The Parker (Vegetarian Restaurant) – Part 3/3

Restaurant: The Parker - Part 3/3
Cuisine: Vegetarian/Vegan/Pacific Northwest/West Coast
Last visited: June 22, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Chinatown)
Address: 237 Union St
Phone: (604) 779-3804
Transit: Vancouver Pacific Central Station
Price Range: $20-30+

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

Food: 3.5
Service: 4
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 3.5
Additional comments:

  • Owner/Bartender Steve Da Cruz
  • Executive Chef Curtis Luk
  • Vegetarian restaurant
  • Seasonal menus
  • Sophsiticated menu/room
  • Local and sustainable ingredients
  • Vegan friendly options
  • Gluten free friendly options
  • Dairy free friendly options
  • Nut free friendly options
  • Reservations recommended
  • Wine/cocktail program
  • Walk-ins welcome
  • Tues. – Sat. dinner only at 5PM ’til Late
  • Twitter: @parkeryvr

**Recommendations: Chilled Aubergine, Socca Provencal, Savoury Buckwheat Crepes, Avocado Semifreddo

I know what you might be thinking… who dragged you here? Yes, I am a meat eater (not necessarily a carnivore, but I enjoy eating meat), however I actually like vegetables – a lot too. I just rarely order vegetarian dishes when I’m dining out because they often sound uninspired or offer little value, until now.

The movement towards vegetarianism is growing, and a good population of Vancouver is championing it. Surprisingly, until last year our vegetarian restaurant scene was quite bland, but then opened Heirloom, The Acorn, and The Parker. There were others as well, but these three were the most anticipated and talked about.

I wasn’t holding out, but I felt like everyone was jumping on the “vegetarian band wagon”. I just needed the hype to calm down a bit before visiting. I didn’t want to set my expectations too high and be disappointed and it always takes time for the kinks to iron out anyway.

That being said, things have already changed since The Parker opened, so I have nothing to compare to. I only know what it looks like now since Executive Chef Curtis Luk (former contestant on Top Chef Canada Season 2 and former Chef de Cuisine at Fable Kitchen) took over. Curtis took on the position in early May and it was about time I checked it out.

The Parker (27)The room is quaint and casual and it is supposed to cater to the neighbourhood with tables for 2-4 and a small bar for single diners. It was nicer than an every day kind of restaurant and it suits the newly developed area (edge of Chinatown).

The menu had some Asian inspiration and I’m not sure if that’s the quirk of restaurants in the area, but The Union and Harvest Community Foods next door take on a similar theme. This menu was a bit Euro-Asian, but there was no follow through with every item.

The drink menu was almost triple the food menu, which isn’t really a surprise since the owner is also bartender Steve Da Cruz. I would even come here for drinks and a light snack before or after dinner. It markets itself as a vegetarian restaurant, but it comes off as a “good for drinks” place. The food was quite fancy for the context of the restaurant so overall there is a bit of disconnect. It felt like upscale dining and it kind of stopped feeling like a neighbourhood restaurant. The level of food made it more than a “just for drinks” place, but if drinks are the focus then the menu could benefit from more bar snacks, or “bar bites”.

I ordered 9-10 courses, which was almost the whole menu, and shared it with one other person and we were still hungry at the end. I doubt I’m the only one to bring this up, and I’m not expecting copious amounts of food, but the portions could be a bit bigger or at least more filling. Yes, I have a bigger appetite than most, but it’s partially why I felt like I was fine dining… I was looking for dinner #2 afterward (which ended up being a snack of sausages and cheese).

The Parker (30)And that is the size of the kitchen. No wonder the menu is so small. It’s a tiny open kitchen with limited space and cooking methods and it restricts what a chef can do. The ingredients and garnishes seemed a bit repetitive, and for the size of the menu I didn’t think it needed to be, but for the size of the kitchen it was understandable. For this reason, as I previously mentioned, I would rather the food made more substantial, or in bigger portions, and more affordable.

The Parker (20)The menu is tapas style so dishes are meant to be shared, but they weren’t really big enough to share with more than a couple people. There wasn’t enough selection to be tapas either so I found it a bit pricey especially since I was still hungry afterward.

