Restaurant: Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar – Unsung Heroes (Seafood) Festival
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/Seafood/Fine Dining
Last visited: February 5, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Yaletown)
Phone: (604) 688-8078
Address: 1095 Hamilton Street
Transit: Yaletown-Roundhouse Stn Northbound
Price Range: $50+ (Mains $30-50)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 5.5 (for the Unsung Heroes Menu)
Value: 5 (for the Unsung Heroes Menu)
- Top Table Group Restaurant
- Since 2001
- Executive Chef Frank Pabst
- Pacific Northwest/West Coast cuisine
- Casual fine dining
- Specializes in seafood
- Authentic Japanese raw bar
- Award winning
- Local favourite/busy
- Mostly local ingredients
- Excellent cocktail program
- Excellent wine program
- Vegetarian friendly
- Ocean Wise
- Private rooms
- Reservations recommended
- Valet service
- Dinner Mon-Sun 5pm-11pm
- Bar Mon-Sun 5pm-1am
Blue Water blows it out of the water! It is the 9th Annual Unsung Heroes Festival and the thing I’m wondering is why the hell it has taken me so long to come here to try it?! Bravo! Encore! Thank goodness the festival is on every day for the whole month of February because I want to go again! It was my grown up roller coaster. In fact, the only thing wrong with this festival is the fact it is a “festival” and not a permanent feature on the menu!
I can’t stop with the exclamation marks and it might seem like I’m shouting at you, and it is because I am! I am really passionate about this dining experience and Unsung Heroes Festival. I will champion things I love and want you to try! This was a meal I’ll remember especially in Vancouver, BC. I have been here a couple times and have had pleasant experiences, but on this occasion I was invited to try the festival menu so I will only speak of Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar in this context.
The Unsung Heroes Festival celebrates local sustainable fisheries and under-utilized seafood. Hallelujah! Finally there is a West Coast restaurant using rare and “exotic” seafood. The Asian and European restaurants are hit and miss at supporting the first part (Asian ones usually a miss), but the second part they do very well. And then the Western restaurants in Vancouver are more likely on board the sustainable seafood train, but when it comes to using uncommonly found seafood, they simply do not. I’m generalizing here, but there is some truth to it.
This “Unsung Heroes Festival” is the best of both worlds and for a “famous for seafood city” it is saving grace. To be honest, I have not been this enthusiastic about seafood outside of an Asian restaurant in a long a** time. Vancouver’s seafood scene is not bad, but it has so much more potential. That is probably why I am all over this one. For the city it was adventurous and exciting.
At one point during dinner I actually blurted out “who is the chef?! I want to marry him!”. He killed it… and then presented it to me nicely on a plate. This is my kind of food and my style of dining. In the context of Pacific Northwest or West Coast cuisine and fine dining, if it is not the whole “New American” and modernist style of cooking then I want it like this. Good looking food made with fresh and good quality ingredients that smells and looks delicious. I like it simple yet creative, but not simple enough I could make it at home or find it anywhere.
I rather go adventurous than play it safe as to why this menu is made for people like me. I could definitely go more adventurous, but for Vancouver standards this Unsung Heroes Menu already pushed boundaries. It was very European in style and the flavours and concept were globally inspired. Some dishes were Asian inspired and others Mediterranean, but it was well thought out and not a misunderstanding of “fusion”. It was imaginative, yet based on familiarity and still very approachable (eg. no fish heads).
Call share plates “last year”, but I still love them because I like ordering the whole menu and sharing everything (I’m Asian, that’s how we do). Family style risks coming across as mass produced, and the “Unsung Heroes Menu features all small plates meant to be shared. They were good portions easily shared by 2-4 and excellent value especially for a fine dining restaurant like Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar. It should be affordable too because they are using all the fish no one else in Vancouver really has love for.
The restaurant has something many restaurants lack which is experience and proven longevity. It was the first restaurant in Yaletown and there must be some consistency because 12 years later it is a full house every night of the week. They have the locals, tourists, regulars and newcomers, and although it can come off as impersonal due to the sheer volume they do, this menu is special.
