Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a French chef who studied his craft in the south of France before making the move to New York City in 1985. Market by Jean-Georges is his only foray into Canada, and the west coast itself, though he fronts 30 restaurants from Shanghai all the way to Mexico.
The dining room is contemporary and well-imagined and it is hard, upon being escorted to your table, to miss the smattering of Moët and Veuve Clicquot bottles throughout the upscale space. Our table was a meticulously kept booth overlooking the floor to ceiling windows perched 3 floors above the elegant shopping on Alberni Street. A gleaming Prada store, fresh from its grand opening, beckons from below with a steady stream of happy, well heeled customers buzzing in and out of its grand doors.
For variety's sake we chose the Sakura tasting menu with some imaginative wine pairings, opting against the alternative sake pairings, and one meal à la carte. So taken was I by our waiter's keen suggestions that I left wine pairings for my à la carte selections to his discretion and was not disappointed.
The first Sakura course was a very fresh Stripe Shrimp and Eggplant Salad paired with a fantastic sparkling rosé from BC's own Grey Monk Winery in the beautiful Okanagan Valley. Luckily my partner was in a sharing mood! The shrimp melts in your mouth at the first hint of carbonation from the rosé and there were many heartfelt "mmmmm's" during the first course. I chose an Angus Beef Carpaccio with a very surprising Taragon Mayonnaise which was paired nicely with a Pinot Noir from the Meyer Family Winery also of the nearby Okanagan Valley. It was splendid!
The second Sakura course saw another lovely seafood dish come out as sublime morsels of Albacore Tune were brought alongside Sake Cured Torchons of Foie Gras all in a Passionfruit Miso Sauce. Not being a big liver fan I attempted to pass on my generous partner's first offer to share, but after her marvelling at the symphony of flavours I ventured in and was please I did so. The fish was incredibly supple and fresh, as one would assume from being only a stone's throw, perhaps more aptly a cannon shot, away from the Pacific Ocean. I had ordered the Soft Shell Crab with Summer Squash and was delighted, as was my partner, with the quality of the seafood and the freshness, though only spring, of the Summer Squash.
Next on the Sakura menu came the Clams steamed in Sake while I busily worked on my Soft Shell Crab. It was paired with a wonderful Chablis from the Pascal Bouchard Winery in Burgundy, France. So taken by it was I that I ordered a glass to accompany my dessert, but I am, quite regrettably, though excusably, getting ahead of myself! The clams were wonderful and it didn't take long before my partner was eating them right out of the shells so as to afford herself more opportunity to partake in the Sake, Soy, Butter and Garlic sauce they swam in. I must admit that I also abandoned a modicum of table etiquette, at her behest, in the same endeavour and it was simply wonderful!
Following fresh on the heels of our divine clam experience it was time for the main courses... To say we were satisfied with them is like saying we were satisfied with being born; it was not something we had planned, like our birth, but, on this night at least, integral to our happiness on Earth in every imaginable way! The Sakura menu boasted, boasted, a Sablefish Marinated in Sake Lees accompanied by Crispy Rice and an Edamame Purée. The fish was cooked to perfection and complimented its side dishes with flair and was paired with a subtly tart Chardonnay from the Hester Winery, again, from The Okanagan Valley. If you're unfamiliar with the Okanagan Valley I pray you do some research! It is the location of the paternal side of my family's emigration to Canada, Canada's only desert climate and has the most amazing collection of fresh water lakes, some 72 Km's long, I have ever come across in my extensive travels. In summer it is a paradise; stated without a hint of hyperbole.
For my entrée I went with the Beef Tenderloin in a Red Wine Jus. As I like my meat rare I was very pleased with the red hue that I was able to spot from across the dining room as the wait staff arrived with my meal. It was cooked just the way I like it and as tender as a warm summer's breeze. It was paired with an intriguing Cabernet Sauvignon from the Cannonball Wine Company in California's Napa Valley. It was another wonderful selection from our pleasant host Nathan, presumably Nate to his friends, a stalwart fellow with a calm, friendly demeanour who seemed like the kind of guy who would also have good suggestions for beer pairings; my personal beverage of choice.
The Sakura menu offered a Matcha Sponge Cake as its dessert and it was greedily devoured by my partner. It had a lovely texture, was very, very fresh, but I have just never developed a taste for Matcha so I skillfully declined a second tasting when it was offered. Having had trouble deciding between the Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and the MARKET Cheesecake with Crispy Strawberries and Strawberry Sorbet Nathan suggested a smaller serving of each. If these were smaller servings then I am a monkey's uncle! This was the first time, that I know of, that Nate had ever lied to me :) The lava cake tasted as though it had just come from the oven and the lava flowed forth with a thick, rich avalanche of chocolaty goodness. The cheesecake ranks among my top 10. So light and airy without any hint of roof clinginess that besets other desserts of its ilk. When combined with the tangy sorbet it formed a tag team duo that really punctuated the entire dining experience.
Market by Jean-Georges, at the base of Vancouver's tallest tower and inside one of the city's plushest luxury hotels, the Shangri-La Vancouver, is a must see! If you can't find it just look up. The Shangri-La has dominated the Vancouver skyline since it was built in 2008 and still boasts the title of tallest tower though the regrettably named Trump Tower, located just across Georgia Street, comes in only 43 feet shorter.
Words: Scott Allan
Photos: Jenn Chan