If there’s one thing that brings the Dot Com Pho crew together, it’s good food and tonight, we decided to head to The Vancouver Club for Big Night, which features some of Vancouver’s best chefs from Vancouver’s best restaurants cooking a signature dish for the hundreds of diners crammed into two ballrooms. West, Lumiere, C, Vij’s, and Araxi were all in attendance as well as one of our Dot Com favorites, Phnom Penh. Each of the ten restaurants (and Balderson Cheese) had a booth and was paired with a wine that would best match the dish.
The Vancouver Club does not cater to the t-shirt and jeans crowd. In fact, it says specifically “No Jeans.” on the dress code. Some folks played tightrope with that line but Stephen Fung, Greg Morgan, John Chow and I decided to dress according to the occasion rather than our usual casual, yet stylish Dot Com digs. Being the only single one of the Dot Com Pho crew in attendance didn’t give me the advantage I thought it would, however, as the “Old Money” crowd was just old in general and the only ladies my age were the girls pouring the wine. However, with only two hours to try ten different dishes and ten different wines, there was little time left to rub elbows.
Before I get to some pictures and descriptions, here’s a video John made.
Before I go any futher…sorry about some of these pictures. For some reason, the folks at The Vancouver Club thought it would be a good idea to mix all different colored lighting which is every photographer’s nightmare. I did the best I could to make the food look like the correct colors but…I can’t perform miracles here.
We arrived just prior to 6pm, when the event was to start but they weren’t quite ready for us yet. Stephen and Kelly were stuck waiting for a taxi somewhere and Greg and Linda were nowhere to be found either so John and I passed some time shooting fresh raw oysters and Grey Goose vodka while Sarah took pictures of the drunken antics which would begin any minute now.
Minutes later, the doors opened and we went in to sample Vancouver’s finest. West, which was named “Restaurant of the Year” featured “Kumamoto oysters with Pink Lady apple jelly, celeriac remoulade and wild Arctic Char caviar. I can’t describe how good these oysters were. They’re smaller and slightly sweet compared to the ones we just had in the lobby, probably due to the apple jelly but I couldn’t help but go back every so often throughout the night to get more. I’m not sure if they were supposed to be paired with the sparkling Wolf Blass pinot noir chardonnay but the wine was also very good. Sweet but not too sweet which is great for a sparkling wine.
Vij’s featured a “Young jackfruit in black cardamom curry”. The jackfruit was sort of like eating a scallop and very tender but I’m not a big fan of ginger so that really put me off this dish. The rice was overcooked, making it a bit of a mushy mess. Not bad tasting but disappointing in comparison to the high caliber of cooking we’d expect from this event.
While Phnom Penh didn’t bring any deep fried chicken wings or butter beef, I’ve yet to try anything there that I didn’t like. Tonight was no exception as the “lightly battered deep-fried squid, rolled in garlic rock salt served with lemon pepper sauce” was delightful. I can’t remember what the other item on the plate was but it was also very good. Something with beef served on a crispy shrimp cracker. The Marques de Caceres rose paired here was quite dry and went well with the saltiness of the Phnom Penh dishes.
I thought Earl’s would be clearly out of their league here. I do happen to like the food at Earl’s and they surprised me with a very, very good “braised shortrib and wild mushroom ragu”. Unfortunately, the merlot paired with the dish at Earl’s was absurdly sweet and fruity…almost like a dessert wine. I didn’t like it at all…it might as well have been red Kool-Aid. The shortrib is very tender and served under the sort of ravioli pasta but the wild mushrooms are fantastic. There’s so much mushroom flavor packed in that little tiny bit. However, right next door…
…was Araxi’s ravioli. Araxi is located in Whistler and voted the “Best Whistler Restaurant”. The “Moonstruck blue cheese ravioli with Berkshire pork and Agassiz hazelnuts” simply “blue” Earl’s pasta dish out of the water for me with an amazing but subtle cheese blend in the ravioli. It tasted fresh and interesting and was my favorite “entree” of the night.
We all taste-tested both back-to-back. John disagrees with me but everyone else (including Sarah) agreed with Araxi made the better ravioli.
Cioppino’s “braised beef shortribs with celeriac and apple puree” was okay but not particularly impressive for me. John compared it to the beef you’d find in Chunky soup. I wouldn’t go that far as it was tender and juicy but I expected more. Not much of an…x-factor here.
This Mexican “seafood cocktail” was also not very impressive. It tasted and smelled a little too fishy and not as fresh as I’d expect. It was served with regular saltine crackers…I would’ve expected something with more substance and hold as these crackers aren’t exactly strong enough to scoop the seafood mixture. I lost my second cracker as it sogged out but it wasn’t good enough for me to head back and get another one.
Oh god…sooooooooo good. That’s all I have to say about the “slow baked apple confit with Granny Smith sorbet”. Sooooooo good. I went back for a second one even though the line was really long. The apple sorbet is among the best I’ve ever tasted. It was like an explosion of apples in my mouth. The apple confit was amazing as well as, when warm, was like eating a fresh apple pie. I swear to god, if I could, I’d buy a few buckets of that ice cream…it’s soooo damned good.
Paired with it was an Inniskillin Okanagan Riesling 2006 ice wine, which was sweet and, when chilled, went very well with the “apple pie”. The sweetness was pleasant and not overbearing like the merlot mentioned above.
Also at the Thomas Haas table was this chocolate dessert which I can’t find the name for. Also good but not head-exploding good like the apple dish. This did not go well with the ice wine…
Lumiere (sans Rob Feenie) featured a “braised lamb cheek with brussel sprouts, organic beet and parsnip puree”. The lamb cheek is cooked perfectly and all that accompanied it gave the dish a very earthy flavor that I really enjoyed. Also at Lumiere was a very, very good chocolate which I can’t find a picture for. It was basically a chocolate, peanut butter crunch with some salt sprinkled on top. You might be thinking the salt is a bit strange but salt actually works very well in bringing out the flavor of chocolate. Not the sweet, sugariness but the actual chocolate flavor. Delicious.
C, which won “Best Seafood”, had a “beet cured Bayne Sound scallop with fennel three ways and basil essence”. The scallop itself was quite good but everything else was so incredibly salty. There was this strange “jelly” on the bottom that was too salty for words and I put it down in search of water. I was actually quite happy that by the time I came back, a waiter had already taken the dish away…
Last was the cheese course from Balderson Cheese. Unfortunately, I can’t find the picture I took of that table. Perhaps I forgot to take it since…well, by that time I had gone through ten tables and at least 17-18 glasses of wine. I guess you don’t really need pictures of cheese since…well, if you’ve seen cheese, that’s what it looked like. There were two varieties of high-quality, aged cheddar available…aged 20-years and aged 40-years. Usually, I don’t really want to eat anything older than…me but this was some of the best cheese I’ve ever had, with a delicious nutty flavor and a very strong…uh…cheesiness that went great with several of the wines I had that night. The De Bortoli Deen Vat 4 Petit Verdot 2005 paired with the cheese was one of my favorites of the night.
Big Night was a fantastic experience and I’d definitely come back next year…although I might try to lay off that last glass of wine. It might’ve been a tad bigger than the rest.