Currently, Dine Out Vancouver is on. Running until Feb. 2, it is a great time to experiment at a new restaurant. Participating restaurants have prix fixe menus set an $18, $28 or $38 price point, and most menus are three courses – the appetizer, main and dessert. These prices are often fairly good value to the customer, and restaurants get new people to walk through the doors. Since its inception in 2002, menus have gotten more ambitious and the scope of participants has expanded, making it a nice event to spice up January, a time when people want to be economical.
Tonight BeyondYVR went to Wildebeest restaurant. One of the hotter restaurants on the edge of Gastown, Wildebeest has become known for its adventurous combinations, winning the 2013 Vancouver Magazine award for Best New Restaurant. A restaurant mostly intended for the discerning carnivore, unique cuts of meat are presented in novel ways to entertain the palate. A large range of alcohols is also available including a comprehensive beer menu.
Upon entrance, we were seated at a large picnic-style table, two of which adorn the back of Wildebeest. An open kitchen was situated to our left so we could see the chefs as they cooked. Interesting touches were the dark lighting, décor fashioned from a wide range of woods and the rustic feel, offering simply nails in the wall to let people hang up their coats.
From the setting and the menu, it was pretty clear that Wildebeest was trying its best to tap into the Portland gastropub motif. The question was, would it succeed?
My appetizer was a lamb tartare that I thought was done very well. Lamb’s fattiness balanced well with the added horseradish and mustard seed, with that fat being key to mellowing out the wild taste of the meat. My friend’s cured confit trout salad was also very nice – light and refreshing, the trout having a slight smokiness and the restrained use of salt allowing the fish to shine through.
Next came a roasted ‘chicketta’, which was pork wrapped in chicken breast, pan seared, and served with roasted squash. The meat was very tender with the pork salted just perfectly for the whole piece, with the squash adding a beautiful sweetness. Any heaviness was balanced by the black garlic and vinegar sauce. I also added some butter-roasted veal sweetbreads at $9, which added a unique fluffy textural counterpart to the firm chicken and pork. My friend’s hanger steak was a lovely medium-rare, allowing one to enjoy the succulence of the meat and its balance with the sweetness of the pan-seared potatoes on the side.
Dessert was not as well-received as the other dishes. My cheesecake mousse, was a touch too salty with a goat component, and the lightness they intended thus lost because of the heavy taste. Garnished crumble confused my palate because the mousse itself was too light in texture to really stand up to the crunchiness. The added blood orange sorbet was too cold, off-setting the overall temperature of the dish, and did not balance out any of the issues. My friend’s chocolate sorbet with pear mousse and solid pears was nicer, but it was a very standard dessert.
At $38 for the base menu, I feel that Wildebeest was a nice adventure but I don’t think it was as good as others have made it out to be. The portion sizes are rather small, and the presentation seemed somewhat lacking. Dessert was a miss overall but the rest of dinner was great. Our server was also good – being quite timely with water, presenting us with food quite quickly and being friendly in conversation, but not overly intrusive.
I did like it, so next time I will go for just a light meal, without dessert!
Wildebeest can be found at http://wildebeest.ca/
Details on Dine Out Vancouver can be found at http://www.dineoutvancouver.com/