Blue Water Café. Vancouver.

March 2017 (see also March 2021, below)

We’ve been to this trendy place maybe three times over the 15 years or so its been in Yaletown. We were there this time with friends who are enthusiastic about food and drink, and we expected a pretty high class show with corresponding prices. Our disappointment was with the performance. I wouldn’t even have minded paying quite a bit more than the reasonable cost if we had been treated in a friendly way.

It is a pleasantly openly glitzy but still classy room, the sort of place I imagine you might take a young date or client to impress her with how casually you conducted yourself in the surroundings. The welcome was by a couple of nice Asian girls in black dresses, and we somehow scored a little corner table out of the main tide of clatter and howling. The waiter, a big fiftyish guy, presented himself as a cross between an old salt and a smoky roue, his voice a grating rattle and delivery fast and verging on dismissive.

We ordered cocktails (my male counterpart diner a bit of an expert in this area), and when the martinis arrived they really were the wrong thing and were quickly but not very happily replaced with special gin as ordered. Why don’t restaurants (ones I’ve been to and ordered a straigtup cocktail at least) keep hard liquor in a freezer like I do so it doesn’t have to be shaken with ice and either watered-down or filled with little shards, but can be poured like pure oil into an icy glass?

A couple of starters were shared around, a mixed ceviche and four “wagyu” meatballs with various sauces. I found the ceviche overly vinegary although it contained a lovely variety of consistencies, and the meatballs had interesting tangy accompaniments but weren’t in the league of the real Japanese fatty beef.

Our mains were Alaska black cod, tuna, and cod done with a variety of vegetables and mushrooms. Sablefish isn’t for me much of a test of a kitchen because it’s hard to ruin, so beautifully oily and full of flavour. The vegetables were underdone like they teach you to do at the BC Institute of Technology, but there was a perfectly-pitched sweet sauce accompaniment to the fish and I enjoyed it. Few complaints from the others. We drank a Blue Mountain pinot gris which was just fine, and the price was a pleasant surprise at somewhere around $60 each pre-tip.

This would have been a better-than-average dinner in a nice cheerfully pretentious place except for the waiter who seemed to get increasingly irritable and hurried. His know-it-all and narcissistically entitled personae seem to be at war with one another for predominance, and we felt patronized and hurried.

This is nowhere near a candidate for Vancouver’s big night out, and it’s hard to imagine going back except to inhale the sexy bling atmosphere, maybe just sitting at the bar and having a drink.

Food 8.1, service 4.5, ambience 8.6, value 7.9, peace and quiet 6.4 (but beware, if you’re out in the middle of the room you need to take your hearing aids out).

March, 2021

Other restaurants being booked up, we decided to give this Top Table seafood/sushi spot another try on a rare night in the city. This time we were delighted.

Most Covid consequences are annoying or sometimes even terrible but it might be nice to maintain certain others once the pandemic simmers down. Restaurants generally are much quieter because of social distancing, which is very nice although the sad flip side is that a lot of smaller places have had to close because of decreased income for that reason. But at Blue Water Café the difference was positive. We sat at the sushi bar which is a crescent-shaped feature with six or seven plexiglas-enclosed alcoves facing the chefs. This setup further improved the quiet privacy.

We found the service just wonderful, a South Asian guy as waiter was quiet and helpful, never interrupting or overplaying his role. The sommelier appeared just as we were thinking about wine and brought a printed list that ran to over a dozen pages, all major and many minor varietals well-represented, and a good reach up into several hundred dollars for each of the major regions. Ours was a Guigal Cotes-du-Rhone, good value with its just off-dry white marsanne and roussanne at $60.

We started with a sushi roll “stamina” with fresh crab, cucumber, barbecued eel, smoked salmon, and sweet soy glaze. Just glorious, especially the eel, with its perfect rice. And at the same time “dragon”, another roll with crispy prawns, tobiko, barbecued eel, avocado and mirin mayonnaise. Moist and bursting with flavour.  Watching the chef prepare everything in front of us felt like high-end experiences we’ve had in Tokyo.

 

We split a lovely black cod main dish that came with miso sake glaze, bok choy, edamame, shiitake mushrooms, and yuzu dashi. This was another homerun, the famous fish sweet, tender and oily with its contrasting tastes and textures of vegetables. We were quite satisfied with the quantity all around.

Our bill was around $130 pre-tip which seemed more than fair.

There certainly wasn’t any of the strange off-key service we found three years ago, and the food was really satisfying. Sitting at the sushi bar is a great idea, with luck even once they remove the plexiglas. It seems in our recent experience restaurants managed by Top Table just get better and better. We will definitely be back to this one.

Food 9.3, service 9.4, value 8.8, ambience 9.1, peace and quiet 8.7.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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