There are certain restaurants in Vancouver that carry a certain cachet based on name, regardless of the food. Sure, there needs to be a certain level of execution and/or reputation, but I'm sure everyone is familiar with names such as Tojo's, Vij's, Bishop's, Cioppino's and Hawksworth. These would be considered destination spots, in particular, for those from out-of-town. So when David Hawksworth opened up Nightingale in the Marine Building, it certainly got plenty of attention. Well, a couple of us foodies were about to give it some attention during their lunch service (serving the same menu as dinner).
Kicking things off was the Beef Heart Tartare with cured egg yolk, horseradish and kale pistou on grilled bread. Buttery and tender, the minced beef heart was nicely seasoned with just enough sharp horseradish and pickled mustard seeds which provided a bright acidity. Underneath, the kale pistou added a combination of garlic, herbs (in particular a faint hint of cilantro) and nuttiness. The crunchy grilled bread stood up to the ingredients well with a firm crunch. Next, we had the Oven-Roasted Cauliflower with sunflower seeds and green harissa. Although sporting a smoky and caramelized exterior, the cauliflower was a bit soft for my liking. There was a nuttiness not only from the sunflower seeds, but from the caramelization itself. There was a considerable amount of seasoning with hits of tang and spice from the harissa.
We were pretty excited to try their wood-fired pizzas and ended up with the Spicy Spianata Salumi with piquillo pepper, san marzano tomatoes and fior di latte. I found the pizza crust to be crunchy and fairly well-charred on the outside while the middle was a bit softer, yet hardly wet. The dough seemed to be seasoned properly while the toppings were a bit sparse. The pizza ate meaty and salty with a considerable tang from the tomatoes and sweetness from the peppers. One dish that was rather ordinary was the Braised Tripe with chorizo and San Marzano tomato. I found the tripe to be too soft while the gaminess was kept in check by the tomato. However, I thought this dish lacked impact especially since the chorizo was basically a non-factor. The grilled bread with kale pistou was familiar as we had it as the base of the beef tartare.
The best dish hands-down was the Pacific Octopus with blistered capers, parsley, fermented chili and vinegar. At first, the sight of large chunks of octopus brought worries to my jaw, but boy were these pieces tender or what! Beyond the smoky and slightly crisp exterior, the meat was tender with a pleasant rebound. The dish was on the saltier side but was balanced off with equal parts of acidity and spice. Looking past the flavours, the dish itself was aromatic as a whole. For our pasta, we decided on the Casarecce with braised rabbit, rapini and white wine. Firm and chewy, the pasta was rather mildly seasoned (albeit with a background spice). There was a certain herbal quality to the dish accented by the sweet and slightly sharp onions. The rabbit was tender and moist, yet fairly bland. This dish was my least favourite as it was not memorable nor impactful.
Our last savoury dish was the Grilled Pork Belly with nectarine, white balsamic and pisatchios. Fatty and succulent, the pork belly exhibited a certain "Asian" flavour profile. It was sweet with some savoury notes. I would've liked to see more caramelization and bark on the exterior of the grilled belly as it seemed too wet. I personally love nectarines, but these were not very flavourful nor sweet, so they had little impact. This dish was not bad, but again, could've used further refinement.
For dessert, we decided to order all of them including a trio of "jars" with the Salted Caramel Pot de Crème, Yogurt Panna Cotta and Lime Crème. My favourite was the pot de crème as it was rich, creamy and fairly thick. It was intensely sweet due to the right amount of salt. The panna cotta was creamy and light while aided by a citrus marmalade. I found it to be fairly straightforward, if not a bit bland. However, the lime crème was the lightest of all in texture and taste. It was airy and creamy, but lacking flavour, especially the lime. On the other hand, the strawberry on top did help add some sweetness and tang.
Tart and not very sweet (or maybe the tartness overwhelmed the sugar content), the Meyer Lemon Tart was creamy and silky with an appealing viscosity. I would've liked to see a firmer tart shell, but it was okay. The ample amount of raspberries added some flavour variation while the almond wafer provided some crunch. Looking more like a mousse than the classic "cake", the Hazelnut Financier consisted of whipped espresso crème, soft praline and candied hazelnuts. I found this to be light and creamy with a thin layer of financier underneath. It wasn't super sweet, but the candied hazelnuts made up for that with a sugary crunch.
The most surprising dessert of the bunch was the Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwich. This featured a firmly crunchy cookie sandwich that gave way to a creamy and definitely strawberry tasting centre. Little chunks of strawberry added some legit flavour while giving way to a purposeful sweetness. This was made in-house, as with all of their other desserts. Overall, we enjoyed the dishes we ordered at Nightingale. Other than octopus and beef heart tartare, I thought the other items could've used some more refinement. Yet, things were still good for a new restaurant. Prices were on the higher side though, especially considering the portion sizes.
- Beautiful dining space with a high ceiling
- Attentive service
- Generally flavourful
- Some dishes could use further refinement
- Pricey for the portion size