When I heard there will be a Korean fine dining pop up, I knew I had to attend. I have never had the pleasure of having Korean cuisine in the formal fine dining style, with small plates across several courses. And Maat would prove to be a fine first introduction for myself and other Vancouverites, as the city’s first of its kind.
The pop up is the imagined collaborative efforts between Jay Son, restaurant manager and sommelier at CinCin Ristorante; and Kyle Lee, the sous chef of Elisa. As two Korean restauranteurs, they have come together to create this fine dining fusion pop up event, as a way to introduce Korean cuisine and service in a way that the city has yet to see.
If craving Korean you typically see it as tapas style, here they want service and attention to detail to accompany each session. And have solicited a great team of servers, hosts, and bartenders to aid in this endeavour. Seven courses featuring both local and Korean flavours utilizing premium ingredients and pairing it with premium mixed liqueurs.
We were able to attend the first night of the first seating of this two day pop up held on September 3rd and 4th and found ourselves spoiled. Here is the honest review of each course and why you need to look out for the next one. Admittedly I am frugal with my dining expenditures, so believe me when I say that the cost is well worth it.
The venue was the now shuttered Nancy Go Yaya. Having been in the space prior, the front of house team has done well to repurpose the dining room. It shows how the right table setting and lighting can transform a causal diner with ceiling fans, into the setting for the only and best Korean fine dinner I have had to date.
The space is as welcoming as the staff. You are greeted at the door with a glass of sparkling, and ushered to their photo station to capture the night’s memory with a polaroid photo.
Each table is labeled with the name left for the reservation. And each place is set with a dish of washed river stones. The first few courses would utilize this in place of a charger.
Tickets were sold just for the dinner, with the option of adding cocktails on as pairings; to be served in conjunction with specific courses. You also had the choice of ordering wine, spirits, and rice soju a la carte. But the cocktails were so delicious and so well paired with the meal, that I think they should make them a mandatory part of dinner, as it truly further our experience. $75 per person for 5 cocktails spread across the 7 listed courses. They were created in conjunction with each dish, often incorporating a part of the dish that it was meant to pair with. From sea water, to gochujang paste, and even a galbi fat wash. Each from the talented mind of Emily Vey, the bar manager of Diamond, a popular Gastown Bar better known for the quality and character of their cocktails.
As the first to arrive on time, we were left waiting at our seats for the stragglers, and for everyone to be checked in and seated. Meaning we were left with empty wine glasses, and it was still too early to get our first cocktail pairing that we added on to our meal. We could have ordered another drink at this part, but thankfully we did not, as the 5 stiff cocktails to come were plenty spread across the 3.5 hour service. An easy remedy would be to start off with some bread to share. Although in hindsight, that would have fully spoiled your appetite, as there are surprise courses added to the menu, and you are guaranteed to leave stuffed.
The first cocktail was the most memorable. I never had a sip so beautiful; this was an elegant introduction to match the two more delicate dishes to start. The Glass Flower made with Hwayo soju, St. Germain liqueur, vanilla, acid blend, and lemon oil. It drank like its name, a clear glassy surface with lychee floral notes. My guest and I both “wow-ed” when we had our first sip.
Its suggested pairing was with the Octopus Amuse, which was tender slices of octopus tentacle served in a squid ink gochujang aioli with tomato sea-water, and flying fish roe. I loved the presentation; it looked like a lily pad over rocks with the chosen dishware. The octopus had a gentle chew to it, fragrant with natural flavour, and a nice textural variance from the popping fish roe.
The Garden Crudité ate like a deconstructed salad, with sliced seasonal vegetables set gingerly in place. It included squash, cucumber, turnips, pumpkin, and heirloom tomato. You would take a slice of the above and dip and dab it with either the chive aioli smear or the lacto fermentation. With the vegetables only blanched, you got all the flavour from the sauces. I didn’t find that there was enough included for my tastes, as I wanted each drenched and coated in dressing.
Our next cocktail was the Seoul Bird to be paired with the tartar below. This was a shaken cocktail with Grey Goose vodka, fresh pineapple, lime, and gochujang. This tropical mixer was given a savoury kick thanks to the Goujujang smear. Sweet and spicy heat with refreshing notes to contrast the one tone mound of meat to follow.
The Korean style tartare was amazing. Yook Hwe with Hank’s grass-fed flat iron beef, Korean pear, multigrain cracker, and caviar. The beef comes from a 100% grass fed black Angus beef cattle and dairy cow cross. The mixed breading is to create juicy and lean beef, and they have succeeded in this. Apparently, tartare is common in Korean cuisine, but then it is typically saturated in punchy sauces, for this they want to let the quality of the beef speak. The juicy and lean meat ate clean. The he portion was so generous that there was not enough caviar for more than one stand out bite. I would have opted for a gentler cracker to better highlight the tartare on. The multigrain cracker was hard and dry, you got a lot of flavour from the seeds mixed in, it overpowers.
The next cocktail was the Fancy No. 10 made with Tanqueray No.10, Sons of Vancouver quadruple sec, lemon, fermented salty water, and tonic; to pair with the egg custard to follow. The use of sea water, gave this gin and tonic a more savoury finish, a nice pepperiness to play off the delicate egg and refreshing tomato to come.
