Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year Vancouver-style at Chambar

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.


Blogger said...

Sounds like a great night, Robyn!

1. I keep tabs of the countries as I step on them as well.

2. I was ALMOST going to call Chambar and see if they had any space on NYE because it was mentioned on Breakfast Television that morning as a nice place to bring in the New Year.

3. I thought "frites" meant chips (or "fries" as you call them)? I would've ordered that purely on that basis. I loooove chips.

4. Never heard of Modest Mouse, but loved the song. I'm now working my way through your Blip Playlist.

5. I love Demon Days, but I have a personal preference for the debut album. It's one of my three "If you were trapped on a Desert Island..." albums

6. At what point can we expect a vlog entry of you performing your "Check the Rhime" routine? ;o)

Robyn said...

It was a great night!

That's funny how you almost went to Chambar as well! And yes, frites = chips = fries. They serve the mussels up in this big black pot with a large bowl of Belgian fries on the side. (Belgian fries tend to be cut into smaller pieces). However, you can also order them as a side-order, so you wouldn't just be limited to ordering mussels.

Oh, and speaking of Belgian fries, have you ever been to Fritz Fries on Davie? It's often our pit stop late at night. They serve them with a variety of dipping sauces or if you want to eat them Montreal-style, they also serve poutine!

Re: Gorillaz - I've never actually heard the entirety of their debut album, but Demon Days was playing non-stop in my car throughout the summer of 2005.

As for my Check the Rhime routine, hahaha... good luck with that one. ;)

Blogger said...

No, not yet. I've passed Fritz so many times but haven't been in yet. Will make a note to do so. But back in Oz, after a late night on the piss we usually have a kebab (or shawerma). That's why there are so many late night shawerma places ALL over because it's a post-binge drink staple.

(And I will have to bribe you somehow for a Check the Rhime performance)

Robyn said...

I love kebabs/shewarmas, but I can't say I eat them late at night. I don't think they ever caught on here as a post-binge snack. I know from my British expat friends that they all miss their kebabs, and so now I know, so do Aussies. For whatever reason, I tend to eat them for lunch.

And yet hot dogs! I'll gladly chow down on a hot dog slathered with mustard and fried onions at 2am. There always seem to be rogue hot dog vendors in the most convenient of spots after everything closes. Just can't resist the smell of fried onions.

But Fritz? Fritz is great. Go for the smoked meat poutine.

p.s. Where in Oz are you from?

p.s.s. Still no luck on Check the Rhime. I'd need my class of 40+ others to give it any justice. ;)

Blogger said...

Well my wife and I just started our new years health regime, so Fritz and its potine will have to wait until I look like Ryan Reynolds in Blade Trinity.

And yes, late night smokies always go down a treat. I totally concur.

PS. The answer to your question would be "Sydney" :o)

PPS. I will just wait until you are liquored up and then nonchalantly play the track, and let the magic unfold.

Robyn said...

I thought about cutting fries entirely out of my diet for 2010. I did it back in 2001, I can do it again. However, starting off the first weekend of the new year gorging myself on cheese, meat, bread, and wine wasn't helping.

Sydney = cool!

I'm lame - never been to Oz, ever. My parents lived in Adelaide before I was born, and my sister lived in Manly a few years ago. I'm the lame ass who has never ventured over. Lame!

Re: snazzy hip hop dance moves. We'll see.

Blogger said...

That's sooo freaky! I'm a chip monster as well and I managed to ween myself off them for 1-year as a resolution back in 2007 (I think). I lasted the entire year.

The following year I tried chocolate, but only lasted about 2-3 months. That's pretty good for me because my wife says I bleed Nutella.

My missus is from the Northern Beaches where Manly's located. She's a surfy-beach girl at heart whereas I'm more of a city-slicker. (She too is a cheese & wine monster.)

Robyn said...

Your missus sounds like she'd get along really well with my surfer sister (who makes regular pilgrimages to Tofino, the Oregon coast, etc.)