Zest

New Year's Eve. Boy, the last time we partied hard was in 1999. No kidding! Not sure if we partied like it was 1999 though. I think we ended up at this warehouse South of Marine Drive somewhere in Vancouver. It was this makeshift event which was alright I guess. All I remember was I had to walk like 10 blocks in the cold because there was no parking and a lot of confetti when the clock struck midnight. I think shortly after that, we just stopped partying. At least that is what I remember. Well, not much has changed since then because when you got kids, party is defined by how many balloons you ordered from the dollar store. So when Snake asked if Viv and I would be interested in joining him and Snake Charmer for dinner on New Year's Eve, that intrigued us. So much so, we actually convinced my parents to look after the kids. Yes, we got to go out on NYE! Well, not to party of course, just a nice dinner.

Initially, Snake was hoping to try the Omakase at Octopus' Garden after reading my post. Alas, it was not meant to be since they were closed until the New Year. As an alternative, I suggested Zest since they had an Omakase too. Furthermore, Richer Guy was so impressed with the place, he called me out-of-the-blue to tell me about it. We considered doing the Omakase, but in the end Snake and I opted for the Dinner Course menu while Viv had the Tasting Course and Snake Charmer did a la carte. As part of our meal, Snake and I started with the Sashimi Salad. The salad consisted of a bed of mesclun greens topped with sashimi which included 2 pieces each of sockeye salmon, red tuna, albacore tuna and hokkigai. The fantastic soy ginger salad dressing was served on the side. The best part of the salad was the sashimi (which it should be) since it was vibrant, fresh and sweet. A great start to the meal. Snake Charmer actually ordered the full-sized version and really enjoyed hers as well. As an FYI, the tasting-sized salad was not considerably smaller.

As for Viv, she had the Spinach Gomae to start. Notice how there was not a goopy mess-of-a-salad dressing on top? Yes, the typical way of doing it for most "Japanese" restaurants is to merely plop a massive amount of sweet-as-candy sesame dressing over blanched spinach and call it gomae. Surprisingly, Snake Charmer (who is Japanese) said she really doesn't mind that version. Okay, I guess we are being picky then? Anyways, for me personally, I prefer toasted sesame over lightly dressed spinach. The one here at Zest was somewhat of a hybrid. It did have the toasted sesame seeds on top, yet also had a sesame miso dressing that was quite sweet. It was conservatively used though and it had a rich sesame flavour. Combined with perfectly blanched spinach, this was an above-average gomae. For Viv's next course, she was presented with an alternative form of Seafood Sunomono. Rather than a dressing, it was laced with a vinaigrette gelee. Intermingled with the gelee was 2 large pieces each of Dungeness crab leg meat, hokkigai and ebi. The crab meat was a real treat since it was fresh and sweet. Underneath was some wakame which was a textural contrast. We weren't convinced with the gelee though since it was quite strong with a alcoholic (sake?) aftertaste.

Snake and I were presented with the Hassun platter next which consisted of the chef's choice of assorted appetizers. The first of 4 was the Green Beans with black sesame and miso dressing. The green beans were blanched perfectly where they were cooked while still having a crunch and a vibrant colour. The dark black sesame dressing was very rich being sweet and aromatic. I love black sesame and this was perfect with the beans. Our second appie was the Tuna Tataki with a jalapeno dressing. In addition to being aesthetically-pleasing to look at, the tuna was seared ever-so-slightly and evenly. Hence, the texture of the tuna was not compromised. It was sweet, soft and was accentuated by the surprise of spicy jalapenos. On to the 3rd appie, we had the Snapper Carpaccio with was dressed with
mustard soy. By now, it was expected to be fresh with a nice sheen and this did not disappoint. The fish was sweet and acted as a canvas for the flavourful dressing. The dressing was sweet as well while balanced with a slight bite from the mustard. Lastly, we had something they affectionately called Creamy Parts of Crab. Well, one look and what we really had was the "crab guts, brains or whatever you want to call that is in the head". Hey, that didn't phase us since that is probably the best part of a crab! And yes, there was some creamy parts combined with the usual textures which are slightly similar to an overcooked oyster. Flavorwise, it was sweet with a pleasing bitterness. Yum.

