Hawksworth Restaurant – A Spirited Dinner ft. Whiskey Cocktails

Restaurant: Hawksworth Restaurant
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/West Coast/Pacific Rim/Euro-Asian/Fine Dining
Last visited: February 13, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 801 West Georgia Street (Inside Rosewood Hotel Georgia)
Train: Vancouver City Ctr Stn Southbound
Price Range: $20-30+ ($9-15 small plates)

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!

Food: 5 (based on a few visits)
Service: 5
Ambiance: 6
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

Restaurant Hours:

  • Bar/Lounge area 11:00am – 12:45am (12:00am Sunday)
  • Mon-Fri Breakfast 6:30am – 10:30am
  • Mon-Fri Lunch 11:30am – 2pm
  • Mon-Fri Dinner 5pm – 11pm
  • Sat-Sun Breakfast 7am – 10:30am
  • Sat-Sun Brunch 10:30am – 2:30pm
  • Sat-Sun Dinner 5pm – 11pm

**Recommendations: Hotel Georgia Cocktail, Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio, 48 hr Beef Shortrib, Foie Gras Parfait, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Confit Pork Shoulder, Kalamanzi Cream

When I hear whiskey, bourbon, scotch, or Canadian Rye I think “old man’s drink” (sorry if I just offended you), or I think about my 90lbs, 4 feet 11 inch tall cousin who can slam one back as if it were Tequila. Ick. Being from Texas I thought it was in her jeans, since it’s definitely not in mine… but then again I’m usually wearing dresses. Having said that, I don’t feel like I’ve had a whiskey or a bourbon until this dinner. What I mean is that if this is what a whiskey tastes like, then I haven’t had one until now. Context, education, quality and the bartender can make a difference when it comes to appreciating new things, and on this occasion I had all the elements to make the equation work.

It was the Tales of the Cocktail Festival in Vancouver, BC and among the many events were a series of “Spirited Dinners” hosted by fine restaurants and their well established bartenders. I was invited to the Hawksworth Spirited Dinner featuring a very sophisticated Southern themed menu paired with the Sazerac portfolio of whiskeys.

The cocktails were created by Hawksworth’s bartender Brad Stanton who is also responsible for making the best cocktail in 2011 – the Hotel Georgia Cocktail. The dinner was a one time thing, but it was interesting to see how the Hawksworth team approached it. The theme was very different from the restaurant’s Pacific Northwest and refined style.

The dinner was hosted in the York Room, which is the only room at Hawksworth that I had yet to experience. I’ve enjoyed meals in both dining rooms and the lounge downstairs and I still consider them world class dining rooms in Vancouver. The York Room was a bit more traditional and “hotel-like” while the others are more contemporary and lively, although in this case the room did get increasingly louder with every cocktail.

The food was still very “Hawksworth” in style with quality ingredients, delicate details, and precise presentation, but Southwestern cuisine doesn’t really require this type of context for me. I could only imagine how much better it would have been if it was summer and the ingredients more available too. I do prefer his usual menu and that’s what keeps me going back, and on this occasion the food catered to the cocktails which was more or less the point. There was still a flow in creativity with the food and cocktail pairings and if anything I was more enticed by the cocktails which is rare. I’m more keen on wine pairings than cocktail pairings overall, but when done well, the cocktail can hold its ground as more than a pre-dinner or after dinner drink.

This Spirited Dinner menu is no longer available, but they were each inspired by things from the regular menu. As for the cocktails, I’m sure they are available upon request and from a non-whiskey, bourbon,  scotch, or Canadian Rye drinker, even I appreciated most of them. There were a few Bourbon cocktails which I prefer over whiskey since it’s richer and sweeter (being at least 51% corn), so it was working in my favour. The methods and innovative techniques combined with the talent of their passionate mixologist really showcased whiskey and Bourbon in a light that turned my cringe into more of a curiosity.

On the table:

Buffalo Trace Peach & Ginger Sweet Tea Punch – 4/6 (Very good)

  • It was a cocktail that would appeal to the masses and the flavours were easy to accept since it was reminiscent of sweet tea. I really enjoyed it.
  • I preferred it to any Long Island Iced Tea and it was in fact a sweet tea and not an “iced tea”.
  • It would have been great made with some fresh peach puree, but too bad it’s the wrong season.
  • The real tea flavour was apparent with a warm kick of ginger to follow.
  • It was refreshing yet mildly sweet and spicy and an easy cocktail to start off with.

Chicken Andouille – Crackling, house hot sauce
Southern Devilled Egg – Fried pickle relish
Blackened Catfish – Buttermilk, poppy seed

Bread

  • Served with olive oil. Usually $4 with more variety, on this occasion complimentary.
  • I was expecting a freshly baked cornbread, but the bread selection was quite standard.
  • It was a chewy warm baguette that wasn’t as crusty, but slightly on the dry side.
  • The other was a nutty rye bread with sunflower seeds and perhaps anise and it went well with most of the cocktails too.
  • The quality of olive oil was high, thick and buttery smooth in texture and it was almost spicy.
  • I’ve always thought they should serve complimentary bread at their regular dinner service as well.

