Friday, 14 February 2014

Good Beer and Beyond at The August Jack

2042 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6J 1M9
(604) 428-0075

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Service: 3/5

Locavore Approved? YES- The August Jack makes a conscious effort to use locally sourced, organic ingredients.  As noted on its website, the chef chooses meat that is ethically and organically raised, and its seafood is sustainably harvested.  Our server told us that the tapas menu is constantly being tweaked to keep up with the changing seasons.  While they offer beer and wine from all over the world, they offer an excellent selection of local varieties.

After a long day stuck inside at work, I felt the need to venture out for a walk with Hubby in search of a nice, casual place to enjoy a low-key dinner.  Since it was already 9:30 on a Sunday night, our choices were certainly more limited.  Fortunately, after pulling out my phone to consult my list of "to go" restaurants, I spied The August Jack which, unlike most restaurants in Vancouver, actually stays open past 10pm (they do not close until "late" according to their website).  And so off we went for a brisk walk down its location at West 4th and Maple.

The August Jack, which opened last July, is Vancouver's only craft beer pairing restaurant.  They specialize in tapas and also have a small selection of mains.  Each dish on the menu has a suggested beer pairing which makes for a refreshing change from the run-of-the-mill wine pairings.  The chef, Benjamin Curtis, hails from Halifax (a fellow East Coaster!) and has a blog on which he posts updates about their regular pairing dinners highlighting local breweries.

I found the atmosphere to be very pleasant.  It had the laid back vibe of a pub but at the same time had a bit of a more intimate quality that made it a great choice for a night our with Hubby.   There is a variety of seating options available, from low tables, to high tables, to booths for larger groups.  There is also a very handsome bar with ample seating surrounding it.

Our server was very enthusiastic and gave us a nice introduction to to restaurant and the menu when we  told him that it was our first visit.  He was eager to help us with beer suggestions and pairings if we were not keen on the suggestions listed beside the dishes on the menu.  The only part of service that left us scratching our heads was that, despite being one of only 2 couples there at 10pm on a Sunday night, we waited almost 30 minutes for our food to appear after ordering.

While we waited (and waited) for our food, I enjoyed a glass of Bartier Brothers 2012 Gewurtztraminer  from the Okanagan.  It was the first time that I tried a wine from this winery and I was very impressed.  Hubby ordered a Blanche de Chamblay as it was the suggested pairing with his tapas.

Hubby ordered two tapas- the Truffle Popcorn and the Rare Seared Albacore Tuna.   He absolutely devoured the generous bowl of popcorn, with its truffle-infused popcorn and shaved grana padano.  While he enjoyed the flavours of the onion-orange reduction on the tuna dish, the fish itself was a tad overcooked.

I spotted my choice of dish within seconds of looking at the menu- the Quinoa Cashew Squash.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the dish, it was certainly not what I expected on reading the menu description.  What came on the plate was a small piece of squash with a few tablespoons of quinoa and diced cashews. The rest of the dish was comprised of a very tasty medley of green beans and mushrooms and some nicely seasoned baby potatoes.  While I was a bit disappointed that there was not more squash and quinoa, I certainly appreciated the flavours and the seasonality of the other veg.  All in all, a very nice vegetarian dish.

Although we enjoyed the food, the prices were a bit steep in my opinion.  The mains are $20-30 and tapas $6-18 (prices as compared to those online), which is a bit more than I would expect for this casual, pub-like atmosphere.  Also, the food tended to be "aggressively seasoned" (aka. very salty) which may be a "pro" for some and a "con" for others.

Overall, we quite enjoyed our experience at August Jack and would return if the opportunity arose.  The place was pretty empty on the night of our visit, which was hopefully more the exception than the rule.  With any luck, the word will spread that August Jack serves respectable food and drink that is worthy of a visit.

The August Jack on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Spanish Tapas Local-Style at Espana

1118 Denman Street
V6G 2M8

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved?  MOST CERTAINLY- I was very impressed with the use of primarily seasonal ingredients on their menu, especially in the winter months when produce is limited.  Mushrooms, pumpkin, leeks, potatoes, brussel sprouts and beets were used throughout the dishes in very creative and tasty ways.  This is a place that is worth revisiting on a regular basis, as the menu is constantly being reworked to incorporate what is local and fresh.  Now that is the mark of a truly great restaurant!

