With sister restaurants like Robson Street’s “CinCin” and Whistler’s “Araxi” I went in to this one excited. Finer dining on South Granville, but first you have to find it.
On a block with various boutiques and high end window displays, it is easy to walk by, and miss their simple frosted glass. They were a door-in-the-wall that could be mistaken for the door to an apartment complex or lobby. Although it is easier to located them in the dark, when their sign and awning glows white their name in light.
Stepping in, you are immediately greeted at the door and offered to have your coat, scarf, and umbrellas checked in. We were a group of 12 and had two attendants doing just that, as today’s weather required all three. In exchange you are given a coat check ticket.
The hostess directed us towards our table. We passed by the bar on one side, and a row of glowing glass tubes on the other. The rods stood side by side at varying lengths. Round tipped bubbles of light encased in a gel coating. Like the rest of the art in the restaurant, it was unique, but you didn’t quite know what to make of it. The bar was more practical. It included a handsome shelf of wine bottles that ran the expanse of the entire serving counter; with additional bottles in a cooler, to be served at its optimal temperature. The lone bartender required a rolling library ladder to access the bottle over the height of your standard bar.
They were able to accommodate our group of 12 with a lengthy table by the kitchen. It was craved and decorated etched marble. Our booth seats were backed by glass panels looking into their back of house. I peaked in, like a hungry child looking longingly into the window of a gingerbread house. A look that would have been better taken enroute to the washroom. This angle allowed you to grab a glance at their stainless steel and sparkling white operation in awe. Pass the window counter and the dangling heat lamps, noting all the chefs in full white. Our seats also allowed us to breath in the scent of their cooking. I most enjoyed the one of melted butter over hot heat.
The decor was a walk through of modern art. Reflective squiggles on the ceiling, twisted in curls like a maze. Velvet printed wallpaper in a murky green with specks of orange. And tactile paint splotches on a canvas, like a purposeful-random array of colour, greeting you at the door. All together I felt it took away from the elegance of the place. It made things busier than they needed it to be. Where simple plates are best paired with simple decor. Though in hindsight this was very telling of their cuisine. It spoke to their need to add excess when none was needed, only to muddy the intended subject in doing so.
Given the bar, it was necessary to sample from it with some cocktails. A margarita with fresh lime juice on the rocks and an old fashion with cherry and carved orange peel.
The menu mentioned the breads being baked fresh and served shortly after. It was a basket of small rounds in various grains and seeds. They were accompanied by a dish of light oil and some creamy artisanal butter. I was impressed that the complimentary basket of bread came with complimentary refills.
We were further delighted with an amuse bouche presented in a shot glass. It reminded me of moss in a terrarium. This was a single bite hors d’oeuvre of salmon and roasted cauliflower in a truffle vinaigrette. It was surprising how much flavour was packed into this little morsel, the salmon being the most prominent note. I would have liked more of the promised truffle flavour.
The menu was quite extensive from appetizers being separated by “hot” and “cold”, and entrees between “land” and “sea”. If you couldn’t decide, they had a tasting menu of 7 courses, with its price dependent on your choice of “land”, “sea”, or “vegetarian”. Looking for less variety, a smaller tasting of 3 courses called “pre theatre” was available. And it is intended as its name suggested: the dinner before a movie or a show. Where you had the option of enjoying the dessert course before or after the performance, so long as you are seated before 6pm.
Between our group of 12 we tried 8 different entrees, and were only missing two of the ten options: the tarragon crusted sturgeon and the mushroom vegetarian dish.
Three people ordered the salmon. This was a “Wild B.C. Salmon” in a black pepper glaze, with a creamy lemon spaetzle, radish, and a dill emulsion. “Spaetzle” is a kind of soft egg noodle, it looks like scrabbled eggs with a similar texture, but here more moist. Having three diners try the fish we deduced that it wasn’t consistent. The experience varies to the point that one of the three felt sick with stomach pains shortly after finish. The other two loved what they had. The fish’s skin was declared a revelation, and it’s sauce was even sopped clean off the plate using a piece of bread.
