Chambar – Vancouver, BC Canada

Civilized debauchery‘ is the catchphrase at Chambar, a sexy restaurant in Vancouver’s Gastown that has been going strong for the last 6 years, and for well deserved reasons.  Chef and owner Nico Schuermans and his wife Kari, who manages the front of house, have created a beautiful setting where diners can enjoy superb Belgian food and scrumptious Belgian ales.  Chef Schuermans was born in Rwanda, Africa, after which he moved back to his native Belgium with his family.  There, after graduating from culinary school, he worked at several Michelin starred restaurants like Comme Chez Soi, and subsequently moved around the world to London, Puerto Rico and Australia to further his culinary career.

It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to put Chambar on my list of restaurants to visit on a recent trip to Vancouver, as it kept coming up on my searches with excellent reviews.  Exceptional Belgian food with hints of North African influences, a breathtaking cocktail and Belgian beer selection, superb pastries from a rising pastry chef named Eleanor Chow, an inviting dining room and bar area dimly lit by glowing red lamps, attentive service, rotating modern art to adorn the brick exposed walls and a hip Vancouver crowd jiving to sensuous jazz music couldn’t paint a more perfect picture for a Saturday night in the city.  The large L-shaped restaurant with a lounge area in the front was completely packed with the beautiful people of Vancouver dining in this seductive and gorgeous ambiance. There was no pretentiousness though, from the moment we were warmly greeted by the house staff to the attentive and courteous service that we received all throughout the evening.

Chambar is not just a pretty restaurant with good food- they are 100% committed to reducing environmental impact by supporting local suppliers in sourcing regional seasonal ingredients, using Oceanwise-certified sustainable seafood, cleaning and reusing Chambar Ale bottles, and participating in recycling programs with food waste going to community garden composts.  They strive to be a carbon neutral restaurant by using all natural environmentally friendly cleaning products, using biodegradable corn products and cardboard in lieu of plastic for takeout containers and consistently utilizing post consumer recycled paper for menus, cocktail napkins and stationary.

Chambar’s Belgian Beer menu is quite impressive, offering lagers, witbiers, blonde ales, trappistes, lambics and dark ales.  I chose Triple Karmeliet, a smooth and robust blond ale with a sweet fruity finish, that went wonderfully with a starter of grilled green asparagus with sautéed morels, black peppercorns & truffled mayonnaise and crispy parmesan tuiles.  The grilled asparagus had an amazing fresh flavor, accented by the wonderful waft of truffle aroma that enveloped the soft chunks of morel mushrooms.

All of their Les Petit Plats sounded enticing, like seared scallops with smoked Kurobuta pork cheek, a bison carpaccio with truffles and a spiced foie gras terrine with port reduction, but we opted for a plate called ‘Les Tapas’ which came with 3 dishes, each filled with delicious surf and turf offerings.

Smoked sardines with basil, sun dried tomatoes and shaved red onions were tossed in a light vinaigrette that added the perfect amount of acidity to the dish.

My favorite was the pan seared shrimp and calamari tapas with aji vinaigrette, cubed red, yellow and green peppers and caraway seeds. The squid was perfectly cooked to a tender consistency, melting under the luscious aioli as the crunchy peppers imparted a delightful juicy textural contrast.

Generous meaty chunks of king oyster mushrooms were sautéed with smokey chorizo and garlic and garnished with a heap of sunflower sprouts.

La brochette d’autruche, grilled ostrich skewers served with pearl onions pickled in sweet balsamic glaze, marinated prunes, five-herb pesto, capers, pine nuts, sunflower sprouts and crisp potato chips was fantastic.  The tender morsels of ostrich tasted like lean beef and paired superbly with the vincotto sauce and all of the condiments that added differing degrees of texture and acidity to enhance the flavors of the meat.

Les grosses pièces offerings like the BC spot prawn taster, slow roasted pork tenderloin, spice rubbed duck breast and braised lamb shank with figs and honey all sounded tasty, but we decided on the entrecôte grillée d’Argentine, a grilled AAA ribeye steak with chimichurri sauce, charred tomatoes, chorizo, baby arugula, watercress and crispy polenta.  The ribeye was grilled to a perfect medium rare, so tender that we barely needed to use our knives to cut through the fatty piece of delicious meat.  This was one good steak.

Being a Belgian restaurant, the house specialty is moules frites, and they offer 3 types of mussels- Coquotte with white wine cream, smoked bacon lardons and spring onions, Vin Blanc with white wine butter, braised celery and leeks, and the Congolaise which we ordered, with tomato coconut cream, smoked chile, lime and fresh cilantro.  A huge deep pot of mussels came to our table, piled high with juicy briny mussels that tasted amazing with the spicy coconut sauce.

Robert Stelmachuk, Chambar’s sommelier who used to work at Le Crocodile, was particularly helpful and kind to us that evening, and showed us around the restaurant, explaining its history and food with great enthusiasm.  He arranged a dessert tasting menu for us, an incredible array of artistic desserts created by its resident superstar pastry chef, Eleanor Chow.  I had already heard about her desserts from my server at Bluewater Cafe who gushed about her work.  She started our dessert course with an amazing passion fruit parfait, made with lime sponge cake, passion fruit curd, passion fruit seeds, a smooth and silky passion fruit ice cream and crispy tuile on top.  This slightly tart and refreshing dessert was the one that made me swoon with ecstasy.

A light orange vanilla sorbet reminded me of Orange Julius, a drink that I adored as a child, and the vanilla custard cream, garnished with thin pear slices, was one of the most flavorful and decadent custards that I have ever had the pleasure of devouring.  It was a straightforward custard made with simple basic ingredients, yet somehow this pastry chef managed to take it to another level.

Crispy and light mille-feuille with cherry compote and chocolate ganache mousse were excellent as well.

We were so stuffed by the end of our meal that we got the homemade chocolates brownies and white chocolate truffles to go. Needless to say, it was gone before bedtime.

As if Chambar’s amazing food, stellar service and magnificent restaurant wasn’t already enough to keep us happy, Nico Schuermans spreads his love in so many other fruitful ways for us to engage in ‘civilized debauchery’.  Chef Schuermans’ delicious Belgian fare can also be enjoyed at the casual Cafe Medina next door along with Eleanor Chow’s Belgian waffles with accompaniments of compotes, caramels and chocolate sauces that are especially popular for weekend brunch.   In addition, both chefs teach their tricks of the trade at The Dirty Apron Cooking School, another project that they are involved with in the Gastown district of Vancouver.  Here you can learn snout to tail butchering, sinful desserts that come with free panties and even an opportunity to meet your future spouse over fig compote in any of their singles cooking classes.

Chambar Restaurant

562 Beatty Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 2L3, Canada
(604) 879-7119

Cafe Medina

The Dirty Apron Cooking School

Random trivia:  Did you know that most birds do not have a copulatory organ, but the ostrich does?  In fact, the male ostrich has a retractable one that can measure up to 8 inches long.  Civilized….debauchery….?

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Georges- Toulouse, France

If you visit Toulouse, the ville rose, you don’t want to miss the breathtaking sunset view across the Garonne river.  The panoramic splash of colors across the expansive sky and its perfect reflection on the glassy water surface change almost every minute as the sun sets beyond the Pont St. Pierre and Pont des Catalans bridges.  After watching this romantic and magnificent sunset, we took a lazy stroll around the cobblestone backstreets of Place Saint-Pierre and sniffed our way to rue Blanchers.  Rue Blanchers is a small restaurant row of sorts with numerous cafés and restaurants offering international and local cuisine. 

Restaurant Georges was one of the first places we came upon and we knew immediately that it was the right place to dine.  We didn’t have to walk down the remaining stretch of rue Blanchers to check out our other options- the menu sounded tempting and the place was brimming with locals.  Georges’ menu represented Southwestern French regional cuisine with a modern twist, at reasonable prices.  Here you can order a Formule for 21 Euros (entrée + plat, plat + dessert, or 2 entrées + 1 dessert), or a Menu for 26 Euros (entrée + plat + dessert).

The atmosphere at Georges was friendly and casual, and happy diners filled the numerous tables that were tucked into every crevice of the small restaurant space.  Old paintings and antique photos adorned the brick exposed walls, and small stained glass lamps added to the rustic feel of the restaurant.   There was a tight narrow staircase that led to the downstairs cave and mini dining area that was stocked full of French wines.

Charlotte de Saint Jacques au coulis de crustacés – Molded shellfish coulis prepared in a cream sauce.  This dish was a modern twist on the traditional French dish of coquilles Saint Jacques, which is made with scallops in a white wine and mushroom cream sauce served on a coquille, or shell.  The soft and warm soufflé of delicious shellfish essence that stood proudly on a porcelain  scallop shell dish was just as good as any seared scallop I’ve ever had.

Forestière d’escargots en cassolette et son feuilleté à l’ail confit – Warm cassolette of escargots in a mushroom cream sauce accompanied by a delicious flaky slice of bread with garlic confit.   The cassolette was full of succulent meaty pieces of escargot that were even more delicious on top of the garlic bread, and the intense woodsy aroma of mushrooms filled the air.

Tartiflette au magret fumé- a hearty gratin of potatoes, cheese and smoked duck.  A tartiflette is a warm winter dish that originated in the Savoie region of the French Alps, and is particularly  popular in keeping skiiers warm at ski resorts.  Although a true tartiflette should be made with Reblochon cheese and smoky bacon, modern versions can be made with any type of melty cheese and other hearty meats.   Indeed, this tartiflette was very hearty and had enough power to keep a whole family warm during any winter chill.

Emincé de boeuf au coulis de foie gras – Beef sirloin tips served with a foie gras sauce.  These cuts of meat were slightly tough, though the rich savory foie gras sauce almost made up for it.

Tartare de saumon a la crème d’herbes fraîches – Salmon tartare tossed with herbs and cream, was quite delicious.  The minced cuts of salmon were fatty and marvelous, perfectly enhanced by the zing of fresh parsley and chives.

Le Régal des Capitouls: foie gras de canard mi-cuit, magrets sec et fumé, gesiers confits, saucisse au pot, mesclun de salade, confiture de figues, marrons, noix et sel guerande – this was a classic Toulouse dish that showcased all of the beautiful duck delicacies of the region.  Toulouse is particularly famous for its foie gras and sausages.  Cuts of foie gras mi-cuit, slices of smoked duck breast, gizzard confit and cuts of smoked sausages were served with preserved figs, chestnuts and walnuts.  I loved every tender and flavorful morself of duck on this amazing plate, especially the smoked gizzards that had more texture than the other cuts.  The more I chewed on the gizzards, the more these smokey flavors permeated my taste buds.

Fondant au chocolat – chocolate cake with a somewhat molten center was decadent. The exterior was ever so slightly flaky, adding a textural contrast to the silken interior.

Crème brûlée aux framboises fraîches – crème brûlée with whole raspberries inside was quite flavorful, and the four of us finished it very quickly.

Our dinner at Georges was a fantastic experience, and it was a perfect treat to succeed the amazing sunset that we saw over the Garonne river.  Gratifying rustic French cuisine served by honest caring hosts at Georges is an experience not be missed on your next trip to Toulouse.  Michel Sarran, with 2 Michelin stars, is perhaps the most famous restaurant in Toulouse, but I also recommend Georges if you and your wallet want to take a break and keep it casual and homey.

Georges

4 rue des Blanchers

31000 Toulouse, France

+33 05 34 44 95 92

Open 7 days a week

Lunch 12 to 2pm, Dinner 8-11:30pm

Random trivia:  Did you know that the scallop shell is regarded as a symbol of fertility?  That’s why many paintings of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and fertility, also depict a scallop shell.  Botticelli’s famous painting in Firenze’s Uffizi gallery, The Birth of Venus, shows a beautiful and serene Venus emerging from the sea on a scallop shell.

File:La nascita di Venere (Botticelli).jpg

Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus' copied from Wikipedia