Hamersley’s Bistro – Boston, MA

Hamersley’s Bistro
553 Tremont St
Boston, MA 02116-6306
(617) 423-2700

For the most part, I value good food over service. I used to say to people that “food is all that matters – service is irrelevant if the food isn’t good”, but i’ve since backed off such a polarized view.  After all, i realized that great service often colors one’s view of the food (it can be hard to separate the two – since you *want* to like the food more). And really good food with lousy service, sometimes isnt worth it. Depending on the situation of course.

A pricey, well regarded South End bistro with a special Sunday Brunch menu, Hamersley’s Bistro continually draws rave reviews for their food and service. Seemed like a nice place to meet up with family for a tasty meal. Especially when meeting the new “boyfriend” for the first time.

The inside of Hamersley’s Bistro has a nice, though formal feeling to it. White linen, columns, high arching ceilings, there is a tremendous amount of light that makes the space feel comfortable, yet a bit formal for my preference.

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Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar – Vancouver, BC

Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar
1095 Hamilton St (Yaletown)
Vancouver, BC V6B 5T4
(604) 688-8078

I wanted to like Blue Water. I really did. The Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar, from all appearances, was everything i wanted to like. They are in a nice space that isnt too pretentious and has a lot of energy. They serve environmentally sustainable seafood. The service was immaculate. Decent wine program. They even recognize the Japanese approach to seafood, and brought in Itamae Yoshihiro formerly of Yoshi’s on Denman to serve two very different styles of West Coast seafood. I really wanted to love it, and yet, i didnt.

Upon walking into Blue Water, we were immediately greeted by a friendly hostess. We had showed up early so we could have a seat at the bar, and take it all in.  Our bartender was busy – prepping drinks for tables, and other bar patrons, but took the time to let us know he’d be right with us. Through the course of our time there, he was friendly, efficient, helpful, and engaging.


Besides the really tasty (and free) bread sticks that are available at the bar, we wanted to sample some oysters. While we were handed an oyster menu with 12 or 14 choices, listed, they typically only bring in 6 to ensure maximum freshness. We sampled these extensively, and while not all were to our tastes, they were all very fresh. We did find a couple that we loved, and ordered several more of those!

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Bloggers get better service? A poll.

I was taking photos at a restaurant today, my dining companion patiently waiting as i tried 4 or 5 different angles, when some other patrons and serving staff peered over at our table. No one said anything, but you heard the whispered question “what is he doing”?

My dining companion asked me – “you reviewing this place or something *laugh*”, like it was a good joke. Uhh, no, just taking pictures for my blog. The server’s eyebrows arched a bit, the other table shrugged and went back to their meal, and life returned to normal.

While the service at this establishment is generally excellent, we noticed that the server would patiently explain each course, and would frequently stop by to top up our waters. A beer we didnt like was comped. Now im sure it may have all been coincidence because we were sitting next to their station, but over time, i’ve noticed that many servers seem to be a bit more generous with their time when after i’ve pulled a camera out.

I generally try to be discrete, but in many open concept rooms, i find it extremely difficult and give up. Whenever possible, i prefer to palm my camera, and only take pictures after our server has left the vicinity. However, any observant server would notice pretty quickly. And while I feel a bit guilty, I prefer to get good photos, then have cell phone photos. I have always wondered though, what impact this photo taking has.

My question for all our readers is this: do you think, when you break out a camera, or take notes on a meal, that you generally get a better level of service? Should bloggers, to try and remain as impartial as possible, do everything within their power to hide their photo activities?

Chambar Belgian Restaurant – Vancouver, BC

Chambar Belgian Restaurant
562 Beatty Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 2L3
(604) 879-7119

Open 5:30pm – 12:00am

Belgium. How such a small country, with a hat tip to the French, ended up being top quality producers of some of my favorite consumables is honestly beyond me. Chocolate. Waffles. Mussels and fries (moule frite). Beer. These are not just good offerings. These fall well within the realm of comfort food for me. Of course, Belgium food is much more than frites, chocolate, and waffles. With access to fresh ingredients and the sea, and with a storied food culture, the essence of Belgian food is adaptability delivered in a clear, unpretentious style. Food for the gourmet, and the gourmand. This approach to food is at the core of the menu offered at Chambar.

Chambar is a very well-regarded restaurant in Crosstown Vancouver. Known for their particularly beautiful space, foodies have been raving about the unique combination of great affordable food, wonderful space, and excellent service. Showcasing local art, the impeccably decorated space manages to pack in a lot of seats, without feeling claustrophobic. Even with the high density of diners, Chambar manages to have great energy, while simultaneously having an intimate feel. I know I don’t comment much on decor, but i have to admit, i love what they’ve done with the place.

Let’s start with the best of the best- the beer selection is phenomenal. Exclusively Belgian, they had bottles I’ve never seen in North America before, even at the esteemed Torornado. Lambics, lagers, wheat, blondes, golds, trippels, trappiste beers – what a selection! I wish we could’ve stayed to sample them all. I do love my Belgians!

Not feeling completely hungry after a late lunch and an impromptu bubble tea visit after a hot day at Kits beach, we settled on a few beers and the Belgian classic, moule frite. Mussels are available in three flavours – coquette (white wine, bacon, spring onions), Vin Blanc (white wine, celery, leaks, and pepper), or the best sounding of the lot – Congolaise (tomato coconut cream, smoked chili and lime, cilantro). We ordered the Congolaise and the Coquette.

Surprisingly enough, I was extremely disappointed. The sauces were decent, but didnt carry enough intensity of flavour – they were definitely watered down. They needed to be reduced by about 30-40%. The frites and aioli were good, no complaints there.  The mussels however, were of a size and quality that I wouldn’t serve in my home, let alone at a highly regarded restaurant for $21 a plate. They were stringy, tough, many unopened mussels, and frankly, just not very good. If i was not feeling slightly ill from heat stroke, exacerbated by the beer, I would’ve sent the whole order back. Granted, while we were dining in what many traditionally consider to be “shoulder season” for mussels, i’ve found that with aquaculture and trans-pacific shipping, there really is no season when you cannot get great mussels. Every month is a good month for moule frites.

Throughout, the service was fantastic. The whole experience wasn’t helped by my heat stroke, as i was slow to order, and definitely a little pokey, but the server was patient, and attentive, even with a large section and the never ending requests for water. On service and atmosphere alone, I would go back to soak it all in.

In discussing and reading more on Chambar, I get the impression that the moule frites are not considered to be big hits with many Vancouver diners. Some camps believe Chambar falls into the “appetizers, beer, and atmosphere” kind of experience. Others are very effusive in their praise for the entrees. But if a chef who trained in a 3 star michelin restaurant is turning out exceptional food, why can he not deliver something as simple as mussels? To be fair, yes, it was a Friday, and they were *extremely* busy. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had gotten a rush on mussels, and were doing what they could to keep up. But for a signature dish, I was expecting a lot more care and attention. After all, as every home cook can attest to, good mussels are not tough to make at home. I’ll reserve judgment and give them a pass for now on the strength of service, beverages, and atmosphere alone, which truly were memorable in a year of outstanding dining experiences. But I hope the food really is better than the moule frites i tried, because if not, that would really be a grand disappointment.

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