Sublime Simplicity

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                                                                                                                             FinE dininG

Sublime Simplicity
AURA waterfront restaurant + patio serves up surf ’n’ turf with a fantastic twist.
Story and photoS by Garth EichEl

                                                                                                           polished onyx bar, recessed walls,
                                                                                                           and backlit partitions, aUra has
                                                                                                           a cosmopolitan vibe that lives up
                                                                                                           to its name. What’s more, its
                                                                                                           plate-glass windows offer a post-
                                                                                                           card-perfect view of Victoria’s
                                                                                                           inner harbour. it’s not hard to see
                                                                                                           why the establishment won first
                                                                                                           place for hospitality design at the
                                                                                                           Seattle design center’s 2009
                                                                                                           northwest design awards.
                                                                                                               now, about that menu. i
                                                                                                           asked chef horen for a personal
                                                                                                           suggestion, hoping that he’d
                                                                                                           introduce me to something new
                                                                                                           and other-worldly – the kind of
                                                                                                           thing that rocked the judges at
                                                                                                           the culinary olympics.
                                                                                                               “i’d recommend the surf ’n’ turf?”
                                                                                                               “Surf ’n’ turf?”
                                                                                                               “Sure. it’s a menu favourite.”
                                                                                                               “but, but i want something
AURA Restaurant's         VICtoRIa’s aURa watERfRont               this achievement, horen et al               “trust me. Simple, recognizable
surf 'n' turf puts an     REstaURant       and its parent hotel,   relocated to Victoria. to be sure,      food that is prepared well will
asian spin on a classic   inn at laurel point, have received       cowtown’s loss was our gain.            always prevail. done right, and
comfort food.
                          a lot of accolades of late. Following        With talent like this, i couldn’t   with the best and freshest
                          extensive refurbishing, both have        wait to try the fare on offer at        ingredients, even mac ’n’ cheese,
                          won a number of awards for every-        aUra. Surely, i thought, the            or steak and potatoes, can be
                          thing from innovative interior           menu would be an extraordinary          amazing. at aUra, we want to
                          design to environmental best             collection of exotic and unpro-         give people simple food that is
                          practices, to name a few.                nounceable dishes – any one of          prepared well and tastes great.”
                              For its part, aUra started           which would titillate the senses        to that, horen adds, “we don’t
                          generating considerable buzz in          and impress dinner companions.          serve miniature portions that
                          2008 when it recruited Executive             So just imagine my disappoint-      leave people still feeling hungry
                          chef brad horen from one of              ment when i was able to recognize       at the end of the meal.”
                          calgary’s top restaurants. horen         and pronounce everything on the             “okay, you’re the one with
                          and a handpicked crew of chefs           menu. really, how is one supposed       the medals. Surf ’n’ turf it is.”
                          had just won four gold medals            to put on airs when the menu                (privately, i wonder if i’m
                          for team alberta at the iKa World        is perfectly sensible? that said,       going to be the only person
                          culinary olympics in Erfurt,             i noticed enough variations on          wearing a lobster bib tonight.)
                          Germany, organized by the World          classic favourites to warrant a             While horen sets to work,
                          association of chefs Societies.          closer look.                            i study aUra’s menu to gain a
                          (competing against 1,600 chefs               Speaking of looks, aUra’s           better appreciation of what to
                          from 54 countries, horen’s team          décor is of the stylish elegance        expect. the first thing i notice
                                                                                                                                                    Winter 2009

                          missed first place overall by less       that is sure to elicit comment.         is that their surf ’n’ turf – and
                          than half a point.) Shortly after        With its honey-hued italian-            several other seafood dishes –

                                                                                 sport the venerable ocean Wise           which first appears as an abstract
                                                                                 stamp of approval (see article           blend of vibrant yellow squash
                                                                                 “Guilt-Free Food”, page 21). but         puree, succulent green bok choy,
                                                                                 what really gets my attention            caramel brown back ribs and
                                                                                 about their surf ’n’ turf are the        glistening white seared scallops
                                                                                 varied Japanese influences – miso        and gyozas. Sprinkled on top are
                                                                                 and Sapporo beer braised back            toasted pumpkin seeds that add
                                                                                 ribs, “Silk road” cherry tea smoked      a spiced and earthy dimension
                                                                                 scallops, gyoza, bok choy and a          to this dazzling array.
                                                                                 kabocha squash puree. perhaps,               it tastes as good as it looks.
                                                                                 my concerns about pedestrian             Starting with the “surf”, the
                                                                                 fare were misplaced.                     cherry tea smoked scallops have
                                                                                     problem now is: what kind of         a slight smokey-sweet flavour that
                                                                                 pairing could possibly compliment        doesn’t overpower these fresh,
                                                                                 this peculiar ribs and scallop           delicate diver-caught molluscs.
                                                                                 combo? chris Jones, aUra’s               as for the “turf”, the pork back
                                                                                 manager and wine steward, who            ribs, marinated in miso and Sapporo
                                                                                 holds a level 2 with the international   beer and braised in their own
                                                                                 Sommelier Guild, swings by my            juices, have a sticky tang and
                                                                                 table to offer some drink sugges-        subtle saltiness that is instantly
                                                                                 tions, which include clear crisp         recognizable as Japanese in origin.
                                                                                 beers, such as a Japanese Sapporo        this extends to the gyozas, which
                                                                                 and a local phillip’s blue buck, as      are, without question, the most
                                                                                 well as a full-bodied blue Grouse        exquisite i’ve ever enjoyed. Filled
                                                                                 pinot noir from the cowichan             with minced pork, ginger, garlic,
                                                                                 Valley, which is devoid of the           green onion, soy sauce and shitake
                                                                                 tannins that causes most reds to         mushroom, the gyozas are seared
                                                                                 leave a fishy aftertaste. all three      at high heat on one side and lightly
                                                                                 seem like a good bet, but Jones          browned on the other, giving these
                                                                                 saves his most interesting recom-        delectable pockets of goodness a
                                                                                 mendation for last – a chilled           unique texture that is both crunchy
                                                                                 indigo Wind sparkling junmai             and chewy. balancing the protein
                                                                                 sake. i’ve never heard of such           portions, the vegetables are light
                                                                                 a thing; naturally, it appeals to        and savoury with a velvety squash
                                                                                 my dilettantish ways.                    puree and bok choy gently cooked
                                                                                     novelty aside, sparkling sake        in butter, all topped with the fiery
                                                                                 is actually quite light and refresh-     crunchiness of spice-toasted
                                                                                 ing. Unlike warm sake, which can         pumpkin seeds.
                                                                                 assault the senses of the uniniti-           “it’s a spin-off off the classic
                                                                                 ated like turpentine, chilled spar-      surf ’n’ turf, without going over
                                                                                 kling sake is a remarkably mild          the top,” says chef horen. “think
                                                                                 and sweet drink that has a lush          of it as elegant comfort food.”
                                                                                 and creamy hint of citrus. it is             horen attributes the Japanese
                                                                                 crisp and slightly effervescent,         influences in this dish to his mother-
                       Top: Team AURA chefs (from left to right): Junko          cleansing the palate with no             in-law and his wife, Junko Sadahiro,
                       Sadahiro, Brad Horen, Jessie Cole and Patrick Gayler      pungent aftertaste. consistent           an award-winning sugar artist who
                       Middle: AURA's elegant interior garnered a first place    with these qualities, it is a sublime    works in aUra’s kitchen as a pastry
                       for hospitality design at the Seattle Design Center's     companion to the mélange of              chef. but like most innovative
                       2009 Northwest Design Awards.                             flavours – and colours – repre-          chefs, horen says he and his
                       photo coUrtESy oF thE inn at laUrEl point.
                                                                                 sented in aUra’s surf ’n’ turf.          crew like to change things up and
                       Bottom: Sparkling junmai sake is a refreshing and novel       as one might expect, presenta-       experiment with new variations:
                       pairing for AURA's surf 'n' turf.
                                                                                 tion is a big part of any dining         “Surf ’n’ turf will always be on the
                                                                                 experience, and so the same care         menu, but it evolves from season
                                                                                 and sophistication that goes into        to season, never staying the same.
                                                                                 the design and atmosphere of             this is the version we’ve devel-

                                                                                 aUra’s dining room can be found          oped for our winter menu.”
                                                                                 in the kitchen, where chef horen             With this disappointing news,
                                                                                 and his team painstakingly prepare       i suddenly find myself hoping
                                                                                 each dish as a small work of art.        Ground hog day 2010 will grant
                                                                                 this extends to the surf ’n’ turf,       us an extra long winter.