This is a long one. We had a lot on the table so if you’d like to read about all of it, awesome. If not, there is a TL;DR for you down at the bottom.
Excuse me if my writing is a bit off in this post but my head is still pounding from this past weekend up in Whistler. My friends and I went to wish one of our own goodbye as he will be locked down forever, ball-n’-chain and all, later this summer.
What? No, I’m not hung over…I just hit the back of head really hard against a wall. I can’t seem to remember why but there was definitely no excess alcohol that weekend and definitely no public nudity. We also did not shoot anyone in the nether regions with paintball guns nor was anyone thrown into the freezing cold Squamish river during rafting. There were no run-ins with the law and I definitely did not shout at a tree at for looking at me funny. Wait, it might have been a bear. Yeah, it was a bear but in my defense, he was small and we didn’t want him sticking around for mama to come pick him up during our paintball match.
Nay, good sirs, we were distinguished gentlemen, which is why we decided to splurge on what every bachel…er, “distinguished gentlemen’s weekend away” requires: meat. Man meat. No, I’m not talking zombie food. I mean big slabs of pig, lamb but preferably cow…charred by fire, still bloody and possibly moo-ing.
While there are a number of options if you want a good steak in Whistler, we decided to go somewhere we haven’t been before. Sidecut had only been open for less than two years and we figured anywhere with “steak” so prominent in the restaurant’s name had to be good at cooking the dish in the title role. Sidecut says all the right things like dry aged Canadian Prime cooked on a state-of-the-art 1800 degree infrared grill but is their meat worthy of possibly their toughest critics? A group of well behaved guys on a distinguished gentlemen’s weekend?
Sidecut is modern in more ways than one. The “L”-shaped dining room has long tables for larger parties at one end and smaller 2-4 seat tables on the other. The decor is contemporary, utilizing mostly dark woods accented by colors from the tile, plants and wall coverings.
When the sun is out, rays pour in through the large panoramic windows. When the sun goes down, the space glows with the subtle lighting and the large circular fireplace in the middle of the room.
Another modern fixture at Sidecut is this little appliance called the Urban Cultivator, which I originally saw on an episode of Dragon’s Den. Basically it’s a mini fridge that grows fresh herbs and greens like arugula, oregano, pea shoots, basil, etc in less time and a more controlled environment than outside. It’s an absolutely amazing product which reduces not only chemicals and pesticides in veggies but also the transportation costs of shipping greens from farmers to the restaurants. It’s a “green” device no matter how you think about it and shows that a restaurant is serving you a product they actually made on site to ensure freshness and quality. One of the coolest new appliances I’ve seen and not as expensive as you think (a small one for home use is just over $2,000). It’s no wonder it sparked a bidding war in the Den, even with a valuation in the millions.
Sidecut’s menu is full of choices. There are nine different cuts of steak which can be paired with one of six rubs and served with all eight of Sidecut’s signature sauces.
It took me awhile just to decide on an appetizer. It didn’t help that our server made damned near everything sound absolutely amazing. The level of service was amongst the best I’ve experienced and it all started with our server’s encyclopedic knowledge of the menu, right down to where the ingredients were sourced and precisely how everything is prepared. I could tell she knew the menu top to bottom like Paul McCartney knows the words to Hey Jude (the ones before “na” x 100).
To start, rather than boring ol’ bread, Sidecut has these little puffy pastry balls, lightly seasoned and cheesy. They’re a slightly crispy shell with a flurry, airy center. A nice play on the basket of bread but don’t fill up on these. You’ll need room for what comes later.
I was tempted by so many things on the menu but decided on the beet salad to start, a 12oz rib eye steak as well as some asparagus and carrots. Of course, I got to try a bunch of the other things on the table. However, after last night’s distinguished gentlemen activities, my stomach felt like it was filled by a swarm of angry bees in the morning and by night, there were still a couple left so I tried not to overdo it.
This is the grilled Pemberton beet salad ($13) with Salt Spring Island goat cheese, arugula and a tangerine vinaigrette. Beets are such an underrated vegetable but when prepared right, they’re sweet and tangy with a nice crunch. The arugula lent a fresh, slightly bitter bite while the goat cheese was soft and creamy. I think a sharper cheese or maybe even a little crumbly blue cheese would’ve made this dish more to my taste as I thought it lacked a bit of punch…I didn’t really get much of the tangerine vinaigrette flavor…but the beets were delicious.