Our next course was the Tempura consisting of 2 tiger prawns, yam, green onions and shiitake mushroom. Okay, I'm going to put myself out there and say that this was some of the best tempura I've ever had, especially the tiger prawns. They were perfectly cooked where there was a crunch and snap when I bit into them which released a wealth of flavour. The natural sweetness and prawn taste was very strong and I really didn't even need the dip. Furthermore, the batter was so very light and crisp. Perfect. For Viv's next course, she had the Fluffy Chili Prawn which was described as beer-battered
prawn served with organic fresh green and
delicious
home-made creamy chili sauce & aioli dressing. These were indeed fluffy. Thankfully, that was expected since they weren't very crispy by the time the the sauce began to soak in. Otherwise, I would've wondered about a soggy fried item. The sauce was spicy as advertised. Not burn-your-mouth hot, but there was a kick. Once again, the prawns were very high-quality having a nice snap.

For our mains, Snake and I had a choice. He went for the Beef Rib Eye Steak while I had the other one being the Grilled BC Wild Sablefish. As described on the menu, Snake's ribeye was a 34
days dry-aged Pemberton Meadows Natural Beef
rib eye steak grilled with red miso butter sauce. Underneath the meat lay a wonderful mix of shiitake and enoki mushrooms. The beef was super moist and tender with a good char on the outside. The miso sauce was sweet and silky. I liked the beef, but honestly, the Grilled BC Wild Sablefish was my personal favourite. Since it is such a forgiving fish due its high fat content, it really is hard to mess up a good piece of sablefish. However, I've seen it done and it ain't pretty. So I have to give them props for absolutely nailing the preparation here. The fish was beautiful with its seared skin and buttery appearance. As I dug into it with my fork, I knew I would love this dish. It was flaky, melt-in-my mouth and flavouful.
As for Viv, her menu had no choice of main, so she had to have the Honey Garlic Chicken Sautee. Described on the menu as Maple Hills
Farm chicken thigh sautéed with perfectly
matching honey garlic sauce, this was better than I expected. I love chicken, don't get me wrong. It is just that chicken can be boring sometimes due to the lack of inherent flavour. However, they corrected this by added plenty of pop in the cooking and the sauce. The chicken was moist and tender with a good sear. The sauce was luxurious, sweet and impactful. Despite this, I still loved my sablefish the best... But then again, she didn't have that choice! Onto our last course, Snake and I were presented with an assortment of Nigiri consisting of amaebi, hamachi, Spanish mackerel, sockeye salmon and uni. The sushi rice was on the chewier side, yet well done in our eyes. It had a nice bite with a pleasing flavour of its own. As you can clearly see in the picture, the raw seafood was high quality and well-prepared. Naturally sweet and with all the right textures, we were happy. Viv was presented with a 5 piece plate of nigiri as well. Hers included one piece each of tobiko, tuna, snapper, salmon and hamachi.

Snake Charmer ended up ordering 2 specialty rolls starting with the Dragon Roll. This was a pretty standard version consisting of BBQ eel,lettuce and cucumber with avocado and tobiko on top. Finishing the roll, it was drizzled with sweet unagi sauce. We felt the roll was pretty solid and honestly, there is only so much one can say about a pretty common roll. The rice was good while the ingredients were top-notch. However, the sauce was pretty sweet and it was the predominant flavour. Her second roll was the Rainbow Roll which consisted of avocado, cucumber and real crab topped with slices of tuna, salmon, hamachi, ebi and white fish. Again, the same could be said about this roll where everything was fresh with the good sushi rice which in turn meant the roll was pretty good. I could taste the natural flavours of the ingredients more in this one since there was no heavily sweetened sauce like the dragon roll.

Curiously, Viv's less expensive tasting menu included a choice of ice cream for dessert while the more expensive dinner menu did not. I was pretty full, so I passed on dessert while Snake ordered the same Mango Ice Cream that Viv had. Well, not much to comment other than it was good mango ice cream that was smooth and had a mild mango flavour. I really should have ordered their creme brulee or something, but I was pretty stuffed. In the end, we were pleased with our meal and felt that the food warranted the higher prices. Although we didn't have the Omakase, the 2 tasting meals and Snake Charmer's a la carte choices gave us a good indication of what Zest is about.

The Good:
- Quality ingredients and careful preparation
- Cozy and classy room
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- It ain't cheap
- Room is cozy but the table configuration is kinda weird

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