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Earlier this week, Tourism Vancouver invited a group of local media to indulge in an evening of dining at some of 2014’s Dine Out Vancouver restaurants. Dine Out is Vancouver’s yearly restaurant festival, held over 17 days, and featuring hundreds of eateries with set menus priced at $18, $28, and $38.

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[Ocean Wise at C: Rainbow trout, vegetable salad, balsamic jellies, shaved radish, wild watercress]

There were eight groups based on a particular theme, and divided into about seven or eight journalists each. Our group, Go Green, was hosted by Tourism Van’s Amber Sessions. The three restaurants were kept a surprise until we arrived at each one’s door. A shuttle bus whisked us away into the misty Vancouver evening, as we all tempted to guess where we were headed off to first!

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[Octopus bacon-wrapped Weathervane scallop, squash veloute, porcini chestnut ravioli, Shimeji mushrooms]

Our first Green destination was C Restaurant, which made me happy as this was one of the menus I’d perused on Monday that had made my top five list of menus to try during the festival (the other four including Cork and Fin, Five Sails, Edible Canada, and Butcher + Bullock).

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[Roasted Sunchoke Veloute, torn sourdough, pear bavario]

C Restaurant is proud to serve an all-BC wine list with Dine Out, including flights available in half-price, half-glass pours and two flights per course (one a basic pairing, the other a sommelier pick, at a slightly higher price).

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[Roasted AAA Striploin, 12 hour-braised beef cheek, potato fondant, sweet onion petals, truffle peppercorn jus]

The $38 three-course menu is filled with beautiful Ocean Wise-sanctioned seafood dishes and a surprise entree for a fish restaurant: roasted AAA Striploin, served with a sumptuous 12-hour braised beef cheek, sitting next to potato fondant and sweet onion pearls, finished with a truffle peppercorn jus. Both meats are tender and not overly powered by either seasoning or fat. Together with a glass of hearty Nk’Mip “Quam Qwmt” Syrah, the beef cheek was a hit at our table.

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[Wild Chinook salmon, roasted carrots, pickled sea beans, carrot emulsion, lobster foam]

Another fantastic pairing here is the wild chinook salmon with a glass of Blue Mountain Stripe Label Chardonnay, with an oaky feel due to being aged in both French barrel and stainless tanks. The chardonnay’s brilliance works well with the salmon’s delicate flavour topped with the lobster foam. Diners here will have to make a hard choice between those two second courses (best to bring a dining partner along to share).

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[Panna Cotta, macerated berries, sheep’s milk, strawberry consomme, cilantro sorbet]

Shortly after a taste of each dessert, panna cotta with macerated berries, and a rich chocolate mousse with roasted hazelnuts, we headed out to Cibo Trattoria, with a $28 three-course Dine Out offering.

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[Leek and potato soup, greens, crème fraîche]

Once settled into the modern and sleek dining room, we shared full-size portions of leek and potato soup, arugula, fennel, pomegranate and goat cheese salad, and beef carpaccio, with slices of roasted squash, plus greens and mustard.

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[Arugula, treviso, fennel, pomegranate, spiced almonds, goat cheese salad]

I noticed that the wines paired for Dine Out were also all from BC, from Summerhill ‘Cipes Brut’ to start off our soup, to Noble Ridge’s 2011 Meritage, served with crispy pork belly and mustard lentils.

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[Crispy pork belly, mustard lentils, roasting juices, salsa verde]

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[Beef carpaccio, roasted squash, greens, mustard]

All meats are procured locally, from Jerry’s Farm in Delta supplying the beef for the carpaccio starter to Two Rivers Meats who supply the pork for the bolognese sauce. Speaking of bolognese, Cibo’s is just lovely, tossed with daily fresh-made pasta and shavings of parmigiano cheese on top.

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[Fresh tagliatelle, veal and pork bolognese parmigiano]

Roast steelhead trout with fingering potato in a Tuscan fish broth rounds out the three main choices. I found the trout a bit dry, perhaps a little over-roasted. The broth didn’t seem to help, but I did enjoy the fish’s flavour. Cibo also fits into the “Green” theme by using Oceanwise products in its dishes.

