Pair Bistro

Restaurant: Pair Bistro
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/Organic/Wine Bar
Last visited: April 23, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Kitsilano)
Address: 3763 W 10th Ave
Price Range: $30-50+ ($20-25 mains)

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4.5 – 5
Service: 4.5
Ambiance: 5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Since 2004
  • Casual fine dining
  • Award winning
  • Pacific Northwest cuisine
  • Truly BC/Canadian Menu
  • Local & organic
  • Seasonal menu
  • Sustainable ingredients
  • Oyster house
  • All BC wines
  • Cozy & intimate
  • Hidden gem
  • Patio dining
  • Weekend brunch (starts May)
  • Mon-Sun 5:30pm-11pm

**Recommendations: Wild Mushroom Latte, PAIR Signature Oysters, Wapiti Elk Medallions and I’d request extra sauce for whichever main you choose. I’d even come for just their desserts.

“Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest. Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth. Come roll in all the riches all around you. And for once, never wonder what they’re worth”. She may know “every rock and tree and creature“, but the owners here know every farmer, fisherman and wine maker they source from. Thanks to Pair Bistro for taking the lyrics to “The Colours of the Wind” from Pocahontas and bringing them to life in the context of their restaurant.

I love coming across undiscovered hidden gems. I’m so surprised Pair Bistro has been open since 2004 because I barely hear anything about it. I discovered it randomly while doing some online research and the menu was right up my alley. It truly defines local, Pacific Northwest and regional BC cuisine in a casual fine dining atmosphere.

It’s a small intimate thirty seat restaurant with a gorgeous secret garden like patio they open for the summer. The open windows call for natural light and the idea of “natural” is what the owners of this husband and wife operation embrace. Although they may not be in the restaurant often, it is undoubtedly locally owned and operated and a favourite for those living in the neighbourhood. It reminded me of places like Gudrun Tasting Room, RauDZ REgional Table, and the old So.cial at Le Magasin.

The crowd ranges from around 35-50+ and represents mainly Kitsilano locals. The have a solid dinner rush, and I witnessed no turn over, but regardless the space is inviting, time is enjoyed, and it even gets quite lively as the night progresses.

Vancouver has so many West Coast restaurants, but this one just seems different. It was uniquely Canadian and it’s one of those restaurants I would bring a tourist to if they wanted to try local “Canadian” food in the most “authentic” sense. There are some really traditional and rare offerings on the menu like Bannock, bison, elk, and together with the local BC boutique wine list, it just flirts out “our home and native land”.

The atmosphere is cozy and intimate and the fresh flower centerpieces, Aboriginal decor, and natural wood tables make it sophisticated yet figuratively and literally down to Earth. It delivers a taste of downtown without being in downtown or even trying to be downtown.

The experience is not only in the space and ambiance, but also in the food. It’s honest, charming, and the ingredients really speak for themselves. Almost everything is whole, identifiable, and in its natural state. While it is simple there are innovative Pacific Northwest twists here and there. At times I felt it was bordering on too simple, but I still appreciate the restaurant for what it stands for. With their natural garnishes of fresh herbs and fruit, it is all a friendly reminder of what makes British Columbia so beautiful.

Pair Bistro is definitely a hidden gem, and I wouldn’t go as far to call it Vancouver’s best kept secret, but it is well prepared food that can be a bit on the mild side due to its simplicity. They aren’t part of the “Ocean Wise band wagon”, but they’ve stuck to what they’ve always believed in, which means they’ve been 100% sustainable and locally sourced since the day they opened. There’s nothing pretentious about the food and every vegetable and herb tastes like it was picked from their backyard.

The flavours are approachable, the service is friendly, portions are generous for the style, although at times pricey. It is a pleasant indoor picnic with the perfect “pairing” of rustic and elegant while balancing raw and refined.

On the table:

Complimentary Amuse Bouche

  • Tuna Croquette with Basil Pesto
  • It was a crispy bite of fresh flaked tuna, and although it was slightly dry, the oily herb pesto gave it the moisture and nutty fresh flavour it needed.

