Monday, September 30, 2013

Date Night at Fresh Restaurant and Lounge

Fresh Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon When just one or two things go wrong with the food, it's very easy for the disappointments to overshadow an entire meal, and it becomes harder to be objective about it. That's what happened to me at Fresh last Friday. There's actually lots to like about Fresh:
  • Date night - Every Friday at Fresh has a special attached to it. Last Friday, being the 4th Friday of the month, was "Date Night Friday", where buying their $48 set menu also netted you a free movie ticket worth about $11. It's a ticket for Empire Theatres, of which there are only four in all of BC. But free is free, the nearest theatre isn't too far from the restaurant itself (big plus!), and they aren't some no-name theatre that only shows old reruns.
    • You can also order the items individually, in which case watch for differences from the regular menu. For example, the Beef Tenderloin which was featured as last Friday's (Sept-27) Date Night main course was $2 more than on the regular menu, but also included 5 tiger prawns and a glass of wine.
  • Comfortable cushioned seats - Everyone gets a comfy armchair! It's a bit hard to squeeze in and out if you're in between two chairs, but you are also guaranteed your share or elbow room and table space.
  • It's not that busy - Which means a sort-of empty dining room (at least it was quite empty when we sat down for a 7 pm dinner), which in turn means more privacy for your party, and a very non-rushed dinner. Yes, it's not that great for the restaurant, but it's still a benefit to you.
  • Really good service - Our server was friendly and helpful and very patient, and minimally intrusive to check on our meals and top up our water.
  • Honest service - This part was refreshingly shocking. I inquired about their "green prairie prawns" in the cioppino, and was told that they were like smallish prawns that were firm as if overcooked. And the server was dead-on correct.
  • They give you bread and aren't shy about the portion. And it's toasty warm! This is a fading tradition nowadays, and some restaurants even charge you as much as $3!
There were six of us and we ordered a variety of things, but I'll only touch on what I got to sample. Only one person went for the date night special because they also lived in Surrey and the theatre wasn't much out of the way for them.

Crab Bruschetta ($13 for four) dungeness crab, bocconcini, basil, roma tomato, white balsamic, brioche (picture)
  • Each piece of this appetizer sat on a rather small piece of brioche, about the diameter of a loonie. However, it was piled so high with stuff that in volume it was about the size of a ping pong ball.
  • The tomato:crab ratio varied from piece to piece, as the crab meat came in rather large flakes, so consistency in mixing cannot be easily maintained. That said, it was nice to clearly see large chunks of crab.
  • I felt the crab meat didn't have enough flavour, which was suspicious to me (yes, I pulled out a chunk of crab meat). Also, there was enough tomato to flatten all the other tastes.
  • Each piece of bruschetta sat on a strip of black sauce (black vinegar?) but the plate on which they were served was slightly curved, so that the brioche actually did NOT touch the sauce underneath, at least not on our plates. You might want to check to see if you get any sauce on the underside or not.
Gelderman Farms Pork Chop ($26) cold smoked; apple confit, red cabbage, peruvian blue potato
  • Dry and slightly tough, but I suppose that was to be expected for smoked pork chop.
  • It felt like a smallish portion for $26. Considering that their 6 oz. tenderloin was going for $30, I suppose I shouldn't have expected too much here.
  • The use of the Peruvian blue potato (which tasted sort of like a mildly sweet yam) made this dish interesting and it was the main reason I ordered it. It didn't quite make up for the lacklustre pork chop, however.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake ($9)
  • Basically a syrup-soaked cake with a pineapple ring baked in on the top, and sitting on a pineapple ring.
  • Tasted about as special as any other syrup-soaked cake. Which is to say, not that special for the price of $9. And it was slightly smaller than a tennis ball.
Marble Brownie ($9) praline gelato, chocolate crisps, peanut brittle, grand marnier syrup, caramel (picture)
  • This was part of the Date Night table d'hote that one person at our table went with.
  • The menu description was very misleading. "Chocolate crisps" turned out to be crunchy white chocolate beads, each about the size of a peppercorn. The brownie had a strong cheese content which, according to our server, was meant to give it a marbled look, but which somehow melted all together so the brownie was a homogenous brown colour -- I wondered why they still served it. There was also enough cheesiness to make it more of a cheese cake than a brownie.
  • For $9 it was a smallish portion that couldn't add up to a reasonably sized slice of cheese cake. And whether you call it a brownie or cheesecake, I didn't feel it was special enough to warrant being $9. Sorry. Fail on this one.
Overall, I felt the menu is overpriced for what you get. The food itself is between OK and good, but each plate seemed to be ruined by one or two missteps. Some were more serious than others -- for example, the scallops in the cioppino that one person in our party ordered were a sort of translucent grey and quite firm, rather than tender and eggshell white.
Portions feel undersized, especially compared to the price.
I had two orders of the bruschetta to share at our table, plus the pork chop and pineapple upside down cake. This came to a painful $61 before tax and tip.

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