Friday, January 27, 2012

Superb Food and Service at Bishop's

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Bishop's seems to have fallen off the foodie radar, but it is still an excellent little restaurant. Superb food, superb service.

It's been a long time since I went to Bishop's. My dining buddy and I talked about it since October, and finally set a date in early January. Bishop's did a quick January renovation, and our date got pushed back to January 25th -- And for this inconvenience, they surprised us with two glasses of champagne! Wow!

If you haven't been by in a while, it's repainted but still retains the Native American artwork theme which to me feels a bit out of place compared to the structure and colour of the room. It is all on loan from a gallery and every piece is for sale, although that fact is not crassly advertised with price tags. One of the waiters had a native american artwork themed tie, but the hostess informed us it was merely a happy coincidence and a gift from his wife.

Bishop's is a very different dining experience from any other restaurant, except maybe the William Tell (closed over a year now). It's unhurried service that allows for dining out to be a social outing -- that sometimes diners are meeting friends and want to chat a bit before, during, or after their meal. In fact, if you're used to a faster pace, you might think your server had abandoned you.

That said, it's a small room with a small staff. One hostess, one bartender who also tops up your water, and two waiters. At some point or other, everyone served our table, so everyone is working the entire room. When it gets a bit busier, their unhurried service also means more time in between. Be prepared to take your time there. If you're in a hurry, you might have to flag one down.
At 6.30pm on a rainy Wednesday, it was pretty quiet, but around 8pm there was quite a loud buzz from a full restaurant.

No dessert menu up front (why don't restaurants do that?) so we asked for it. I'm big of dessert and if I'm to share two, I'd like to know ahead of time...

We weren't nudged about the menu, and instead approached when it looked like we had come to some sort of decision (or, in our came an impasse). In the meantime, out came the amuse-bouche: A tiny beet jelly topped with just a little house salad.

A small plate of bread was next, with a large square of softened plain butter. One of the two types of bread was several slices of grey currant-caraway bread. It looked dense, but was quite light and very soft. Very nice aroma and flavour, nothing overpowering -- definitely not overdone with the caraway.
The other bread was a few small rounds of parmesan gougère. There was just a delicate amount of parmesan so that you knew it was there, but not strongly. If you've never seen a gougère before, it's like a small, empty, cream puff but a tiny bit firmer and chewier.

Not on the menu but available were Kusshi oysters. My dining buddy was sold immediately. She loved oysters, apparently. Myself, I'd only had them very rarely and admitted I wouldn't be able to properly appreciate it.

Other than the oysters, we aimed for more dessert so skipped any other appy. For the entrée, I had prior to going to the restaurant decided on the sablefish ($39; brandade cake, spinach, truffled sabayon). My dining buddy was torn between the spring salmon ($35; herb parsnip latkes, fennel, vermouth cream) and the Fraser Valley beef tenderloin ($37; pomme puree, mushroom ragout, red wine jus) and the waiter was no help at all, throwing up his hands and insisting the kitchen did everything wonderfully. Finally, she settled on the tenderloin, medium-rare.

The half dozen Kusshi oysters came on a plate with six divisions and sitting on ice. Two wedges of lemon were in binder clip style lemon squeezers. These had the unfortunate tendency to cause the lemon wedge to be pushed out toward the handles, but if you look closely, the metal edge is folded, so if you squash the lemon wedge so that it fits inside that edge, it'll be held in place.
Three toppings were presented for the oysters: Picked sea asparagus, pickled horseradish (shaved, not soft shreds that have been soaked forever), and a purplish vinaigrette.

I tried two oysters. I have nothing to compare it with. My dining buddy insists they were fabulous. I'll have to go with her word on that. At 22.50 for the half-dozen, I hope she really enjoyed it.

On to the mains! They came on plates that were nicely on the hot side of warm.

The tenderloin was medium-rare and sliced in half so you could see how red it was on the inside. I thought it was all right, but probably I didn't have enough jus for the full experience. My dining buddy insists that it was wonderful, especially as she really wasn't a beef sort of person normally. She loooved the jus so much she sopped up some with the last little gougère.

If there was one thing that bothered me in the entire meal it would have to be the "pomme puree" that came with the beef tenderloin. Ever since Griffins, I've been watchful about badly done mashed potatoes. There was a slight gummy feel to it, which my dining companion attributed to it having sat on the plate a bit long.

My sablefish was startlingly good. It was so tender it flaked apart very easily and I was actually a bit worried it was overdone. But no, it was definitely not. The fillet was tender and surprisingly moist and flavourful. My companion described the sensation as "velvety". She was definitely awed. It was, however, only a small fillet, definitely small enough to make you want for more.
But the plate didn't leave you hungry because of the slab of brandade cake. Which tasted awfully like just a cake of mashed potato to me, but it's supposed to involve salt cod and olive oil. Anyway, it was the size of a large burger patty, so the entire entree made for a comfortably sized meal.

Next up, dessert. We went with the almond brown butter cake ($14; white chocolate ganache and apricot sorbet) to start. What came to the table was a frightfully small slice of cake, almost smaller than the scoop of sorbet. The white chocolate ganache was a wide stripe smeared on the plate, easy to miss amid the orange sauce.
Small portion, but an explosion of flavour. Even in small pieces, the fragrant cake had a strong almond aroma. The apricot sorbet had a very intense flavour, and it was difficult to imagine the actual fruit being much tastier. It was also very smooth and creamy. Most sorbets I've had have had a very slightly icy grainy feel. Not here.

After a brief discussion, we decided to try another dessert. Nothing else really sounded particularly interesting except the bittersweet chocolate bar ($14; with strawberry pâte de fruits and coulis). "Chocolate bar" sounds like a hard slab you get after tearing off the wrapper. Here it was more like a chocolate truffle. It was about four inches long and a square inch in cross section. The base was chopped nuts and there was topping of airy chocolate cream.
If you tried the chocolate bar separately, it was bitter. If you tried the cream separately, it was surprisingly bland. But if you had the two together, it was excellent. Want it more bitter? Add less cream.

The squares of pâte de fruits (about 1/4" thick and 3/4" sides) were firm but not chewy, and much more flavourful than anything store-bought. They were a bit on the sweet side if you had them straight, but a half or quarter square paired with a bite of chocolate was very nice. I also found it nice on its own after the chocolate for a fruitier finish and after-taste to the dessert.

Including one glass of merlot ($12), the bill came to $155.12 after tax and before tip.

In most restaurants, you're lucky if your server catches your eye to thank you and wave goodbye. At Bishop's, the hostess inquired whether either of us needed a taxi. She also brought my companion's jacket to the stand by the door in preparation for our departure, and waited very patiently while she got ready so that she could open the door for us and bid us good night.

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