that is what a food blogger does. But this is one of those rare times where the food is great and what should be a return visit isn’t because of the experience. Sad because I had high hopes for this upscale establishment. I wanted this to be a hidden gem in an average Burnaby neighbourhood. The one to have everyone driving out of Vancouver for… Don’t deny your cravings.