Monday, January 28, 2013

Interesting things to see at Secret Location

Secret Location on Urbanspoon There are some places that are so different that you really ought to check it out, just for the experience. One such place is Secret Location.
The concept of Secret Location is apparently not so alien in Europe as it is in Gastown, but over here it's a very different experience. There are two rooms to Secret Location: A store and a restaurant/bar.

The store has all sort of oddities, from the actual items sold (like the intriguing Necono Digital Camera) to the actual furnishings, like the wall shelf where a section looks like a paint spill. Many, if not all, of the items were selected with the intent that you probably couldn't find it anywhere else (anywhere else locally, anyway).

The large restaurant area has a beautiful long lit-table bar, and a variety of seating styles, with small tables, larger ones, low tables, even sofa seating. If there's a clear theme, it's the colour white. Look around carefully and you might spot intriguing things such as an umbrella chandelier or a blue ceramic bow tie. The room itself looks like the sort of posh mingling room where you can expect to see dress-to-impress gents and hotties. Some nights are slow, though, (January being a slow period for restaurants) so you can also expect peace and privacy. Try not to sit too close to the window for the latter, unless you like being people-watched by curious passers-by.

Secret Location just missed the deadline for Dine Out Vancouver 2013, but they are offering a prix fixe "unofficial Dine Out menu". They are also participating in the Hot Chocolate Festival.

Daily Selection of Canap├ęs $12 - An ever-changing variety of artfully prepared hors d'oeuvres
  • For four items each less than the size of a ping pong ball, this was $12. Which works out to $3 a bite. For $3 a bite, I rather demand something exquisite. I got just interesting and not necessarily very tasty besides.
  • Since it's what's available that day, you could be the guinea pigs for kitchen experiments. In any case, this is clearly a hit-or-miss order. You can ask your server what's available that day, but really you won't know if you'll like it until you see it in front of you and put it in your mouth.
Sunchoke Ravioli $18 - Honey roasted butternut squash, mustard greens, pine nuts, roasted black garlic, saffron cream
  • A disappointingly small portion, but really very tasty. A very strong offering for the vegetarian crowd, and compared to the quail and arctic char that my dining companions got, I think my order was the best and most interesting of the three.
  • Curiously, the roasted black garlic did NOT taste like chunks of burnt garlic despite how it looks.
L'hiver Noir $12 - Hazelnut mousse, flourless chocolate cake, Valrhona Andoa Noir, amarena cherry, praline streusel, smoked cinnamon ice cream
  • This is a very tiny portion of cake topped with cream on an artistically arranged plate. There is an assortment of textures and tastes here so that you are unlikely to be bored working your way through this. Unlike, say, getting a large slab of chocolate cake that's more or less the same from start to finish.
The food, overall, is good to very good. The price is Yaletown for smallish portions. A part of what you are paying for is interestingness and food artistry. My guess is you will feel you should be paying a third less. If you can't stand to pay for anything that doesn't go into your mouth, then just browse the store and peer into the restaurant -- the latter all too easy to do with floor-to-ceiling style furniture shop windows.

Secret Location's entries for the Hot Chocolate Festival are definitely worth checking out, for their sheer interestingness:
Roasted white chocolate, candy cap, and cognac hot chocolate.
Served with a brown butter Caramelia financier.
(Candy cap is a unique small mushroom, that when dried, has the aroma and flavour of earthy maple syrup.) 
Nyangbo and parsnip hot chocolate,
topped with whipped chocolate ganache and parsnip milk jam.
Served with English Breakfast gelato.
(Nyangbo is a Valrhona chocolate from Ghana, and the parsnip milk jam is caramelized, much like a dulce de leche. In Roman times, parsnip was considered to be an aphrodisiac.) 
Smoked cinnamon mocha with chocolate marshmallows and caramel powder.
Served with Manjari chocolate brownie.
We tried the latter two, and weren't disappointed. My Aphrodite was $4.50, and a fair price for what you get: An interesting hot chocolate with an understated chocolatey-ness so that the special flavour can come through, but not in an overpowering way.
The Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels comes with a "brownie", which was more like a cookie in toughness. Dip it for a looong time in your hot chocolate before taking a bite. That makes a big difference.

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