Hawksworth raviolo

The beef neck raviolo starter at Hawksworth.

Chef David Hawksworth is a big name in the culinary world of Vancouver. His signature restaurant, Hawksworth, housed inside the Rosewood Hotel Georgia with a view of the Vancouver Art Gallery across West Georgia St., is widely considered the best restaurant in the city. We haven’t had a burning urge to try it because it seemed stuffy from the outside, but we figured we might as well check it off the list. So, we celebrated Valentine’s Day early by dining at Hawksworth last Saturday.

A note about attire: There’s no strict dress code here, but everyone dresses up. If you’re in casual clothing, though, no worries; you won’t raise eyebrows.

Another tip: This is a highly popular restaurant, so book reservations at least a few days ahead.

We arrived for the first seating of the evening at 5 p.m., so we got to see the servers getting ready for the night, setting the tables and putting the finishing touches on things. We ordered cocktails at the bar (a Sazerac and a champagne cocktail) and were well seated at a corner table.

Hawksworth foie gras

The foie gras starter at Hawksworth.

Our waiter was friendly and ready to answer questions (I always like to ask about ingredients and prep if I really like a dish). We started off with appetizers of beef neck raviolo and foie gras, both of which were excellent. The raviolo was relatively small in size but stuffed with shredded beef neck and a bit of bone marrow. I loved the foie gras; it’s been so long since I’ve had it, and I relished its unctuousness. Foie gras isn’t a common item on upscale menus in Vancouver, and it was a treat to have it here. It has the flavor and texture of a hardier bone marrow, and it was served on a type of French toast that was soaked in milk or cream, so the textures and flavors of the foie gras and the toast played off each other beautifully.

Hawksworth sturgeon

The sturgeon main at Hawksworth.

For the mains, we had the sturgeon and the lamb saddle. The sturgeon was prepared with a Vietnamese lemongrass treatment and served with slices of cucumber. I’ve never had sturgeon before, and it was a new texture for me; quite toothsome for a fish yet still tender, kind of like lobster or perfectly cooked squid. The lamb saddle literally looked like a saddle; a creative, playful dish. The lamb was served as rolled medallions with a thin layer of (I’m guessing here) ground peppercorns inside. The potato side to the lamb was clever, with thin layers of potato rolled up together–a technique playing off the lamb saddle concept, perhaps–and packed with butter for lots of flavor.

Hawksworth lamb saddle

The lamb saddle main at Hawksworth.

We didn’t order dessert–we were looking forward to blondies topped with ice cream at home–but the waiter did give us a little goodie bag of mini chocolate loaf treats as a parting gift.

The verdict: I now understand the fuss. Hawksworth demonstrates technical mastery, inventiveness and beauty. The prices may be high, but it’s worth trying if you’re willing to splurge.

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Dine Out Vancouver Part III: Edible Canada

seal tenderloin

The seal tenderloin amuse bouche.

We used to walk right past Edible Canada when we were on Granville Island, thinking it was a tourist stop that wouldn’t hold anything interesting for us. But this store selling Canadian foodstuffs is attached to a restaurant that surprised us with an inventive menu for Dine Out Vancouver.

Seal was on the list, from Nova Scotia, I believe. The restaurant only offered seal during Dine Out Vancouver, and it caused a ruckus among those who think eating seals is inhumane. There is, however, a tradition of seal hunting in Canada, and Edible Canada chose to put it on the menu to showcase what it considers local, sustainable food.

I’m all for trying new things, so we ordered two seal dishes. The first was the seal tenderloin amuse bouche on what tasted like a white bean puree.  The fillets had the texture of fat and tasted similar to liver. It was certainly a new flavor, and I don’t know what to make of it yet; I didn’t love it, but I didn’t not like it either. I did think the bison tartare appetizer was tastier, possibly because it was very similar to flavors I’m used to; it had a lightness and taste like tuna tartare.

bison tartare

The bison tartare appetizer.

