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Restaurant: Che Baba Cantina 
Cuisine: Mediterranean/French/Salads
Last visited: June 27, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Mount Pleasant/Main Street)
Address: 603 Kingsway
Transit: EB Kingsway FS E 15 Av
Price Range: $20-30

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

Food: 3 (based on what I tried)
Service: 4
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: 3.5
Additional comments:

  • Daily specials
  • Neighbourhood spot
  • Cozy
  • Very casual
  • House made desserts
  • Healthy options
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Bar seating
  • Limited menu
  • Limited seating
  • Small wine list
  • Mon-Thurs. 11am – 10pm
  • Fridays 11 am until 11 pm
  • Saturdays 10 am to 11 pm
  • Sundays serving brunch 10 am to 4 pm

**Recommendations: Braised Lamb Shank, Pork Belly

Che Baba Cantina is one of the newer kids on the block and it opened late last year becoming neighbours with Les Faux Bourgeois and Matchstick Coffee. What used to be considered an unexciting area with endless hole in the wall ethnic eateries is developing into an up and coming Vancouver neighbourhood. With interesting restaurants and casual new independent dining options, it is slowly attracting more than just the neighbourhood locals. It all started with Les Faux Bourgeois in 2009, but it’s off the beaten path location hasn’t stopped its constant full house and line ups for dinner. Che Baba Cantina doesn’t experience the same hype, but it could benefit from the overflow while offering a more mellow and relaxed vibe.

It doubles as a restaurant with a small yoga studio located next door and I expected it to have all 10 Characteristics of a Hippie Restaurant or “new age” restaurant. Judging from the name “Che Baba”, the ambiance and the whole yoga thing makes it easy to assume that it would be serving healthy food that was likely some combination of vegetarian, vegan, raw, gluten free and perhaps Middle Eastern. Well, it’s actually none of the above really and I think the “Baba” name just reminds me of  Baba ghanoush… the Middle Eastern eggplant dip. I’m actually not sure what it means or if it has any reference to Chi-Baba the song, but I knew what to expect before coming in so I wasn’t surprised with its Mediterranean menu.

The menu is limited with a formal written menu and then a daily specials board (featured above). Although there were vegetarian options, it was a lot less “granola” than I expected with also pork’s belly and lamb shank (on regular menu). It isn’t a simple soup, salad and sandwich bar. The full kitchen houses a professional chef and the menu has effort. I thought it was going to be a yoga studio before a restaurant, but the offerings were a lot more gourmet than I anticipated. I haven’t tried their yoga studio, but I’ve been there for a private dinner event which was hosted in that space. The concept is charming and very “Vancouver”, yet refreshing to the area and especially to this part of Vancouver.

The restaurant is quite small, cozy and intimate and it feels very “farm to table” and I found the ambiance comfortable. The menu is limited and it doesn’t offer much variety, but it was reasonably priced at first sight. On the other hand after trying the dishes I did find it on the pricey side and I would be more satisfied at Les Faux Bourgeois next door. The food wasn’t bad and it was more or less quite good with fair portions, but when competition for approachable and relatively solid French bistro food is walking distance, it’s hard not to draw comparisons. Sure the food, menu, room and atmosphere are different, but I would come here for lunch or based on ambiance first.

With the style, wine glasses, menu options, execution and overall delivery, it felt like it was aiming higher than “canteen”, but without the proper equipment. If it was an even simpler menu with well sourced ingredients and mains for around $12-17, I think they would have even more success at blowing every dish out of the water. Instead I kind of felt like they were trying to fancy up really basic dishes which came across a bit lacking and it ended up being more of a hit and miss game. I wasn’t disappointed, but I was just expecting a stronger experience for a place that seems generally very well liked.

On the table:

Daily Fish - 3/6 (Good)

  • Steelhead Salmon, carrot, ginger sauce, lentils $20 (Tax included)
  • It was a nice portion, casual stacking presentation and pretty good, but probably would have been even better with another fish or even just meat.
  • The salmon was overcooked so it wasn’t very moist and they served it without the skin or crispy sear.
  • I always want the crispy skin, but perhaps that wouldn’t jive well with the clientele.
  • The salmon was well seasoned with salt, pepper and some other spices which I could only see, but not really detect in flavour.
  • The braised lentils were good, but I wish half were deep fried and sprinkled on top for crispy texture.
  • The sweet bell peppers around the plate were quite wet and very caramelized to the point of being a bit mushy, but I didn’t really mind.
  • It was a good dish, but it got slightly repetitive and I couldn’t taste the carrot and ginger sauce so it tasted simple.
  • If you like this, another dish of interest might be the Pink Rockfish with papaya-lime salsa and puy lentil salad at Dockside Restaurant.

