To Chris Whittaker, Head Chef at Forage, the idea of forage means, “we no longer seek out excess and indulgence, but instead revisit a time when we respected the land and oceans and took only what we needed to survive. It is about being stewards of our land and true conservationists, as we conduct our business and live our lives. It is about goodness, about taking care of each other, and bringing together our community over good food”.
This sustainable, farm to table restaurant is located on Robson and Jervis, is attached to the Listel Hotel, which is a Tourism Ambassador for Conservation and a Corporate Climate Leader for Vancouver. The hotel itself has a zero waste policy, solar panels and a state of the art heat capture program, making it an ideal model for sustainability as well as the perfect location for this restaurant.
If you are looking for a real sense of connection with a menu, look no further, as Forage offers BC’s backyard elegantly prepared for your culinary pleasure. Everyone who works at Forage lives and breathes sustainability, and it shows from the moment you sit down. We had come in initially for the Dine Out menu, priced at $28 per person. Once sat, we were greeted by the bar manager, who firstly asked us if we had been there before. Then he went on explaining the concept of Forage and how the menu worked, and a little about the philosophy of the restaurant. Although the Dine Out menu was classically designed as a three course meal, the regular menu consists of all share plates, encouraging sharing and a sense of family. We decided to only choose from the set menu today, and with three of us there, we were able to try a bit of everything! Just as promised, we were given a choice of unpretentious dishes that at the same time were innovative and designed with advanced cooking techniques.
We began our meal with the Seafood Chowder that had smoke chicharon(dried pork skin) and a soft boiled quails egg. I found this to be a really well balanced chowder. The seafood, salmon and prawns, were both really well cooked and still very soft and moist. The quails egg was really nice as it added the richness this softer toned chowder needed. The chicharon, which I had tried for the first time, was also very nice as well and added some really nice crunchy texture to the chowder.
The next appetizer was the Smoked Bison Carpaccio with black pepper cranberry jelly and a charred leek and bone marrow aioli. It was garnished with crisp parsnip and house made pickles. There are only a handful of times that I have tasted bison, but I was very pleased with the freshness of the meat and the pairings with the very unique sauces. They married wonderfully with the clean and lean tasting meat. The parsnips added a really nice bite when eaten as a whole with everything else.
The last appetizer was the Grilled Kale Salad with roasted hazelnuts, brie and honey dressing, and dried pears. This was really one of my all time favourite ways kale has been prepared, being grilled and served semi-warm. Even though it was cooked, there was still a lot of crunch to it, which was really nice. The only concern I had with it was that the hazelnuts or just the seasoning itself created a somewhat salty dish, but this was better balanced with the sweeter dressing. The dried pears I found were also quite unique to a salad and really worked well together with the nuts I think. The one thing I wanted to mention as well was that the hazelnuts were from Agassiz and the brie dressing was made from brie bought from Golden Ears, which a great utilization of local product sourcing.
Overall I think that the first course was a really good representation of some of the ingredients that BC is really well known for, not to mention how well they were all prepared. I don’t think I can pick a favourite here because they were all so good! Now, on to the entrees!
The first dish was the Gelderman Farm Pork Belly, with Crackling Alpine juniper braised cabbage, Celeriac Potato Puree, and Okanagan Apply Chutney. Gelderman Farms is out in Abbotsford and they specialize in pork and blueberries. The pork was cooked magnificently with a nice crackling skin and very soft and well cooked inner layer of meat. I think the cabbage and potato puree had a nice European twist on it with some local west coast ingredients, but I found that the apple chutney was a little more on the sour side and I would have preferred a little more sweetness to balance out the braised cabbage.
The next dish was the Pacific Provider Salmon with Potato and Smoked onion hash, Leek fondue, and celery root remoulade. The salmon was pan seared to perfection and the inside was a nice medium done. It reminded me of almost a play on fish and chips with the celery root remoulade made with capers and tasting similar to a tartar sauce. The leek fondue was a really unique addition that lifted the salmon and gave it a level of freshness.
Lastly on the entrees, we had the Roasted Wild and Cultivated Mushrooms Squash and Sage Gnocchi with Winter Kale. I typically am not the biggest fan of gnocchi because of its dense doughy taste and texture. But this was a very different experience for me. The gnocchi was lightly pan fried and seasoned very well. And at the same time the mushroom had a really wild and natural aroma to them that made this dish so special.
I think the entrees overall were really well thought out dishes with a lot of fantastic local ingredients incorporated into them as well. They weren’t extremely large portions, which left a little room to still be hungry, but I think this is a small part of the concept of Forage. Sometimes we take for granted how easy it is for us to have whatever food we want, and in large quantities. Forage really exemplifies what it means to eat just what you need to feel full, without stuffing yourself with unnecessary calories. It shows that bigger isn’t always better and you can be satisfied with a smaller portion of a really well balanced dish.
The dessert was one part of this meal that I couldn’t completely agree with. The choices were definitely unique and something no other restaurant in Vancouver is offering on their dessert menu, but at the same time it also wasn’t the typical ‘sweetness’ you would necessarily want at the end of a great meal. I do understand the concept that they are going for. The meal in all its courses was overall very clean and organic in its flavours and design, but for a lack of better words, it felt a little on the ‘healthier’ side, which none of us were really anticipating. The crumb crusted maple rye french toast with tonka bean drinking chocolate was a good example of this. The rye was breaded in crumbs and deep fried, paired with some type of flavoured popcorn, and swimming in a somewhat bitter drinking chocolate. The bread mixed with the popcorn had a really multigrain type of taste to it and I found it hard to balance in my palate.
The final dessert was the blueberry hazelnut financier with membrillo creme, pulled hazelnut praline and quince jelly. This was similar to a blueberry muffin with just a dollop of whipped creme and some quince jelly jam on top. Out of the two I found this one to be more enjoyable, but still had a very healthy tasting concept behind it that I wasn’t 100% behind.
I think that Forage really has a great concept of farm to table food that’s really echoed by there well informed staff that really exemplify good restaurant service at its finest. They all know what their talking about and seem very passionate about the food they bring to you. As an option for Dine Out I would definitely recommend this place, while the remainder of their restaurant menu looks very interesting as well. I would return to try here again.
Quality – 5 of 5 – Locally sourced ingredients, doesn’t get any fresher!
Ingenuity – 5 of 5 – Wild and organically inspired Canadian West Coast cuisine at its finest!
Atmosphere – 5 of 5 – Modern, upscale and a social environment
Service – 5 of 5 – Everyone here knows what their doing and talking about
Value – 4.5 of 5 Not too overpriced, but portions are not too big and at the end we were still left a little hungry
Overall – 4.9 of 5