Sunday, 10 July 2016

Juniper Kitchen and Bar- Chinatown's Newest Local Gem

185 Keefer St
Vancouver, BC 
V6B 6L4
(604) 681-1695

Reservations required? Probably a good idea, although if you show up and have some time to kill while you wait for a table, the Keefer Bar is right next store, and a great place to grab a pre-dinner cocktail.

Atmosphere (4.5/5)- The room at Keefer is refreshing and casual, with simple light wood decor, accented with nice blue banquets.  The space is divided into a bar level, with a dining space and the bar with a few high top tables. A few steps down to a lower dining level where we sat.  On the night of our visit (around 8:30) the space was only around half full but was actually much busier when we left at around 10:30.  The space lends itself well to the early and late night crowd alike, with its great bar and welcoming vibe.

Service (4.5/5)- Our main server for the evening was extremely personable and engaging.  We received a great rundown of the menu and all of our questions were answered.  Our dishes were delivered in good time, and our water glasses constantly refilled.  I noted that all of our servers seemed to be very passionate about their work and the restaurant in general, which added to the overall experience.

Food and drink (8.5/10)- There is a handful of cocktails on the menu (plus a few specials), and a small but well thought out selection of wines by the glass and by the bottle, including a good selection of local wines).  Few beers on tap (all local) as well.

The menu is divided into "the cellar" (bar snacks), "wood board" (charcuterie/cheese), "fields and forage" (veggies/fish) and "puddle and pond" (meat).  There were also a few feature dishes on the night of our visit, which incorporated ingredients available that particular day/week.  Dishes are meant to share, and choosing a few dishes from each section of the menu (depending on the number in your party) is recommended.  The menu is constantly evolving based on seasonality, and we were told that about 30% of the menu turns over within any given month.  I particularly enjoyed the generous portion of seasonal veggies (cabbage, sprouts, radish) on every dish, which added freshness and contributed to that local flair.  At the end of the night, our bill was $170 (including a bottle of wine) which we thought was reasonable for the quantity and quality of food.

As it was only Hubby and I, we decided to skip the snacks and move right into the wood boards.  We opted for the fish charcuterie which was a genius play on the typical meat charcuterie (and perfect for pescatarians like me!).  The combination of fish changes regularly, and on the night of our visit consisted of a "pot of octopus" (grilled and chopped in a mason jar, covered in black sesame seeds- my favourite!), smoked tuna and anchovies.  On the side was a nice selection of flatbread, crostini, pickled veg and sprouts. A great sharing plate and the perfect start to the meal.

Grilled beets and burrata- This was my favourite dish, which is not surprising since I am such a sucker for beets.  This was a perfectly composed dish, with grilled beet, grilled baby carrot and a bit of raw beet and a carrot puree for contrasting textures.  Add some creamy burrata cheese and you have a winner!

Smoked duck wings- Hubby could not stop talking about these gems, particularly the sweet, sticky, Asian-flavoured sauce.

Turnip top and tail gnocchi- I loved everything about this dish, except the unfortunate inedible skin of the turnips (the only let down of the evening).  The gnocchi themselves were wonderful, and the hazelnuts were a perfect addition to an otherwise light dish.

Black lentil cabbage roll- These were literally a vegan's dream, with perfectly cooked lentils rolled inside a cabbage leaf and topped with a slew of mixed mushrooms.  Filling and delicious!

Overall verdict?  
Juniper is a place that I can see myself going back to again and again.  With its constantly changing, local menu, its welcoming atmosphere and heartfelt service, I hope that I am right in predicting a long and successful life for this Chinatown newbie.  Until the next time Juniper!

Juniper Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Friday, 24 June 2016

Nomad- A Main St. Gem

3950 Main St, 
Vancouver, BC 
V5V 3P2
Reservation required? Can be made on the website or by phone, walk-ins also welcome.  The space is pretty big, but you may want to reserve to avoid disappointment.

Atmosphere (5/5):
The restaurant, located at Main and King Edward, has a small and unassuming exterior that I happened to notice one Saturday morning on my way to the Nat Bailey Farmer's Market.  Although it is only a 75 seat restaurant, the room appears much larger thanks to impressively high ceilings.  The space is divided into an upstairs and downstairs, with a bar along one wall.  The seating is well spaced so we did not feel as though we were too cozy with our neighbours.  Space was jammed full on this Saturday evening and very full of life.

