Canada is a country that is so diverse and with so many cultural influences that it can be difficult to nail down exactly what Canadian cuisine is in the first place. And so, there we were at the Oakwood Canadian Bistro to find out.
Some of the stereotypes might apply for Canadian food, like maple syrup and beaver tails, but that’s not what the Oakwood is all about. Instead, we get a slightly upscale approach to what may otherwise be casual Canadian cuisine. That is to say that we get a mish-mash of several different culinary influences, all blending together into a beautiful gastronomic mosaic.
All Canadian Poutine – $13
Brisket, fries, curds, gravy
One dish that has propelled itself into the forefront of the Canadian consciousness in recent years is the poutine. So many restaurants are trying to reinvent the classic combination, adding butter chicken or swapping the fries out for cassava root. The Oakwood doesn’t do that. It sticks to the poutine’s Quebecois roots.
You get the classic combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds (which could stand to be squeakier), topped with an almost bacon-like brisket. This is as indulgent, comforting and satisfying as you’d imagine it would be.
48 Hour Lamb Shoulder – $23
Burrata, Moroccan spiced lentils, apricot, baby turnip
The plating here is to be commended, visually satisfying the “gastronomic mosaic” I had mentioned above. You get a beautiful mix of ingredients, all happily working together to showcase its North African and Middle Eastern inspiration.
The lamb shoulder, served as sizable chunks, was cooked to about a medium-well while retaining its fork-tenderness. The burrata balanced the dish with its lightness while the turnip rounded out the textural complexity. Very good.
Mussels – $19
Tomato chipotle cream, cilantro, house baguette
Moules frites originated in Belgium before expanding to other parts of Northern Europe. My personal favorite version in Vancouver is still at Chambar, but the Oakwood does a good job here too. It’s too bad the sauce sinks to the bottom a little too easily; the mussels near the top don’t get equal treatment. The sauce itself reminded me of a Southeast Asian red curry.
We opted against the “frites” part, since we had already ordered the poutine. It does come with four slices of crispy baguette to soak up that sauce though. There were a little over two dozen mussels in the pot, based on my rough count.
Coconut Panna Cotta – $9
Strawberries, lemongrass caramel, lime elderflower granita
Everything at the Oakwood is meant to be shared and dessert is no exception. The panna cotta (an Italian dessert) itself wasn’t quite as stiff or formed as I prefer, melting into a gelatinous immediately upon hitting the tongue. I did like the freshness of the granita and lemongrass. It’s a nice, light way to cleanse the palette after a potentially heavy dinner.
I can’t speak for the rest of the nation, but it seems the “Canadian” food scene here in Vancouver has been gravitating more toward the farm-to-table approach with fresh takes on familiar foods around the world. Over the course of our meal, we traveled from Montreal to Tangier, Brussels to Rome.
The total bill for two (plus a baby)–including taxes, gratuity and one beer (not shown)–came to $86.