Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ten-Course Tasting Menu at C Restaurant

C Restaurant on Urbanspoon Late last year I picked up a Groupon for a Nine-Course Tasting Menu at C Restaurant at half price. We'd had a good time slowly savouring the food, so when it showed up again this year as a 10-course, I snapped it up.

Familiar at the table was black volcanic ash salt (sea salt-like chips instead of fine ash this time) on the butter that accompanied your bread. And the bread was a mix of plain and some with a bit of seaweed in it. Gone were the chairs with the funny covers; they were replaced by something more unremarkable and very restaurant-typical.

The "Chef's Grand Tasting Menu" was this year featured the basic line-up, five optional subsitutions ($12-$22, $78 if you did all five substitutions), and two sets of wine pairings ($65, or a "sommelier's choice pairing" for $95). At $125 regular price ($125 for two Groupon price), it's tempting to divide it into 10 and call each dish $12.50, but that's not exactly right since you start with appetizer bites and finish with a light dessert. Also, if you examine the ingredients, you might (will) be getting a rather small bite per course, but the ingredients aren't exactly easily thrown together -- those two slices of red wine poached pear or the few pieces of octopus have their cost divided over several servings of the tasting menu, and there's additional cost factored for potential waste from not being used.

However, your experience will be based on what comes to your table and goes in your mouth, not the logistics of running a restaurant. And there will be winners and losers in any large tasting menu (since, as we all know, you can't please everybody all the time), so the tasting menu may or may not feel like good value at $125, but at half price my feeling is that it definitely falls on the cheap side for what you get to sample.

A Tasting Menu at C is not the same experience as a one-hour-time-limit Dine Out Vancouver 3-course. You are not packed in like sardines and processed with a keep-them-moving table service. Each item is best enjoyed mindfully -- that is, paying attention to what you are eating. Try not to have it as a business meeting, and definitely don't budget yourself an hour and a half and ask the restaurant to rush it. Three and a half hours (I'm not kidding) is a good pace to include savouring your courses and also an intimate time with your dining companion. And apparently lingering dinners are such a common occurrence that some of the waiters are no stranger to running around looking for specific cars and topping up parking meters.
  • Oyster - Chef's Creek oyster, lemonade foam
    • I was never a fan of using foams -- looks like either soap bubbles or spit. Yuck! The flavour is there, though.
    • Not too "oyster-y" or seawater flavoured, possibly tempered by the lemonade foam. Honestly, just one is fine and all you need. No need for a flight of six oysters.
  • Belgium Endive - red wine poached pear, roquefort
    • Two slices of sweet poached pear which goes well with the bitter veggies here and the blue fungus of the cheese, but you'll have to cut them and arrange your bites to get it all in one go.
    • I'm biased here because I hate blue cheese. If you love it, this item will probably work very nicely for you.
  • Consommé - chicken and sweetcorn, spiced popcorn
    • I thought this was a lacklustre entry in the tasting menu, but consommés are time-consuming to hand-make and probably under-appreciated nowadays.
    • If you will be absolutely unhappy getting a bowl of "just chicken broth", you can try the much more interesting-sounding lobster bisque with ginger cured salmon for +$12.
    • Throw in the popcorn. It'll soak up some of the soup and melt in your mouth.
  • Blackened Albacore - lemon olive oil emulsion, fennel orange salad
  • Salmon Croquet - truffled leeks, chive butter
    • This turned out totally ace. The description doesn't hint at it, but the croquet was like a falafel, and there was definitely a presence of curry. The salmon was clearly seen in chunks. The taste was wonderful.
  • Seared Scallops - tender honey octopus, red pepper emulsion
    • Chewy octopus bits! Nothing honey about it that I could detect. And scallop is scallop. Hmm.
  • Lamb Risotto - braised lamb cheek, mint salsa verde
    • Salty lamb, but not excessively so. Otherwise pretty solid as a "main". The largest plate on the tasting menu and beginning of the end -- after this, just desserts.
  • Farm House Cheddar - spiced walnuts, apple foam
    • A simple plate of a thin slice of white cheddar, walnuts without any bitterness, apple foam, and half a crabapple that had been soaked with something (syrup?).
  • Beet Mousse - raspberry fluid gel, chocolate crumble
    • A column of frozen mousse that immediately began to melt on the plate at its base. For the most part it retained its shape nicely, but it slid around on the plate as we tried to cut it with the provided spork.
    • Barely any sweetness here, and nicely paired with the chocolate for flavour as well as crunchy texture.
    • Best to have this in conjunction with the provided macaron because the latter was burn-your-throat sweet..
  • Pumpkin spice macaron
    • About the size of a loonie. Two of these might make single regulation-sized macaron.
Except for the salmon croquet, I'd have to say that while everything was well done, there wasn't anything really "wow" about it. It's fair value at $62.50 per person. Not sure I'd be up for it at $125, though.

Service was... odd. Often you get wait staff that serve food and tell you what it is, check on you, and otherwise leave you alone. We somehow ended up with the chatty one who was very much a part of our table each time he dropped by, sharing personal anecdotes. I think even he wasn't sure how much he should participate, but my dining companion was the friendly sort and in any case interested in his stories of 50-course tasting menus including grapes carefully layered with flavour using a syringe; and trying to make his own ice cubes with liquer in them so they'd slowly release their flavour.
Like most of the highest-end establishments, there are no mini-skirted hotties here, but a crew of male waiters.

2012-Sep C Restaurant Chef's Grand Tasting Menu

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