Follow Me Foodie On Dine Out Vancouver 2012!
My thoughts on Dine Out Vancouver & A Preview of the Hapa Umi & Cento Notti Dine Out Menus!
It’s that time of year again. It’s the 10th Annual Dine Out Vancouver from January 20 – February 5, 2012. I don’t know if it really needs any explanation, but it’s basically Canada’s largest restaurant festival featuring 231 restaurants offering a set menu for $18, $28 or $38 – see the full list of restaurants and menus here. Adding to the festival this year are 70 culinary-focused events, tours and activities.
The original purpose of the event was to help give restaurants a boost during a slow time of the year… when most people are still trying to save money and loose weight from the holidays. It’s a bit ironic, but it works and people still love it, or it wouldn’t be on its 10th year.
This is quite an interesting post for me to write and I’ll be totally honest about it. I wrote a semi-controversial post about it last year stating why “I Don’t Dine Out Vancouver” (see here) and basically my thoughts haven’t really changed. I could easily make this into an even longer essay, because I have so many thoughts about it, but I’ll keep it in a Follow Me Foodie oversized “nutshell”.
There’s nothing wrong with Dine Out Vancouver, but I’m actually not the target market for it. Personally I prefer going on a regular night because I find it more representable of the restaurant. I usually find it even better too since it’s not as busy or rushed and I’m not limited to the prix fixe menu. I’ve also found some restaurants to jeopardize the ingredients or portions to meet the cost of the price fixe so I rather just go on a regular night. Last but not least I do like a good deal, but I’m willing to pay for food at a restaurant that I want to try regardless of the extra incentives. I’m not saying I wouldn’t participate in any Dine Outs, and I’ve done them before in the past, but I enjoyed them more for the company than the food.
I appreciate Dine Out Vancouver more as a food festival and I’m happy if it gets people trying restaurants and enjoying food. However I still highly recommend people to go back to their favourites on a regular night because Dine Out is really more or less just a sample. I wouldn’t really base my opinions on a restaurant solely on their Dine Out Vancouver menu. Personally, I’m more interested in the 70 culinary-focused Dine Out Vancouver Events which include Street Food City (Jan. 24-26), Dine Academy, Secret Supper Soirée, and Brasserie Mystère.
If you’re looking for Dine Out recommendations I can pass on what I know since I was invited to the Dine Out Vancouver 2012 media preview. Each group was taken to two surprise restaurants and mine were Hapa Umi and Cento Notti. However my thoughts are just for their Dine Out 2012 menus and not for the restaurant on a regular night.
I have tried Hapa Umi in the past and I still enjoyed it more on a regular night, but their portions were quite generous for the Dine Out menu and I saw the value (depending on what 3 courses you end up choosing). As for new Italian pop-up restaurant Cento Notti in Yaletown, I found it more of a hit and miss and
I expected it to be in the $28 category (Update! It is now $28!), but I have yet to try it on a regular night for comparisons sake.
Other suggestions I heard from friends who tried different restaurants on the media preview was that Bitter Tasting Room ($18) was well worth it and impressive. I also heard there was amazing food and portions at Kitsilano Daily Kitchen, and raving reviews about Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro ($28) which I’ve been meaning to try since last year. We didn’t try all the restaurants and I didn’t get feedback from everyone, but those were some highlights.
Hapa Umi – Dine Out Vancouver 2012 – $38 Menu
- I found the portion generous and the quality of the tuna was very fresh and high.
- I could taste the infused smokiness in the sear and there was a slight heat from the Shisito seasoning on the crust, but it wasn’t spicy.
- The salsa verde wasn’t meant to be traditional and it was a nice switch up from an expected avocado puree.
- There may have been a bit of avocado, but it tasted mostly of lime and cilantro.
- The tortilla chips added a great crispy texture and I think it would be fun to see those as crispy fried ramen noodles.
- This was even healthier and lighter than the ahi tuna choice and the tofu is organic. It was a huge salad too.
- I probably would have preferred firm smoky soy marinated tofu as opposed to this soft one which kind of fell apart in the salad.
- The tofu seemed like an imitation of fresh mozzarella and I just needed a stronger dressing.
- There were nice crunchy textures, deep fried lotus root, crisp sweet matchstick apples and fresh green beans, but it was a bit bland overall for my tastes and I like tofu.
- Oh god. I really hope this is on the regular menu because I would go back to order this a la carte. This again was a good portion.
- This was the richest and heaviest choice for the appetizers which also makes it my favourite. It really tasted the best too though.
- If you like pea soups, this was similar and it was almost like a pommes puree or velouté, which is my favourite kind of soup.
- It was creamy and velvety smooth and was thick enough to coat the roof of your mouth and stick to your spoon.
- I bet the soup was made with dashi (Japanese stock) and it just had a wonderfully rich and developed flavour throughout.
- The sausage was juicy and flavourful with snappy skins and I think there was a hint of mint in the soup to keep it bright and fresh.
- This dish and steak wasn’t that big, but the steak was full of flavours and it would be fantastic in a burger bun.
- It was cooked perfectly with the juices locked inside and the mixture of pork and beef made for an incredibly tender and flavourful patty.
- There were also crunchy bits of water chestnuts in the patty to give texture.
- There were some nice crispy leeks on top and the ume (Japanese plum) sauce gave it a sweetness similar to apple sauce, but also much sharper.
- The corn-butter poached vegetables were slightly random and perhaps a bit too sweet. Since corn is out of season it would be nice to see butternut squash being used as an alternative to achieve the same sweetness.
- The spoonful of sweet potato crema on the side was cold though and I wish it was plated underneath the steak so it would still stay warm from the heat of the meat.
