I’m feeling a little bit torn about writing this restaurant review. I will preface this blog by saying, I’m the executive chef at Tapenade Bistro [3711 Bayview Street, Richmond, (604) 275-5188] and if I had a terrible meal at Tapenade, I’d likely not write about it. I wasn’t going to blog about this at all, but “Monk” insisted that I should. I’m feeling inspired by my meal, so what the hey, I’ll let her rip. I promise you I’ll write as unbiased a review as possible with an insider’s perspective on the dining experience.
It was a gorgeous day today. The sun was shining and the entire city was boiling over with Olympic anticipation. The original plan was to take the skytrain downtown and check out a bunch of Olympic stuff. I was already planning in my head where we were going to eat lunch and dinner. Unfortunately, “Monk” wasn’t feeling 100%, so we decided to hold off, since travelling with “Jazzy” and all her gear is quite an undertaking and I wanted “Monk” to recover. After a tasty breakfast of Nespresso, toasted lavash, a couple of organic 6 minute eggs and a ragout of tomato, honey ham and baby spinach, I suggested we go out to Steveston to check out the Olympic torch’s arrival. “Monk” was up for it and we decided to throw in a little Richmond errand running as well.
Over the years, Steveston has become a second home for me. During the first few years of my tenure at Tapenade, I commuted from our downtown condo that we sold last year. This past year, I’ve been commuting from Coquitlam and though it’s quite far, the off hours, the highway driving, the hybrid’s magnificent gas consumption and endless audiobooks have made the commute palatable. I’ve gotten to know a lot of the locals in Steveston/Richmond and it’s such a pleasure to repeatedly serve our loyal clientelle. I’ve tried to get involved with as many of the local functions as possible and though I don’t live there, I’m slowly becoming part of the community.
We arrived at around 4:30, parked at Tapenade and walked a couple of blocks to the Steveston Community Center. It was really getting packed and the energy was incredible. Steveston can be quite a sleepy village, so this was definitely a change of pace. It was a sea of red and everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. I ran into a few of our favorite guests, showed off my darling daughter and beautiful wife and we waited excitedly for the torch to arrive. I spotted “Tugboat Annie” with his grandson across the street and he had a hot coffee waiting for me. It was great, the energy was inspiring, the torch eventually came, people cheered and then it was time for dinner. It was great to see all the enthusiastic people out there supporting the Olympic cause and showing their Canadian pride. We were fortunate to see the torch pass by in Toronto as well, when we looked out the window of my parent’s condo during the Christmas holidays. The crowds and excitement level were nothing compared to what we just saw, but it was neat to see the torch in two different provinces. But like I said, it’s time for dinner.
So after the torch passed, we made our way over to Tapenade Bistro. We were quickly sat in a cozy corner banquette and while “Jazzy” was sleeping away, my Campari and soda arrived. It was quite chilly out there and we were both quite hungry, so we ordered rather quickly and heartily. I won’t get into the details of the service too much, but based on the unusual circumstances, “Karaoke Kraut” and “Sales Mix” provided a very professional experience. We ordered the shrimp puntanesca appetizer and the featured butternut squash gnocchi to start. A few minutes after a basket of filone bagutte and butter was delivered to the table, the first course arrived. The linguine was delicious. It was exactly to specification and I got to tell you, it tastes a lot better sitting in the dining room, than it does standing in the kitchen, trying to scarf down a snack between services. The pasta was perfectly cooked, the noodles were glazed well and the seasoning was spot on. The gnocchi feature was new and created earlier in the day by the boys. They made some pillowy butternut squash gnocchi and sautéed them with confit duck leg, beech mushrooms, brussel sprout leaves and grape tomatoes. They were then glazed with a touch of reduced stock, butter, maple syrup and fresh herbs. What can I say, it was really good. It was totally in the style of food that we do at Tapenade, the seasoning and flavors were perfect, the balance was bang on and textures were really complimentary. It was one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten this year and kudos to “Fat Joel” and “Great Wall” for an awesome appy.
Before our mains arrived, the two glasses of wine we ordered arrived. “Monk” ordered a glass of the Saturna Pinot Noir and I had a glass of the Orofino Red Bridge Red. I’m very proud of our wine selection at Tapenade and “Sales Mix” does a great job of offering spec and unlisted wines that our guests would have a hard time purchasing on their own. He spends a lot of time tasting and evaluating wines and through a sharp palette and strong wine knowledge, he finds quite a few hidden gems. I feel our wine program runs deep and our offerings are priced extremely fairly.
We ordered the bouillabaisse and the “coq au vin” and again, they were exactly to spec. People often suggest that the artistic and creative aspect of cooking is so important, but truth be known, consistency is the foundation of a successful restaurant. I try to explain to guests and acquaintances that the romance and glamor of professional cooking is made for tv; the truth lies in hard work, discipline, consistency and patience. In my kitchen, whether I make the dish or my most inexperienced apprentice makes it, it’s got to be the same. My guys work hard and I work hard. I’m not one of those office executive chefs who carry a clipboard and have nicely starched jackets. I “sweat to the oldies” on a daily basis; I make sauces, braise meats, butcher fish and meat and make desserts on a daily basis. We all do. Sure, I plan menus, cook special events and manage the numbers, but I cook the sauce station and run the lunch and dinner service every day that I’m at the restaurant. I’m so fortunate to have dedicated staff and am very lucky to have guys like that in my corner.
OK, back to the food; the bouillabaisse was really nice. The only criticism was that it was a touch under-seasoned. All the seafood was cooked perfectly and the broth had nice depth, it just needed a touch more salt to bring up all the flavors. The “coq au vin” was right on. It’s one of my signature dishes and I could not have cooked it better myself. The breast was perfectly cooked and seasoned, the bacon wrapped leg roulade was succulent and flavorful. The truffled pommes purée was silky and tasty, the roasted mushrooms and pearl onions were delish; the only problem was the haricot vert. The young green beans were under-seasoned, a touch over cooked and not glazed as well as they could have been. I’m being very picky at this point, but it’s genuinely how I feel.
For dessert, we ordered the vanilla bean crème brule and the chocolate and banana bread pudding. I’m no pastry chef, but I think our desserts are very true to who we are. They are all made in house, they all have interesting components and overall they are really tasty. The bread pudding is served with a frozen peanut butter chantilly and caramelized milk with flakes of Maldon sea salt. The crème brule is served with macerated berries, a sable cookie, creme anglaise and berry coulis. Both desserts were as they should be.
Issues and concerns; apart from the minor food issues I mentioned earlier, I have very few concerns. I noticed the staff was a touch busy, considering they picked up a last minute reservation for 30 people. I wanted to get in the mix and lend a hand, but I forced myself to relax and separate myself from the action. It was a bit weird looking around the room filled with loyal regulars, but I have to admit that I truly enjoyed my meal. “Monk” really enjoyed her meal and insisted I blog about this, purely for me to praise the staff and let them know how pleased I am. I guess I don’t praise people enough, I just expect them to do good work. From a food perspective, it was the best meal I’ve had in a quite a long time. I know, I’m biased, I sound like a proud papa bragging about his kids; take it for what it’s worth. But for those who know me, they’ll tell you that I tell it like it is. I don’t sugar coat much of anything and if it ain’t good, I’ll let you know.
I’ve decided not to rate Tapenade Bistro on my chef’s night out scale. Instead, I’m going to cook some 6 minute eggs and house made bacon for the boys over a “specialty coffee moment” tomorrow morning.