562 Beatty Street (Crosstown), Vancouver BC.
The Chambar bills itself as fine dining without pretension. Fine, yes. Without pretension…not exactly. Chambar is trying hard to make fine European dinning appealing to the young and hip. Now, I find it hard to believe that anything can appeal to hipsters if it’s not a little pretentious. Don’t get me wrong, the food is superb – but I coulda done without the attempted intimidation. I can read french, I know when a drink is worth $12, and I know the difference between rare and medium-rare. I’m not scared of upscale dinning and you shouldn’t be either. So, what makes it Belgian and not French? When it comes down to it, nothing. South Belgian is basically french with a heavy emphasis on seafood.
The menu starts off with several truly amazing Belgian beers – some are hard to come by which helps to explain their bloated price tags. But Belgian beers are fabulous and sometimes a beer is worth $11. The drink menu also offers some tantilizing mixed drinks. I went for the il pompelmo ($11), thyme with pink grapefruit, grappa, whiskey and a hint of maple syrup. It was good, but a bit frothier than I was expecting. We also tried the Blue fig ($11), it was an interesting combo of roasted figs steeped in gin & frozen. It was really fun that it came with a teeny side dish of blue cheese.
There were some tasty looking appetizer options ($12-17). Endive salad, seared scallops, venison short rib, foie gras, and a few other good looking options, but because of the price tags on the mains, we skipped apps. For the sharable there were 3 mussel dishes (each $21), Mussels cooked in a white wine cream with bacon lardons and onions. The second set was a white wine butter with braised celery and leeks. The third option sounds amazing: a tomato coconut cream flavored with smoked chili, lime, and cilantro. I had to take a deep breath and pass this up to so I could power through to the mains and desserts.
I was a little surprised to see that there were only six entree choices ($27-29) – but it was still hard to choose because they all looked so damn good. There was a roasted halibut served with a shiitake lemongrass casserole, jade rice and halibut ceviche, finished off with an aji coconut vinaigrette. Next on the list was the arctic char accompanied by za’atar and a brown butter french lentil ragout. I almost got the lamb shank. I love lamb and the idea of having it with honey, figs, cinnamon and cilantro was hard to pass up. But I did, because I wanted this:
The ribeye steak with frites, roasted king oyster mushrooms, and red wine braised shallots with a bourguignon sauce. The steak was served on what I’m going to guess was a bed of kale. It was ridiculously tender and of substantial size. It was lovely and came with a tasty good grainy mustard. The flavors all worked well together. I was truly impressed. Plus, it’s fun to get all dressed up to go to a fancy restaurant and then end up eating fries.
I also munched a bit of the pork. It comes done three ways on one plate: roasted tenderloin, pulled shoulder croquette, crispy braised belly. And all of them are amazing, especially the croquette:
I also got a good taste of the ridiculously tender duck breast (pictured at the beginning). At first I was disillusioned because the portion looked so small – but as with all good food; quality makes up for quantity. And if the portions were any bigger I would have felt sick. One cannot have too much of the too rich.
I wisely saved room for desserts…. okay, more like I made room for dessert. All of Chambar’s foods are delightful – but the desserts are really where Chambar shines. Because it was a birthday dinner we ordered the degustation des desserts ($20)
this was a magnificent tasting platter of four of the chef’s choices. We had the pleasure of sampling the La Bombe d’Alaska, La Creme Rose, Tarte aux Griottes, et La Mousse Chocolate. La Bombe was just that, the bomb. Italian meringue covering matcha ice cream with lemon curd and pomegranate coulis. The pairing of lemon and pomegranate with the matcha is unbelievable. After devouring the matcha we moved onto our next victim — the rose cream. This undeniably creamy dessert has firmly placed the flavor of rose on my ‘must have’ list for drinks and desserts (along side lemon, lime, and blackberry). Then the tarte, the sour cherry and thyme tart with lemon buttermilk sorbet. This sorbet was the best I’ve ever tasted (which includes sorbet I’ve had at uber fancy french restaurants). The chocolate mousse was a lovely thick rich and not too sweet. Perfect, really. Some of the best desserts I’ve ever had.
The food is fantastic and the service is impeccable; however, as amazing at Chambar is…it still seems somehow highfalutin. I can’t properly explain it — I can only offer you examples of what didn’t sit right with me while dinning at the lovely Chambar:
The fact that they only have 6 entrees and none of them are vegetarian. Le sigh. There are several fish options – but this place will not cater to everyone. Beware!
They refolded my napkin while I was in the washroom. Sure, it was a nice gesture – but how gross! Once my greasy paw prints are all over something no one else should be touching it. It made me feel bad for the poor server who thought they needed to rearrange a cloth covered in my sauce runoff.
The waiter recommended the steak medium rare – but then served it rare. Super rare – way rarer than the average person would accept. Again – it’s like they were forcing their fanciness down regular people’s throats. Boo. Unpretentious, my butt.
For all these reasons: I turn my snooty nose up at their snooty noses. The only thing that really blew my pants off was the desserts. Their pastry chef is a freakin’ genius.
Reservations: Though there is ample seating, reservations are a must.
Decor: Understated warmth punctuated with beautiful local artwork.
Open: 5.30 – 12am nightly
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Karlheinze Stockhausen – Mantra
‘Cause the only thing snootier than Belgian exclusive is German avante-garde.
Junior Boys – Begone dull care
Canadian indietronica. Automatic super dance party.