509 Fisgard St.
I went to Ulla for the second time, and the overall experience was pleasant. The dining room was full, so we were whisked away to the bar seating. We ordered a bottle of red wine, and sipped away until the bartender took our order. We started with the arancini(basically deep fried mushroom risotto croquettes) and frisee salad,and truffled mayo. For my main, I ordered the crispy chicken with israeli couscous and carrot puree. My friend ordered the pork tenderloin with bacon cheddar apple hash. The flavours of everything worked very well together. The pork was very tender, and the Israeli couscous won me over. We had an apple dessert, with apple sorbet, a genoise cake, and sous-vide apple and iced yoghurt. Last time I went here I had a dessert that had a similar cake and it came with frozen yoghurt too, maybe they have a running variation of cake with fruit, and yoghurt.
Suggestions: I don’t think the bartender should serve people who sit at the bar, because it took him quite some time to even talk to us, let alone take our order, perhaps a server should take all the orders. The arancini were flavourful, but the casing( maybe panko?) was hard to cut into. Overall, the food here is quite rich, but the portioning is good so you don’t feel too heavy. My last visit I wasn’t particularly fond of the sous-vide preparation of the short rib steak that I had, but for my friends pork tenderloin, it was stellar. You can feel the excitement in the menu, because sous-vide was a preparation for a few things on the menu( the steak, the pork tenderloin and the apple dessert), but I’d like to see some other molecular gastronomy techniques in the future menu, if that’s the direction they want to go in. Lastly, the pork craquelin/rind on top of the pork dish was difficult to eat, it was dry and not enjoyable to try and chew, and the shape wasn’t flattering on the plate.
Ulla has definitely found a niche in the market, I hope they continue expanding. I wish the young owners the best of luck.
Ahh, the much-anticipated Ulla visit. There has been a lot of buzz about this restaurant in the past few months, and I’m glad I went tonight to investigate. I made reservations with ease, due to the amiable and helpful voice on the receiving end. The pictures that Ulla has displayed on Facebook provide accurate expectations for your dinner there, artistic and thoughtful presentations.
The space is open with nice light coming in from the windows. The high ceilings allow for the indulgent light-ball fixtures ballooning over the dining room.The tables are casual, as are the staff who work here. A pleasant woman with blonde hair took us under her wing for the evening, chiming in with useful information and colourful commentary at the best of times. The restaurant seemed quite busy even at the time we ate( around 9:30). We found ourselves looking around for our server a few times , but there was a lot keeping the few staff preoccupied.
DL was visiting from Vancouver, and being the H-core foodie he is, I knew he would be down to try Ulla. We started with the grilled octopus salad with new potatoes and watercress salad( $12), and the Momofuku-style( inspired by David Chang’s iconic NYC eatery) chicken wings( $12). For our main course, we split a sous-vide beef short-rib with cauliflower tortellini, wilted spinach,king oyster mushroom and red-wine reduction($24). I sipped on a glass of white with the appetizers and a glass of Malbec for the shortrib main.
The octopus salad( as warned) was dangerously tender. I was reluctant to try octopus, especially since it is local giant pacific, but I only felt guilty eating it because it tasted so good… The texture was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before, the potatoes were cooked perfectly, with a nice amount of acid permeating the plate. The potatoes were subtle, but I felt they were almost a bit safe, subdued when a bit of salt and pepper may have elevated their purpose. The chicken wings were brined, smoked, and fried. Sounds like a great process for just about any type of meat. DL commented how, on first smell and bite, it tasted like eating ham on the bone. The chicken took on a new persona, with asian flavours, sake and mirin and scallions. I was smelling an aroma like peanut oil, but it may have been the smoke treatment. The wings were a show-stopper.
Our latter dishes of the evening both had a cooking technique in common: sous-vide. Sous-vide involves a controlled water-bath with a consistent optimum temperature, depending on what you’re cooking. The beef short rib was sous-vide, as was the rhubarb in the dessert. I’ve seen it done on many cooking shows, Top Chef, MasterChef, or Iron Chef. The verdict: It’s a bit over-rated. Perhaps it was just the execution of these dishes, but I didn’t taste a significant difference in the texture of these items. The rhubarb was less fibrous than I would expect, but it wasn’t revolutionary.
The short-rib was a rosy pink, and most-importantly the ripples of fat were tender and not chewy. I found some of the edges of the meat to be a bit dry, but DL found his to be quite juicy. I could lap up a quart of the red wine sauce, truly decadent and velvety. The cauliflower came in a few forms( reminds me of my meal at Aura), the caramelized baby-florets and the puree within the house-made tortellini. I found everything on this plate to be seasoned to my liking, which isn’t easy seeing my hothouse orchid tendencies. I also appreciated the temperatures of all the elements on the plate, it really showed the skill of the chef. The spinach was delightful, the mushroom was scored and piping hot. My only beef with this dish( pardon the pun), was the texture of the three tortellini’s. The edges were still a bit chewy, another 30 seconds would have been perfectly al dente. I thought using a puree inside the tortellini was interesting as well, a bit sexual, but a fun surprise.
We ended the meal with a dacquoise topped with sous-vide rhubarb, fresh strawberries, frozen yoghurt, a tart coulis, and candied orange peel($7). I could have snacked on a bag of that orange peel…hmm. The dacquoise wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it had good flavour. The balance of tart rhubarb and the sweetness of strawberries is an age-old classic. The frozen yoghurt had a peculiar texture, and the temperature contrast was welcomed with every bite I took.
Overall: I’m glad I went to Ulla. The menu is small, and the wine list is equally minimized. I like having fewer options, it usually means the chef knows what he’s doing, and doing them near perfection. Despite my few little nit-picks, I would go back to see if the menu changes frequently and according to season.