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The Love Voyage, a Pop-Up Valentines

Admittedly I have never put much emphasis into Valentines Day. I like the idea of celebrating a day of love, but also believe that if you could, you should have it so that every day you show your loved ones that you care. Although, having said that, the latest Cocktail Connoisseur event had me looking forward to the actual date. They already brought Vancouver its first augmented reality product in their Bootleggers canned cocktails and were now the first to promise such a visual experience for a sit down set dinner.

This is The Love Voyage, a Pop-Up Valentines day experience that brought ticket holders around the world without leaving their seats. Six cocktails, Five course and each themed around one of the most romantic cities in the world.

Each coupled seating was set with plain white plates. They become the backdrop for the projectors overhead. Ornate patterns are casted down on them, spinning and swirling before and in between courses. Here the show had music and movement ran parallel. This served as not only a unique experience, but a great conversation starter or way to fill voids in gaps of conversation. Although we were bowing our heads down and forward more than engaging in one another, as we did not want to miss any of the images. I was impressed that none of them repeated across our 1.5-hour seating. Each a mesmerizing, calming pattern full of beauty and whimsy. I just wished it could have matched the theme and meal more. Or at least the cocktails. To have the hue and pattern flow alongside the drinks, as I did not feel that they necessarily paired with the meal. More on that to come.

Held at the old home of WildeBeest, the narrow and open kitchen space of wood and wire served the occasion well. Once all seated for the set service time, we were treated to a welcome cocktail. A spritzer of gin, yuzu, rose, herbs, and carbonation. This aws light, fizzy and fun. More citrus and sugar than floral from the rose and gin. It was very approachable but did not speak to the Valentines occasion or the travel theme, which could have been a nice to-do.

Our first course started in Barcelona with another cocktail, and this one was at least named after the occasion. Amantes (Lovers): a mix of tequila, blackberries, hibiscus, jalapeño, and smoke. Completed and served at the table for the full visual experience. Two crystal tumblers preset with a block of ice and a slice of jalapeno each. Then using a wooden filter of sorts, herbs are burnt, releasing plumes of smoke into the glass. The smoke adds its flavour to the cocktail by scent and its connection to taste. The pre-mixed cocktail is then poured into each glass. The savoury smoke cuts into the sweetness of the berry-like punch. This was little on the sweeter side, and it did not necessarily flow with the saltiness first course. The jalapeno, when self-muddled at least added some heated spice.

Inspired by the cuisine of Barcelona we had coquettes with Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, pickled vegetables, herbs, and a romesco sauce. The First course and all others were served family style for sharing and a more fulsome presentation. The portions were perfectly curated to insure you were full, but did not leave feeling heavy from it. With a crispy shell and a smooth centre this sharp cheese and potato puree fritter was a comforting start. The tangy dollops of tomato-based sauce acted as a dip. I just would have liked to have noticed or tasted the ham more. And truthfully these Croquetas De Jamon would have been better accompanied by a full-bodied red instead.

During the food courses, gone were the individual plate designs, and instead scenes of the city scrolled across the entire table. Here it was Barcelona with photographs of the city and houses, an encapsulating view to set the tone.

Our second course took us to Kyoto and our 3rd cocktail: the Angel of Kyoto, prepared with choya plum, choya Yuzu, dry sake, and flowers. It was described as a Japanese white negroni with like substitutions. This was flowery and faintly similar to the first cocktail in sweetness and tone. It was light so that it doesn’t over power the tuna, but I wish it was more citrus forward to better accompany the dish instead.

And as photos of Toyko Tower in red and white projected before us we were served a Tuna Tartare with albacore tuna, crab, avocado, cucumber, soy Yuzu vinaigrette, sesame, and crisps. This was a generous amount of tartare, even to share between two, and especially to have to ration out on the sparse pieces of oily crisps. Fragrant with baked sesame and creamy with avocado, but not much else. It was a little flat and would have been nicer and more befitting of the event as a smaller portion with fresher tuna: pink and sliced to serve.

