Epicurean – My Dine Out Vancouver Review

IMG_5865IMG_5873It was an absolutely beautiful day when my sister kindly shot these photos for me. We had just lunched at Miku Restaurant, which is situated right by the waterfront. I had just decided to DIY distress my boyfriend jeans because, frankly, I was bored, and thought I’d test them out. What do you guys think?IMG_5888 IMG_5897 alt crop IMG_5874Trench coat from The Gap, faux fur vest from H&M, sweater and sunglasses from Zara, DIY distressed boyfriend jeans, booties from Aldo, purse is Louis Vuitton

Yesterday was the final day of the Dine Out Vancouver Festival, in which participating restaurants create three-course meals at either $18, $28, or $38. This is a huge event in Vancouver, with over 200 restaurants participating, and I was lucky (and gluttonous) enough to go to four this year!

The first restaurant I went to was West, which is consistently ranks among the best restaurants in the city. I went with my two best friends for lunch, as we thought it would be the best deal for $28, considering dinner is pretty much the same options, but offered for $38.20140119_133607

I started with the golden beet and orange soup with bacon panko and tarragon creme fraiche. The soup was delicious and the presentation delightful. The creme fraiche was already in the bowl and the server poured the hot soup as the creme fraiche floated up to the surface, instead of sinking or being drowned in the soup. I thought this presentation detail was very clever and well thought out, and the slight acidity cut through the richness of the soup to create a really fresh taste.2014-02-02 15.18.11

The braised veal with roast cauliflower and pearl couscous was divine. I’ve never had pearl couscous and was expecting the typically grainier couscous which I’m actually not a huge fan of, texturally. This couscous, however, was almost like risotto in its texture and just as tender. The veal itself was perfectly cooked with the right amount of fat to not overwhelm the palette while still being sumptuous and rich.2014-02-02 15.19.14

To end, I had the malted chocolate cake that came with a scoop of banana ice cream and caramelized bananas. This course, to me, was slightly disappointing. I had anticipated a rich, luxurious chocolate cake, but this was much lighter in flavour. The banana ice cream on top was too potently banana as I think it was too concentrated. It was still a good dessert, but I thought it just wasn’t as good as the first and second courses.

The next restaurant I went to was Miku Restaurant for lunch, for the same reasons as West. $28 for lunch, while dinner is $38. It was actually my parents who really wanted to go, which was a bit surprising since they’re usually apprehensive of trying new Japanese restaurants since they so often disappoint. My mom is the most discerning as she can pick up on the various ingredients used to flavour the dishes, but for the most part, she liked everything.photo

Let me start by saying the interior of Miku is absolutely gorgeous. High ceilings, open kitchen, floor to ceiling windows, with the predominant paint colour being white. It creates a very fresh and clean atmosphere, and there was a splash of colour on one wall with a mural of koi. Since I don’t have a picture of just the interior, here’s a photo of me and my sister instead.2014-02-02 15.24.40As for the food, we began with miso soup. While it’s admittedly hard to make miso soup spectacular, it was a very good miso soup that definitely wasn’t instant (well, duh). It seemed to have been made in the more traditional way using real dashi and miso and wasn’t overwhelmingly salty.

Next, came the ‘zen’: an assortment of small, well presented dishes. The tofu salad was light with a bit of texture in the deep fried… onions? No, not quite sure what it was but they added a nice textural contrast. My mom replicated the dish at home, so for us, this wasn’t very special. But again, it was still good. The ebi fritter had a very light batter so it didn’t feel oily at all. The sauce was nuanced and with the balsamic and chili oil, veered off tradition into more fusion territory.2014-02-02 15.25.46

The tuna tataki I found to be underwhelming. Well seared, but not enough sauce. It had yuzu jelly but perhaps more jelly was needed to bring out more of the flavours to harmonize the tuna with the smokiness from searing. Finally, the soy braised beef shank was divine. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender and fell apart with some delicate chopstick cutting. It was full of flavour and richness, and married well with the mashed potatoes that it came with which was smartly minimalist in flavour as it meant to be eaten with the meat and soaking up the juices.2014-02-02 15.26.50

The Miku signature sushi arrived with clean presentation. Five pieces of assorted (in both technique and flavour) sushi. Here, the tuna was elevated to its deserved recognition, where the tataki failed to do justice. The prawn was also expertly cooked, like an al dente for an equivalent. The single roll was well balanced in flavours and probably the most playful of all the food that we had. The salmon aburi sushi is better done at Kishimoto but the saba was wonderful.2014-02-02 15.27.31

The dessert was a passion fruit sorbet was a great way to finish. It was citrusy and refreshing, with the acidity cutting through the general salt-based flavours of the meal.

