Sometimes you dine at a place that stays in your mind and, for Editor Anne Weaver and I, that’s Forage, a small plates restaurant in Vancouver, B.C., that specializes in using local, sustainable ingredients melded together in deliciously creative dishes.
Forage is the restaurant connected to The Listel Hotel, the city’s modern property renowned for showcasing artworks. But Forage is much more than just a hotel restaurant. The eatery is casual and comfortable, with tall, bar-type tables for dining surrounding all the action at the U-shaped bar. Taking its cue from The Listel’s green ethic, Forage employs zero waste efforts, reduced energy consumption, and they support the local community by using products from area farmers, fishers, foragers, and artisan food producers. They also support Ocean Wise, a Vancouver aquarium conservation program that educates consumers about the threats to sea life and making smart choices by consuming sustainable fish.
The restaurant serves breakfast, brunch, and dinner. We came for dinner and the menu, created by Chef Chris Whittaker, is divided into: Snacks (starters); Land (meats and fowl); Soil (grains and vegetables); Sea (fish); and Sweets (desserts). Dishes are designed to be small and shared with two or three.
We began our meal with sautéed foraged and cultivated mushrooms with a perfectly poached egg on top and sprinkled with Okanagan goat cheese. It was served with crispy grilled caraway rye bread. We piled our toasted rye high with the rich, earthy mushrooms and our meal was definitely off to a good start.
Our next dish was kale salad. While the dishes are supposed to be small, there was a veritable pile of grilled kale, with caramelized apple slices and roasted hazelnuts, all lightly dressed with a brie and honey dressing that was both tangy and slightly sweet.
Fish arrived next: two pieces of lightly pan roasted halibut from Haida Gwaii with brown butter. While the kale salad had been huge, this dish came with two small pieces of fish. It was enough for two, but the dish proved proved stingy for three of us. Also, one of the halibut pieces was perfectly cooked—juicy and crispy. Unfortunately, the one I got was a bit overcooked. The halibut was served with a heirloom tomato cilantro salsa that offered powerful tomato flavors and lightly smoked potatoes.
The grain dish was another big one—ancient grains and root vegetables seasoned with spicy chermoula and sprinkled with lemon yogurt chips and a dollop of refreshing mint panna cotta. The grains were chewy and spicy and both the lemon yogurt chips and mint panna cotta offered a cooling respite. The silky panna cotta is the real standout of this dish and all of us made short work of the small amount offered. I’d have loved more panna cotta to counter the large portion of zesty grains. We ended up leaving half the grain dish uneaten, but, if we’d been given more of that yummy panna cotta, I suspect not a grain would have been left!
Our meat dish—bison ribeye from Turtle Valley Ranch and smoked sausage—was a real highlight and my favorite of the night. The bison was cooked perfectly medium rare and served sliced. The sausage offered an rich, smoky meaty flavor. The bison came with creamy smashed potatoes and salty, house- smoked mushrooms on a bright green bed of foraged chimichurri.
It’s funny how those small plates added up. By the time we finished the bison dish we were stuffed. However, our friend insisted we order her favorite Forage dessert: a very unusual elderflower neufchâtel cheese puff served with house-made ice cream and drizzled with cordial and raspberries spiked with local Unruly Gin. The cheese puff resembled a giant mushroom swimming in a sea of ice cream and cordial and berries. The results were amazing—creamy, cheesy goodness that was not too sweet, but entirely satisfying.
When we left Forage, we realized three hours had passed. We hadn’t just eaten; we’d dined on incredibly fun and creative dishes. We know we’ll be back again soon. In the meantime, I’m definitely going to try to figure out how to make those incredible mushrooms for my own guests. – by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor; Photos by Anne Weaver, RFT Editor