Early-bird dinner deal makes it Chow time

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

The eatery has softened its acoustics and introduced a three-course menu for $35 that’s excellent value

Mia Stainsby

Waitress Jill serves soup in the main dining room at Chow restaurant in Vancouver, as patrons relax in the bar area. Photograph by : Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

In May when I first reviewed Chow, the gist of it was that ya, ya, the food was lovely but the noise drove me crazy. It was worse than a Canucks home game during playoffs.

Fast-forward eight months. Different story. Now I find a pleasant buzz of conversation, thanks to an easy fix with sound-absorbing materials on the walls, and I can experience the place unplugged.

Dine Out Vancouver is in full tilt and although Chow isn’t a participant, it was packed by a loyal, local base of fans. (According to the grapevine, there are those who shun favourite restaurants to avoid Dine Out invaders.)

Since I last visited, Chow has introduced a three-course early-bird menu for $35, which runs from 5 to 6 p.m. (to 6:30 during Dine Out). I would suggest, if you like a good deal, this is worth checking out. I did.

For $35, I had a beet salad showcasing the hidden charms of the lowbrow root (baby beets, full of tender flavour with candied walnuts, Okanagan goat cheese, bitter orange purée and vin cotto vinegar). Second course: a lovely, roasted ling cod with sauce grenobloise atop bulgur salad and a side of silky cauliflower purée. Third course: frozen nougat, sprinkled with pistachios with vanilla-poached pear and a pear purée, which reminded me of a pear sorbet I had 20 years ago in France that still tantalizes me.

My partner’s $35 meal consisted of a creamy mussel soup with grilled bread and saffron froth; ultra-tender organic pork, sunchoke purée, pillowy gnocchi, chestnut jus. For dessert, he had chocolate mille-feuille with house-made puff pastry, coffee cream, Bailey’s ice cream and creme anglais.

Beside us, a table of two women looked astonished as they viewed the prix fixé menu. “This fixed menu looks great!” one of them said, as if expecting humble pie for earlybird cheapskates.

On another visit we ordered from the regular menu. We loved the roasted portobello tart; the flat iron beef with potato fondant, grilled king oyster mushroom, spinach purée and red wine braised shallots and the pan-seared Vancouver Island scallops with house-made garganelli pasta, oyster mushrooms, wild arugula and cauliflower purée.

On that visit, the dessert of pistachio and almond baklava with poached pears ad honey ice cream wasn’t as compelling as our prix fixé desserts, or as transcendent as a creamy lemon tart I’d had when I visited last May. Some of the main dishes, by the way, come in two sizes and prices.

Chef and co-owner Jean-Christophe (J.C. to anyone who knows him) has previously worked at Lumière and C restaurants, as well as at Montreal‘s pride, Toqué. He’s one of the new breed of chefs who butchers his own meat. He uses the pig snout to tail, so somewhere on the menu you’ll find sausage in some form (convenient package for some of the less-desirable bits), and now he brings in whole lamb to do the same. Dishes are $10 to $39.

Co-owner Mike Thomson plays the genial host and it’s a welcoming place; the bartender calls out a salutation as I peer into the bar area. Bar manager Christopher Flett takes his drinks very seriously with a delicious list of cocktails, a whisky and bourbon list. Wines are mostly New World with a growing selection of Old World.

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3121 Granville St., 604-608-2469

Open for dinner only, www.chow-restaurant.com

Overall: 4 1/2

Food: 4 1/2

Ambience: 4

Service: 4

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

© The Vancouver Sun 2008


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