Considering it is vegetables (90% water) it takes a bit more to fill up on and the flavours weren’t that big either. There was attention to texture, and it was quite pretty and dainty, but I was waiting for the “it” dish. Every thing was house made including the carbs (crackers/noodles), but there seemed to be 1-2 missing components in each dish. Sometimes it was just a matter of having not enough of certain components and it seemed unfinished or a bit cost conscious.

I knew I was going for vegetarian food, but the menu read like an allergy friendly menu, which is a different market altogether. Most of the items had either a “V” for “vegan” and/or “GF” for “gluten free” and I just felt like it was catering to an audience that wasn’t necessarily them. There was limited dairy used and it was possibly nut free too, and I enjoy those categories in vegetarian cuisine.

It didn’t feel quite authentic to chef’s vision, natural style and culinary training so the end result wasn’t necessarily glowing, but still good. It was elegantly plated, with mild and subtle flavours with the exception of the Asian inspired dishes. The ingredients were farm fresh, but I was hoping for a bit more gourmet ingredients. It was a rather traditional way of looking at vegetarian food – healthy, fresh and light, and much of it was based on vegetarian dishes, or dishes easily made vegetarian.

The recipes and flavours just seemed a bit sacrificed to cater to the clientele, which isn’t necessarily me. Therefore I didn’t feel like I was the audience, even though I have fallen in love with vegetarian dishes at vegetarian and non-vegetarian restaurants. The Parker is not a vegetarian restaurant only vegetarians can appreciate, but meat eaters may still miss their meat.

I am glad I tried The Parker and it is considered one of the better and sophisticated vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver. It has room to grow and with the rather new chef it is still in its early stages. I wouldn’t say the menu was hit and miss because everything was generally good, but maybe not at its full potential. I think the format of the menu and style of restaurant could benefit from readjusting because the space is nice and the chef is capable, but it needs more time.

A side note, but important one, The Parker takes strong initiatives to create a zero waste and sustainable business. According to their website, “The Parker generates less than one pound of waste in a month!” I appreciate their efforts and it is something I admire, but in the end it is a restaurant so the food has to deliver.

On the table:

The Parker (1)Amuse Bouche

  • Spinach gomaae with soy black sesame sauce.
  • I didn’t even expect an amuse bouche, but it was a nice gesture.
  • It set the tone of the menu so I was already expecting some Asian inspired cuisine.

The Parker (2)Artichoke Carpaccio (V)3/6 (Good)

  • Saffron couscous, pumpkin seed salsa verde $7
  • I think this was the first day serving this dish.
  • Right away you could tell it was an experienced chef and I was liking the style and presentation.
  • It looked stunning, but the flavours weren’t as bright as the colours and it was a bit under seasoned.
  • Artichokes are meaty vegetables and they were sous vide in olive oil, so it was a good idea for carpaccio.
  • They had good texture and it was almost like eating a mushroom and they weren’t overcooked or mushy.
  • It was topped with a saffron couscous, but I couldn’t taste much saffron or flavour.
  • I was hoping for some raisins, apricots, or almonds to make it exciting or inspired cous cous.
  • It was more Mediterranean rather than Middle Eastern, but it was also its own thing so it could have gone in any direction.
  • The pumpkin seed salsa verde tasted more like a salsa-herb pesto hybrid with parsley, mint, cilanto and lime.
  • The nuttiness wasn’t that strong and it didn’t have enough flavour to dress the carpaccio.
  • I know it’s vegan, but I missed the umami from parmesan cheese since the salsa verde reminded me of pesto.
  • The carpaccio was just begging for cheese too… think cheesy artichoke dip. There is vegan cheese on that note as well.
  • The shavings of asparagus and radish were nice, but I would have loved some crispy shavings of fried artichoke or capers too.
  • It was very light and fresh, but it just needed fruit and/or olives, and it lacked saltiness, sweetness and aromatics which was surprising based on description.
  • The chevril and greens were a nice touch and I liked how fresh it looked.
  • Again this was the first day it was out so it could be better now.