The Unsung Heroes Menu might not be for everyone, but it is suitable for those looking for something different. It would be nice to see more “Pacific Northwest” and “West Coast” restaurants specializing in seafood embrace it like this. This is what I wish Vancouver’s seafood scene was always like and more, combined with already what is going on. It was a well executed menu and there was attention to seasoning, texture and presentation. At times sauces can come across as too salty, but I have a high tolerance for salt (go figure). Anyway it was a well rehearsed menu, with still love and passion for the concept.
I do not throw out these “6/6 Follow Me Foodie Must Try” things often, so obviously I ate up this menu. It delivered in value, service, food and wine and the casual fine dining atmosphere was lively. The biggest bonus to the Unsung Heroes Festival is 10% of proceeds are donated to the Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program too. Not that I need convincing to come again for this menu, but that was the “mic drop“.
On the table:
Iron Horse, Classic Vintage Brut Russian River Valley, 2007, California – $17/glass. It is a blend of 68% Pinot Noir and 32% Chardonnay and it was crisp and acidic with apple and pear and easy to pair with a lot of various seafood. This was paired well with the saltier herring and buttery Red Sea Urchin.
- I’ve been to all the Top Table Group Restaurants and they offer slight variations of similar rolls at each one.
- It is
probably baked in house rather thanmade in house. (Confirmed edit.)
- Again, I always mention the complimentary bread and butter and I think it can say a lot about a restaurant.
- Complimentary bread is not offered at many restaurants in Vancouver so it is appreciated here.
- The bread rolls were served warm with a harder outside and softer inside, but it wasn’t baguette like. It was more a levain style of bun.
- The butter was seaweed butter which was very representable of the restaurant’s focus on seafood.
- I do prefer the seaweed bread at C Restaurant or YEW Restaurant, but this was a quick way to replicate a similar idea.
- The hummus I always love and they did this at their sister restaurant Araxi in Whistler too.
- For me, Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar is the “Araxi” of Vancouver and vise versa up at Whistler. Solid restaurants with steady traffic.
- Taramosalata with herring roe, grilled flat bread $9.50
- This is a traditional Greek dip made from fish roe (carp or cod), lemon, olive oil and maybe onions and vinegar.
- I’ve only had the pink kind at Greek restaurants in Vancouver which I love, but it can also be beige in colour.
- This one was made from herring roe instead of carp or cod roe.
- It was very thick and creamy and it tasted like acidic tangy mayo as it normally does.
- Herring roe is a delicacy and I’ve only found it once as sashimi at a Japanese restaurant in Surrey, BC.
- The herring roe is whipped into the mayo like spread so you get tiny pops of crunchy herring roe with every bite.
- It is similar to tobiko and a bit salty and fishy tasting, but not in a bad way and I have always liked herring roe and taramosalata.
- I could have used even more herring roe, but there was enough that I could see and taste it in the spread.
- The grilled flat bread was served warm and quite standard and of course best hot.
- I’m glad it was flatbread instead of traditional pita bread which may have been too substantial.
- Fingerling potato salad with tonburi, pink peppercorns, cipollini onion and dill pickles $10.50
- This reminded me of Europe where pickled herring is a delicacy in Northern Europe. There, it is served whole.
- It was a very fresh and balanced dish and I liked the herring not smoked, pickled or marinated and just served fresh as is.
- The herring was fresh and unexpectedly mild, but naturally it is a strong flavoured oily fish. This one was sashimi quality.
- It was served in thin slices of sashimi over top a fingerling potato salad and the potatoes were tender with a creamy and waxy flesh.
- The potato salad was dressed in sour cream dressing perhaps thinned out with a bit of buttermilk.
- It was a cool and refreshing dressing with a bit of fresh dill that was not overpowering.
- The dressing had minced dill pickles and tangy cipollini onions for crunch and it offset any fishiness of the herring, which was not fishy at all.
- Eaten together the salad was tangy enough to make it reminiscent of pickled herring, but I liked this interpretation even more.
- I wouldn’t even mind some fresh apples in the salad for sweetness, which is also a bit German.
- Tonburi is a Japanese ingredient known as “land caviar” and it garnished the plate along with the crispy toasted pink peppercorns.
