Sunday, 8 February 2015

French Food with Style at Au Comptoir

2278 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6K 1N8
(604) 569-2278

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved? YES- Fortunately, we visited Au Comptoir when the menu had just changed to reflect the current seasonal produce (jeruselem artichoke, mushrooms and potato were front and center).  Additionally, there was a daily appetizer special which happened to be an oysters from the Gulf Islands.  Glad to see that, although they are decidedly french, they are still dedicated to using fresh, local West Coast ingredients.

After our first trip to Faux Bourgeois a few months ago (see here), we were super excited to learn of the opening of a new french bistro in Kits, Au Comptoir.  Even more exciting is that the masterminds behind Au Comptoir happen to have connections to Faux Bourgeois as well as restaurants in Paris (the real deal!).  When they first opened in late 2014, they were the hottest ticket in town.  We decided to wait for the hype (and the lineups) to die down before checking it out and headed down with 4 friends on a Saturday night in early January.

We arrived at 8:30pm during Dine-Out Vancouver in the hopes of shorter wait times since it was not a participating restaurants.  It was a good idea in theory but proved not to be the case.  There was a large group of people waiting inside the door and a waitlist board inside showing quite a few large groups ahead of us.  They close at 10pm so we were told that we would likely not get in.  Regardless, we persisted and said that we would take out chances and head to Brown's Social House next door for a drink.  The front of house told us to check back every 15 minutes which ended up being great advice since, within 30 min, many people had given up and we snagged a great table for 6 by the window.

Inside, it is hard to believe that you are still in Kits.  We had all been to Paris within the past 2 years, and could picture ourselves right back there at Au Comptoir.  On one wall is a beautiful tin bar that was built specifically for the space in France.  On the other wall are unique custom-made tables made from sewing machines (how chic!).  The whole space, from the furniture to the washrooms to the rotating dessert display, brought us back to the "city of love".

And it is not only the space that is truly French but also the style of service.  They are modelled after a Parisian cafe, open from morning to night and take no reservations which is becoming the norm here in Vancouver anyway (as per their website, "everyone is a VIP").  As would be expected in France, our server was charming as they come.  From his Parisian accent, to his wittiness to his sincerity, he had it all.  Those expecting the stereotypical rude French service, will be pleasantly surprised!  Even though we were the last table of the evening, we were never made to feel rushed and even when we left well past 10pm, there were still tables enjoying wine and good company.

Au Comptoir has separate menus for breakfast, brunch (on weekends), lunch and dinner.  The dinner menu is straightforward, with 8 or 9 each "entree" (appetizers) and "plats principal" (mains).  They also have a nice wine menu with choices at a variety of price points and a small cocktail menu.

Here are the dishes that we enjoyed:

Bread (complimentary)- What french meal is complete without it?

Assiette de Salmon Fume- This was much more exciting than your average smoked salmon and crackers, with a luscious jeruselem artichoke puree at the base, topped with a generous portion of smoked salmon and crunchy fresh radish.  The sprinkle of fresh parsley added a nice burst of freshness.

Salade verte- Very simple with nothing other than a mix of fresh greens but perfectly dressed and a light start to a meal.

Duck liver mousse (appetizer special)- This one garnered mixed reviews at our table, with one couple  "comme-ci, come-ca" and the other giving it a thumbs up. 

Local oysters (special)- These beauties were straight from the Gulf Coast and served with a pleasant nice mignonette.  

Poelee de Saint-Jacque- This was my pick, and ended up being a great choice.  The beautifully seared scallops were served over a bed of lentils.  Underneath is a parsley puree (isn't it pretty?).  A little more seasoning would have been nice (the lentils were a tad bland) but otherwise it was expertly executed.

Faison roti et son pithivier-  This was the overwhelming favourite on the online review and the two in our party that ordered it (including Hubby) agreed.  The pheasant was tender and succulent and the "pastry???" on the side stuffed with chestnut was a special French treat.

Saumon au l'unilateral- The nicely cooked fish with crispy skin was served with tagliatelle and a tarragon beurre blanc.

Magret de canard- This very generous portion of duck was complimented with french endive and a spicy pickled raisin puree.

Entrecote frites- A"must" for every french restaurant, this one with grilled ribeye and a sauce bearnaise.  

