The best thing about Big Taste is that gives you a chance to explore restaurants and dishes you would usually find intimidating or too expensive. When Matt and I saw the Living Room on the list of options, we jumped at the chance to book a table at the fancy place we walk by on our usual expeditions down 17th Ave.
We opted for the $65 five-course dinner (though it was painful to turn down the tantalizing three-course menu!) and couldn’t say no to the $30 BC wine pairings to go with it.
The first course was a celeriac soup with toasted hazelnuts, thin slices of crisp, sweet apple and a light drizzle of olive oil to finish the plate. The soup was so creamy and perfectly paired with the Sandhill Viognier that we agreed we’d love to have another bowl for dessert!
The next course was a scallop crudo. Despite loving many types of raw fish, neither of us go out of our way to order uncooked shellfish, but you can’t do Big Taste without trying something a little outside of your comfort zone! This scallop was perfectly prepared in a mild ceviche and sliced in delicate, thin medallions. It tasted very fresh and had a buttery texture with some nice heat from a thin slice of red chili and a hit of acidic grapefruit. It was topped with a fennel salad, which didn’t carry a lot of flavour compared to the other elements on the plate and felt like a filler more than anything else.
The pasta course was my favourite of the evening – fresh pappardelle with a wild mushroom ragu, garlic crumbs and parmesan paired so well with the earthy Ex Nihilo Pinot Noir. We stirred all the crumbs, ragu, pasta and parmesan together, then had a hard time minding our table manners while we ate. This was good enough to lick off the plate!
This all felt like a great lead-up to the sirloin course, but this one let us down slightly. The new potatoes, charred broccolini, veal demi-glace and sirloin were piled on top of the Living Room’s take on romesco. Our waiter explained, in case we were unaware, that romesco is known to pair well with any charred meats or vegetables. Unfortunately, rather than puréeing the romesco, it was more like a red pepper sauce stirred into blanched, slivered almonds like you pick up in the baking section at the grocery store. This meant a lot of chewing and crunching on the sharp little almond pieces. We also had a tougher time with our sirloin – the meat, while perfectly cooked, was a slightly stringy cut, so chewing that and the almonds felt more labour-intensive than we would usually expect from a place of the Living Room’s caliber. That said, the vegetables were cooked perfectly and we particularly loved the potatoes with the demi-glace. We also loved the Moon Curser “Border Vines” pairing, which Matt described as “our favourite kind of wine – a meat wine”.
Dessert was a classic crème brulée with flecks of vanilla bean throughout. It had a perfect bruléed crust and was garnished with a gooseberry, my favourite! A lovely way to end the meal.
By the end of the meal, we felt that the wine pairings were a great deal but that the food, while tasty, did not stand out particularly for us against other restaurants in the same price point. The atmosphere was quiet and comfortable (though we were advised it can become boisterous on the weekends as groups pile in for “the Shaft”, a caffeinated cocktail). We enjoyed the friendly service from our knowledgeable waiter, but were surprised by the wait for some of the dishes (particularly the soup, which took 15 minutes to arrive despite the restaurant being nearly empty at the time). Overall, we had a positive experience at the Living Room (514-17th Avenue SW) and I recognize that Big Taste puts a lot of pressure on restaurants with large crowds coming in for prix fixe menus. We we will definitely be back to try out the regular menu when we next have a chance.