January 30, 2009: Jean-Georges Comes to Vancouver

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Sea Urchin Toast, Yuzu, and Jalapeno
Sea Urchin Toast, Yuzu, and Jalapeno
Rice Cracker Crusted Tuna with Citrus Sriracha Emulsion
Rice Cracker Crusted Tuna with Citrus Sriracha Emulsion
Foie Gras Brule with Dried Sour Cherries and White Port Gelee
Foie Gras Brule with Dried Sour Cherries and White Port Gelee
Soy Glazed Short Ribs with Apple-Jalapeno Puree and Rosemary Crumbs
Soy Glazed Short Ribs with Apple-Jalapeno Puree and Rosemary Crumbs
Lobster with Potato Gnocchi, Smoked Butter, and Lemon
Lobster with Potato Gnocchi, Smoked Butter, and Lemon
Banana Cake with Caramel Ice Cream and Pecan Crumble
Banana Cake with Caramel Ice Cream and Pecan Crumble
Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Tuile
Warm Chocolate Cake with Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream and Tuile

“The hotel restaurants,”my mother once advised me in her thick Italian accent. “They are never good.” I took issue with that statement and tried to come up with an example of a truly great hotel restaurant. The only one to come to mind was Kozue in the Park Hyatt Shinjuku, where, several years ago, my wife and I had enjoyed excellent bonito with salted egg yolk, wonderful seared mackerel nigiri, and, quite by accident, some surprisingly tasty codsperm dumplings. Granted, a little out of the way but, all in all, worth the trip.

Well, my mother has an uncanny knack for being right about a lot of things but, thankfully, the quality of hotel restaurants isn’t one of them. Sometimes, on rare occasions, they CAN be very good. As was the case with Kozue in the Park Hyatt. And, most recently, Market in Vancouver’s brand-spanking new Shangri-la Hotel.

The latest addition to master chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s culinary crown, Market boasts a positively stunning layout comprised of a casual café, lounge, patio, and formal dining area. The latter is refined, its inviting white, beige and gold color scheme complimented by a warm lighting that dissolves any pretension.

On the floor were a number of familiar faces, among them, General Manager Paul Grunberg, formerly of Chambar, who worked the room with disarming charm, and former Le Crocodile mainstay, sommelier Robert Stelmachuk, who recommended two excellent wines to accompany our meal. Also making their way over to say hello were executive chef David Foot, formerly of the Shangri-la Hotels in Cairns and Shanghai, and the man himself, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who was overseeing the evening’s action on this night.

The dinner menu is made up of six sections: Simply Raw, Soup and Salad, Appetizers, Fish, Meat, and Vegetable. Although I was tempted by the chef’s tasting menu, I opted to go a la carte instead.

We started with three items from the Simply Raw section. First up was the Sea Urchin Toast with Yuzu and Jalapeno. The sweet creaminess of the urchin, the crispiness of the toast, the slight tartness of the yuzu, and the bite of the jalapeno came together beautifully. If you were ever tempted to try sea urchin, this would be the place to do it. We also enjoyed a wonderful little Arctic Char Sashimi served with Trout Caviar and Crispy Skin, Lemon, and Horseradish Dill. As much as we enjoyed both dishes, the winner of this round was the Rice Cracker Crusted Tuna with Citrus-Sriraracha Emulsion – one of the nicest tuna preparations I’ve enjoyed in recent memory.

When we’d first settled in to our seats and taken in our surroundings, Fondy suggested we immediately book our Valentine’s dinner. I suggested we sample the food first. Well, although I’d intended to wait until the meal was complete, those three starters so impressed that I didn’t need any more convincing. Even if the rest of our dinner turned out to be disastrous, I would happily come back for the tuna alone. We made our reservation right then and there.

For her appetizer, Fondy had the Warm Okanagan Goat Cheese Custard with Sweet and Sour Beets and Crushed Pistachios. She’s a big fan of beets (while I’m a big fan of goat cheese) and this dish did not disappoint either of us. I, meanwhile, went with the Foie Gras Brule with Dried Sour Cherries and White Port Gelee, another remarkable combination of tastes and textures – crisp, chewy, soft, sweet, and salty. Apparently, and not surprisingly, it’s a Chef Jean-Georges signature dish.

For my main, I had planned on going with the Soy Glazed Short Ribs but Fondy beat me to the punch. In the interest of sampling as much as humanly possible, I decided to go with the lobster instead. Served with potato gnocchi, smoked butter, and lemon, it was perfectly cooked. My only quibble was that I found the lemon a tad too pronounced. As for the short ribs – well, they were simply the best we’ve ever had, given a flawless Asian preparation and served atop an Apple-Jalapeno Puree with a side of aromatic Rosemary Crumbs.

For dessert, Fondy loved her Banana Cake with Caramel Ice Cream and Pecan Crumble, while I was as equally enamored of my Warm Chocolate Cake with Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream and Tuile. Although I’ve had similar dishes elsewhere, this version topped them all.

Service was terrific and the price point was surprisingly affordable given the surroundings and the quality of the food.

As we were leaving, one of the managers saw us off with a: “See you Valentine’s Day.”

I had to break it to him: “You’ll be seeing us a lot sooner than that.”

 Well, back in the office today where we spun what will be episode #7. It made sense for it to follow the events of Earth, so we moved it up and shifted the other episodes. For those of you worried, fear not. The mid-season two-parter will still fall in the mid-season two-parter slot.

Speaking of which – I aim to finish the fourth act tomorrow and hopefully make some inroads into the fifth act. Of course, fifth acts tend to practically write themselves so that should be a breeze. First draft by…next week? Possibly? Brad, meanwhile, is motoring along on Fire. Martin delivered his revised Earth and Carl did the same for Water. Yet another version of Air 1, 2, and 3 came out yesterday as well. As for Paul – well, when he’s not in the room spinning or watching auditions, he’s in his office listening to those Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant pod casts. Every so often, I hear him burst into laughter – like one of those crazy derelicts that always seem to follow you around after 9:00 p.m. on a Friday night. He’s patiently awaiting notes on his outline for the second part of the mid-season two-parter. Hopefully, they’ll be coming his way next week.

Yep, been watching a heck of a lot of auditions of late, especially for one of my favorite secondary characters – James. She’s a spitfire and is going to be a blast to write for. We’ve got three wonderful actresses in contention for the role. No matter which way we go, we won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile, we inch ever closer to casting one of my other favorites roles – the character of Wray.

Brian J. Smith, our Lieutenant Scott, was in the production offices today for his costume fitting and meet and greet. An incredibly good-natured, upbeat guy genuinely excited about the show and his character. Brad and Robert got him up to speed on some of the backstory elements we’d been discussing that morning and you could almost see him bubbling over in anticipation. He looks great in uniform and, I dare say, the ladies are going to love him in his black t-shirt.

Late this afternoon saw the arrival of another member of our cast – Robert Carlyle, a.k.a. Dr. Nicholas Rush. He must have been exhausted after a 15+ hour flight but, like Brian, he was very pleasant and cheerful. We talked food (of course) and then left him to get down to brass tacks with Brad and Rob.

Well, Superbowl Weekend is upon us and many in the office are planning to head over to Rob’s to watch the big game. While I think the Steeler D will rise to the occasion, most of us will be rooting for Kurt Warner and those upstart Arizona Cardinals.