If restaurant names go through fads like the food eaten in them, I think that in Vancouver, we are in the ‘single word (or even syllable) and clever’ fad. Just to name a few, there’s West, Fuel, C, Crave, Nu, Rare, Grub, Brix, Reef, Karv, Pound and Posh. Add a few syllables and you get Lumière, Watermark, Lickerish, Chambar, Metro, Nuba, Stonegrill, Whineo’s, Un-Wined, Incendio, Aria and Elixir. (Don’t even get me started on the cute names for coffee places.)
So then, with a name like Chow, what do you expect? A hearty retro tavern that serves plates of no-nonsense chili, roast chicken and meatloaf, perhaps? An Asian-fusion place that does 5-spice pork dumplings, green papaya salad and ginger-maple glazed salmon? A little cheeky Italian bistro? Wrong on all counts.
Chow, which is about as far south you can go on Granville Street (#3121) before it becomes a residential thoroughfare, is a small (about 35-seat) bistro style restaurant, that like Fuel in nearby Kitsilano (and to a degree, the award-winning West, which is just down the street), specializes in a seasonal menu of predominantly organic ingredients, with an almost obsessive attention to the sourcing of food. At the back of the menu is a list of their suppliers, including a few that I knew already (Les Amis du Fromage, Joie Wines and Polderside Farm), and a statement that the restaurant “supports local farms that practice environmentally sound agriculture and sustainable farming.” In fact, a few of the dishes have their vendor’s name on the name of the dish, such as ‘Polderside Farm’ duck pâté and ‘Sloping Hills Farm’ organic pork. The photos I’ve included here are not dishes that we had, but a good example of the look of the food at Chow. You can see others at their site (which they link to).
Since we were there on Friday night for Pam’s birthday, we decided to leave room for dessert (she is a huge fan of apple desserts, but more of that later). We opted out of some of the ‘snacks’ (appetizers, I assume), including pommes frites (bistro style french fries) with harrisa mayonnaise, marinated olives, or pulled pork croquettes (although that one sounded interesting). Pam opted for the grilled Vancouver Island scallops, with an interesting accompaniment of braised veal cheeks (a melt-in-your mouth miniature pot-roast serving) a snow-white celeriac purée, romaine lettuce, radish and celery salad. Her scallops were beautifully seared, with pretty grill marks, and she said that they were moist, but had a pleasant but not overpowering taste of the grill, and the vegetables were crunchy and refreshing.
I decided to go with a Beef Carpaccio, which are salami-sized thin slices of raw beef, topped with a few white anchovies, fingerling potatoes, salsa verde, shreds of parmesan, frisee (that super-curly leafy green) and crispy fried shallots. It’s light dish, occupying a place somewhere between an appetizer, salad and main course (if it had been a half-portion, it would have made a perfect appetizer). You eat it by peeling the slices of beef off the plate with your fork. While the salsa verde was strong with herbal flavours, I didn’t find it overwhelming and I polished off the long, rectangular plate of half-a dozen or so open-face raw beef and curly salad sandwiches in short order.
As I mentioned we decided as part of the birthday celebration to have some desserts, and Pam ordered the Apple Crisp, which included apple compote, oatmeal crisp, caramel sauce and crème fraîche ice cream. The ice cream really did taste like crème fraîche, the rich, buttery relative of sour cream, and the caramel sauce had a great bittersweet taste, the kind you get from the burnt sugar on crème brûlée.
I decided to have the cheese plate (I often prefer cheese for dessert), and the three local cheeses included a salty but delicious feta/Ricotta salata style cheese called ‘White Grace’, a smooth Tiger Bleu cheese and one of my all-time favourite cheeses we’ve discovered here, ‘Juliette’ cheese, from Salt Spring Island. I’d describe Juliette as the daughter of a happy marriage between a brie and a chèvre, with all the best qualities of both. It’s smooth and creamy with a brie-style rind, but with just a hint of the goat-y tang of a chèvre. They came on a bamboo board with dried fruit, nuts, and the slightly buttery, super-crispy toasted bread that is almost everywhere these days (Leslie Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps come to mind).
Chow offers a special, prix fixe menu at 5–6 PM, partly aimed at theatregoers attending shows at the Stanley Theatre, which is across the street and down a few blocks. It’s a quite reasonable $38 per person, and that apple crisp is one of the dessert choices on that menu (and well worth having). I’d describe it as a chic, ‘100-mile diet’ epicurean urban bistro, or you could think of it as Fuel’s little brother. Despite their small size and tough competition, I think they’ll do well, despite the misleading monosyllabic name.