Restaurant: So.cial at Le Magasin
Cuisine: Canadian/First Nations (Coastal Peoples)/Regional/Contemporary
Last visited: October 18, 09
332 Water Street, Gastown - In the 1911 Le Magasin building
Price Range: $20-30
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
Food: 4 (Food is actually 3.5, but the extra .5 goes to creativity & effort)
- Authentically Canadian/Regional menu
- Features authentic First Nations/Coastal People's cuisine
- Almost everything is homemade/from scratch
- Menu not for everyone - can be too creative to the point of not good
- Most reduced reduction I've ever tried
- Homemade breads
- Seasonal menu - changes often
- Local/Organic where possible
- Oyster bar available
- Full wine bar
- Casual fine dining
- Offer 3-4 course prix fixe menu
- Mon-Fri - Lunch
- Sat-Sun - Brunch
- Everyday dinner at 5pm
- Daily happy hour 3-8pm (Oysters on special)
- Also apart of So.cial Le Magasin Butcher Shop and Deli (located on other side of building)
This is almost the only restaurant in Vancouver serving all Canadian/First Nations cuisine. The chef is First Nations himself and has only been there for about 4 months. The menu is really interesting and you definitely get a feel for that regional cuisine and super Canadian theme. Sure there are gourmet twists here and there that makes it not as "authentic", but the main ingredient and concept is quite Canadian. The fact that it's discretely located in the basement of a building in historic Gastown also adds to the overall charm and Canadian pride the restaurant offers.
We originally came here for the oyster bar...my friend has never met an oyster he didn't love. About sixty oysters after...yes between 2 people...we managed to still try their entrees and desserts. Come to think of it, I'm going to dedicate a separate post just for the oysters.
I can definitely taste the passion and love for cooking the chefs/cooks/kitchen have...they pay so much attention to detail. I've never had a sauce/gravy as reduced as the ones they serve here. They make everything from scratch - they even pickle their own pearl onions - and that was more or less a garnish! With that being said, I do appreciate their efforts and creativity - however with all that effort and creativity the food should have tasted better. Sometimes they were trying to do too much and it was overkill, or the idea was there but the flavours were just a bit off and not thought out thoroughly.
The menu isn't for everybody. If you're not into exotic, overly creative, or adventurous dining then you'll probably think everything tastes off or weird here. I'm into "weird" combinations of flavours and cooking outside of the box, so I was able to appreciate it even if it didn't taste great.
Added note: If you want to try this restaurant you better go soon because they're reinventing themselves - changing names and everything. However they are staying with the 100% Canadian/First Nations theme.
- **Bison Steak 6/6
- Breaded bison steak with mushroom and cranberry reduction, smoked quail's egg, potato croquette, mushrooms & carrots.
- If you've never tried bison it basically tastes like steak, but a bit sweeter. It's not gamey at all, so it's definitely not like lamb. This one was really tender and moist and cooked medium rare.
- They bread it with a very traditional First Nations bread called bannock.
- Bannock is a flat quick bread that is typically baked or roasted around a campfire. It's amazing!
- The bannock is homemade and they wrap it around the bison and deep fry it. The bannock is so crispy it tastes just like crackling! Crackling is the fatty skin on pork that gets really crispy when it's roasts. It becomes super crunchy and sweet almost like candy. That's exactly what this bannock tastes like and you don't have to feel guilty for eating it because it's "healthier" than pork fat
- It's ridiculous how good they make it here. As you can see it's multiple layers of deep fried bannock. It's so good! I think they even sweeten the bannock with a little maple syrup. That's traditional how bannock is eaten anyways.
- The mushroom and cranberry reduction is insane. It's so thick and sticky and there's whole cranberries in it. It's quite sweet but a slightly tart at the same time. It's not necassarily the best tasting, but it goes with the bison well since the bison is naturally sweeter. It's also really really reduced.
- I also appreciated the little details like the mini potato croquette and the single smoked quail's egg. It gave you just enough to want you craving more.