**Wild Mushroom Latte 5/6

  • Asiago Tuille, Truffle Oil $3
  • This is one of their most popular “Pairtizers”. It’s served one per person and they’re pretty tiny, but worth it.
  • It was a creamy and frothy mushroom soup with lots of pureed wild mushroom texture and a drizzle of truffle oil on top.
  • It was creamy, but not too thick or rich and it’s not completely smooth, but there aren’t pieces of mushroom either.
  • The Asiago Tille was the perfect salty crisp to accompany the soup.

Comox Valley Fried Camembert 4.5/6

  • Breaded, Cognac Sour Cherries, Hannah Brooke Farm Greens $11
  • This was recommended and really how can you go wrong with deep fried cheese? On the other hand it was deep fried cheese so it sounded too easy.
  • The Camembert was 1/4 of a the wheel so it was a bit small, but it was Panko crusted and crispy, but I wish a bit more melted. Being that it is Camembert it would be hard to execute without melting completely though.
  • It was topped with Cognac Sour Cherries which were syrupy, plump, sweet and tart. It played nicely cutting through the buttery cheese, but I was hoping for more of a sauce and perhaps some thyme or rosemary to give it more depth.
  • The crunchy crostini was an exciting surprise as it was made with artisan fig bread and pumpkin seed bread. However when eaten together the crunchy crostini took over the crispy Camembert texture and the flavours of the cherries took over the flavour of the figs.
  • It was almost easier to appreciate separately, which defeats the purpose. It’s still a very good appetizer though.

**PAIR Signature Oysters 5.5/6

  • Cornmeal Battered, Baked in the Shell, Smoked Salmon Candied Cream $13
  • I always prefer raw oysters and I didn’t even stop to look at this one since they were cooked, but luckily someone else did.
  • Amazing! It was West Coast style oyster Motoyaki, but not as greasy although still rich.
  • I only wish the oyster was crispy, but because it was deep fried and then baked, the batter ended up tasting a bit dried out and soggy. Also I think Panko over cornmeal would have made it crispier.
  • The oyster was medium sized, plump, juicy and sweet with some baked on Asiago cheese and they poured a smoked salmon candied cream over top which almost tastes like a sweet clam chowder sauce.
  • It was wonderfully savoury and almost smoky so the candied bits of salmon were very reminiscent of bacon bits.
  • It was sweet and savoury and full of flavour and underneath the oyster were a couple strands of stewed tomatoes and a green leaf vegetable.
  • It was a bit pricey, but very delicious and I would order it again.

Feast Platter for a PAIR 5/6

  • Wapiti Elk, Local Catch, Maple Hill Farm Chicken, Wind Dried Salmon Candy, Harvest Vegetables, Pemberton Potatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Hannah Brook Farms Organic Field Greens $57
  • For two people it touches base on all the proteins and you will be full and very satisfied.
  • I loved how everything came whole and the selected ingredients expressed Canadian identity with a land, coast, and mountain protein (my own analysis).
  • All the proteins were well executed with properly paired vegetables, and the only thing I wanted more of was the sauce.
  • Everything was seasoned quite simply, and nothing was dry, but it just lacked flavour so they came across as a bit one dimensional and too simple.
  • The Elk was the winner, but even that one needed more sauce.

Maple Hill Farm Chicken4/6

  • Roulade Stuffed with UBC Spinach & Foraged Mushrooms, Apple Cider Glazed Seasonal Vegetables, Wild Flower Honey and Sage Demi ($25 if ordered separately)
  • In the platter it’s served with Foreaged Mushrooms.
  • I couldn’t taste the Wild Flower Honey and Sage Demi at all. I’m not sure if those only come if you order the chicken as a main alone, but I really think it would have been much better with it.

  • Although very well executed and served with lots of mushrooms, I found the mushrooms (Oysters, Shiitakes, criminis, buttons) a bit boring and just simply sauteed with salt and pepper.
  • The chicken was well seared and perfectly browned and crispy and the meat was tender and moist especially for being white meat chicken.
  • The stuffing was very memorable and almost like an incredibly fluffy, soft, moist and spongy bread pudding wrapped in spinach leaves.
  • Together it just melted in your mouth with little chew and I could taste each layer of ingredient.
  • For being a plain old chicken, which I do actually really like, this one was very good; but it would have benefited immensely with the Wild Flower Honey and Sage Demi that I’m quite confident we didn’t get on the platter.

