UPDATE-February 2012: Chef Alex Mok and his brother have opened Cache Bistro & Lounge in Yaletown. The Asian-French menu includes tapas and a bi-weekly 3-course menu.
So as soon as I moved back to Metro Vancouver this spring, they were of course eager to share their favourite places that have appeared since I last lived here almost two decades (oh man, I’m old) ago.
Right away, my dad said he had booked dinner at an underground supper club. The first rule of underground supper club is you don’t talk about underground supper club. Unless you’re my dad. And you have a standing reservation every month. And you tell everyone you know about it.
There are a handful of well-known ones in Vancouver. This one is run by Chef Alex Mok and his wife, Zoe, out of their modern and cozy condo home.
Their dinners seat a minimum of six and a maximum of 10. They will take bookings — a few days a week and a month in advance — only if you are referred by a previous guest. You can bring your own booze. The cost is on par with other underground dinners in the city.
Alex, 30, worked at the Quilchena Golf and Country Club, and apprenticed with the former chef to the king of Belgium.
My dad loves Chef Alex’s because of the changing menu surprises, the intimate space and most of all, the “wink-wink” underground part of it. He emailed me the address and once we all arrived, Zoe met us at the lobby door and escorted us through a winding path into the condo complex and then their home.
We took off our shoes at the door and changed into slippers (so Asian!). Alex was working away in the tiny kitchen, which looks out into their living room. It’s amazing how they transform the limited condo space into a comfortable dining area.
I’ve been here twice now. Both meals began with homemade bread (challah and Turkish pide) but I’m no expert in either. I can say I appreciate fresh homemade bread! They were served with roasted elephant garlic. I liked the move away from butter or oil/vinegar but it was a bit awkward scraping garlic bits out and then passing it around.
The appetizers began with a crab terrine, which looked like a fancy Jello mold, with translucent layers of crab, dill, and octopus on seaweed. It was actually quite light but showcased the seafood nicely.
The next course got a tad heavier with two slices of smoked albacore tuna with smoked roe, set playfully against a baby arugula salad with piña colada dressing.
A hot spring egg sat on top of the greens to mix into the salad. The name refers to the eggs being slowly cooked in hot water at a consistent 70-75 C leaving egg whites soft and the yolks just slightly hard. Alex had the eggs boiling in a sous-vide machine as we arrived.
Ostrich tataki was a pretty plate. The deep red meat contrasted with the colours of carrot and cucumber slivers and watermelon radish slices in a sesame dressing. Admittedly, this was light on taste and heavy on presentation.
The next dish was kinda breakfasty: foie gras terrine, poached quail egg, apple chutney and truffle hollandaise on fresh croissant. The temperature clash between the cool foie gras and chutney versus the warm egg and sauce dialed down the potential pizazz.
I loved the invigorating palate cleanser that Alex concocted of blackcurrent sorbet, sparkling water, blackcurrant syrup — and rice vinegar.
Because it was Valentine’s Day, Alex created a “rose” on the main entree out of red peppers, balsamic vinegar reduction, and bacon/olive oil “dirt.” And because nothing says love more than meat on meat, he wrapped bacon strips around a deboned quail.
Inside the quail were sweet punctuations of wine-soaked raisins, cranberries, and three-day smoked sea salt. On the plate was also a potato yam strata.
This meal ended with crepes Suzette and homemade Mexican vanilla ice cream.
My second visit reflected the freshness of spring, starting with a simple in-season spot prawn, hot spring egg and spinach salad.
My favourite course of the night was the champagne oyster soup. The broth was a punch of concentrated seafood flavours, with an oyster and a dab of caviar floating in the middle.
A delicate rainbow trout was followed by a Cardinal punch palate cleanser.
A luscious duck breast, cooked sous-vide, then pan seared, was our main course.
Our dinner ended with soufflé with a hint of rose and a side of Grand Marnier crème anglaise. Whew. Yum.
Despite my post-baby, no-caffeine after noon rule, I couldn’t resist trying the kopi luwak coffee Zoe made for us in a funky siphon coffee maker.
Kopi luwak is more famously known as “that cat poop coffee.” It’s made from the beans of coffee berries that have been digested by civets. They’re processed into coffee after the jungle cats poop intact beans back out. It’s the most expensive coffee in the world.
It was extremely smooth and had very little bitterness. Who knew!
Alex has just left his job at the golf and country club to open his own full-time catering business. He and Zoe hope to land a retail space where they can continue the intimate, private dinners.
For more information, you can call (604) 728-8377 or check Alex’s Facebook page.
We brought our own high chairs/portable boosters for two babies under a year old to Alex and Zoe’s condo. There’s a sun room/study where we took them to blow off steam and change diapers.