The Meh Files: Ancora

A Pretty Patio

Seafood, Hints of Peru, But

Blah at Ancora

A food revelation of mine was having nigiri prepared by Chef Yoshi Tabo when he helmed the sushi bar at Blue Water Café.  The rice was seasoned, granular and easily came apart with a chew or two.  The fish was expertly sliced and prepared.   The nigiri glistened and glowed.  It was a sublime, buttery and melt in your mouth.  Up to that point, my sushi experience consisted of budget and midrange eateries.  Chef Tabo’s sushi illustrated how price can make a difference and that raw fish could be elevated.
I was very happy to learn Chef Tabo was once again preparing sushi in Vancouver at Ancora.  I was even more excited when our Spring staff dinner would happen at the Peruvian inspired restaurant situated on the Seawall in the old C Restaurant space.
Much like our Winter Staff meal at Bauhaus, I was busy chatting with my colleagues instead of intensely focusing on the food.  However the big difference between my meal at Ancora and our previous staff dinner was Bauhaus’ food boldly interrupted our conversations and hog some of the spotlight with its deliciousness.
In contrast, although nothing too major was a miss, the food at Ancora was more a wallflower taking a backseat to the socializing and business discussions.

Our meal began with various items from Ancora’s raw menu with the first item being caviar.
My boss selected the 30 grams of the Osetra caviar, coming from the Osetra sturgeon that lives in the Caspian Sea.  Sweet buckwheat potate mini pancakes were offered as a platform to eat the fish roe, along with crème fraiche and chives.

 

I adore the inert mother of pearl spoons, which are used to prevent any chemical reactions that could affect the taste of the caviar.  However, I’m not sure caviar is my thing.  The few times I’ve had it, all I have tasted was a brininess.  Since I don’t have deep pockets, I probably am not going to further refine my palate to the nuances of this luxury item.
Next to arrive was a platter of six Kusshi and six Royal Miyagi oysters.  The larger Royal Miyagi (front right of pic) had a much more complex taste and aftertaste in comparison to the Kusshi.

 

I prefer the lighter and cleaner flavour of the smaller oysters.  However I unfortunately grabbed an oyster that was not shuck properly.  The adductor muscle wasn’t cut through and as a result the oyster didn’t slip out of the shell.  I was surprised this error was made at Ancora.
Finally, the dishes prepared by Chef Tabo arrived.  The great was the Hamachi Carpaccio.  Each piece of Yellowtail was seared on one side, had a small shiso leaf placed inside, and then curled with the uncooked side presented.

 

The various flavours – herby shiso, fatty fish, spicy jalapenos, sweet & tangy yuzu dressing – made this appetizer a wonderful bite.  However this dish is not unique to Ancora, as one can get something very similar at Blue Water Café.
The disappointing was the nigiri plate.  It consisted of Albacore Tuna Belly, Big Eye Tuna, Alabacore Tuna, Wild Salmon, and local Uni.
The fish was fresh but was not sauced or garnished, and looked a bit lifeless in comparison to my memories of Chef Tabo’s work.  In fact, my revelatory nigiri was more in line with the sushi I got from my recent visit to Sushi Bar Maumi.

 

The rice was still as good as I remember.  Whole seasoned grains were formed gently so that they easily separated in your mouth.  Each piece of nigiri contained a smear of wasabi beneath the fish.  The best item was the toro with its rich fattiness.  The least enjoyable was the uni, which had a strong astringent aftertaste.
Is there not a saying that warns people about not trying to relive their past because one will always come away disappointed?  I think I just experienced that with the nigiri Ancora was serving.
The cooked food from the kitchen started to appear with the Dungeness Crab Causa landing on our table.  I had Causa before at Chicha and I think prefer the less refined version from the Broadway eatery.

 

I felt the distinctly yellow Northern spicy huancaina sauce was too strong for the dainty sphere of potatoes, crab and topping.
Everyone ordered their own Peruvian influenced mains and I got to sample a few of them (my co-workers & boss support my food blogging).
For my main I went with the Aji Panca Glazed Sablefish.  You can’t go wrong with Sablefish as long as you want something rich.  This was a heavy dish.  The black cod was coated with a sauce made with Aji Panca (a very common Peruvian pepper) and resulted in a bite that was buttery with hints of spice and smoke.  It paired well with the tangy chimichurri made with wakame seaweed.

 

I really also enjoy the sweet and creamy yam and oregano pave (essentially layers of thin sliced yams).  I didn’t really care for the slightly fiery ocopa sauce, which is the Southern version of the huancaina sauce except it contains peanuts and is not yellow.

 

A lighter fish option was the Pacific Lingcod.  The few bites I had were very sweet in comparison to my Sablefish.  The portion of cod was paired with broccolini, a pimenton emulsion, and a rice mixture that contained Peruvian corn, baby squid, chorizo, shrimp, and bell pepper.  I thought some of the accompanying items like the baby seafood and chorizo was an odd fit.

 

My other coworker had the duo of beef, which consisted of grilled tenderloin and braised short rib.  Both cuts of meat were tender and savoury.  The tenderloin was cooked to medium.  The meat was so soft and effortless to chew.  The short rib was fork tender.  I felt this dish had the least Peruvian influence.  To make this entrée a bit healtier, roasted carrots, a mushroom puree, red onion jam and salsa verde was provided to round out the plate.  I would order the beef again.
To finish my evening I ordered the spiced picarones.  In general,  I really like these pumpkin doughnuts. At Ancora, their version are like enlarged Timbits.  However a few had a slight bitter yeasty taste.  The spiced ice cream and super sweet ducle de leche sauce helped masked that taste and were necessary to make the dessert enjoyable.
Overall I feel Ancora is a seafood restaurant with hints of Peruvian flavours but not a Peruvian restaurant.  I think the fact that Peru gave the world potatoes but with exception of the Causa, spuds don’t really appear on the menu demonstrate that.
Despite the exceptional service, some fantastic drinks and some extravagant items, I felt my meal was very average compared to other restaurants in the same price category.  There were miscues like the poorly shuck oyster and dull nigiri.  I felt the feature proteins were well prepared but not all the components of the dish came together into an awesome bite.

 

It’s a shame, the view from the Ancora patio is spectacular.  I can’t help but wonder if sitting at the sushi bar would have achieved a different result from Chef Tabo.  If I were to spend my own money and not my boss’ I think I would hesitantly pass, although I’m willing to give the sushi another chance.
Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio
1600 Howe Street #2
Vancouver, BC V6Z 2L9
604 681 1164

One Comment Add yours

  1. grayelf says:

    We are looking at spots for corporate holiday dinner (I know, I know) and were considering Ancora. Having a rethink based on your timely post.

    Like

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