Happy New Year!
2010 is officially here. A scary concept for Vancouverites, considering that 2010 is synonymous with the Olympics... which are happening in SIX weeks. Crazy!!!
Well, everyone laments that there's nothing "going on" in Vancouver on New Year's Eve, and sure, as I mentioned before there are no Sydney-style fireworks or big public gatherings, so if you're visiting as a tourist on New Year's, Vancouver could certainly be a disappointment unless you shell out big bucks. But, if you can tap into the right social circle (or really ANY social circle), you'll find more than enough fun on New Year's Eve. That's the secret in Vancouver.
Case in point, last night around 8:30 we met up with our friends at their Beatty Street loft and enjoyed some wine, cheese & charcuterie as we waited for everyone else to arrive. All together there were 15 of us. As we sipped our wine, somebody decided to play some classic Culture Club and Bronski Beat to the amusement of everyone.
We had a reservation next door at Chambar at 10pm. Chambar's a gourmet Belgian restaurant located in a brick-walled heritage loft - a popular must-visit for foodies. If you're a fan of Belgian beer and mussels, they do it very well. But really, they do everything very well - check out their menu.
We were seated at a long table in their back room next to another large group who were elegantly dressed to the nines. The atmosphere was loud but festive. Despite the restaurant being extremely busy, we were served in a prompt and efficient manner by (what sounded like) an Australian who looked uncannily like a young Jerry Seinfeld.
Many of us started off the night with Chambar's signature Blue Fig martini - a fig-infused gin served in a martini glass with a side of Danish blue cheese. Despite enjoying this cocktail in my previous visits, I wasn't as impressed this time around as I could only taste the gin and not the fig. (Mental note to self: next time order a Gulden Draak.)
After our cocktails we ordered our food while sharing bottles of Shiraz. While I'm not the biggest fan of mushrooms, I ordered their "les champignons forestiers". A mushroom dish, essentially. As described on their menu, it was marinated baby beets, forest mushrooms, watercress, black trumpet & goat cheese spring roll, with douglas-fir vinaigrette.
I'll be honest - I only ordered it to try their douglas-fir vinaigrette, because, I mean, really! Wouldn't you be curious too? But it was well-worth the experimentation and it became a meal highlight for those who tasted it. Unexpectedly, the feature of that dish was the crispy spring rolls filled with a creamy goat's cheese. The mushrooms from the famed title seemed to play a secondary roll beside the pickled beets and watercress. A great choice for me, personally, and the envy of those who didn't order it.
For my main I decided to NOT go with my typical order of Moules frites Congolaise (mussels in a tomato coconut cream sauce with smoked chilis, lime, and fresh cilantro). Although thanks to my friend Adam, I got to taste one of his mussels to remind myself why I always order that dish.
This time at Chambar, which is (I think) my third or fourth visit, I opted for their "Marue marocaine" which was a pan roasted sablefish with chickpea & zucchini charmoula, olive, parsley & mint salad, and a sumac lemon vinaigrette. As a lover of Morroccan food, this made a perfectly light and flavourful choice. Others at the table ordered heavier items such as venison, braised lamb shank, ribeye steak, and duck, but I was very happy with my seafood choice.
Meanwhile, the funniest things kept happening while having dinner. I suppose you really have to love music to appreciate this anecdote, but I was sitting at the end of the table next to my music-loving friends, so we were all amused by this. When we arrived at our table, Modest Mouse's "Float On" was playing. I casually remarked to Adam how unexpected it was to be celebrating New Year's Eve at Chambar to Modest Mouse. He agreed and said that he had actually been listening to Modest Mouse just before coming over. I then brought up my recent appreciation for Death Cab For Cutie, when the next song after changed to Death Cab's "Soul Meets Body". I don't know if it was a case of serendipity, but this happened several times throughout the night.
The music at Chambar was totally unexpected. They'd play the entire Gorillaz "Demon Days" album, for example. And it was then during the Gorillaz song "DARE" that I mentioned to Adam that I had started taking hip hop dance lessons and that we did a routine to A Tribe Called Quest's "Check the Rhime". A few minutes later, A Tribe Called Quest started to play throughout Chambar. Adam and I looked at eachother and he laughed, "hey, are they listening into us?". It was just one of those nights.
Before we knew it, however, it was three minutes to midnight. Our dishes had been cleared and we were being poured glasses of champagne. We didn't even do a countdown as we were all busy coordinating champagne that when midnight struck, we only knew it because somebody remarked, "Hey, my iphone says it's midnight already" and then everyone else in the restaurant started to shout out "Happy New Year!!!!" So we all got up and hugged and kissed one another and wished each other a Happy New Year. It was such a warm and welcoming way to start 2010. Graceful, playful, understated, but fun.
To complete our meal at Chambar, some of us ordered dessert. I started the trend by ordering "le bavarois salé" which was a salted hazelnut praline bavarois with caramel, sour apple, fig compote & calvados ice cream. I didn't even know what a bavarois was, but it turns out its a mousse-like cream. Well that salted caramel cream dessert with spiced apples, a dollop of satiny ice cream (and a square-shaped hazelnut praline placed upright like an arch) was truly an underrated pleasure to end the night with! Once it arrived at the table, everybody eyed it. I mean, that pretzel-looking praline arch was impressive enough. Those that tasted my dessert promptly ordered one for themselves.
Finishing dessert I noticed that I somehow had two glasses of red on the go, which is what happens when everyone at your table orders different bottles of wine to share - and it especially happens when everyone's busy chatting and having fun! But since Chambar was essentially closed, we finished up our drinks, paid our bills, then stumbled back outside to walk the twenty paces down the sidewalk back to our friends' loft next door.
While we had all been invited to the founder of United Front Games' Yaletown apartment for a New Year's Party (that would have been going with DJ's until 4am), we decided to stay put where we were. Besides, we had good friends, good food and drinks, and good music. While some of our friends left for the night, we were some of the last ones remaining, sloppily dancing to Depeche Mode, Hall & Oates, and other such favourites. (And you just know somebody's going to be posting some real gems on Facebook soon from that part of the night).
So that was my Vancouver-style New Year's Eve. Rather than cabbing home, we decided to walk the 15 minutes across the downtown peninsula to our Yaletown apartment, following those circular flags on the sidewalk. Alas, I didn't shout out each country's name as I stepped over their flag, but I was keeping tabs silently in my mind.