AnnaLena, at 1809 West 1st Avenue in Vancouver, is Chef Michael Robbins baby. Named after his two grandmothers, it’s an intimate 60+ seat space with a cooking style he describes on his website as, “Modern Canadian cooking, heavily influenced by the Pacific Northwest”. Recently listed as one of Canada’s Top 100 Restaurants in 2016 and one of Vancouver’s best new restaurants in 2016 by Vancouver Magazine, we felt it was time to give it a try.
The decor includes Lego and stylized teddybears; not as weird as you may think. It’s cozy; no matter where you sit, you will have a neighbour close by. It was packed with a line-up when we arrived for our 8:30 reservation but our table was ready for us. We were greeted by our server, served our choice of water (tap) and ordered some cocktails. The only snafu of the evening was that it took a good half hour to receive said cocktails. I think my “armada” (botanist gin, house dry vermouth, amontillado sherry, latin lime bitters) sat in the shaker with the ice too long; it was pretty watered down. Mike’s “high tide” (hickory smoked rum, cointreau, orgeat, lime, orange bitters) fared better.
Things improved when the food started coming out. They advocate a shared plate policy. Although I declined to share the oysters Mike wanted, he thought they were delicious. Served on a bed of salt (don’t eat!), each oyster had compressed apple, jalapeño mignonette (sauce), and were topped with shaved foie gras.
Next came the pâté (duck liver, pickled mustard seeds, pear gel, sour dough). Already spread on the sour dough, it was topped with dabs of the pear gel and pickled mustard seeds. Creamy, rich, and velvety, the only change I would make would be to allow the customer to add it to the bread themselves.
The bison tartare (cured bison, egg yolk gel, puffed grains, fried herbs) was the star of the night. Perfectly diced meat, tangy, slightly spicy sauce, with a crunch from the grains; it was the whole package. I could have happily eaten several helpings.
Next came the only special of the evening, a farro dish, almost a porridge. It had a bacon relish mixed in and was surprisingly sweet considering I expected a salty dish. It was pleasant, but not spectacular.
Next we had the halibut. It came with gnocchi, snow peas, baby zucchini, and a clam bacon bisque. The bisque was really just a small amount of sauce in the bottom of the dish, (do not expect a soup) and was rich and savoury. The halibut was nicely crisped, but a tad overcooked; that did not stop us from cleaning the plate. The gnocchi were little delicious pillows; I would have eaten a whole plate of just that.
Lastly, from the dessert menu, we ordered the blue cheese mousse with nutty crackers and jam. This was a lovely way to end the meal. The mousse and jam complemented each other perfectly. The sweetness of the jam and the pungency of the cheese blended superbly on the crispy thin cracker.
AnnaLena is a keeper. Make sure you make a reservation; I did not envy the people waiting in line.