Bistro 101

I have heard that the quality of food and service at Bistro 101 is better than at many fine dining restaurants because the place is run by aspiring chefs at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. The original restaurant space was under renovation, so we got to experience the temporary eating area amidst the hustle and bustle of the kitchens. The room was small with almost no decor, but the environment was comfortable nevertheless.

We were given the standard 3-course lunch menu ($18) that changes from day to day depending on the ingredients that come in every morning.

After placing our orders, we were given a basket of bread with butter balls on the side. The crust was quite hard and crispy, but the inside was very soft and airy. The only issue I had with the bread was that it was served cold and not warm.

As we were enjoying our bread and waiting for our appetizers, a student came by and dropped off a plate of her creations for us to sample. It was smoked salmon and cream cheese in phyllo pastry with red currant reduction. The salmon and cream cheese filling was very savoury and blended perfectly with the blander phyllo pastry that had been baked to a crisp. On top of the pastry was a drizzle of sweet-tart red currant reduction that provided a sharp contrast to the savoury filling. Mmmm... this turned out to be the best dish of the meal!

The grilled spot prawns were tender and juicy with an abundance of tasty dark green mushy stuff near the head area that I assumed to be similar to tomalley in lobsters and crabs. The baby frisee, pear and red pepper salad added a refreshing touch to the dish.

The baby spinach salad was also quite good with sweet chunks of roasted butternut squash and dried cranberries. It was a healthy alternative to the cholesterol-rich spot prawns.

I had rather high hopes for the entrees because of the pleasant experience thus far, but was disappointed with the pan-seared duck confit which was average at best. The duck meat was not tender at all. In fact, the texture was somewhat coarse and tough. The flavour was lacking as well, and the meat simply tasted salty and flat. The duck was served on a bed of hashed potatoes soaked in orange brandy sauce. The potatoes tasted great with the sweet-tart sauce, but I wondered why there was no sauce on the duck while the potatoes were soggy with sauce. The best part of the dish was the carrot which was soft and sweet with a strong rosemary fragrance.

The nori-wrapped steelhead trout was comparatively better. The fish was surprisingly tender and the papaya salsa was light and refreshing. I particularly enjoyed the Thai black rice, but it was very filling.

The espresso creme brulee was a rich conclusion to the meal. The burnt sugar surface was sweet with delightful notes of dark caramel, and the espresso-infused custard underneath was smooth and creamy. The choux pastry on the side was not as enjoyable though, as it was rather dry and hard without the usual fluffiness of choux pastry.

But at the price point of $18 per person for a 3-course lunch, there isn't much to complain about. Service was friendly and prompt, while the food was mostly decent to above average. I would definitely come back to try some of the other dishes.

Bistro 101 at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts on Urbanspoon

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