Friday, April 17, 2009
BIN 941 - Vancouver, BC
Bin 941 is, and has been for almost ten years, one of my favourite restaurants in Vancouver. I was first taken there while I was still not of legal drinking age, and so the experience of drinking wine in a cramped and buzzing, New York feeling tapas bar was quite bewitching. At the time I had never been to New York, and so, I use the term New York quite liberally to mean all things cool and hipster. New York was an ideal of cool, just as Venice is often an ideal of romance to those who haven’t been there. If you have been to Venice, then you will know that it smells distinctly of poo. Anyway, despite being younger – a glass of Old Vine Zinfandel was definitely a step up from a warm, paper bagged magnum of Extra Old Stock in the bowling alley parking lot – the experience was genuinely something quite special. Bin 941 had and still has a certain charm that is unfamiliar to most Vancouver restaurants.
Up until last year, Bin remained essentially unchanged. We would always go and order the same things: a mountain of black pepper pommes frites, mussels in a coconut milk and masala broth, the best wild mushroom and truffle risotto in the city, and Yucatan spice rubbed Bison. If you’re wondering if this is too much food for two people, it is. But I’m greedy and skinny-fat, (a technical term for a person with a small potbelly, little shoulder definition and a chest like a starved pigeon) so yes I would eat all of that and drink more than my share of Grenache.
This year, however, things have changed. Don’t worry Bin is still great, but there are a few things that irk me, and make me just slightly less eager to go. Bin was always great value. A lot of food, a lot of wine and a tip was usually under $120 for two people. The wine is still about the same price, perhaps a dollar more on certain wines, but still good value. The price of the food, however, has gone up. I’d like to say that relative to most places in Vancouver, the prices are still fine, but that slice of extra value is no longer there. It used to be $16 for the higher end items like the bison, steak etc. on the main tapas portion, and less for others, now the entire ‘Tapatiser’ section runs at $16. This is only a difference of a few dollars, but as you are often ordering quite a tapas, the amount can sneak up on you. The mussels are also a few dollars more, now $15 instead of $12. The biggest upset though is the risotto, which used to be $7 or $8 and is now $16. The portioning of the risotto is identical, yet you are now paying double the price.
Bin still offers good value, just no longer exceptional value. The food was up to all expectations. Also the addition of the Duck Breast to the menu is definitely a winner. I generally don’t like duck. I’ll eat its crispy skin in a small pancake with spring onion and plum sauce, but slices of its meat rarely appeals to me. However, the free range Wentzel Duck Breast is awesome. The meat was insanely tender, and the truffle oil drizzled side hash of crispy duck skin, pancetta, Yukon potatoes, and goat cheese was painfully delicious.