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Apr 22, 2011 11:12 AM

Chambar Thoughts:

I've only been once before and was not impressed. However, so much time has passed, I felt it was time for a re-evaluation.

I decided to take my son here for his 21st birthday dinner on Wednesday. I put a note on OpenTable about his 21st and also told the server when I used the washroom. She knew, and even knew his name which I had written when I made the reservation. She asked if I knew which dessert he would order and I told her I didn't know at this point but she said, not to worry, it would be looked after.

I enjoyed the Blue Fig martini. It was definitely a highlight that evening. Oven roasted figs steeped in gin & frozen. Served with a side of Danish blue cheese. I can see why it's a classic! For appys I ordered the Coquotte: Mussels cooked in a white wine cream, smoked bacon lardons, spring onions. My son ordered the Poutine à la belge. He didn't like this because of the little red peppercorns throughout and the cheese was similar to blue cheese. We didn't ask what it was. I traded my frites with him though I didn't care for the poutine either. The mussels were good, but not "wow" or anything. I liked the lardons best...I couldn't finish because I got full. Too much for an appetizer for one person!

We were seated by the windows in the back and the restaurant was LOUD! I never really notice things like this, but it really bothered me this evening. It really hampered my dining experience.

For main courses, my son ordered the Le fletan et queue de beouf which was sesame crusted halibut, crispy oxtail rice cake, mustard ginger & yuzu glaze, micro shiso. I ordered the Lamb Tagine: Braised lamb shank with honey, figs, cinnamon & cilantro, served with cous cous and zalouk.

We were both really full so only had a couple of bites before packing it in. When our server came by, I told her we were too full to eat from the appys and she picked up our plates and walked away. I had to holler out to get her back and told her I'd like to take them. She said, "Oh really?" I looked at her a little confused and said yes. She said, "'Kay, I'll pack it up then". She was more pleasant when she returned the food. I just found it strange that she wouldn't think to ask if the plates were full - if you wanted it to go.

All the other staff were great. The food servers, the host who came by to ask how we were doing at the beginning, etc. The lamb was so good too. Loved the flavours in this dish and was looking forward to finishing it! My son ate 1/2 the halibut and none of his oxtail rice cake. Said it was "ok" but if he came back, he'd try something else. It sure looked good. (Picture posted).

After that, she brought the dessert menus. Neither of us could manage another bite so we declined and ordered Americanos. This is what disappointed me the most. Because we didn't order dessert, no Happy Birthday sentiments were wished or acknowledged. The bill came after that and she didn't even say happy birthday to him. I just thought for a $180 bill, they could have made a little more of an effort to acknowledge his birthday. A dessert amuse or something!

Because of the loudness, the price and the birthday treatment, I won't be returning soon. I'm sorry it turned out disappointing. When we got home, only my dinner was packed. My son's 3/4 not eaten plate was not present. The lamb was delicious eating it leftover and I was happy to see/have eggplant!

Pics are mussels, frites, the halibut dish, the blue fig martini and the lamb sides (the lamb pic/poutine pic didn't come out). This was one of those times I only took one picture of each item.

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  1. I found your report quite interesting, as I thought I might be the only person who has never really liked Chambar, despite having given it four or five tries. It surely is a hip place, but the food consistently disappoints and unless you go very late, the noise and the dining room make it very hard to have a good experience, food aside. And last, to pretend to be a Belgian restaurant and not be able to produce good mussels is a sin. BC is mussel country and even humble little joints like The Mill do a better job than Chambar with them.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Peter Rodgers

      The reason I didn't return after my first visit was because of the mussels Peter. Everyone raved and I just thought - meh. Honestly, I don't think I've ever been in a place as loud as this was and I've dined at quite a few restaurants in my time...

      EDIT: and the Americanos @ $4 each. I have never tasted one like this. It was small, in an espresso like cup and strong like sludge. I actually poured the whole pitcher of cream in mine and it still was pitch black and bitter! I wasn't happy about that $8 either. Son agreed - said it was not good...

      1. re: ck1234

        I too have found Chambar inconsistent. The last time I was there however, I had a great meal. It is very loud, but not too loud to have a good time in my opinion.

        Also, the noise factor is well documented so it's a strange thing to complain about. Was it not loud on your first visit ck1234?