The Egg Custard with sungold tomatoes, lemon basil, and shrimp garum was delicious. The egg ate lighter than panna cotta with the flavour of fresh garden herbs and fruit for tang. You slurp up the custard like jello. It is tasty as is, but best as a side over the butter and soy rice it came with. I would suggest saving some egg and rice to have with the wagyu to follow.
Everyone was raving about the next cocktail. This is the Message in a Bottle with a brown butter and galbi fat-washed Don Julio reposado tequila, vermouth, aperol, angostura, and kodama cube. Finished off with a Johnnie Walker spritz of 18 different scotches blended together and rested for 18 years. The latter most made the cocktail’s bouquet all the more fragrant. A, already layered drink made richer with the wagyu bone marrow rested brown butter wash and the smokiness of the spirits chosen. It all went hand in hand with the aged flavours of the red meat and jus. I have never had a cocktail pairing this elevated.
For the quality of the steak, we were surprised and delighted to be given 3 pieces. Gal-bi gui with Snake River farm wagyu short-rib, red ginseng wine jus, and burgundy black truffle. The beef here was another cow breeded for flavour. A cross between a wagyu steer from Japan and an American wagyu from Snake River. The result is beef with the highest level of marbling. I preferred soaking it in the ginseng red wine jus to tenderize. Whereas the slice of beef with the shavings of summer black truffle went unnoticed. The vegetables on the side were kimchi style napa cabbage topped with pine nut and chilli, wood fire grilled onion brushed with fermented garlic honey, and garlic confit that has been pickled and roasted. They offered nice breaks in between bites and lent its flavour to each meaty morsel, as the diner deemed necessary.
And just when I thought myself proud that I successfully finished each course in full, we were presented with a surprise entree. This was given the name Korean Party Noodles. A room temperature broth with wheat noodles and julienne egg, nori, zucchini, and mushroom that you mix up together. Although clear and well filtered the broth is beef base with white kombu and dried anchovies, made rich with a garlic beef tallow cube melted in. It drank deceptively heavy with plenty of flavour to carry the unseasoned noodles and vegetables above. This was a great way to ensure no one left hungry, not unlike the Chinese custom of ending a meal with a carb heavy rice or noodle dish. Although from a dinner progression standpoint, this cold noodle dish could not follow the satisfying deliciousness of the wagyu, nor could it successfully cleanse the palate of all the beefiness before.
Our first dessert course was a great bridge to break savoury from sweet. Fizzy Fruit with local seasonal berries and stone fruits. Green plum, shine muscat grapes, and black berries macerated to inject a bit of fizz in to each.
Our last cocktail pairing drank like dessert, especially with the roll of waffle crowning it. Midnight Runner with Tanqueray No.18, walnut orgeat, kahlua, cold brew, maldon salt, and mint. It reminded me of Milo chocolate milk powder. A creamy spiked adult shake with plenty of kick between the caffeine and the liqueur.
For the second dessert we had the Mi-sut-ga-ru, which is a multigrain mousse with poached nectarine. The Mousse was sweetened with corn, the thickness of it was like oatmeal, it ate heavy like porridge and did not really finish light as I wanted a dessert to end such a meal on. Although the highlight was the thin and crispy cookie tuile, a butter cracker fragranced with lemon verbena oil. Together with the mousse it reminded me of cereal with the added fun of pop rock dust for a snap and a pop celebration in your mouth.
Our surprise 3rd dessert was a trio of bites. A butternut squash cheesecake rice ball, dried persimmon with yuzu jam, and green plum ice tea with hibiscus granita. I did not know you could use butternut squash to make a cheesecake and that it would be the best I have ever had. Truly this was the biggest take away from dinner, for me. It was great followed by the sweetness of the candied persimmon and the palate cleansing ability of the refreshing floral iced tea. Each element was different and able to stand on its own, and all together they jibed well in harmony as a digestive.
And that was not it, each guest was sent home with a cupcake take away. Commissioned from the pastry chef at CinCin, this was a Melona cupcake that tasted just like the Korean style fruit popsicle bars in honeydew hue and flavour. Creamy and fluffy this was one of the best cupcakes I have had. Not too sweet, not too much cream, it had me finishing it right down to the paper liner.
In conclusion everything was running at full pistons for this, Maat’s initial launch. I was beyond impressed. The food was impeccable, the drinks delectable, and the option to have more of anything available. There was no missing the quality in everything set in front of you, made visible thanks to the attentive staff who were there to walk us through each course, detail by detail.
You left with more than you expected, there was plenty of food to fill for a fine dining experience. The surprise courses and thoughtful nods kept diners happy and appreciative. You felt cared for and pampered, acknowledging that the price reflects the caliber of the wait staff and the elevated service they offered. Every time you leave your seat, you return to your napkin having been folded. They were engaging and well informed, reminding you why we spend more to get more when we invest in such a meal. If and when this popup returns, be sure to get your tickets sooner than later, your stomach will not be disappointed.