Legumes du marche- This was way better than your average side of vegetables with a few green beans and carrots.  This combo of turnip, parsnip and brussels sprout (very seasonal combo!) was surprisingly a highlight of my meal.  I will remember those brussels sprouts for quite some time to come!

Overall Verdict?

Au Comptoir is a fantastic addition to the Kits food scene.  They serve french food the way it is meant to be- simple food, without bells and whistles, but with flawless execution.  It is also offers an excellent atmosphere with polished service that makes you feel like you were transported to a Parisian neighbourhood.  It is amazing how well this place is doing in such a short time which certainly bodes well for its future.  I, for one, will be back to see how they continue to grow over time, and cannot wait to see what is in store!

Au Comptoir on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Venturing Into the Sublime at Ocean Prime Tampa

International Plaza and Bay Street
2205 North Westshore Boulevard 
Tampa, FL 
+1 813-490-5288

Tastiness Factor: 8.5/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved? The seafood here, as in many places around Tampa, is very fresh which is pretty easy due to its proximity to the water.  As per its name, Ocean Prime has a myriad of the freshest seafood on the menu.  So, if you are a locavore like me, stick with the seafood for a local treat!

New Year's Eve was an extra special occasion this year since I had the pleasure of spending it with my father and his twin brother on a milestone birthday (I will not divulge which one!).  Before the fireworks to ring in 2015, we headed to Ocean Prime in Tampa for our last meal of 2014.

I must admit that I initially had my doubts about Ocean Prime, since it: a) a chain and b) in a mall.  Fortunately though, this was one of those times when a book should not be judged by its cover.

When I say that this restaurant is in a mall, I should be fair and add that they actually takes up a whole side of the mall and has its own separate entrance.  It is a very stylish, large restaurant with two main rooms- the bar and the fancier dining room.  Despite being one of the first to make our New Year's reservation several months before,  we were seated on the bar side at a rather awkward long rectangular table.  The bar was quite loud and we actually had to walk to the other end of the table periodically to speak with those on the other side.  We would have much preferred to be in the dining room which was more suited to a NY Eve dinner.  We know to state our preference the next time!

Dining Room

The service was among the highlights of the evening.  Our server was very professional and knowledgeable about the menu.  Despite the packed house, she came to ask us how all of our courses were and attentively folded our napkins when we left the table.  We never once felt rushed, which was an anomaly on New Year's Eve and our server allowed us time to enjoy our cocktails before taking our food orders.  There were even a few special touches prepared for the festivities, including a chocolate fountain with cake and fruits to enjoy at the entrance for guests who were waiting to be seated (nice touch!).

Ocean Prime offers a dizzying number of different menus, including lunch and dinner menus, a gluten-free friendly menu (I felt like I was back home in Vancouver!), a young adult menu, a happy hour menu, 3 different drink menus (wine, cocktail and after dinner) and a dessert menu.

The wine menu is quite extensive wine menu and a very nice cocktail menu, including the Cucumber Gimlet (sweeter than I expected but still refreshing) and their infamous Berries and Bubbles (poured tableside, bubbling and smoking, very nicely balanced).

The dinner menu is divided into soups, raw bar, salads, appetizers, seafood, chicken and chops, steaks and sides (served separately and best shared by the table).  It is quite a lengthy menu, so there is sure to be something for everyone.

Between the 8 of us, we managed to cover the menu pretty well, and enjoyed the following:

Oysters on the half shell- Goodies from the raw bar.

Collosal shrimp cocktail- Also from the raw bar (which is a bit misleading since they are cooked!)

Tuna tartare- Of all of the dishes I tried, this was by far the winner.  Tuna tartare is on Hubby's favourite appies and he ranks this one up there with the best.  Fresh tuna, over avocado with small tortilla strips intermingled for texture- simply sublime.

Calamari- This apple is usually flash-fried but I requested grilled.  They were nice enough to accommodate me, but honestly I think it detracted from the dish.  The calamari had no grilled flavour and had that dreaded rubbery texture.  On a positive note, the other elements on the plate including the Asian flavours and the slaw with a few cashews tossed were quite tasty.

Cobb Salad- E veryone unanimously loved the dressing (it was termed "Italian" but was more reminiscent of a poppyseed).  The small slivers of salami worked well to give great flavour without making it too heavy for an apple.  Having said that, there is more than enough to share!

