Saturday, 10 October 2015

Honest to Goodness West Coast Cuisine at The Mackenzie Room

415 Powell St, Vancouver, BC V6A 1G7
(604) 253-0705

Tastiness Factor: 8.5/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved?  YES- MacKenzie room is about as local as they get.  Their menu changes so frequently that printed menus just don't cut it, hence the large chalkboard menu on the back wall.   Most of their veg comes from local farms in Abbotsford, so is extremely fresh.  They focus on sustainable meats such as game (I have not seen yak at many other places!) and subscribe to the "nose-to-tail" philosophy (we literally got a dish of pig's tails!).  

Mackenzie Room is among the new hot spots to have popped up in our great food city this year.  Hubby and I had already managed to check many of the others off our list including Big Trouble and Supermarine which were both quite impressive, so we were looking forward to another newbie.

Mackenzie Room is located in Chinatown where you might not want to find yourself alone at night (do not let the cab ride there scare you off!).  On the plus side, it is quite near the Vancouver Urban Winery which is a great spot for a pre-dinner drink.

When we arrived at the restaurant at around 8pm, the small room was packed to the rafters and we were ushered over to the bar to squeeze in for a drink while we waited for our table.  The decor is fairly rustic, with lots of wood furniture and minimalistic fixtures which nicely jives with their farm-to-table/nose to tail philosophy.

I feel the need to give a special nod to our phenomenal server for the evening, who stood out as one of the best I have had in some time.  He knew the dishes inside and out and took time to explain every single element including where each main ingredient was from.  Despite the busy room, he gladly answered all of our questions and stayed around to chat for a while at intervals.  AWESOME!!!!!!   Meanwhile, the co-owner made her way around the room, filling water glasses and ensuring everything was running smoothly, despite obviously being quite advanced in her pregnancy.  She made it look easy, with a big smile all night long.

The menu items at Mackenzie Room are constantly changing depending on seasonality of ingredients, and all dishes available on any particular night are found on a large chalkboard at the back of the restaurant.  There are about 5 each of small and larger plates, and a few desserts.  Sharing is encouraged.  Drinks are also found on the board, including a number of local beers and a small selection of cocktails.

The easiest option, perfect for the indecisive diner, is the "I Want It All".  For $47 each, you get all menu items that night to share (minimum of 4 people).  Our server also told us that there were a few dishes available that would appear of the next week's new menu so added a few of those as well (at an extra cost).  The menu included some very unique proteins (yak, pig cheek, pig tail), as well as a nice selection of seasonal vegetable dishes.  The only issue we had with the food was the quantity.  For the price we paid (close to $200 just for Hubby and I, with a few drinks each), Hubby and the other men at the table were still very hungry.  Although there were quite a number of dishes that arrived at our table, it really was not all that much when they were divided by the 6 of us (only a few bites of each at most).

Here are the dishes we shared on our "We Want It All" menu:

Herb Bread

Veggies from the Garden- bagna caudal, rye bread

The Showstopper (my favourite!)- legumes, farmer's cheese, pistachio (the cheese on the dish is actually made using the buttermilk whey on the rockfish dish below.  Nothing gets wasted here!)

Shrimp ceviche with edible flowers

ByCatch Crudo- rockfish, buttermilk whey (our server explained that it is called "ByCatch" because rockfish is considered an inferior fish that is usually hauled up incidentally when fishing for halibut or salmon.  But here, the "waste not, want not" philosophy made them get creative and make the rockfish shine in this simple crudo).

Don't Talk Back- yak tartar, chicken skin, foie gras

Kiss My Reuben- beef tongue, horseradish cream

Mexican street corn- mayo, cheese, lime 

Roger Rabbit Cacciatore- parsnip puree, wild mushrooms, peas

Octopus- sofrito, pea shoots, pickled onion

 Breakfast for Dinner- pig cheeks, savoury oatmeal, salsa verde

Double Rainbow- whole trout, chorizo, walla wall onion, fennel

A Girl and her Goat- cornmeal cake, honey lavender ice cream, poached fruit

Homemade pie and ice cream

Overal Verdict?
Undeniably, the Mackenzie Room has a lot going for it- a genuine eat-local and nose-to-tail philosophy, passionate staff and a pleasant environment in an up-and-coming part of town.  The food was, for the most part, well-executed but I fear that the price point relative to portion size may be a deterrence to some.  With a bit more time under their belt, I have confidence that they will strike a good balance of quality, quantity and price point so that diners will be lining up to come back for more.  Here's hoping for a bright future ahead for The Mackenzie Room!

The Mackenzie Room Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, 25 September 2015

Expectations Far Surpassed at Big Trouble

237 Union St, Vancouver, BC V6A 3A1
(604) 336-1698

Tastiness Factor: 10/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved?  100%!- These guys are locavore's through and through.  Their menu is chock full of BC produce (our salad was picked that day at a nearby farm), as well as sustainable seafood and ethically raised meats.  Not only that, but, as our server explained when he greeted us, they are committed to the environment, striving to be a zero waste establishment.  Kudos to you Big Trouble! 

I was dismayed to learn of the closing of the Parker over on Union St., and disappointed to have missed on opportunity to get back before its demise (see a glowing review of my first visit here).  Vancouver had certainly had some success with high-end vegetarian in the last few years and The Parker was one of the frontrunners in making vegetarian food accessible for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to the Parker's closing- the opening of its equally impressive replacement, Big Trouble.  Although not vegetarian, Big Trouble puts a very strong emphasis on local products including lots of fresh fruits and veg and remains very skilled in its preparation.

Hubby and I chose to go out on a limb and head to Big Trouble for our anniversary meal 6 short weeks after it opened its doors, knowing that it was a bit of a gamble this early in its existence.  It made us nervous when we passed by on our way to grab a pre-dinner drink at the near-by Union and saw only a handful of tables occupied.  I must admit, we almost called off the visit completely but in the end, we fortunately persevered.

When we returned about an hour later at around 8:30, there were about 10 others there which, for this  tiny space, is almost half full.  The atmosphere has not changed much from its Parker days.  It has a VERY small "kitchen" at the far end, which is pretty much a stovetop and an oven with just enough room for the chef and the sous chef to work their magic.  Fortunately, we snagged a table right in front of it, and I had a grand time watching them prepare our dishes with the utmost care and precision.  In addition to the 24-seat indoor space, which they have jazzed up with some cool "XX' lightbulbs, they have added a cute little outdoor "patio" space with room for about 4-6 in the summer months.

On the night of our visit, there was a single server for the whole restaurant who frankly did a better job than most restaurants do with a dozen servers.  He greeted us as soon as we arrived, got us our drinks right away and came back to take our food orders within 5 minutes.  Throughout the meal, he checked in on us regularly and we waited no longer than 5-10 minutes between dishes.  He did this all while looking totally relaxed and taking the time to joke around with us when he stopped by.  Other restaurants a thing or two from place- with only 2 kitchen staff and 1 server, they have it running like a well-oiled machine!

The food certainly did not disappoint either.  They offer West-Coast fare, with a touch of Asian influence in most dishes.  Hubby and I chose the Chef's Tasting Menu which was an absolute steal for only 29$/person.  It included 4 dishes from their small 8 dish plus a dessert.  All dishes are served to share in the order that they came out of the kitchen.  The kitchen is more than happy to tailor the Tasting Menu to preferences/food restrictions/allergies.  Because we were sharing and Hubby wanted some meat, we stuck to the regular menu which included one meat dish, but I had more than enough to enjoy from the other dishes.

Here are the dishes we enjoyed:

Biodynamic greens, shaved veg, sherry vin- I just loved this simple salad, with its generous portion of the freshest greens you could ever taste (picked that day we were told, 15 different varieties!), lightly tossed in an oil and vinegar dressing.   So simple and so delicious- why mess with a good thing?

Wild spring salmon, cucumber, pickled shimejis- All dishes of the night were exceptional but this one takes first prize.  The first bite was a bit of a surprise since I was not expecting cold salmon.  The chilled slow-cooked spring salmon was very delicate, and reminiscent of sashimi, and paired with  the perfect accompaniment of thinly sliced cucumber ribbons in a creamy sauce.  I loved the cute little pickled shimeji mushrooms that added a touch of sweetness.  I would eat this day in and day out if I could!

Peking quail, beets, wild rice- Hubby adored the quail (prepared like chicken wings!), while I happily chowed down on the beet tartare and the beetroot puree which were to die for.  I did not feel like I was left out of this one at all!