- The tonburi is a type of seed that seems like a dried herb and it added a subtle earthy tangy quality to the overall dish.
- The pink peppercorns made for aromatics in the nose, peppery sweetness, texture and colour.
- Pink peppercorns are mild and fruity as opposed to black ones and I liked the delicate heat they brought to the dish.
- Peppercorns are often used in the solution to pickle herring, so it was nice to see it separate and used as a garnish that also served a purpose in building flavour.
- Herring is always being pickled in Nordic regions so it was nice to finally experience it in a West Coast context and presented as sashimi.
- Sea urchin mousse in its crispy shell with ponzu jelly and avocado sauce $12.50
- OMG. I’m crying just looking at the picture! I loved this!
- This was the highlight of dinner and the whole dinner was really good, but these were just something else!
- This was actually a slight variation of Chef’s award winning Gold dish from the Gold Medal Plates 2008 culinary competition he won.
- Of course when I read “sea urchin” I’m hoping to get it in the shell, but since this is not a Japanese restaurant and I wanted to see chef’s creative side, I was okay with this.
- Each piece was still topped with a little piece of red sea urchin too which is the least I wanted if not the whole thing.
- The little muddy dark green nests were actually made from squid ink dyed phyllo shreds which I thought was very creative.
- It didn’t have much flavour and it wasn’t necessarily pretty, but it was made to look like the sea urchin shell and it was original.
- The phyllo reminded me of kadaifi used in Greek desserts which is similar to shredded wheat and it had the same light and crispy texture.
- It was topped with a super rich and creamy sea urchin mousse that used to be mixed with scallop mousse, but I think this was all sea urchin.
- The mousse was still mild in sea urchin flavour for me although I could taste seafood and a mild umami in it.
- It was fluffy, whipped, creamy, indulgent and savoury mousse so the crispy shell was a great contrast.
- The bite of citrus ponzu jelly was great for acidity and to cut the richer mousse.
- The “glue” was the avocado sauce which was a purée and it was very bright with lots of lime juice flavour.
- I was almost sure there was crème fraîche in it, but it was just olive oil, avocado and lime juice.
- It was so smooth and buttery and the fragrant lime infused avocado puree played right into the savoury sea urchin mousse.
- I could have eaten 10 of these easily and it was rich in flavour, but light in texture and the uni was not out shined.
Alvear Amontillado, Spain – $5.50/glass. Sherry is one of the said “wine trends” for 2013, but according to this blog this can’t be called “sherry” because it is not from Jarez. Fair enough, it would be like calling sparkling wine “Champagne”. It is medium bodied and dry and I craved bacon wrapped dates when I had it. It has a nice smoky sweetness and was paired with the anchovies because it goes well with salty food.
- White anchovies on roasted red pepper bruschetta with mozzarella and arugula $9.50
- From Greece to Northern Europe and now a taste of the Mediterranean.
- I felt like I was in Spain ordering tapas and I ate this with my hands. It was elegant yet rustic.
- I love seeing whole white anchovy presented like this. I don’t mind seeing the heads too, but I didn’t expect it here.
- This made me happy enough because not many restaurants will serve it whole like this. Anchovy is often pureed into some sauce like Caesar salad.
- The anchovies were not very salty and actually quite mild and they were generous with it so I could taste it in every bite.
- The bread was slightly thick, but grilled crunchy and it was topped with peppery arugula, a slice of fresh mozzarella and sweet roasted red peppers.
- It was a bit oily from the fish and the roasted peppers, but it was a good oily from flavours and not grease.
- I could taste each layer of ingredient and it was naturally salty, tangy and sweet and I’m drooling just thinking about it again.
- This is something you could make at home, but it would not prevent me from ordering it again here.
Schloss Johannisberg Gelblack Riesling, Rheingau Germany 2009 – $79/bottle. It was an acidic and dry Riesling ideal with Asian food and flavours so it made sense to be paired with the following Jellyfish and Seaweed salad. It was a bit peachy with mineral notes and it worked really elegantly with the food.
- Stir fried with pork belly, taro root, chili and green onions, hoisin sauce, pea shoot salad $10.50
- The menu was killing me! It was on a roll hitting every single dish and this was another winner!
