When January rolls around in Vancouver, I look forward to a couple of things – hitting up Whistler and the local North Shore mountains for some snowboarding and the Annual Dine Out Festival presented by Tourism Vancouver! It originally began as a way to draw business to local restaurants during the low season and has grown from about 50 participating restaurants to over 250 this year! I’m really impressed by the diverse restaurant scene in Vancouver and this event really highlights the wide variety of flavours and price-points! Participating restaurants offer three course set meals at varying prices of $18, $28 and $38. I still remember when the price points were $15 and $25 10 years ago 🙂
(Catching up with Chris and Laura in their new Kitsilano neighbourhood! At Bistro Pastis this past Saturday)
Nonetheless, great deals can be found and it’s a wonderful way to try out a new restaurant and get a sense of the range of their menu. I’ve also seen a rise in the popularity of vegetarian options and gluten-free options. After perusing the menus thoroughly and making plans with many friends, I settled on 6 venues! Only one of them was a new restaurant I had never been to before– guess you can’t go wrong with old favourites!
On my list: The Abbey, Chicha, Bistro Pastis, Café Pacfica, Mahony & Sons Public House and Minami.View all of the available restaurants and full menus here on the Tourism Vancouver Website. I’ll break these up into two posts and will cover the first three here:
- The Abbey – A progressive Tavern in the Gastown neighbourhood serving British Fare
- Chicha – Modern Peruvian cuisine in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood on Main Street
- Bistro Pastis – Award-winning Classic French Bistro in Kitsilano
But first – The Abbey – $28
Located on the edge of Gastown in downtown Vancouver, the Abbey was a cozy establishment with cool decor. I thought I was early but found my friends Chris and Elle seated at the bar enjoying the Abbey’s Happy Hour specials! Half off all appetizers and $5 wine. I’m loving the growing popularity of the city’s Happy Hour specials and will need to dedicate a post to that 😉
(Chatting with friends at the bar)
I should preface this post with how I had extremely high expectations of this place (which is not a great thing to go in with, because you end up setting yourself up for disappointment!). A colleague raved about this place and Chris said he had been here about 6 times in the past month. Then my friend Sarah had gone the previous weekend here for Dine Out and told me that she was not at all impressed with the menu and left hungry, so that experience reset my expectations! Anyways…
Eric and Chris ordered similar items, while Elle and I wanted the same appetizer and main!
Pumpkin and mascarpone ravioli, pear purée, hazelnut crumble
This was really the menu item that sold me. What an interesting and tasty sounding combination! I don’t eat much pasta but if I were too, stuffed pasta would be my number one choice! I enjoyed the crunchy texture of the hazelnut coating and the creamy pasta filling. Neither the pumpkin or pear flavour really came through for me though.
(Maybe because I had made some pear pastries the night before which had a rich, deeply satisfying pear flavor due to my French-mother-in-law’s labour of love boiling down an entire batch of pears one afternoon).
Zucchini carpaccio with avocado, mango, fried shrimp, spicy vinaigrette
This was Chris’s dish. He seemed to enjoy it!
Cassoulet of duck confit and Toulouse sausage
Big hit of the night! Really though, how can one go wrong with duck confit? The bite with sausage, duck and beans was a perfect combination and the definition of savoury.
Carbonnade Flamande with horseradish applesauce+crisp potato
Elle had a taste before I did and said I would love it! I liked it, particularly the texture of the crisp potato, but the dish as a whole left me underwhelmed after comparing it to the greater range of flavours Eric had in his cassoulet. So I guess this isn’t something I would order again.
Chocolate and Peanut Butter is one of my favourite combinations so I had to order this. I had read such great things about this pie so I don’t know if it was an off-night, but I didn’t find the flavours that strong and the most memorable part of this dessert was the sour cherry on the side. The others definitely picked better desserts. At least I enjoyed the slight alcoholic touch of the cream topping though!
(Chris has the exact same camera and camera lens as me so he was taking some shots too!)
Elle said this was great!
Sticky toffee pudding, bourbon Chantilly
Again, hard to go wrong with this dessert! I enjoyed it and it wasn’t too sweet.
(Chris and Elle basking in the warm glow of the “progressive tavern” restaurant)
Overall, I liked the place for the ambiance and am interested in coming back for the appetizers and happy hour specials to see how the regular items taste. The service was very friendly and accommodating overall. They did seem to take a long time with our mains (even though the place was half-empty and we told them we were on a tight schedule) but once I reminded them about the time constraint, they were quite quick and friendly.
