Just a few more Vancouver Reports: Imperial Chinese Seafood (surprisingly good) and West (surprisingly disappointing)..(long)..
It has been a month since my Vancouver trip, but I need to finish the posts and reports so I don't feel guilty about turning my attention to my most recent trip (to Toronto)...
so, I will just concentrate on two more places...first, Imperial Chinese Seafood in the Marine Building downtown, which doesn't get a lot of mention on the board. A local Vancouver friend suggested it as a place to meet before a day of sightseeing (since it is almost next door to the Hyatt where we were staying) and it was a very pleasant surprise!
First of all, the Marine Building is one of the finest examples of art deco architecture anywhere (certainly the finest in Vancouver!) so anyone who appreciates deco will want to visit it...Most of the architectual details don't make it into the restaurant (don't miss the building lobby, however!), but it is very lovely nonetheless, with high ceilings, white tableclothes, and a harbor view. Most of the patrons on a holiday Monday were Asian. We had a reservation but didn't need it: not sure how busy it would be on a regular weekday...
Dim sum: most of the ordering is off of a menu, which was the only downside (I prefer carts or trays), though they did bring around a few trays later in our meal. The upside of menu ordering: everything we had was fresh and hot. Highlights were shrimp rice rolls, scallop dumplings, chicken feet, and everything fried, especially the taro balls, which were delicious: as good as I've eaten anywhere. This kitchen really has a light,nice touch with fried foods. The mango pudding was also outstanding....
It isn't cheap, but it was good value. They have a full bar, btw, though we didn't indulge and I didn't check out their drink prices... We treated our friend, and total for the three of us with tax and tip and enough food to keep us going until dinner, was $20 each Canadian.
Has anyone tried it for dinner?
So, on to West...
I don't know. Sometimes I wonder if it is good to go into a restaurant with high expectations...perhaps if one is expecting a stellar experience (at least one Hound has several times referred to West as the best restaurant in North America) one will inevitably be disappointed?
In any event, we arrived early with a reservation, as we wanted to take advantage of the early bird prix fixe menu. We were asked to wait just a bit at the bar (the place was empty, but perhaps they weren't quite set up yet, since it was just after opening). Hubby ordered a drink, and we did enjoy the bartender, who clearly knew what he was doing...(or she? at this point I can't remember the bartender's gender, but I still remember the loving way he or she mixed that martini and made the twist while we watched...)
The room is very pleasant, with modern lines, with a wall of wine bottles along one side and nicely spaced tables. Service throughout was excellent and friendly. Not overly formal, but with a few formal touches.
Once seated, we checked out the wine list: it is extensive, with a truly great selection of half bottles. Pricy, but I don't hold that against the place, after all, it is a top restaurant, and wine is expensive in Vancouver, everywhere. We ended up ordering two half bottles, but unfortunately, I didn't keep my notes to tell you what they were. (both were very good and not unreasonably priced, given the location).
As mentioned, to try and keep costs from getting to out of control, we went for the prix fixe...on to the food: an amuse bouche came first: a small shot glass of cold cucumber soup. It tasted like cucumber...nice, nothing more.
The prix fixe was very similar to that outlined on the website:
oysters: I started with six truly lovely BC oysters...probably the highlight of the meal for me.
soup: for the life of me, I can't remember what it was (don't think it was the mushroom now listed; artichoke perhaps?), and as I said, l lost those darn notes,...but my impression was that it was very good, not outstanding.
ravioli: very good, one ravioli, nice balance of flavors, rich and tasty. but not amazing (sort of the theme for the evening)
wild salmon, with dungeness foam and parlesy pomme puree: the biggest disappointment of the evening: the crab foam was very nice, with intense flavor. The salmon itself was overcooked. Admittedly, I didn't specify medium rare, which is how I prefer salmon, but I guess I didn't think that it would come well-done at a restaurant of this caliber...
The lamb: it was good, again, it wasn't anything amazing, but it was very good. Hubby ordered it medium rare, and I'd say it was just on the medium side of that.
Dessert: we were both in a chocolate mood, so we both had the torte with creme caramel ice cream and, in hubby's case, the rum soaked bananas...I don't eat bananas but leaving them out of my serving was no problem. The ice cream was my favorite part of the dessert.
Total for all of this with tax and tip was somewhere around $250 Canadian, and yes, that was with the $45 prix fixe (but there were those oysters and the wine).
Bottom line: It was a very nice meal, overall, and we enjoyed ourselves. That said, I wouldn't rush back: it was good, but not the amazing experience others have described, and imo not worth the price. At quite a bit less than that price point I can do as well or better at home in SF, and indeed, in Vancouver: I thought the food was every bit as good at Chambar, at nearly half the price.