- From Greece to Northern Europe to the Mediterranean and now China, yet it was still West Coast.
- If I have a salad I want it like this. It was not simple enough to easily make at home, but it was also very straight forward in flavours and ingredients.
- The only thing is that there was not much jellyfish and it was called “jellyfish”.
- The jellyfish at Blue Water on a regular night is one of my favourites though (even better than many Chinese restaurants) so I recommend it regardless.
- The pork belly croutons were crispy on the outside and the fat was not gelatinous or chewy and it was well rendered.
- The fatty layer was melt in my mouth creamy and buttery and it still had some chew from the leaner meat and it was delicious as always if made properly.
- The delicate fresh pea shoot salad was mixed with the crunchy elasticky jellyfish and both were marinated in fragrant nutty sesame oil with chili flakes.
- The dressing was a sweet, tangy and savoury Hoisin sauce which was thinned out like a vinaigrette but more sweet and savoury than acidic.
- I could also taste some subtle ginger flavours in the sauce and it was mildly spicy from the chili flakes, but not hot at all.
- It had excellent texture with the crispy lotus root chips and I just wanted a big bowl of this.
- In a traditional Chinese banquet style appetizer platter, the chili, sugar and sesame oil marinated jellyfish would be served with suckling pig along with other Chinese barbequed meats or cold cuts.
- That idea was somewhat replicated with the pork belly and jelly fish combination, but Chef made it modern and very approachable to Western tastes. I loved it.
- Mixed seaweed, fennel, avocado, cucumber, toasted sesame seeds $9.50
- From Greece to Northern Europe to the Mediterranean to China and now Japan, but all done in a West Coast context.
- This was the only thing that did not get as much love although I still ate it happily. For what it was it was actually very good.
- It was various types of fresh seaweed mixed together and it looked like frisée.
- Fresh seaweed is crunchy and a bit slimy so the texture will be acquired and you either like it or do not care for it.
- Chef treated the seaweed as if it were frisée and tossed it with shaved fennel and avocado, both commonly paired with frisée – especially fennel.
- The avocado pieces were a meaty, rich and creamy addition to the light and crunchy salad which would have otherwise been one dimensional.
- For the price I could have used some shrimp or scallops, but those are not “unsung heroes”.
- I would not want to take away from the fresh seaweed which is usually only found at Japanese restaurants.
- I was expecting an orange vinaigrette since fennel and orange go hand in hand, but instead it was what I think was ponzu sauce.
- It was dressed in a fragrant nutty sesame oil with perhaps citrus ponzu sauce for acidity and salt.
- The dressing was a light vinaigrette and it was not sour or sharp with vinegar, but tangy and savoury from the ponzu.
- The cucumber added a freshness and the whole salad tossed together was very simple, fresh, and healthy.
Wind Water Men Junmai, Japan – $10.25/glass or $35/bottle. It is described as “slightly dry, aromas of cedar, thyme, star fruit”. It was served chilled and paired with the Sea Cucumber soup, but the soup had my complete attention and I didn’t pay too much attention to the pairing.
- Sea cucumber in saukyo miso shrimp soup with bamboo shoots, ginger, enoki mushrooms, edamame, wakame $10.50 (This would usually come in a bigger portion).
- This was a “fusion” of Chinese and Japanese, but still more Japanese overall.
- This was a somewhat acquired soup, but I recommend it because it was very interesting to see sea cucumber like this and I’ve never had anything like it.
- Chef used the muscle of the sea cucumber instead of the black outside jelly that is most commonly used in Chinese cuisine.
- Sea cucumber is a Chinese delicacy very acquired in texture and flavour, but in this case he used just the inside which I’ve never even had before.
- I didn’t even know where the sea cucumber was in this soup.
- It turns out they were the pieces I kept thinking were pieces of razor clams or geoduck (which is also on the Unsung Heroes menu).
- I have never had the inner sea cucumber muscle and it tasted just like clam meat and this soup was full of it.
- It was almost an Asian clam chowder and the broth was brilliant.
- The broth was briney and reminiscent of the ocean and it was savoury and not salty and I could taste the shrimp shells used to make it.
- There might have been a bit of clam nectar because I could taste clams in it too.
