Near the end of a grey, cloudy day Wendy and I ascended to The Observatory for our first Dine Out Vancouver meal of 2014 on the Skyride from the base of Grouse Mountain. To our wonderment when the tram broke through the clouds we were treated to an absolutely stunning sunset of epic proportions, with the beautiful mountains surrounding our fair city as the backdrop.
The slopes were busy with skiers enjoying the sun. Neither of us has much skiing experience but maybe next time we will give it a go.
We headed to the observation decks to capture this beautiful moment together. I was glad I took the advice of the restaurant and arrived at the base of the mountain half an hour early so that we had time to enjoy the scenery.
We got there right when the restaurant opened at 5:00. I would recommend this reservation time not only to try to catch the aforementioned sunset, but also to beat the crowds as it didn’t seem to get busy until we were leaving at 6:30.
Reservations are a strict hour and a half time-slot during Dine Out (more on this later), and the restaurant drilled it into our heads when we booked, again when they phoned a few days before the reservations, and yet AGAIN when they phoned one more time the day of. I found all this drilling a bit patronizing and overkill-ish.
The interior was very warm and inviting, with nice mood lighting. That’s a fireplace right next to the table on the right; if we were ever to return I would try to book that one for a romantic setting.
…Although this time we were seated at a table with a view, which was much to our liking. We dove into the menu to make the final decisions on what to order from their $38 Dine Out Festival menu.
A bread basket was first on the scene. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to partake due to chewing restrictions after a recent gum graft (I know, I picked the absolute worst time to go under the knife! I didn’t realize it was going to be so restrictive until it was too late…), but Wendy enjoyed the angular, easy to rip bread. And she was kind enough to rip off some of the soft inner bits for me to taste 🙂
This was a pretty sizeable portion for two people, and I wondered if they pad the bread during Dine Out for diners who aren’t used to small plates. Since, as you’ll see, their plates are big but portions are really small…
I chose the Duck Confit; grapefruit gel, petite greens, lemongrass, ginger powder. It was served slightly chilled as a salad-type dish. The grapefruit gel was quite flavourful and added a little something to the duck, but I can’t say the same for the ginger powder on the frisee which didn’t taste like much of anything at all. It did beautify the dish somewhat though. I guess they forgot the lemongrass since I didn’t see it and the waiter didn’t mention it… (more on that later too)
Looking at the picture now I can’t help but think it looks like a smiley face…not much of a fan of the exact half-plate presentation either but maybe that’s just me since Wendy says that’s “in” right now.
Wendy’s Black Cod Brandade came with organic egg fudge, tomato vinaigrette, and rye bread. This was also served slightly chilled and had a bit of a potato salad vibe to it since cod, olive oil, and potato were mashed up into the brandade. The egg yolk “fudge” continued that theme and provided an interesting accompaniment. The rye bread on the ends was crisp and wafer thin.
Now this is more my type of presentation. If there’s big empty spots on the plate I like to have them drizzled with a little sauce or something to break up the white. Again, personal preference though.
The Herb Gnocchi (all 8 pieces of it…grrrr -that’s both my expression of frustration, and the sound my stomach was making after our dinner…) was decent, but I’ve had much better. Most recently on a return visit to Chambar where we had their divine Canard et Chevre which combines ricotta with gnocchi as The Observatory’s does:
- see Food Punk’s “When Duck Meets Gnocchi” for the mouth watering details
- also had a better version at L’Abattoir, when we reviewed their Canadian lamb loin.
The gnocchi came with black pepper ricotta, tomato stew, and cranberry brown butter. Both our dishes also came with a mix of vegetables including the attractive, thinly sliced chioggia beets you can see above. The ricotta was a great pairing, but the tomato stew and cranberry butter combo was overly tart and I ended up leaving it on the plate. I think it would have paired better with a meat dish such as Wendy’s.
Wendy’s Braised Beef Short Rib was a much better value than my dish, and was the highlight of the meal. Stacked up in a compact cylinder, the meat was fatty, juicy, and flavourful. It was supposed to come with onion jam, but we couldn’t see any on the plate so maybe it had been blended with something. We don’t know since again the waiter didn’t tell us…
The pomme puree was infused with parsley for colour which was kind of neat. My mom used to add broccoli and cheese to mashed potatoes as a kid so this brought back fond memories. Wendy didn’t have much of an opinion on the sweet mocha crumble in the foreground, but from the small taste I had I could see that it might go well with the meat.
We were both most interested in the Tart Tatin below, but we opted to order two different desserts and split them so I picked the Dark Chocolate Ganache. Wendy isn’t a big fan of ganache but for those that are this hit the spot for me. Soft and smooth (and easy on my tender palate lol) the cherries were a classic match. The meringues on the side were airy and fluffy.
This is the Tart Tatin. It wasn’t so much the tart we were after as the maple bacon and walnut ice cream on top! Sadly this one was a disappointment. The bacon flavour was very subtle and the maple very dominant. The highlights were the caramel dollops on the side, so I guess that speaks for itself.
So that does it for the food, but how was the service? Well, overall pretty bad seeing that The Observatory is a fine dining establishment.
Considering all the lectures on arriving on time or the clock would start ticking on the hour and a half seat time, we had considerable waits between courses. We arrived right at 5:00, ordered promptly, ate at a steady pace when we had food in front of us, and still got out of there 5 minutes late. Considering the bit of delay between the dishes, they sure were fast to swoop in with the bill immediately after the dessert plates were cleared. Forget giving your meal time to settle; Wendy still had half a glass of wine left from the dinner pairing but we felt obligated to leave. If you opt for a dessert pairing then I hope you like chugging your wine!
Another gripe I had was this: our waiter gave very cursory descriptions of our plates. When a chef is as creative as The Observatory’s obviously is, and you bill your restaurant as contemporary cuisine, you can’t expect your diners to guess what’s on the plates. To add insult to injury, we listened in on the descriptions given to the surrounding tables and they were far more detailed than ours. So we were continually referring to the menu on our phones trying to decipher our plates, but certain things were still inscrutable.
Then there were the mistakes. When they forgot to bring Wendy’s wine with the main course and we had to remind them (politely), there was no apology. They mixed up our desserts and brought a coconut eclair. At least this time there was an apology, but then when the proper dishes were put on the table, they still swapped our plates (we were sharing anyway, but they didn’t know that), and gave no description of what was in the dishes. At coat check they had difficulty finding my jacket, apparently it had fallen.
I know, that last one’s a bit nit-picky but all these little things added up by the end of the meal. Overall we still managed to enjoy ourselves due to the romantic setting.
Dinner included a theater show, so we checked it out at the end of the night. The 15 minute Born to Fly video we watched had some beautiful scenery and we enjoyed it even more since we had the whole theater (!) to ourselves.
A final note: Dine Out meals can vary from the normal experience at participating restaurants, so this review is just that: a review of the Dine Out experience at The Observatory. I can’t say I recommend the restaurant at this time, but the experience as a whole was rewarding.