Cork & Fin
221 Carrall St., Vancouver
Rating: **** 1/2
Signature Drink: A glass of grape, of courseâ€¦
Signature Dish: Scallop ceviche
Dinner & drinks for 2: $100
Vancouver is blessed with many wine-forward restaurants, but to date I don’t believe I’ve seen a casual wine bar that strictly focused on seafood, until Cork & Fin opened up. Sure, there is braised lamb and roasted game hen on the menu, but as the name aptly suggests, this is a restaurant that focuses on fruitsâ€”both those of the vineyard, and of the sea. And it does so in a simple, elegant way that allows for some incredibly fresh and exciting palate experiences.
The room is a nice balance between the clean, modern lines of the partially-frosted picture windows and beautiful raw bar, and the original brickwork that marks another Gastown heritage building. The balcony eating area upstairs is sure to be a favourite with couples, especially as it’s probably the warmest spot in the restaurant. An early visit saw us sitting by those big, bright windows, and we were warned that it might be a little cool, and it wasâ€”bring a shawl. The sound system pipes out an eclectic mix of everything from B.B. King to Eric Clapton’s reggae version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, and the servers act like they’ve been working together for years.
I normally don’t think much of bread that’s not baked in-house, but if you’re going to go with an outside supply, offering the olive oil bread from Mix Bakeryâ€”one of the best loaves in town, IMHOâ€”is definitely the way to go. The fact that the restaurant serves it gratis and brings free refills without waiting for you to ask is just gravy.
I also liked that the plates, rather than being enormous and providing a large amount of white space around the food, were actually all normal sizedâ€”the same size as my dinner plates at home, in fact, possibly smallerâ€”and the food actually filled up the plate. When you’re sitting at a small table for two, nothing is more annoying than those gargantuan plates that don’t leave room for your wine glass, let alone cutlery and the rest of the mise en place.
The wine list is small, select and very accessible. Everything, including four different bubbles, is available by the glass, half-litre and bottle, and includes keepers like Schloss Reinhartshausen’s 2008 Dry Riesling ($9 for a glass) and Pfaffenheim’s 2008 Gewürztraminer ($10). There are some cocktails, martinis and beers as well, but with the great selections on the bottle side, I didn’t feel the need to turn the page.
As for the food itself, the menu definitely focuses on the raw and chilled side of things, and does a very good job of it. Shrimp cocktail ($11) was a small overstuffed bowl of fresh, hand-peeled crustaceans, topped with a light, bourbon-laced cocktail sauce, and fresh chunks of avocado. Scallop ceviche ($12) was tangy, with a simple lemon-vinegar dressing, and topped with pea shoots, shredded snap peas, and micro greens. These were both excellent value for the price points.
M’s side of pommes frites ($6) were crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, and accompanied by a surprisingly agreeable lemon aioli made with olive and canola oils, which had an almost custard texture. Dungeness crab ($11) was served in the form of a round cake, but was in fact simply a healthy portion of fresh, delicate crab over chilled, chunky gazpacho, with crackling and fresh avocado.
I tried a special for my main, the seared halibut ($16), which was perfectly cooked, flaky, topped with a slow-cooked quail’s egg and served over a carrot puree with sautéed corn, carrots, radishes and braised pork belly. We didn’t get to try the seafood towers, which offer shucked, steamed and cured seafood in small ($33) and large ($55) sizes, but from the happy looks on a neighbouring couple’s faces, this is worth going back for.
The only low point was the dessert. A dark chocolate mousse ($7) just wasn’t darkâ€”or chocolateâ€”enough, and was rather pedestrian. Poached pear in sabayon ($7) was marginally better, although the sabayon was more of a foamâ€”rather than the airy custard it should have beenâ€”and became a little too watery in the dish.
Despite this, Cork & Fin offers a refreshingly simple menu at reasonable prices that is sure to be a hit with seafood loversâ€”including yours truly.
Wine Fest Preview: Torrontés from Argentina
With Argentina being one of the theme regions this year, this is a great opportunity to try out this lesser-known white varietal. One to taste: Michel Torino Cuma Organic Torrontés 2009. This yellow-green wine carries an aroma of florals, orange skins and stone fruit over a peachy palate with a slight bitter-lemon finish. BCLS $13.99.
The Fourth Annual Sprouts Cookbook Awards are happening tonight at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks at 6:00 p.m. Tickets are $75 and proceeds will be donated to Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Call 604-688-6755.
Cherry Blossom Dining
Only two more days left to try the Sakura Hanami box at Miku Restaurant (1055 West Hastings St). In honour of cherry blossom season, the box offers several dishes in one, all with a pink blossom theme, including housemade tofu with pink syrup, futomaki with pink cod sugar, and green tea infused with Japanese plum and rose petals. Call 604-568-3900.
Rollback to 1973
On Friday, April 9, in honour of their 37-year anniversary, Romana Pizza (4660 Hastings St, Bby) will be offering their classic spaghetti with meat sauce for $3 and their small pepperoni pizza for $3.85 (the original 1973 prices). Visit romanarestaurant.com.
Food in Brief
Red Card Sports Bar has scored big time by catching Andreas Wechselberger, formerly of Cin Cin and Oyama Sausage Co, as their new executive chef.
Nathan Guggenheimer has been named the new Chef de Cuisine at DB Bistro Moderne after Chef Stephane Istel agreed to take over the opening of the Daniel Boulud’s latest DB Bistro in Singapore.