Ah, Reading Week. That beautiful week in the middle of February where we can enjoy sleeping in and not having to lug ourselves to class. For me, Reading Week means going for eats and catching up with friends, among other relaxing activities. My first Reading Week adventure consisted of trooping down Robson Street with my friend Gawa to check out Forage. I’m glad I finally got to try Forage, as it had originally been my first choice during Dine Out Vancouver, but I’d had to reschedule to Catch 122.
Housed in the Listel Hotel, Forage is a clean, modern dining space, and the service is impeccable. Our server, Eduardo? Edvardo? was amazingly attentive. He spoke with an accent, which although it hindered my understanding a bit, was charming. He made sure to tell us the specials and offer his recommendations, and when he saw us snapping photos of each other, he offered to take one of the two of us together as well. He was great without being overbearing, which in my mind is the perfect waiter.
The menu is mainly designed to share, composed of tapa dishes. Tapas aren’t usually my thing, as I find it difficult to get full and end up ordering too much. There were a couple dishes that Eduardo indicated would be an entree-sized portion, as well, so don’t be scared off if you’re not a fan of tapas.
The one dish I had on my mind was the BC Spot Prawn and Seafood Chowder ($12), with a soft-poached egg, chicharron, and pork hock. This chowder was voted the best chowder in Vancouver, so naturally I was curious. I’m usually skeptical about these things, but oh my God. This chowder was amazing. It tasted homey, and was definitely comfort food. I find that many chowders are too watered down, and that the ingredients aren’t in chunks substantial enough to taste them, if that makes sense. Here, I could taste each piece of prawn and pork individually, which was great. The pork itself was smokey and juicy, and the chowder itself was so creamy, rich, and savoury. The soft-poached egg was runny and just added to the richness. The chicharron (fried pork rinds) reminded me of Asian shrimp crackers for some reason, and were nicely crunchy, but also crispy and light and complemented the chowder well. I know every other food blogger has said this, but seriously. You must try this chowder.
I’m not much of an oyster person, but Gawa is, so she had two of their Fresh Shucked Oysters ($2.50 each). They apparently have different kinds of oysters available each night, but I wasn’t able to catch what kind this was. Anyways, Gawa found the oysters themselves to be quite fresh. They were served with horseradish and some kind of vinaigrette. She thought that the horseradish wasn’t strong enough, possibly because it was too ground up, and she would have appreciated more flavour in that department.
Moving onwards to the entrees, I decided on that night’s vegetarian special, the Mushroom Risotto ($16), with some butternut squash puree on the side. It arrived looking somewhat like a mess, but this dish was a winner. The mushrooms were clearly fresh and added great texture. Although I wasn’t able to discern all the different kinds of mushrooms used, I liked how the smaller mushrooms were served whole. I thought that this dish really highlighted the concept of the whole restaurant, which focuses on sustainability, green tourism, and locally sourced foods. The dish as a whole was quite earthy and savoury. There was a hint of sweetness also–maybe it was pineapple?–as well as a nice amount of goat cheese that brought out all the flavours present. The butternut squash puree was quite sweet, and a nice complement to the risotto. I ended up comparing the puree to the one I had at Catch 122 alongside my rabbit, and this version was definitely preferable.
For Gawa’s main, she opted for the Pacific Provider Salmon ($16), which was served with Pemberton potatoes, “bread n butter” sea asparagus, and pickled huckleberries. Gawa was disappointed with the fish, which was overly fishy and not sufficiently moist. The fish was fine if eaten with the other ingredients, mainly the sea asparagus, the lemony sauce, and the huckleberries, which cancelled out the fishiness. The huckleberries were also a pleasant and unexpected touch. The potatoes were standard potatoes, but a welcome addition to the dish.
Lastly, to share, we chose the Squash Pierogies ($12), which arrived in a birch syrup vinegar reduction, with some smokey potatoes and scallion creme fraiche. We were both surprised by these, as they were incredibly doughy. They reminded me of the consistency of this Korean street food called hodduk. I love hodduk, but these pierogies simply didn’t cut it for me. They were quite oily but not at all crispy, leaving us unsure as to how they had been cooked. We both thought that there could have been more filling. Still, we thought that the scallion creme fraiche complemented the pierogies nicely. The potatoes were crisp, light, but not greasy, which was nice.
Overall, we had a pleasant dining experience at Forage, although looking back, the dishes were hit-or-miss. I personally thought the chowder and the risotto were excellent, so I suppose it’s just a matter of choosing the right items. The service and atmosphere are both top-notch, while the menu itself reminded me of Fable, my favourite restaurant in Vancouver. Compared to Fable, the prices here are a bit higher and the atmosphere more formal, but I would recommend you give Forage a try–even if you’re just going to have the chowder.
1300 Robson Street