Labour of love
We dig it when local chefs offer set menus, because 1) we’re indecisive, 2) we’re adventurous (or at least we think we are), and 3) we believe that chefs love doing it and that translates into creative and exciting meals. There is a small handful of restaurants in town that offer regular set menu dining, but aside from them, the opportunity to dine this way elsewhere usually only comes up at special occasions, like Valentine’s Day. We were eager to visit The Nest Bistro this past Valentine’s weekend for their set menu experience.
The Nest has been around for 10+ years now. It used to be on Franklyn St. in the same spot formerly occupied by the underappreciated Fiddlehead Bistro and currently home to Flavours of India. Nest now lives up on Skinner St. in downtown Nanaimo. It’s another one of these places that looks like it might once have been a house, long since converted into a small restaurant. If you can get a window seat, and if the interior lights are dim enough, you can get a nice evening view of Terminal Ave. while you eat.
Upon arrival this particular night we were promptly greeted and taken to our table. Our server was quickly with us, introduced himself, and got right to telling us about their wine special that night. We often flip flop on the decision between red and white, so the wine special being a bubbly rosé was perfect for us this Valentine’s. For wine snobs, Nest doesn’t quite have the same extensive inventory as a place like Mélange, but there is a reasonable enough selection on offer here that you’ll find something you like.
We each found something we liked on the set food menu (we always do!). To start, she ordered the baked brie and he had the baby shrimp salad. The food came out promptly.
The baked brie was not just a chunk of warm cheese like your mom might make, but was actually a small portion of the soft cheese served in a phyllo pouch. This came with crostini (the delivery vehicle) and some pear chutney to zhuzh it up a bit. Together, this was a great appetizer to start to the meal. The brie was warm and the phyllo flaky. The chutney was lightly spiced and nice.
The baby shrimp salad was quite special. The shrimp meat was served in a creamy herbed cocktail sauce and plated over a mix of greens including endive leaves and radish shoots. It was quite a pretty food and one we enjoyed slowly savouring. We did find the lemon vinaigrette to be a bit too potent for the delicate shrimp though.
For mains, she ordered the crusted baked cod with tomato risotto and vegetables. The dish was served with a dressing of butter sauce that raelly upped the richness. The fish itself was perfectly cooked. The breadcumb crust had just the right amount of crunch to offset the delicateness of the fish. Where this meal really shined, though, was the risotto. The tomato flavour was bold, but the rice creamy and rich, and every bite was eye-roll-in-the-back-of-your head pleasurable. We’d like a bucket of that again please. The vegetables were also good and included some pickled cabbage that was really quite tasty.
For him, dinner was the rib-eye steak with garlic mashed potatoes, vegetables, and port demiglaze (all pictured above). This kind of meal is usually a bit too traditional for us when eating out, but this time out it happened to have been a long time since we’d had a big old hunk of cow, and we just couldn’t resist.
Lordy, did the Nest’s chef deliver. This was one of the richest, most flavourful steaks we’ve had in a while. The port demiglaze made us basically want to go home and put that s*%t on everything. We actually had to pause eating to just luxuriate in the flavour of the glazed meat. Holy smokes. Just scroll up and take a look it it. You want it too, right?
Aaaanyway, the garlic potatoes were the right consistency and not too garlicy, and the vegetables were well cooked and included more of that delightful pickled cabbage. This was one of the best meals we’ve had in recent memory and it wasn’t just the half bottle of wine speaking this time.
Like most set menus, dessert was included so we opted for the tiramisu special and the ice cream sandwich. Both were well-presented and tasted great. The cookies used in the ice cream sandwich were shaped like little hearts. Adorable.
The service we received throughout the night was good. We particularly appreciated that our server was attentive enough to make sure our wine glasses were always topped up, but avoided being intrusive. (After all, it was Valentine’s. We were preoccupied with staring into each other’s eyes and expressing our deepest feelings towards each other!)
Our bill for the whole dinner came to $180. This included approximately $40 for wine and a reasonable, if not slightly generous, tip. We consider this to be fair value considering this was a special event night. The Nest’s standard menu isn’t cheap either, but there is gourmet food to be eaten and the value is there.
The Nest Bistro is one you’ve almost certainly heard of. Perhaps you just haven’t made the trek to its corner of downtown to try out. Or perhaps it’s just been a while. It’s time you fix that. It’s not always a special event night at the restaurant, but in our visit they provided excellent menu options, good wine, professional service, and most importantly, great taste. We recommend it and look forward to returning.