Service (4/5): Our main server was great, regularly coming back to ask us how we were liking our dishes and taking the time to explain each element on the plate.  It was evident that he enjoyed his work and took a lot of pride in working there.
The service started out very fast and slowed toward the end of the evening (we waited quite a long time for our bill) but this is easily forgiven as a party of 32 was seated about 30 minutes after us and we had been told that when we made the reso that day.

Food/drink: Nomad has a nice, tight cocktail list with signature and classic cocktails.  I loved the Holy Grail (server compared it to a Negroni, alcohol-forward, not so sweet cocktail) and my friend enjoyed the Femme Fatale (a little sweeter, to her liking).

Food menu relatively small (usually a good sign), and showcases local, Pacific Northwest cuisine.   The menu goes from least expensive, smallest snacks to midsize smaller plates to more costly larger plates.  You could easily pick an appie and main each,  but sharing is encouraged which is what we did.  I am pescatarian, but they offered to accommodate sharing by putting some of the meats that came in the dish on the side for my friend to enjoy (chorizo, pork belly) and serving the rest on sharing plates.  The sizes of the dishes were extremely generous for the price, but I still advise trying as many of the delicious dishes as you can!

Here is a look at the dishes we enjoyed (shared between my friend and I):

Roasted Beets and Grilled Gem Heats- The "jalapeƱo hummus" seemed odd on first glance but worked super well, as did the crispy onions for texture.  Definately a departure from your average beet salad, and so much more interesting!

Grilled calamari-  The thickly-sliced calamari was served over a delicious warm chickpea relish that I could eat on its own every day of the week.  The homemade red pepper sauce and chimichurri were exceptional.  There was a lot going on, but it all somehow all worked.

Herb potato gnocci- We loved this very generous bowl of light, pillowy gnocchi with a delicious fresh pesto soft cheese, diced portobellos and kale.

Northern Divine sturgeon-  This fish steak easily cut in two to share.  It as served with sun chokes and the most amazing shallot jam for a hint of sweetness that complemented the other components perfectly.  I also loved the nice serving of greens nestled under the fish (no veggie shortage here!).

And of course, you can never go wrong with a bit of chocolate cake to finish things off!  

Overall verdict?

With so many new places popping up in Vancouver to try, I do not usually make it a habit of repeat restaurant visits but I predict that I will find myself back at Nomad pretty soon.  This impressive Main St. gem is a must for anyone who enjoys local food, unique preparations and delicious flavour combinations.  Nomad almost certainly has a great future ahead!

Nomad Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Magnificence at San Fran's 3-Star Manresa

320 Village Ln
Los Gatos, CA 

Reservations: Mandatory (max 90 days in advance)

Atmosphere (5/5): Manresa is located in Los Gatos, a quaint little town about 1hr outside of San Francisco.   A little stroll around the downtown before the 3+ hour dinner is highly recommended, as there are many cute little shops and restaurants to check out and make note of for future visits.  If possible, find a place in Los Gatos to stay overnight after your Manresa meal to avoid a long drive back into San Fran afterwards. 
In terms of the restaurant itself, it has been recently rebuilt after a fire in summer of 2014 but still maintains a vintage charm.  It is a comfortable space, with a welcoming fireplace in the voyer and a dining room that is what I would call “sophisticated casual”.  Be sure to take a moment to gawk at Chef Kinch's emmy for his appearance on "Mind of a Chef" (well deserved!), showcased behind glass on the far wall.  

Service (5/5)- The servers at Menresa were both professional yet approachable.   The highlight came near the end of our meal when we were visited by David Kinch himself who came to check in with us about the meal.  Then, to top it all off, we were invited into the kitchen for a tour and got to chat with the sommelier and some of the kitchen staff.  All in all, we felt pretty darn special by the time we left.

Food (10/10)-  There was not one dish in the whole 12+ course tasting menu that was anything short of outstanding. In terms of style, there was a bit of Asian, a bit of French and a whole lotta local.  Every dish was innovative, expertly conceived and perfectly executed.  Furthermore, the sequence and flow of the meal, from amuse-bouche to main course, was spot on.  The “surprise factor” struck a perfect balance, with lots of creativity and intrigue, but nothing forced or gimmicky. 

Here is a look at or meal:

Overall verdict?  
Manresa has risen to my top 3 meals of all times.  The food definitely lives up to its 3 stars, and it delivers on all other fronts with its pleasant atmosphere and delightfully approachable service.  Having Chef Kinch there in person made or evening especially memorable.  This is an experience that will stay with us for years to come, and we will most certainly return again! 

Manresa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato