Restaurant: The Parker – Part 1/3
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+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- 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
- See The Parker – Parts 2 & 3 (full post)
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 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).
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 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
To be continued…
… sneak peek…