Sake marinated sablefish, braised daikon, dashi- I am not usually a fan of broth-based fish dishes but this dish totally turned this prior opinion on its head.  The perfectly-salted dashi broth married perfectly with the expertly cooked sablefish, and infused great flavour into the accompanying vegetables (snow peas and turnips).  After this dish, I am a broth convert!

Chocolate mousse with coffee crumble, strawberries and basil-  This had all the components of a winning dessert- chocolate, fruit, and not too sweet. A perfectly light yet satisfying end to a perfect meal.

A chocolate truffle each to say farewell:)

Overall Verdict?
Big Trouble is Vancouver's newest hidden gem, but I suspect (and hope) that it will not stay secret for long.    We could not find fault with any aspect of this place, and the food was nothing short of stellar.  Thanks for the perfect anniversary meal that far surpassed our highest expectations!!!

Big Trouble Chinatown Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Showing off West Coast Seafood at Supermarine

1685 Yew St, Vancouver, BC V6K 3E6
(604) 739-4677

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 4/5

Locavore Approved? YES- "Sustainable, seasonal and fresh.  We're proud to represent our local farmers & fishers and we strive to use the best local produce, seafood, and meats we can get our hands on."  This line, front and centre on their homepage, says it all.  Why there are not more restaurants around Vancouver that focus on seafood I cannot understand, since we are surrounded by such plentiful waters.  Fortunately, Supermarine has recognized the void and is showing off all of our all that our region has to offer, from land to sea.  

I was very sad to hear of the passing of one of our favourite brunch spots (RIP Abigail's Party).

In this case though, change has been been good, with the birth of Supekrmarine.

We had the great pleasure of visiting Supekrmarine back in July, just 3 weeks after it opened its doors.  One always takes their chances when they visit so close to opening, knowing that there may still be a few kinks that need to be worked out.

But Supermarine defied the odds, and in all aspects, from the food to the service to the ambience, there was hardly a kink to be found.

Lets start with the atmosphere, which is Vancouver through and through- relaxed and comfortable, with a dash of hipster thrown in for good measure.  The room is very reminiscent of its previous life as Abigail's Party (why mess with a good thing?) except for a bit of a different seating scheme with a few booths thrown in against the far wall.  They have a small patio out front to also increase capacity.  I am quite partial to the cute little bar in the back where there is seating for a few more eager customers.

As for service, I really enjoyed being served by the charming and down to earth wait staff that we encountered throughout the evening.  A truly gracious crew.  There was a bit of a long wait between courses and they forgot to bring one of the dishes we ordered but their overall positive attitudes more than made up for these small blunders and we left feeling very well hosted.

Although the menu is not set up in a sharing-plates format, I would highly recommend going this route instead of the typical appetizer and main (although I sure this would be enjoyable as well).  The secret here is to try as many dishes as possible as there are so many great ones to choose from.  Hubby and I chose to share a bunch of the "snacks" and "starter" items since they appealed to us more than the "mains" but the mains being delivered to the tables next to us looked amazing as well.  The great thing about this place is that you will find whatever suits you, from a little bite with a cocktail to a full-on three course meal.  For those with don't eat/dislike seafood, there are also a few meat and veg options thrown in.

Also, be sure to check out the cocktail menu, which offers a very nice selection of diverse cocktails, from salty to sweet to bitter.  Our server gave us a succinct rundown of the list when we arrived so we knew exactly what flavours to expect and allowing me to choose one that suited my tastes to a tee.

Here are the great dishes that Hubby and I shared the night of our visit:

Octopus chips- A nice crispy treat to start off the meal, or to pair with a cocktail (or two).

Citrus Cured Trout- This rich and buttery fish was given a light summer twist using the juice from pea pods (I did not even these made juice?!).

Confit Herring- This is a dish for true fish lovers, as the herring has a very forward "fishy" flavour.  The use of accompaniments is really smart, as the romesco helps take an edge off the strong flavour of the fish, while the hazelnuts and sourdough crumbs added a nice contrasting texture.

Steak and Oyster Tartare- Hubby was itching for a little meat with all of that seafood and this dish was right up his alley.  The hanger steak was combined with oysters from nearby Cortes Island, and topped with shaved jerky (a carnivore's dream!).  

