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Friday, January 21, 2011

The best meals for the best deals

I haven't logged a lot of miles at Dine Out Vancouver because restaurants aren't quite themselves during the annual event. Regular menus are replaced in large part by a prix fixe, sta look a little worse for wear and customers parachute into restaurants they wouldn't normally visit. As a critic, I wouldn't be getting an accurate read so, mostly, I sit it out and get to stay home. (I know, boo hoo, right?)
But, were I to join the rumble for reservations, first and foremost, I'd elbow my way to a reservation at one of my favourite high-ends.

$38 meal at an A-list restaurant is the big score when you consider it'll cost but a few dollars more than a regular entree.
In the $38 category, you darn well should get the same quality of food and service. Restaurants such as Bacchus, C, Chambar, Cin Cin, Diva at the Met and West would be nuts to downgrade or short-shrift their product and service for Dine Out. That would be short-term gain for long-term damage to a valuable reputation.
As Rob Clark, executive chef overseeing C, Raincity Grill and Nu restaurants (all part of Dine Out) explained to me, it's not about profits -- they're thrilled to fill seats and be able to retain valuable staff over the slow winter months and keep the cash flow circulating.
(In fact, C is offering five courses instead of the usual three courses. Nu will be offering four courses and I've heard the albacore tuna with moussaka, green beans, parsley, pickled red onion salad and saffron lemon sauce is to die for.)
I notice db Bistro Moderne is in this $38 category and while a regular tab at db wouldn't be as much as at West or Bacchus, it's tempting to take advantage of Dine Out and check out the food from the new chef, Nathan Guggenheim. (And who knows? Maybe I will.)
And if you haven't tried Cru, Glowbal Grill, Goldfish, Kitsilano Daily Kitchen, L'Abattoir, Coast, Raincity Grill -- same thing. They're not top-of-the-heap expensive to start with, but still, nothing to sniff at -- they're defi-nitely worth a try in the $38 category.

Scrolling through the $28 off erings, let's see ... I'd leap for Nu. It's perfect timing to try out the change of cuisine there. Everyone's been urging Harry Kambolis to do good Greek food; he's finally done it, so go already!
I love Campagnolo (I see it's first-come, first-served at this place). I'd recommend the ceci (crispy spicy chickpeas) because I've tried it, and the red-wine braised beef polenta with kale, marrow and salsa verde because the act of reading that started a waterfall in my mouth.
Maenam's a very good bet, considering it's the best Thai restaurant in town and if you haven't been, you should go.
And Our -- it's worth $28 just to sit in the stunning room and gaze up at the origami lantern snaking down its length. I'd start with crispy squid and spicy salad, move on to their fabled sake kasu sable-fish with gingered tomatoes and sweet miso sauce and end with Vietnamese coffee pannacotta even if it meant a sleepless night (and it would if I know Vietnamese coff ee).
Cobre serves intriguing Latin American cuisine and I can't imagine being disappointed there. If you haven't been to Salt Tasting Room, you oughtta. It jump-started the charcuterie with wine fever in Vancouver and still has the best scene.

And holy cow, I see Sanafir is offering an $18 menu. I'd sure be interested in following its "Silk Road" flavours. (The dishes are tapas sized.) I'm intrigued by the chicken, chorizo, poached egg salad with caramelized onions, paprika honey vinaigrette and the Punjabi butter chicken with mango chutney, raita and pappadum. There's only one dessert, but who's going to complain about five-spice chocolate cake with cardamom yogurt and berry compote?
And at Au Petit Chavignol (that which sparkles on an uninviting strip of East Hastings), you could do comfort (squash and apple soup with Gorgonzola fritters; four-cheese macaroni and a plate of cookies) or play hip, urban young thing and nibble your way through Italian prosciutto di Parma, a fromager's plate with cheeses, duck rillettes, cornichons and spiced quince preserves. Finish with warm chocolate cookies, which I've had, served in a brown paper bag and I'm tellin' you -- it's got healing powers. Not bad for an $18 setback, huh?
Blog: vancouversun.com/miastainsby
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