Stipped bass with lobster, mushroom, spinach and fennel slaw, topped with a butter sauce- This was the fish special of the night and boy was it ever special!  The stripped bass (more meaty and not as fatty as chilean sea bass) was beautifully cooked and the slaw underneath was amazingly full of different textures and flavours.

Chilean seabass- This is one of their signature dishes and it is easy to tell why.  How can one go wrong with wonderfully fatty seabags topped with a truffle butter sauce? I don't think they will be taking this one off the menu anytime soon!  The dish is usually served with potato but my aunt subbed in their creamy risotto (yum!).

Sea scallops- As you can tell, these beauties were perfectly seared and served over parmesan risotto.

Pork porterhouse- This was my mom's pick and unfortunately it was probably the least successful dish of the night.  She asked for it cooked medium but it was well beyond that and quite tough.  Although the meat was not a hit, the bed of veg underneath (brussel sprouts and potatoes) was delicious.

Steaks- Ocean Prime may be known for its seafood, but also specialized in steaks, like this filet mignon and New York striploin.

Side dishes- As you will note in the steak photos above, sides are not included with the mains.  There is a long list of sides at the bottom of the menu, including black truffle mac and cheese (a decadent treat!).  I also recommend ordering the brussel sprouts and the asparagus.  The sprouts were roasted and seasoned to perfection, while the asparagus was simply steamed and served with a hollandaise-like sauce that my dad raved about.

Overall Verdict?
As you can tell, my New Year's Eve full of delicious eats and, of course, the finest of company:)  Ocean Prime confidently delivers quality food and professional service in a very nice atmosphere.  And they have even taught me a lesson- maybe there are some chain restaurants worth going back to and this is one of them!

Ocean Prime on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Corner Brook's New All-Day Breakfast + Lunch at The Best Coast Cafe

This marks my third (and last) of a set of posts from my trip back to my hometown of Corner Brook, NL for the holidays (see my other posts here and here).  It was nice to revisit some old favourites and some new spots, including Best Coast Cafe.

This cute little breakfast/lunch spot has recently opened up its doors in the space previously occupied by the Broadway Cafe.  It is pretty much as basic as you can get in terms of decor but has a very cozy feel that makes you feel right at home.  Service pretty much follows suit- very casual and friendly.

While you can find the same ultra-friendly vibe in almost any place in town, it is the food that really sets Best Coast Cafe apart.  They offer a mix of traditional Newfoundland items and more modern fare like fish tacos with panko-crusted fish and eggs bennie.  I also noted a decent number of vegetarian items which is rare for this neck of the woods.  They offer all-day breakfast and a lunch menu (hours are 9-4) and also have a daily board with a pasta, salad, and soup often posted on their Facebook page (see here).  And don't forget to ask about their homemade desserts!

Hubby and I visited at noon with our good friends, and enjoyed some pretty tasty food:

I chose the Soup and Salad from the daily board.  While the salad was pretty average (just spinach, tomato and onion with balsamic), the Tomato and Basil Soup was superb (one of the best tomato soups I have had!).  It was very fresh and light, with just the perfect amount of basil.  Overtop was a generous heap of feta which really knocked it out of the park when it was mixed in.  I really had no idea a tomato soup could be this good!

Hubby and one of our friends enjoyed the Turkey Panini from the lunch menu.  It was made on super fresh, homemade bread and had a myriad of toppings including cheddar, bacon, arugula and a tasty garlic aioli.

Our other friend opted for the all-day breakfast and ordered the Breakfast Sandwich, made with a fried egg, peameal bacon, avocado, aged cheddar and garlic aioli.  The side of potatoes were especially good, with a mix of white and sweet potatoes.  Fortunately, she left some room for their daily dessert, a Bailey's Creme Brûlée.  It was full of boozy flavour (true to its name!) and a great Xmas treat.

I am really rooting for this new little Corner Brook cafe and really hope they do well.  The Newfoundland spirit shines through in their friendly service and atmosphere, but it was their food that really caught my attention.   They are keeping things relatively simple, but taking things a bit farther by adding some new flavours to add some pizzazz.

There is no doubt- I can't wait  on my next trip home!