The Parker (4)**Chilled Aubergine (GF & V) - 4/6 (Very good)

  • Deadly nightshades, tamari and miso $9
  • Well this was a nice turn around! I love eggplant and anything with miso is almost always good.
  • Miso gives an effortless umami, but good is good and this was very good.
  • There were 2-3 meaty strips of braised and chilled eggplant and they were incredibly creamy and soft. They were ready to be made into a puree.
  • Eggplant is super absorbent so they just soaked in the delicious tamari broth they were swimming in. They were juicy eggplants.
  • The broth was savoury with tamari, miso, and perhaps dashi, ponzu, sugar and mirin. It was hitting all my taste buds at once.
  • It was salty, sweet and a bit tangy. It was extremely savoury, but not too salty and still drinkable on its own.
  • Since the eggplant was so soft, I loved the contrasting texture of crispy potato sticks covering the top.
  • The potato sticks didn’t taste seasoned though and they would be great with Japanese 7 spice or even wasabi powder.
  • On top of the crispy potato were sweet bell peppers which played into the “deadly nighshades” theme.
  • Bell peppers and eggplants are in the same family of “nightshade” vegetables, so it was a cute idea.
  • It was almost like a chilled stir-fry salad with a sweet gluten free soy sauce.
  • There was also a compressed potato (?) and I think it was compressed with miso and dashi stock, which again gives effortless umami.
  • The potato was sweet and I’m not sure if that was from the sauce, or if it was from being refrigerated, causing the starches to convert into sugars.
  • It had gotten a bit mealy, but I didn’t really mind and overall the dish had a lot of flavour and texture.

The Parker (7)Summer Fling Salad (GF & V)3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Please ask what’s been flung together today! $10
  • People tend to love this salad and it sounded really boring on the menu, but it came highly recommended by many so I ordered it.
  • This was not your typical “Mixed Greens”, “Spring Mix” or Mesclun Salad. Everything on the plate looked like it was picked that morning.
  • Pretty huh? It was no doubt a beautiful salad with farm fresh market veggies, but it was also something I would do at home after visiting the Farmer’s Market.
  • There were 10-20 things in the salad, but maybe only one tiny sliced strawberry.
  • There were a variety of mixed wild greens, purple kale, radish, swiss chard, arugula, shaved asparagus, shaved radish, pea tips, edible flowers, sea asparagus, a field strawberry, and a sweet honey miso dressing.
  • I was hoping for some nuts or more field berries or even some avocado to give it more texture and substance.
  • It was vibrant and full of life, but lacked some love.
  • It was great to see and taste the interesting greens and veggies, but there were so few of each.
  • Sea asparagus is such an unique ingredient too, but in this context it might come across unnoticed and under appreciated.
  • The honey miso dressing was a huge hit and it didn’t overpower the subtle and delicate flavours of the greens.
  • It was very lightly dressed and the miso wasn’t noticeable unless you knew, but it gave it that umami and savoury factor it always does.
  • It was a sweet, tangy and slightly acidic dressing from maybe ponzu or mirin.
  • There was already miso in the eggplant and the garnish from the artichoke carpaccio was re-used again in this salad.
  • I wasn’t keen on the repeat since the menu was already so small, but it is something easily overlooked.
  • Since there was honey in the dressing it would have been cute to add some honeycomb croutons to the salad as well.
  • For the price I think added nuts and more berries could have easily made it an excellent salad (5/6).
  • It also reminded me of the gorgeous salad from Vista d’Oro from my Langley Circle Farm Tour – see here.

The Parker (9)**Socca Provencal (GF & V) - 4/6 (Very good)

  • Chickpea flatbread, summer harvest a la Grecque, olive relish $9
  • Socca is a traditional dish from Southern France and it’s particularly popular in Nice.
  • It is a hybrid of a crêpe and flatbread pizza and the batter is made from chickpea flour so it is naturally gluten free.
  • Traditionally it is made in a large copper pan and cooked over a wood fired oven, but this one was baked so it didn’t have that charcoal aroma.
  • Soccas were considered as budget friendly breakfast food for blue collared workers or as “peasant food”, but now many people enjoy it for breakfast or as a snack.
  • There are different styles for socca and each region has their own approach.
  • I’ve seen it thinner than a crêpe and thicker than an omelette, and this version was thinner than a crêpe.
  • It was a very refined and elegantly presented socca.
  • The edges had crisped up nicely and they were paper thin, and the rest of the flatbread was soft, foldable, and more crêpe like.
  • The flatbread was nutty in flavour and a bit drier in texture due to the chickpea flour and it was quite delicate and tender.
  • Sometimes the flatbread can be seasoned with cumin or rosemary or other spices and herbs, but this one was plain.