Perhaps the prix fixe is not the way to go here. Some of the other choices sound more appealing, and I wonder if the kitchen takes more care with them (?) I certainly wouldn't recommend going with the prix fixe as a cost saver; this hound at least, was disappointed. I'd say go all out, and then report back, or save a stack of loonies and go elsewhere for a very nice meal in very nice surroundings, which is what West was for us (no more, no less).
The markups in BC in Ontario are thanks to the fact that the Governments basically control the sale of liquor to restaurants. That is why BC wines cost less in Alberta than in BC itself most of the time! And also why Interntaional wines are generally 25% less OR MORE in Alberta than the rest of Canada.
We were able to avoid the wine sticker shock fortunately. Our first visit was for our anniversary and I had been in email contact to find out if they had our favorite champagne (Salon). They didn't, but they forwarded a champagne list with prices that were totally astronomical. When I learned I couldn't bring my own bottle for corkage we decided to do the wine pairings.
That is definitely the way to go. The servings are generous and Chef Hawksworth knows what he's doing in making the pairings.
Sorry to hear of the disappointment with West. And I'm the one who says it is arguably the best in North America. It's certainly my favorite, and I've eaten at some of the finest places that NY, Chitown, Washington DC, New Orleans and LA have to offer. IMNSHO, West is easily the equal of any of them.
As for the value of the prix fixe...what on earth did you order that would take the tab up to $250??? Looking at the current prix fixe, ordering 2 each of the most expensive wine pairs
for each course and I get a total of $169. No way oysters + tax + tip equals $80 best I can tell.
Our first visit we did the full tasting + an extra course + wine pairs + a couple of cocktails each and that was under $400 after the exchange rate. Our last visit included an extra person, but thanks to the prix fixe we were able to get out for less than the previous visit.
And as already posted, the selections on the prix fixe are drawn from the regular menu. We experienced no drop off in caliber just because we were ordering at a reduced price.
I can't find my credit card statement to give you the exact amount, but it worked out to something like this (all amounts in CANADIAN dollars, as I specified in my original post):
$45 each for the prix fixe=$90
six oysters = $18 (might have been a bit more than $3 each, no less for sure)
two half bottles of wine, about $40 or $50 each (YES, that is what half bottles cost there) = $80
one call martini = aprox $10 to $12
Subtotal: 90+80+12+18 = $200, maybe a bit more if the wine was a bit more.
Tax and tip at about 30 to 35% (an estimate, probably a low ball estimate) as I don't know how much taxes are in Canada, other than that I do know that they are more than the 8.5% or so we pay here in CA, and are higher on alcohol than the rest of the bill) = $60 or more...(30% of $198 is $59.40).
Those on a budget should NOT order alchohol....
So, yes, $250 Canadian (200 plus about 60). or more. (like I say, I can't find the credit card bill right now. Come to think of it, that might have been $250 US, meaning it was even more in Canadian dollars!
If there is an almost "universal" complaint I see voiced by American visitors to Canada it is with pricing.
For family visitors often heading up to our Maritimes from New England or New York State is with prices generally. I think tax structure and perhaps minimum wage differences can explain the differentiation.
Most of those folks were not "fine dining" by any stretch of the imagination.
However, out here in the West with places like West and the like, the "whining" [smile] is with the price of wine. Government monopoly and a tradition of "sin" taxes probably has a lot to do with it along with restaurants going the 2 to 4 x list price.
It has been too long since our last visit "Stateside" so I cannot remember how "your" i.e. US prices compare.
I do not recollect many bargains in San Francisco apart from Plumpjack's Grill on Filmore...do not know if it even exists anymore...where their limited wine list was very well priced taking advantage of their related wine store down the street with prices just a few dollars over retail.
This may not be the appropriate venue for this discussion but I was wondering if you could point to what you would expect to pay in better American restaurants compared to what you paid here in Canada.
re: Bob Mac
Read my post again, I was talking about alchohol prices. Actually, I have no complaints with the pricing of any of the meals we ate, I found those prices to be reasonable and in line with the food and service.
I'm not blaming the restos for the cost of drinks/wine, I understand the taxation and regulation issues. My point was the "sticker shock" that hits you when you look at the wine list. For the record we saw a bottle of wine selling for twice what we paid for it in a comparable place in the bay area after adjusting for exchange rates.
I know the taxes go to pay for health care and the like, but there is some truth to the Laffer curve, we skipped the wine.
re: Bob Mac
yes, I agree that for the most part it is the wine, but actually, the food in restaurants IMO isn't as good a value at the high end. I think low and moderately pricedrestaurants are the way to go, and just be prepared for the wine prices (though these can be mitigated somewhat, not totally, by sticking to the very good BC wines, which tend to be less expensive.) As for food, see West vs. Chez Panisse discussion above, as one example. Another (Toronto Example,so wrong board): We ate at Chiado. Very similar in every respect to La Sallette in Sonoma, but entrees were about $10 more US, accounting for the exchange rate.
