Friday, July 13, 2012

Excellent Food at Establishment Lounge

Establishment Lounge on Urbanspoon What used to be The New Bohemian as recently as last year has changed management. They kept the name for a short while and tweaked the interior, but Establishment looks largely the same with its dimly-lit lounge vibe and the oriental feel to the furnishings. The recent (June 22nd, 2012) addition of Chef Victor Bongo from the Congo (no, they didn't make up the Congo part as a catchy rhyme) is also a definite plus. The chef's specialties on the menu feature delicious food and top marks for plating. Only two desserts at the moment but with a broader selection in the works.

As I write this, I'm just back from a late-ish dinner. It was very quiet around 7pm, with just a couple of people at the bar for drinks, and a table of four enjoying a quiet dinner. The lone server reports that the place still has more of a late-night lounge niche and it is open late (as is the kitchen).

The menu could use with some explanation: The red-boxed items are obviously the chef's specialties and definitely worth a look. The items with a red tick can be made vegetarian. It lists tapas plates, so you can expect less-than-full meals per plate, and probably three plates for two people will be a good amount (but see the caveat on the soup below). The food is more colourful, interesting, and better plated than, say, Bin 941; portions are comparable and price is about $2 less per plate.
  • Chef Bongo's Famous African Chicken Peanut Soup - $8
    • At just $8, you get a large, deep bowl of piping hot soup so thick it's more like a stew. The portion is so large that, especially considering it is thick with ingredients rather than mostly soup, makes it a light meal all on its own. The main "criticism" I have here is that the portion is probably too large without sharing if you intend to try other things on the menu. I think they'd do very well if they offered a half-bowl at $6.
    • It's strongly reminiscent of the peanut sauce used for satay. The chicken is visible in chopped-up chunks alongside the other ingredients, but doesn't really come to the fore and could probably be dropped or substituted with something equally neutral tasting such as tofu. The main thing here is the delicious peanut soup. If you go to Establishment, GET THIS and get someone to share it with you so there's room for something else. 
    • Presentation is beautiful with a colourful clump of minced veggies on top and encircled by a milky-white drizzle of what was probably coconut milk. I like that they worked on a pretty plating for the soup instead of just handing you a bowl of it as many places do. It's the extra touch here, plus the generally beautiful plating of the food tonight, that scores Establishment bonus points and makes it a safe choice if you need to impress or schmooze over food.
  • Okanagan Goat Cheese and Fig Soufflé - $13.25 - freshly baked soufflé served with golden beet carpaccio, drizzled with a maple truffle vinaigrette
    • Another of the chef's specialties. For the tapas plates, it was either this or the truffled pasta. I haven't had much luck with truffled anything, so I went with the goat cheese even though I generally find goat cheese stinky. (I was determined to only have chef's specialties tonight, hence my limited choices).
    • You need to know that I have a hard time with goat cheese. Since this was actually palatable to me, if you like goat cheese, you'll probably find this excellent.
    • It's a light souffle topped with a bit of colourful salad lightly dressed. Presentation was beautiful here with the pale grey souffle sandwiched between bright veggies on top and deep purplish red beet slices on the bottom, and ringed by gold and black sauce. Top marks for beautiful food.
    • The goat cheese soufflé smells stronger than it tastes. I could have used more fig in it to jazz up the flavour with more instances of sweetness since I'm not a fan of goat cheese. But again, I don't much like goat cheese. So considering I found this not bad, if you like goat cheese, you should definitely try this.
  • marscapone cheesecake - $11.25
    • Not on the menu. There were just two desserts which the server recited. The other option was a chocolate mousse thingie that she said the chef was still perfecting. Multi-cheesecake or mousse tastings are on the horizon. (The chef has been in residence only since June).
    • I didn't want to be too conspicuous and out myself as a blogger by writing down what the server told me, so I'm going from memory here as to how the dessert is composed. It's an unbaked cheesecake with marscapone. Feels fluffier than a regular cheesecake. Sits on a half-centimeter of what looked like tightly-packed cookie crumbs. Topped with an orangy sauce that was supposed to be peach and something but which oddly had a metallic taste. The plate was drizzled with some midly sweet sauce.
    • Nothing here was too sweet. Clear cheese flavour, which again wasn't too strong. It wasn't bland per se, but seemed to be trying to have cheesecake flavour without being overly sweet. Often, desserts will come across as being an opportunity to not worry about sweetness, and oftentimes the result is something that's too sweet to the point of being guilt-inducing. Not so here, though I think I could have used a little bit more sweetness.
    • Points for presentation here again. The round cake was made out to be the centre of a sun with rays on the plate formed by thin streaks of sauce. Kinda artsy.
    • The portion is about half a tin can worth. A good size for sharing but slightly overpriced at $11.25.
    • The sauce on top had a slight metallic flavour tonight which could have been an accident but that was really off-putting. I've had this experience before and it might have been carried over from an iron dish or utensil. More sweetness and no metallic flavour to complicate things would have given this dessert more points. Otherwise it was an okay cheesecake and okay as far as desserts go.

The one server on tonight scored points scored points with me for attentiveness, though she was a bit nervous and maybe over-attentive to the entire room. She tries to juggle attending to you, but it still feels rude when you're in mid-sentence and she turns away to check the other tables. The various demands of waiting can be tricky to balance, so I'm chalking this one up to inexperience.

The bill came to 32.50 before tax and tip, 43.68 after tax and tip. For one person, that's a bit steep, but it was a very big meal all in all, because of the generous amount of soup (and at just $8). I think there was enough of a medium-light meal here for two people.

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