The Parker (10)

  • The toppings can vary, but this was topped with summer harvest a la Grecque.
  • The toppings were meant to be spread evenly across the socca and it was best with some of everything in one bite.
  • The topping was a mix of tender cauliflower florets, heirloom tomatoes, summer squash, crispy garlic, cucumber noodles, pea shoots and shaved radish again.
  • They were tossed together and dressed “a la Greque” (Greek style) with I think olive oil and lemon zest. It was really quite simple in flavour.
  • The spread underneath the topping was a lemony olive relish which carried a bit of heat and spice.
  • It was pretty much a zesty and semi-spicy basil olive tapenade, but there wasn’t quite enough to spread over the crêpe.
  • I really loved the texture and ingredients, but I just wanted more flavour and whole anchovies laid over top… I know it’s vegetarian though so that’s just me.
  • It was served room temperature and it was a bit small to share with more than two people.
  • It’s the only place in Vancouver that I know of serving Socca Provencal so I found it very special, but I felt like the toppings had more potential. The socca itself was beautiful though.

The Parker (14)House-Made Dan Dan Noodles (V)3/6 (Good)

  • Pickled chilies, tofu croutons, Szechuan peppercorn sauce $13
  • I love Dan-Dan Noodles or Tan Tan Noodles and very rarely would I order them from a non-Asian restaurant, but I wanted to be open minded.
  • Curtis hand makes the ramen noodles and he had just made a fresh batch, so I was enthusiastic to try them and I needed something a bit more filling.
  • Despite ramen noodles being Japanese and the wrong type of noodle for Dan Dan Noodles (a Sichuan dish), I wasn’t bothered because I wasn’t expecting it to be authentic.
  • It didn’t resemble Dan Dan noodles and I wouldn’t have made the association, but it was good for being its own thing.
  • It was more like a chilled spicy noodle ramen salad with bird’s eye chili, crispy shallots, wilted spinach, Chinese celery, toasted sesame, szechuan peppercorn sauce and cilantro.
  • The noodles still had a firm bite and I admired the fact they were house made.
  • It is tossed together before enjoying, but the noodles were a bit clumpy and dry and the sauce a bit scarce so it was tricky to mix.
  • The peppercorn sauce was quite spicy and a bit bitter from the sichuan peppercorns.
  • I actually found it slightly astringent and drying on the palate, so I wanted more pickled veggies other than pickled chilies.
  • The sauce tasted like a nutty black sesame and peppercorn sauce and it was quite aromatic, but just spicy and bitter more so than savoury.
  • I think it had some black sesame paste which tasted like the sauce used on the amuse bouche gomaae.
  • Sesame paste, peanut butter, and peanuts is common in Northern American versions of Dan Dan noodles and I actually really like it this way, but it is not authentic.
  • This one had no peanuts and I would have loved the option to have them.
  • The sauce could have been saltier and thinned out with a bit of broth since the noodles were quite bland and dry too.
  • The tofu croutons were pretty much crispy agedashi tofu with a light and thin tempura batter, but calling them “tofu croutons” was cute.
  • The tofu would have been great smoked and I just wanted more flavour.
  • I loved the variety of textures in this, but I missed the minced pork which is traditional to the dish.
  • I was hoping I wouldn’t miss any meat and it would suffice as a vegetarian dish.
  • If you like this I also recommend trying the Rice Noodle with Hazelnut at Harvest Community Foods next door.

