Vancouver has recently seen a mini explosion of upscale vegetarian restaurants open up. We aren’t talking your standard veggie burgers, tomato sauce pastas, and a few soups and salads. We’re talking innovative, well thought out, and expertly presented dishes. I have been seeing blog posts and tweets about some of the delicious creations showing up, so I knew I needed to get out and see what all the buzz was about. Fortunately, I have an adventurous food loving blog friend who was game when I said “Wanna go check out a new vegetarian restaurant?”
Not only did Karen join me, but her lovely husband was brave and came to dinner as well. I get the impression he was skeptical about this whole vegetarian restaurant thing 😉
The Parker is a cozy, modern, welcoming space just off Main Street (so be prepared for a hipster or two). The lighting was low, which make for a pleasant dining experience, but craptastic photos (I apologize in advance). The menu is tapas style – small plates, great for sharing. Maybe not the most economical way to eat, but a always a good way to try out a variety of dishes when you are going to a new restaurant.
They also had a short cocktail menu, and seeing as it was a Friday night, I thought it only fitting to indulge in a little bevy. I went with the Autumn – vodka, walnuts, vanilla, pear liqueur. It was very subtly flavoured, but refreshing. And it seemed fitting for a seasonal menu. Did I mention they feature many local, in season products? As any good local restaurant should! Side note – beer lovers beware! There are only 2 on the menu. Perhaps more local craft brews will be added?
We ordered an array of dishes to share. Before they came out, we were presented with an amuse bouche…which I cannot remember for the life of me. I know it included a sous vide SOLEfood radish (urban agriculture!), topped with something tasty. I’m not a big radish fan, but this was mild and delightful.
And then our selections started coming out. Here we have the Jersey Blue Cheese, with warm figs and crackers. I loved how many of the dishes were plated on these stone like plates – very modern – and each was placed on a folded cloth napkin to keep it from crashing on the table (and probably easier for the servers to pick up). Also, the server made a point of describing each dish as it was brought to us – much appreciated, seeing as we ordered so many things.
Next was the Hazelnut Dukka & Crisps – a crumbly nut spread with a hint of heat. The crisps were in fact taro root chips (love!) This photos does not do this dish justice, although I’m not sure any photo would. The dukka was amazing. Rich, flavourful, and great with the taro. We were debating what the spice was in the dukka. It almost had an Asian flair. I would love to have this recipe, as it was one of my favourite dishes of the night.
This inuksuk-looking dish would be Chickpea Fries with House-made Ketchup. If I remember correctly, they have a wee bit of goat milk in them as well. They were crispy on the outside, creamy in the middle, and paired nicely with the spicy ketchup. But let’s be honest – you can never go wrong with fries.
While we waited for our “main dishes” to come out, we watched some of the action in the “kitchen”. And by kitchen, I mean behind the bar. All the food is prepared out front behind the bar with a little food station on the side. It’s great to see how meticulously they worked to make each dish look perfect before they brought it to the guests.
More food! Here we have Mini-Tacos – white beans, radish, and cilantro in corn tortillas. I believe there was a we bit of guacamole on there as well. Gluten free, and vegan to boot. These would have been delightful had they not been sprinkled with that silly cilantro stuff. I know, I’m picky.
This next dish was our server’s recommendation. We were humming and hawing over what to add to our order, and she suggested the Brussel Sprouts with roasted sunchokes, apples, walnuts, romesco sauce. I’m all for creative brussel sprout dishes, but wasn’t sure what romesco sauce was. Turns out it is made with almonds, tomatoes, and red peppers. Oh yeah, and it’s delicious. Note to self – learn to make romesco sauce. Oh, and the sprouts were good too – even my dining companions agreed. That white, feta-looking stuff? It’s dried olive oil. Another first for me!
Our final shared dish was my other stand out of the night. Gluten-Free Handmade Gnocchi, with creamed brussel sprouts, Golden Ear cheddar, and thyme. Pillowy, creamy, melt in your mouth delicious. I’m not surprised they sell out of this dish most nights. This is gnocchi at its best. I was a shame I had to share.
Of course we had to try out the “sweet” menu as well. I went with Carrot Cake with salty butterscotch and candied baby carrots (not beets like the menu stated). Yes, it looks kind of ugly, but it was nice and moist, good carrot flavour. Not as many spices and other flavours as I often like in a carrot cake, but still good. The carrots were okay – I think I expected them to be more candied than they were.
Sadly, most of the true desserts were out for Karen due to her vanilla bean allergy (Side note – the staff at The Parker are very concerned with allergies; they ask each guest, and check with the kitchen to ensure the food is okay. They do not use any peanut products either). She shared a Goat Cheese Tasting Plate with her husband. I snagged an action photo when they weren’t paying attention.
Overall, I was pleased with the offerings at The Parker. I felt we had excellent service, delicious food, and a fun night out. Price wise, it’s not an every night kind of place, but if you are looking for a more upscale vegetarian place for a special night out, I would recommend it. I look forward to seeing how the menu evolves as the seasons change.
The Parker – 237 Union St – Vancouver, BC – 604-778-3804 – www.theparkervancouver.com