Contemporary Canadian cuisine reborn in Gastown - Metro US

Contemporary Canadian cuisine reborn in Gastown

So.Cial at Le Magasin
332 Water St.

Open for Dinner
Nightly; 5 p.m. to late

Open for Lunch
Monday to Friday; 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Open for Brunch
Saturday & Sunday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Signature Drink: Lemon Meringue

Signature Dish: Rib Eye

Rating: **** 1/2

Dinner & drinks for 2: $110

So.Cial has had its ups and downs over the past few years, going through several chefs, and, to my mind, never really solidifying their vision. Friday nights were a hit and miss here, despite the prime Gastown location, and the butcher shop was more popular than the dining room—until recently. With the arrival of Denmark’s celebrated chef Harman Gill, who has taken over as EC, it looks like a new era is about to begin.

With Gill’s background at places such as Michelin-starred The Fat Duck (UK) and Enoteca Pinchiorri (Italy), I expected a menu heavy on the sauces, reductions, and animal fats. And while a foie gras terrine does grace the small plates menu—with burnt chives and bitter salad, no less—the bulk of the food is locally sourced, organically raised, and/or caught in the wild. In other words, it is contemporary Canadian—or rather, B.C.—cuisine, with some fresh, Danish takes and some aboriginal inspiration (think bannock dessert).

Several recent visits revealed, in fact, a menu that is big on clean flavours, clean cooking, and—heaven help us all—clean living. Chef Gill, by his own admission, is no fan of gastriques and their ilk, and it shows in the food. A vegetable platter ($23) built for two—or perhaps just for one hungry vegan—is glazed with jasmine tea and not much else. Vegetables, in fact, play a prominent role on the menu, as with the complimentary clay pot of “planted” vegetables and leafy herbs that arrives at each table, sticking out of a dilled-yogurt base and sprinkled with chive “dirt.” Even my three-year-old—no fan of her leafy greens—would enjoy this fresh take on an amuse bouche.

For dinner one night, we tried the three-course prix fixe menu ($45). Forget about ordering what you like, just tell the chef what you don’t like, and he will compose the rest. Lightly seared Bayne Sounds scallops with chicken crackling were followed by tender beef medallions with burnt onion puree and oodles of sparingly glazed vegetables. A light finish of fresh blueberries, cranberry gelée, and toasted financiers was just sweet enough to calm the canines, but still left a fresh taste in the mouth, and a light, comfortable feeling in the stomach. This is not a place to chow down on endless fries, but you also don’t need to worry about having to pick up a falafel on the way home afterwards.

Another night saw us trying beautifully cured salmon and herring—trust a Dane to get that right. Many cured dishes leave me feeling like there’s a salt slick in my mouth, but Gill’s fish gives the impression of having just kissed the curing board before landing on the plate.

Dessert that night was a tableside wonder. Fresh beet cream—yeah, I know how it sounds, but it’s good—was spooned and dropped into a vat of nitrogen right before our eyes, then fished out and plopped on a plate. The trick is to stick it in your mouth right away, and not chew. You just let it dissolve and fizzle in your mouth, like an edible bath bomb. The flavour changes regularly, so next time, who knows, maybe pumpkin?

Gill’s new menu is refreshingly short on sugar and long on local, earthy flavour. And what could be more contemporary—or Canadian—than that?

Let the Tango Begin

Next year’s theme countries for the international wine festival have been announced, and it’s Argentina paired with New Zealand. Get ready for Malbec, Torrontés, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, plus rosé as the global focus. This week, try out Torrontés, an Argentinean white varietal that is characterized by notes of spice, citrus, almonds and tropical fruits. One to try: Michel Torino Cuma Organic 2008. BCLS $14.00.

Top Shelf
The 2nd Annual Chinese Restaurant Awards have been launched. Vote online for your favourite spots in 15 categories at www.chineserestaurantawards.com until November 15, 2009.

Dining Out
Cornucopia is Back
Araxi Restaurant (4222 Village Square, Whistler) is once again holding their Big Guns Winemakers’ Dinner, this year featuring the wines of Long Shadows Vintners. The five-course menu, based on the Pemberton Valley autumn harvest, includes wine pairings from LSV’s 2006 collection. $195 inclusive. For tickets and more info, visit whistlercornucopia.com.

Candlelight Conservancy
On October 28, help BC Hydro conserve power by dining by candlelight at one of 30 Vancouver restaurants, including The Refinery, C Restaurant, Diva at the Met, Le Gavroche, Provence Marinaside, Raincity Grill, Italian Kitchen, Sanafir, and So.Cial at Le Magasin. Contact individual restaurants for reservations and visit bchydro.com for more info.

Food in Brief
The One of a Kind Show this weekend at the new Vancouver convention centre promises several tasty adventures. Learn more at www.oneofakindvancouver.com.

Craig Noble, filmmaker and producer of foodie film, Tableland, has been named Foodie of the Year by Western Living Magazine’s Top Forty Foodies under Forty listing.

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