Wendy and I managed to secure a reservation on Dine Out Vancouver’s opening night this year for one of the more intriguing of the $18 menu hosts; Judas Goat Taberna in Gastown. For those unfamiliar with the Dine-Out concept, it’s a 17-day annual food festival where many local restaurants set a 3 or more course menu for $18, $28 or $38 per person. Many of these can be really good deals compared to the restaurant’s usual pricing so it’s a lot of fun for bargain hunters like ourselves.
Judas Goat turned out to be an interesting choice. Nestled halfway down Vancouver’s notorious Blood Alley, it’s a tiny 28-seat single room tapas space. And when I say it seats 28 that’s not 28 seated comfortably…they cram you in there pretty tight. Thankfully we seemed to get the best seats in the house for the claustrophobic, a wrap-around seat corner next to the open kitchen. Wendy tried to spot the methods used for cooking in such a small space from her vantage point, and it seemed as though the meals had been prepared elsewhere and then reheated prior to serving which made sense since we couldn’t see a proper stove back there. (Wendy edit: I’ve since learned that it’s actually a cooking method called “Sous-vide“)
Apparently the atmosphere is normally quite lively in there, but on this particular evening it felt just a little awkward to me. I think it may have helped if they had turned the music up a notch, but I felt like it was too easy to eaves-drop on conversations at neighbouring tables and vice versa. And it does draw a crowd so reservations are strongly recommended; we saw some people turned away for lack of reservations while we were eating. Using the washroom here is a “bit of an adventure” as our server put it, so be prepared to walk down a looong hallway for about half a block if you need the facilities (they are shared with the surrounding shops).
Our meal was 3 course, so we sampled one each of the appetizers. The Cured Meat Plate: Speck with House Made Apricot Mostarda came with two thin slices of house made baguette and 4 thinner-than-paper slices of prosciutto (San Daniele if I remember the waitress’ spiel correctly). Also a few cornichons. Small but delicious, and fit well with the restaurant’s normal theme of tapas.
The Beet Salad consisted of a handful of arugula atop 6 thin slices of beet. The arugula had been tossed in a yoghurt tahini dressing which tasted just the way it sounds. The only thing I can say about it is they used the right amount of dressing. Not bad, but I prefer this type of salad with cheese and nuts.
For the entree I chose Smoked Pork Loin and Beans. Two slices of paprika-smoked pork surrounded by a moat of white kidney bean and parsley stew. The pork was suitably tender and quite delicious, and when eaten with the stew reminded me of home-cooked comfort food the way my mom would make it. However I was frustrated that it wasn’t served with bread. The stew had quite a bit of liquid to it and since we were only provided with forks I was left with a sad looking puddle in the bowl at the end of it, practically crying out at me to sop it up. I found myself longing for even just one of those tiny little toasts from our Cured Meat Plate.
Wendy had the Lois Lake Steelhead Trout. The portion size was decent considering it’s a small plates establishment. The trout had a green onion dressing drizzled over it which imparted the expected flavour and the roasted cauliflower and lemon couscous underneath added a nice mild zing to each bite.
I was still feeling really hungry at this point so I was glad we had both decided on a filling dessert of Goat Cheesecake. This was the most filling part of the dinner for me and the most generous portion, what you would expect of a dessert that could easily be shared. Made with local goat’s cheese and served in the same mason jars they use as candle holders, it came topped with apricot compote and a sprinkle of crumbled graham crackers. I wolfed mine down so fast I barely noticed the difference from a regular cheesecake, but did appreciate the compote’s tartness. I found the whole thing rich but not overly sweet thanks to the compote.
There was a bit of a mix-up on our bill at the end but the staff were more than courteous in correcting it and explaining how the error had been made which was nice. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt as we left though, since this place quite literally looks out on the misery of the Downtown Eastside. I felt a bit crass having had such a hoity-toity fine dining experience while people outside are desperately trying to scrounge up enough funds for a buck-a-slice pizza. I just hope that these restaurants find a way to coexist with the community, (see Save-On-Meats for a shining example), and not further marginalize the down-and-out of skid row. That being said, I think it’s inherent that with these upscale restaurants pushing further into the DTES the area will become more trendy causing more condos to go up and less and less tolerance for the poor of the neighborhood. So I’m not sure if I’ll be back, but Judas Goat definitely left me with some food for thought on the drive home.