I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
There’s this fine line between showmanship and pretentiousness which comes out in cuisine when you’re delivered a dish and are stumped on how you should eat it. A course of a meal should not equate a level in Braid. After figuring out that forks don’t go into one’s eye, I wasn’t really seeking another culinary enigma. I’ve never finished a Rubik’s Cube. When I enjoyed foie gras and brioche, I figured the creamy thing was spread upon the bready thing without requiring a manual written by a Japanese technician. Even given the decorative culinary displays at Chambar, at no point was I confused on what was food and what was garnish. I knew how to eat it; I knew which utensil to reach for, despite the panache of my plate.
For the first and only time during this vacation, I had an actual guest for my two-seat reservation. Finally, I won’t offer the impression that I had been stood up like a Romanian groom. His name was Tim (my guest, not the Romanian groom) and I have to admit, given the nearly twenty-year gap since last we saw each other, I’ll probably radiated misleading signals to curious onlookers. Tim’s a chiseled man with a youthful hairline, a George Clooney lower jaw, and the swagger of a noir film extra. He holds his cigarette like a natural extension of his hand. I kept thinking he had missed an opportunity not being cast in a Spielberg war or a Tarantino heist.
I’m still radiating misleading signals.
With our birthdays barely months apart, I offered a light jab that Tim looks exactly the way I want to look when I’m 45 (I was 37). We shared memories from elementary and high school, recollecting that Tim was the bad influence in my life—the one that convinced me to skip school. He was the friend my parents banned me from hanging out with, encouraging me more so. As we walked across the Seaside of West End Vancouver to Raincity Grill, Tim admitted he didn’t often eat out at posh restaurants.
After dumping a month’s rent into the parking meter, we wandered through the dense collection of sunbathers and Frisbee players until finding the restaurant with the best view since that Sushi joint in Hong Kong which looked over Kowloon bay. Our bags and coats were checked and we were led to one of the smallest tables I had ever had seen, so small, we were forced to shift plates to the window ledge. So here’s the first lesson if you’re going to open a stylish grill, measure the diameter of your expectedly oversized plates and verify that if you add two together with matching glasses, that they are LESS than the length of one of your tables.
So not a stellar first impression, but at least they offered a tasting menu, something lacking with every restaurant I’ve been to since England. I ordered one while Tim opted for À la carte. Our identical appetizers were grilled Caesar salads with romaine hearts, Caesar dressing, parmesan sablé, and crispy fried capers. Now, I remember Gordon Ramsay encountering something similar in a restaurant during Kitchen Nightmares. He thought enjoyment should trounce presentation—meaning if you are sacrificing the flavor or value of the food for the sake of a pretty picture, then you are doing something wrong. The best culinary masters are those able to find balance. This salad was a fat kid sitting alone on a seesaw.
Both Tim and I stared at our dishes, at our plates, at our bundle of uncut romaine leaves lightly drizzled with dressing, capers, and ground parmesan. Three croutons rested beside the bundle like sidelined hockey players, and the whole mix was fringed by a smear of green sauce later explained to be romaine puree, leading me to wonder why I was robbed another forkful of salad for the sake of the garnish. Tim looked mystified and hoped Id confidently lead the way, but even I didn’t know how to eat it. Do we hold the leaves like a taco or do we employ utensils? You can’t just spear a bundle with a fork, and even when I did try use my hands, the capers all fell off the lettuce, showering onto the napkin like sprinkles off a Tim Horton’s donut. And when do the croutons join in? Do you precariously balance one overtop or guide them to the center to meet judgment like a Roman gladiator. By the end of the meal, both of us were uncertain where the $11 dollars were spent. And perhaps someone can explain to me the appeal in grilling one side of a head of lettuce.
Thankfully the rest of the meal didn’t follow this level of pomposity. While I enjoyed the braised Cache Creek lamb, Tim partook in the Pemberton Meadows 14oz bone-in rib eye. If you read those titles, you’ll immediately note the locally sourced ingredients. This could encourage national pride, a restaurant taking a stand in supporting local grocers and farmers. It’s something worthy of advertisement, and it also helps embellish a dish by making the entrée title longer. I’ve seen it before, especially in upmarket establishments. They’ll cite local sources and without a reference or review, a diner would have no idea if it’s a mark of quality. You’d assume so; who would advertise Haiti-sourced veal? It’s one of the biggest adverting scams in the culinary industry—either comparing your products to someone else’s or boasting one as being better than the others, thus increasing demand despite no verified evidence backing the claim of superiority. If you see term “Kobe Beef”, for example, on a menu or on a package, it’s a Watergate-level deception, one that would warrant me to call out the chef and force him to admit his dishonesty. A quick Google search will find places claiming to sell Kobe beef.
I digress, even though Raincity proudly advertises its sourced ingredients, at no point should you believe that to be a mark of quality. Unless someone can sit me down and explain why lamb from Cache Creek is a towering stratum over likewise from New Zealand, I’m going assume it’s meant to convey one thing, national fidelity. Chambar didn’t bother. It just listed “local organic grilled asparagus.”
However, the lamb proved itself distinct, unlike any lamb sampled previously, and it was good, flaking apart like a roast. When asked, the waiter claimed it was a combination of the source and the preparation. Well, okay then.
The dessert that followed was a scattering of various chocolates, including truffles and a macaroon, while Tim had a wild flower honey brûlée with caramelized apples, a worthy climax. The final run of the bill was $110 for two, but my dinner tasting menu was only 60 bucks. Now put that into comparison with GothCock, where for the same price of three courses, you were handed an un-garnished hunk of meat. But Raincity just appears to take itself too proudly. It’s almost conceited, which I had mentioned was a complaint with GothCock as well, but that restaurant’s problem was that it believed its very establishment as enough, like the bricks were mortared with children’s dreams. Raincity tries too hard to be a high-class bistro, which is ironic, since it is, but it shouldn’t give the impression that it’s trying, and the deconstructed Caesar tasted of someone trying too hard. If I had been given a regular salad, or something approaching the quality I seen (and made) at other locations, I would rate Raincity to nearly Chambar’s level. As it is, Raincity is only far superior to Gotham.
OVERALL: 8.2 out of 10
1193 Denman St
V6G 2N1 Canada
Check out my Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/PrinceGastronome