Back in mid to late September, Eating in Vancouver & the World attended the VIP launch party of a brand new bar/lounge on Seymour. Right next door to the Five Sixty Nightclub, the event was packed and extremely lively with wine, an assortment of meat & cheese share plates and club music. Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of attendees and the nature of the event, it was not really logistically possible to sample a lot of the food menu.
When TASTE approached us to make a return visit for a private menu tasting, we were surprised but definitely interested. Personally, I was keen on understanding the food concept behind TASTE and what kind of food I would actually be ordering at this new bar & restaurant.
Joining me for the evening was the Executive Chef & Manager of TASTE, Mr. Renaldo Decembrini. Although I typically conduct restaurant reviews alone, I was very grateful for the knowledgeable company. Mr. Decembrini was very generous and allowed me to order anything I wanted from either the drink or food menu. Suffering from indecision, I left the evening in his capable hands and just tasted whatever I was served.
To kick off the meal, I was served three wonderfully fresh BC Oysters on half shells served with fresh lime slices and three different flavoured salts. I regularly cut oysters with lime and salt but this was the first time I have tried lime, orange and chipotle salts. It was interesting to note how even a small amount of orange or chipotle salt can adjust the natural flavour of the oyster. The salt does not come out quite quickly from the stainless steel dispensers so I recommend placing a small amount on your palm or plate and then sampling from there. It goes without saying the BC Oysters were very fresh and went down very smoothly. The added citric element with the salt supplemented the simple taste profile very well.
After the oysters quickly vanished, I sampled a very simple cheese and vegetable amuse bouche. One of the popular items to start with, the serving spoon holds a fresh token of arugula, diced tomato, fetta and a little balsamic. A very simple starter but clearly contained much of the culinary theme that ran through the entire evening. Very fresh, simple ingredients, all sourced locally into basic but appetizing offerings you could make at home. Nothing unnecessary, everything simple and easy to eat.
The first main of the night was a Hand Crafted Bacon Chutney, Pear and Brie Stack served with a fig compote, sticky onion marmalade & chimmichurri. This dish arrived with some serious expectation as my waitress had remarked that this was a staff favourite. Putting a strong foot forward definitely paid off as this entree was delicious. The pear and brie stack was richly indulgent with the bacon chutney dangerously addicting. This is definitely not something I would have ever known to order so my hat off to the chef for the orientation.
The second main of the night was the Trio Grilled Cheese which is comprised of house smoked duck with fig compote and triple cream brie, capicollo with sticky onion marmalade and sharp pecorino & an assortment of artisanal cheeses. These high quality sandwich wedges are served with a variety of accompaniments such as cranberry ketchup, bacon chutney, torched pear and tomato confit. First thoughts: definitely not the grilled cheese sandwiches I had growing up! Again the actual construct is quite simple but the dish really shines in the intrinsic quality of ingredients, simplicity of flavor profiles and ingredient pairing. I was only able to sample one or two wedges but the bread was beautifully fresh and held the rich cheese and meats very well.
The third main was a trio of Lamb Pops served with fig compote, yam fritters and gherkin aioli. To pace myself, I only ate one pop but the meat was seared perfectly and the meat was very tender. The underlying bed of yam fritter topped with gherkin aioli definitely made the dish more substantial but it was the lamb that really shined. I almost am inclined to recommend this as a slightly heavier appetizer to go with one of the tasting boards. There was quite a lot of different meat served throughout the evening but with a rich red wine, this lamb would be a perfect starter or light entree.
The last offering of the evening was the massive, aptly named Grande Plus sharing board made up of a trio of tartares, a poached soft shelled crab, smoked oysters, fresh and smoked olives, Salt Spring & local artisanal cheeses, drunken mushrooms, spiced pesto, duxelle with love and hand crafted bacon chutney. As a bit of a disclaimer, this tasting board can easily feed a couple people so tackling it alone after all the above food was a little daunting. What I tried to do was taste a little bit of every element on the board to get a feel for the general quality of the order. Overall, a very European offering that many used to shareplate cuisine will find comforting. With a half glass of wine and good company, this board is definitely a social culinary experience. The tartares were fantastic and the cheeses were simply sublime.
Along with all the great food, I was given a few drinks to sample. The amazing bartender wanted to make me quite a few drinks but I had an event right after this dinner so only sipped two: a Moulin Rouge w/ ELYX Vodka, Rosewater strawberry puree, Bianco & an Island Tale w/ 3-year Havana rum, Cointreau, Red Peppercorn syrup, House made Bitters. Both drinks were courteously mixed with less alcohol (my request) but were still pretty strong. As a bar, TASTE is clearly exemplary. I am not a big social drinker but for those that like it, there are quite a few creative mixed drinks to sample all night long.
Wrapping up with a few final thoughts, this menu tasting really surprised me for a few reasons. Before trying the food, I had a somewhat unfair preconception that a bar/lounge next to a nightclub could not possibly offer anything spectacular in terms of food. As you can see from the photos and words above, TASTE definitely does not subscribe to the norm when it comes to standard bar/lounge food. Talking with Chef Decembrini throughout the meal really informed me as to how much time and effort was made to create a unique, enjoyable dining environment. From the locally sourced ingredients to the natural wood boards the food comes on, the entire meal felt very warm and sincere. Nothing was overly complex but the food still felt luxuriously indulgent with the natural richness of the cheeses and meats. I look forward to a return visit to try the rest of the menu and will definitely remember to save space for dessert. Give this place a try, I am pretty sure you will be surprised at what you find.