As restaurant menus turn from comfort dishes to spring flavours, a handful of places and people in the local dining scene are upping the ante by offering special dinner series.
Here are four that will add a fresh element to your next supper soiree.
Cacao, 1898 West 1st Avenue
Ever since Marcela Ramirez moved to Vancouver from Mexico in 2016, she has been the quiet force behind Cacao. While executive chef Jefferson Alvarez has been the face of the progressive Latin American restaurant since it opened that year—having earned the Kitsilano spot numerous accolades with his inventive cuisine that blends flavours from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and beyond with local ingredients—Ramirez, Cacao’s owner, is a culinary dynamo in her own right.
Born in Monterrey and a mother of four, Ramirez was a celebrity chef in Mexico, having hosted a TV cooking show for 15 years and authored two cookbooks. Now she’s hosting a weekly event called Marcela’s Dinner to showcase and share the flavours she grew up with and is so passionate about. She also hopes to expand Vancouverites’ understanding and appreciation of Mexican food.
“A lot of what we have here is Tex-Mex, not authentic Mexican,” Ramirez tells the Georgia Straight. “And Mexican food is not just tacos. There’s so much more to it than that.”
With a rotating selection of four menus, Ramirez incorporates ingredients and styles from throughout Mexico but focuses on the food of the south. Examples of dishes include: pork chili relleno with red rice; gorditas, thick cornmeal pastries stuffed with black beans and cream; esquites, a street food consisting of white corn, poblano chilies, and queso fresco; jalapeño chili with shrimp; tostadas; tamales; mole; and more, all made by hand using techniques she learned from her mother and grandmother.
The set four-course menu, $50, runs every Thursday. More info is at www.cacaovancouver.com/.
The Mackenzie Room, 415 Powell Street
Running on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings throughout the month of May, Form@ features four-course family-style dinners that shine a light on sustainability and local ingredients. It’s one more way for chef Sean Reeve (a Chopped Canada champion) and his team to celebrate and collaborate with farmers, foragers, purveyors, brewers, and winemakers from throughout B.C.
Each meal, whether it’s a seafood or vegetarian feast, centres on a different protein. “When coming up with a dish, the raw ingredient draws the creativity, combined with my experience and training, to develop something new,” says Reeve, whose résumé includes roles in Europe, Montreal, Toronto, and, in Vancouver, at Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill and Enoteca. “Form@ gives me a chance to focus specifically on each chosen protein to figure out how we can best showcase its flavours.”
On May 7 and 8, it’s Form@LAMB, with wine from Bella; May 14 and 15 is Form@BBQ, featuring wine from Lock and Worth and Nichol Vineyards. The sea is the thing on May 21 and 22, with Form@OCEAN featuring beer from Steel & Oak alongside a “tap takeover”; and Form@VEG on May 28 and 29 offers wine from Vancouver Island’s Rathjen Cellars. (The Mackenzie Room has other set-menu options as well.)
More information on Form@—$98 per person including wine or beer pairings—is at www.themackenzieroom.com/.
Regional Italian Wine Dinners
Fiore South Granville, 1485 West 12th Avenue
Fiore will take diners on a culinary journey through various regions of Italy with monthly special menus. Fiore Restaurants’ sommelier, Matthew Landry, who was recently named B.C.’s best sommelier, will be selecting wines that chef Carlos Rodriguez will pair with his updated takes on Italian classics.
With the series running through to late fall, here’s an idea of what diners can expect, with dishes from the kickoff Sicilian menu: squid-ink risotto with asparagus, mascarpone, and lemon paired with 2017 Regaleali Bianco; pan-seared halibut with strangolapreti, spinach, and shallots paired with 2016 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
Sicily is the theme from April 23 to May 15; Tuscany takes the spotlight from July 16 to September 11; and Piedmont is featured from October 15 to November 6.
The three-course menu, $55, includes wine pairings. More information is at www.fiorerestaurants.ca/.
Half a Dozen Dinner Series
Named after local restaurant consultant and podcaster Brad Bodnarchuk’s Half a Dozen Hospitality company, the pop-up dinners have a unique goal: to make great food more accessible to those who generally can’t afford it.
The dinners, taking place in a different setting every time, feature menus by local chefs who have been guests on the Half A Dozen Hospitality podcast—with full proceeds being donated to a local food-based charity.
“All of these chefs are extremely passionate and driven by food,” Bodnarchuk says, noting that the idea for the series came to him while lying awake in bed one night. “I thought to myself, ‘What a great opportunity to allow them to shine by writing their own menu, working with great local products, and creating some positive change in our space.”
The next installment is on June 22 at Abbotsford’s Field House Farm (6680 Beharrell Road) and will highlight Taves Family Farms while benefiting the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. Chef Thomas Davidson-Park will create a six-course plant-based meal.
Among the other charities the series supports are the Vancouver Farmers Market coupon program, the Salvation Army, and the Union Gospel Mission.
The price is $100, and people can expect five to seven courses along with beer, wine, cider, and kombucha. Tickets are at Eventbrite.com; more information about Half a Dozen Hospitality is at www.bradbodnarchuk.com/.