Like some other high-end steak houses, sides aren’t simply included with your steaks, they have to be ordered separately. Again, there’s a lot of choices at Sidecut, six of which are different preparations of potatoes. Since I was already having so much meat, I thought veggies were a better choice than potatoes or mac n’ cheese.
The asparagus ($6) is served with a lightly poached egg. Any time you put a barely cooked egg on anything, it just makes it better. Popping the egg and running that rich yellow yolk all over just made the grilled (and well seasoned) asparagus all that much better.
The roof-top carrots ($6) were less impressive but still a good accompanying side. The carrots are silky and cooked just right.
I requested my rib eye done medium rare with the Edison’s Medicine (apparently the chef’s own blend of herbs and spices) rub and wouldn’t you know it, it actually came a perfect medium rare. Most places tend to overcook steaks, thinking the customer doesn’t really want all that bloody goodness. I’m sure many years of people saying medium rare and then reacting to how rare that actually is has worn on them. At Sidecut, however, although the outside of my steak has a nice amount of char, the inside is a nice pink and gets red right at the center.
The steak is beautifully cooked and you get a lot of spice and heat from the rub, just enough when breaking through that seared crust. The meat is juicy and so tender, chewing almost seemed unnecessary at times. It’s a substantial cut of beef and I even had to take a chunk of it home in a doggie bag after…and the guys that grabbed a bite off my plate agreed that it was just as good the next morning. Yep, even a microwave couldn’t ruin how good this steak was.
If this level of customization isn’t enough for you, you can slather your steak in any of Sidecut’s eight signature sauces. Honestly, I barely noticed a couple of them but the consensus at the table was that the Green Jimmy was our favorite. That bright, fresh hit of parsley went well with the heavy spice in the rub. I also liked “Wasabi D-40″, “S.T.S Wildcat” and the yuzu sauce was interesting but the Green Jimmy was the standout.
Unfortunately, not everything on the plate is bacon-covered-unicorns awesome. I added a couple of grilled BC spot prawns to my plate ($3 each). There’s no good way to say this but they were just flat out awful. I first realized something was wrong when I tore off a head and couldn’t suck out the delicious, delicious brains because they were cooked to oblivion. The prawns themselves were tough and chewy with a sandy texture, which tells me someone left them on the grill way too long. If you can cook a steak that’s wonderfully, there’s no reason a prawn should end up like this. I almost didn’t want to eat the second one but had to know if it was as bad as the first. And yes, it was.
My steak was cooked perfectly but one of my friends received a medium rather than a medium rare (still good enough that he didn’t send it back) and another said the chef may have been a little too generous with the spice rub, making it a bit overwhelming. However, those of us that got exactly what we ordered (9 of 11 ain’t bad) couldn’t put steak in our faces fast enough.
The stars of the show were the two cuts carved table-side: a 38oz longbone rib eye and a 52oz cowboy porterhouse. Do I really need to say anything about these? I mean, look at them.
I found it hard to distinguish the two cuts after they were carved. The meat has a blackened and seared crust but the meat is a bright pink throughout. They’re big enough slabs of beef that there are discernible differences depending on where that pieces came from. In the picture up at the top, you can spot four or five different textures already. A very cool way to enjoy a steak and I highly recommend this route for sharing with friends. It’s more fun than just ordering your own and the enormous boulders of cow are an almost comically huge conversation piece.
Also, it’s a better value than you think (relatively). The 52oz cowboy porterhouse ($325) is an especially good deal since it is intended to be split between four people and comes with four sides, four appetizers and a bottle of wine, which equates to just over $80 before taxes and gratuity…on par or less than what you’d be paying for everything separately. You get the fun of sharing an enormous steak with three friends. Personally, I want to see Stephen Fung attack this all by himself.
I’m not exactly sure how the wine works but the way I understand it, the meal includes $80 towards any bottle of wine so if you choose something that’s $126 like this bottle of ’08 Soos Creek, it’ll be $46 on the bill. I’m not much of a wine guy and I have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to wine but I know I like the way this one tastes, especially with a good steak.