- Overall all the sauces were sweet, so I did miss some savoury components and even some tang or heat for more balance.
- I loved the quality of the flaky ling cod, but I really missed having the skin. I did expect the skin at a restaurant as sophisticated as Hapa Umi too.
- The fish seemed steamed and quite Chinese in style.
- The plate had a lot of components and sauces so I was almost eating everything separately.
- I love nori sauce, but this one seemed pureed with little bits of seaweed rather than smooth and melted like the ones I’ve often had.
- The yuzu kosho gel had good flavour, but it ended up being almost like a gelatinous clear sheet of sauce and it would be great if it was executed as gel capsules. I find gels are best presented in capsules when using molecular gastronomy.
- I wasn’t too keen on the umeshiso fritters because the rice ended up being a bit mushy, but the flavour was there.
- The daikon was juicy and well infused with dashi (Japanese stock) and that was prepared excellent.
- Again there were interesting textures and colours to the overall dish, but it was perhaps a bit overly ambitious.
- This was the vegetarian option and although I do like tofu and vegetarian dishes, I would enjoy this more as a side. It would be a great side to that Salisbury steak.
- The tofu looked like a giant toasted marshmallow and it was lightly deep fried and crispy with a soft and silky middle.
- The risotto had a lot of texture and it was nutty from all the various grains, but it was a lot of one thing.
- Usually a risotto is creamy, but this one was very firm and it contrasted the tofu nicely, but I felt like it was missing an ingredient.
- There were some onions, zucchini, and eggplant sauteed into the risotto and I was more favorable to the concept.
White Sesame Panna cotta – black sesame ice cream
Matcha Mille Fuille – puff pastry, matcha custard
Chocolate Mousse Roll Cake – Chocolate genoise, cinnamon ice cream
We actually ran out of time for dessert and had to make it to the next restaurant
**My thoughts are just for the Hapa Umi Dine Out 2012 menu and not for the restaurant on a regular night.
Cento Notti – Dine Out Vancouver 2012 –
$38 Menu (Update! Now $28!)
- It was quite a typical beet and goats cheese salad.
- The cheese was quite thick and dense rather than fluffy and soft and it wasn’t that heavy and gamey in flavour, but still noticeably a goat’s cheese.
- I liked the beet chips and the tender sweet red and golden baby beets underneath.
- It brought me back to memories of the Pistachio crusted goat cheese croquettes I had in Quebec City – see Vegetarian Plate (Chevré).
- This was very similar to a French onion soup.
- It was a very flavourful soup with a very strong thyme flavour, but I’m not sure how I feel about the little bits of what seemed like dehydrated garlic or onion bits floating on top.
- There were also some minced carrots and I guess I expected the carrots to be infused in the stock rather than visually and texturally there.
- There was one giant ravioli floating in the centre and it was super creamy and rich with a polenta like filling flavoured with melted cheese.
- The filling just oozed out of the ravioli and the skin was also nice and firm which I liked too.
- This was a very saucy and rich dish.
- It was perhaps slightly over sauced, but the noodles were really firm and al dente which I liked.
- The lamb cheeks were decadent, melt in your mouth and delicious!
- They were incredibly tender and glazed with a sweet and tangy demi glace or red wine reduction, and it was nice and syrupy.
- I could see some finding the dish salty, but I have a high tolerance for salt so it was okay for me.
- I also really like sauce so I’m not too bothered by the amount, but it was a lot of sauce.
- I love Steelhead Trout and I loved that they served it with a crispy skin, but I question how it will turn out when Dine Out hits and they get really busy.
- This was moist and juicy, especially since it had some of the belly, so I hope they can keep the execution consistent.
- I think there are going to be complaints that there are some bones in it though.
- Chef explained that the bones were difficult to remove due to the cut of trout and how it had to be presented, but without being told this, there might be some issues.
- It was topped with an escovitch (pickled salad) which is really common in Hispanic cultures and the Caribbean, but it’s more common to have it with deep fried fish.
- The risotto was al dente, creamy, and strong with Parmesan cheese with a little acidity of tomato and I enjoyed it. I hope this is consistent too since risotto isn’t forgiving.
- I love porchetta, but I found this one quite dry and tough to cut through.
- I usually look forward to the crunchy crackling skin, but this one was just the roasted loin.
- It was stuffed with dried apricots and there was a lot going on, but it was hard to look past the dryness.
- The bean puree was nice and it reminded me of pureed chestnuts which always goes well with pork.
- The braised pork cheek arancini was my favourite part and it was almost like a deep fried creamy and cheesy risotto croquette.
- Everyone raves about this and loves it, but I’ve been eating frozen tiramisu and frozen fruit cakes since I was a kid, so it wasn’t particularly new for me although I did still like it!
- It was almost like a semifreddo and if you like tiramisu for the rich creamy texture, fluffy marscapone and slightly cheesy flavour, that’s not what you’re going to get here.
- This was strong with chocolate and coffee more than heavy with marscapone in flavour.
- The whip was also more like whipped cream than marscapone too, so I did miss the marscapone which is the best part of a tiramisu for me.
- At times the lady fingers can be dry due to the freezing, so I did miss the moisture of a soaked lady finger from a non-frozen tiramisu.
- The bar on top looked like a brownie, but it was actually a very light and dry espresso like biscotti.
- The lemon tart was sweeter than it was tangy and it was actually not very tart at all. I do prefer a zing in lemon tarts.
- I did love the creme brulee crispy top it had and the tart contrast of plump and juicy Amerena cherries (?) were a nice alternative to a typical raspberry coulis.
- The dollop of marscarpone creme was much stronger with marscarpone flavour than the one served on the tiramisu and I really liked it with the lemon tart. I do wish it was the same one served with the tiramisu too though.