Four our third course, the Love Voyage took us to Venice with the Lovers on the Canal cocktail in hand. Made with tequila, passion fruit, mango, lime, and dry ice. It was poured out into our coup bubbling with smoke. This was another fun visual for our eyes as the table showcased scenes of the city’s popular waterways. Once again, a great cocktail on its own, but disjointed from its food pairing. This was tropical and sweet and in complete contrast of the homey and cheesy Lemon Risotto below. At this point I started drinking the cocktail first and simply eating the course on its own, to better highlight and enjoy each as a whole, and not compared to one another. For such a tropical fruit juice I would have liked to see it with a ceviche instead.

For the Lemon risotto I was left longing for a whiskey, a heavier peated spirit to lighten the seared scallops, grilled radicchio, and Parmesan reggiano. This would have especially balanced out the slightly acrid afternotes of the radicchio. I have never had risotto with it and thought it was a clever take. It was a contrasting texture that paired well with the buttery scallop and allowed the salted aged cheese and fragrant lemon to bring them both together. As a whole the dish presented well, however shared between two, the single scallop left me wanting a second, without scallop it was just a rice dish. Once again a generous portion that we could not finish as a one tonal taste and would have been better suited as a smaller more refined serving.

The fourth course was my favourite. Paris had the Eiffel tower, a savoury cocktail that was more in line with my preference for a strong and stiff, spirit forward glass and a deliciously paired meat course. The Midnight in Paris was another pour at the table experience. A sprig of rosemary was lit, as it crackled the smoke and scent filled the glass for a more herbaceous mix of vodka, grapefruit, Yuzu, and clarified bergamot. Once again this was the strongest of all the cocktails and the only one that was not sweet. It was silken fresh and drank clean, washing your palate in between bites.

Roasted duck breast, potato pave, buttered cabbage, squash purée, and Brussel leaves. Once again, a lovely plate for one as is, but to share, a single section of duck breast seemed hardly enough. Although I guess if you finished your tartare and risotto in full, you would also be fuller. I liked the seasoning on the duck and how well it was prepared, I just would have liked the dish served warmer. All the elements came together for a harmonious plate. The stewed cabbage with its balancing tang, and the sweetness from squash. What felt more like a garnish was the 2 raw slices Brussel leaves that seemed to have been included more for its colour, as it did nothing for taste. Nonetheless, this was still the best dish of the night, and it best showcased the meal.

For dessert, our firth course to us to New York City with its towering skyscraper and florescent sea of lights. Our cocktail to start was called On top of the World. With its ingredients this sounded like it was better suited to a starting or tea course with vodka, butterfly pea flowers, lavender, lemon, and honey. Although liquor-content wise, it was the most potent of all the drinks. You weren’t missing out on any of that telltale vodka kick. A decent pairing with the cheesecake, but a coffee or martini would have been better suited with the travel theme.

The New York Cheesecake was a classic with a topping of fresh fruit compote and a side of chocolate covered strawberries. As an added little touch, a bit of the cocktail was poured out over the cake, a nice show, but it did not add much to the overall taste. This was still a simple classic done right with a buttery crust and a stiff cheese base. My guest declared it one of the best cheesecakes he has ever had.

And just when we thought we were done, we were treated with a chocolate surprise at the end to punctuate our meal. Two different chocolates from Oenomel chocolates, local to Vancouver. A fragrant rose caviar with a floral clean finish and a whiskey fudge with a liquor centre and a sticky mouthfeel.

For their first go at this sort of popup this was definitely a success. The food came out in a timely manner and the orchestration, organization, and service was top notch. This is the calibre our event organizers, The Cocktail Connoisseurs are known for. I am looking forward to seeing what other new innovation to the food and beverage scene they will bring to Vancouver. For more on The Cocktail Connoisseurs and what you can expect from them in the future, visit the link below.

Cocktail Connoisseurs

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