**Wapiti Elk Medallions5/6

  • Rosemary Pepper Crusted, Chocolate & Sour Cherry Jus, Winter Root Vegetables ($25 if ordered separately)
  • In the platter it was served with rosemary and garlic Pemberton potatoes.
  • This is their house favourite and most popular. Elk is a rare find and they served the entire steak!
  • It was the most well seasoned and flavourful of the proteins, besides being the obvious fact that it was the red meat.
  • It was heavily crusted with Rosemary and black peppercorn which was easily tasted even if you didn’t know.
  • The elk was tender, medium rare, juicy and mildy gamey.
  • Again it needed more sauce because there wasn’t enough Sour Cherry Jus for each piece and I couldn’t taste the chocolate at all.
  • The Sour Cherry Jus added a slight tartness and I loved the juicy bursts or plump sour cherries with the meaty elk, but there just wasn’t enough. The Sour Cherry Jus went excellent with the strong flavours of the earthy and aromatic spice rub too.
  • It was just missing that sweet factor and I really wish I could taste the smoky sweetness the chocolate should have brought.
  • The rosemary garlic Pemberton potatoes were very flavourful, creamy and tender with crispy roasted skins.

Local Water Catch of the (Arctic Char)4/6

  • Seasonal Reflections of Sustainably Sourced BC Fresh and Salt Water Fish ($25 if ordered separately)
  • Arctic Char with Hemp Seed and Basil Pesto served with Harvest Vegetables.
  • Another perfectly executed protein. The skin was pan seared to a crisp and the arctic char was flaky and moist although a bit oily.
  • Again it needed lots more pesto, which was incredibly flavourful, salty, herby, minty and nutty, but there just wasn’t enough to finish with the fish.
  • There was a generous portion of tender root vegetables including brussel sprouts, baby carrots and baby turnips. All were served whole and in their natural state and seemed freshly picked from a backyard.
  • The veggies were simply sauteed with salt and pepper and perhaps some apple cider vinegar which was only absorbed by the parsnips. They were a bit oily, but I really miss seeing vegetables served this rustically.

Wind Dried Salmon Candy4/6

  • With Hannah Brook Farms Organic Field Greens.
  • The technique of wind dried salmon is an Aboriginal tradition and lost art, and ironically BC is supposed to have the best climate for it.
  • I think this was actually my first time trying wind dried salmon as opposed to all the other ways of preserving salmon, most popular probably being smoked in the West Coast.
  • There wasn’t much salmon, but the pieces it had were sweet, moist , flaky and reminiscent of maple glazed smoked salmon, but without the smoky flavour. It actually didn’t seem as dry and was more tender in texture, but also not mushy.
  • It was served with a lightly dressed salad of delicate greens in a tangy vinaigrette and sweet cherry tomatoes, which again all seemed freshly picked from the yard.

Carmen Creek Bison Ribs 4.5/6

  • Slow Braised, Wild Blackberry BBQ Sauce, Chilliwack Corn Bread, Radish Slaw $23
  • This was another solid decision, except the first order we had was overcooked. After bringing it up, they kindly replaced the order without hesitation and also drenched it with sauce, which was even better!
  • Although the meat was more moist the second time around, I strongly recommend requesting extra sauce regardless. It works better.

  • This was a tip of the hat to the Southwest, but completely West Coast in ingredients and execution.
  • The bison was well coated (upon request) in a sweet and tangy well textured puree of Wild Blackberry BBQ sauce.
  • The bison is naturally really lean but the fat was in tact and not really marbleized. It was slightly gamier than the elk medallions, but still somewhat mild.
  • It wasn’t as tender or moist as I would have preferred, but it did come off the bone quite easily although it did lack that slow smoked flavour.
  • Some of the fat and connective tissue hadn’t broken down yet, so it was a little gelatinous and chewy at times, but still very good.
  • The thick sauce had quite the kick and tang that held up nicely to the bison, and the berries gave it the texture in needed more so than flavour, although the flavour was there.
  • There was a generous amount of freshly cut crunchy cole slaw, but it wasn’t tangy or sweet or really flavoured at all. The dressing was mild and unidentifiable and I was hoping for some sunflower seeds or just something more.
  • The greens were lightly dressed, but a bit redundant with the cole slaw.
  • The corn bread was warm, crumbly, incredibly moist and very buttery and tasted like they had brushed a generous amount of butter over them just before serving. It had a crispy exterior and it was very savoury rather than sweet with a little bit of minced carrot and onions in the mix.