Next was Chambar, which we had for my dad’s birthday. I had been to Chambar before so I knew all in all it would be great. We were informed that we would only have one hour and forty five minutes for dining which is shorter than the typical two hours. While this wouldn’t feel rushed for two people, we had a party of seven. I know my dad would have liked to have coffee with his dessert but we were being rushed at this point.2014-02-02 15.22.57To start, I had the gambas et chorizo which was actually presented, oddly enough, like this lobster ravioli that I had just seen on Iron Chef. But I digress; the chorizo was very spicy and the sauce was quite sharp. The prawn was cooked to tender but firm, and despite it being a relatively meaty appetizer, it felt quite light.2014-02-02 15.23.48

I had the spice rubbed duck breast for my main. When I first saw it, I thought I wouldn’t be full, but I was wrong! It came with two different sauces, one hummus, and the other a wild berry compote and both were delicious.The duck had a thin layer of fat which enriched the flavour and was very succulent.2014-02-02 15.20.33

For dessert, I had the chocolate brule which was heavenly. This was exactly the type of chocolate cake that I had wanted at West but didn’t get. The chocolate was rich and decadent, but because it was a burle, it was texturally very airy and light. The lemon ice cream on the side was only subtly lemon so it went really well with the dense flavour of the dark chocolate.

Finally, the last place I went to was Ask for Luigi. I had read the review for the restaurant in the Vancouver Sun and the place has a lot of hype surrounding it as one of the best new restaurants in the city. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed, especially since I had just traveled through Italy and was really looking forward to authentic Italian.imagecauliTo start, I had the fried cauliflower with parmesan, mint, aioli, and parsley. This was actually quite delicious; I never thought you could make cauliflower so interesting. This dish I had absolutely no qualms with, I almost wish I had this twice instead of my main. imagetag My sister and I both ordered the tagliatelle and mussels. The first couple bites were good as the pasta is hand made and you can really taste the quality in the texture, especially. But the flavour of the pasta was overwhelmingly salty. After a few bites it’s just too much; it overwhelms your palette so everything is just salty. I informed our waitress about it when she asked how it was, and she said that they added no salt to the pasta and that it’s coming from the mussels. This, of course, doesn’t solve my overly salty pasta problem. She said that she could nothing about it except add something, “maybe more cheese?” I asked for black pepper but this really didn’t help much. I was also extremely annoyed that she offered more cheese because that would only add to the saltiness. Of course, some cheese aren’t salty — ricotta and bocconcini,  but that wouldn’t go with my pasta because there already was parmesan on it, as you can see in the picture. Also, offering to do, essentially nothing, is kind of insulting. By saying that there’s no added salt or saying its just from the mussels suggests that it is my taste buds that are wrong. Both my sister and I found it salty, and the mussels were rather chewy.imageoliveI had an olive oil cake to end which was very moist and the ricotta was nice but I was just annoyed by this point. I was really disappointed that the waitress didn’t offer any way to appease my criticisms and instead offered only something that showed that she really didn’t understand the food that she was serving. I mean, come on, offering more cheese to abate the saltiness? Perhaps because this is the last place I ate which makes my criticisms less soothed by time, I really was disappointed and won’t be going back.
While I don’t consider myself a foodie or in any way able to discern myself as a legitimate food critic, I can still have a valid opinion on food. That said, my favourite place was probably West, followed by Chambar. If your mom doesn’t already make awesome Japanese food, then by all means, Miku is wonderful, if not for the interior alone. Otherwise, I’m going to stick with Suika and Kishimoto. And for Italian, I think I might try buying fresh pasta from an Italian market and making my own sauce… maybe for Valentine’s Day? But if you want good Italian pizza, I am in love with Ragazzi.

Here’s to another year of Dine Out Vancouver!

P.S. All the food photos were taken with a cell phone so I apologize for the low quality photos!

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