This year marks the 10th year of the Dine Out Vancouver Festival, the largest restaurant festival in Canada. Running from January 20th to February 5th, the festival features a whopping 231 restaurants, each offering a prix-fixe menu in one of three price points – $18, $28, or $38. For a full list of restaurants and menus, go HERE. Needless to say, if there’s a restaurant in Vancouver you’re dying to try, this is a great way to go, as each menu offers a selection of what they do best.
I took part in a media tour giving us an early sample of what to expect. The evening began at Bacchus Restaurant in the Wedgewood Hotel with canapes like mushroom risotto balls and sparkling wine. After an introduction to what Dine Out would offer this year, we were divided into teams of 6-8 people, and secreted away with a guide to a restaurant that would be unknown to us until we pulled up out front.
Curry lime wings with chayote apple slaw at The Reef
Plantain chips with jerk mayo at The Reef
My team’s first location was The Reef on Main Street. I’ll admit to being more likely to pick even mild salsa over medium so I was a bit scared about the spice factor, but left pleasantly surprised. The Reef is offering a great casual $18 menu at both their Main Street and Commercial Drive locations – I suggest you go to this one with a few friends so you can sample everything they have on offer. The meal started off well with delicious and simple appetizers – plantain chips with jerk mayo (I could have eaten the whole plate, they were perfectly crunchy), curry lime wings with chayote apple slaw (so juicy and flavourful, and unique to their Dine Out menu), and roasted red pepper and coconut soup (great texture). Each item can be paired with Kronenberg White beer or a BC VQA wine for an additional cost.
Jerk chicken at The Reef
There are essentially two main courses at The Reef – Escoviched Snapper and Jerk Chicken or Tofu. I am picky about my tofu because I’m a texture person; if it’s too spongy it really isn’t appetizing to me. This tofu was nice and firm, so that was pleasant, but I far preferred the jerk flavour on the chicken to the tofu. The chicken seemed to absorb and add to the character of the jerk, while the tofu just acted as a receptacle and didn’t add anything of its own. Really though, you can’t go wrong with either – it was a tasty and not overpowering jerk. Co-owner Simon Cotton said the jerk will vary slightly in spiciness depending on the batch. Each time it’s made they put 26 peppers of various sizes in, so depending on the combination of peppers your jerk could be a little more or a little less spicy than the one I had. The snapper was a great dish as well, and all three paired well with their wine and beer selections.
Organic garlic soup at CinCin
Wood grilled Tofino octopus at CinCin
Unfortunately we ran out of time and couldn’t sample their dessert offerings (consider it a surprise). We headed back downtown to CinCin on Robson Street to sample their $38 menu offering. I have long heard many great things about CinCin and never been, so needless to say I was excited! Their menu blew me away from the get go with a fabulous organic garlic soup, paired with a Gray Monk Gewurtztraminer. The sommalier told us it took him about a dozen wines to find the right pairing for the soup, and I can tell you that all his effort was worth it. Our other appetizers were also excellent – their take on the caesar salad, and tender Tofino octopus with fingerling potatoes. Again like The Reef, each dish at CinCin has a suggested wine pairing for an additional cost.
Lois Lake Steelhead Trout at CinCin
Things just got out of hand after that when they gave us two more glasses of wine to pair with the four entrees they laid out to sample: trout, pasta with lamb, pork cheeks with polenta, and a sunchoke risotto. What to try first! I think trout often gets a short shrift in the fish community, especially in a city that favours its salmon. Here it sings, cooked just so and with the skin nice and crispy. The pasta with lamb wasn’t my favourite, but the lamb was beautifully tender. The pork cheeks were good but paled in comparison to the butter soft and just plain incredible polenta, the real star of that particular dish. The polenta was probably my favourite thing I ate all evening, with the garlic soup a close second. It took me a couple tastes, but I did eventually warm to the sunchoke risotto, especially when paired with the Pentage Red Blend wine. This time we did manage to make it to the dessert, and it was an excellent cap to the meal. I would especially recommend the pear panacotta with the salted caramel in the middle, especially for fellow savory over sweet people.
Following CinCin we headed back to Bacchus to rejoin the rest of the media teams, where we had our final dessert, creme brulee and some BC ice wine. Other teams had sampled places like Bitter, Campagnolo, Kitsilano Daily Kitchen and Hawksworth, and everyone sounded like they had a great time and ate some fabulous food. It was my first Dine Out experience and I can definitely tell you it will not be my last!