Side Stripe Shrimp 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Cornbread, brown butter, okra
  • Cocktail pairing: blanton’s gold bourbon, egg white, fresh lemon, apricot & absinthe brule
  • I’m pretty sure the shrimp is not Ocean Wise being Side Stripe. It was a bit surprising from here, but otherwise the plate was still good.
  • The shrimp and okra combo reminded me of New Orleans and gumbo, and had it been summer I would assume tomatoes would be on this plate as well.
  • Okra is naturally incredibly slimy and in this case they were used shyly and sliced like jalapenos so the sliminess was not as off putting for beginners. I always liked them though.
  • The shrimp was rather neutral and combined with the okra it was almost extra slippery, but the crunch of the sweet cornbread croutons (spiced with I think star anise) and crisp radish helped break things up.
  • If this had been an actual appetizer on the regular menu I would have loved some chorizo or even a piece of boudin on it.
  • The brown butter sauce had a bit of lemon to keep things bright while adding a richness that played into the bourbon. I tend to like cocktails with egg white too.
  • The cocktail and sauce worked really well and the drink was richer, sweeter and fruitier than the appetizer. It was man candy.
  • I actually enjoyed the cocktail better and I could have had it as a pre-dinner drink or dessert drink before my actual dessert.

Cajun Fluke Sashimi – 3/6 (Good)

  • Creole ash, watermelon rind, smoked tomato
  • Cocktail pairing: eagle rare 10yr bourbon, passion fruit, hibiscus, peychaud’s bitters, bubbles
  • I was expecting some type of potato salad made for the queen.
  • Sashimi doesn’t come to mind when I think of the South, but the plating was gorgeous.
  • The strips of watermelon rind were beautiful, but also not in season so I was hoping for an alternative. They was refreshing, crunchy and neutral in flavour.
  • Compressed cucumber strips would have been the obvious alternative, but it’s also a bit less original too.
  • This was a bit Japanese inspired and the Fluke sashimi (known as Hirame in Japanese) was cut in chunks and I prefer it in slices to best showcase its flavours.
  • The round pearls were pickled apples and they came across as Oshinko (Japanese pickled carrots) so it was an interesting play. They were quite sour instead of tangy, but I missed the usual ponzu, so perhaps a cajun spiced orange vinaigrette would have done the trick.
  • There was a Cajun smoked tomato puree and I did love the flavour of that, but I found it a bit rich and strong for the sashimi which ended up taking a back seat.
  • The Cajun heat replaced the wasabi and the creole ash was almost like seaweed, and although it wasn’t intended to be Japanese, I could see Hawksworth’s Asian-inspired style come into play.

Eagle Rare 10yr Bourbon, passion fruit, hibiscus, peychaud’s bitters, bubbles – The Hibiscus flowers used to make the cocktail were sous vide with syrups and the drink smelled very sweet, but the flavour was actually well balanced with a tartness and citrus flavours. It reminded me of a pink lemonade or sparking grapefruit with the champagne. The passion fruit wasn’t as dominant or sweet as I would have liked, but overall it brought a slight sweetness that was missing in the Cajun Fluke Sashimi.

Suckling Pork – 3.5 (Good-Very good)

  • Country ham, collard greens, preserved peach
  • Cocktail pairing: sazerac 6yr rye, green tea, yuzu marmalade, thai basil, peychaud’s bitters
  • The pork was good, but the pairing was excellent! The pairing was probably the best pairing of the night for me.
  • This was definitely unexpected for Hawkworth and it was almost too pretty and perfect for suckling pork and an onion ring.
  • I couldn’t taste the preserved peach and had it been summer I think this could have been quite stellar with fresh peaches.
  • The pork wasn’t too salty and there was a nice crispy crackling rind around it and it was topped with crispy semi-salty prosciutto.
  • The pork was marinaded in some mustard which was very mild and it was likely sous vide to maintain that moisture and soft texture.
  • On the other hand there were some chewy fatty pieces and I was hoping the whole thing would be creamy with melting buttery fat.
  • The perfect looking onion ring was dusted with cornmeal, and the sauce was almost like a caramel jus so the sweetness was well achieved.

Sazerac 6yr rye, green tea, yuzu marmalade, thai basil, peychaud’s bitters – This pairing could not have been more perfect. It was incredibly smooth and the transition from pork to cocktail was so neutral and complementing. It was light and refreshing and quite bitter, but aromatic bitter and not “bitter bitter”. They really worked as a unit because I wasn’t so keen on the cocktail or dish when eaten alone. It was a match made in Southern heaven and I loved the initial aromas of the Thai Basil before taking a sip.

