Thursday, October 20, 2011

Vancouver's Best Restaurants: Hawksworth; Cafe Medina; Cin Cin; Cioppino's; Cibo; Tojo's

I had a short while in Vancouver and was determined to go to some of the best restaurant suggested by friends. I did not have time for all, but I was able to get to many.


I was told by so many acquaintances, you MUST go to Hawksworth. Perusing the regular menu, I found the selections superficially unchallenging and not particularly interesting. However, some of the dishes on the tasting menu got my attention. My waiter told me, in no uncertain terms, no mixing of dishes was allowed between the regular and tasting menu. Either you have the tasting menu or the menu ordinaire. So, I ordered from the regular menu. I was truly surprised by the exceptional result.

48 hour beef short ribs, came with black pepper jam, honeydew, green papaya, peanut and Thai basil. Bight sized pieces of very tender, juicy beef with a bit of a bite and with bright fruit and pepper flavours, were very pleasing. A well executed dish.

The gazpacho was perhaps the best I have ever enjoyed. Tomato gazpacho with a few chunks of lobster, olive oil cotton candy on the side, sourdough and parsley. I don't know how they made this soup so good, so homogeneous, with an intense sweet tomato flavour and absolutely no bitterness. There is no photo of this dish.

Sweet pea puree filled agnolotti had a bright lemon hit and was accompanied by morel mushrooms, chanterelles, chopped carrot in a cream sauce. The pasta was extremely delicate and such a pleasure to eat. It was perfect!

A 27oz rib eye steak was presented sliced, on the plate beside a rib bone. Accompanied by la ratte potatoes, crispy battered and deep-fried bone marrow, and brown butter. The bone marrow, as presented, from a taste perspective, seemed extraneous and the flavour lost in the process. The beef was perfectly rare as ordered and was quite exceptional, a surprise, frankly and was "Beef Boys" rated 81/2 / 81/2 /8 (taste/texture/juiciness, all out of 10). One doesn't expect that quality from a non-steak restaurant. The steak was accompanied by mixed seasonal vegetables.

The desserts were serious accomplishments of presentation, execution and flavours that were complementary and enhanced by the juxtaposed elements.

Poached rhubarb tart, strawberry rhubarb compote and vanilla brulee.

Kalamanzi curd, torched meringue, almond crumble and lime sorbet.

Yogurt pannacotta, grapefruit sorbet, citrus segments and vanilla crisps.

Overall, my impression of what sets this restaurant apart is not so much the creativity of chef and his cuisine (he is quite creative), but the exceptional quality of ingredients that are prepared as perfectly as theoretically possible. From my perspective, the talents of ingredient selection and exceptional cooking skills are by far more important than pure creativity.

Cafe Medina, Brunch

So many friends and acquaintances who visit Vancouver suggest Cafe Medina for brunch or breakfast, and justifiably so.

Go early, the lineups are long. We waited for about an hour. People who know me know I don't wait, but I was blown away by the breakfast menu and the appearance of the dishes passing me by, so I waited. The menu was perfect for anyone whose taste runs to the savory rather than the sweet, a menu evidencing strong middle eastern flavours. After tasting all the dishes, I was extremely satisfied and well satiated!

I began with Side of andouille sausage, slightly smoky and very juicy with a firm texture.

Tagine, 2 poached eggs on top of a mildly spicy, rich, well reduced tomato stew with sliced red pepper, merguez sausage, chick peas, Morrocan olives, cilantro and even preserved lemon...very genuine!! An accompanying dish (paired with this dish) had thick grilled focaccia toast and a bowl of hummus and raita.

Fricasse of braised short ribs  in a slightly sweet onion, pepper braise sauce, mixed with roast potatoes, pickled pearl onions, chopped green apple and watercress was topped with 2 sunnyside up fried eggs (I requested no applewood cheddar cheese which accompanied this dish as mentioned in the menu). The plate was sided with thick grilled focaccia. This dish was a truly delicious combination of textures and flavours.

Eggs Libanais, a soft boiled egg accompanied by cucumber tomato salad, babaganoush, tabouleh, and fried pita bread. I was not impressed with the babaganoush as it was too finely pureed and was not smokey enough.

Cin Cin

We found that the general service was haphazard and disorganized. The wine service was fine. Bread, accompanied by a side of oil and tapenade, was initially brought....cold.  It could have been great if warmed and crisped in the internally acclaimed wood fired oven. Instead it was rather tasteless, insipidly soft, "white bread" with no "crust" at all. The strange thing was that we were brought an order of the same bread later in the meal and it was crusty, hot and perfect!! Water was rarely brought without me having to stand up and walk over to the waiter with my request, who would rush over, accompanied by repeatedly profuse apologies.

Grilled tofino octopus, pemberton potatoes, roasted garlic, all a perfect complement and topped salsa verde. The perfectly cooked octopus was well matched with the excellent salsa verde.

Lightly battered and fried zucchini flowers were stuffed with ricotta, lemon zest and basil. A very nice combination of flavours with the nicely crisp zucchini flowers.

