If I had all the money in the world and could live in a different city every few weeks for the rest of my life, I’d spend my time hopping from food festival to food festival, making sure to be at all the expos and conferences, and I’d definitely be in Vancouver BC for the two weeks of Dine Out Vancouver restaurant festival.
Every year Vancouver participates in a scheme created to encourage people to eat out. For $18, $28 or $38, you can have a three-course meal from some of the top restaurants and eateries in the city – a bargain and a half, for sure. Now in its ninth year, this hugely popular scheme feeds both locals and visiting food lovers for two weeks in the middle of winter. Though I knew nothing of the scheme before arriving, I came just in time to experience not one but two top-notch Dine Out meals: one at the top of Mt. Grouse in their fine dining restaurant with a dear friend (we went ice skating afterwards on top of a mountain), and the other at The Metropolitan Hotel’s in-house restaurant, Diva.
The Met’s head chef, Quang Dang, is fascinating. A scientist at heart and incredibly conscientious about the environment we live in (as are most Vancouverites, I found), his food is thoughtfully put together with ingredients sourced locally, featuring many ‘happy’ meats. One of my dining companions that evening was a good friend of his and had told me how she loved hearing him talk about food, the way he thought through his dishes and incorporated his scientific knowledge into gastronomical genius; I was definitely ready to sample some of it.
There were high notes and low notes. The amuse bouche, a duck liver mousse wrapped in an apple jelly and accompanied by a pecan crisp, was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, with a perfect combination of textures and flavours. The starters were a little lacklustre, though still perfectly executed. Most of our party of eight had opted either for the salad (gala apple, whipped goat’s cheese, rocket, endive, red cabbage, crouton, pecans and pecan crisps) or for the cream of mushroom soup (a mushroom medley, croutons and crème fraiche) and, though beautifully presented, they were, really, just a salad and a soup. Having said that, there were elements that really showcased Quang’s mind at work: the whipped goat’s cheese caressing the side of the salad bowl; the components of the soup waiting in the bowl to be flooded with liquid at the table. I wanted to dive into Quang’s brain and find his secret science vs. food files.
The mains were, again, beautiful and tasty: mine was the sockeye salmon (very BC!) on a potato pressé with a clam sauce, crème fraiche and petits pois, recommended to me due to its local nature, but the other meals ranged from butter-poached lobster (how incredibly decadent) to a duo of duck, served with German spatzle, cherries, celery and a fruit compôte.
Despite all this good food, I was still slightly dubious. Where was Quang’s genius? The fare thus far had been dishes I could’ve sampled in any fine dining establishment in the world, but where was that special quality that only a scientist can bring to the table?
And then the desserts arrived.
Half the table had opted for the passionfruit vanilla cream mousse, served with passionfruit jelly, raspberries and a cream quenelle, but the other half for the bizarre-sounding Stilton cheesecake, with a rhubarb compôte and fresh berries. Whilst the passionfruit dessert was pleasant but not outstanding, the cheesecake was like a slap in the face accompanied by fireworks and a 16-piece orchestra. It was delightfully creamy with only a hint of blue, which was both enough to appease the Stilton lovers and yet not too much for those with a Stilton aversion, such as myself. The biscuit-base and tartness of the rhubarb were the perfect accompaniments, but what really set this dish apart was the brulée topping: a crackly, perfectly brown, sugar thin rested atop the slice of cheesecake, the final piece to the puzzle. This was what I had been waiting for: something so simple yet so right.
Of course, the best part of the entire meal was that it only cost us $38 each, not including wine or the supplement for the lobster dish – more than a bargain for what was a very decent meal all round. The service was excellent and the atmosphere lively, but of course it helped that I was with a large group of wonderful friends, old and new. I’d be curious to see what Quang’s regular fare is like outside the Dine Out season, but one thing of which I’m certain is that, fashioned by such a creative mind, it would be nothing less than fabulous.
Diva at the Met Restaurant, 645 Howe Street, Vancouver BC, V6C 2Y9, Canada. Website.