Bad influences... You know - those people who affect your judgement for the worse. These include pushers, infomercial pitchmen or pitchwomen, tailgaters and/or anyone that works at a donut shop. But for me, the baddest of them all is Mijune. For the longest time, I was conservative with my food ordering. In fact, if I ever got a restaurant invite, I would be scared to order more food. Nope, not anymore. Her influence caused us to have 15 items at Onyx and in excess of 20 at Chutney Villa (although indirectly). As much as it seems like unnecessary gluttony, there is a method to the madness. Think of it, the more dishes sampled = a more thorough assessment of the restaurant. That's what I had in mind when I got an invite from The Bottleneck. The what? Yah, that was my initial reaction. I never heard of the place. Whatever the case, I got some eating assistance from Miss Y, Snake and Snake Charmer.
Tucked away near the entrance of the Commodore, it is an easy place to miss. Thank goodness that I was made aware of the place because it would've never been on my radar. I was skeptical at first since it seemed more like a place to grab some pre-clubbing drinks more than anything else. Oh how very wrong I was... The limited menu allowed us to sample nearly everything. We didn't go for the 2 soups because it would've been awkward to share so much spit amongst the 4 of us. Anyways, I took a bite of the Black Pepper Gnocchi first and it was really good. The gnocchi were not oversized (like many found in other restaurants these days) exhibiting a light fluffy texture while retaining a slight chew. The pan fry on the outside was perfect where it added a textural contrast and caramelization. However, the star of the show was the addition of lemon. There was enough of it to brighten up the dish while not overwhelming the rest of the ingredients which included arugula, porcini mushrooms and roasted chestnuts.
Next, we had the Fanny Bay Oysters which were fried up beautifully crisp in blue cornmeal while not being greasy. The oysters were fresh and plump. It was served with bacon jam, red pepper aioli and a hint of lime. I really loved the bacon jam because well, it's like made of bacon! Being a "jam", it was sweet yet balanced by the saltiness of the bacon. It wasn't the easiest thing to eat with the oysters, despite the aioli.
Continuing on with the Beef Carpaccio, it was plated with crostinis, red wine mustard and truffle aioli. The beef was tender while still maintaining a slight resistance. Combined with the crostini and a dab from both of the sauces, there were many textures and flavours going on. A non-traditional carpaccio, yet delicious nonetheless. I'm usually not a salad guy, although I have a soft spot for the Frisee Salad. I was pretty happy they had this on the menu. Normally, I would never order a salad, yet a poached egg, bacon, brioche croutons and warm bacon maple vinaigrette made this one legit. This was a nice take on the classic French salad with fresh crisp frisee, crunchy bacon and a perfectly poached runny egg. There was just the right amount of warm vinaigrette which had a good balance of acidity and sweetness along with a hint of bacon.
Moving along with another salad, we had the Beetroot Salad dressed with pink peppercorn, hazelnut, pea sprouts, goat cheese and blood orange. I liked how the beets still retained somewhat of a bite and how the flavours were balanced. The crunch from the hazelnuts were a nice addition. At this point, I was having a hard time keeping up with the food, let alone pictures and note-taking. Thank goodness my fellow diners were so patient. They didn't dare touch my food before I gave them the okay. I got them trained so well! So despite Snake eying the Salt Spring Island Mussels longingly, he didn't even breath on them. They were bathed in a spicy coconut broth with lemongrass and kafir lime. Served on the side was brioche toast points. The mussels were all open while the broth was indeed spicy with hits of lime and aromatics. It could've used a touch more salt, but it wasn't bland.
Before moving onto the mains, we had one last "appetizer" being the Confit Croquettes resting on a smooth cauliflower puree. These crispy morsels were filled with moist shredded Fraser Valley duck. I found the duck meat to be on the saltier side, but it was balanced by the sweet raisin chutney. This was probably my favourite starter dish of the meal. Our first main to arrive was the Chicken Pot Pie. Hidden beneath the puff pastry top lay Maple Hills chicken, potato, peas and carrots. If you look closely, there is far more filling than sauce. In fact, there wasn't much sauce at all. Honestly, it could've used more sauce and/or seasoning as the whole thing was a little bland. However, that is not to say that it wasn't good though. The chicken was moist while the veggies were not mushy. I loved the texture of the potatoes where it was soft while still retaining its shape.
