Tonight was our monthly blogger get together, we choose a restaurant that many of us have yet to visit and were prepared to feast. It is enjoyable dining with like minded people, those who value the experience and the trying of fine foods at a premium cost, like I do.
Tonight’s destination was chosen based on one of our group’s previous visit. She wrote a glowing review of their pasta that she tried, enough for us to want to visit, and for her to try more of. Plus, “Scout magazine” declared “Cinara” as the place where other Vancouver chefs go to dine, and that you can typically spot them at the bar.
In actuality “Cinara” will be no more after this year. It will still be the same restaurant in an essence; the same chefs, management, and owners. Only its name will change and a few cosmetic upgrades will take place within. Their new title marks the redefining of their brand, in parallel to their sister restaurant. Much like the planned extension of their bar and an update to their lighting. I hope the latter includes making them brighter, I found it impossible for my eyes to adjust to the romantic ambience with its soft orange glow.
The restaurant was simple. All white walls hung with rectangular mirrors, wood under elbows and under foot. We were seated smack dab in the centre of the dining area, and my seat gave me the perfect vantage point to peer into their open kitchen. It attracted your eyes, given how white it was, and how well-lit with florescent bulbs it was. Stainless steel shelves surrounded the casual dressed team of chefs. The were comfortable in tees and ball caps, working together in unison. Utensils hung over them and the island kitchen counter they shared. Throughout the night, I continued witnessing multiple hands go to plate and dress one dish with superb teamwork.
We all agreed to getting their 6 course $75 tasting plate, a requirement being all of us had to want to. It promised dishes from off the menu and a couple that isn’t. However, I found it more like a couple of dishes that strayed from the fine print of the menu. This was just a cost effect way to try smaller portions of the same dishes that you can order a la carte, and it looked like it too.
We began with some bread for the table. A half loaf of their fresh baked sourdough, served with whipped butter and Kosher salt. It had a crunchy crust, made dryer with its coating of flour that clung to the roof of your mouth. The centre of the bread was spongy and chewy, flavoured with that tell-a-tale faint sour tang that sourdough has.
It was here Picky Diner taught me that bread to start not only serves as an intermission to the meal ahead, but you can also ratio it on your side plate to use throughout your meal. Rip a piece and it becomes a base for the tartare, another helps sop up some sauce, and most of the time it serves as a palette eraser, setting your tongue and taste buds back at 0.
Next we were treated to an amuse bouche, a small bite that serves as a glimpse of the chef’s style and the meal to come. And it spoke true. I found this chicken liver pate both rich and overly salty, as I did everything else that followed it.
Chicken liver parfait on a crispy sourdough flatbread with their own house fermented cornishons. It was highlighted by our server as one of the four things that never changes on their ever revolving menu. I loved the presentation, but you definitely had to spread the parfait over the cracker with your butter knife first. The pate was overwhelmingly strong, just as much as the pickle that choose to battle it with its own tangy strength of flavour. I liked the smooth velvety paste, it made for a great contrast to the crunchy cracker with large air bubbles; resulting in a dense and salty start.
Given the next course was creamy buratta cheese, I expected it to be underwhelmed by the course above. In actuality this was the most rich cheese dish I have ever had.
Burrata cheese delivered from Italy on the day, served with a smear of preserved and fresh plum purée, and drizzled over in their best balsamic, best olive oil, and cracked pepper. The salty plum purée drastically changed the taste of the cheese. I found myself separating it on the plate as it really added nothing for me. And instead I made effort to smooth gummy cheese into the sweet balsamic. Here, I missed the usual raw tomato pairing. Foodgressing was impressed then puzzled by the sheer quantity of cheese that we got on each of our plates. It really didn’t leaving you wanting more. Here, the bread above came in quite handy as a base to balance out the creamy texture, it also played a similar function for the tartare below.
House ground strip-loin beef tartare with pickled pear and creme fraiche. Finished with a dusting of herbed bread crumb, salt, pepper, and olive oil. It too was salty, but I enjoyed the refinement of the dish a lot. Fresh and free falling on the plate, whereas typically it is severed tightly packed and towered.
The “Pacific halibut cartuccio” was explained as fish wrapped up in parchment then baked in the oven. It is prepared with potato, carrot, and escarole; poached in plenty of butter. Once out of the oven it is topped with aerated potato cream; before it is presented before you, still in the parchment. Everyone agreed that the fish was over cooked, it flaked in chunks and was as dry as it felt under the pressure of your fork. The foam cream and the pond of butter did help in this regard. I ate the fish as to not waste it, but I didn’t enjoy it, nor the bone or something sharp that I accidentally swallowed. I only realized I did so as I felt it slowly and painfully creep down my throat. The best part of this dish was the potato. It was buttery and tender, and wasn’t too salty. Overall it felt in complete, like you were missing an element to help round out the dish.
The pasta course was the best course, and the first time I have ever had Tortelloni, a larger version of tortellini. Instead of a small rounds, these were boat shaped crescents with plenty of firm dough surrounding the tightly packed centre. It had a good flavour, but too salty with butter and the shards of Parmesan. Four each was plenty as without a side I could see the flavour growing tiresome.
The braised pork collar was a shoulder cut served with a cipollini onion, cannelloni beans, apples, chanterelle, and Brussel sprouts. The meat had a great texture, but I didn’t find the taste all that dynamic. It was flat with a meaty flavour, surrounded by a collection of vegetables offering their texture to the flaky meat. I preferred it to the grainy lentils and the slightly bitter chanterelle mushrooms.
Dessert was a strong end to a strong meal, whereas I wish I got something a bit more refreshing to wind down on. Salted caramel tart with crushed pine nuts and a dollop of apple purée. It was decadent and sweet, and I liked the slightly chilled temperature it came at. This sliver was plenty for me.
I called ahead and made the reservation, so in doing so, requested something special of one of us, who had just celebrated a birthday. The result, a lone candle on Foodology’s dessert plate. Given the velocity of the spinning fans overhead, it arrive cloched by a wine glass and she was told to blow it out quick. Given our commitment to the meal it would have been nice to have the moment a little more special.
I am glad we got the tasting menu as to not commit to full servings of each course. With it, it felt like we got regular portions doled out six ways. It didn’t look like much, but altogether plenty of food. Although if you add up each individual course we had (including 2 servings of the bread and the complimentary amuse bouche) it would total to approximately $162, around $32 each. I feel we would have been just as satisfied sharing all the above five ways and saving on the $75 per person charge for a little larger bites.
Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Having our last tasting menu serve as such a success in value and taste, then comparing it to the dinner before, things fell flat. I would like to see what their rebranding yields, however, based on this meal I don’t feel the need to revisit. We tried plenty and nothing really stood out. The pasta was good, but as are others at other restaurants offering their own homemade version. I did like the presence of who I assume was the manager. He was great at explaining each dish that came before us, even slowing down so I could gather more notes than what the menu offered. He was also the one that took the time to run through the future of “Cinara” for us. Don’t deny your cravings.
350 West Pender Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 1T1