Seared Humboldt Squid- This was my favourite dish of the evening.  Squid (one of my new favourites) ran throughout the whole dish, with thin pieces on top of a chickpea fricassee that contained little cubes of squid "chorizo".  The textures and flavours just knocked it right out of the park!

Kale, Honey, Garlic, Rosemary- Because of my obsession with kale, I had to order this side and thought I would have it all to myself.  To my surprise, Hubby dove right in once he took one bite of its honey-infused sweetness and the crispy little garlic slivers overtop.  Thank goodness for the generous portion!

Overall Verdict?  
Welcome to Kitsilano Supermarine!  Everything about you, from your stellar cocktail menu to your expertly-prepared local seafood to your down-to-earth service and atmosphere, make us so happy to call you neighbour!  We will definitely be swinging by again in the near future:)

Supermarine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 27 August 2015


-2 by four little space, maybe 20 seats if that
-operated by 1 main server, plus one other who brought my water at the beginning of the meal (must spend rest of her time at the back)
-2 chefs (or was it one?)
-so small that I ended up getting invited to join the table next to me at the end of the evening and we closed the place down!

-outdoor sign that simply says "Ravintola" (glad I had read this in advance, be prepared!)

-need to thank this blogger- XXX- for pointing me in the direction of Kuurna, would have NEVER known about it otherwise

Short menu- changes every other week
Chilled cauliflower buttermilk soup
Perch tartar, crayfish oil
Confit gizzards,pickled chantarel

Forest mushrooms, green bean pesto
Fish of the day, brown butter and fresh tomato sauce
Crispy pork belly, black currant salsa

Chocolate mousse,sauted apricots
Almond cake, gooseberry parfait
Sorrel slush,caramel and berries
Plus one each of daily starter and main (on my visit, a steak tartare and a steak main

Fairly extensive wine list for such a small space (where do they keep it all???) and a few wines by the glass on the "chalkboard" pillar.  Having said that, my server paired both of my courses for me, one of which was a rose advertised by the glass, and another white to go with my fish happy that was not. Just ask what he suggests, he CLEARLY knows his stuff!  The Rose pairing with my mushrooms (which I was a little iffy about) was phenomenal.

Perch Tartare- simply divine.  Freshest of fish, pretty much unaltered- would have been a shame had it been tampered with.  Served on a mix of tender mild sorrel.  Very generous portion of fish for a tartare

To this day, I maintain that this was one of the best vegetarian entree of my life.  Cannot begin to describe how delicious the forest mushrooms were (Helsinki is known for its nearby forests with abundant berries and mushrooms).  Have never tasted a mushroom quite that delicious, especially after it was sautéed in a bit of butter.   Then topped with lavish dollops of green pea pesto- perfectly seasoned, bursting with flavours that I could never do justice to if I tried to describe.  Loved the addition of crisp green beans sitting at the bottom of the plate, as well as perfectly cooked potatoes that were a perfect vehicle to soak up any remaining pesto.  This dish really knocked my socks off.  If every vegetarian dish tasted like this, the whole world would be vegetarian in a heartbeat!

To all foodies- your life may not be complete without coming here.  I want to spread the word far and wide about this place, as it deserves far more accolades than it will likely ever receive.  Considered cancelling my Michelin star meal to go back and have the exact same dishes (the litmus test!).  Just please, take my word for it and go!

All for 53 euros which is an absolute steal in Helsinki standards.  

***look at links on its website

Sunday, 16 August 2015

A Lukewarm Experience at Mission Kits

2042 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6J 1M9
(604) 739-2042

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 2.5/5

Locavore Approved? YES- Their website does not lie.  They really do offer "well-sourced ingredients...that give guests a full experience of the bounty of the region".  Our tasting menu was produce-heavy and showcased some of the highlights from our farmer's market at this time of year.  A nice selection of BC wines is also available, either as pairings or as a bottle to enjoy at the table.  

It is so refreshing to see so many good new restaurants popping up in Kits.  First there was Au Comptoir and Anna Lena, both of which are pretty darn good and seem to be thriving.