The Parker (16)Mmm! Salmon fillet with the skin on!? I never find this in the city…

The Parker (15)**Savoury Buckwheat Crepes (GF)4/6 (Very good)

  • Ricotta, artichokes, peas, soubise $15
  • … and I guess I still won’t. Didn’t it look like salmon skin from the top though?
  • These savoury buckwheat crêpes are called Galettes de Sarrasin or “galettes” in France and are popular in Brittany.
  • The only other place I know to get them in Vancouver are at Crêperie La Bohème which I love.
  • The Parker made them very differently and I enjoyed them here as well.
  • Again it was very nicely plated and this was one of the few hot dishes offered.
  • It was the fourth plate with chervil, pea shoots, shaved asparagus and shaved radish, so I wouldn’t mind something new, but it wasn’t a big deal either.
  • The salad also had sweet peas and one beautifully caramelized artichoke heart cut in half.

The Parker (17)

  • The crêpes didn’t seem like 100% buckwheat flour and they were actually quite soft. 
  • It was a bit thick and it was more like a spongy pancake batter than a traditional crêpe batter.
  • The crêpe was filled with ricotta cheese, farm fresh sweet peas, and tender artichokes.
  • The filling just melted in my mouth and it was rich, creamy, cheesy, well seasoned and savoury.
  • Soubise is a cream sauce made from sauteed and pureed onions blended into a bechamel sauce which is one of my favourite sauces.
  • Bechamel is a butter, cream and salt sauce and it’s very rich. It was the sauce for the crêpes.
  • Eaten together it was reminiscent of cream of artichoke or pea soup and I could have used more.
  • An herb infused oil would have been nice too for aromatics and colour.
  • The way the sauce was plated caused it to cool down quite quickly, but I could eat this dish room temperature and I would still like it.
  • Besides the sweet peas there was nothing sweet, or anything acidic or tangy, so it was quite simple but I enjoyed it.
  • The crêpes were fairly small, but this was considered a more filling dish, but I could have 2-3 orders for brunch and be content.

Desserts

It’s one of my favourite parts of a meal and one of Chef Curtis Luk’s as well, in the sense that he could pass for a pastry chef. Although he is a formerly trained (savoury) chef, he has a talent for pastries and he led the pastry department at Fable Kitchen before taking over at The Parker. Savoury chefs and pastry chefs are very different, but based on this experience it showcased him as a well rounded chef… especially since he was cooking vegetarian/vegan/gluten free which isn’t what he trained in.

Anyway, I ordered all the desserts and surprisingly the menu was missing a seasonal/local dessert, but they came out beautifully as expected.

The Parker (23)**Avocado Semifreddo (GF & V)4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Coconut yuzu broth, puffed rice brittle, tapioca $8
  • This was my favourite dish and not because I like desserts and all the flavours in it, but it came together very well.
  • Avocado in desserts is very common in South East Asia, but I guess considered more “exotic” in North America.
  • Avocado ice cream was on Vancouver menus many years ago, but this was a modern and upgraded interpretation of it.
  • Avocado is basically like butter or cream in desserts and it is often used in raw or vegan cooking to replace dairy fats.
  • It’s so fatty, rich and creamy that it works very well in baking and desserts.
  • It doesn’t come across as savoury guacamole and it does what bananas can do for desserts.
  • Since avocado is so naturally rich and dense, instead of making an ice cream he made it lighter and into a semmifreddo (half frozen cream).
  • However, the result was a bit harder and more like ice cream than it was a semi-freddo.
  • I couldn’t tell if it was aerated intentionally or if the air bubbles had formed by mistake.
  • Usually air bubbles are avoided in semi-freddo, but nonetheless it still tasted delicious.
  • It tasted like a lime and avocado ice cream and the avocado wasn’t prominent, but I could taste it which I liked.
  • It was topped with lime gel and I think the base could have been coconut milk instead of cream.
  • The yuzu coconut broth tasted like the chilled coconut tapioca dessert served at Chinese restaurants that I really love.
  • It was refreshing and lightly sweetened, but I couldn’t taste much yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit).
  • The tapioca had clumped up a bit too, but it was still chewy and not hard.
  • There was some puffed rice brittle which was more like a garnish than a contributing component, but the sugar glass was a bit too thick and crunchy rather than crisp.
  • I appreciated it for texture, but just wish it was executed a bit more delicate.
  • It could be considered a rich palate cleanser (I know that sounds contradicting), and I would have loved a bit more mint and acidity.
  • The dessert was a single portion and I expected it to be bigger because it was fine dining size. Also for the price, I found it quite small with a big plate.
  • I loved the presentation and Asian influence which seems like chef’s style, but I bet this could get even better.
  • Another fun avocado dessert I had was at The Pointe – see Avocado Ice Cream with 100% Chocolate, Mole, Lime.