- **Organic Chicken 4/6
- Organic chicken with wild mushrooms, glazed sunchokes, pearl onions, blueberry confit and chicken jus
- The chicken was very tender and not dry at all. I think they pan fry it first and then let it finish cooking in the oven. It has a crispy caramelized and flavourful exterior. It wasn't the juiciest chicken ever, but it was still really good.
- The sauce on this is again ridiculous. I can't emphasize how reduced it was. It wasn't necessarily the greatest in terms of flavour - but in terms of quality it's top notch. It tasted like they used a pound of fresh blueberries and reduced it to 2 tbsp. It's the thickest reduction I've ever had to date. Surprisingly it actually wasn't that sweet even though it looks and is the texture of caramel. The cranberry sauce on the bison is sweeter and tastes better. This blueberry reduction is more hickory tasting almost like a charred taste. It's very syrupy and not tangy at all. It literally coats your whole mouth.
- The menu said with pearl onions, but they forgot them in mine.
- The glazed sunchokes were I can't say good, but just different. This is what I mean by trying to do too much. I think the dish would have went better with Yukon potatoes or something simple like that. They had too much going on. Sunchokes taste like raw potatoes too so they should have gone with something that just tastes better.
- The mushrooms were terrific and I'm pretty sure they were dried Chanterelle mushrooms. It's one of the best mushrooms, a gourmet mushroom that's almost like an apricot. Dried mushrooms work better for sauces because they absorb flavours well and get all plump and juicy in the cooking process. The sauce definitely had an intense wild mushroom flavour and there were lots!
- Jellied Buttermilk 1/6
- Chamomile glazed bannock, peaches and vanilla cured fennel.
- Another example of trying to do too much and letting creativity take over.
- It's an interesting concept that just doesn't fly in the end...it makes me think they didn't even try it. There's no way they could have thought this tasted good or that customers would like it. It felt like something a test kitchen would make...and then toss.
- The jellied buttermilk is almost tasteless, except maybe a bit sour. It literally tastes like buttermilk mixed with gelatin powder. I could see it was infused with real vanilla bean, but it didn't matter - you couldn't taste it at all. Not sweet either.
- The cured fennel tastes like onions without the onion flavour. I thought it was coconut meat but it wasn't sweet and had no flavour. I expect sweet for a dessert. There was the slightest licorice taste and that's because fennel has a natural licorice flavour.
- The only thing good about this was the bannock, and unfortunately you only get a small sample of it. Smaller than a Timbit and it was the best part! (Bannock is a very traditional First Nations flatbread) They make it in house and it's freshly baked for this dish. It was rolled in icing sugar and had a sweetness to it from the chamomile glaze.
- This dish was just poorly thought out and executed. It wasn't a dessert at all. They should have just stuck to what they do well and just served mini bannock balls. That's all they needed - simplicity!
- **Canadian Cheese Plate 5/6
- Camembert, Brie, Blue Cheese, Smoked Gouda. Served with homemade breads, olives, pickled pearl onions and drizzled with basil oil.
- Sounds simple, but they dress it up like crazy. The reason why I recommend this is because the condiments it comes with is ALL made in house...except the olives and cheese. It's totally worth it with all the labour they put in!
- This is a dish where they paid attention to detail and it actually paid off.
- The pickled pearl onions: I couldn't believe that they actually pickle their own pearl onions. It's not like they need too and it's not even typical or expected when you're dining Canadian or First Nations cuisine!
- They were very juicy, but also very acidic and very sour. It was very slightly sweet in the end notes but it definitely gets your saliva glands going because they are sooo sour.
- **Saskatoon Berry Iced Tea 4.5/6
- Non alcoholic. Nice, light and refreshing. This is lightly steeped Saskatoon berry tea leaves sweetened with organic Agave nectar.
- It was a very light tasting iced tea. It was very aromatic and florally. It tastes like melted gourmet candies, but it's not that sweet because there's no sugar, except for the agave nectar. This is a perfect summertime drink.