Saturday, 1 April 2017

West-Coast Cuisine with Peruvian and Japanese Flair at Ancora

Ancora, which replaced "C" restaurant a year and a half ago, puts an interesting twist on the typical West Coast cuisine that is so common around Vancouver with a Peruvian/Japanese twist.  While such "fusion" cuisine is sometimes a recipe for disaster, Ancora pulls it off like a pro.  On our first visit, we sampled their sushi, while on the second visit we enjoyed their Peruvian tasting menu (on for the month of March).  Both meals were fantastic, so clearly they do both very well.

Atmosphere: Located right on False Creek, it is a beautiful walk from Kits or Yaletown.  It is situated right on the false creek seawall, with beautiful views of the water from their big front windows.  We cannot wait to check out their beautiful patio in the summer.  There are two floors to the restaurant, and I would recommend asking for the bottom floor when booking for the nicest views.   It is a very busy spot, so I recommend asking early as I suspect the window seats go fast.  The decor is upscale, moreso than most places in Vancouver, but not uptight.  Whether you arrive in formalwear, business casual attire or jeans and a t-shirt, you will be in good company.

Service:  I called the day before to request a change to the main course of the tasting menu to accommodate my pescatarian dietary requirement which the chef kindly agreed to.  When we arrived, we were swiftly escorted to our table and within moments of being seated, had water and a delicious assortment of bread.  Our server was very efficient and knowledgeable about both our tasting menu's food and wine pairings, and quickly had us going on our tasting menu adventure.  The 5 tasting menu dishes came out in fairly rapid sequence, with only 5-10 minutes between dishes even with the very full dining room.  They clearly have the kitchen running very efficiently.  The whole service was like a well-oiled machine.

Food and Drink:  I appreciated how all the wines on the tasting menu all from the Okanagan which was a nice local contrast to the Peruvian menu.  Some selections from more well-known wineries (Mission Hill, Cedar Creek) while others were from much smaller wineries that I had not heard of, that are only distributed to restaurants.  The tasting menu pairings were well worth it, and quite a deal at 50$, with a champagne, 2 lovely and contrasting whites, a bold red and a dessert wine.

In terms of the food, and would first off like to commend Ancora for doing a tasting menu (quite rare in Vancouver!).  It as a very well composed menu, not overly filling (quality over quantity) made with local ingredients jazzed up with Peruvian flavours.  It was unique, exciting and delicious.

Assorted breads with homemade hummus (no pic)

Amuse- potato and tuna

Papa a la Huancaina- Local potatoes, olive, quail egg, smoked huancaina, herring caviar, kale (aka the perfect winter dish!)

Steelhead Trout "Anticucho"- Cilantro pumpkin, pico de gallo, skin chicharron

Hot Stone Squid and Prawn Ceviche- Calamari, Peruvian chilies, miso, nori puffs

Short Rib Seco-  Peruvian quinoa, pickled shallots, bean purre, baby carrots (also delicious with the ling cod they substituted for me)

Picarones- Almonds, spices ice cream, dulce de leche

Overall Verdict?  
The Peruvian tasting menu was unique, satisfying and delicious, and I really hope that they plan to continue it into April.  Ancora shines in all respect, from its smart decor, to its polished service, to its exciting and varied menu.  Based on my visits, you cannot go wrong with either its raw food bar or its main menu, or, ideally, a mix of both.  I predict that Ancora will quickly rise to the top of the Vancouver food scene, as it rightly should!

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

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Casual Eats At East Van's Crowbar

This corner at Kingsway and Fraser is becoming a foodie's dream come true.  Solvio Volpe, Faux Bourgeois, Sal y Limon and now Crowbar which we checked out last weekend

Atmosphere:  Crowbar is a tiny space with a few tables against the far wall and the rest of the seating around the bar.  We were initially told it would be at least 30min to get in as a large group had snagged all of the tables.  Fortunately we persevered and went back 10 min later after realizing that others restaurant in the area (the always-packed Solvio Volpe and ever-popular Faux Bourgeois) were also at capacity and we managed to get the two bar stools facing the semi-open kitchen.  In my mind, they are the best seats in the house, right next to the heater which was key on this cold winter's night, and with a prime view of the chef prepping our dishes.  I was a fan of the decor as well, with spirit and champagne bottles behind the bar, and even a saber knife to open the bottles with!  The super-chill vibe is great for a low-key drink and meal any night of the week.