The seal pappardelle entree was our second seal dish. The seal was ground and served in a ragu with the noodles. The flavor was very different from the raw tenderloin appetizer. In this dish, the seal had the texture of ground beef, with a very lean, gamey flavor. I did like this dish; maybe it was better on my palate because it was served in a familiar bolognese style.

seal pappardelle

Seal pappardelle.

As for dessert, I got the chocolate pot du creme, which tasted almost exactly like the ganache I make at home, just topped with a blueberry compote.

Overall, I was impressed with the classy meal at Edible Canada, as well as the willingness of the restaurant to serve dishes that would challenge diners’ opinions and palates.

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Pork Rib Bao

Pork rib baoOne of the reasons I like eating out every now and then is for inspiration. If a dish strikes me, I like to try making it at home.

As I mentioned in my Dine Out Vancouver Part II post,  I had the Korean spiced pork rib bao board at Gyoza Bar, and we wanted to give it our own spin. We defrosted a rack of pork ribs from our freezer, and I sliced the defrosted ribs into smaller sections, placed them in a large Tupperware bowl, and rubbed them with a marinade of soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil and a sprinkling of cayenne. (No strict measurements; I made the marinade by intuition.) I covered the Tupperware and let the ribs sit in the marinade for several hours in the fridge.

We cooked the ribs at 250 degrees F for 3.5 hours, with the marinade poured over them. We made a glaze by taking the marinade and pork juice once the ribs were done and reducing the liquid on the stove top, adding some more soy sauce and brown sugar to taste.

I removed the meat from the ribs and served them on a plate. Another plate held the bao slices. We constructed our pork baos at the table, with sauteed bok choy leaves as a side.

Conclusion: This meal was a big success.

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Dine Out Vancouver Part II: Gyoza Bar, Ritual, Afghan Horsemen

Gyoza Bar bao board

The bao board at Gyoza Bar.

For the second week of Dine Out Vancouver, we tried Gyoza Bar (Pender St. branch), Ritual and The Afghan Horsemen Restaurant. Gyzoa Bar was the best one of the three by far in terms of the food. For $20, I got an appetizer of pork gyoza, their bao board as an entree, and a little rice pudding for dessert.

The bao board really “wowed” me. It was a small rack of Korean spiced pork rib served with two bao buns to make your own mini sandwiches. Pickled apple and celery came as garnish. I loved the presentation and taste. We were so inspired, we decided to take the idea and make it our own at home (more on that in another post).

One word of caution if you visit Gyoza Bar: The dinner rush really slows down service, so the earlier you eat, the better.

Now, onto Ritual. I have a soft spot for this new restaurant because they’re in our neighborhood, and they started out with a no-tipping policy to give their workers better wages. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stay in business by doing that–people were just too confused and put off by the higher prices–so they did away with the policy. We’ve eaten there before and enjoyed it. But I must admit I wasn’t wild about the meal for Dine Out Vancouver. The food was upscale and beautiful, and everything was prepared well, but there was…something missing. Maybe it’s because I like big flavors, but I thought the dishes were a little too simple. The shredded ribs entree was good, but on the bland side, for instance. But maybe simplicity is the chef’s intention.

As for The Afghan Horsemen, which calls itself the first Afghani restaurant in Canada, this place was surprisingly packed when we came for dinner. It’s a large space, and we were seated in the traditional area, which has cushions and tables for eating while sitting on the floor. The meal was good and hearty, like a home-cooked meal prepared by a grandmother who knows her way around the kitchen. We had tender lamb dishes served with long-grain rice for entrees. The food reminded me of Indian Row in downtown Manhattan, where I liked to eat when I lived in NYC. Different cultures, obviously, but very similar restaurant cuisine, according to my taste buds. Like Gyoza Bar, service slowed down at the dinner rush, so it’s best to get there for an early dinner.

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Dine Out Vancouver 2017 Part I: Forage and YEW

Forage pork belly

The pork belly entree at Forage.

I’m all for Dine Out Vancouver. It entices you to restaurants you wouldn’t otherwise go to, so you can broaden your culinary horizons at lesser price points than a typical meal at high-end restaurants. Set menus are priced at $20, $30 or $40 per person for a complete meal: starter, main and dessert.