Overall – 3 *
Next: Chicha – $28
I came here with two girlfriends, Nancy and Nadine. Nadine and I have both spent some time in different South American countries – she’s gone to Peru, both of us have been to Brazil, and I’ve also spent time in Argentina and Chile. For that reason, we were excited to taste some of the flavours we had on our travels! And Nancy: I love her because she is into sharing food! Well hey, this is tapas style where you’re meant to order several dishes to share.
What I loved about their menu, is they had a huge selection of their regular menu and offered patrons a chance to choose one “appie” and then two “entrees” for a total of three share plates each PLUS dessert. SUCH a great value and awesome chance to sample many things!
We started off with some drinks – Nancy and I both got a pisco sour which hit the spot and reminded me of the $3 pisco sours I had in Chile. I hear there’s some contention over pisco between Chileans and Peruvians 😉 My drink also had Earl Grey notes which added a nice flavour.
First our appetizers came out –
Palitas de Yuca ~Fried Cassava root served with a Peruvian Huancaina sauce (vegan)
These were a fun start – crispy and tasty. Nadine said she preferred Yuca without the breading though, since the natural nuttiness of the root vegetable is lost when you bread it and fry it.
Quinoa Ensalada ~Quinoa, mango, and avocado salad; dressed with a Huacatay (Peruvian black mint), Jalepeno and lime vinaigrette and Rocoto Peruvian Chili dressing (vegan, gluten-free)
I was blown away by this! The mixture of two sauces created a nice tangy sweetnesss with a bit of heat. I would definitely come back and order this exotic flavour combination again and I felt healthy eating the quinoa.
Before Nadine arrived, Nancy and I took the liberty of picking out our top 6 entrees haha! We suggested them to Nadine who liked our suggestions, but then read the Tacu Tacu description and remembered how much she enjoyed this dish in Peru! She also said the portion of Tacu Tacu in Peru was enormous so she was curious what the serving would be like here. Well, I’m not going to lie, it’s not something I would have chosen on my own, but I’m so glad she did because it was such a cool dish! It had interesting flavours and textures. Ahh the beauty of eating with friends and trying something new.
Tacu Tacu ~crispy lima bean cakes topped with a spicy butternut squash stew, parmesan, and fried quail’s egg (vegan- without the egg, gluten-free)
Loved the crispiness of the lima bean cake. The texture was amazing and was perfectly matched with the spicy butternut squash pieces. This was the biggest surprise hit for me.
Pan Con Chicharron Sliders ~Crispy Pork Belly, glazed yam, Aji Amarillo Peruvian Chili mayo, salsa criolla sliders~
The buns were soft and had this light flour dusting on it – that sounds strange but it seemed very fresh to me! The crispy pork belly was super flavourful and had the right combination of sauciness to it.
Duck Confit Spring Rolls ~Five Spice duck confit, wild mushroom spring rolls; served with a pea shoot and pickled diakon salad, and ginger and Japanese plum wine dipping sauce~
Mm deep-fried duck! I really enjoyed the fresh pea shoots and ate pieces of this garnish as a palette cleanser in between the heavier, pork belly bites. The green sprigs had a light spring quality to it with a hint of sweetness.
Pan seared Salmon and Sweet Potato Crab Cakes ~served with a pickled cucumber and radish salad and Peruvian tartar sauce~
Can’t go wrong with crab cakes! This was nice but felt a tad heavy (probably with the smothering of rich tartar sauce!). For that reason, I really appreciated the julienned vegetables it was served with to balance out the dense cakes.
Actually, I liked the vegetable compilation so much I asked our server what the “white” vegetable was in particular (I was super excited about this!) to which I got the response, “Sorry I have no idea”. I tried to probe a bit further, in a gentle manner, “Oh I really like it, I would love to know what that could possibly be??” Server, “Yeah, some kind of vegetable. I don’t know”.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by exceptional service in other restaurants before – I’ve had restaurant staff really appreciate my enthusiasm for their food , have thanked me for my feedback and even gone on to ask the chefs and cooks in the kitchen about the history of their dishes! Personally, I didn’t think it was out of line for her to have offered to ask other restaurant staff to see if they knew (or even asked the cook herself ?). In the end, my friend tasted it and said “oh that’s coconut!”