Service:  Crowbar has a small but mighty team, with just one chef in the kitchen, one bartender and a few others to do all of the other jobs.  They clearly have a pretty good system worked out, as we were seated, served drinks and had food in front of us in near record time.  We were asked several times how we were doing and how we were enjoying everything, and they gave us great menu suggestions. For a small crew, these guys got it together.

Food: Crowbar has a small menu that changes very frequently (often weekly) with 8-10 small plates and 2-3 larger plates, all mean to share.  There is also "dealer's choice" pasta and risotto options, and we were told that the chef has ins with some of the pasta makers in the city.  There is a nice mix of veg, fish and meat dishes to please just about any diner.  The dishes we enjoyed were all very easy to split between the two of us.

Suffice it to say that all of the dishes we shared (6 in total) were amazing.  Both the conception and the execution were spot on.  It is pretty remarkable that one chef could pull all of this off solo.  What talent!  Here is a sneak peek, minus the delicious vegetarian winter pasta with buckwheat noodles, potato and cabbage in a creamy sauce which we dove into before snapping a picture.

"Nicky Santoro"- Cachaca, becherovka, beetroot, lime, mint bitters

Grilled endive- salsa bolzanina

Albacore tuna- cured and smoked, cucumber salad, castelvetrano

Scallop Tonnato- sweetbreads, fried capers, evoo

 Pork Cheeks- tomato caramel, roasted pistachio, brussels

 Salted chocolate chip cookies- chantilly cream

Overall verdict?
Crowbar far exceeded our expectations and it is certainly in the running to become on our new Friday night haunts with its super chill and casual vibe.  It adds to an already great food scene, and is the perfect compliment to the more upscale Solvio Volpe and Faux Bourgeois.  Crowbar's food can compete with the best of the best in Vancouver, and should not overlooked.  This is a place I will definitely find myself again soon!

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

Friday, 20 January 2017

A Taste of Latin America in Kits at Cacao

There have been many new restaurants popping up around Kits recently, including this tiny little space on Cypress near Cornwall.  I recently visited with friends in early January, a few months after its opening.

Atmosphere: This new little space located near Kits beach on Cypress is in a great area, surrounded by other restaurants in a quiet hub off busy West 4th Ave.  The room is certainly very intimate, with barely 20 seats to its name with fairly sparse decor and wooden tables.  Looking back toward the semi-open kitchen at the back of the space, you can occasionally catch glimpses of Chef Alvarez surfacing out of the back to put the finishing touch on dishes before sending plates out.

Service: There were a few hiccups at the beginning (a harried-looking server clearly did not have my reservation noted but they managed to find us a table) but these things are excusable considering the place just opened last month.  One thing that was rather obvious that they need to start working on is the pace of the meal, as not everyone will enjoy 3+ hours for a 6 course dinner.  There was a full house on the Thursday night of our visit so perhaps more staff is needed as weeknights get busier?  I did appreciate the genuine excitement that the servers had for the dishes when they were brought to our table, and appreciated the chef coming to get our reviews at the end of the meal.

Food/drink: Cacao has a small wine menu (quite pricey) but I would recommend choosing from their unique drink menu with latin-inspired drinks with recommended alcoholic options.  The basil drink I had was delicious and refreshing, and my friends really enjoyed others off the same menu.   The food menu is offered with a la carte dishes, but we chose their tasting menu (5 courses + dessert).  We had the option of letting the chef choose our dishes, or crafting our own 5 courses menu from the a la carte offerings and we chose the latter (3 smaller plates and 2 mains).  Since they had only 1 pescatarian main, they kindly made one of the meat mains into a vegetarian dish for me.  The presentation of the dishes was remarkable, and each dish had a very impressive number of balanced components that worked together to create harmonious dishes.

The menu changes regularly based on seasonality, with slight adjustments have already been made in the 2 weeks since we have been there.  Here are the dishes that we enjoyed in our 3 tasting menus:

Overall Verdict?
Cacao exceeded my expectations and the more I think back to it, the more I like it.  I hope this is the beginning of more casual tasting menus popping up in the city.  The most redeeming quality is how novel the ingredients and the flavour combinations are, making it vastly different than anything else I have tasted in Vancouver.  Chef Alvarez has created a unique, well-crafted menu that weaves Latin flavours into Pacific northwest fare.  This may just be the most exciting meal I have had in Vancouver and I cannot wait to go back!

