Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Diva at the Met

Holiday season is said to be the most wonderful time of the year.  No doubt, it is also one of the busiest and most stressful time of the year too.  While I expected myself to be quite busy at my job, I didn't expect to be thrown off course with a flu that hit me one night like a ton of bricks which left me to be repaired for the next few days.  While the sickness may have tarnished my holiday spirit slightly, I knew I would do whatever it take to look and feel my best for our family Christmas dinner at Diva at the Metropolitan hotel in downtown Vancouver.  

I am a fan of innovative cooking techniques and concepts, so I was looking forward to see what new gastronomic adventure was awaiting us tonight.  The service at Diva was top notch.  Valet parking at the hotel is complimentary after the restaurant gives you a stamp for your parking, which is valid for 3 hours.  Who doesn't love convenience? The staff were attentive and professional. We made dinner simple and went with the 5 course tasting menu for $55 per person.  
Four kinds of snacks were included as an introduction to the meal.  We were presented with a basket of eggs.  Inside was a smoked bone marrow custard with truffle.  It was mild, fragrant, and the most luxurious custard ever.
Chicken bacon served on a rock was unique.  It was thin, crispy, salty with a spread of molasses butter.  

The next snack was intriguing.  Mussel coal, or bread, black as night, topped with gleaming ikura on a smouldering coal board.  Despite turning my mouth all black, it was worth it.  The mussel bread and garlic aioli were injected with squid ink, giving it coal-black color.  The bread was so moist and tender with hint of dill and exquisite with garlic aioli. I wondered how the mussel flavour was so pronounced and had to ask.  We were explained that the executive chef used 'mussel nectar', or the broth, to bring out the flavour.  The concept came when he and his wife would share mussel frites.  His wife would take all the mussels while he was left with bread to dip in the broth.  I think we all love doing that too so I though the idea of combining mussel broth in bread altogether was quite clever. 
The next snack was foie gras walnut.  Curiously, it was creamy foie gras shaped as a walnut on the right corner of the picture.  It was smooth, and tasted like a rich barbecue duck spread.  The quince jelly was great with it.  
A complimentary basket of artisan bread arrived to keep us occupied.  My favourite was pecan and caramelized onion bread, and shea butter with poppy seed bread.  It was really hard not to get filled up on these.  Grandma paid no attention to the discretion so I got extra portions from her plate ^^.

Orange honey soda in between courses to cleanse palette.  It was a refreshing, tangy, fizzy foam made from fresh orange juice.  Too bad it only lasted a couple of sips.  I would like a tall glass of foam please.
The first course, sable fish carpaccio impressed us all. Thin slices of sable fish blanketed over olive oil-poached lobster and octopus dressed with nitro olives and vinaigrette.  I got the crunch from the vegetables and crouton bits, mixed with acidity and sweetness of the olives.  The combination of textures and flavours were refreshing and left us wanting more.  

The second course, smoked black cod was a hit also.  My first thought was "where's the rest of it?".  The cod was perfectly crispy on the outside, tender and flakey on the inside.  There was just the right amount of sodium on the fish, anymore and it would've been too salty. It was served on a bed of pickled cabbage, pork jowl, navy bean cassoulet, cauliflower puree, and accompanied with oyster sauce (not the asian kind in a bottle).  The whole table was in complete silent until everything on the plate was cleared. I never thought I would enjoy navy bean, but the amount wasn't overwhelming.  The cauliflower puree and the oyster sauce complimented the dish so well that I had the dip the bread in to soak up the rest of the sauce.  And I can't forget about talking about pork jowl.  It looked like a piece of tuna sashimi, gelatin-like and fatty enough that it melts in your mouth.  A great component to go with the cassoulet. 
The third course, veal cheek, was beautifully displayed.  The plate was also decorated with popcorn sweetbread, chicharone, fall vegetables, pine mushrooms and porcini foam. I felt like a kid and was intrigued by the popcorn sweetbread had a crunchy batter like popcorn chicken.  The mushroom foam was thick and rich, much like a bisque.  
Truffled lamb tenderloin with natural lamb jus.  Again, I was thinking, "that's really pretty, but where was the rest of it?".  But believe it or not, we had trouble finishing the last bites even though it was really good.  The food was finally catching up to us, and suddenly we had much appreciation for the smaller portions and beautiful presentations.  The tenderloin was extremely tender, and the bed of truffle it was sitting on was just divine.  