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[Roast steelhead trout, fingerling potato, rapini, tuscan fish broth]

The popular Italian spot also offered Panna cotta as one of their dessert choices, theirs served with roman brandy and amaretti, and an optional glass of See Ya Later Ranch’s ‘Hunny’ Late Harvest Riesling ($15).

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[Vanilla panna cotta with roman brandy and amaretti]

Though not pictured, the Gorgonzola piccante plate was served with honeycomb and sourdough crisps, along with green apple that was a perfect accompaniment to the rich and beautiful honeycomb square. We were also treated to a slice of decadent flourless chocolate cake, served with a dollop of crème fraîche.

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[Moules ‘Congolaise’, tomato coconut cream, smoked chili, lime, cilantro]

Our third stop was Chambar, one of Vancouver’s destination spots for Belgian cuisine. Chambar’s got a $38 prix-fixe meal complete with one of Chef Nico Schuermans’ signature dishes: Moules Congolaise: a pot of steamed mussels in a tomato-coconut cream sauce with smoked chili, lime and cilantro, served with a pot of (sadly over-salted) frites. There are five mains to choose from, with trout done two ways (Duo de Truites), Moules Frites ‘Vin Blanc’, duck breast with wild berry compote, and goat cheese gnocchi, the latter being my hands-down favourite of the mains.

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[Duo de Truites: Cured and pan-seared steelhead trout, Swiss chard, sultana, capers, shaved zucchini, Meyer lemon and parsnip puree, mustard sauce]

The goat cheese gnocchi is served with tarragon, hazelnuts, lingonberries and arugula, a powerful flavour combination that’s topped with slivers of green apple and cheese — rich, hearty, and perfect for winter. The presentation of all dishes here is top-notch, the most colourful being the winter salad, with candy-cane beets and seasoned with tahini and miso in a vinaigrette.

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[Charred baby carrots, macerated kale, crisp pappdum, pomegranate, tahini and miso emulsion, espelette vinaigrette]

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[Les Gnocchi de chèvre, tarragon, hazelnuts, lingonberries and arugula]

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[Gambas et Chorizo: olive oil-poached prawns, grilled chorizo, escabeche vegetables, avocado and Peruvian peppers]

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[Spice-rubbed duck breast, wild berry compote, chestnut hummus, Brussels sprouts, pistachios]

The Congolaise of course was a hit. If only to have had some bread alongside to dip into that sauce! I’d wished the frites weren’t so salty. I’ve no aversion to salt, but these seemed to come out of the kitchen with an extra sprinkle before arriving at our table. They seemed perfectly cooked and presented in their bowl, but when a dish advertises Moules Frites, it seems so natural that your taste buds would want to have the frites along for the ride. Unfortunately, they mostly went untouched by our table.

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[Coconut raspberry pannacotta, green apple sorbet, macerated pomegranate, Asian pear]

In keeping with a new trend, Panna cotta was also one of the featured desserts here. Chambar’s is a coconut-raspberry one, served with a refreshing green apple sorbet, and macerated pomegranate and Asian pear. The other two sweets were a chocolate espresso torte and a cheese plate (white cheddar, Beddis blue, along with hazelnut fruit bread and tomato jam).

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[Chocolate espresso torte, apricot puree, pecan brittle, caramelized apple, lemon ice cream]

Another theme for our group could have been the aptly-titled “Restaurants That Begin With a C”. Fully satiated, the evening was a whirlwind of tastes and experiences amongst fellow food lovers. There is simply no shortage of excellent dining options in this city and how lucky are we that Dine Out features a whopping 263 of them this year.

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[Getting ready to Go Green in front of Tourism Vancouver’s living garden wall]

Dine Out Vancouver runs from January 17 to February 2. Several Dine Out hotel packages are also on offer for those wishing to make a night of it. Visit the website for details.

My meals were courtesy of Tourism Vancouver and Dine Out Vancouver Festival’s participating restaurants for our themed dining experience.

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