On the second night of Dine-Out Vancouver, Hubby and I were wanting to escape the crowds and were looking for restaurant that was not participating in this city-wide restaurant extravaganza.  With well over 200 restaurants participating this year, this proved to be a bit of a challenge but I finally thought of the perfect solution.

Espana is Spanish tapas restaurant located on Denman St. in Vancouver's downtown.  I had the pleasure of dining there with a few of my work colleagues back in the summer and, after a great meal, had vowed to go back with Hubby.  With Dine-Out going on, we figured this would be the perfect night to check it out since we may be able to avoid the long line-up of customers that understandably flocks flocks to Espana on the weekends.  Lucky for us, we walked right into a lovely table right at the back!

Inside, the space is quite narrow with a bar on one wall and seating on the other wall.  It makes for a cozy and casual atmosphere, perfect for drinking good wine and sharing top-notch food with friends or a significant other.

In keeping with the atmosphere, the service is friendly and down to earth, while still being attentive and polished.  I have had the same server on both visits, and she is wonderful.  She knows the menu inside out and makes great wine suggestions.  After ordering, food comes out of the kitchen very quickly and subsequent dishes follow at a consistent pace.

The drink menu has a variety of options, including cava (spanish bubbly), sherry, cocktails and a nice selection of Spanish wines (I really enjoyed the Botani Moscatel 2011).  The food menu is composed of small plates in true Spanish tapas style.  It is divided into several sections, including bar snacks, toasts, cured meats, salads, vegetables, fish, meat, cheese and dessert.  By selecting a few things from each category to share with your dining companions, you will really get a feel for how talented the chefs here are.  Our server recommended 2-3 dishes/person, and we were satisfied with 6 dishes between the two of us, plus dessert.  If you are pretty hungry and choose lighter dishes, you may need to order more and, after seeing for yourself how good the food is, you will certainly want to!

Here are the dishes that we enjoyed:

Smoked sardines and paprika yogurt, chili and mint toast

Roast pumpkin, goat cheese, walnuts, orange blossom honey toast

Serrano ham (aged 14 months)

Grilled leeks and peppers

Mussels cooked in cider

Pedro ximenez braised beef


We thoroughly enjoyed all of the dishes, but I would have to say that my favourites were the Pumpkin Toast (great texture with the perfect amount of sweetness) and the Leeks and Peppers (the grilled leeks are like nothing I have ever tasted before, and are topped with a perfect Romesco sauce).

I just love Espana.  Its concept of making authentic Spanish tapas using mostly local ingredients is awesome and the fact that their menu is constantly evolving with the changing seasons means that you will want to visit again and again.  I know that I personally cannot wait until my next visit!

Until next time Espana!

Espana Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Korean Sharing Plates in Chinatown at Dunlevy SnackBar

433 Dunlevy Street 

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 3/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved? Not really, but this is really not what they are going for here and I get that.  The menu stays pretty constant with the exception of the Bibimbap that changes nightly so do not expect much in the way of seasonal ingredients.

Hubby loves Asian food and do, after reading a review of SnackBar by Alexandra Gill in the Globe and Mail (see here), he just had to check it out.  And so, on a typical rainy Friday night in Vancouver, we ventured down to Gastown to see what all the fuss was about.

Dunlevy SnackBar is located on a little side street in Chinatown called (you guessed it), Dunlevy. Both the outside and inside are quite unassuming and plain.  The space is quite small and narrow (it used to be a hair salon) however the tables are well spaced so we did not feel cramped.  It has a bar and (very tiny) open kitchen on one side and benches and tables on the other.  Decor is pretty minimal, aside from a few paintings behind the bar, some star-shaped lights above the tables and some paper streamers near the entrance.  At the back after 9pm, you will find a live DJ who seems to draw the crowds as this place certainly came alive between the time that we got there at 8:45 and left at 9:30.

Service was friendly and laid back.  Our waitress was easily able to answer all of our questions about the menu and suggest a good amount of food for us to share.  Behind the counter, we watched the chef single-handedly prepare all of our dishes and get our first dish to our table in less than 5 minutes, with the others following just as quickly.

The menu is brought out on a clipboard and contains about 8-10 snacks, all priced between $4-10.  Dishes are pretty small and between Hubby and I, we ordered about half the items on the menu.  The food is Asian, with a predominantly Korean influence.  The drink menu is pretty limited (they offer only 1 type of both white and red wine), and I regret not trying one of their cocktails which are rumoured to be very original and well composed.

