My dear lovelies! Tonight we are crossing the wild plains. Actually we're crossing from East to West and then from one end of town to another in a progressive dinner across two vastly different Vancouver restaurants!
The first Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar in Vancouver's vibrant Yaletown district. I notice people are young and dressed up, girls are wearing their cutest frocks and heels and there is an air of fun and activity here. Blue Water cafe and raw bar is a restaurant split directly down the centre. To the left is "east" under the direction of Yoshihiro Tabo with a sushi bar with a signed Olympic torch above it and a freezer chest of ice suspended below it.
To the right there is the "west" area which has been open for 11 years serves European and American style dishes whose chef Frank Pabst has won awards and culinary championships. The room it has to be said is very warm and inviting. In the back is the "wall of wine" which is the largest wine cellar in North America. A testament to this love of wine is the awards for the sommelier Andrea Vescovi and other wine list awards from Wine Spectator among others.
The bread rolls come out with two types of butter: a wakame seaweed butter and a red pepper and chickpea blend. I particularly like the wakame seaweed butter although it is different from the one that we had at Maze and not as strong and more herbal in flavour like mint. The red pepper chickpea spread is an interesting blend, like a red pepper hommous.
We are starting off with an amuse bouche and sashimi here tonight. Our first course is the Dungeness crab salad which comes out on pretty crystal bowls (the same ones they use for desserts at Rockpool Bar & grill). It comes as a cylinder of crab salad with some slivers of slippery wide ribbons of wakame and thinly sliced cucumber on top and tastes exactly of the sea. It is served with a gorgeous white wine which just matches it perfectly. On top is tiny needles of dried red peppers which give it a spiciness.
The tsunami is fabulous and true to the name. On top of the wrapped up kingfish slices there is a paper thin slice of Jalapeno pepper and it sits in some ginger, soy and sesame oil. The jalapeno gives it a certain heat, Mr NQN thinks perhaps too much but I'm in heaven. It is hot, and true some may find it too hot so they may want to remove the pepper but I love the combining of smoky sesame, salty soy, fragrant fine whiskers of ginger and the hiramasa kingfish, one of my favourite sashimi fish.
Mr NQN urges me to try the 8th generation reisling wine with this "Go on, I think you'll like it". In fact I love it and it literally tingles on my tongue like bubbly. It is from the Okanagan Valley which produces great fruit and wine and is similar to Napa Valley. It is a wine made from 25 year old vines.
Halibut is a fish that is in season for 2 months of the year which is why we're seeing it on so many restaurant menus at the moment. The halibut tataki is lightly torched which you can see on the side of the slices. It comes with a ponzu sauce which is slightly tart with spring onions and red horseradish. This is too strong for me as I don't really like horseradish and tart flavours so I swap back with Mr NQN who happily gobbles up the halibut.
The spot prawn is a prawn from British Columbia and are so popular they even hold a Spot Prawn festival in Vancouver. This bisque is made into a creamy frothy emulsion. Mr NQN doesn't usually like bisque finding it way too strong but this is just right for both of us, never being too strong but with the distinct rich, bisque flavour. It is served with a gougere filled with matin shrimp, a shrimp well known for its flavour and sweetness which comes from Montreal. We try the bisque and then take a sip of the sherry which they admit is an unusual pairing for a main. It is utterly perfect and when I tried the sherry by itself I was non-plussed but when I preceded it with the bisque it turned it into a honeyed confection.
This is our last course here at Blue Water cafe and our waiter calls a taxi for us so that we can high tail it to our next location. But not before a tour of the private rooms and a look at the wall of wine with 18,000 wines which is a rather incredible sight to behold. And we get signed copies of their cookbooks too!
Moments later we are in a taxi on the way to West. The atmosphere is very different. Quieter and more serious. The room is smaller too and the service, it is efficient and pleasant but isn't quite as friendly as Blue Water cafe's, in fact it is much more serious.
The bread comes out very warm to the touch and are accompanied with butter and olive oil. They're good but I'm careful not to fill up too much.
_Amuse Bouche served with Sumac Ridge Brut "Tribute" 04, Summerland
We start with the amuse bouche, a small glass of cucumber scented organic green tea with a thin slice of apple poached cucumber which tasted like cucumber water-light and refreshing with a hint of lychee
_Lois Lake Steelhead Trout served with Feudi Di San Greorio Falanghina 07, Campania
Our mains arrive and I start with the Lois Lake (in British Columbia) Steelhead Trout which has been wrapped in tofu skin (yuba) and pan fried. It comes with golden beets, morel mushrooms, Alsatian bacon, hazelnuts and a caramelised orange jus which is just sweet enough to bring it all together without over sweetening the dish. The wine has a pear flavour to it.
_Fraser Valley Lamb served with Perrin & Fils "Les Christins" Vacqueyras 07, Rhone Valley
I'm curious to try British Columbia's Fraser Valley lamb especially as we were told that a lot of the Canadian lamb was exported to Asia. It's good lamb indeed and this is a very clever way of serving it. The loin is served as a circle with half of it as the loin and the other half as a Provencal sausage. There is then a piece of slow roasted lamb shoulder. The sausage is loosely packed and finely ground and very soft and contrasts with the loin. The dish comes with a natural lamb jus, grilled baby zucchini and eggplant and steamed carrots. In one corner is a black olive powder which gives a strong burst of flavour when you want it.
Our pre dessert is a small plate with fresh raspberries and a sweet marinated strawberry with cheese espuma (foam). The base of the cheesecake is given as fine crushed biscuit crumbs.
_Blueberry Tart with Passion fruit Chiffon & Sour Cream Thyme Ice cream served with Chapoutier Banyuls, France
The blueberry tart with passion fruit chiffon is well done but is a touch too tart for me as both fruits are on the tart side. However the item that I end up falling head over heels in love with is the sour cream thyme ice cream with just the perfect amount of thyme (a herb that I am ambivalent about as it sometimes makes me nauseous) and the sour cream which gives it a cheesecake flavour. It's divine.
Chocolate Cherry Ckae with Chocolate Cassis Cherry Float served with Fabiano "Rugola" Recioto Della Valpolocella 03, Veneto
The chocolate cherry cake is like a chocolate fondant with a whole cherry stuck inside it. It sits amongst some smooth, soft chocolate ganache and macerated cherries which are beautifully sweet. The little shot glass is filled with a fizzy chocolate cassis (blackcurrant) float and two small quenelles of ice cream (chocolate and an absolutely divine cassis or blackcurrant one).
All in all we've eaten a total of ten courses including bread and wine and we've crossed East and West and British Columbia in this fabulous progressive meal we cannot resist the petit fours (but politely decline tea or coffee). The truffles are toasted coconut and chocolate truffles which are delectably good and blueberry madeleines with juicy blueberries inside.
Even though the two restaurants have the same owner, both experiences are quite different indeed from the location to the food to the service. But we figured why have fun at the one restaurant when you can have fun at two no? ;)
So tell me Dear Reader, do you always eat the bread in the bread basket? And are you careful not to fill up on it?
NQN and Mr NQN travelled to and explored Canada as a guest of Tourism Canada
Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar
1095 Hamilton St. Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Tel: +1 604 688 8078
2881 Granville Street Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Tel: +1 604 738 8938