After positive experiences at these new joints, I was ecstatic to hear about Mission, opening up in the old August Jack location on West 4th.  I was even more excited when I heard that the kitchen would be led by Curtis Luk, a Top Chef Canada contestant and the chef at the Parker where he did an amazing job serving upscale vegetarian fare that even carnivore Hubby loved!  And there is more- the owner, sommlier and manager at Mission is none other than Chase Macleod, who has done a fabulous job at making his previous venture, Fable, one of Vancouver's most beloved restaurants.  Rounding out the group is bartender and cocktail master Justin Darnes, who has worked at some impressive European hotspots like London's Savoy hotel, and more recently at Gaston's Pidgin.  What a dream team!

There is no doubt that they did an amazing job fixing up the old August Jack space, giving it a much more refined and classy look.  While there certainly is a bit of an upscale feel, the 60-seater is not too formal or pretentious, and therefore still caters to the Kits demographic.  The light wood finishes give it a soft, friendly feel, and the mural at the entrance with the cartoon-like drawings of fruits and veg adds a nice touch of playfulness.  The great bar on the far wall rounds out the pleasant space.

Although the space was welcoming and comfortable, the service put us on edge to say the least.  It started off OK, with a very friendly bartender who chose a great drink for me after I have him my likes/dislike list and whipped a refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail for my friend who was expecting. Unfortunately, it went downhill in a big way after that.  I am totally fine with the fact that we were over 20 minutes late getting seated since we made our reservation that day and kindly squeezed us in.  It was when we actually got seated that things went sideways, first with a very pushy server who would just not take "no" for an answer when we declined (multiple times) the wine pairings with the tasting menu.  After that, the overwhelming service blunder was the speed of service- SO SLOW!  At 11pm, we were only 2 courses into our 6 course tasting menu (we ordered around 9:30pm). It was at this point, likely due to our chorus of yawns, that our server casually asked "would you like us to speed it up a bit"?  like this was a normal pace for a 6 course tasting menu.  Really???  I am not sure why the service was so painstakingly slow, but I did notice that they seemed generally short-staffed in terms of servers (Chase MacLeod himself was hustling all night delivering dishes, while trying his best to act as a host and check in with his guests).  Perhaps with so many tables ordering the tasting menu, they were also a bit short in the kitchen?  Whatever the reason, it is quite a shame that the service had not been better as this would likely had given us a much more positive perspective on our evening.

The food here at Mission got mixed reviews at the table.  The dishes seemed to appeal more to myself and my friend who eats primarily pescatarian (we chose to try the vegetarian tasting menu), and less to the men who enjoy their meat.  Some of the dishes (like the Cauliflower Porridge) was quite enjoyable from my perspective was I can understand why it would certainly not be for everyone.   Other dishes, although quite vegetable heavy (Textured Potato, Foraged Mushrooms, Toasted Walnut) was stellar and even the gents were drooling over it.  Overall, it is clear that the folks in the kitchen know their stuff and are capable of putting together some awesome flavour combinations using vegetables as the canvas.  Although I would try the tasting menu again, the a la carte menu may be the better option for a picky/carnivorous diner.

Here are the dishes we enjoyed in our 6-course tasting vegetarian and classic tasting menus (both $65).  There was quite a lot of overlap between the menus with only 2 courses different between the two.  We really appreciated the "extras", including the amuse, a lovely pre-dessert and some decadent sandwich cookies as a parting gift.

Amuse Bouche

Wild Salmon, Sorrel, Shrimp Blini

Fava bean hummus, sourdough rye beignet, summer vegetables (vegetarian tasting)

Oyster and Pork, Bitter Greens

English peas and baby turnips with flaxseed crisp and romesco (vegetarian tasting)

Cauliflower Porridge, Brassicas, Farro

Textured Potato, Foraged Mushrooms, Toasted Walnut (AWESOME!)

Duck, Turnips, Anchovy, Roasting Jus

Stuffed walla walla onion, charred onion butter, summer squash (vegetarian tasting)


Goat Milk Ice Cream, Beet, Caramel (Farmhouse Cheese is an alternative for those with less of a sweet tooth)

Sandwich cookies for the road! (Much appreciated!) 

Overall verdict?
I am really a bit torn about what to say.  While I did really enjoy many of the dishes and liked the setting, the service really left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  I also worry that some may find their very veg-forward menu a bit too green, even for the Vancouver crowd.  It is still early days for Mission, and I really hope that they find their stride.  Based on our recent subpar experience, however, I think it may be a little while until we make our way back.

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