Two ordered the “Haida gwaii sablefish” and were impressed with the fish, but were left scratching their heads when it came to the sides. The sablefish was seasoned with a three vinegar glaze, and served with daikon and marinaded mushroom; all in a dashi broth. The broth came separate in a carafe, and was poured right before those who ordered it. This was to ensure the large squares or nori kept crisp. The sheets umbrella-ing the fish gave it a salty tang and a smokey quality. The sablefish itself was delicious and flakey, but the sides that accompanied it were not dynamic enough to compete. They didn’t add to the dish’s texture or to the enjoyment of dining. The plate needed something crunchy, or at least a sturdier and starchier chew. More depth in a rich side or heavier sauce. The plate as a whole was too light and too cohesive in its one note texture.
Similarly, the butter braised “Northern ling cod” left you wanting more in terms of texture. It was listed as being served with honey mussels and chorizo, in a champagne vinaigrette. So the mound of lentils was a surprise and not necessary. In fact it’s grainy texture took away from the buttery fish.
Anything with an egg yolk is a win, even if it’s over fried, as was the case with the “Duo of Fraser valley pork”. This was braised pork cheek and crispy pork belly served with Swiss chard, in a bone broth. The egg was fried to a crisp, and the Swiss chard too tough to cut into and too fibrous to chew through, but in contrast the meat was perfect. Both selections were fattier cuts that almost melted, with the meat easily flaking apart.
The “Smoked yarrow meadows duck breast” came with celeriac and Brussels sprouts, in a blood orange jus. The duck meat was the perfect blend of rich and fatty. Similarly, it’s sauce was a little of everything. Sweet, salt, and tart from the hint of plum.
The 5oz “AAA Alberta flatiron steak” was just the perfect amount, any more and my guest that enjoyed it, would have been able to finish it. It was a perfectly round medallion served with confit potatoes, port shallots, and bone marrow butter. All the three other cuts of beef came with the same sides as well. The steak was cooked to a perfect pinky medium rare. Naturally juicy with a caramelized sauce that gave the plate some sweetness.
The “Farmcrest organic chicken breast” was all meat. A thorough chunk of white chicken breast without any fat or sinew. Yet it was still tender, juicy, and surprisingly easy to cut in to. It was served with a flavourful porcini mushroom gnocchi, with wild mushrooms in a balsamic jus. There was even some potato chunks that surprised and delighted in a few bites.
I often find myself ordering what others do not as it helps for more fulsome blog posts. It requires me ordering last, and maybe something I wouldn’t otherwise consider. Today my method had me trying lamb neck for the first time. I didn’t even know there was meat on the lamb’s neck to be eaten. So was surprised by this large chunk of meat before me, and then further surprised to see that it was without bones. According to one of my guests who has had interactions with a professional lamb breeder, the neck meat is apparently the most tender. After taking a cautious bite, then jumping in with knife and fork, I could see that. The meat was gamey and deep with its herbed crust. The braised neck came wilted kale, sunchokes slices, and purée, in a smoked carrot sauce. The vegetable made a great pair to the tender meat. It added some great chew in the kale leaves and starchy with the thin slices of sunchokes. I mistook the latter for potato, as it tasted like it and was just as good.
We ordered a few side servings of their “Roasted Brussels sprouts and bacon”. It’s container was darling, brought over with its lid on and then removed at the table. I don’t know why, but even after reading the description I imagined the sprouts fried and seasoned with Parmesan cheese. Therefore these fell flat with their rubbery texture and lack of flavour. Where was the bacon?
I appreciated the formality of having all the utensils and drinks placed on and served from a small wooden tray, course by course. Like everything they strived for, it was in the details. The servers were pretty consistent. Empty plates were removed quick. And when our food came, three individuals brought all they could to the group all at once. The only moment marring the experience was when the front door opened and cold air and cigarette smoke filtered in to the restaurant, and our nostrils as we ate.
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.
Everyone agreed and acknowledged the effort put into each dish and the vibrancy in construction of it. Yet we were split in half over flavour and satisfaction. Half of
us loving our plate, half of us able to point out what distracted from it. Though as a group, we all agreed it was priced a little steep for what it was. Given the tag we expected more from quality and conception. This is definitely great meal if you aren’t paying; though if you are, you may walk out with regret and an empty wallet. I wouldn’t be opposed to visiting their bar for a drink after work. Shame, they don’t have a Happy Hour menu to take advantage of. Don’t deny your cravings.