C and I had a lunch date last Friday. Initially we were planning to have sushi at Sushi Club or Tenshi Sushi, but then she asked if I was interested in going to downtownfood. I have my reserves for the restaurant as my past two reviews haven’t been exactly favorable. I do not like strong, heavy spices and because everything I have tried there has been exactly that therefore I felt I had no reason to dine here. However, I have seen pictures of some of the items on their new menu and I was interested, so I agreed to C’s suggestion. I was actually a tad nervous for this date b/c C had wanted me to meet Darren, owner of downtownfood. I know he has read my reviews and possibly hated my guts. But hey, I braced myself and if he decided to chew my face off… I have teeth too!
I didn’t meet Darren until the end of our meal. He knew I was coming b/c C had informed him, and as soon as formal introductions were made… he has confirmed my suspicions! Right off the bat he told me that he was very upset about what I wrote on my blog (and even considered banning me from the restaurant… yikes), and I thought he was just going to flip at me and walk away (he didn’t, and instead we had a long chat). In the end I’ve made myself clear that I did not hate his restaurant. I just reaffirmed my position that I always review as it is, and the dishes I tried previously were way too spicy. I am known to not sugarcoat things b/c let’s face it, why bother? I may as well start writing one-line reviews: “great food great restaurant yummy” and leave it at that! Unless I am paid to write a positive review, if I am dining out of my own pocket why would I not share my experience as is? As I always say – if you disagree with me on something I’ve wrote, challenge me! There is still so much for me to learn and I don’t mind being corrected if I am wrong. However, I refused to be labelled as wrong just because you disagree with what I say.
Here’s what we tried today:
Watermelon Salad – Complimentary
Fresh, pickled and jellied watermelon, cucumber, feta, mint oil and black pepper
As C and I were getting comfortable, we received this salad with compliments of the Chef. This is a simple salad with quite in-depth flavors. The watermelon itself is sweet and fresh, while the jellied watermelon resembled jolly ranchers. Then you have the saltiness from the feta cheese paired with the refreshing taste from the cucumber. The mint oil was quite mild so I didn’t taste a lot of it, but I don’t think it was meant to be the star of the dish anyway. A lot of flavors are going on on this plate – C enjoyed it so much that she ordered it again as the starter for her 3 course lunch.
Japanese “Nicoise” Salad – $19
Seared albacore tuna, broxburn tomatoes, daikon, green onion, black sesame, black radish, ponzu and sweet nasume sauce finished with a soft poached crispy egg
C and I decided to split this b/c we had really wanted to try it, but we were also interested in the $25 – 3 course lunch. However, salads don’t take up much stomach space anyway so we went for it. The kitchen was kind enough to split the salads onto two plates for us although I suspect we got more than a half portion on our plates. The main green was arugula – I could barely taste the peppery-ness as the sweet dressing neutralized it quite well. The albacore tuna was nicely cooled and only slightly seared. Once again, the sushi-crazed person in me would love to see raw tuna slices instead but that would simply be a sashimi salad. The tomatoes were slightly sweet and slightly acidic and very refreshing! And then, there’s the beautiful…
Crispy Poached Egg
This was the egg that got me really excited. I love gooey egg yolks. I love perfectly poached eggs. I’ve never had a crispy poached egg before and I definitely love it. Although I don’t feel that the runny egg yolk did anything for the salad as the dressing itself already stood out on its own it was just so nice eating it!
Course 1 – Crispy Eggplant Wontons
Noble Meadows Goat cheese, sweet mirin, pickled eggplant tapenade and edamame puree
This is easily my favorite appetizer. As I said to C and our server Andrew, it’s all of my favorite ingredients in one bite so how can I not love it? I will eat eggplant cooked any way, so when it’s thinly sliced, deep fried… and wrapped around goat cheese? Just delicious. I also really liked the tapanade which I thought was mushrooms at first. It is sweet pickled and I love the hints of mirin with it – I always like to add dashes of it in lot of dishes that I cook. The edamame puree was nice and light – it tasted like it was blended/whipped for a very long time as it was creamy.
Salt & Pepper Squid – Complimentary
Tempura Humboldt squid, salt, pepper, green chilies and lime
We were surprised when this was brought to the table. Piping hot pieces of tender calamari with just a hint of spice from the green chilies. The dipping sauce was garlic mayo and hot sauce and naturally I only used the garlic mayo. I loved the texture of the calamari and was enjoying the clean bites… and then thought to myself, are these calamari steak pieces? They remind me of the ones I had in Hawaii! Indeed they are, from the giant Humboldt squid. The squid itself is so huge that you would not be served calamari-ring style. Anyways, if salt and pepper squid is your thing you should definitely give the version here a try – the texture is just amazing!
Salt and Pepper
So in my previous post at Shiro’s, I commented that I did not understand the point of dipping fried foods in salt. Darren asked me, have you not had fries sprinkled with salt before? Well sure… but I don’t dip my fries in salt! Anyhow, I did try dipping the calamari with the Maldon salt here and it really intensified the flavors, and it helped that the batter is very light. It really helped bringing out the flavors of the calamari without weighing it down. The other important thing is the salt itself of course – you can certainly play around with different flavors! Overall I think it is only worth dipping in salt if the fried food itself is served piping hot.
Course 2 – Pan Seared Ewe-nique Farm Crispy Chicken Leg
Braised cabbage, Chinese black mushrooms and Korean BBQ vinaigrette
I am a fan of lamb from Ewe-nique Farm but haven’t had their chicken before. The chicken itself was so lean and meaty and it was absolutely flavorful! I love the crispiness of the skin… if I recall correctly the chicken is cooked in duck fat – that’s probably a contribution to the intense flavor of the meat. There was a bit of heat from the vinaigrette but the sweetness from the braised cabbage helps tone it down.
Course 2 – Coho Salmon Fish Cakes
I don’t have a menu description for this dish as it was a special for the day. The fish cakes were made with fresh flown-in coho salmon from Vancouver the very same morning. Resting on a carrot and ginger puree and topped with arugula and radish slices, the puree itself had a mild sweetness to it which didn’t take away the main flavors of the fish cake.
I love the fact that the fish was not fully cooked. It was lightly seasoned so you can truly enjoy the sweetness of the salmon. One thing I noticed right away was the fish cakes were not fishy at all. That can only mean that the fish is extremely fresh. The other components of the fish cakes were soft, but not overcooked celery bits and purple onions so you don’t get hard bits of vegetables with each bite of soft fish.
Course 3 – Strawberry Chocolate Donut
Although donuts don’t have a place in my heart, I really enjoyed this warm, soft and chewy treat. The sweet strawberry glaze and the dark chocolate crumbs complemented each other really well. Is it wrong of me for wanting to eat this with ice cream?
Cured Hamachi Slices
This was not our order but I just had to sneak a picture of it. It was enjoyed by BonVida Wines’ Mark Bata. I wonder what cured hamachi tastes like compared to hamachi sashimi? I should’ve just snatched a slice off that plate…
I definitely enjoyed my meal today. I actually wish this was my first meal at downtownfood because I feel the dishes I tried today are the true representation of what the restaurant can deliver. Everything I tried today was definitely tasty (and not deathly spicy). Our server Andrew was awesome and helpful and gave excellent service. Prices are on the high side b/c let’s face it, you are not paying for chicken bought from Superstore. Everything is made from scratch and they only buy from small/local/organic sources. It’s definitely nice seeing more and more restaurants going towards that direction for sure.