The Parker (25)Warm Date Cake (GF)2/6 (Okay)

  • House made cardamom buttermilk ice cream, gastrique $9
  • It was a winter dessert which deviated from the seasonal theme of the summer menu, but date cakes are also year round desserts.
  • It was another beautifully plated dessert, but it lacked all the things I look forward to in a warm date cake or pudding.
  • I loved the modern interpretation, but in the case of a warm date cake I expect that sticky ooey gooey goodness.
  • The cake was a bit dry and it was basically a warm date muffin broken up.
  • It was not aerated or dehydrated, but simply baked and them plated upon order.
  • It was semi crispy from being toasted, but it ended up drying out.
  • It wasn’t light or dense and I could taste warm spices like nutmeg and possibly cloves or cinnamon, but not the cardamom.
  • I also missed the walnuts and I was hoping for more dates being a date cake.
  • It wasn’t very sweet at all and it tasted like a honey molasses breakfast muffin.
  • Usually date cakes get quite sweet from caramel or hot toffee sauce, but this was served with buttermilk ice cream.
  • The buttermilk ice cream didn’t really match the style of cake, but it’s not a bourbon ice cream kind of place either.
  • I would have preferred something richer like a creamed honey or walnut ice cream.
  • I got where it was going with the yogurt, dates, and cardamom theme, but it just didn’t translate on the palate as well. It tasted a bit too deconstructed.
  • The meringue was for texture to replace the usual walnuts, but again it didn’t quite match the flavour of the cake, but I liked the consideration for texture.
  • I also couldn’t taste or see any gastrique and it really needed a sauce because the cake was quite dry so I relied on the ice cream for moisture.
  • It looked beautiful, but for a warm date cake it didn’t quite hit the spot.

The Parker (29)Chocolate Mousse3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Malt foam, sponge toffee $8
  • Chocolate mousse rarely excites me because I find it a bit ordinary unless I’m at a French bistro where it is standard.
  • I was recommended to try this and it was a refreshing and modern interpretation for chocolate mousse. I should have expected it coming from Curtis too.
  • It was described as a modern take on an 80′s Crunchie Bar which was my sister’s favourite chocolate bar as a kid.
  • I found them too sweet so I would trade her for her Twix bars on Halloween… I loved Twix bars (and for grocery store chocolate I still do).
  • Anyway if Crunchie Bars came like this I’d dig them.
  • The chocolate mousse was a dry mousse and it tasted like it was made from cocoa power.
  • It was more crumbly instead of creamy, but not in a bad way.
  • It was just a bit over chilled, but I think it was intentional and I didn’t mind.
  • I think the mousse came from the freezer/fridge and that’s why it had that dry texture, but it wasn’t hard.
  • The mousse absorbed some fridge flavours though so that prevented it from being as good as it could have been.
  • It was a milk chocolate mousse (maybe 40%?) and it wasn’t super rich, but surprisingly light.
  • I loved the malt foam which was buttery and salted and a great break from the overplayed salted caramel.
  • Malt is another retro flavour so I was loving the consistency in theme, but the foam execution gave it that modern flair.
  • I could have used more sponge toffee (which would be good on the Summer Fling Salad as croutons) to balance the amount of mousse.
  • The crispy dehydrated dark chocolate meringue and sponge toffee were great for texture and I loved how chef always paid attention to that.
  • I wouldn’t have minded another garnish since there was already meringue on the date cake, but at least it was two different flavours.
  • The plating was again artistic, clean and elegant and I appreciated his innovation on an old fashioned classic dessert.

The Parker (32)Truffles! (GF & V) – Handmade in house (usually comes with 6) $4

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