Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pair Bistro for an Earth Day meal of BC's best foods

Earth Day is a great occasion to celebrate the best foods British Columbia has to offer and one of the restaurants featuring BC bounty is Pair Bistro in Point Grey-Kitsilano.

So to enjoy Earth Day with local harvest - and to live up to my own 24 hours newspaper column - we walked over to Pair on Tuesday.

Pair has an exclusively BC wine list - something that would have been unthinkable maybe 10 years ago and almost undrinkable 20 years ago, with a few exceptions.

And it's a good list, with several wines by the glass - something every Vancouver restaurant should be doing but isn't.

My wife Shirley had a 2006 Van Westen viognier for $10.50, a very floral, fragrant wine from Naramata that I had not tasted before and was tempted to steal away.

I had a Blackwood Lane chardonnay for $9.50 from the Langley-based winery that sources grapes from the Okanagan but also has vines in the Fraser Valley. It's a tasty wine but may be a bit pricey for the value.

We started with Effingham Inlet oysters - an excellent, accessible choice that went well with both wines.

For my main I picked the special, Queen Charlotte Island tuna with julienned fennel and watercress. It was cooked perfectly and delicious.

I matched it well with a glass of 2006 Church & State sauvignon blanc for $10, recommended by proprietor Janis Hodgins, who was also one of our servers. [I really like owners who serve food - it keeps them in touch with customers and shows a commitment to their establishment. And I didn't know she was an owner till the end of our meal.]

Shirley had a favourite from the regular menu, Peace River bison ribs. It's a hearty meal that comes with cornbread and bbq sauce. She had a glass of Gary Oaks Fetish - a cabernet franc, merlot blend - for $11.

We had a side of assorted sauteed BC mushrooms to go with our meals - absolutely wonderful!

BC has an amazing assortment of foods available and Pair Bistro does an admirable job providing a huge number of choices for a small restaurant.

Lumiere versus West - Fall 2007 restaurant showdown

Two of Vancouver's top award-winning restaurants - Lumiere and West - have both undergone major upheavals in the past year, with Iron Chef Rob Feenie being forced out of both ownership and top job at Lumiere while West's chef David Hawksworth has left that Granville Street icon to open a new restaurant in 2009.

But I was fortunate enough to eat at Lumiere after Feenie left in October 2007 and at West in December before Hawksworth departed to eventually open his own restaurant at the new Hotel Georgia.

Both meals were excellent and memorable but a clear winner emerged quickly - Lumiere.

Lumiere simply offered better food, superior service and a more enjoyable atmosphere than West.

This result is all the more impressive because is shows the departure of the admired but often disliked Feenie did not impact the quality of Lumiere's food.

Dale MacKay, the chef de cuisine at Lumiere who took over the reins from the oft-absent Feenie, deserves full credit for maintaining the restaurant's high standards that have won it acclaim around the world. MacKay is no slouch either, having been the sous chef at
Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants in New York and Tokyo and survived the Hell's Kitchen honcho.

And since then Lumiere's owners David and Manjy Sidoo have announced that international celebrity chef
Daniel Boulud will be their new business partner and executive chef at Lumière, with MacKay staying on as the main man day-to-day in the kitchen.

The Sidoos, who allegedly squeezed part-owner Feenie out the door over a variety of issues after Feenie brought them in as partners a few years back when the restaurant was in financial crisis, have clearly shown they know what they are doing, despite some criticism from those in the food business.

Back to basics - dinner.


Lumiere is a definite splurge restaurant - unless you are a Hollywood star, Mercedes dealer, Howe Street hustler or independently wealthy.

But it is worth the big bucks, particularly for the special occasion like your wedding anniversary. That's why my wife Shirley and I decided it was time to revisit Lumiere after a long absence.

[In case you're wondering, our other fine dining favourites are the always great
Bishop's and Le Crocodile.]

Lumiere understands it is offering a premium restaurant experience and treats you accordingly from arrival to departure.

Pleasantly dark without being so dim that you can't see your food, Lumiere's small room is well laid out with almost enough room between guests that you can avoid hearing how close they are to a film deal - almost.

We started with a glass of Codorniu pinot noir rose cava , a nice Spanish sparkling wine to go with the amuse bouche - a layered triangle of crepe with macadamia nut, 25-year old balsamic vinegar and foie gras.

Lumiere has three fixed prix menu choices - Vegetarian for $85, Chef's for $125 and Signature for $180.

We chose the Signature - noting that it would have been a good time to be a vegetarian - and were not disappointed.

Knowing both fish and meat would be on the menu, we ordered a half bottle of 2002 Domain Chandon chardonnay from Napa Valley, a very nice wine for $42.

First course was an ahi tuna carpaccio with dungeness crab salad, with frisee and a turnip sliver - yes, turnip. It was excellent, even the turnip.

Next came a white onion veloute with king oyster mushrooms and pearl onions, which was very good.

An unusual combination followed, Qualicum Bay scallops with quail eggs on a potato croquette, with brocollini tips and a warm truffle vinagrette. While it sounds odd, the matching worked wonderfully.

Then came another surprising dish, Queen Charlotte Islands halibut crusted with spicy chorizo sausage! This prompted a definite "wow" as the two very different tastes combined beautifully. Definitely something I would have never thought of but will try at home. We matched this with a 2006 Brumont Gros Manseng sauvignon blanc at $16 a glass.

I love duck but our next course was unfortunately the least impressive, duck breast with parsnip puree and brussel sprout leaves in a madeira sauce. It was competent but not exciting.

However, our wine choice was -
Au Bon Climat's 2004 La Bauge Au Dessus pinot noir at $68 for a half bottle. Massively cherry, plummy, smooth and velvety, it is one of Jim Clendenen's best Santa Barbara pinots, coming from the Bien Nacido vineyard. [We love all of the ABC wines and Jim is one of the most interesting California winemakers in the business. If you haven't visited the Santa Barbara region yet despite it's "Sideways" movie fame, it is probably the best place to experience great wine without Napa's wine Disneyland effect.]

Any nervousness after the duck disappeared when the venison loin arrived in a port reduction with edaname beans in a yogurt sauce with grainy mustard and taragon. Excellent!

Not full yet? The portions are not large and service spaces them comfortably apart but you will not go home hungry.

So on to the cheese course, with munster, comte juraflore, manchego, livarot, benedictine, brie bonaparte and la sauvagine all on the plate.

Then came dessert, lots of dessert. A black mission fig carpaccio with concord grape sorbet to start, then lemongrass and mango pavlova with fresh fruit - very good indeed.

We matched dessert with a glass of 2000 DeBortoli Noble One [$20] which I've had and liked before but found just too sweet this time.

Next was a carmelized white chocolate namelaka - for lack of better description a wafer - with peach sorbet and poached peaches.

After that, hard to believe, came les migniardises - mini chocolates and candies - also delicious.

It was a memorable meal indeed, one of the best I've had in a restaurant anywhere. The fact that it was a short walk away in Kitsilano made it all the better.


We wouldn't ordinarily get to two high end restaurants a few months apart short of winning the lottery but our good friend Julie's 50th birthday required a special celebration in December.

The South Granville Street eatery has long been recognized as one of the city's best and Hawksworth one of our most talented chefs.

The room is pleasant but somewhat noisy and crowded, which takes away from the food experience.

Like Lumiere, West also offers tasting menus at $89 for Vegetarian, $98 for Spring and $129 for West. It would have been a more appropriate comparison had we chosen the top tasting menu but it didn't appeal to us that evening and so we went a la carte.

We started with a half litre of one of my favourite whites, a 2006 Chateau de Sancerre, that went well with the amuse bouche - an asparagus and truffle soup with a healthy green foam on top.

I chose a galantine of quail with quail eggs as my starter - the quail was cold while the eggs were deep fried, along with a foie gras parfait and chips. Enjoyable but the cold quail didn't work for me that well.

Shirley and Julie had kushi oysters on the half shell - can't go wrong there.

For my main I went for the bouillabaisse, a seafood stew packed with delicious B.C. shellfish and fish. It was decently done but not exceptional.

Shirley had a squab with roast vegetables and a porcini mushroom jus. Very good but not "wow."

Julie had crab and scallop ravioli with lemongrass, which was quite tasty.

Julie and I shared a half litre of 2002 La Chablisienne Premier Cru "Fourchaume" chablis for $57, a very nice wine. Shirley had a glass of 2004 Arrocal tempranillo from Ribera del Duero at $12 and later a 2003 Allegrini Palazzo Della Terre from the Veneto region of Italy for $15. Both good choices.

Service was pleasant and competent but not out of the ordinary for fine dining.

Desserts - ice cream, a lemony pavlova and a chocolate cake - were good but not noteworthy.

Overall I was disappointed, all the more so for having been very impressed with Lumiere's offerings six weeks earlier.

West is still an excellent restaurant and it will be interesting to see what noted new executive chef Warren Geraghty, who arrived from London's highly regarded L'Escargot in February, will do there.

But anyone who has written off Lumiere because of Rob Feenie's departure should think again - it is still a fabulous restaurant that is difficult, if not impossible, to beat.