Dine Out Vancouver – Review of SoL Sun Belt Cookery (January 30, 2014)

BeyondYVR does Dine Out once again! In celebration of our webmistress’s birthday, we went out to SoL Sun Belt Cookery to partake in some Moroccan food. What can be as good as hot, spicy, saucy treats on a wet, windy and freezing Thursday evening?

(for a description of Dine Out Vancouver, refer to the first paragraphs in another of our posts, at http://ow.ly/tax65)

We’re both familiar with the seawall but have never stopped into SoL before. The food is the work of Abdel Elatouabi, who has cooked for the Crown Prince of Morocco as well as ran Le Marrakech in Vancouver. Situated on the north side of Denman, one gets a beautiful view of Coal Harbour while basking in the soft lighting and clean, comfortable furnishings of the restaurant.

SoL Sun Belt Cookery

SoL Sun Belt Cookery

As both of us were present for tonight’s meal, we each took three different courses from the Dine Out menu. Thus, enjoy our two-for-one review of this restaurant!

First came the appetizers, of which we had:

Vegetarian antipasto featuring hummus, falafel and grilled eggplant – the standard mezzes one seeks from a Middle Eastern establishment. Having that Moroccan twist, all three were mildly spiced, with a good texture. The complimentary flavors worked well together, and this dish definitely met our expectations.

Antipasto - (L-R) hummus, falafel, flatbread, grilled eggplant

Antipasto – (L-R) hummus, falafel, flatbread, grilled eggplant

Grilled house merguez sausage – with a crispy exterior and tender meat, the sausage was well-prepared and matched with the lightly marinated vegetables that topped them. That being said, the meat was a little too indiscernible amongst the textures, the harissa being a little overpowering on the dish. In this case, the harissa was finely ground but as a result a touch dusty, and in this case a little less may have perhaps been more. Presentation-wise, the arrangement on the plate left space which felt empty and gave an incomplete impression.

Grilled house merguez sausage with flatbread

Grilled house merguez sausage with flatbread

The mains we chose were:

Grilled mackerel with Moroccan spice and potato latkes – seasoned with chermoula, a citrus and cumin based marinade, the fillet served was surprisingly large. Perfectl done, the texture was flaky but not dry; oily with that savoury mackerel aroma, with the citrus from the chermoula and tomato-based sauce on the side helping to balance out the potential heaviness of the meat. However, the latkes were not particularly memorable accompaniments – instead of the tender, slightly crunchy texture where one can feel the separate slivers of potatoes in the mouth, these nuggets were compacted and deep-fried, making them individual pockets of flavor that did not interact with the rest of the dish.

In a sense, it seemed like having an amazing piece of fish with a McDonald’s hashbrown on the side. A well-prepared, not too heavy hashbrown, but a hashbrown nonetheless.

Grilled mackerel with potato latke

Grilled mackerel with potato latke

Duck leg confit – served with wild mushroom risotto cake, fennel orange salad, and cranberry citrus sauce, the duck was intensely flavorful, causing us to succumb to the temptation (and social faux pas) of picking up the bones to gnaw at them. The orange in the fennel did not stand out, but the fennel had a milder flavor which worked well with the duck. Cranberry citrus sauce is a general favorite of ours, and this variation was one we could have happily eaten a bowlful of. However, there was only a discreet swirl, like a coulis, which, while we cursed the paucity of, have to admit they did the right thing from a presentation point of view.

Duck Confit with fennel, orange and cranberry sauce

Duck confit with fennel, orange and cranberry sauce

So far, so good! And, after a lovely time chatting, dessert came, which were:

Moroccan beignets with dark chocolate and roasted almonds – truthfully, chocolate or almond flavors did not really come to play in this dish. Though the base garnish underneath must have had these ingredients from the coloring, the beignets were rather thick and quite chewy, giving the dish a very dense feel whose flavor seemed to be monopolized by the icing sugar that felt caked on as a result. By contrast, had the beignets been light and fluffy like those in New Orleans, the expansive mouthfeel from the pastry may have helped to space out the sweet sugar flavor, allowing the other components to shine through.

Moroccan beignets, dark chocolate and powdered almonds

Moroccan beignets, dark chocolate and powdered almonds

Apple and chocolate tart, with cinnamon sorbet – again, we were quite disappointed with this dish. The apple was fine, although a bit unsubstantial, and the chocolate was an interesting contrast. The ice cream just did not feel quite right – the tart being room temperature when served, the contrast the chef may have intended did not come out as vividly. Cream would have been preferred in this case. The cinnamon sorbet also failed to contribute anything to the dish – it was a watery, slushy sugar syrup, without much of a cinnamon flavor, and we did not continue past the first spoonful.

Apple and chocolate tart, cinnamon sorbet

Apple and chocolate tart, cinnamon sorbet

Service was very polite, very relaxed and let us sit back and enjoy a leisurely three-hour meal. However, there were interminable gaps between setting out the next dish, and instead of presenting us with the bill we had to inquire after twenty minutes of sitting around, talking. It’s a fine line with these establishments and their discretion was appreciated, but having your guests wait a half hour between each dish is a bit excessive.

One of SoL’s mottos is to feed your soul. With the first two dishes, it seemed like that they would completely satisfy that objective, but dessert seemed like an afterthought when compared to how tasty and varied the substantive parts of our dinners were. Presentation and service seem to be refined, however, and at $28 per meal, we had a very reasonable meal that was, overall, a nice experience.

SoL Sun Belt Cookery can be found at http://www.solsunbelt.com/.

Details on Dine Out Vancouver can be found at http://www.dineoutvancouver.com/.

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