At last year’s festival, we tried Forage, YEW and Beach Bay Cafe and Patio. The first two were hits. The last one, not so much. We returned to Forage and YEW this year for Dine Out Vancouver. The meal at Forage was just as good as last year’s meal. I was most impressed by the pork belly, which had a top layer of perfectly crisp skin and moist, tender flesh underneath. I could’ve easily eaten another serving or two. I loved the unctuousness of the skin and meat; it makes you want more. The cream puff dessert in a ginger sauce was excellent as well; I liked the strong zing of the ginger and the ladyfinger-like texture of the cream puff shell. Bonus: Our waiter was knowledgeable about the kitchen’s cooking techniques, and he gave us good tips on how to improve our pork belly at home. We’ve tried to roast pork belly in the oven before, but it’s never come out quite right (more on that in another post, if we try it again). The meal ended with me feeling satisfied–which, when dining out at fancy restaurants, doesn’t typically happen, so kudos to Forage.

YEW sablefish

YEW’s sablefish entree.

YEW, the restaurant of Four Seasons Vancouver, was another good meal, but not as filling as I remember last year’s being. To be fair, we ordered an extra side dish last year, which I think is why I was raving about how good the meal was afterward; I was nice and full. I had the sablefish this time, which was incredible; tender with just the right amount of sear for a light crust. I definitely wanted more of that. The “jitters gateau” dessert was excellent; a bar with a light mocha cream layer and coffee hazelnut streusel.

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Beach Oysters

Beach oysters

I don’t know if Marcel Proust was a cook, but he certainly understood the link between food and memory; how a bite of something can take you back in time.

I felt this link keenly on my most recent visit to Qualicum Bay on Vancouver Island, a place that has become a home away from home. We walked out around noon from our rented beach house for a stroll along the shore. It was low tide, and as we walked in the direction of Denman Island we stopped by a rocky outcrop on the shore. I had been disappointed because this time of year doesn’t yield the bounty of beach oysters like the fall season, but lo and behold, we spotted some large oysters on the rocks and in the water and kept on seeing them as we explored further on the outcrop.

I cracked open a beautiful, big oyster as I balanced between rocks, slurping the cold, juicy meat. The saltwater took me back to early morning outings in Jamaica, when we would go diving with our boatman. The taste of the brine brought back the feel of the Caribbean and the lightness of floating in water, but I was still aware of the moment, perched on the rocks in Qualicum Bay, staring out at the snow-capped mountains across the cold water; two worlds intersecting in my mind.

I went after some submerged oysters, showing off some hard-won yoga skills. I pushed up my sleeves, got into a one-armed plank position and knocked an oyster off the side of a rock and picked up another from the seabed. We ended up gathering a nice collection and enjoyed the spoils that afternoon with a few fresh ones on the half shell, spritzed with fresh lime.

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Roasted Bone Marrow

Roasted bone marrow

To my dear readers: I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season.

I’d like to share a very easy recipe of roasted bone marrow. This was featured in our Christmas Eve dinner, along with prosciutto-wrapped wild salmon and baba ghanoush. It was an incredibly delicious and relatively light meal.

I used to eat bone marrow when I was kid, and lately it’s become a fine-dining trend. The first time I had it at a foodie restaurant was at Michael’s Genuine in Miami. I had it again recently at Nightingale, the newest restaurant by the celebrated Vancouver chef David Hawksworth.

You can create your own high-end experience at home by simply going to your local butcher and asking for bone marrow. Our butcher had a stash in the freezer. We defrosted the bones on Christmas Eve, placed it on a baking tray, and roasted it for 20-30 min. (or until the marrow is visibly cooked; try it at 400 deg. F). You can scoop out the marrow with little spoons. We ate ours on toasted naan and sprinkled honey vinegar and chopped celery on top for a bit of acid to contrast with the richness of the marrow (hubby’s great idea; he also cooked this dish). The flavor is intensely buttery and addictive.

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