Monday, June 2, 2014

Bitter and Undercooked at Ouisi Bistro

Ouisi Bistro on Urbanspoon When busy restaurants DON'T have a maître d', you'll know the difference. Many restaurants have a layout where you can't can't take in the whole room from where you've entered the restaurant. In such cases, you really need to have someone at the front or otherwise handling diners. In part it is because some people will loiter there expecting to be seated instead of just blithely helping themselves. Also, if they are looking for someone or if they have reservations, they will know where to go.

I had reservations for our dining club last Friday at Ouisi Bistro and not having a hostess at the front was... different. People just sort of drift in toward the reservation time (non-Vancouverites being the ones on time and Vancouverites being either late or no-shows -- but that's another article), and it's awkward wandering around looking for your party, especially in a busy restaurant.
And Ouisi Bistro was busy! I was in by around 7:30pm for an 8:00pm reservation (but I sneakily told everyone to meet at 7:45pm so the latecomers would have 15 minutes grace and we could start on time for the restaurant). The restaurant was basically full and buzzing and apparently short staffed because empty tables sat uncleared for quite a while.
Closer to 8pm, the initial dinner rush was over and the restaurant quieted down a LOT afterwards. If you want an unrushed time, go to Ouisi Bistro a bit later. Like 8pm. They'll still be somewhat busy, but the action's apparently at the patio out the back. So if you see the room empty, that can be deceptive.

It's always tricky writing about short-staffed service. Did someone call in sick? Is the restaurant always short-staffed? Or is it the unlikely but shocking case where the staff are "not well coordinated"?
Anyway, the initial service seemed slow. The table designated for our party was vacated for a while but it seemed like they just didn't have the staff to clear it with everything else going on. We were seated with menus but no napkins and no cutlery. Which was sort of okay until the appetizer arrived. Anyway, things went more smoothly after that until it was time to pay the bill. They were apparently pretty busy in the back dining area because it was pretty hard to flag someone down so we could hand them our money.

Our party got to try a bunch of things! Hard to say if how some of it came out was just the way it's supposed to be prepared or if the kitchen was also feeling rushed and had several missteps. I got a decent bite of various items:

Erdinger Alkoholfrei (picture)
  • I'm not a drinker, so as I invariably do, I asked for a funny non-alcoholic drink. It tends to be a question that stumps servers and bartenders, so I don't take points off no matter what they suggest and I certainly don't blame them for it. This time, our server suggested an alcohol free beer and I was game to try it.
  • DON'T BUY THIS if you never understood why people drink that bitter swill that is beer. This is less bitter, and tastes like a very flat and weak root beer desperately in need of sugar. However, it does pour like a beer, foamy head and all.
Gator Bites - genuine Louisiana alligator, served spicy & hot with a dollop of Cajun tartar sauce
  • Don't be put off by "spicy & hot". Nothing of the sort unless you can't even handle "mild spicy".
  • Lots of gravy here. Ask for a bit of non-toasted bread to sop it all up afterwards. Or maybe a soup spoon.
  • Smallish amount of alligator meat that was tough like overcooked shredded pork or shredded chicken. Total waste of time if you are expecting "exotic" alligator meat to somehow taste "exotic".
Side Dish: Sweet Potato-Pecan Hash
  • Mains come with a slice of house-made cornbread and two sides. You can choose the same side twice. I went with the interesting sounding Sweet Potato-Pecan Hash.
  • This felt undercooked because the sweet potato had crunch to them. Flavour was mild -- not even sweet. And where's my pecan? Maybe it was in there but the taste wasn't showing up.
Side Dish: Espresso Picked Beets
  • This was pretty disappointing too. Espresso what? Not sure what part of the side dish had espresso or pickled anything in it. Beets were on the bland side, but I suppose if they were going to pickle them, they wouldn't have used sweet beets.
Bistro Prawns - a dozen sauteed Gulf of Mexico prawns in a roasted jalapeno-citrus Bbq sauce (picture)
  • The prawns here were passable in size. Not exactly tiger prawns, but not shrimps either. Firm enough to be on the overdone side.
  • Not sure if there were a kitchen error here of if "roasted jalapeno-citrus BBQ sauce" is supposed to have a deeply bitter after-taste that builds in your mouth several seconds after you have it. It was so off-putting for my friend who ordered this that she gave half her prawns away and tried not to touch the generous amount of thick sauce.
Seafood Gumbo - Gulf prawns, scallops, mussels and baby shrimp in our traditional New Orleans dark roux stew (picture)
  • Another off-putting stew. The person who ordered it figured there was a goof in the quantity of spices added, leading to a bitter taste. I thought it was more likely the prawn heads had been left in to melt out the brains and other goop. Sucking prawn heads isn't for everyone, so if you don't like doing that, you probably won't like that flavour addition to this stew.
Southern Fried Catfish (with Cajun Tartar, Chow Chow Relish, with Orange-Chipotle Cream Sauce)
  • I had catfish before at Memphis Blues and it was sort of boring. The one here was actually pretty decent, with sweet and tender meat.
  • Didn't pay any attention to the sauce -- the catfish was great all on its own.
  • Initially I thought it was so juicy and tender. But as I got closer to the middle of the fillet, there was something chewy there, so they may have in fact undercooked it. Or mostly cooked it and didn't want to overdo the edges but in doing so left the middle slightly undercooked. I didn't die of food poisoning over the weekend, so I guess this was okay.
The Voodoo Ribs - pork ribs oven baked in our Diablo sauce with jicama-chayote slaw and roasted new potatoes
  • Even though it says "Diablo sauce", this was only slightly spicy. A bit of buzz but nothing serious.
  • Probably the best of what we ordered. Fall-off-the-bone tender meat.
There was also a chicken dinner with beans and rice. I can't remember which one was ordered, but it seemed to have decent results. The rice made for a filling plate and the chicken was nicely done, tender and juicy.

Big Daddy Fry's Bread Pudding
  • Bread pudding with candied nuts and a big dollop of whipped cream. Pretty decent. Portion for price a tad low, though. Initially we thought they had split our order into two small plates for easier sharing, but it turned out they were being super nice and gave us an extra order on the house.
Portion for price might initially look on the low side but they do pad your plate with veggies and a slice of cornbread, and mains come with two sides that are not on your plate. Put it all together and the portion for price starts to look more reasonable. The quantity of main ingredient (prawns, fish, rib, whatever) probably won't wow you though.

If you have the Entertainment Book (now on sale for $5 -- FIVE DOLLARS) you can have a coupon for up to $19 off a Ouisi Bistro AND use a web coupon for up to $18.50 off.

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