Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pretty. Bad. Food.


Pretty, eh? Well, not really. An unretouched photo of C restaurant's presentation at the Dr. Peter Centre fundraising foody event called Passions last Sunday. 18 restaurants offered their wares to attending funders. This was probably the worst.
I had never thought of C restaurant as a source of bad food. If anyone has slogged through 3 years of this blog, this person has only seen C portrayed as one of this city's best. We are on the ocean, why not have a great seafood restaurant? This was my first time to meet the chef and his chef de cuisine Quang Dang, a young Vietnamese phenom raved about in the latest issue of Vancouver magazine. The potatoes were good. Potatoes are always good. And then there was the salmon. I was stunned. This was hideous salmon. As the city's premiere seafood restaurant at a reception for the city/province's rich and famous who know good from bad salmon (probably true of everyone in this city who eats fish), how could they serve something so fishy? Is this the best salmon available? Then serve something else. It polluted the nobel potato. A snub to millions of starved Irish. An insult to those who know the difference between good and bad fish (if they needed another opinion, ask any bear or eagle!)., But still, I figured this must be an anomaly. C had "invited" me online as a preferred customer (I'd eaten there more than once) to share young Dang's tasting menu for somewhat less than its usual cost. Knowing this restaurant's long history of great seafood, and still awaiting the completion of kitchen renovation, eating out meant far more to me than it should.
In 1993, the city hosted a series of lectures from international scientists. The first was Stephen Hawkings. I was lucky enough to attend the reception after his lecture, and the smoked salmon was so good I didn't mind that Steve rolled over my foot with his wheel chair. When anyone rolls over your foot and you don't mind, that's what you'd have to call GOOD salmon. The salmon in this picture was antimatter to that Hawkings-inspired bite of ambrosia.
Come experience Chef de Cuisine Quang Dangs 10 Course Tasting Menu!
Poached Lobster Sunomono dashi jelly~
read the invite menu in my email box.
I walked from the central library over to this restaurant trying out my new hat. About 40 minutes, several miles and I didn't die of skin cancer. I guess the hat worked. I ordered a raspberry champagne cocktail and sooner than I expected, the sunomono appeared. Good thing I didn't spring for the wine pairing. Su no mono, in Japanese, means "vinegared things," and it is a kind of generic pickeled salad one can avoid in Japan about as easily as one can avoid green tea. It can be done, but you really have to work at it. This particular vinegared thing was a piece of lobster knuckle. Ok, good choice, in theory. The dashi jelly was fine. There was more than sufficient cucumber. I love cucumber, but this was excessive. Sunomono more than lobster. The cucumber aftertaste, magnified by the vinegar and not at all ameliorated by the far too subtle lobster, was less pleasent than I'd hoped, and only the seriously sweet raspberry beverage brought my palate back to stasis. The long walk had made me hungry. Get it on, C!
Smoked Chinook Belly maple pearls & ikura. Basil mayo
OK, Chinook belly is your test of British Columbia (and up and down the US coast) cuisine. If you can't do this right, you shouldn't be allowed near a plate, let alone a kitchen. People have been smoking salmon here longer than the words "smoke" and "salmon" have existed.
I'm enjoying the sun flowing through this raspberry beverage. Its bottom raspberry red slowly giving way to golden champagne bubbles catching the incoming sun, rising to meet some welcoming orange rind. Cold and pretty. Does its job.
Instead of choosing the wine pairing, luckily, the amuse-size portions paired serendipitously with the food. For awhile.
I really wish I'd brought my camera. Ridiculously pretty. The belly is good. Surprisingly good. I make the mistake of taking a sip of ice water with it, and its mystique is dispersed as abruptly as an alarm-interrupted dream. Fishy. Like the vile salmon at Dr. Peter, it reeked of its death. If you're gonna eat salmon, you gotta do something about that. In my case, it's not drink water with this. Engage in the ingreedients. The raspberry booze flows to the rescue. Ikura is a bad idea to begin with and the maple, at best, works with the sweet drink more than from within the interestingly sweetened salmon flesh. Perhaps too subtle a distinction, but at least, thanks to a lucky cocktail choice, my palate was having a good time.
Duck Proscuitto. Bay laurel. panna cotta. crunchy salad
Crunchy is good. Very buttery, but in a satisfying way. For a few bites. Duck is tasteless, but chewy. The waiter asked if I was unsatisfied and I said I was, leaving most of the buttery but quickly cloying custard as far from my palate as possible. In this case, ice water was my pal.
This was not a successful dish. I'm increasingly worried about the 10 courses I've signed up for.
I'm still coasting on the raspberry drink.