Daily Pasta - 2/6 (Okay)

  • Linguine, garlic, white wine, calamari $17 (Tax included)
  • The description seemed very ordinary and the result was a bit “I can make this at home”.
  • The pasta was cooked al dente and still had its bite, but it was really just tossed in olive oil, garlic and white wine and the flavours didn’t extend.
  • Authentic Italian pasta is about simplicity, but this one didn’t have the quality of ingredients to back it up.
  • The olive oil quality could have been higher to get that fruity aspect and it was only okay.
  • The rings of calamari were just the standard frozen rings, but at least they weren’t overcooked.
  • I could taste the fresh parsley infused in the warm olive oil, but there really wasn’t much going on other than that.
  • It was kind of plain and could have used some chili flakes or just better quality squid and maybe some good olives, squid ink or capers.
  • If this is the standard of what the daily pastas are like then I probably wouldn’t be inclined to try it again.
  • I would have loved this made with squid ink and for the quality and what it was I found it pricey.

**Slow Braised Lamb Shank - 4/6 (Very good)

  • With celeriac and potato mash $18 (Tax included)
  • This was a fair portion and it was as good as any Greek or Mediterranean restaurant known for making great braised lamb shank.
  • It wasn’t particularly memorable, but it was still very good and prepared well.
  • The lamb was melting off the bone and it wasn’t too fatty, but very tender and moist without any gaminess.
  • It was braised in likely tomato paste and red wine, but the flavour didn’t really absorb into the meat.
  • I could have used more crispy kale because it was just a bit more than a sprinkle. Some raisins for some sweetness wouldn’t be bad either.
  • The celeriac and potato mash was delicious and it had some lemon juice in it for tang.
  • The mash was fluffy, whipped and airy light and completely smooth with bright flavour and it wasn’t just butter.
  • The only thing was that the sauce was likely not tasted before it was served because it was way too salty and I have a high tolerance for salt.
  • The fresh parsley herb sauce on top was also too salty, but it had a nice acidity which ended up not really mattering since it was too salty to start.
  • Some mint in the herb sauce was also desired and it could have been in there, but I couldn’t taste it.
  • I would have appreciated some roasted carrots or vegetables on the side to make it more of a complete dish too.
  • I would consider ordering this again, but just to ease up on the salt. Other than that the sauce was well reduced and finished upon order.

**Pork Belly5/6 (Excellent)

  • With spaetzle, honey roasted apples, chestnuts, kale, mustard & pork jus $18 (Tax included)
  • Making a $5 dish taste $20 and they did a fine job of it. They did this with many of their dishes, but this one was most successful. It was worth it and I would order it again.
  • This was comfort food for the summer. Pork belly is almost always good, but people can mess it up too. They didn’t here.
  • It was two hokey puck sized pork bellies and they were seared on both sides with a nice crispy crust.
  • The pork belly was well sourced and it wasn’t just all fat, but there was a good ratio of meat and fat.
  • The whole thing was melt in your mouth tender and it require no knife and I was cutting it with my fork.
  • The fat was buttery and creamy and the meat was tender and moist and the balance of the two were bang the table delicious.
  • The spaetzle (German egg noodle) was very rustic and casual in various shapes and it was a very traditional recipe.
  • They were a bit chewy and pan fried, but they could be a bit crispier.
  • The spaetzle was tossed with frozen (?) chopped chestnuts so they tasted dried out and starchy and lost their flavour.
  • I know chestnuts are seasonal, but perhaps served whole they wouldn’t risk drying out as bad, or the packaged ones are always more moist.
  • The sauce was syrupy sweet and savoury with pork drippings and whole grain dijon mustard and it was well reduced.
  • I loved the tang of the sauce with perhaps added apple cider vinegar and then the kick of dijon complemented the pork perfectly.
  • The honey roasted apples were sweet, tender and very caramelized as if they belonged in a tart, and they’re always a welcomed component with pork.

I actually had a delivery of organic cake pops from {Swirl} Pops which ended up as dessert. To be posted soon!

 [geotag]

Che Baba Cantina on Urbanspoon




{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bow October 10, 2012 at 10:34 am

Bistro food but at stiff prices…that linguine dish with calamari should’ve been at $10.(Raincity Grill gives you paradelle w, duck confit for $17.), because it’s cheap to make. I’d think you either go high end(using pricey ingredients and charge accordingly, like $16.) or encourage customers by pricing it reasonably and make some classic pasts.Che Baba doesn’t pay the rent either that Raincity does. I know you can charge like everyone else but shouldn’t a neighborhood restaurant be less pricey than the ones in Yaletown ? Steelhead at $20 ? that’s a bit stiff…however whatever the market will bear…

2 Linda October 10, 2012 at 12:05 pm

mmmmm i really like che baba although i only had the beet salad and the pork belly! why didn;’t you get any appys!? lol the beet salad is really good and i totally recommend it the next time you go!

3 LotusRapper October 10, 2012 at 1:35 pm

@Bow – agree, prices do seem to be on the high side. We had lunch there twice, and both times walked out kind of hungry still. Food was decent, but the prices were incongruent with the portions and the very laid-back style of service.

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