        1. re: waylman

          waylman: Well, I didn't notice the LOUD-ness on my first visit, honestly and it was a long time ago. I have a memory like a sieve, that's why I write my food thoughts now - so I can remember. :-). However, I was with a group and we were probably loud. We were there for drinks first and foremost and we did not sit in the back room.

          I haven't read many reviews of Chambar so don't know about the "well documented" noise factor you mention.... so, if that makes my comments "strange to complain about" be it.

      2. re: Peter Rodgers

        Until, I read this report, I thought I was the only person who has never really liked Chambar:) Granted, I have not been in a couple of years. The 4 times I tried it, I always found it to be quite average...ok food and ok service but nothing to write home about. I was thinking about giving it another try next time I dined out so am glad you posted your experience so that I can save my $ for something better....

      3. Funny I had an underwhelming dinner at Chambar a few years ago (sitting in the back room) so I wasn't too enthoused when some friends took me there last week but in fact had the opposite experience this time. We sat in the front, had excellent service and great drinks. We shared a salad to start. I loved my mussels (Congolaise) and frites. Friends each had beautiful looking mains. Alas, too full for dessert. Mussels portion was definitely generous - if its an appetizer I would share it (even then its a lot for 2). I did think the mains were pretty expensive (but the mussels weren't).

        3 Replies
        1. re: waver

          Iirc the mussels are under $20 for a generous portion. Mussels are so easy to prepare at home. But you'll be hard pressed to find mussels this size and quality. The mussels here are not my fav but better than stella's(biercraft??). Not sure where else u can find better mussels. Never tried the mills. I find the tagine a little to sweet personally, but the meat fork tender.

          1. re: betterthanbourdain

            Mussels were $22. The mussels were just as good at Salade de Fruits when I had them there last (quite awhile ago though).

            Salade de Fruits
            1545 7th Ave W, Vancouver, BC V6J1S1, CA

          2. re: waver

            I agree -- the Congolaise mussels are my fav. Those + fries + a couple of orders of bread to sop up the sauce and it works out pretty well as dinner!

          3. Thanks for your post. I have been to Chambar many, many times due to birthday parties, friends, etc. and can safely say that the food is usually ok-to-decent but never excellent, memorable or exciting - other than its cocktail program. I have also been there and been totally disappointed (soggy fries with my $20 mussels - really???), so its incredibly long tenure as one of the city's most well-regarded restaurants has always been a puzzle. What are you gonna do?

            1. I'm sorry..while I have my own issues with Chambar's service (though i LOVE the somm since his bluewater days) it is wholly unreasonable for people simply to EXPECT something for free just because it's a birthday. First of all, why would a restaurant force feed you dessert you've already declined that you will not enjoy because you either didn't pick it, or too full. And while yes, 180 isn't cheap for two, it's also really...not that far away fm the avg bill at a semi fine dining restaurant.

              4 Replies
              1. re: yuyu

                I'm with you. I dined at a restaurant for my birthday this past winter where I'm a regular and everyone on staff there knew it was my birthday. Nothing was provided in addition to what was ordered. It's a little unreasonable to expect anything. We were treated well, and, for my own birthday my personal bill was $150 (just for myself and my own drinks).

                1. re: peter.v

                  Peter, if you were a regular and they knew it was your birthday, I'm surprised they didn't do a little something for you...I think they should have.

                  I don't think it's unreasonable when you go to a restaurant to celebrate a birthday, to expect to get your birthday noticed. At the very least she could have wished him a happy birthday.

                  1. re: ck1234

                    I went back and reread your first post and I think we misinterpreted. The mention of dessert by the server was a little misleading. I think because you came across as being not hungry anymore, nothing was brought out. Oops.

                    Come to think of it, I think there was a candle on my plate of confections for my birthday.

                2. re: yuyu

                  I think the restaurant led the OP on:
                  "She asked if I knew which dessert he would order and I told her I didn't know at this point but she said, not to worry, it would be looked after."
                  I would assume if that were said to me that there would be a dessert. I never expect a free dessert or free anything but if someone leads me to believe I will be getting something, I would be disappointed if they didn't come through. I think the server should have never said anything like that in the first place.