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

Monday, 5 September 2016

Unrivalled Elegance at NYC's Per Se

The Shops at Columbus Circle
10 Columbus Cir, New York
+1 212-823-9335

Reservations required?  YES- Even on a Wednesday night, we had a tough time snagging a 9:30pm reservation.  So call 4 weeks ahead to the day to avoid disappointment.

Atmosphere: Per Se is located on the top floor of a swanky shopping plaza which also houses its sister shop, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. Restaurants in malls and hotels usually ring some alarm bells in my mind, but once I walked through the majestic blue doors at Per Se’s entrance, all my worries were put to rest.  A classy bar area acts as a corridor into the lavish dining room, split into two levels and decorated with the utmost elegance. Hubby and I were fortunate enough to be seated at a spacious table for two by the window, overlooking the lights of the New York streets below. Although the room was grand in its d├ęcor, its relatively small size allowed it to maintain a certain level of intimacy, which made for the perfect romantic setting.

Service:  Per Se has succeeded in striking the perfect balance between professional and personable.  When making our reservation, we had told them that this was our anniversary dinner, and throughout the night, every server who came to our table wished us well on our special day and even knew which year of anniversary it was.  When our menus arrived at our table, our names and a “happy anniversary” greeting was written at the top and we received a glass of champagne as a celebratory gesture.  Our main server was extremely personable and, despite a busy dinner service, took time to chat with us on several occasions.  Likewise, the sommelier was delightful and helped us choose an excellent bottle of wine to accompany our dinner.  Not a ounce of pretention to be found throughout the flawless service.

Food: There are two tasting menus to choose from- a Chef’s Tasting (Hubby’s Choice) and a Vegetable Tasting (my choice).  There is no better time to do a vegetable tasting menu then in the middle of summer when all the produce is at its best, and the team at Per Se showcased it perfectly.  Corn, peas, tomato, melon and much more, were used to make innovative, imaginative and playful dishes that screamed summer.  Hubby’s menu was similarly creative, with a nice mix of summer veg, fish and meat (supplements of truffle, wagyu and foie gras were available at extra cost).  We noted a few repeat dishes from our meal at the French Laundry last year (salmon cone, oyster and pearls, coffee and doughnuts) but I kind of enjoyed seeing Keller’s all time favorites appear again to provide some continuity between dining experiences.  A word of “warning”- save LOTS of room for dessert because it just keeps on coming and coming!

Here is a peak at our nine course anniversary feast: 

Amuse Bouche

Chef's Tasting Menu: 

Oyster and Pearls- "Sabayon" of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar

"Terrine" of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras- rolled oat "tile", black fission figs, celery branch salad and greek yogurt served with toasted brioche

Sauteed Fillet of Meditarranean Lubina- bluefoot mushrooms, broccoli rabe and "beurre rouge"

Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster- roasted artichoke tapenade, garlic scapes and moroccan olive puree

Thomas Farm's Squab- Brentwood corn pudding, sicilian pistacios, ruby beets and "sauce perigourdine"

Saddle of Elysian Fields Farm's Lamb- slow roasted eggplant "lasagna", petite basil, "papered" and "j'eau d'agneau"

Meadow Creek Dairy's "Grayson"- Hobb's Shore's bacon, Frog Hollow Carm's apricots, english walnuts and belgian endive marmalade

Vegetable tasting menu:

Sweet Corn Sorbet- haricots verts, togarashi spiced cashews and hass avocado puree

Salad of Compressed Summer Melon- french breakfast radishes, lemon cucumbers, candied peanuts and pickled chilies

"Tartelette" of greenmarket squash- smoked eggplant ricotta, marinated tomatoes and garlic scape "tempura"

Tamari Glazed Trumpet Royale Mushroom- snow pea "emince", young ginger cream and shishito pepper "aioli"

Norwich Meadows Farm's Pole Beans- fingerling potatoes, melted holland leeks, "soubise" and "sauce goulash"


Mascarpone enriched sunchoke "agnolotti"- cocktail artichokes, parisian carrots, pearl onions and "barigole" emulsion

Nettle Meadow Farm's "Kunik"- slow roasted by beets and english walnut "linzer"

 Dessert (and more dessert!)

Overall verdict?

Our experience at Per Se exceeded my expectations all around, and surprisingly I enjoyed it even more than the French Laundry.   The romantic ambience made it the perfect setting for our anniversary dinner and our night was made extra special by the very hospitable service staff.  My summer vegetable tasting menu was sublime, and showed that simple vegetables can be transformed into a complete, phenomenal meal.  This is a dining experience not to be missed.

Per Se Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato