Reliable Raincity rarely lets diners down

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

REVIEW – Chefs work magic with vegetables and staff know their stuff at this refined spot

Mia Stainsby

A grilled chicken breast from Raincity Grill is served with braised walnuts. The restaurant avoids the stampede to be hip and instead focuses on fine food and excellent service.

If there’s anything to lament about living in a great restaurant city, it’s this: You can get so focused on keeping up with the brand new places, others are left in the dust of your gastro travels.

After years of neglect, I returned to Raincity Grill recently; chefs had come and gone, nations had risen and fallen in the interim.

What I like about Raincity is its focus on food and service. It’s not part of the stampede to be hip and, in fact, it looks its age. At 15, many restaurants are approaching retirement but Raincity has aged gracefully. No extreme makeover. No nip, no tuck. Instead, it’s an intelligent, comfortable fit for the ‘mature’ diner interested in a quiet, lovely dinner out. Impeccable food, leadership in running a green restaurant and experienced service are its hallmarks.

Quelle surprise when I ask how a dish is prepared or what wine might go with what. The answer’s right there, with confidence, not (as often happens) a promise to “check with the kitchen,” then forgetting to get back to you. Servers oughtta know that a diner who asks a lot of questions might very well be a food critic.

On one visit, a waiter (Mark Taylor, I’m told, who’s been there since the restaurant opened) knew how certain textures were achieved, how flavours were manipulated, and the origin of the wheat for the flour that went into the delicious bread (Vancouver Island). That, I’d call seasoned service.

I was very curious about Raincity’s five-course 100-Mile Tasting Menu ($62) where all ingredients except the salt is local. The canola oil, they admit is from the Prairies. I was impressed with what’s possible. There are suggested wine matches and Garry Oaks, Venturi-Schulze and Averill Creek offer great selections from within the 100-mile radius.

Chef Peter Robertson, who’s done a stage at England‘s Fat Duck (once named the best restaurant in the world) has nothing but solutions to the limitations of local, local, local, both on the tasting and regular menu.

Yes, vegetables aren’t abundant in winter. So what? He gives new meanings to root vegetables. Celeriac, served with Polderside chicken, is hay-baked. First, it’s covered in a pastry shell, then covered in hay, then steam baked. Once cracked out of the pastry shell (which keeps it moist), the celeriac is puréed into a creamy, aromatic side dish.

A whipping cream canister is commandeered to perform magic on vegetables. Mashed potatoes, mixed with mascarpone, put through the canister, transforms the heavy potato into something soft and mousse-like; speaking of mousse, the mushroom mousse served with the Bayne Sound scallops is ethereal. And I’ve never before raved about onions but I love the “onion fondue” served with mushroom tagliatelle on the a la carte menu. That whole pasta dish is wonderful.

The tasting menu dessert is a burnt fireweed honey custard, set in an emptied eggshell. Local honey is recruited for sweetening and, molecular gastronomer at heart, Robertson turns honey and oil into “honey caviar” to serve on the side along with a smear of fromage frais. (Smears, you oughtta know, are showing up a lot on plates lately. It looks like someone’s stepped on it and slipped.)

As it turns out, the à la carte menu is pretty local, too. About 80 per cent of ingredients are from the 100-mile zone. As far as the savouries go, there aren’t many mis-steps. Dishes are rarely overly oily and flavour essences are clean and clear. A butternut squash soup is beautifully creamy; the kitchen cannot shake itself of the grilled Caesar salad that’s been on the menu since Day 1 but I like it; Polderside duck breast with braised black lentils, a collection of perfectly roasted root vegetables and glassy duck jus is delicious.

Desserts, though, don’t have a similar degree of refinement. A molten chocolate cake wasn’t exactly molten and it was over-shadowed by an enormous dollop of squash mousse next to it. Anjou pear mouse with cranberry granita was bland. I did, however, love that honey custard with honey caviar and fromage frais.

As for the wines, the restaurant has won several awards as has sommelier Brent Hayman. He’ll guide you through the wine list, which requires heavy lifting.

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Overall: 4

Food: 4 1/2

Ambience: 4

Service: 4

Price: $$$

1193 Denman St., 604-685-7337,

Open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Friday; brunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


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