Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dine Out Vancouver 2011 - NU

Nu on Urbanspoon
This past Wednesday night saw my first (of hopefully three) Dine Out Vancouver 2011 restaurant visits. I went with a dear friend and excellent dining buddy to NU (reinvented, apparently, into Greek-themed Nu Aegean Cusina) at her suggestion, in turn based on an article she had read recommending NU's Dine Out menu as being one of the best in bang for your buck.
If I had known they started Dine Out Vancouver on the 13th, I might have gone earlier to beat the rush -- At 6:30pm on Wednesday, the place was packed and by around 8pm some diners had to wait at the bar.

The "official" Dine Out menu doesn't make a big fuss over the complimentary pita and homous you get after placing your order. It's basically a Greek version of fresh bread and butter while you wait. What they don't tell you is that you get a really generous portion of freshly grilled pita, still piping hot when it hits your table, and dusted with sea salt on the surface for that extra zing. There's also just enough homous if you slather it on pretty thick; homous that is very smooth, possibly with extra olive oil for a texture that's in between water and paste.
Just the one plate would have been enough of an entree for one person. Because we also ended up having "Georgia's Potatoes" (more about that later), we weren't able to finish all the pita. If you go to NU for Dine Out Vancouver 2011, you're definitely going to be well-fed on Greek portions!

The Dine Out menu (even the one on their website) also doesn't mention the extra items you can order with a slight additional cost, so be on the lookout for those items when you are there.

For the appetizers, we ordered stuffed Lamb Meatballs (Keftedes) and Stuffed Calamari. Although they were "appetizers", the portions were very generous for merely appetizers -- more like light entrees, especially the meatballs.

The lamb meatballs (Grilled Keftedes - lamb meatballs, orzo, tomato sauce, dried calamata, crisp basil) by far the better of the two entrees. Each was slightly bigger than a golf ball, and very tender.

The stuffed calamari (stuffed with spiced sausage and rice, crispy fried tentacles, bed of wilted greens, deeply smoky tomato sauce and slivers of lemon) came at a slight extra cost, and was interesting for it's mix of flavours and textures. You had the natural bitterness of the squid contrasting the occasional tang of lemon and the savoury stuffing. This tender bite was contrasted with the tentacles fried to a crunchy crisp, and quite salty.
Overall, I thought the mix of tastes didn't quite work for me, especially the strong bitter taste in the squid. In hindsight, I might have tried to put one set of tentacles together with one of the stuffed shells together in a single bite, mixing the mellower taste of the stuffing with the salty crisp.

For our entrees, we went with Three Cheese & Filo Souffle (with almonds, sauteed bell peppers and fennel, butter sauce); and Seared Albacore Tuna (on mediterranean vegetable moussaka, green beans, parsley, pickled red onion salad, saffron lemon sauce).
Overall, I thought these came out to be tasty but nothing particularly interesting, either -- possibly after we had been so intrigued by the flavours in the appetizers.

I also ordered "Georgia's Potatoes" (listed at the bottom of their in-house Dine Out Vancouver menu, in fine print) -- lemon potatoes using large grilled wedges -- but shortly after thought better of it as my dining partner was not having potatoes at the time. I cancelled that order quickly, but as it turned out, the kitchen was fast on the draw and had already crushed it out.
We suspected that the entire kitchen had been turned over to Dine Out Vancouver to the extent that the regular menu was probably not available. In fact, both appetizers had been drizzled with the same sauce.
Anyway, an interesting thing happened -- Our waitress explained that as a result of a "happy accident", the potatoes had already been prepared. She brought them to our table and invited us to have it, but even at my insistence refused to put it on our bill! (Naturally, she got a fat tip).

There were only two choices for dessert, so we ordered one of each -- Crème brûlée and Baklava.

The Crème brûlée came in a shallower dish than is usual, but much wider, so if you like the crispy caramelized top, you're in luck.

The Baklava really took us by surprise, as we had imagined nothing special and expected the usual honey-soaked square. Instead it was three 1 cubic inch bites probably cut from a very long roll and soaked in what was maybe sugared water or honeyed water. But definitely not the usual thick honey or anything like a viscous syrup. I still missed the honeyed over-sweetness of typical baklava available in North America, but there is something to be said for a less super-sweet presentation.
Before you pop it into your mouth, watch out for the dried clove stabbed into the top, if you haven't acquired a taste for their strong flavour.

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