Sherman's Food Adventures: Nightshade


Yes, I admit vegan cuisine isn't something that I normally crave nor care for.  However, after trying 2 vegan meal kits in the past little while, it has shown me that with a bit of creativity, the food can be tasty.  So once again, I went in with an open mind when I got an invite to try out the newly opened Nightshade in Yaletown.  Also, they aren't merely throwing together something like a salad and calling it vegan.  Executive Chef Chanthy Yen brings an elevated experience that borders on fine-dining.

Getting right to it, we started with the excellent Five Spiced Beets with salt roasted beets  five-spiced white balsamic vinaigrette garnished with puffed kasha, citrus, raita, and shiso.  This was bursting with acidity and sweetness.  Texturally, the beets were tender with a gentle bite.  The puffed kasha added the necessary crunch to give some contrast in texture.  Loved the thoughtfulness of the dish where the flavours were bright and balanced as well as the textures.

The Crispy Cassava was my favourite of the night.  It consisted of fried cassava served with lotus root chips, mint puree and spicy red curry aioli.  I thought the cassava couldn't have been prepared any more perfectly.  It was pillowy soft as described on the menu while crispy on the outside.  Flavours were impactful from the herbaceous mint and the promise of spice from the red curry.  I could've eaten several servings of this.

Continuing on with things fried, we tried the Taro Roll featuring rice paper stuffed with a peppery taro, tofu, carrot and vermicelli filling served with mint, basil, butter lettuce and palm sugar dipping sauce.  Looking at the picture, you'll notice much more in the way of carrot, vermicelli and tofu rather than taro.  No matter, these rolls were good with a crispy rice paper wrapper.  It could've been fried just a touch longer though.  Loved the sweet and tangy dip as well as the greens to wrap the rolls.  It added aromatics and some brightness.

We also tried their sushi in the Fire Roll with house-made organic kimchi, sweet shiitake mushrooms, avocado, sambal, tempura crunch and togarashi.  Other than the rice was probably laid on a bit too thick, the roll was quite good.  Rice texture was on point while the combination of ingredients offered up sweet, tang and spiciness.  There was good heat to live up to its namesake.  Adding the tempura crunch was key to providing textural contrast.

The one dish that needed some work was the House Roti scented with fenugreek and garam masala served with vegan garlic butter and raita chutney.  I thought the raita was refreshing with tang and sweetness.  Vegan garlic butter was aromatic.  The roti itself really came through with the Indian flavours but texturally it was far too dense.  I realize it is vegan, but I'm sure they will be able to rectify this in time.

Onto some mains, we tried the Truffle Tteokbokki Gnocchi.  Although I loved the individual components , it seemed like 2 completely different dishes combined into one.  I love rice cake and these were good.  I also loved the sauce as it was full of umaminess and savouriness.  I also enjoyed the wild mushrooms, they were sauteed perfectly and seasoned well.  However, this would've probably been better with vegan gnocchi as the components didn't go with each other. 

Something I was excited about trying was the Braised Burdock cooked in a green curry base and served with pickled snow fungus, sautéed wild rice, sunchoke puree, salisfy and charcoal infused garlic oil.  Texturally, I enjoyed the contrast between the tender burdock and the crisp salsify.  I didn't get a lot of green curry flavour, so the dish ate a bit plain.  However, the garlic oil did help add some aromatics.

My favourite entree was the Grilled Mushroom on Toast sporting local mushrooms cooked 3 ways served on house made focaccia layered with Maggi butter and mushroom pate then garnished with Miso pickled Daikon.  I thought the mushrooms were prepared perfectly with a smoky sear and not bleeding moisture.  The pate was full of umaminess.  Loved the addition of Maggi.  However, the toast itself was too thick and dense.  Split that in half and have 2 crunchier toasts would've been preferable.

Onto dessert, we had the Rosewater Apple Tart with Pink Lady apples garnished with hibiscus and spiced milk foam.   For a vegan tart shell, this was pretty good.  It was firm and was not dry breaking apart like a regular tart shell.  Loved how they layered the sliced apples, it was pretty.  Texturally, the apples were tender while still retaining a crunch.  The foam was light and airy with just enough hibiscus and sweetness.

We ended with the Creme Brulee with lavender vegan custard topped with raspberry hibiscus coulis and candied hazelnuts topped with micro mint and freeze-dried raspberry powder.   Although the custard was on the thinner side, it wasn't a deal-breaker.  It was creamy and purposefully sweet.  I liked how the use of lavender was restrained.  Hence the raspberry powder was able to come through as well as the hazelnuts.  Overall, we felt that the effort put into the food at Nightshade is commendable.  Trying to refine and provide a dining experience that is purely vegan can be challenging.  The small plates were quite impressive and so were the desserts.  We felt the entrees needed some work but definitely has potential.  I can positively say that I would be be open to returning to check out some other dishes and seeing what refinements are instituted with existing items.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Carefully prepared food
- Appies that will make you forget about meat
- Elevated vegan dining experience

The Bad:
- Some further refinement needed with the mains


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