Another year and yes another Dine Out Vancouver. Say what you want about the event, there is no denying its popularity among many diners. For the longest time, I had my doubts and certain beliefs about it, but in recent years, they have tried to change it up with a variety of participants, special events and collaboration with associated businesses. Again, one's experience is highly dependent on the restaurant and menus offered. Much like last year, I was invited to attend the media preview where we would be shuttled to 3 different restaurants to check out their DOV offerings.
We all met up at Chambar where we were divided into our selected groups and headed to our first destination - Shirakawa in Gastown. Here, we were treated to 3 of their dishes that are included in their 5-course Dine Out menu for $38.00. First up was the Spicy Albacore Tuna Sashimi served with toast. Although predominantly sweet, there was enough discernible impact from the other flavours to make this a good dish. It was mildly spicy with a sesame essence. The tuna itself was buttery soft which meant the not-crispy-enough toast would've been better off being crostinis. Next up, we sampled the Shirakawa Maki consisting of Snake River Wagyu beef atop sushi rice with a truffle onsen tamago. Beautifully plated, this dish was more eye-candy than being practical to eat. Nothing wrong with the well-marbled melt-in-our-mouths beef nor was the sushi rice out-of-sorts. It was when we tried to dip it into the egg when things went awry - things just fell apart.
Lastly, we tried the Salmon Nanban (Tempura-battered wild Sockeye salmon with house tartar sauce on a bed of aonori roasted potatoes). This was a pleasing dish where the salmon was moist and flaky while encased in a lightly crispy shell. Once again, on the sweeter side, the tartar was creamy with a touch of je ne sais quoi quality to it. Crispy, light and fluffy, the little nuggets of potato were also satisfying. From Gastown, we hastily made our way to Diva at the Met. As we were being seated, we noticed the long table with all the little tags for the options offered in their Dine Out menu. After we took pictures of the full-sized dishes, we got to sample all of them including the fantastic Roasted Parsnip & Vanilla Bean Soup with apple compote, raisin croutons and crispy pork belly. This was rich, smooth, yet not heavy. The aromatic soup was nicely accented by the sweetness of the compote and croutons as well as the crunch from the pork belly.
Next up, we tried the Caramelized Beets & Goat Cheese Salad with candied hazelnuts and pomegranate & guava dressing. There really isn't much to say about the greens other than they were fresh and vibrant. As for the beets, they were tender while still firm. I did like the crunch of the hazelnuts as it provided the necessary texture. What brought it all together was the dressing as it was sweet, aromatic and acidic. Hiding underneath a bed of baby arugula, the AAA hand-cut Angus Beef Carpaccio (with truffle vinaigrette, capers and shaved grana padano cheese) was meaty while completely tender despite being rather thickly sliced. Flavourwise, it was strangely super-salty which made it hard to eat more than a few bites. As a result, the rest of the ingredients didn't have much of an impact.
Moving onto the mains, the Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut looked promising with tomato lemon caper relish, ricotta gnocchi, wilted spinach and basil oil. Ultimately, the fish was overdone where it was dry and a bit hard to eat. However, the tomato relish was very nice being bright, acidic and fresh. It helped add some life into the dish as the gnocchi was pretty dense and heavy as well. Moving onto the Grilled Cornish Game Hen, I found the meat to be moist and succulent. However, it was partly because I chose the dark meat. Someone else remarked that the white meat was a little dry. It was served with red rice, pearl barley, harissa, honey glazed heirloom carrots and blood orange reduction. With a spice rub, I liked that the hen had enough savoury spice to stand on its own. However, the harissa added another layer of smoky spiciness (mild though). The red rice with barley was quite nice as it had an al dente bite which was accented nicely by the ample harissa.
The vegetarian option for the menu was the Wild Mushroom & Ricotta Cannelloni with mushroom consumme. At first, I wasn't overly anxious in trying it (due to my love of meat). However, it turned out to be probably my favourite of the 3 entrees. Encased in al dente fresh pasta, the mushroom/ricotta mixture was moist and woodsy. That was further amped up in terms of Earthiness by the wonderful consomme that featured a "meatiness" from the concentrated mushroom flavour. For dessert, I tried the Stilton Cheesecake first. It was plated along with berries as well as a rhubarb compote and port sauce. Fluffy and firmly cheesy, the cheesecake was not as sharp-tasting as I thought it would be. However, it did still taste really cheesy while easy on the sugar. I liked the port sauce as it brought the sweetness level down another notch with a tartness.
The cheesecake was good, but the next dessert was a real crowd-pleaser. Interestingly plated, the Tiramisu with star anise anglais featured soaked lady fingers totally encased in a light marscapone cream. If there was a perfect texture and flavour combination, this was as close as I've seen it. It was purposefully sweet (as in, not very sweet) with only enough essence of coffee. With this firmly stuck in our minds, we moved onto our 3rd restaurant which was a complete departure from Diva at the Met. Traveling all the way down to the South end of The Drive, we ended up at Cafe Kathmandu. There, we were immediately served a Nepali Appetizer Set consisting of turmeric infused potato salad, roasted soy beans, dry rolled rice and salad. The star of the place was the crunchy soy beans as they were spiked with a salty garlicky spiciness. Also crispy and strangely addictive, the dry rolled rice could easily be a snack on its own.
Onto more appetizers, we sampled the Sea Momo in both pork and vegetarian versions. These XLB-looking dumplings were served in a soup of tomato, sesame, cilantro, lemon and mild spices. I found the soup (more like a sauce) was effective in offering up big hits of cilantro and the necessary acidity. As for the dumplings, the skin was thin and toothsome. Inside, the pork filling was loose and crumbly, yet moist at the same time. Flavours were mild with ginger, onion and coriander being easily recognized. Appearing like a work of art, the Chatamari (single side pan baked rice and lentil bread, topped with egg, onion, bell peppers, cilantro, ginger garlic and mild spices) benefited from the 3 sauces on the side. With a firm crust topped with a runny egg, there wasn't a whole lot of flavours going on other than the toppings. But with a dash of the hot sauce, the whole thing came alive with a spiciness that didn't overwhelm.
For entrees, we were served 3 including the Goat Curry (pictured), Peas & Potato and Cauliflower Chicken. I particularly enjoyed the goat curry with daikon due to the developed rich flavours from the fat. The meat itself was tender and moist while only a bit gamy. I didn't find the curry particularly spicy, but it did have depth. Finally, our 2 desserts consisted of Noodle Pudding (There are many more to choose from starting on January 16th until February 1st.granulated rice cooked in almond milk and brown sugar with touch of saffron). Both were mildly sweet with a touch of aromatics, especially from the saffron. Texturally, I thought the rice version was a bit thicker. As you can see, we were treated to a diverse array of eats from 3 very different restaurants representing different price points.
*All food and gratuities were complimentary*