As for the wine pairings at West, I looked at them, but it wouldn't have saved us much or any $, given the high costs by the glass, so I am not sure why GroovinGourmet says it helped him avoid sticker shock.
and just to be clear: the taxes don't bother me as much (you certainly get a better health care system in exchange for your higher taxes in Canada) but the markups on imports really is exhorbitant. Could be hidden (import) taxes I know, so I guess Canada should make more wine! :-)
Let me second the complements for the good post.
Too bad about West. Good for you to point out the deficiencies. Not everyone has a great day and it seems like the early service at least was not up to West's customary standards. Overcooked salmon is a no, no anywhere never mind a restaurant of its quality.
All that having been said I am with Wildebeest and would recommend that if you were not so far away...relatively speaking...that you should try it again. Our meals, once when it was still Ouest and more recently were superb in every detail.
I will leave the "best of" to others. I have been in what were purportedly the "best" places in town and left disappointed and some "tourist traps" that were great. Chacun a son gout I guess.
re: Bob Mac
Have to agree with you , Bob Mac. We had one of the most memorable meals of our lives at West this past Canada Day, innovative and executed perfectly. We had the seven course tasting menu and I had the wine pairings whick kicked the price up of course, but it was our belated anniversary dinner. So glad we didn't decide to be frugal that night.
I think it is worth pointing out for the benefit of others trying to decide if they can afford West and if it is worth it, that the entrees on the prix fixe are also available on the regular a la carte menu. So, all of my lack of enthusiasm can't be because it was the early special. It could be that the tasting menu is superior, of course, but that really is a significantly larger cost commitment...
You're absolutely right, I didn't mean my frugal comment as a reflection on the other alternatives at West, merely our own habits. We thought about off the menu, but really wanted a variety of tastes, my wife wanted to opt for the 5 course dinner (iirc) but I lobbied for the extra taste experiences. Actually very surprised I was successful since she was still reeling from the $99 sticker shock for my wine pairings.
yes, a good point. You might want to check hound profiles to see if preferences are listed; that is one benefit of the profiles.
Of the restaurants you list, I am sorry to say I've only eaten at Chez Panisse, where I have dined both downstairs and up. Comparing West to downstairs (the CP restaurant): CP is the hands down winner, with much, much better food (overcooked salmon would never happen there in my experience) and comparable prices, or somewhat more at CP depending on the day of the week (West's prix fixe is cheaper than CP, but there is considerably less mark-up on wines at CP and in California generally, and taxes are lower on alcohol). Comparing West to CP Cafe upstairs: I've had food as good or better than my meal at West every time I've dined at the CP Cafe, and CP Cafe is QUITE a bit cheaper (typical tab for two will be about $150 to $175 US if one goes all out with three courses, including tax, tip and a nice bottle of wine).
of course, CP doesn't have a full bar. The martini and oysters were the best part of the meal. The oysters were a relatively good deal, btw, at about $3 each, which is not much more than they would be in a moderate to expensive restaurant here in SF...
Thank you for the detailed reviews... I am headed to Vancouver and Victoria for Labour Day, and was thinking of trying West... perhaps I will stick with Parkside, Crocodile or Le Gavroche...
With regards to your comments on the one hounder who calls West "The best in North America". I think that when people post a comment like that, they should have to post what else would be in their top 5 or 10.
For example, if that poster had posted a selection of Vancouver/Whistler/Seattle restos only, one could deduce that he/she really means best resto in the Pacific NW /BC.
However, if #'s 2 thru 10 had included places like the Post Hotel in Lake Louise, GaryDanko or Masa's in SF, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, the French Laundry or Bistro Jeanty in Napa, Chanterelle and others in NYC, Charlie Trotter's in Chicago etc, THEN it gives the Best in N.A. a little more street credit.
I would recommend giving West a try as it is usually very consistant in quality. If you are looking at other restaurants the ones you named are also worth going to. Le Gavroche has recently re-opened after being closed for many months due to a fire. Parkside is fantastic as is Le Crocodile. I would also recommend "C", Rare and Lumiere. Enjoy dining in Vancouver.
Also, please consider:
Provence. I think it's the best brunch in Vancouver, but fabulous dinner service as well without stuffiness or the self-conscious Vancity crap that goes on over at West (the atmosphere of which I speak, not the food).
VIJ's. EVERYONE AND THEIR MOM HAS TO GO TO VIJ's. 11th and S Granville. He wears a nehru jacket guys, come on! Amazing everytime.