**48hr Cola & Bourbon Braised Shortrib 6/6 (FMF Must try!)

  • Grits, liquorice, puffed sorghum
  • Cocktail pairing: bacon infused ridgemont 1792 bourbon, wine, kola nut aromatic bitters
  • This was incredible. I have a very soft spot for braised beef shortribs to begin with, so I was overwhelmed when this arrived.
  • It was very rich and heavy which is the kind of entree I like, and it was “comfort food at its best”.
  • This makes me want to cry as much as the Confit Pork Shoulder they serve at lunch makes me want to cry, because both are so delicious.
  • This was perhaps inspired by his 48hr Beef Shortrib off the regular menu which shouldn’t be missed either.
  • The flavours and marinade on the shortrib tasted very Asian to me and I wouldn’t doubt if he used 5 spice seasoning, star anise for the licorice flavour, and Hoisin to make it.
  • The beef was melt in your mouth tender and I could have eaten it with a spoon. It was almost melting on the plate.
  • The caramel beef jus was sweet and syrupy from likely reduced bourbon instead of red wine.
  • There was a good fat content in the meat and it was juicy and not just moist.
  • The sweet cola had that sweetness of coca-cola or molasses, but in a good gourmet way and the charred bark on the shortrib was toe curling.
  • They use Dr. Pepper and Cola to marinade meats in the States too, so it was a nice tip of the hat.
  • A sprinkle of espresso would be good as well for that extra earthiness or almost chocolatey flavour with the cola.
  • The creamy cheesy parmesan grits were rich and creamy and reminiscent of a cheesy pommes puree, but they had slightly solidified in a sheet from being pre-plated. Due to the nature of the event, it was understandable.
  • The shortrib was topped with puffed sorghum (type of grain) which is comparable to popcorn and it gave the beef some texture. It was unusual, but interesting.
  • If the puffed sorghum had been drizzled with truffle oil I would have seriously kicked the table.

Bacon infused ridgemont 1792 bourbon, wine, kola nut aromatic bitters – The bourbon was infused with bacon fat and the amount of bourbon and red wine were equal. It had a dry finish and smoky flavour and I found it a bit strong for the beef and for me. The wine caught me off guard and it was the only cocktail that I really wasn’t into and I really tried to like. There was almost so much going on that I couldn’t appreciate all the ingredients that went into it.

“Apple Pie” – 5/6 (Excellent)

  • Smoked vanilla, pecans, bourbon
  • Cocktail pairing: sazerac ‘Antique Series’ 2011 18 yr rye, smoked coconut water
  • It was a deconstructed apple pie and I loved the play on textures and all the labour intensive components that made it original.
  • I wasn’t as keen on the apple gelee-like squares which was a bit reminiscent of tart apple sauce. I just prefer more texture and it was a bit mealy. It tasted like apples, but in a way it reminded me of powdery apples.
  • I wouldn’t mind if the apple sauce had some vanilla bean seeds in it too.
  • The smoked vanilla ice cream was fantastic, but I couldn’t really taste the smokiness.
  • The caramel was I think a burnt bourbon caramel sauce and it was buttery, smooth and deep in flavour and I could have used a touch of salt too… or bacon sprinkles.
  • There were crispy caramelized sheets of broken puff pastry and then candied pecans for some crispy and crunchy textures.
  • The dollops of apple sauce were sweet and I almost tasted more apple in that than the squares.
  • It was overall an excellent dessert and it went well with the Southern theme.

Sazerac ‘Antique Series’ 2011 18 yr rye, smoked coconut water – It was my first time trying smoked coconut water and it was actually created with their in house smoker. It was definitely acquired since most people assume sweet and refreshing when they think “coconut water”, but I on the other hand found it creative and new. It was sweet and smoky and almost confusing to the palate, but not frustrating.

Sazerac ‘Antique Series’ 2011 18 yr rye – When people say “bring out the good stuff”, this is what they mean and they probably don’t expect this good either. This is gold for whiskey drinkers. It goes for $170/bottle and $21/ounce. There are only 18 available province wide and Vancouver only gets it once a year.

Sazerac ‘Antique Series’ 2011 18 yr rye

  • The only way to drink it is naked, not on the rocks (over ice).
  • There was an optional perfume bottle of water that was passed around and by sprinkling two teeny tiny droplets of water into the whiskey it just opened it up and made it easier to palate.
  • The idea of adding even 2 droplets of water may make a hardcore whiskey drinker cry, but I just couldn’t appreciate this without the water.
  • It was much easier when I went back and fourth between the coconut water and whiskey and the coconut water just neutralized the stinging.
  • I’m probably breaking the hearts of whiskey drinkers right now, but bear with me, I’m a beginner and still learning.

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