Desserts

The desserts were delicious and I would come back even just for the desserts. The dessert menu changes daily but the Chocolate Fondant has been their signature for years. They’re not too big, all made in house, traditional with a twist, and really quite impressive. We ordered all three of the desserts offered and they were all equally as delicious, but just made for different tastes.

**Chocolate Fondant 5/6

  • With chocolate sauce, a chocolate truffle and vanilla ice cream $7
  • This is their signature dessert. There was a lot of attention to detail and I appreciated all the components.
  • It was a moist bittersweet chocolate lava cake with an ooey gooey centre and crispy top.
  • It was definitely more cake like than brownie, but it’s not fluffy or spongy. It’s indulgent and quite rich and served warm.
  • The chocolate sauce in the spoon was stronger and richer than the chocolate lava in the cake. It was pretty much melted premium bittersweet chocolate and was the accent to the chocolate fondant.
  • I’m so glad it was served with ice cream, which is always a bonus. Iย  just wish the ice cream had real vanilla been seeds in it. It was quite icy, but still good.
  • I loved the home made chocolate truffle they served along side. It was rich, creamy, and made with premium bittersweet chocolate rolled in bittersweet cocoa powder. It was the perfect nibble for any chocoholic.

**Sour Cherry & White Chocolate Bread Pudding5/6

  • With vanilla ice cream $7
  • I really wanted to order this one and I just knew it would be delicious. The stuffing in the chicken foreshadowed what could be done with a bread pudding.
  • It was comfort food and quite simple, but very well executed.
  • It’s incredibly soft and tender and my spoon just sunk right into it.
  • It was almost like cake and the sour cherries were a nice contrast to balance out the sweetness of the syrupy soaked bread and fresh caramel.
  • It was quite sweet, but the ice cream helped and there wasn’t much white chocolate so it was okay.
  • The bottom was all caramelized and crispy and it was moist all the way through with a good amount of cherries.
  • Again I wish there were real vanilla beans in the ice cream and it was a bit on the icy side.

**Earl Grey Creme Brulee 4.5/6

  • With green grapes and biscotti
  • The creme brulee flavours vary daily.
  • It’s a pretty small portion, but it’s just enough for one person.
  • I love how they have simple fresh fruits as garnish for everything.

  • The Earl Grey flavour was the appealing part for me as I’m not a huge fan of creme brulee. I’ll still eat it though, but it’s never my top pick.
  • The custard was smooth and creamy and the Earl Grey flavour was subtle, but there.
  • It was aromatic, not too sweet and the brulee topping was perfectly crisp and caramelized.
  • The biscotti was unexpectedly savoury and it had pieces of hazelnuts in it.
  • The combination was quite good together, and I enjoyed the creme brulee as a topping for the Sour Cherry White Chocolate Bread Pudding and Chocolate Fondant as well.

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12 Comments

  • Bow says:

    Artic char is farmed in land based enclosed systems. Not enuff wild fish for the market. A simple addition for the meats could be an infused oil or a drizzle of Xtra Virgin w. a dusting of Maldron. The mushrooms would have more taste if tossed in a persillade(fine chopped fresh parsley w. garlic, add a squeeze of lemon). Deep fried then baked oysters is cooking them too much…oysters aren’t pakoras. Elk is farmed too. Both elk and bison are leaner than beef, also stronger in taste; love game meats(grew up in Prairies and ate lotta delicious game). This restaurant caters to North American taste buds…a clean, simple style without much sauce. French palates want lottsa different sauces with lottsa bread to sop up the sauces. Many North Americans I know really like uncomplicated food and need education to appreciate highly seasoned, “umami” foods or richly sauced foods; let alone foods with texture(like tripe). Look how long it took America to embrace good bread, not Wonder bread(although ancestrally the home made bread was very good). Pair still serves some pretty safe veggies(nothing different here). This is truly a local place, one to grow up with, eating weekly, very nice.

