Friday, October 21, 2011

Taste of Yaletown 2011 - Hurricane Grill

Hurricane Grill on Urbanspoon

It's time for Taste of Yaletown again! Now in it's 7th year, we sadly won't see Capones in the lineup. That mainstay of live jazz in downtown Vancouver has since folded despite an attempt to renovate and revive it. Another institution in Vancouver has folded, gone the way of The William Tell Restaurant, it seems.

I'm just back from an early dinner at Hurricane Grill down on the seawall in Yaletown. Honestly, I've never thought of going in there because of the tacky red-text-on-banana-yellow banner. It just didn't seem... classy?
Inside, it's hockey bar with lots of TVs on the bar side, just one medium-sized one on the sit-down-restaurant side. If you pay attention, you'll notice the flickering light of the wax candle brought to your table is inside the candle. No napkins here, just refills of cutlery wrapped in paper napkins, bar style. The whole place feels more bar than restaurant and trying to be both.

Anyway I'm glad I went tonight because I was pleasantly surprised. Here's the Taste of Yaletown 2011 menu:

$25.00 per person (excludes taxes, gratuities and alcohol)

Trio Soup Sampler
Tomato basil, squash harvest, and caldo verde
Mama Roma Salad
Romaine hearts, roasted roma tomatoes, roasted garlic, and Romano cheese with Caesar dressing
Snow Ball
Snow crab and tiger prawn ball with lemon sauce


Poached Arctic Char
Saffron quinoa and Swiss chard, with tropical fruit salsa
Marinated + Grilled Lamb Chops
Potato soufflé, fig yogurt, dinner vegetables
Roasted Chicken Breast
Goat cheese risotto balls, guajillo and wild mushroom sauce, dinner vegetables

Tofu Cheesecake
With berry compote
Tux Brûlée
An awesome combination of traditional and chocolate crème brûlée

I opted for the Snowball, the Chicken, and the Tux Brûlée to come with peppermint tea.

The Snowball was an awesome way to kick off the meal because of the cute presentation. It was a large ball, almost the size of a baseball, sitting in a potato basket (a deep fried weave of shredded potato). Sticking out of the ball was one crab claw!
Other than that, there were plusses and minuses here. Big plus -- not oily. The crab-and-prawn-meat ball wasn't oily on the outside, and neither was the potato basket, which I did pick up with my fingers. Often, these things can end up somewhat on the oily side and I was pleased it was not so here.
On the minus column, only minor quibbles... Not much lemon flavour in evidence on the sauce. A half-sized wedge of lemon didn't cut it, either. The potato basket was stiff enough that it wouldn't snap off in large chunks if you tried it by hand unless you picked up the whole thing. Best to use a knife on it. A missed opportunity here, I think, since a side of lemon sauce would have made for a nice dip for the potato basket.
The chunks of meat in the ball were a nice touch in presentation and texture, plus the whole thing didn't just crumble into a mess when I cut it open.

The chicken was surprisingly good and filling. For $25 you are walking away very well fed here with two large chunks of chicken breast. The breast meat was firm but juicy, so it wasn't necessary to totally slather it in the sauce. The sauce itself was peppered enough to have a bit of kick to it, so you might want to pass when the server asks if you want more pepper cracked over it.
The "goat cheese risotto balls" were a cute touch and a neat way to put risotto into your meal. Typically it's a moist mush on the side, flavoured with some sort of savory sauce all too often a too-salty soy sauce. Here, they've patted it into ping pong ball sized spheres and quickly deep fried it -- basically a small arancini. The batter is thin and not oily, just crispy enough to hold the ball together. Even once you cut it open it holds quite well together considering it's not so densely pressed together that the grains are mushed -- for which I give another point for presentation. It looks more like rice, actually, and is quite plain except for the goat cheese.
I'm not a big fan of goat cheese because of how pungent it is, so I almost gave the chicken a pass. Now I'm glad I didn't. There's just enough cheese to give it smell and flavour, but not so much to turn you off or make you want to scrape it out. Definitely save some of the chicken sauce and wild mushrooms to go with your risotto balls instead of piling it every chunk of chicken.

For dessert I opted for a peppermint tea ($3 Tazo tea) and Tux Brûlée, which turned out to be two small, shallow dishes. One with a very soft custard, the other with chocolate cream. Crunchy sugar caramalized on top nicely -- tricky to do especially for the chocolate because you can't see if you've burnt it. Overall, however, kind of boring and certainly not the "combination" I expected since they were separate dishes. Token fruit came with it.

Considering that the place is basically a sports bar, I shouldn't have been surprised when my tea came with a pot of hot water and the tea bag still in the Tazo pouch, unopened. Still, I'm taking a point off for this. Could they not have prepped it for me? Isn't this a full-service restaurant?
Anyway, that's probably me being perfectionist again.

Overall, presentation trumphed the food here, which I would really like to give 4 out of 5 but have to say it probably comes in closer to 3.5. A bit more sauce on the side for the Snowball would have been nice. The chicken was tasty and the breast meat was well prepared, but not interesting enough to warrant full marks. Dessert was okay, but again not particularly interesting.

That said, for a $25 Taste of Yaletown menu, Hurricane Grill is offering great value here. I would have expected the content and portions of my choices to have come closer to $35. Good food, filling portion, great price = winning combination.

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