Wednesday, 21 September 2011

100-Mile Fine Dining

The bar and kitchen of Raincity Grill.
 Before my trip to Vancouver I realized that my father's birthday would come during my trip.  Thankfully my sister was more in the know of the food scene in Vancouver as she had been there the previous year.  After poring over a few possibilities I ended choosing to treat him at Raincity Grill, a restaurant located at the south end of Denman St. in the English Bay neighbourhood.  Not only were the menu choices suitable for both his tastes and dietary concerns, and not only was this restaurant a reputable one, but it was unique in featuring a 100-Mile Menu.

You may have heard of "The 100-Mile Diet", a non-fiction book recounting the adventures of two Canadians taking on the challenge of eating food grown only within 100 miles of their residence.  The publishing of the book coincided with a growth in the locavore movement where the consumption of locally grown foods is encouraged.  To varying degrees even some governments have supported this movement; for example, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo in Ontario has even incorporated policies in its Official Plan, a higher-order planning policy document, to encourage local food production and consumption.  Various benefits have been touted about the 100-mile diet and/or the locavore movement, including but not limited to the following:
  • Reduced adverse environmental impacts due to reduced transportation distances;
  • Improved food security due to reduced dependence on long-distance transportation as well as other countries for food production;
  • Improved local economy due to increased symbiotic relationship between food producers and consumers; and
  • Improved awareness of food production, agriculture and the agricultural economy by urban citizens.
As you can deduce, Raincity Grill's 100-Mile Menu therefore features food ingredients that were produced within a 100 miles of the restaurant.  Fortunately, British Columbia's Lower Mainland is a treasure trove of foods of all kinds, fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood.  Intrigued by the menu and hopeful to sample some of the best the earth and waters of the Lower Mainland has to offer, I opted to try the 100-Mile Menu.
"North Arm Farm" Beetroot Salad - "Farm House" goat's cheese cannelloni and hazelnut mulch.
The first of five courses was "North Arm Farm" Beetroot Salad with "Farm House" goat's cheese cannelloni and hazelnut mulch.  The beets were very colourful, though I personally didn't know that a striped version existed, as one can see cut to resemble a flower in the middle of this dish.  The salad itself didn't have added flavours such as a dressing; though one could judge the dish to be simple or even bland in flavouring, it also allows for the natural flavours of the beets to show themselves, spreading a mild sweetness in one's mouth.  The goat's cheese cannelloni, tucked in the upper left corner, provided a strong punch of flavour and therefore was best nibbled or directly accompanying bites of beets.  I believe that keeping the flavouring of this dish as mild as it was helped assure that I could fully enjoy the flavours of the next dish.
Vancouver Island Manila Clams - Ramp butter, white wine, celery and celeriac.
A close-up of one of the Manila clams.
Next to arrive before me was Vancouver Island Manila Clams with ramp (wild garlic) butter, white wine, celery and celeriac, and I was definitely impressed by this dish.  The first thing of this dish that hit me was the natural sweetness of the Manila clams.  I could tell these were definitely fresh, and I don't recall the last time I had clams as sweet as these.  Even the broth, tasty as it was in its own right, could not keep the clams' sweetness at bay.  The clams were also cooked perfectly, the flesh nice and tender.
Fraser Valley Duck Proscuitto - Endive salad with Averill Creek blackberry gastrique.
A close-up of the thin slices of duck proscuitto.
The third course was Fraser Valley Duck Proscuitto with endive salad and Averill Creek blackberry gastrique.  Proscuitto traditionally referred solely to a particular Italian dry-cured ham, but the art of charcuterie had grown over time and had diversified to accommodate cured meats of all types.  This was my first taste of duck proscuitto, and I enjoyed every bite of it.  It didn't taste as salty as many of the pork proscuitto I've had in the past, and the flavour of the duck was simply beautiful.  The acidic gastrique helped cut through the fat of the duck, and the sweetness of the blackberry gastrique complemented the duck proscuitto quite well.
Fraser Valley Roast Pork - Potato rosti, warm bacon and cabbage salad, and apricot and hazelnut gremolata.
The fourth and main course was the Fraser Valley Roast Pork with potato rosti, warm bacon and cabbage salad, and apricot and hazelnut gremolata.  The pork still had a pink tinge to it and was tender with a hint of moisture, and the gremolata made for a nice accompaniment.  The rosti was crispy on the top and the bottom and was soft and savoury in the middle.  The dish was also nicely portioned that, in spite of having already eaten three courses, I was only starting to feel full when I had finished the main course.
Cheese option: A slice of Alpine Gold with a side of Granny Apple slices, apple sauce and crumble.
When I ordered I opted for the cheese option; I figured a little indulgence thousands of kilometres from home wouldn't have hurt me.  The featured cheese that evening was Alpine Gold, which, if memory serves me right, was also from "Farm House".  I was happy I tried this; Alpine Gold was certainly unlike any other cheese I've had.  The Alpine Gold had a semi-soft texture and was fairly aromatic (fortunately my father failed to catch a whiff of it), and it complemented the Granny Smith apples and apple sauce quite well.
"Chilliwack River" Honey Crème Brûlée - Fresh berries and chantilly cream.
A close-up of the honey crème brûlée
Last to arrive was my dessert, which my parents also ordered to end their meals, "Chilliwack River" Honey Crème Brûlée with fresh berries and chantilly cream.  The tangier berries successfully countered the level of sweetness of the crème brûlée, and the chantilly cream provided a fresh counterpoint.  The lightness of the dessert helped cap a pleasant dinner.

Raincity Grill certainly demonstrated that the 100-mile diet is feasible for restaurants.  Furthermore, fine dining can still be created under a 100-mile diet regime.  Though not every part of the world can have such diverse food production capabilities to allow for 100-mile fine dining, the Lower Mainland is one part of the world where it is absolutely doable.  I commend the restaurant for carrying forward this fascinating concept and providing me such a pleasantly eye-opening experience.

Name: Raincity Grill
Address: 1193 Denman St., Vancouver, BC
Cuisine: Canadian
Price Range: Lunch/Brunch $15-$40; Dinner $20-$70
Accessible: Yes

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