  • Mau says:

    I’ve gone to this restaurant at least 8 times in the last few years and it always surprised me how it didn’t get major attention (it did get reviews from Vancouver Sun), but not from food blogs. I used to love this restaurant but after my last two visits decided to give it a rest and try other places. The food was not as good as it used to be and I already know the menu by heart…it never changes!!! so I found that a bit annoying cuz I had already tried most of the menu and always wanted to try something different…to the point that I ended up ordering just the daily specials. I gotta say that their crab cakes are pretty good, a bit expensive, but good. Oh yeah, and although the desserts change daily (don’t really think it changes daily on my own opinion) they always have a creme brule and the chocolate fondant (which used to be a lot bigger 3 years ago).

    Another issue with them is that they have changed the chefs a few times and you can noticed it on the food. Apparently the owner is quite strict about his menu and doesn’t allow for major changes no matter who cooks there. I remember asking them last year if they were going to change the menu and the response was always “yes, we are working on it”…but never saw any changes. Oh, and almost every time I went there the owner was there (near the bar)…

    BTW, I think their clientele is way more “Point Gray” than Kitsilano…and although, they seem to have a big following from those that live nearby it is never that busy…I have never made reservations there and never have had to wait more than a couple of minutes…and it seems like they do not have much turn over between the typical sitting times

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – “Deep fried then baked oysters is cooking them too muchโ€ฆoysters arenโ€™t pakoras.” lollll true! But at the same time the oysters were very juicy and tender, just the cheese and batter was dried out/soggy.Bow, I’m actually surprised you haven’t been here! And what?! You gre up in the prairies?! Wow! You’re tastes are quite adventurous/innovative for maybe not being exposed to as much diverse types of cuisine..? Anyways I love all your tips and again… open a restaurant! I’ll be there! ๐Ÿ™‚

    @Mau – What?!?! The menu NEVER changes?!!? Boo!!! They stress seasonal menu!! That makes me sad.. but I’m SO happy to blog a place that’s close to your heart. Yup! I wrote about the creme brulee and chocolate fondant always being on the menu! I had an idea the “favourites” are there forever.. I really wish they changed menus though! Yeah I hear the owners are super busy now so they might not be in as often… but glad to know that you’ve had interactions with them! I love seeing passion! Yup agree with the turnover.. and now that you say.. I agree with the “Point Gray” comment!… Nice! Thank you!

  • Linda says:

    mmm the menu items here look great – i’ve actually never seen pair bistro before either but then again, i rarely head to this area especially since i’m done with school but wow, what a gem ๐Ÿ™‚

    the amuse looks good but i think i would prefer having a creamier sauce than the pesto – just a preference i guess lol i wish the soup had some mushroom bits in it – i find that i enjoy pureed soups better knowing that i can actually see some of the product in there, especially since this particular soup is mushroom based.

    wow, those oysters! i know Bow doesn’t prefer them fried, my bf doesn’t either because he loves the briny flavour of fresh oysters but these look too good to pass up! i love oyster motoyaki but i find myself scooping all that mayonnaise off the top so this dish would definitely be something i’d like to try!

    wow that is a big platter of meats! the chicken looks so good! i love stuffed anything but the ribs and the arctic char looks very appetizing as well – too bad the ribs weren’t moist nor soft enough ๐Ÿ™ mmmmmm that earl grey creme brulee would definitely be the highlight of my night! yum!

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – Yeah I think the mushrooms were pureed so it was more like a “latte” rather than an actual soup that would require a spoon. If it was served in a bowl I would for sure want pieces as well! I think you would LOVE these oysters.. I don’t really like them cooked either, but these were amazing! You need to get your b/f to take you here! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Linda says:

    for sure! i just won a cert for EBO so i think we’ll head there first then maybe pair bistro in a few weeks! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – AWESOME!!! you know how I feel about EBO too ๐Ÿ™‚

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