Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Abstract Art desserts at Hawksworth

Hawksworth (Rosewood Hotel Georgia) on Urbanspoon Why is it that restaurants with a lot of buzz, like Black + Blue and Hawksworth (67% of 335 votes "like" Hawksworth on Urbanspoon, as of 2012-Sept-18) score so poorly on Urbanspoon? Is it the distinct absence of hottie female servers? (Black + Blue at least has mini-skirted hotties flitting about the lounge area, but the only ladies at Hawksworth were at the front desk and possibly in the kitchen).

Our party this past Sunday was 12 in total, but split into two tables of 6. If your party is over 8 persons, Hawksworth enforces a set menu policy where you choose from Dine Out Vancouver style prix fixe choose-from-three-items menus. At the time of my inquiry, two menus were available, at around $70 and $80 each (before wine pairing). They are actually trying to help you because it takes a while for the food to be prepped. Our table of six waited what seemed like a long time (helped by our table being a lively and chatty group who didn't really notice the time flying by) before our mains arrived (all at the same time, of course). The wait would have been interminable for a party of 12. And this was on an early Sunday 6:15pm reservation, when the restaurant was at half-full or less until closer to 8pm when it neared capacity.

When you first enter Hawksworth, you're in the bar/lounge. Then it's on to the first dining room, which is brightly lit and has a floral print on the walls. Then a much dimmer room with darker-toned furniture and Rodney Graham's colourful "psychomania" on the wall. The romantic dinner room, one supposes, although it didn't seem to be strictly segregated that way, and there was a large party in that room during our dinner.
From the get-go, service is attentive, and almost too-polite yet with an expectation of a positive reception/response that has a warmer friendliness to it which seems to contrast how everyone is either "madame" or "monsieur".

There was only one appetizer (but lots of cocktails), minimal sharing of the mains, and considerable fuss over the desserts. I can't really comment on the bite of chicken and sablefish that I got, but there were no real complaints from the people who ordered them. (It's hard to mess up fried chicken and sablefish, so one bite to verify the kitchen didn't flub it doesn't really help as a review.) I'm also not a drinker, so I had to pass on the cocktail sampling, but the "Hotel Georgia" had quite a bit of to-do at our table.
My designated dining buddy of the evening had been lured out to this event because she was on a no-carb mostly-meat diet at the moment. So we struck a deal ahead of time to do the only "for sharing" menu item, a 22oz dry aged rib eye.
The other table of 6 had gone in 15 minutes ahead of us and were well ahead, so we got to reconnoitre the desserts before ordering our own.
  • caramelized squid ($16) salsa verde, artichoke, guanciale, orange
    • I wanted a plate of this to share with the table, and was recommended two plates because of the portion size. They cut the squid into three pieces per plate, each piece being one bite's worth (and about $5!).
    • I think the squid was slightly overdone because it was a bit firmer and rubberier than the crunchy firmness that I was more used to.
    • Definitely eat the squid with the stuff on the plate. You only get woefully few chances, so do it right and get all the flavours from this dish in.
    • Tasty, but not outstanding, in my opinion. Maybe because I only got one bite and not enough of a sampling.
    • The bacon (guanciale) was very thinly sliced (maybe less than 1 millimetre), very browned, and very crispy like a cracker.
  • foie gras parfait ($20) green apple, walnut, brioche (pic)
    • I didn't get to try this, but it looked intriguing -- very smooth, like a slice of ice cream cake! It really looked like dessert or a slab of very creamy pate.
    • Even more intriguing was the foie gras flavoured cotton candy on the side. They have their own cotton candy maker in the kitchen an somehow liquefied foie gras to get the strong flavour into the cotton candy.
  • 22oz dry aged rib eye ($98) la ratte potato, spring bouquetière, crispy bone marrow, brown butter hollandaise (picpic)
    • In addition to your steak, you get fat roasted potato wedges, a miniature pot of veggies, and very interesting deep-fried pieces of bone marrow.
      • Bone marrow is very fatty, and the deep frying makes it light and airy. Fatty tasting, but it just disintegrates airily into your mouth. There's the flavour of course, but also the interesting sensation that's not to be missed.
    • The steak is cut for you into convenient one-bite or two-bite slices and arranged in a criss-cross manner. Don't expect it to be hot for long, if at all.
    • My partner ordered medium-rare, and it seemed nicely done that way. Definitely not juicy with blood, which makes me all the more suspicious of what I got at Black + Blue.
    • I'm definitely not a steak expert, and I know fat can be tasty (and fat marbled meat has always found favour with steak lovers and smoked meat fans), but I think there's something wrong about serving someone a 4 mm thick four-square-inch slab of just fat. Does the $98 include a coupon for an angioplasty?
    • Thank God for the brown butter hollandaise. It's not very buttery tasting but has a sharp/sour flavour that helps the meat and fat go down. Don't use too much or it's smother all the meat flavour.
    • The meat itself was very tender and you could basically just pull it apart, which was easier than cutting it.
The desserts all sounded awfully boring on paper, but most looked very interesting in an abstract-art sort of way (rather than an appetizing sort of way). The ate-ahead-of-us table were on to desserts while we were just mopping up mains, so we got to check out how things went. Mostly, it was disaster with the non-chocolate items. I think they spent more time playing with their desserts than eating it.
The "peach" item in particular, which featured a a strip of firm cream, was particularly odd as about half of us experienced an off-putting strange aftertaste of ... meat? Egg? It was definitely something. The rest, however, were mystified by what we were talking about.
Anyway, long story short: For art, go for the fruity items. For safety, choose anything with chocolate. The safest two would be the "chocolate fondant" and the "dark chocolate". If you like macarons, you can get an assortment of six, probably just pulled out from the Bel Cafe next door and lined up on a plate with no fancy presentation.
  • chocolate fondant ($10) orange, hazelnut (pic)
    • Hazelnutty flavour and the chocolate sits on a tough base of probably crushed nuts.
    • Tame presentation and a safely tasty combo of chocolate and hazelnut.
  • dark chocolate ($10) coffee, rum (pic)
    • This comes in a cup and is creamy-light with layers. When you eat it, dig deep and get all the layers in each scoop. That makes a difference.
  • 70% guanaja chocolate ($10) lime, avocado (pic)
    • This came with shavings of chocolate cake. The chocolate itself was a thick stripe almost a square inch in cross section. Nothing too special tasting here, so be sure to pair it with the cream in the middle of the plate, or the decorative avocado smears, or the small blobs of lime with tiny mint leaves.
    • Artsy to see. If you're just going for taste and not pictures, stick with the other two.
Overall, the food is artistically arranged and more interesting to look at and experience than it is tasty as a meal overall. It's definitely an interesting experience. But if you're voting strictly on tastiness -- which may be the wrong idea here -- then it might not score very highly.

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