Cauliflower Soup. smoked trout. Pickled shallots. truffled brioche croutons
The cauliflower puree addition to my lobster at L20 the other week made me think that the vegetable and any given seafood had a good chance of being tasty. You have to taste the cauliflower influence for this to work, I would think. So I watched in anticipation as the waiter distriubted the pickeled shallots, smoked trout morsels and truffle enchanted croutons, then covered them with the caulifower soup. It reminded me of the pumpkin soup presentation at Cafe des Artistes in Puerto Vallarta. It. Looks. So. Good.
The crouton explodes with flavour. How can you lose with truffles? The trout's fishiness fights against the cauliflour flavour, and neither of them come out a winner. I eventualy realize, there is no cauliflavour! Although lingering fishy traces pollute the experience, most of my sips are pleasent. I give credit to the croutons for that. Each crouton explodes on cue to my delighted palate. The absence of cauliflower, uh, where were those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq anyway? I'm warmed by the soup, a comfort until they finally close the nearby doors. The croutons rise to the top of my experiences in this meal, like one would rise above one's dead body if momentary death experiences are to be believed. Troutiness trys to torpedo the uncauliflowred but still benificent experience. Raspberry to the rescue. Ok, new booze needed.
The waiter reccomends a Burrowing Owl pinot gris. I'd had one recently at my friends' place at a distant lake and wondered if this would be better. Much of the quality of wine for me depends, as a white or sparkling wine, on its coldness. Without that element, it works not.
Hot food. Cold wine, water, whatever. Hot tea, coffee, these are basic concepts.
Octopus Bacon Wrapped Scallops. pickled pemberton carrots. white truffle powder
The scallop is great. Sauce is great. Carrots seem pickled in a higher dimension of pickling. But the truffle powder..... I have a taste, and there is none. It's a kinda aginomoto a go go. I should be able to taste truffles, but alas. Might as well be corn starch. The chewiness of the scallop, like the chewiness in abalone just encountered in Chicago, an ally to taste posibilities. The sweet onion puree, not listed on the menu, is the surprise hit of the dish. The octopus has entered another universe, and its pickeled carrot companions taste of a higher level of pickeling. But the truffle powder rides off like the masked man. Where is Lenny Bruce when we need him?
Crispy Cape Scott Halibut. salt baked turnips. wilted summer squash chorizo & mushroom broth
I luxuriate in the aroma of the mushroom broth.
My first bite: bitter! What is this? The wine helps, but it's starting at a very low level. Doesn't say much for the wine. Am I missing something because of my immature palate or does it just not taste good? Am I supposed to care? The ingredients are functional, though the chorizo burns my tongue when tasted alone. The problem is the halibut. In my lifetime, I've never had a bad piece of halibut. I did not know such things existed. I kept chipping away at the "halibut" thingy on my plate, and it did not reveal its halibut essence. Or any exurb thereof.
I do believe the chef of C has done something I would never have believed possible. He has taken the fish my tongue most delights in and rendered it flavourless. Less than than that, incapable of successfully absorbing flavours. I love turnips, Saskatchewan peasent that I am, but these were useless. Uninspired would be too polite. Where were the troops? Bring in a good vegie and you can save almost anything, except the uninspired. The flavourless fish must have looked upon its impotence like Lee must have looked at the success of Pickett's charge.
Roasted Muscovy Duck. confit leg meat & fennel thyme corn bread lapin cherry jus
Gnocci overwhelmed by its beet neighbour. The waiter said it was herbed but there was no way of knowing. The first bite of duck was good and crispy, but the more I chewed, the gamier it got. I tried another piece and it was even gamier. It felt like the duck had just been shot on my tongue. Come back, Daffy. My uncle Fred loved shooting ducks so much, he has an image of a duck hunter shooting ducks on his tomb stone. I've had both good and bad duck, over many years. I frequently ate at The Duck Restaurant near where I worked in Tokyo in the 80s. But even by this duck lover's standards, this was unedible. The server asked if I wished another dish, and I declined, figuring I was here to review the promised meal, and I was already too full, of occasionally good food, to seek or be able to eat an alternative. The confit was quite good, buried in a micro-beet. The carrots, freed of their oppressive game invasion, were more than edible. But the main course, the slices of duck, tasted like it were slices of you a duck was eating.
Fresh Citrus Tasting
It successfully cleanesed my palate. Grapefruit and such. Yeah, and?
Moonstruck Blossom Blue
candied fennel~
I did not know this was a cheese, as it is not identified as such. It was a fantastic cheese. But my stomache had just been innundated with lesser foods. The fennel/cheese combo really worked, in the two bites I was able to consume. I was saddened by lack of greater capacity for this cheese.
There was an additional course involving chocolate, which I do not eat so I split after this meal. Chagrinned at its promise unfulfilled. It was not the worst meal of my life, and many bites, well, some, well, occasionally it worked, but the signature dishes, the halibut and duck were like having nuclear bombs dropped on your tongue.

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