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Table: ORU (dine out 2014)

Our third pick of the Dine Out Vancouver Festival was ORU. Located at the Fairmont Pacific Rim downtown by Canada Place and run by Executive Chef Darren Brown, ORU's cuisine features fare from "the Pacific Northwest with flavours of the Pacific Rim." There is an entrance located along Canada Place road that is up a flight of stairs, or if you need something more wheelchair accessible / less stairs, you'd have to go in the main entrance and pass the newly renovated SkyBar to get to the elevators.

The lighting and decor are a bit muted (dim) while still being tasteful. I thought that the "lantern" that ran as a strip down the length of the building was a very interesting concept. It was similar to a kind of paper maché texture with geometric shapes.

Inside we were seated and (of course) I took the seat that gave me a great view of their open kitchen concept. It was really wonderful to see the back of house as they prepped and finished the plates. There was also a TV playing the clips that are also available on Chef Brown's blog, such as how they source their oysters, spot prawns, and other foods.

We were given the Dine Out menus to peruse as well as the regular menu. Our choices from the menu were the sunchoke mocha and pork belly to start, followed by the short rib and cape breton lobster. We decided to finish off the night with the peanut butter bar and strawberry shortcake millefeuille. I also ordered their "Zen Garden" mocktail ($9), and Anata ordered a sprite ($4). As an additional starter we also ordered the bison carpaccio from the regular menu. I think Anata was really into the whole wild game meats thing after our wonderful experience at Salmon n' Bannock, hehe.

Our server checked if we wanted bread, and shortly returned with dish of two kinds of breads, a sourdough and an olive. Though I'm sure they were freshly made in the back as purported, it was a little bit of a letdown that the bread slices were cool rather than warmed. The salted butter was at room temperature and was easy to spread, which was a plus. The crusts of the bread were a little tough and chewy, but the inside was very nice and soft without being dry. I enjoyed the olives, and the flavour was fairly mild considering how flamboyant olives can be.

The appetisers arrived shortly after. The bison carpaccio was served with a shaved crisped fennel and radish salad, and a maple bourbon foie gras foam, and sansho pepper. The sansho pepper was really great, and had a kind of light lemony tang to it. I found the foam to be a little odd tasting, almost reminiscent of the unique taste of blue cheese. I'm not sure if that was the effect that they were trying to make, but it really was like a lighter and subtler blue cheese taste. The bison was very light in flavour since the slices were so thin. The most flavour came from the edges which had been seared and spiced with the sansho pepper. The meat itself was very tender!

The sunchoke "mocha" was a pleasant surprise. It was a sunchoke (also known as a jerusalem artichoke) velouté topped with a truffle milk foam and dusted with a morel "cocoa" powder. I wasn't expecting the presentation to be quite like this - maybe in something that looked more like a cup or a soup mug - but the taste was delicious. The velouté lived up to its name: it was velvety smooth to taste, even if it looked like it actually had more texture than that. Nope! Absolutely smooth, and velvety, and melting away to warm my stomach. The taste was very layered, with notes of sweetness amidst the earthy and savoury flavours.

The pork belly was very hawaiian inspired asian fusion with the pineapple maple glaze and the lotus root poi. The meat was cooked perfectly; juicy, and flavourful. The sauce was almost a little too sweet, but I really enjoyed the candied bits of pineapple that were present on the plate. The little crispy twirly things in the picture below were pork rinds, and very tasty :) I enjoyed the sear that was on the belly and the fat layer. It wasn't too fatty, but there was enough to add a burst of flavour in each mouthful.

My drink arrived after that with an apology for the lateness, but after tasting it, I didn't really mind. There was a lychee on a skewer and cucumber slices to line the side, and the colour was a very light and almost milky white. The drink is described as a mix of lime, cucumber, pineapple, and lychee water. The taste was a very light, aromatic, and refreshing breeze that was kind of gently cleansing my palate. I can certainly imagine a "zen" peacefulness washing over me, sipping this drink as I sit in a meditative pose on a beach with the breeze flowing through my hair. Haha. Almost.

Lobster came on a bed of brussel sprouts and chorizo sausage. I loved the way the brussel sprouts were cooked. There was hardly any bitter taste, and it was like there was some gratin mixed in which added a tiny bit of crunch. I loved the sauce and the citrus tang with the very subtle hint of the paprika. The lobster was a little over, as it had crossed the succulent and juicy line to being just moist with some texture to it. Overall, this dish was wonderful with the flavour profile presented, and I thought that the chefs treated their ingredients with a lot of respect and skill.

The short ribs came on a bed of mashed potatoes and "three sisters" vegetables. There were also crisps that Anata said were similar to the ones served with the carpaccio, so I'll assume they were fennel crisps again. There was a molé sauce on the menu, but as I'm not too experienced with Mexican food, the only previous experience with a molé sauce I've had was a sweet and layered sauce that had hints of chocolate. I didn't get anything like that with this dish, so I'm not sure how they interpreted it. I enjoyed the mix of vegetables, and I liked the dash of chimichurri sauce. However, I found the short ribs to be a little dry. It was strange, because it flaked nicely and Anata was pretty impressed with how it parted under his fork - he set down his knife after that - but I found it kind of lacking in moisture just a little bit. However, the plate was very successful overall, and the seasoning was very well done.

Dishes were cleared, cutlery swapped, and we were looking down at some very yummy looking desserts! My strawberry millefeuile was a lovely blend of sweet, tart, and refreshing flavours, with multiple textures on the plate. I enjoyed the lemon curd and thought it was done very well - the consistency was perfect, and the tangy flavour shone through the layers of cream and pastry without being overwhelming. The bottom layer pastry was very flaky and airy, and the top layer was in contrast as it was chewy and moist. It was an interesting contrast, but I think I would have appreciated it more had the layers matched instead. I think I enjoyed the top layer more. I really liked that the cream on top had strawberry and mint mixed in, and the effect was very light and refreshing. However, I think there was a bit too much cream altogether on the plate.

Anata's peanut bar was plated very attractively. I really liked how it was presented and balanced, as it could have been a very dense and heavy dessert since the ingredients are easily overdone in other desserts, but I felt that this wasn't too heavy which I enjoyed. It looked like a nanaimo bar, but the taste was quintessential peanut from the peanut butter mousse. The malted milk ice cream was almost like a light toffee, and I really liked that it wasn't too sweet. Really delicious and well done!

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our night at ORU. I was impressed with the flavours and balanced achieved in the dishes, and I felt like the ingredients were really handled respectfully and with great thought and care.

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