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Table: Salmon n Bannock (Dine Out 2014)

For our second Dine Out meal, Anata and I went to Salmon n Bannock. It's a small but cosy little bistro located along Broadway near the intersection with Spruce. I've walked by this place many times during the day, and given it many passing glances, but always filed it away as a "to try later" kind of place. When the Dine Out restaurants were released, my interest in this place was again piqued when I saw it on the list. Eagerly looking at the menu offerings, I immediately added it to the list of restaurants I wanted to try.

The menu this year includes their usual fare, which features wild and organic game meat. Bison, Wild Sockeye, Elk, and their special Saskatoon berries are the highlights of their dishes. Our selections for the night were the bison tart and kale salad to start, and the elk stew with smoked sockeye as our mains.

Inside, as I've said, is small and cosy. The restaurant seats 26, and there are two seatings each night. Reservations are recommended if you want to come here, since space is so limited. The lighting is a little dim (which did affect the picture quality as I use the camera on my phone to take the photos) but the decor is very ethnic with traditional style pieces hanging on the walls. Anata and I were admiring the painting that we were seated under, but sadly (for me!) it was listed as being sold. There is also a small canoe as seen in the picture hanging in the front of the restaurant, as well as other drawings and sculpted pieces that are available for purchase (listed on their website).

I also admired these drawings of masks that was on the pillar next to me:

For our drinks, I ordered their featured tea. It turned out to be the Bella Coola tea from the Granville Island Tea company, and features a refreshing blend of natural fruits and herbs, including hibisuc petals, rose hips, oranges, and pineapples. The tea is presented in a very cute mug. The saucer on top is for the tea bag to rest on, and the handle doubles as a spoon holder. Anata ordered their organic root beer, which features cane sugar juice as its sweetener. He liked it, and said the taste of the cane sugar was pure and clear.

As for the tea, I let it steep for a while (the website instructions recommend 5-7 minutes) and it became a very attractive deep red colour. The taste was tart with a hint of sweetness, and it was a very full-on flavour. Anata said it was almost like drinking a hot juice. I really enjoyed this tea, and in fact ended up purchasing a bag of it to take home with me! The hostess very graciously gave me some tea bags to take home as well, as the tea comes loose leaf rather than pre-bagged.

Our appetisers arrived in a timely fashion, and I thought the presentation was quite attractive. The diamond plating and positioning of the tart made it look like an eye, with the salad leaf almost like a little eyelash curl at the end. Topping the tart was some saskatoon berry compote, which was also presented on the plate. The pastry was light and fluffy without being too moist. I liked how the bison flavour was almost delicately served in the little pastry. I've never had bison before, and the taste was like a very lightly gamey beef. The tart also included carrot and potato, and the accompanying sauce was like a thick gravy. I enjoyed the blending of flavours in this dish, and thought it was like a gentle lure into the taste of the wilderness.

The kale salad was very tasty. Anata and I really enjoyed the dressing. It had a sweet and slightly citrusy flavour that had fruity afternotes. There were pieces of raw kale and crisped kale and it made for great texture. The pecans were rich and nutty, and combined with the black cherry compote the flavours blended very well and it was delicious.

As a break between the starters and main course, we were served our bannock with some butter. From first glance, the bannock looked like simple scones. Bannock is traditionally pretty much a simpler way of making bread, and here at Salmon n' Bannock they claim to use a traditional First Nation's recipe. Their bannock is baked rather than fried or cooked on a stick, and the method is very similar to making scones. However, the bannock here definitely lacks the consistency of the scones you'd normally get at a store or cafe, and are moist rather than crumbly. I really liked that, as I find it difficult to eat scones since they are so dry and crumbly. The taste was a little flavourless except for the crispier bits at the sides of the bread, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and the butter made up for any issues with tastelessness. We didn't finish the bannock, but I wrapped the remaining piece to take home :) I can't wait to have some of my salmon paté that I bought from Whole Foods with it!

Our mains arrived at the table, and our waitress had noticed us swapping plates (standard procedure at restaurants, haha! I just have to try everything) and gave us side plates to share so we could put the plates in the middle between us. That was really thoughtful of her, and much appreciated. The service here was really good, and though they were a little busy at the beginning with clearing tables between the two services, once service was well on its way they definitely took the time to stop by the tables and interact with the diners. They were also very friendly and liked to point out little special tidbits about the dishes!

The elk stew was served in the potatoes. It was similar to a shepard's pie in that the meat layered in the bottom and there was a layer of potato on top, and I thought it was very creative to use the potato as the "jacket" to wrap the stew in. It's also very good in that you get to eat the skin as it is the main source of nutrition from the potato. It was served on a bed of vegetable purée with crisp brussel sprouts and cheese as accompaniment. The meat was handled well and wasn't overly gamey. I enjoyed how tender it was (I've read how game meats can be quite tough as they are leaner and the muscles in the animals are exercised more than domesticated and farmed animals). If anything, I thought the cheese was not that necessary, but it did bring a nice sharp taste to offset the potato. I really liked the purée and how strongly the vegetable taste came through. I found it very hearty. I enjoyed the brussel sprouts and thought they were cooked perfectly - crispy layers of skin, and the insides were nice and tender while still retaining texture.

The salmon I think was what impressed me the most. It came with a dish of sauce that I tasted just to see what it was, but afterwards set aside. The sauce was definitely unnecessary and I think using it would cover up the amazing delicate and smoky salmon that was on the plate! It was a kind of dill tartar - yummy, but unneeded :) The inside of the salmon was so tender and moist, and the outside layer of bannock coating was so thin and crispy and light... I was really blown away with how skillfully the dish came together. The potatoes were seasoned well (and very liberally with pepper, so if there are any people that are not fond of pepper, you may wish to be more careful/request less pepper) and I enjoyed the slaw that the dish came with. Purple cabbage and carrots were julienned and crunched well, and the sauce was very subtle and not overwhelming.

The host at one of the stops he made at our table commented on the wild rice that they had. We were discussing the feast option of the restaurant (family style service for a minimum of 6 diners) and he was clarifying what the wild rice was. He showed us the bag, so I asked permission to take a photo of it :) I think they have it available for purchase at the restaurant, much like the tea and other goodies that were displayed on a shelf behind me (sadly, I neglected to take a photo of it).

After a short break (the chef kindly requested our patience for a 10-15 minute wait between the entrées and dessert - this was when we used the time to look over the regular menus and feast options as Anata had at that point become very intrigued with the game meats and wanted to know what other kinds of food the restaurant served), our desserts arrived. The combination of the pound cake being the heaviest item on the plate, and the lightness of the berry compote and homemade whipped cream made for a light and fanciful dessert. I really think the menu was very well composed and thought out, and balanced perfectly. The whipped cream and berry compote were not too sweet, which was a plus!

Anata and I were really impressed by the food here, and are looking forward to coming again. We might try the feast for a birthday meal or something to celebrate with friends :)

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