Here are the dishes that Hubby and I shared:

Assorted Preserves, spicy pumpkin seeds

Yam/potato salad, spicy mayo

Fried Chicken Tostasda

Fried Chicken Steam Bun

Bibimbap (with pulled pork)

Overall, we enjoyed our "snacks", especially Hubby who was quite impressed by the flavours that really hit a high note for him.  Our unanimous favourite was the Bibimbap, which had a good balance of veggies, rice and pulled pork, all brought together by a perfectly runny egg and a great sauce.  Highly recommended!  The steam bun was also pretty special, largely due to the soft, pillowy bun.

If you are a fan of Asian food, Dunlevy Snack Bar is a place that you should definitely check out.  This place is all about the food, and this is where they excel.  Check it out and see for yourself!

 Dunlevy Snackbar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas Eve at VanDusen Botanical Gardens: The Festival of Lights and and Shaughnessy Restaurant

Hubby and I were sticking around in Vancouver this Christmas this year and were looking for something nice to do on Christmas Eve.  While our families back East, it would just be the two of us so we were in the market for a date night that would really get us into the Christmas spirit after both working right up to Christmas Eve.

A trip to VanDusen gardens for their Festival of Lights followed by a dinner at Shaughnessy Restaurant seemed like just the ticket.  The Festival of Lights is an annual tradition at the Gardens and is a spectacle to behold.  Lights are strung up along every inch of the garden and there is a Dancing Light Show over the pond every half-hour.  Patrons will also be treated to singing from guest choirs, a "candle grotto" in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a neat lego display, and puppet show, a model train and, of course, Santa himself!  There is not much that you will not find while touring the Festival of Lights and, for $14.25/adult ($7.75/child), everyone should experience it at least once.

Shaunessy Restaurant is located within the Garden and is open throughout the Christmas season for daily lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, as well as brunch on the weekend.  Dinner is a nice complement to a visit to the Festival of Lights.  The dining room looks right over the garden, making for a lovely holiday setting.  Hubby and I went for the special Christmas Eve dinner which has a special festive menu.  We made a reservation for the latest possible time (7:30pm), and I highly suggest reserving at least a few days ahead as this seems to be quite a sought-after night for dinner (only a few walk-ins are accepted).  While we did have to wait about 20 minutes past our reservation time to be seated, the service was otherwise good thanks to our excellent server. Even this late into dinner service, he was energetic, enthusiastic and very personable.

The Christmas Eve menu (which, in looking at the website, will be repeated again on New Years Day) was a two course prix-fixe menu for $50.  There was 5 choices for both the appetizer and the main, with a nice variety of meat, fish and vegetarian.  I decided to go vegetarian for the evening with a Roasted Kaboucha Squash, Pear and Christmas Soup to start, which was quite tasty apart from a rather rancid-tasting creme fraiche "drizzle" and an awkward garnish of fried potato strings.

For my main, I had the Braised Kale, Sweet Peppers and Basil Scented Goat Cheese Strudel.  I applaud them trying to do an "outside the box" vegetarian dish with quinoa, tomato relish on the side, and although the plate was a bit of a "mishmash" of different elements, the flavours were all there.

Hubby started with the Pan Seared Fresh East Coast Scallop, which came with a corn and tarragon puree and potato medallions.  This was a decent dish but not overly exciting or memorable.

What was memorable was Hubby's main- the Maple Syrup Glazed Roast Turkey with Mushroom, Brown Butter and Sage Brioche.  And unfortunately, they are not fond memories of the the dish that should have been the star of the show.  The turkey was way overcooked (as Hubby accurately stated, he could have bounced it off the wall) and the vegetables were mushy and bland.  This was an all-around bad plate.

To sum up, the Festival of Lights at VenDusen Gardens in a must for those who have not yet experienced the Christmas Magic that it brings.  Fortunately, it runs until January 4th so there is still time to check it out (line-ups are apparently much shorter after Christmas).  As for Shaughnessy Restaurant, I have had much better food at this price point.  Although I am glad to have had the experience of dining in the pleasant holiday setting, we will not be returning.


Shaughnessy on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 December 2013

A Casual Friday Night Out in Yaletown at The Flying Pig

1168 Hamilton St. 

Second location:
102 Water St. 