Progressing along, the Mijune way, we had the Halibut with chorizo and beluga lentils finished off with a blood orange gastrique. Being a firm fish, it is very easy to overcooked halibut. Not here though. It was flaky, tender and moist with a beautiful crispy sear. I liked how the fish was not really all that seasoned. There was just enough where it did not overwhelm the delicate flesh. The little bits of chorizo mixed in with the lentils provided much of the flavour for the dish. Combined with the blood orange gastrique, there was a good salty/sweet thing going on. The firmness of the lentils added some nice pop to the dish. Onto some red meat, we had a nicely prepared Peace River Valley Lamb Sirloin. It rested on a white bean ragout with grainy mustard and a parsley anchovy vinaigrette. Although the meat was seared slightly uneven, it was still very much moist and tender. The beans were firm while not hard to eat either. The vinaigrette was a perfect compliment to the lamb as it had a good balance of tartness to go along with the saltiness of the anchovy.
Now the lamb was good, yet The "Burger" was the star of the show in my books. With house-ground Pemberton Valley beef, they were able to cooked the patty a perfect medium-rare. Hence the meat was super moist and naturally flavourful as the juices were never lost due to overcooking. Moreover and most importantly, the meat did not have any hard cartilage bits. Hence it was soft and practically required very little effort to chew. To go with the meat was crispy bacon and sweet onion jam on a house made milk bun. I loved how they kept this burger simple which let the ingredients shine. Served on the side was crispy hand cut fries. They were crispy with a plenty of potato texture on the inside. Although I really appreciated the use of a non-generic bun, I found it to be rather dense and dry. I'm sure they had to take into account what type of bun would stand up to the ingredients though. Our last main was tied with the burger as our favourite main dish. The Braised Beef Cheeks were incredibly moist where it literally melted in our mouths. The silky braising liquid underneath was rich and had depth. The addition of Guinness fondue (which was also rich and flavourful) only helped add more flavour to the beef. The pomme puree underneath was a tad stiff, yet was ultimately softened by the good amount of sauce.
And to make Mijune proud, we had all 3 of the available desserts starting with my personal favourite - the Meyer Lemon Tart. First of all, the tart shell was actually quite thin which meant more filling less crust. Secondly, the texture of the crust was firm yet crunchy. Inside, the filling was smooth and exhibited a tart zing. It wasn't too sweet either. I liked the meringue on top, yet I could've done with a little less of it as it made the whole thing clumsy to eat. The drizzle of olive oil confit zest added another taste of lemon to the dessert. On deck was the Salted Dark Chocolate Terrine served with espresso creme anglais and crushed praline. The terrine was smooth and had a ganache quality to it. It was not very sweet, rather, it had a bittersweet dark chocolate taste. The salt helped heighten what little sweetness there was. The crunch of the praline added texture and the necessary sweetness that the terrine was lacking (which was a good thing). I didn't really pick out much espresso flavour in the creme anglais though.
Lastly, the table favourite (yes, it wasn't the tart), was the Apple Tart Tartin with caramel sauce and vanilla rum ice cream. This thing had an intense caramelization which was surprisingly not overbearingly sweet (even with the rum ice cream). Instead, it had a smoky quality to it that had both depth and richness. The tart itself had a beautiful texture which was crisp and gooey. This was a very well-executed dessert. In fact, the meal as a whole was pretty much spot-on and exceeded our expectations. Of course, by virtue of being invited, you would think so right? Not necessarily, as I have said over and over, a restaurant is only capable within its limitations. A golfer cannot suddenly improve by 10 strokes nor can a chef improve their food significantly due to "pressure". Hence, the "they knew you were there" complaint doesn't fly with me. There have been many instances that I have been invited to restaurants and the food just didn't impress. However, it surely did here. Everyone else said the same thing. We were further impressed with the reasonable prices considering its Downtown location.
*Note: This was an invited dinner where all food was comped*
- Reasonably priced
- Food is above-average
- Nice little place
- You can easily miss the place while walking by
- Don't bring a big group during peak times, the place is not that big