The first time I tried the Regional Tasting Lounge, or r.tl, in Yaletown, I almost walked right into the glass doors. They’ve got dark tinted windows and are automatic, and I remember that it was also dark outside so I didn’t notice where exactly the entrance was – it probably didn’t help that I was a bit light-headed from being so hungry!
Regardless, I returned with a girlfriend this past Friday night to try out their new regional menu and have some drinks. This time around, the restaurant offered Basque, Morrocan, and BC style tapas (the BC menu items are a staple, but the other regions rotate out approximately every three months).
r.tl offers flights of all of the wines that they have available by the glass (of which they have a large selection of about 30), and I was in the mood for white that evening, since I’ve had my fill of red wine hangovers during the holiday season and was trying to stave off the possibility of yet another one.
So, I asked our server to select three of the dryest (but still best) options of white wine for our flight tasting. The neat thing about this is that they’ll bring you hand-written cards with your selections, so you can take those home with you if you end up finding something that you’ll want another time. Ironically, I ended up stuffing in my purse the card for the Chenin Blanc from Blackwood Lane, which ended up being the sweetest of the bunch. And then I proceeded to order more of it…
We continued on our quest to try as many dishes as possible (I’m lucky that my girlfriend that was with me that night has very similar tastes in food, and doesn’t mind trying some things that aren’t exactly mainstream). First off, we had a couple of skewers of the Grilled Chicken Livers. These were really tasty and were so good that we had to order them a second time towards the end of our meal (keep in mind though, when we did get them again, they weren’t as flavourful or tender as the first time. I’m not really sure what changed, or if my tastebuds were somehow impacted too heavily by the copious amounts of wine I had already consumed.)
Next we tried the Chermoula Prawns. I thought that the cucumber salad, although refreshing, was also a little bit soggy – it was probably pre-made and just didn’t give off the crispness that I was hoping for, but the slight minty flavour with rosewater was great! The prawns themselves weren’t too bad, but not anything that really wowed me.
As for the Warm Beetroot Salad, I couldn’t get enough! Our server told us it was what she always ordered for herself, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so, so tasty. It was served with some creamy and delicious goat cheese, a sherry vinaigrette, and chopped walnuts, which made a great crunchy addition to the texture. Hands down, this was my favourite of the night (with the first round of chicken livers coming in at a close second).
Now on to the Seared Albacore Tuna. I really liked the Tabouleh salad that it was served with, and actually didn’t mind the hint of cinnamon around the tuna – it was also cooked the right amount for me (my friend wasn’t a fan though of having that sweetness in a savoury dish). The one thing I really noticed though was the temperature of the fish – it seemed like it should either be served more hot, or else more cold. It was just in the middle somewhere, and that wasn’t just right for me. I felt like Goldilocks, but without ever getting the same satisfaction. 🙁
Next there were the Lamb Sirloin spikes. At first we were confused, since they looked similar to the chicken livers, and thought our second order was already there. Alas, they were not, and these were served with a chilli oil and lime mint confit. I was disappointed in these, but it could’ve been that I was expecting something else the whole time. They just weren’t all that exciting for me.
We managed to keep eating at this point, and added on the Bacalhau Fritters to the mix. What I wasn’t expecting was a very hot sauce to be served with it, so I ended up dousing the fritter and taking a large bite. Whatever you do, DO NOT DO THIS. I started to laugh when I realized that it was a lot spicier than I was expecting, and then I proceeded to cough and choke for a bit until I could get some more wine down (maybe that’s why I drank so much?). Once I had the chance to calm down my senses a bit, I took another bite, without any of the piri piri sauce to distract me again. This time, I could taste the salt cod, potato and onions that made up these morsels, and they were really quite tasty, especially when they were still piping hot (in temperature this time ;)).
Just when we thought we were ready to move on to dessert, a couple of other girlfriends decided to stop by to meet us for a drink, and they also ordered a quick bite as well. So on to another bottle of Chenin Blanc and an order of the Crispy Basque Chicken. This was served with a caraway yoghurt for dipping, and I can’t say I was really a fan of this dish. The meat seemed a little overcooked, and the sauce didn’t manage to hide that fact very much.
So finally, we managed to settle on the dessert. What sounded like it would be the hit of the night were the House Made Smores. We were surprised when something that looked like battered tofu on a stick with chocolate sauce showed up – and I’d have to say quite disappointed. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was dipping some healthy tofu into chocolate and calling it a smore. There just wasn’t enough graham cracker on the marshmallow, and the marshmallows themselves almost felt like the texture of tofu. Do yourself a favour and skip these next time, unless you’re trying to convince yourself in some dream world that you’re able to eat dessert and eat healthy at the same time (hey, if it looks like tofu…)!
The House Made Saffron Gelato was much more up my alley – simple and understated, yet very refreshing. It came with pistachio brittle and was scattered with colourful pomegranate seeds. A light-tasting way to finish off a large meal. At that point, I was finally sated (and probably more than a little tipsy).
From here, the four of us managed to finish off our last bottle of wine, and were ready to head out for more fun that night. I did like the ambience for a meeting place on a weekend night out in the winter, although Regional Tasting Lounge wouldn’t be one of my first choices if it was the summer. It feels cozy and fun when it’s cold and dark out, but it just wouldn’t entice me otherwise. Also note that there is a private back room with a couch, table, flatscreen television, and ipod docking station, if you ever want a small get together. If you haven’t noticed it before, it’s because it’s hidden behind the bookshelf beside the bar. The only thing is, it feels very closed in since there are no windows to be found.
In terms of the food, some items I definitely favoured, like the beetroot salad, chicken livers, and bacalhau fritters, while others were more average. It’s definitely a great concept to change up the menu every few months and keep people coming back for the next regions to come – I know that I’ll be paying this place another visit down the road. Plus, I definitely love having such a large variety of wine flights to choose from!
Regional Tasting Lounge (r.tl)
1130 Mainland Street