- The miso added to the umami and it tasted like the traditional Japanese clam soup similar to this one I had here.
- The soup had depth and complexity, but it was also very light and just pure in seafood flavour.
- The miso added a bit of creaminess, but it was by no means a “miso soup” and it was a dairy free soup.
- It was full of shaved strips of tangy crunchy fiberous bamboo shoots, enoki mushrooms and edamame.
- I admit the edamame was a bit unusual and random but I guess it was for colour.
- There were also a couple shaved carrot pieces which could have been for colour too.
- It was a light broth but hearty with ingredients and instead of edmame I would have rather tofu or dried sheets of bean curd.
- The only other part I wasn’t keen on were the 4 prawn crackers served on top which just got soggy.
- Asian kids eat those as snack food so perhaps serving them on the side would be better, although I didn’t really need them at all for a clear broth.
- Chef made Asian soup appealing for Western tastes which is a challenge in itself and I really admired the effort.
Mission Hill S.L.C. Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley 2010 – $15.50/glass or $46.50/bottle. This wine is oaked for 7 months with tropical notes and good acidity from crisp apples, lime and lemon. It was nice and round and rich so it worked with the apple sauerkraut and creamy mustard seed sauce. It is a very good BC wine, but the mark up is quite high so I’m not sure if you would see the value.
- Lightly smoked and boiled, sauerkraut raised in white wine with gala apples, pickled mustard seed sauce $9.50
- I love Mackerel and not many people do because it is a very fishy tasting fish. I often only get it grilled at Japanese restaurants.
- I would have loved to see the whole fish (head to tail), but I don’t even get that at Japanese restaurants and for the price I didn’t expect it.
- I was happy enough to see the skin and it was glossy and pan fried until perfectly crispy.
- I actually couldn’t tell it was smoked and it was very mild and delicate.
- It was a very meaty boneless mackerel and it was incredibly tender, flaky and moist. It actually flaked like cod and it was nice and oily.
- The well seasoned mackerel was treated simply and it was very natural in flavour which was ideal because the other components were strong.
- The very rich and indulgent pickled mustard seed sauce was likely made with egg yolk, whole grain mustard and olive oil or butter.
- It was very forward with mustard, lemon and/or vinegar and there were crunchy pops of whole mustard seeds throughout.
- It was a thick and creamy smooth Béarnaise like sauce and there was a good amount of vinegar, shallots, dill pickles, chervil, and tarragon (?).
- Many people would marinate the fish in a mustard sauce before cooking it, but I liked how it was separate here.
- I wanted to taste the Mackerel’s pure flavour and it was a very steak like piece of Mackerel so the Béarnaise like sauce worked well.
- The sauce could be too salty for some, but I have a high tolerance for salt so I didn’t mind.
- The salty and pickled sauce really seasoned the simply pan seared mackerel which has a naturally strong flavour.
- The sauerkraut was mixed with shaved apples for sweetness and it was a very mild and lightly pickled sauerkraut with no apparent caraway seeds either.
- The sauce was the most pickled and strongest flavour on the plate and it was intended to take some of the fishy edge off the mackerel.
- I would have paid $15-17 for this as an appetizer and I was shocked to see it was under $10.
- It was a generous portion and if it was served with spätzle I would be happy with this as a main… with 10 of those Sea Urchin Mousse hors d’oeuvres to start.
Marques de Murrieta Finca Ygay Reserva, Rioja (Tempranillo/Garnacha) 2005 – $15/glass or $48/bottle. From one of the most popular regions of Spain this wine was tart with berries and a little bit of spice. It was spicier than the chili orrechiette, but it played very nicely to the Mediterranean qualities and Spanish influence of this octopus dish.
- Grilled octopus, chili orrechiette, chickpeas, broccolini, grape tomatoes $11.50
- Octopus was another ingredient I rarely see outside of Korean or Spanish restaurants and I loved it.
- It was back to flavours of the Mediterranean and it didn’t let me down.
- This was another generous portion with great flavour and colour.
- It was simple and lightly tossed in olive oil and lemon and the salsa verde was the only other sauce.
- Half the chickpeas were deep fried for a nutty crunch and contrast in texture which I loved.
