I've always had Diva at the Met penciled in as one of my "to do" restaurants. Yet, I've always managed to go somewhere else and it has fallen by the wayside. Not anymore. When I heard that Chef Hamid Salimian moved over to Diva from his former digs at The Apron, a visit to the Metropolitan became a priority. Why? Well, if you have ever tried Chef Hamid's cuisine, you will know that he is both creative and bold. And especially for a hotel, that is somewhat of an anomaly. Thankfully, times are changing and the ol' hotel restaurant is much more than a default place for travelers. Increasingly, certain hotel restaurants are blessed with such talents in the kitchen, they have become destinations in their own right. We can see that in Hawksworth (in the Hotel Georgia), EBO (at the Delta Burnaby), Tableau Bar Bistro (in the Loden), Bacchus (in the Wedgewood) and of course Diva (in the Metropolitan).
Joining Viv and I for the 7-course tasting menu was Costanza and Elaine. They have been constant dining companions, in particular, fine dining escapades and it was nice to have them as another opinion at the table. To start things off, we got the usual basket of bread. On the other hand, the Butter with brown butter crumbled on top was hardly the usual. This added another layer of flavour which was both nutty and rich. The first of our 3 amuse was the Cucumber Soda. Basically, this was cucumber "juice" with bits of cucumber injected with CO2. Hence, it was refreshing with the expected soda bite and hits of crunchy cucumber bits. A palate cleanser of sorts to start the meal. Our second amuse was quite whimsical as it was presented on a rock. These marshmallow nuggets were sprinkled with an olive salt which was a nice contrast in terms of flavour (I've actually had a version of this before at The Apron). For some reason or another, I couldn't get "rock family" out of my mind after seeing this. You know, those tacky rocks with smaller pebbles glued on top to look like a family? Yah, whatever... Our last amuse consisted of Parsnip Bacon. What? Yah, that's what I thought too. Just imagine parsnip made into "bacon". I guess that might be a stretch, but believe me, these were money. Kissed with a maple glaze, these crispy treats were a perfect balance between salty and sweet. Costanza wanted a bag of these to enjoy on his sofa during hockey games.
Moving onto the actual tasting menu, we started with the Potage of Celeriac. This was served table side, poured into large bowl containing a raw egg yolk and what we believe were fried potato strings. The soup was very smooth, especially with the addition of the egg yolk. The flavours were balanced with a hit of truffle and we're not sure what added the nice acidity, but it was welcomed. A great start to the meal considering it was a cold day and this hit the spot. Next up was the Sunshine Coast Sturgeon Carpaccio with thinly-sliced daikon, oil poached B.C. side striped prawn, dill ash cured scallop, salmon roe, lipstick radish, pumpernickel powder and champagne jelly. This was a refreshing dish with delicate flavours except for the jelly. We could've done without it since it created a rather sharp ending. Otherwise, there was a good textural contrast between the soft sturgeon, crisp daikon and crunchy radish.
Moving onto a Chef Hamid staple - Puffed Quebec Foie Gras. This would be my third time trying this and it just keeps getting better and better. Normally, foie gras can be rather heavy and if served as an appetizer, it can be unappetizing. Not the way Chef Hamid prepares it though. Light and airy, it was accompanied by Lady Frances fig molasses, green strawberries and brioche. As with most foie offerings, there is usually a sweet and tart counterbalance. In this case, the fig molasses and pickled green strawberries did the job. The only weak part of the dish was the toasted brioche. We thought it was rather dry and heavy. If it was more like the one we had at The Apronn, then it would've been better.
On the tasting menu, the next course would've been the Roasted Chantrelles, but that was substituted with the Veal Pastrami with hen of the woods mushroom, pine nut noodles resting on a ham and Parmesan broth. I'm not sure how the chantrelles would've been like, but I'd eat the veal pastrami any day. The small piece of meat literally melted in our mouths. Heck, someone without their dentures could've eaten this. The veal also tasted very good as well as exhibiting a rich flavour which could not be classified as salty. The mushroom was beautifully cooked while the noodles were al dente. We found the broth to be a touch salty with a slight gelatinous quality and a hint of wine.
Moving along, we had the Thiessen Farm Squab with pomegranate & walnut puree, puffed quinoa, and crispy black kale. First and foremost, the protein was cooked absolutely perfectly. It had a sous-vide quality yet by looking at the skin, it was clearly roasted. It was super tender and moist with no grittiness whatsoever (which can happen with the squab breast meat if not cooked correctly). The pomegranate puree added the needed acidity while the crunchy quinoa provided a textural contrast. On the topic of textural contrast, the crispy kale was very good. Unlike Costanza, I would take a bag of crispy kale to the couch during a hockey game. Our last savoury item was the Leek Ash Crusted Beef Tenderloin served with short rib pave topped with goat mozzarella, salsify, pearl onion, sunchoke puree and horseradish thyme jus. The beef was cooked a perfect medium-rare (closer to the rare, just how I like it) and I could really taste the ash which was not a burnt taste by the way. Rather, it was slightly acidic which was nice. Loved the horseradish flavours in the dish, it went well with the meat. As for the short rib, it was tasty as short rib can be. You can't do wrong with braised short ribs. Not sure what type of cheese was melted on top, but it was sure gamy which led us to believe it was made with goat's milk.
Finally, making it to dessert, Costanza took one for the team and asked to have the dessert from the 5-course tasting menu for variety purposes. Awww... What a great guy... So he had the Hannabrook Farm Roasted Asian Pear with Pemberton parsnip ice cream with smoked whey ice. He really did take one for the team because we universally thought it paled in comparison to the other dessert we had. Since Asian pear is generally a bland fruit with a high water content, much needs to be done to produce flavour. At the very least, they were able to do this by roasting the pear to concentrate the flavours. However, as a whole, the dessert was very light and didn't have any impact. The ice cream was nice though and the honey added a burst of sweetness. The rest of us had the Dark Chocolate Praline Bar with caramelized milk semifreddo and hazelnut crumble. Once again,
the plating was definitely interesting. I could have done without the 4 chocolate mousse drops on the plate as they reminded me of something other than chocolate. That aside, the dessert was fantastic. As advertised, there was a pleasant crunch that was a fine accompaniment to the chocolate ganache. The semifreddo on the side was smooth and had just the right amount of sweetness.
As you can clearly see, the tasting menu at Diva is far from being cookie-cutter. Chef Hamid takes chances and dares to make interesting food. Furthermore, he is both whimsical and creative with his plating. Of course when risks are taken, the final product can either be a winner or a flop. Now, there were no flops per se, yet some dishes were definitely better than others. Sometimes, we thought the plating was a bit busy with too many components. However, we much prefer this over boring hotel food. In the end, we felt that the tasting menu was definitely worth the money and was a great experience.
- Interesting and creative food
- Attentive service
- For me, I'll eat anywhere Chef Hamid is
- Sometimes taking risks leads to a bit too much on the plate
- Ambiance is good, but dining room is a bit plain