By Tana Kosiyabong
It was the night before Christmas eve. While many shoppers still scrambled for last-minute gifts, I had no shopping left to do. So I headed to Chambar, a fancy Belgian restaurant in downtown Vancouver, to celebrate the holiday spirit. Don’t worry. I wasn’t out of my mind. I knew exactly what I was doing.
Normally Chambar was way out of my reach in terms of price. However, earlier this year, the Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators in Communications (CAPIC) gave me two ten-dollar Chambar coupons as tokens of appreciation. I had saved them for a special occasion like this. Although it would be costly for you to repeat this Cheap Appetite mission without the coupons, you could still live vicariously through my experience free of charge.
As I walked into the dimly lit interior of Chambar, I was impressed yet slightly intimidated by the decor. The restaurant featured high ceiling with exposed wood beams, a bare brick wall, and an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary furnitures. A receptionist promptly took me to an empty table near the front window with food, beer and wine menus.
Chambar dishes were priced higher than my typical budget. For under $10, the best I could get was an order of Poutine ($9). If I only had $5, I could order some bread rolls with smoked paprika butter ($3). Chambar Les Petit plats (the small dishes) ranged from $11-$17. All Moules Frites (mussels with fries) were at $22 each. The Les Grosses Pieces (the big pieces) were around $30 each. If I didn’t have $20 worth of coupons, I’d be better off dining somewhere else.
Once seated, a friendly waiter soon came by. Since I perused Chambar online menu the night before, I wasted no time to order Congolaise Moules Frites ($22). Before long, a pretty big pot of mussels had arrived along with Belgian fries and mustard seeds mayonnaise. After a quick photo shoot, I immediately dived in. The first mussel was big, juicy and tender. But not all of them were as big as the first one. The fresh tomato coconut cream broth with smoked chilies and lime was very tasty. Cumin and fresh cilantro had livened up the dish even more. The African Congo flavour ensemble reminded me of a lighter version of the East Indian butter chicken sauce. I felt like I was on cloud nine with a pot full of happiness right in front of me.
I had truly enjoyed Congolaise moules frites up until two third of the pot. Then it went downhill from there. I started to get full and would rather stop eating. But because I rarely dined in fancy restaurants, I didn’t know if I should ask for a doggy bag in case my “invisible dog” at home would get hungry later. Perhaps the intimidation had taken over my brain, I decided to shove the rest of the mussels down my throat instead. Towards the end, I felt like I had enough of these marine creatures for at least a few years. With 21 mussels rested happily inside my stomach and half way up my throat, I reluctantly said “au revoir” to the savory tomato coconut cream broth left inside the pot.
Despite the mouth-watering mussels, the Belgian fries were uninspired. It wasn’t bad, but I had higher expectation for Belgian fries. The creamy mustard seeds mayo was definitely good with fries, but not for your hearts.
If you were to try this dish, I would recommend sharing it with a friend. Also ask for an extra order of bread rolls with smoked paprika butter($3). Both of you can enjoy this satisfying, fancy dinner for $12.50 each (tax and gratuity not included).
Chambar Congolaise Moules Frites (with $20 off coupon): ©©©© 3/4
Chambar Congolaise Moules Frites (full price) ©©© 1/4
NOTE: I assume a neutral position on the French vs Belgian fries dispute. However, since I talked about “fries” in a Belgian restaurant, I think it’s appropriate to call them “Belgian fries.”
©2009 Tana Kosiyabong and CheapAppetite.com™. All rights reserved.