- The octopus was perhaps sous vide or braised and then grilled, but for some reason it was still a bit chewy and not quite tender enough.
- It was rather big pieces of octopus so the chew did get a bit tiresome, but I still ate it.
- The chili orrechiette shared the same texture and shape as the octopus and it was a very smart and cost affective component to the dish.
- The orrechiette (“little ears” in Italian) were a bit too soft for my liking and I couldn’t taste the chili, but I appreciate the idea and concept.
- The two pieces of broccolini just seemed like broccoli that had gotten in there by accident, so that was a bit unusual.
- The oven roasted grape tomatoes were plump and juicy bursts of acidity and I just love how everything was the same size.
- The beautifully made salsa verde was tangy and savoury and almost nutty like a pesto and I would not be surprised if there were puréed anchovies in it.
- This would have been amazing if the octopus was just more tender, but I loved the light, simple and fresh interpretation for it.
Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva, Chianti Rufina 2008 – $13.75/glass or $41.25/bottle. Only white wines with fish? I don’t think so. This was another pairing I really enjoyed and there was a smooth transition from food to drink. It would go well with richer red meats, but the strong flavoured Mackerel also worked. It was ruby red, fruity with berries and peppery.
- Baked sardine stuffed with parmesan gremolata, green beans, marcona almonds, aji amarillo lemon dressing $9.50
- Just like anchovies it is a hate it or love it fish. I love it, but of course I do.
- This was a beautifully presented plate and I have no issues with stacking presentation as long as everything is meant to be eaten together and it was.
- Sardines are super fishy in flavour and also very low in mercury like anchovies and herring because they are small fish and at the top of the food chain.
- This was stuffed with a nutty, savoury and pungent parmesan gremolata with lemon zest, parsley, garlic and I think breadcrumbs, but I’m not sure.
- The parmesan gremolata was very potent and it had that natural umami from the parmesan cheese.
- Parmesan and sardines are very pungent and strong flavoured foods so it was an aggressive dish and you have to like sardines of course.
- The skin of the sardine was crispy and glossy and well seared and the fish was moist and tender and the stuffing not dry.
- I’m not sure where the marcona almonds were and I lost that component.
- On top of the haricots were thinly sliced red onions which are often served with pan fried whole sardines and it just takes the fishy edge off.
- The aji amarillo lemon dressing was a creamy tangy lemon dressing with a gentle heat. It was mildly spicy from the aji amarillo pepper spice.
- It was a lighter sauce than the mustard Béarnaise that went with the Mackerel, but they were a bit similar so I wouldn’t have minded something else.
- Again, the sauce could be a bit salty for some, but I have a high tolerance for salt and I didn’t mind.
- None of the plates including this one needed a fresh lemon wedge on the side because it was well seasoned and thought out.
- The crisp and tender haricots were not quite seasonal, but I pretty much overlooked seasonality in this menu and just appreciated it for bringing “unsung heroes” to the table.
- Almond streusel, coffee gelato, mandarin cranberry biscotti $12
- This was a 2 in 1 dessert or at least that is how I enjoyed it.
- I love ice cream so I will never turn it down, but it was unusual to see it alonside a Dulce de Leche Panna Cotta.
- The panna cotta was almost like a pot de creme and it was luscious, silky and thick like pudding.
- It was very light and not too sweet, but rich and creamy and smooth in texture throughout.
- I would have loved a bit more salt and also vanilla bean seeds in this panna cotta for more flavour, but it was still very good.
- I’m a huge texture person so I loved the crunchy sweet almond streusel on top, but there weren’t any whole almonds or much almond for that matter.
- If the panna cotta was not served in the glass it would not have set as to why I considered it more like a pot de creme or pudding, but regardless I loved it.
- Another minor detail was that I wasn’t too keen on the baby mint leaf garnish since it wasn’t meant to be eaten and it didn’t add to the flavour.
- The espresso gelato was creamy, rich and custard based with perhaps some Kahlua and it wasn’t boozy, but I could taste it.
- It was an excellent house made espresso gelato with a house baked mandarin cranberry biscotti which was nice and seasonal.
**Note: 10% of proceeds are donated to the Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program