Comfort and class at Pourhouse Restaurant in Gastown
Tucked away in Gastown, like many worthwhile restaurants, sits Pourhouse, a Rustic American restaurant. The name, although sounding like Poorhouse should not be mistaken as such; unless you consider top-notch cuisine and cocktails, combined with a fantastic ambiance a place for the poor to dwell. That said, you don’t have to be rich to eat there either as menu items are respectable in price for value with even the most expensive item on the menu, a whole roasted Cornish Hen for two, at only $30. On the cheaper side are the perfect bar treats, the spiced nuts at $3, and the unique, Scotch eggs at only $4. Whatever your choice may be you can be sure it has been thoughtfully created by Executive Chef JC with every ingredient contributing to a tasty dish assiduous in A+ presentation.
JC, who was born in Montreal, has been with Pourhouse for roughly a year now, and worked at Lumière before moving back to Montreal for some time. He has over 10 years of experience in the restaurant industry and from the passion I heard in his voice in regards to fine food and drinks I’m sure he’ll be doing it for at least 10 more. Him and I started chatting about the food scene in Vancouver and how it compares to his hometown Montreal, a city notorious for its banquet of delicious food and wine.
“One thing we don’t have in Vancouver is a lot of food specialists in the downtown core. In Montreal on a single block you can get all the groceries you need to make a great meal; a charcuterie sides with a fromagerie, a vegetable shop and a wine boutique. I’d love for it to one day mimic that but in the meantime we make do with what we have.”
Considering the challenges of having to jump around town for fresh meats, cheeses, produce and alcohol, I think owners Nick and Chuck are doing a fine job.
In the past a lot of emphasis has been on Pourhouse’s creative cocktails and talent behind the bar but Chef JC wants to show the public that the restaurant has much more to offer.
First thing that caught my eye was the Duck Terrine, which is not typically something I would order in a Vancouver restaurant, but always intriguing to see on a menu here. At first glance it looked like a pretty little meatloaf, not quite as sloppy and a bit more elegant with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper dusted on top but you could tell it wasn’t the healthiest thing to be eating. With a dollop placed on a garlic crisp lightly drizzled with olive oil and a touch of house-made pickled mustard, I took my first bite. Instantly I was in heaven. The terrine was so thick and moist with a flavor so unfamiliar to my palate I couldn’t distinguish the spices. So of course I asked! JC kept it a secret but told me that inside is a five-spice mix influenced from back home in Quebec. Mom’s family recipe perhaps? Whatever it was I have to say this terrine is better than any I had in France, even from the Moulin Rouge where I paid a pretty penny for my meal and performance. For $14 the duck terrine with an accompaniment of honey-glazed hazelnuts on a garnish of greens felt like a steal of deal. That said it’s definitely a sharing dish between 2 or 3 as it is pretty heavy and you’ll want to save room for the main course.
The tuna tataki, although beautifully presented, was not my favourite dish. The butter lettuce with the light citrus vinaigrette was delicious and on paper the perfect partner to the tataki but I felt that the tuna was lacking a bit of flavour and needed a peppered crust. The addition of cannelli beans looked pleasant but added very little flavour. Perhaps it just seemed lacking in flavor because it followed the rich, “in your face” taste of the Terrine.
For an entrée I had the steelhead trout with red cabbage, fennel and orange salad and butter sauce. The trout was flash fried to seal in the moisture and flavor and allow for a crispy skin. The texture it brought to the dish was spot on; it allowed just enough resistance cutting in but once past the surface the fish fell nicely off and on to my fork. Exactly how I’d expect it to. The fish itself was so vibrantly pink it was outstanding and makes me question how fresh the fish they sell at other restaurants is. The red cabbage was a nice flavor addition, mild so as to not overwhelm the fish’s taste but just enough to enhance it and add further texture to the bite. There were no crazy spices in this dish, just well a well-balanced simple and delicious dish.
You might wonder then, what was my favourite? Was it the trout, the terrine or the tuna? Surprisingly it was none of them that day. In fact it was the inexpensive and popular bar snack, the Scotch Egg. The perfectly soft-boiled egg sat perfectly in a “shell” of fennel sausage and was accompanied by an aioli that was lightly spiced with paprika. The egg-sausage combination is so tasty you’ll forget about the beer or cocktail you have in front of you.
Fresh, (mainly) local, in season ingredients explained the root vegetables and the fact that you won’t see tomatoes or zucchini on the menu because they pride themselves on using only the best quality produce. So why serve tomatoes when they’re going to be mushy and insipid?
“The summer is always more fun, for every restaurant, because veggies are bountiful so we have a lot to work with,” exclaimed JC.
Speaking of veggies, despite showcasing meat and fish dishes, there are some hearty dishes for the meat-free as well. Say goodbye to the days of not eating steaks and chomp down on their cauliflower “steak”, a thick slice from stem to crown of the cauliflower head, pan fried to add crisp and flavour then baked to perfection. With lentils and cucumber mint raita you’ll have the protein, calcium and fibre without the guilty conscience of eating your animal friend.
So if you've read this article and still think you will only go to Pourhouse for the drinks then so be it. It's all over their signs so they better be good at it. But don't go in expecting a Cactus Club Bellini or a Milestone's Bikini-tini. Pourhouse maintains a focus on classic cocktails and don't actually make those modernized cavity-inducing drinks. However the bartending staff is very capable of making a variety of drinks so most likely they'll find you something to suite your tastes. I took the open-minded approach and threw out a couple of examples of likes and dislikes, giving them some ground to base my concoction on. Owners Chuck and Nick have great faith in the bartenders and for good reason. Chef JC got the bartender to make me his favorite drink the Boulevardier – a twist on the negroni using Bourbon instead of Gin. Being someone that is not a fan of Bourbon I preferred the Golden Fizz, a creamy drink made with an egg yolk. It made me feel like Rocky; I was pumped up and ready to go cheer on the Canucks who were playing that night. As I was sitting at the bar, I was lucky enough to overhear the bar manager discuss different types of high-quality mescal, comparing the smokiness of each type while figuring which would work in a cocktail and which would work best on it’s on. So, I decided I may as well try one myself! It's not often you have this sort of knowledge of fine liquors at a restaurant.
With it’s laid back vibe, great staff and delicious food it’s a great place for a date, a business meeting or just a night out on the town. Next time I go in there it will be on a Sunday night for the live Jazz and the popular Pourhouse Burger, with another fancy cocktail of course.
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