Monday, August 27, 2012

Oily and Burnt at House x Guest

House Guest on UrbanspoonThis past Saturday I brought a small group down to House x Guest in Gastown. I'd never heard of it until I online-searched for "Vancouver restaurant with house music". Still haven't found something like that, but I did stumble over House x Guest.
The menu sounded interesting, and the decor sounded intriguing, so off we went.

The decor is curious to look at if you've never been, plus they have an outdoor space beneath their big open windows (which are closed in the late evening by actually installing the windows into place). Highlights include belongs-in-a-Gothic-movie candleholders with the solidified melted remains of past candles melted all over; and a wall of small antelope (?) heads. (Look for the mutant horns!)

The food menu changes now and then, so your experience may vary. There is only one (1) dessert -- short, fat, churros with dips. The fruit component of their drinks uses Oasis Fruit Juice. A tasting menu is available for groups.
  • Popcorn ($5) - "please ask server for this [week's] special popcorn"
    • The is done in a pan with oil, rather than popped with hot air.
    • The seasoning is very well distributed and doesn't all just fall off, which can happen with microwave bags.
    • The volume is about half the volume of a bag of microwave popcorn.
    • We had a tasty cajun-ish salty and slightly sweet seasoning. Yummy in the way that you can't just have one BBQ-flavoured potato chip... but $5? It's not that special.
  • PMC ($7) - pimento mac 'n cheese croquettes, red eye ketchup (pic)
    • Go easy on the ketchup, if you use it at all, as it can just kill the already delicate flavour.
    • There's a bit of kick with the pimento which makes this item interesting. And unlike some of the other deep fried offerings we had, this didn't seem oily.
    • Normally 5 balls to an order, each about the size of a ping pong ball. That means each ball weighs in over $1 per ball.
    • Where's the cheese? Nothing orange here, so it wasn't cheddar. Could have been aged white cheddar, but we were hard pressed to discover any unambiguous cheesiness to this item. Combined with the price, I'd say give it a pass.
  • Avocado & Beet Home Fries ($10) - roasted citrus aioli, spiced pumpkin seeds & goats cheese, tempura crust
    • If I remember correctly, this turned out to be a long place with four wedges (about 1.5" long, 1/2" wide) of avocado and four thin discs (about 1.5" diameter) of red beets. At $10 for the plate, that's $1.24 per piece.
    • Maybe someone skipped a step, but the predominant aroma and flavour here was oil. Yes, the oil it was deep fried in. This, even though the tempura crust barely covered the avocado and beet.
    • Deep frying the avocado and beet didn't really do anything to them that makes this dish stand out. If you put on the goat's cheese, that just smothered all other flavours with the pungent goat's cheese. I really don't know how this item is properly enjoyed, except that if you didn't put anything at all on the "home fries", it tasted of oil and that was kind of gross.
    • Even if it weren't so oily-tasting, the price compared to what you got is daunting.
    • This came to the table first and maybe it set the tone for me because I was astonished with how bad it was. For me, this was Strike One.
  • H.S.O.P. ($29) - sharing board (pic)
    • This really needs to say it's meant for 2 persons, because you basically got two of each item.
    • It stands for  "Hot Sex On a Plate" -- No joke. That's what the server told us.
    • Corn on the Cob (2)
      • Inch-thick sections of corn on the cob, dusted with shaved parmesan. Probably the same as the item listed on "Primary" -- charred & spiced corn on the cob, grana padano.
      • I gave this a pass since there were four of us sharing the plate and it's a bit hard to share this time. I never was keen on corn on the cob.
    • Shortrib Sloppy Joe Sliders (2) - braised shortrib, horseradish schmear, brioche buns
      • This was delicious. The buns are very tender and slightly sweet on the brown top. The pulled shortrib was very moist to the point of being wet.
      • The regular menu item is $10, and even if it were just two buns, it's a fair deal for what is a delicious item, if you compare it to an inferior (but larger) bun from the Re-Up food cart, for example, which comes in at around $8 for one Portuguese Bun. If the La Brasserie food cart used the same bun, they'd definitely edge out in value.
      • For me, this was basically the only worth-it thing on the entire sharing boards, which is $29 (i.e., essentially $30). I recommend you pass on the sharing boards and go straight for a proper order from either the Primary or Secondary sections of the menu.
    • Coconut Prawns (2)
      • Very crunchy on the outside. Nicely done.
      • Regulation sized prawns slightly thicker than a pencil. Small bit of sweet sauce to go with it.
    • Marinated Flank Steak (small pile of maybe 6 or 8 slices)
      • I tried one piece of this. It didn't look burnt, but that was the overwhelming flavour. This was Strike Two.
    • Tomato, Asparagus, and Buffalo Mozzarella. (3 small sticks of asparagus)
      • Grilled asparagus, gem heirloom tomatoes, maldon salt, reduced balsamic, evoo (extra virgin olive oil).
      • This is basically a smaller order of the same listed under "Primary" for $9, using smaller/thinner sticks of asparagus.
      • On the one piece I had, they had burnt enough of it for that flavour to be dominant. This was Strike Three. At this point I basically gave up on the restaurant and though I was nowhere near full, I was basically waiting for the bill.
  • Carne Asada Salad ($15) - chimmichurri marinated flank steak, charred red onion, black bean & corn salsa, crispy flour tortilla, avocado, cilantro & yogurt dressing (pic)
    • I didn't get to try this except for the deep fried crispy flour tortilla, which was shaped into a cone to hold all the goodies.
    • The tortilla didn't look oily, but the main experience of it was oil. I think the oil had seeped into tortilla (plus the shape makes it awkward to dry out the oil on a paper towel after deep frying).
    • Unless you're willing to slog through the oily taste, its basically a write-off. Definitely do not eat the tortilla on its own without anything else.
  • Duck Doubles ($15) - indian curried duck, spiced potato roti, confit garlic, raita, cucumber & mint salad
    • Curried but not spicy-hot. Tasty. Sloppy -- Careful about dripping jus.
    • Basically three tacos of this per order. Made famous by their appearance on CTV News At Noon.
    • Along with the Shortrib Sloppy Joe Sliders, this is another item on the menu that's fair value.
  • Burger Royale ($16) - kobe beef patty, apple wood cheddar, crispy onion, horseradish schmear, house smoked bacon, ltp, crab tator tots
    • Didn't get to try this except for the tator tots. However, the crazy thing is I could SMELL the beef from the burger. The person having this was sitting next to me and I could get a pretty strong whiff of it. In any case, she said it was probably the best burger she'd ever had.
    • The crab tator tots were another story. They used to be on the menu on their own, but that is now off. With this burger you get about ten tots in a mini aluminum bucket. As tator tots go, they were good in texture. The seasoning seemed to be either too strong or not consistent -- salty, and there was one tot (out of 3 I had) that was actually bitter. Also, there just wasn't any unambiguous crab flavor I could identify in any of the tator tots I tried. If they show up on the regular menu as a standalone, I'd be cautious about ordering them.
    • It's a sizable burger at $16 and if it really is genuine Kobe Beef, then the platter you get here for $16 probably beats the $20 Ultimate Kobe Classic from Romer's Burger Bar.
Overall, I think you really need to know what to order when you go. We ended up with some pretty lousy-value items, and that experience easily overshadowed what good we had, which amounted to just small bites of the whole. My portion of the items shared was $25 after tax and tip (no alcohol, plus I completely forgot all about getting a peppermint tea during the meal -- duh!).
In hindsight I should have just stuck with my plan to get the Burger Royale, no sharing (well, except for the avaocado & beet home fries, which I ordered early to share because I was curious about it).

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