We were invited by the Earls in Poco to one of its exclusive Chef’s Table evenings. The intention of the evening was to provide an opportunity to meet Head Chef Simon Zanotto, sample a number of their signature dishes, and gain a better understanding of the restaurant chain. I turned this into a triple-date and invited WK+MS and CC+DF to join Mr. and me for dinner.
At a young age of 25, Chef Simon Zanotto is currently the head chef of Earls Port Coquitlam. Since he’s a child, he has learned to love and appreciate food and through his families, he believes that food should be served fresh, simple and be bold in flavour. Simon went to the Pierre Dubrulle Culinary Art Institute, worked with the Glowbal Restaurant Group, completed his Red Seal certification, and has been with Earls for 7 years now. At the Chef’s Table, Chef Simon spent a lot of time with us and his passion for food was definitely shown through the food and our conversations.
Here are the dishes we tried that evening. Chef Simon emphasized his belief in depth of flavours, and it’s clearly demonstrated in the layers of flavour that he developed in each dish.
Los Cabos Chicken Tacos – I liked how the cheese was melted on the tortilla (instead of sprinkled) and the tender chicken was met with the creamy avocado corn salsa and crunchy shredded lettuce. An excessive amount of valentina hot sauce could just kill your taste buds, but this was just the right amount to bring you some heat.
In House Sourdough with Confit Garlic Oil and Fresh Herbs – This was very good! You can taste the subtle sourness in the sourdough, and that herbs infused confit garlic oil added savouriness and a bit of spice, as well as introduced an Asian note to it. The grinding part was fun too! If we didn’t have that many dishes to go through, I think we could finish a few plates of this!
Dynamite Prawn + Mango Roll – Chef Simon made this fresh right at the table. Honestly I was skeptical about this because I don’t believe in getting sushi outside of Japanese restaurants, but this came as a pleasant surprise. The prawn was still crunchy; the mango and avocado added creaminess to it. The combination of maple soy reduction and Sriracha mayonnaise made it sweet and spicy, which added a nice twist of flavours to a rather common sushi roll.
Hunan Kung Pao – There’s a long history to this dish; this is a recipe that Chef Chuck Currie, when he was with Earls (he’s now with White Spot), re-created after he tasted this memorable dish in the States. It took many many tries before he perfected the recipe. When you can order this dish, you can select the level of spiciness. Worried that it could be very spicy, we took the safer route and ordered medium (aka 3 Hunan peppers). Turns out we could’ve made it spicier. The sauce nicely coated the noodles and the dish had a generous serving of vegetables. Because there were 6 Chinese people around the table, wok-fried noodles is rather common in our diet so this became one of the least wow’ing dishes for us.
9oz CAB Top Sirloin – Chef wanted us to taste the meat the way it should, so every plate was cooked to medium rare. The meat was juicy and tender, and cooked right with a nice reddish hue in it. I personally found it a bit salty but it didn’t stop me from finishing the steak. The warm potato salad was also pretty good – you can’t go wrong with using bacon!
Then, for dessert, we shared three plates. The seasonal dessert, Pumpkin Pie, was quite good. I liked that the pie filling was creamy yet light and airy, with lots of pumpkin and nutmeg flavours.
The Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble was still bubbling when it’s served. The strawberries and rhubarb had the right amount of tartness; mixing in the crumble and vanilla bean gelato, this made a perfect heart-warming dessert on a cold, fall/winter night.
Lastly, the Chocolate Sticky Toffee Pudding was to die for! The chocolate cake was decadent but not over-the-top sweet. The chocolate and toffee sauce was of the right consistency where you can combine it with the cake, the ice cream, or just grab a spoonful of it. This was such an indulgence at the end of the meal! I have told many people about this since that evening.
That evening I also had the opportunity to go behind the bar for the first time and learned to make a cocktail. The drink is called the Cable Car and it’s the featured drink for the fall season. It had cinnamon infused Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, Cointreau, freshly squeezed lemon juice, apple juice and Augusta Bitters.
It tasted just like apple pie, but better because it’s spiked! Great cocktail for the fall.
Also tried a couple other cocktails. The Mai Tai had great tropical flavours, refreshing while not being shy with the alcohol. The Superfruit Sour tasted like one of the healthy juices you get at Jugo Juice, with a thicker consistency. But again, this was better because it’s spiked!
As a chain restaurant, I think Earls may have been stereotyped as classic with a boring, standardized menu. Through this experience I have learned many interesting/impressive tidbits about this chain. For example, they make their bread fresh everyday; they make their own sauces; they believe in training the up-and-comers and have an organized, apprenticeship system in place. Overall I was quite pleased with the quality of food and I think they’re trying very hard to not run like a chain restaurant. If you have dismissed the idea of eating at Earls before, give it another try!
Earls Kitchen & Bar
2850 Shaughnessy Street, Port Coquitlam