After a trip to the Vancouver aquarium as part of a team building activity (even though only three of us went), we went to look for a quick bite knowing the evening fare at the meeting would be less than appealing. It was an abnormally warm May day, so we wanted a patio,a drink and some decent food.
Coast is part of the Glowbal group conglomerate which owns a number of popular Vancouver restaurants. Having previously dined at Black + Blue and the Fish Shack with reasonable success, it sounds like a good idea, especially with the advertised cocktail menu and half price appetizers. After making the uphill trek to Alberni Street, we were able to secure a table on the front patio. The three of us were wearing casual team-building clothes (ie. yoga pants and shorts). We were hardly dressed for the occasion, especially in the midst of the attire of the waitstaff and numerous suits coming in but we were quickly comfortable in our outdoor seats.
Both my colleagues have what I consider excellent palates and both do not consume gluten. One of them has also never tried nigiri, so we took the opportunity to run an experiment with the small list on the menu. My thought was to hit her with the ebi thinking it would best to start her off with something cooked not to mention the fact that there was no guilt based on the fact we were just at the aquarium watching numerous other species splash around. The waitress, however, insisted that we opt for the unagi (since it was cooked) although I thought eel may not be the best way to initiate a novice sushi eater. The shrimp arrived without issue but the eel arrived coated in what appeared to be a brown sauce. Even as a gluten glutton, I have become aware that any brown sauce is an alarm bell, especially on a piece of sushi. It usually means soy sauce which means gluten. Keep in mind the menu clearly stated this item was gluten free but after deliberation by the waitstaff and kitchen slightly longer than the OJ Simpson verdict, we were told it in fact contained gluten. Big mistake. In the end, I ate the eel (which was decent but expensive) and I succeeded in introducing her to the world of nigiri albeit a tame piece of cooked shrimp.
I will give Coast credit for it’s buck a shuck special. I indulged in a half dozen oysters, portraying behaviour similar to that of a five year old opening a new set of lego. I become mesmerized by combining oyster flesh with pungent horseradish and some type of mignonette. In fact, I don’t think anything gives me as much enjoyment in the area of seafood relations since Mr. Tecklenberg showed me how to hypnotize a lobster when I was 8 or 9 at a table in his namesake Sudbury restaurant. I was so giddy I forgot the picture.
Each of us weren’t up for a whole lot of food (beside the after effect of seeing a whole lot of underwater life), but we each ordered a dish and did a family style sorta thing. First were the thai mussels (minus the bread). They were tasty but a rather dismal serving for $19. Maybe it would have come with 17 pieces of garlic bread which would have made it a bit more economical.
Second was the grilled halibut. It made a lot of sense given the fact it was the season and there was not a hint of brown sauce anywhere on the plate. Instead, it was served with a decent potato salad. The fish was cooked nicely but it’s difficult to justify the $38 price tag.
Finally, my choice was the apple chopped salad ($12.95) with the optional upgrade of two scallops for a whopping ten bucks. It arrived with a lone scallop and I made a note to see if it was reflected properly on the bill. I never had the chance. The salad itself was fresh, crisp and nicely balanced but when I cut open the scallop I looked at my colleagues and in my best Gordon Ramsey accent yelled “The f@*%ing scallop is raw”. In fact, it was a bit of a relief because paying 5 bucks for a scallop the size of a jawbreaker just wasn’t worth it. Perhaps the biggest annoyance of all was when the manager returned with the plate to confirm with me that, after careful deliberation with the chef, the scallop was in fact raw and they would gladly take it off the bill. I guess all those years of watching Hell’s kitchen finally paid off since it saved me the embarrassment of being corrected in front of my esteemed colleagues.
Vancouver’s Glowbal group seems to be like olives, cilantro or goat cheese; you either love them or hate them. Some see the group as an innovative and eclectic collection of restaurants showcasing an incredible arrays of foods. Others see it as an overpriced series of misguided trends in which the decor is more important than the food. The inability to properly display gluten-free foods combined with minute mussels and an undercooked and underwhelming five dollar scallop (that included a second opinion on doneness) makes me lean toward the latter. This was just a bad experience with no effort made to fix it. Good thing there were crudites back at the meeting. I swear a carrot stick never tasted so good.