Tastiness Factor: 6.5/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved? Kinda- Although they do state on their website that they offer a "seasonally inspired dishes with fresh, local ingredients", they also highlight the fact that they are believers in "if its not broke don't fix it" mentality.  This is true in that dishes tend to stay on the menu for long periods (the menu is basically the same now as when we visited several months ago) which limits their ability to  feature local, seasonal ingredients.  They do have some local menu items (ex. an all local salmon sampler appetizer, local cheeses) but a local focus is not present in the majority of dishes.

Flying Pig, opened now for a couple of years in Yaletown, came to my attention when they opened a new location on the corner of Water and Abbott in Gastown.  This corner also happens to be the home of one of my favourite places in Gastown, the Juice Truck, and I noticed the signs for Flying Pig as I was satisfying my smoothie craving.  The menu was intriguing and it got added to my ever-growing "to-go" restaurant list.

Hubby and I recently checked out their original Yaletown location for dinner on a Friday night.  It is located in the heart of Yaletown on Hamilton St. and therefore it was not too surprising that it was packed on the night of our visit.  Reservations are only accepted for lunch and brunch so you can expect a wait.  We lucked out and got in very quickly when a little table in the corner in the front window of the restaurant became available (great for people watching!).  The vibe of the space is laid back, with a noise level that is above the average.  It is a great atmosphere for unwinding after a long week (the large bar certainly helps!).

We had a very personable waiter who, despite obviously being very busy, took time to answer our questions about the menu and came back to check in with us at regular intervals.  The pace of the meal, however, was not ideal, with our appetizers arriving within minutes and our mains taking at least an hour (our server was profusely apologetic).  I understand that they were busy but I would assume that this kind of volume is the norm on a Friday night.

The drink list contains a small but complete selection of wine, beer and spirits.  Kudos for many BC options!  There is a good range of pricing options, with a few "notable wines" for those who don't mind paying a little extra for something special.

In contrast to the succinct beverage list, the food menu was "clunky" and, in my opinion, a bit confusing.  I get the "appetizer" and "entree" sections, but they lose me with the "sides".  The sides, including gnocchi, short rib macaroni and pulled pork poutine, are very substantial and should perhaps be more accurately called "small plates".  Most entrees already come with a starch and a veg so ordering a "side" on top of it is unnecessary.

Here is a look at our meal"

Complimentary bread- Although it is hard to complain when something is free, Hubby, the bread expert, was not at all impressed by the bread which tasted stale.  

Rocket and Watercress Beetroot Salad- I quite enjoyed this salad, that could easily be enough for a light meal and for $9, it was quite a deal!  There was a very generous helping of chèvre (local at that!) and seasonal pear.  My only complaint is that it was overdressed for my liking, and the nuts were unnecessary with all the cheese.  Overall though, this was a nice start.

House Salmon Sampler- Hubby's pick was this salmon plate, which was made of 3 preparations of LOCAL salmon- smoked salmon, candied salmon, and a salmon "cake" (more a fritter) topped with salmon roe.  It came with a nice arugula salad and some bread.  Again, the serving size was very generous for the price and could almost be a meal in itself or make a good sharing plate.  This was our favourite of the evening.

Lobster and Prawn Risotto- Instead of a main, I decided to order two sides, which ended up being a good idea considering the hefty size of the appies.  Unfortunately though, I made a bad choice in choosing the risotto which was bland and overcooked (where was the marscapone and citrus?).  Although it sounds tempting, I would steer clear from this one.

Crispy brussel sprouts- This was my second choice of sides and was fortunately much more tasty than the risotto, although not the best I have had.  They were overwhelmingly salty, mostly due to an excess of large capers.  

TFP Signature Pork Rack- With the word "signature" in the title, Hubby was expecting good things but this was unfortunately the biggest miss of the night.  The "pork rack" was actually just a single pork chip without hardly any meat on it (mostly fat).  It came with an underwhelming side of pulled pork poutine with bland gravy and a few overcooked root vegetables.  The sauce was really the redeeming part of the dish and even that was not great.  Quite a disappointment.

Although there is no denying that Flying Pig offers great value, especially for Yaletown, we will not be returning.  We felt that the menu was quite bizarre, with very large-portioned appies and sides that were more like small plates or small entrees.  For us, the food itself left a lot to be desired.

Therefore, although the price was right, we will likely not be back again for dinner "until pigs fly".


The Flying Pig on Urbanspoon