I'm not sure if my words could accurately describe how awesome our last course was.  Pumpkin caramel pudding was anything but simplistic.  It was presented in such a way that made us go "wow" while we scratch our heads trying to figure out what's what.  There must have been about 10 different components in there and I could only list yam ginger ice cream, praline, pumpkin pudding, and meringue. It was crunchy, creamy, nutty and not overly sweet.  The ginger flavour was not overwhelming in the ice cream but was distinct. Altogether, it was decadent, delicious, and I could probably eat about 5 more.  
The entire meal was absolutely impressive.  The open kitchen was located right across from us and we could see the action up close.  However, while the chefs were actively busy, the only noise we could hear out from the kitchen was when someone said, "service".  The kitchen was a calm environment with excellent control to details.  The ambience was formal, yet comfortable. However, the decor could use a little update to better match the modern and creative dishes they offer. 
After the bill, we were given the last treat; orange chocolate shaped like tree bark.  I know I complained about how I thought the portions were small, but to be honest, they were just right.  I wouldn't want them any bigger aside from the dessert.  In the near future, I would definitely come back to Diva again in the near feature and explore more of their tasty creations that are also feast for the eyes.


Diva at the Met on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Refinery

the Refinery is a cozy little spot located in the heart of downtown on Granville street.  On the weekend, this tapas restaurant transforms into a busy bar where you would miss having a personal space.  We got there early enough before the rush and were able to score a fair size seating.  The atmosphere was casual and energetic, a good place to go socialize after work.  There are 2 menus; one for flatbreads, salads, bruschette and charcuterie and the second for tapas.  We focused on ordering smaller and bigger tapas. 
I have a thing for pork belly and runny eggs, so 'bacon n' eggs' for $12 was a given.  Three slices of braised pork belly served over caramelized onions and apple compote, topped with fried quail eggs was a great starter.  The pork belly was slightly sweet, tender with fatty pieces that melts in your mouth.  Of course, I cracked the creamy yolk and let it coat all over the pork and paired with some apple compote.  
The steak tartar for $13 was very well seasoned and a good portion.  Usually, steak tartar is a hit or miss for me.  I've had experiences where it would taste like it just came from the slaughter house, or it would taste like an exquisitely refined dish.  I was pleased that the steak tartar at the Refinery is the latter.  You get the tanginess and extra texture from capers and pickled shallots. It was topped with quail's egg yolk and drizzled with a generous amount of balsamic reduction.  The crostinis were thin and crispy and great for spreading on the steak.  
Arancini, or fried risotto balls, for $9 for 4 comes with a different flavour each day.  Tonight's flavour was wild mushrooms topped with tomato sauce.  This one didn't blow us away.  The tomato sauce tasted pretty generic and the batter was quite thick.  The risotto was not soggy so it was a plus, but other than that, there wasn't much more uniqueness to it.  If you're really hungry, this would be a good filler. 
Roasted duck breast with grape and walnut salad for $14 was a great value.  The dish was good, but it could've been great.  Instead, I spent my time figuring out what was missing from this dish.   The seared duck breast, medium rare and tender, was lacking crispiness on the skin.  The dressing to go with it was a bit too light and sweet.  Maybe it should have more savoury factor, but I think that was the whole concept of the dish, something more refreshing and light.  Nonetheless, the duck portion for the price is a steal!3

Okay, the last dish that arrived blew us away, mainly by its sheer size.  The roasted lamb chops from the bigger tapas proved to be as big as they claimed.  For $14, we got 3 very large and meaty lamb chops served over pesto and topped with pine nuts.  At this rate, 2 hungry guys and 1 bear were politely offering each other more food and passing it.  In the end, I am sad to report that we were so full that we could not finish the lamb.  Although the chops were more cooked than how I usually like my red meat (more rare-medium), but it still had a nice charred and fatty-melt-in-your-mouth flavour.  The pesto composition was great with the lamb.  I would definitely come back for this dish again.

There is one dish missing from this collage and, unfortunately, it was the best of the night. The baja scallops were seared to perfection.  They were large, plump, with golden crisp exterior and served over sweet carrot puree and wine syrup.  An 'ingenious' combination.

I would definitely come back to the Refinery.  Their tapas can pretty much make a completely meal or something light to nibble over drinks.  The lamb and scallops won my heart and the ratio of portion to price keeps me coming back for more. 

**Update: 07/03/13  

I paid a visit back to the Refinery on a Wednesday night and was mainly surprised by how much the food had changed from my first visit.  The seared scallops were room temperature and rather soggy this time.  The size also reduced by about half.  The steak tartare was similar to what we had last time, but with less balsamic reduction.  The biggest disappointment of the night was the lamb chops which had shrunk about 3 times and completely under-seasoned.  Unfortunately, this visit was a complete opposite experience of my first.  There were only 3 tables at that time, including ours so I'm not quite certain what to make of the quality control, if there was any.  Certainly, the consistency was not there.

The Refinery: Market.Style.Eatery on Urbanspoon