The standout amongst the appetizers was the wild mushroom agnolotti carbonara ($13), which got rave reviews from the entire table. Despite the mountain of medium rare on our table, quite a few people declared this their favorite dish of the night.
With so many things on the table and so little time/stomach room, it was impossible to try them all. Like the mushroom agnolotti, I wish I also ordered one of these scallops. There’s plenty of attention to detail when it comes to plating at Sidecut. I mean, isn’t that a good lookin’ scallop? The large Qualicum scallop ($15) is served with white beans, tiroler bacon, lentils and a smoked roe.
The iced shellfish ($24) of lobster, shrimp, oyster, and crab is another classic appetizer. I’m told the seafood is very fresh and best with just a squeeze of lemon.
I thought the idea of a grilled steak “sushi” roll ($18) was a bit of a strange inclusion in Sidecut’s menu. Stuffed inside the rare steak is avocado, dried tomato and a sweet soy sauce. A good idea but not quite at the same level of execution as the agnolotti. If I’m already having a huge steak, I probably want my appetizer to feature something other than beef.
This appetizer is called Seaside ($19), with lobster, spot prawn, scallops and smoked tomato. I found this rather lackluster in flavor as well as plating. Everything else is so gorgeous while this looks more like it came straight off the stove.
We haven’t even gotten to the other sides yet! Some of them are massive like these huge onion rings ($6).
As I mentioned, I didn’t try the mac n’ cheese ($6). Baking these after a layer of gratin would’ve been a nice extra step.
At the prices you’re paying, you’d expect service at Sidecut to be darn near perfect and the staff doesn’t disappoint. I mentioned before how our server used her Microsoft Encarta of menu knowledge to entice us into ordering just about everything but it doesn’t stop there. The servers are attentive but don’t hover. You barely notice them as they pop up to fill your water glass (which is never empty) or your wine glass (which is never empty…until you run out of wine) like ninjas.
We arrived a little after 6:30 and were just finishing up dessert at about 10:30. That isn’t to say service was slow but there were some inconsistenies with the wait times. The time between our appetizers and our entrees was a little long but not too long that we even thought about rushing the kitchen.
Most of us were too full for dessert but that didn’t stop us from trying a few things. I went for the ice cream cones ($6) which came as a pair that looked like they were shot with a shrink ray. The ice cream was a little too soft but the flavors really come out with the nuts and the cone giving a nice crunch along with all that sweetness.
The mini churros ($6), on the other hand, were amazing. Made to order, they’re piping hot out of the kitchen with nice coat of sugar. Bite through the crispy outer shell and the inside fluffy and warm. It comes with three dipping sauces with the raspberry and caramel flavors getting the most love.
Sidecut is a fantastic steakhouse, on par with the best I’ve been to in Vancouver. The impeccably prepared food and the high level of service makes for a totally awesome dining experience. Yes, your wallet is going to feel it as prices are not exactly thrifty but you get what you pay for. You can have an absolutely amazing time for around $70 a person (steak, appetizer, a side, and a cocktail) but it can get pretty expensive rather quickly. The longbone, for example, comes out to just over $100 a person and if you go for it with more wine, other drinks, more sides and dessert, it can climb to $200 easily. Even then, I didn’t feel like anyone was getting ripped off.
However, while some fine dining establishments leave you wanting, we left Sidecut totally stuffed and with big smiles on our faces. It’s a lot to spend on a single meal but it’s worth it if you want to splurge and have some fun.
Summary: One of the best steakhouses around. They aren’t kidding when it comes to steak and some of the appetizers like the agnolotti give the mains a run of their money. You’re going to be paying quite a bit for dinner at Sidecut but the combination of great food and top notch service in a warm, fun environment make the fine dining prices easier to swallow. Some issues: not every dish gets an A+, service can be a touch slow and they can get a little heavy handed with spice but the steaks are top quality and carnivorously good. It isn’t somewhere you can dine every day (unless you’re Oprah-rich) but for a special occasion, spoil yourself a little. My friends and I will be talking about this meal for years.