Rigatoni with cheeks from milk fed veal, porcini mushrooms, royal trumpet mushrooms and an intense, rich, highly reduced, silken textured sauce that brought the ingredients of this dish together so well. The veal cheeks were very tender.

Wild prawns from the wood fired oven had no distinguishing flavour of the wood fired grill and were a touch overcooked. They were accompanied by roasted garlic bulbs. 

Roasted garlic bulbs.

Wood oven fired pizza with wild and cultivated mushrooms, fontina cheese and caramelized mushrooms had a bit too much cheese. The crust was thin and the edge somewhat crispy. Pizza was ok but not great.  The crust was the issue because the centre of the crust somewhat soggy. 

Black tuscan cale with garlic and almonds was pleasant. I would have preferred less stems with the leaves. The almonds were a nice touch.

Desserts were uninteresting, so none were ordered by me or my dinner partner.


I came to this restaurant to eat food prepared by a former Toronto chef who in my expereince was highly accomplished with his creations. The menu selections, I found, were not as adventurous or avant guard as the menus that Chef Pino Postararo would prepare at his former restaurant inToronto. But, it was good to see old friends. His brother Celestino was there making sure all the clients were cheerfully well cared for.

Pacific octopus was served warm and thinly sliced with chopped tomato, potato, mini cauliflower florettes was topped with arugula and small capers and dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Porcini chestnut soup was a pureed dream of intense mushroom flavour and went so well with the dollop of vanilla chantilly cream.

Spaghetti and BC manilla clams with parsley, white wine, garlic sauce was a delectable classic, with perfectly prepared house made pasta.

Long line caught swordfish was chopped into small bight-sized pieces in a lemon oil flavoured risotto with highly complementary slightly smoked scaramozza cheese.

Zucchini florettes were stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and ricotta and accompanied by a house made ketchup made with sundried tomatoes. The fried batter was a bit heavy.

Everyone was quite full so we skipped enticing desserts.


The menu at Cibo is inspiring for anyone who enjoys eating hearty, rustic cuisine. However, we began with a rather uninspiring serving of squishy bread with an uninspiring and uninteresting topping of tomato and herbs, which did not bode well for what might follow. However, we were delighted by the rest.

"Ciccoli", duck crackling and chili was a mildly spicy, earthy topping for bruschetta and although pretty good, was a bit too salty.

Canelli beans and rosemary topped bruschetta was a wonderful topping with intense rosemary flavour.

Ravioli stuffed with rainbow chard and ricotta was topped with sage butter and grated parmesan cheese was all topped with crispy fried fresh sage. Another wonderful dish, the texture of the delicate ravioli with the intense earthy flavours of the chard and sage went well with the combination flavours of the butter and parmesan.

Crispy pig's trotters were nicely crispy on the outside and perfectly juicy in the middle and the topping of salsa verde was a nice contrast to the rich flavours of the pig's foot.

Salad of crispy pig's head, potatoes, capers, mustard and crispy bone marrow was another earthy dish with highly complementary favours and textures.

Lovely, slow roasted new carrots were flavoured with garlic and thyme. This dish was another hit among many. Sweet enhanced carrot flavour made by slow roasting was perfectly complemented by the garlic and thyme flavours.

Roasted cotechino sausage was topped with a fried egg and salsa verde, and again demonstrated this kitchen's talent with earthy rustic, stick to one's ribs hearty flavours.

Beer battered onion rings were a bit of a disappointment. The batter was too heavy and not crispy enough.

A great refreshing dessert followed, perfect pannacotta with chopped fresh peaches and brandy. Another highly satisfying meal.


Tojo is heralded as the best japanese restaurant for prime fresh fish to the west or east of toronto. In Toronto, the only competition is Hashimoto, in my opinion. But, the style of Hashimoto is also quite different in only presenting kaiseki style meals. 

Tuna, giant clam, salmon, all local, chopped shiso, mountain yam, daikon, cucumber, chopped scallion plus sauce of miso and sesame seed oil. Wonderful dish!

Soy sauce, mirin with a touch of sugar presented as a dipping sauce for a tempura of zucchini flower, okra and barely cooked scallop stuffed in the flower. The batter was very light and perfectly crisp.

Unagi (bbq eel) and tiger prawn with buckwheat noodles, pieces of cucumber and a piece of tomato.

Gently Smoked sablefish with cod, in a parchment bag, with pine mushroom slices, mango and asparagus. An exceptional combination of flavours with the perfectly underdone fish.

Nori cone filled with chopped pieces of the neck of a giant clam, rice and kewpie mayo.  Tasty and crunchy!

Crab, scallop, BC spot prawn roll, topped with herring roe.  SWEET!

White tuna toro, rolled and roasted in a piece of shaved cedar wood, slightly smokey and rich with lovely fat.

Barely deep fried (no batter) shiitake mushroom topped with grated daikon and 7 different seasonings, making this slightly spicy.

Cucumber roll, pickled daikon, clam, rice and shiso. A crunchy, refreshing, palate cleansing presentation.

A tasting of desserts: plum wine, black sesame seed custard, creme brulee and plum sorbet. 

 An exceptional fresh fish experience by a highly experienced chef.

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