OOhhh REALLY? Well that’s not very exotic! How hard could it have been to enquire about a coconut! Anyways… I still like the food =p
Pimiento Piquillo Relleno ~sweet Piquillo peppers stuffed with amaranth, hazlenuts, apricots, fresh herbs and feta; served with a Peruvian spiced warm chimichurri sauce (vegan, gluten-free)~
Alright dish, a bit forgettable but the peppers do have a nice sweetness to them. Subtle sweetness seems to be a trend here!
I was pretty satiated from all the colourful and filling foods that we had on our table, I forgot that we hadn’t actually gotten all our entrees! Thank goodness Nancy keeps track of this stuff and told our server we were waiting for our Tuna dish. Yeah, they completely forgot.
Nancy, “If I’m paying for this tuna, then I better get to eat it!”
Atun de Tataki ~Seared black quinoa crusted local Albacore tuna, passion fruit ponzu, mild wasabi cream, and pickled diakon~
Small portion, light enough that I could still eat it and have room in my dessert stomach for what was coming next…
Spiced Aji Chili Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding ~served with a dark rum dulche leche and pisco raspberry sauce~
Nancy and I chose this one – I found the flavor a bit bland and the cake had a strange heaviness (egginess??). I wonder if more sauce would have improved the texture and flavour.
Peruvian Carmel Shortbread Cookies ~Lucuma creme anglaise, fresh fruit~
The cookies on their own were a sweet treat and reminded me of the alfajores I had in Argentina! What really elevated this dish though, was the creamy and rich lucuma crème anglaise! Delicious! I could have licked the plate, but kept it classy by dipping just the cookie into it!
All in all, I would 100% come back to this place for the quinoa salad, pork belly and tacu tacu!! Service could have been better but the prices were very reasonable so I guess it evens out.
(We sat underneath this living wall 🙂
Overall – 4 ½ *
Finally (for week 1)
Bistro Pastis – $38
This has been around for 15 years so that staying power alone speaks pretty highly of this place! A bit old-fashioned inside, but charming since they got the white tablecloths going on and a warm fireplace in the back.
To start off – the service was fantastic. Especially in light of the tiny complaints with the places above I had tried previously! Here, there was always someone coming by to check how our food was, each course came out with perfect timing, and they didn’t forget anything 😉 They had previously won the best Dine Out menu for the $28 category, and this year had elevated themselves to the $38 price point.
Artisan lettuce salad, goat cheese and black pepper mousse, toasted almonds, lemon vinaigrette
Good to get some vegetables and I loved the mousse it was served with, still nice and light overall.
Gravelox salmon, chive creme fraiche, potato crumble, fennel salad
The potato “crumble” was a fancy way to say potato chips 🙂 I love salmon and it was very refreshing with the chives.
Cauliflower veloute, truffle pastry
Chris’s choice – he liked it. Good starters all around!
Grilled new york steak, potato lyonnaise, peppercorn sauce
4 out of 5 ordered this! The portion was extremely generous! Sometimes I hear diners complain about small portions during the Dine Out Festival but this was great! Everything was perfect about this classic dish. Nice greens, very flavourful potatos with a nice crispy edge and a sweetness in the reduced onions. YUM!!
Scallop, prawn and cod normande, fingerling potatos, white wine and cream sauce
Ryan was the only one who ordered this (how foolish not to get the steak.. just kidding!). The cream sauce was heavenly. Laura ordered some “famous” house fries which stood up to the name! I took the fries and dipped them in the leftover cream sauce. Perfection.
Black forest nougatine, brown butter pastry cream
This was our server’s recommendation – had a velvety and creamy texture. Not quite solid ice cream but close. Really enjoyed this “light” finish.
Maple butter cake, butterscotch ice cream
Eric and Laura both chose this! The middle layer seemed like a solid layer of butter according to Laura who liked it, but couldn’t finish it. I thought it was a really great blend of textures and flavours and wished the piece was a bit bigger!
Overall – 4 1/2*
Very satisfying, higher quality experience. Would come back and I heard that Bistro Pastis serve famous madeleine cookies that they bake fresh for you. Will have to verify another time 🙂
(The gang after a very happy and satisfying French dinner! Ryan drove up all the way from Portland just to hang out with us!)
So with that, my first week of the 2 week Dine Out Fest was done!
My favourite Dine Out of 2015 so far would be Chicha for the food because the flavours and variety are such a delight!
Stay tuned for the next installment of my Dine Out Vancouver 3 course experiences around town, and future Vancouver Restaurant Reviews and Photo Essays!
Comment below if you have been to some dine-outs as well. I would love to hear more experiences and get some recommendations!
If you’re hungry and craving more eye-candy, check out some of my other food posts: