Less than 500 meters away from my condo exists a restaurant that runs on the premise of serving “foraged” goods to its diners. Unsurprisingly, it bears that exact name.
Forage’s Head Chef, Chris Whittaker, has built, and continues to grow, quite the name for himself in the past year and can be seen regularly doling out delicious dishes at Vancouver food and wine events. He was awarded third place in the “nose-to-tail” category in the 2013 Golden Plate Awards, and will be competing in the Gold Metal Plates culinary competition on November 7th in Victoria. For it, he intends on pairing his dish with Meyer McLean Creek’s 2011 Pinot Noir, a fantastic wine that happened to be paired with my entrée the evening of my (long overdue) visit.
I sent out a tweet before I even entered the restaurant to see if any diners had some menu favourites or some “must tries”. Here are a couple that I received in response:
Since I like to view the menu before I go to the restaurant, I already had a few menu items in mind. I knew that it was unrealistic to sample them all in one night, but I felt hopeful knowing that it was a mere couple hundred meters from my home. There was still a chance that I could make it through the seasonally-changing menu, I just had to do it in bouts.
Joining me for dinner that night was Jurgen Gothe and his wife Kate, Stephanie Yuen and her husband Henry, and Jane Mundy. You could say I was with the elite members of the foodie world, with them being the veterans and me yearning to be inducted.
Charcuterie with picked vegetables served with sourdough and multigrain bread and crackers
The rich chicken liver parfait and the buttery pork sirloin were my favourite, but all of the charcuterie was delectable and of high-grade. The house-made grainy mustard was more vinegary than it was sweet, and, as such, was a nice addition to the sourdough bread with a few slices of salami. The pickled beans were also a treat.
Pairing: R&B Cucumber Mint IPA
R&B’s cucumber mint IPA is a refreshing, slightly hoppy beer with the typical lingering after taste that comes with an IPA. Because of it’s light hoppiness and unique flavour I sense that this beer may be a winner even with some non-IPA lovers. The cucumber and mint flavours are very subtle with the cucumber more prevalent than the mint. Apparently it is made using more than 200 organic cucumbers that were sourced locally, which is fitting for a restaurant like Forage. I first tried it while at last year’s BC Beer Awards. It was a great choice with the charcuterie because it worked to cut the salt of the cured meats.
Ann’s Heirloom tomatoes, grilled zucchini, Glorious Organics nasturtium leaves
This dish was a crowd-pleaser at our table with the beautifully grilled green and golden zucchini complementing the juicy heirloom tomatoes. The vegetables were lightly seasoned with a little bit of olive oil, cracked pepper and sea salt, allowing the vegetables to shine alongside the nutritionally dense nasturtium leaves. It was earthy, fresh and healthy, contrasting nicely with the heavier dishes before and after.
Pairing: 2012 Orofino “Home Vineyard” Riesling
This wine is special for a couple of reasons: it is made from grapes on 23-year-old vines, and there were only 100 cases of it made. Forage received their portion the day of our dinner so we were fortunate to get our hands on some. It is sweet, smooth and citrusy with a lingering finish that coats the entirety of your mouth.
Barley Hay smoked Gelderman Farms pork chop, IPA mustard spaetzle, roasted vegetables glazed with raw honey, mushrooms ($24)
We were spoiled to have Chef Whittaker bring the massive roast out to an adjacent table and cut it right in front of us. The pork was dusted with herbs and sat in a light au jus that didn’t overpower the meat. It was delightfully cooked: medium, tender and overflowing with juicy flavours. As explained to us by Chef, the pork is tempered to room temperature, then slow-cooked over barley hay. The idea to smoke the roast over barley hay originated while he was at Glorious Organics for an event.
The spaetzle was addicting in all of its light mustardy glory, even if it tasted predominantly of buttery pan-fried noodles. It was cooked to the hardness that it should be, neither too soft, nor al dente.
The mushrooms were plump, juicy and earthy and utterly delicious. Due to the season, Chef used pine and chanterelle mushrooms. The abundance of dishes with mushrooms is one of the reasons that I love Forage so much.
The honey that bastes the vegetables is from Chef’s own beehives at his home in Maple Ridge! This man truly lives off of the land as he also hunts to feed his family.
Pairing: 2011 Meyer McLean Creek Pinot Noir ($40 retail)
This wine is absolutely delicious. It is fresh tasting with a red berry flavour, has a nuance of smokiness from the toasted oak and a hint of spice, with a smooth, lingering finish.
“Arguably one of the best Pinot Noirs in BC.” Exclaimed Margot.
Avalon Elderflower panna cotta, maple syrup, compressed strawberries ($8)
I adore Avalon Dairy so was was thrilled to try a panna cotta made from their products. This dessert was beautifully presented in a mini mason jar with layers of flavours. The base is lightly sweetened with maple syrup, while the compressed strawberries add a further touch of sweetness in every bite. The surface berries acted better as a garnish than as part of the dessert, but they were nice to nibble on afterwards as a palate cleanser if you will.
Pairing: Tugwell Creek “Wassail Blush” Mead
Tugwell Creek is located just outside of Sooke on Vancouver Island. The “Wassail Blush” mead is the result of one year of local honey and water fermenting with yeast. The average time for mead production is eight months to a year, so their spectacular libation is due to patient producers.
In addition to the aforementioned libations, Forage currently has eight wines on tap. (The wines that we had that evening are available only by the glass or bottle.) If you’re more of a beer lover, they have a variety of local beers available on tap including Stanley Park, Storm, Driftwood, Phillips, Parallel 49, Crannog, R&B and Steamworks, as well as a small selection by the bottle.
For $12, they have a small selection of specialty cocktails: “sweet”, “sour” and “savoury”. I tried the “sour” and the “sweet”, and of the two I preferred the “sour” surprisingly. The “sour” is a combination of quince, organic lemon juice, Forty Creek whisky and a splash of bitters served on ice. It reminded me of a drier and “earthier” whiskey sour. The “sweet” is a mixture of plum purée, rum, ginger syrup and Rustic Roots Santa Rosa plum wine served on ice. If you like plum wine and you want to avoid a treacly drink but still have it semi-sweet, then you’ll enjoy this .
Note: they charge $3 for a carafe of water (sparkling or still) with 50% of proceeds from the sale of the water going to a charity. So if you’re anti paying for water simply hydrate before and after and enjoy some libations during dinner. Or, suck it up and pay $3 to have unlimited filtered water. Or, go drink out of the bathroom tap….? Vancouver’s water is great but don’t do that.
At Forage, they are working towards operating in a 100% waste-free environment, strongly influenced by their “home”, the Listel Hotel. They are also striving to be 100% can-free and preserve everything. I was informed that they recently had a conversation at the restaurant involving cans…and ketchup. The one thing that is holding the restaurant back from reaching that particular goal is that honey-sweet, thick, deep red condiment with a hint of spice. As someone who can proudly say that she never douses her meals in Heinz, I can unabashedly say that I loved Forage’s ketchup. The problem with the ketchup is that with the demand they would need 5000-7000 lbs of tomatoes to cover a year’s supply of ketchup for the restaurant. Now imagine storing that many tomatoes…
Chef Whittaker takes “local” to the next level by involving himself in farm-based events where you’ll see him foraging for ingredients to prepare dinner with. His recent participation at Feast of Fields and his involvement in a fundraising dinner at Fraser Common Farm are a few ways in which he is supporting local producers. There are hopes of similar events in the near (and distant) future, so stay connected: @chefwhittaker or @foragevancouver.
And should you go for a bite, send me a tweet @kellyjean247 and I’ll join!
I’ll be back to try the Haida Gwaii halibut with ginger squash purée, gnocchi, lamb bacon and spicy heirloom tomatoes, as well as the mushroom-dusted Pacific salmon with vegetable noodles, cauliflower purée and chanterelles.
I would love to hear what your favourite menu items at Forage are! Leave me a comment and I’ll check them out next time.
Forage is located at 1300 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC.