A mutual friend of Fannypack’s and mine was visiting from out of town and Fannypack had the task of choosing a place for dinner. She then of course passed it on to me even though lately she’s been eating out way more often than I =P.
Upon googling I came up with Merchant’s Oyster Bar which is located on “The Drive” (Commercial Drive). What drawn me to this restaurant was its high rating on Urbanspoon plus the affordable $29 Prix Fixe menu. I later learned that this establishment is from the same owner as Cork & Fin.
Merchant’s Oyster Bar has a great nautical theme going on and I especially loved the rope embellishments right on top of the bar. It’s also a very small restaurant and apparently the largest party size they can accommodate is 6.
Between the whole group we were able to try most of everything I would’ve wanted to try here. I of course went with the prix fix menu. For the first course I picked the Freshly Shucked Oysters served with a Champagne Mignonette and fresh grated horseradish. Three different oysters were served but unfortunately, aside from the usual kusshi oysters, I couldn’t catch the name of the other two due to the high level of noisiness in the small restaurant, more on that later.
However it was no matter to my unrefined oyster tasting palette 😉 All three tasted great and fresh to me. One in particular though (not the kusshi) had a more defined alkaline lingering on the tongue afterwards, and that was my favorite part.
Fannypack and I also ordered the two bone portion of the Roast Bone Marrow ($13) served with the usual baguette slices, parsley and tomato salad.
I must say the amount of marrow served was not enough to even cover the two slices of baguette each. Not even to thinly coat, and to actually taste the marrow goodness you can’t really thinly coat the baguette or else all you’ll taste is baguette. So in the end it was only enough to cover half of each slice or one slice total each.
But whatever I was able to taste, tasted divine. It was buttery and satiating. I’ve tried recreating this at home before, without having tried it at a restaurant. Now that I have, I think I’ll attempt it again.
The subtle acidity of the parsley salad as a palette cleanser balanced out the fatty richness of the marrow. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed the parsley salad as parsley is probably one of my least favorite herbs.
Anyway Fannypack and I tried to quickly finish up this course as the others had to wait until we finished this extra helping until their second course arrived.
One of the others ordered the Bison Tartare for an extra $4 as part of the prix fixe. It was mixed with diced cornichon, house mustard and a cute quail yolk. Alongside was an arugula salad and kale chips.
It really did look like raw hamburger meat (I guess in the end that really is what it is). I had a bite and I was expecting a more gamey flavor from the bison meat but all I could taste was the pickles and the vinagrette. It wasn’t bad but I would’ve appreciated a more rustic flavor from the meat itself. Looking at it that’s what one would expect no?
My choice for the second course of the prix fix was the Prawn & Cod Ceviche. Within the mix were finely diced avocado, peppers, cilantro in a citrus vinaigrette. On the side was a generous serving of pretty pink paprika salt to be sprinkled on top.
The salt was definitely needed as the ceviche was quite bland by itself. I must say the cod pieces were a tad bit chewy. The solids just seem to be sitting in the vinaigrette without the marinade really infusing into the fish. This is probably my least favorite dish of the night.
The redeeming factor was the wondrous Papardelle third and final course. Isn’t it pretty? Wide noodles in a rich cream sauce mixed with wild mushrooms and a lovely runny yolk. So pretty that I almost didn’t want to break the yolk and mix it up.
The best part of this dish was the freshly made papardelle noodles. They were so tender, soft and chewy. A bit more doughy than I’m used to, but it wasn’t like I was eating raw dough. I haven’t had much experience with consuming freshly made and cooked noodles, so I don’t know what the texture is supposed to be like since I had nothing to compare the taste and texture to aside from how I felt when eating them. And I’m telling you I thoroughly enjoyed every bite. I really think the Papardelle is something to try here.
My friends ordered some different items and I was able to try a few bites here and there. Fannypack had the Ling Cod ($15) that was served with a bed of almond pesto, pieces of bacon lardon, and white beans. She found the fish to be bland towards the middle and I agree but I did not register that as a negative. The middle portion also felt like it needed just a smidgen more cook time. The almond pesto was delicious though and I still think this was a formidable effort.
The Manaku’s Pork Belly ($15) had a side of soba noodles with julienned cucumber, radish and green onions. I thought it could have been done crispier but whatever meat morsel I had was very tender.
Overall Merchant’s Oyster Bar has made quite an impression on me. I do have two complaints though. Firstly, due to the small size of the restaurant, plus the fact that they serve alcohol AND the fact that they played the music really loudly, the noise level got really high, really quickly. For most of the night my companions and I were yelling across the table to each other, and even then we had trouble hearing each other. Secondly, service was REALLY slow. Our 7:45 dinner ended at 10:00pm.
Having said that, I still can’t wait to come back for their buck-a-shuck brunch. Hopefully the noise level will be the an appropriate level at those hours. I’ve already made reservations!!