Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tapas at Market by Jean-Georges

Market by Jean-Georges (Shangri-La Hotel) on Urbanspoon
I wanted to take my friends from Chilliwack somewhere special as they don't come into town often. And they eat like birds. I settled on MARKET by Jean-Georges hoping that the small bites would be fantastically put together -- and fortunately I was right.

Saturday February 4th was at the tail end of Dine Out Vancouver, but I still managed a reservation for three at 5.30pm, and was warned of a 2-hour dining limit. No problem. We took our time, but because we were just nibbling on small plates it turned out quite fine. Chatting the night away still saw us exiting just at 7.30pm, by which time the restaurant was buzzing.

It's a tight semi-circular space with a smaller room and a bigger main room. In between is a bar, and additional seating all along the window. The very dim light in the smaller room near the stairway up from Alberni Street tends to blind you to the claustrophobic environment, however.
Despite the business of the night, water was prompt and staff were impeccably polite. From the moment you walk in, you are treated like a VIP with a friendliness and professionalism that doesn't slide into too much familiarity.

The restaurant was switched over to streamline the Dine Out Vancouver menu, but most of the menu you see online was still available (sadly, no Foie Gras Brulé). I was anxious about time, so I started us right away with a Black Truffle and Fontina Cheese pizza ($19) which I'd heard about from various blogs, while my guests took their time with the menu -- They're older, old school, and not into being rushed.

What came to our table was a Beef Carpacio, Mushrooms, Arugula, and Parmesan pizza ($16). Oops. Our server sorted it out, apologized for the typo that sent the order to the kitchen, and offered it to us on the house. Thanks!

The pizza here is sort-of chewy thin crust, like neapolitan pizza, but with a broader crust/edge for picking up. The arugula on top is fresh and just dumped on (and lightly tossed in a slightly sour/citrusy dressing) so you can have as much or little as you want. Thinly shaved parmesan. Enough beef carpaccio to cover it to the edge.

The pizza here is also SMALL. Maybe six inches or so in diameter. Like a kid's pizza. Humph.

Still, for something that LOOKS simple, the flavour was wonderful. Somehow, it all came together beautifully, especially with the dressing on the arugula to give it a nice contrast. My guests were astonished and wondered if the black truffle pizza could possibly compare.

Next up, the Black Truffle pizza. Truffling anything typically raises it up a notch, but doesn't guarantee top marks. Same here. Normally I'd say it was really good, with a savory flavour and a subtlety to it that stood out enough not to be missed. The fontina cheese wasn't stinky, either. On top was sprinkled a gob of fresh endive.
However, having just had the beef carpaccio pizza, I'd have to give the other a higher score.

Because I had ordered the pizza so early, a basket of bread was only now brought to our table. Four chewy buns with very chewy crusts. Very slightly warm, still nice and soft on the inside. Not fresh baked, but probably not old either. A plain large triangle of butter. Nice bread, but boring presentation. Restaurants could do so much more in this department to jazz things up.

My companions finally settled on their choices: three oysters, seared scallops, and the sashimi.

I'm not big into oysters ($3 each) -- I just don't have an appreciation for the different types and invariably get a chip or two of the shucked shell in my mouth. It was okay. The sauces were a typical cocktail sauce (the red stuff you get for shrimp rings) and a red wine concoction that was like a vinaigrette. This latter was very strong and more than a couple of drops would have killed the flavour. The oysters themselves had a very strong seawater flavour, which my companion insisted was because it was very fresh.
I have to say the Kusshi oysters from Bishops had that more mildly and therefore tasted better to me.

The Seared Scallops with Caramelized Cauliflower and Caper-Raisin Emulsion ($15 for three) was delicious, but I thought nothing to write home about. However, that may have been because one of my companions stole my seared cauliflower! She wasn't into scallops but was curious about that at least. :-( The scallop itself was very tender, and suddenly softer in the center, which suggested it may have been left slightly raw inside. It was dark in the dining room and the one small candle didn't shed enough light for a proper look.

Finally, the MARKET Sashimi with Crispy Rice and Chipotle Emulsion ($14 for 3). Normally done with tuna but they had swapped it with salmon. I have to take points away here for the differently sized chunks of salmon. It's already a small piece of sashimi to start, with the rice being a rectangle of about 1-1/2" x 1/2" x 1/2". One chunk of salmon sitting on top of this rice was about 30% bigger than the others. I wasn't quick enough and ended up with the biggest piece, sadly. However, as one of my companions just about melted at how good this appy was, I cut my portion in half so she could have another bite.

This was surprisingly good. GET IT. Normally, sashimi is a slab of raw fish sitting on a blob of rice and you dab it in soy sauce. Here it is a crispy rice cracker, slightly seared on the outside without making too much of the grains chewy.
If you've ever burnt, seared, or deep-fried rice, you'll know that it has a tendency to get crusty on the outside, gummy on the inside, and then it likes to paste itself down on your teeth. Trust me, it's really irritating and the last thing you want to do in a posh restaurant is stick your finger into your mouth to scrape rice off your teeth.
Well, nothing like that here. There's a nice crunch to the rice, and a sweet and very-slightly-spicy taste. Each bite-sized portion assembly was worth the almost $5/bite.

My companions eat like birds (just like the last time they had to slog through a nine-course tasting at C) so after they finished their wine, they were done. The restaurant didn't LOOK busy from our vantage, but it actually had diners waiting for their seats. I nudged my companions gently to pack it up.

As one of my companions was celebrating her birthday, they also brought out a complimentary dessert, what was probably a Chocolate Pudding with Softly Whipped Cream and Crystallized Violets (normally appears on the prix fixe lunch menu) on a plate with chocolate "Happy Birthday" and a single candle. There's a bit of chocolate cake underneath all that very smooth pudding. Thanks!

The bill, including one bottle of white wine, came out to something like $165 after tax. I didn't see all the particulars because they insisted on splitting it, and definitely not letting me pay for the wine. Yes, even birthday girl whipped out her credit card, which I thought was a faux pas.

We nipped over to the 1927 Lobby Lounge in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia after to continue drinks and conversation.

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