My final Dine Out this year was at Merchants Oyster Bar on Commercial Drive. What caught my eyes was its decision to offer 3 savoury courses instead of the traditional 2 savoury + dessert combination. Mr. and I had a double date with NS and RD.
When we got there, we realized they were offering more than what was posted on the DOV website. In addition to the 3-savoury course option, we could also choose 2 savoury + dessert or 3 savoury + dessert for a different price. There were also more choices for each course for an additional cost. This is actually how they run the restaurant on a day-to-day basis, except it’s usually a daily fresh sheet based on the availability of various ingredients. After much consideration, we stayed with 3 savoury courses but have gone for the new items.
For appetizers the four of us each chose something different. My Clam Chowder, which cost an extra $2, was thinner than most other clam chowders I’ve had. It’s not as rich, but in a way I appreciated this preparation. It tasted healthier and fresher with crunchy celery and potato pieces; of course, they had to balance it out with some bacon strips.
Mr.‘s Baked Oysters was basically fresh oysters based with some truffle cream on top. It was probably the least interesting appetizer. There was nothing really special about it, yet it cost us an extra $3. Three fresh oysters were included at base price so we didn’t think the truffle cream was worth $3.
A vegetarian option, the Eggplant Dip was a pleasant surprise. It may not look very appetizing, but it’s creamy and had good flavours from the spices, including cumin. And I thought it went well with the buckwheat crackers. Pretty filling too.
Lastly, for an extra $13 we upgraded to a dozen of Fresh Oysters (the base cost included 3 oysters). They were all BC oysters, Royal Miyagi and Chefs Creek. They were rather skinny, though. I would expect better quality given that Merchants is an oyster bar.
Each couple ordered the same set of two dishes for our next course. The Chicken Liver Parfait was creamy, nicely seasoned and had good flavours. The beet jam, creme fraiche and a bit of greens helped cut through the richness of the parfait. There was a generous portion of parfait too, as I ran out of bread to spread it on. If the bread was toasted, I thought it would give the parfait a contrasting texture and may work better.
Mr.‘s Beef Tartare was pretty decent in portion! There was a lot of well seasoned, nicely diced beef pieces. They added the now-rare Sriracha sauce to add some heat to it. Similar to my chicken liver parfait, Mr. said it would’ve been better if the bread was toasted. It was a bit difficult to hold it up and got messy in the first few bites.
As my last course, the Steelhead Trout was probably the best trout I’ve had to date! Even without the skin, it was seared to have a crispy exterior, and because it’s fresh, the kitchen was able to cook the fish to just medium/medium rare. It’s still pink inside, moist, flaky, and you can taste its natural sweetness. The slight licorice flavour of the fennel helped mask the subtle fishiness that I often find in trouts. I really enjoyed this plate and I would easily order this again!
Now, here is something different that I’ve never seen on a DOV menu for the past several years, Veal Sweetbreads. Only for an extra $2 we thought this was a wonderful opportunity to try this ingredient. Honestly we’ve never had sweetbreads before so not too sure what to expect nor could we say if the cooking was done right. Mr. liked the crispiness of the fried sweetbread pieces which worked well with the apple and Brussel sprouts. Some of the pieces were a bit too small, though, so you felt like you were just eating fried batter. Would I order sweetbreads again? Absolutely (but it’s high in cholesterol so eat sparsely)!
RD ordered the Pemberton Flank Steak and it was a pretty plate. It had a smokey flavour and despite not being the best cut, the meat was quite tender. For an extra $3, I wish they would serve a bigger piece of steak.
We had a 8pm reservation so when we got there, we were quite hungry and were eager to eat. Unfortunately they had a mix-up in the seating plan so our table wasn’t ready until past 8:30pm. Fortunately, our host, which happened to be one of the founders Doug, was quite helpful during our wait. He told us about the restaurant, its vision for Dine Out, and explained to us how the menu worked. He even took our order ahead of time so we wouldn’t have to wait long for food after we were seated. Considering the situation I thought they handled it pretty well.
They managed to fit a lot of tables in the small space they have, it’s a little tight and harder to maneuver in the restaurant.
Overall we were very happy with the meal. There was no major flaws in our dishes and with the exception of the baked oysters, we would order everything else again. And I like how they structure the menu. I’m OK with paying a few extra dollars to try interesting dishes like the sweetbreads, and also appreciate the opportunity to add on a dessert course if need be. Will definitely come back again. They do offer buck-a-shuck oysters during brunch and Sunday/Tuesday nights, or at $1.50 each during happy hour.
Merchant’s Oyster Bar
1590 Commercial Drive, Vancouver