Birthday dinner #3 – Locals Restaurant at the Old House

We spent the holidays over on Vancouver Island this year.  There didn’t seem to be too many fine dining choices in the Comox Valley area, but it was recommended we go to Locals Restaurant in Courtenay, so for my official birthday dinner celebration with Hitman that’s where we went.  They’re known for sourcing their food locally whenever they can (hence their name).

It had a very warm and inviting atmosphere.  There was even a fully decorated Christmas tree at the entrance with stools for you to take pictures on.

However, some parts of the service left much to be desired. Read on to find out!

Locals Restaurant: Bison Tartare on Asian Salad Amuse Bouche

We were promptly seated as we had already made reservations.  While we were looking through the menu we were offered an amuse bouche of Bison Tartare on Asian Salad.  It was a bit tart, and I thought that covered any hint of gaminess the bison might have. The salad portion was an interpretation of an “Asian” slaw.

Locals Restaurant: Grains bread with chickpea spread

For the complimentary bread, it was multigrain bread from the local bakery Grains.  Alongside was Locals Restaurant’s house-made chickpea spread.  I wasn’t too fond of the spread as it was too bland for my liking.  Hitman really enjoyed it though and he even tasted hints of cumin in it.

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Dine Out Vancouver 2014: Ask for Luigi

Ask for Luigi Vancouver

For my third DOVF event this year, Hitman and I were invited by Sharon of Eat, Drink, Travel to join her at Ask for Luigi. Theirs is the $28 menu. I was especially excited to try their homemade pasta.

Ask for Luigi: Interior

It was very very small in there, and only had one bathroom. Good thing we made reservations (even though Dine Out’s website says Ask for Luigi doesn’t take them, this seems to be a mix-up) because when we arrived as they opened at 5:30pm, we overheard the staff telling the people who didn’t have reservations that it would be a 1.5-2 hour wait.  Here’s the official word from Ask for Luigi’s website: RESERVATIONS ARE AVAILABLE AND WALK-INS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME.

Ask for Luigi: Buffalo Mozzarella

Hitman is still recovering from gum graft surgery, so he picked the softly textured Buffalo Mozzarella with Castelvetrano olives (Hitman loved these), fresh basil, and house-made bread. He says there was just the right amount of cheese for the homemade bread, and that it was well seasoned with just olive oil, salt and pepper. I tried a bite too; it was soft and mild. We both especially liked the sprigs of baby basil…Super cute!!

Ask for Luigi: Carpaccio

I got the Carpaccio with Salsa Verde, Piave Vecchio and crispy shallots. I thought there were too much going on as you can see… The combination of Salsa Verde and copious amounts of capers made the dish quite salty and tart, and overwhelmed the thin slices of beef so much that they couldn’t be tasted. The texture of the beef was retained though.

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Noryanjin / Noryangjin Fish Market – Noryangjin, Seoul Korea

So…now comes the time of the main attraction…the whole purpose of our trip to South Korea.

Prior to the trip we had researched just where would be a good place to have this sannakji: fresh raw octopus, the tentacles of which are served still squirming on the plate.  It turns out, a lot of restaurants that serve sashimi will serve it also, but you have to ask if they have the fresh kind.

Fresh huh….aside from fishing it out of the sea yourself, the freshest seafood you can get it probably if you can pick it out of a tank, then immediately serve it up…

That’s it.  We’re heading to Noryangjin Fish Market (sometimes called Noryanjin), where you pick your kill, then pick a restaurant to have them killed.

Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, South Korea

Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, South Korea

This massive wet market is all seafood.  It’s 24 hours and is just a 20 minute train ride from Myeongdong.  There were hawkers at each stall yelling at you to buy from them.  I think they know you’re here for live octopus, as that’s what they point you to right from the beginning.

Oh ya: most of them speak Mandarin.

Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, South Korea

Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, South Korea

Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, South Korea

There’s just so much to see.  Massive forearm-sized prawns, HUGE scallops on a rope, a mini shark head, pufferfish…  At a few tanks I swear I saw some fish which I’ve only known to be kept as pets in saltwater tanks.  There’s also alien looking worms that I only know to be 沙蟲 in Chinese.  I asked how they are supposed to be served…the answer was as sashimi.  We silently said no to that.

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Raincity Grill

Raincity Grill

Groupon had a tasting menu deal for Raincity Grill, a place I had yet to visit, where 2 can dine for $95.  Wendy had taken her mother out for a previous Groupon tasting menu at Raincity and really enjoyed the meal, and since my mom was coming to visit I decided to do the same.  My mom has never been to a small plates restaurant so I’ll pass the review over to her for a fresh perspective on the evening:

Raincity Grill Buns

I was pretty excited when I found out what type of meal this would be. The first plate to arrive was of course the bread and butter, little buns that could have been warmer but were nonetheless very tasty. The dish of salt was a nice surprise but maybe a tiny spoon to scoop it with would be helpful. Could be my inexperience but I wasn’t sure how to get just enough.

Raincity Grill: West Coast Oyster with raspberry & shallot mignonette

West Coast Oyster with raspberry & shallot mignonette

This is a little embarrassing to admit but I had never tasted a raw oyster before. I wasn’t about to get squeamish so I quickly slurped it up and it was amazing, so fresh with a hint of tartness from the raspberry. Alas there was only one but I could become a devotee of the oyster.

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Maenam

I’ve been wanting to try Maenam for a while now since I’m a big fan of all things Thai and was curious about trying Thai food with a gourmet twist, which is exactly what Maenam offers.  The first thing I noticed was the warm, inviting atmosphere, made apparent through use of light and colour.  I really dug their tabletops as well 😛 (see pics).  We had made reservations for the Chef’s Royal Thai Dinner ($47.50/person) in advance, a 3-course, 9-dish tasting menu of on- and off-menu selections which changes occasionally.  I’m not sure how often, but this one had started just that week.

satay gai, pork rinds, tempura fern, nahm jim, and crispy fried oysters at Maenam

First up was an appetizer platter featuring free range chicken satays (satay gai), tempura made with some thin type of fern, crispy fried oysters (hoi tort), prawn cakes and a couple pork rinds and cucumber wedges.  The sauces included standard homemade peanut, a red chili one, some watery cucumber relish and my personal favourite: the house sauce, nahm jim.  It embodied all of the Thai taste senses: sour, sweet, salty, and bitter (spicy).  Each bite made me forget my surroundings a little at a time, daydreaming of bustling Bangkok streets teeming with the pungent aromas of various mobile food carts.

The oysters were the highlight for me, and the nahm jim worked perfectly with them.  The fern dish was very bland although an interesting idea, and the chicken was just your usual Thai streetfood variety, but were on the dry side.  The pork rinds seemed out of place and had some inedible-y chewy hard bits in them.  But everything tasted good enough when dipped in the nahm jim I suppose.

Maenam: Thai and Ginger

For drinks Wendy ordered a virgin Thai and Ginger which consisted of passionfruit and cassia bark topped with gingerbeer.  She was expecting a bit more kick from the gingerbeer than what was delivered but still enjoyed the drink.  I ordered a pot of lemon ginger tea.  I found it a bit mild as well, but pleasant enough.

Maenam: Mussels

The next course consisted of soup, salad and mussels.  Wendy regrettably forgot to take photos of the soup which is unfortunate since for me it was one of the high points.  It was a hot and sour (tom yum) ling cod soup w/ Thai basil and oyster mushroom.  Needless to say it was tom yummy!  I think I enjoyed it a bit more than Wendy since she didn’t finish hers.  I did notice the absence of any big chunks of ginger or lemongrass which I normally like in this type of soup though. But I guess that’s kind of the point here, this ain’t your traditional Thai food.

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