Chef Steve of NFA invited me to review his food and I brought along 11 other Vancouver food bloggers to sample his 6 course feast. Being the nice fellow that he is, he gave us a discount, but the regular price of $50 is very reasonable.
The NFA is hosted out of Steve’s apartment, which offers a surprisingly spacious and comfortable dining room for 10-12. A central chalk board outlines the 6 courses in store for you, which typically revolve around the house specialty, pork belly. This is a not a meal for vegetarians.
The location, of course, is a closely guarded secret, but I can tell you it is in the heart of kits. Due to noise complaints from the neighbors, NFA is seeking a new location, and dinners need to wind down by a decent hour (11ish). Maybe it is part of the mystery of the underground restaurant, but piecing together all the dinner details via email was a bit of an effort and a pre-written FAQ would go a long way.
Steve serves very high-end and bold cuisine and it was shocking that it all comes out of his small kitchen. We also found it amazing that all his cooking efforts did not overpower the room; I have no idea how he is ventilating the place, but it is working. Being a home-based service, the only real difference that bothered me a bit was holding onto our cutlery through 6 courses, but I cannot really blame him for that. Otherwise it is like restaurant service with the intimacy and privacy of a dinner party. If you aren’t having fun, you brought the wrong people.
Like all of the underground restaurants, you bring your own wine and there is no corkage fee. A large bucket of ice is provided for the whites. Guidance on what vintage to bring though, is slight. We all ended up bringing Bordeaux and mostly reds, which seemed a good match to me.
We started with a delicious and generous portion of thai beef salad, one of the best I have ever had. If i could get this as take-out, I would be eating it all the time. Up second was a trio of scallops: a delicious carpacio, a seared scallop with miso, leek and apple. And a third with a caper and raisin emulsion and delicious caramelized cauliflower.
Next was the main event, the slow-cooked fennel pork belly. This dish was of great anticipation, and I admit a tiny bit of fear, as it was my first pork belly - if you do not count top chef viewing. Pork belly is a lot more layered and has a lot more meat than I anticipated, and I found it delicious. It is of course rich and the top layer was deliciously chewey and I had no trouble enjoying it thoroughly. It was served over a bed of a coarse mashed potato, with endives, prosciutto and roasted garlic.
We followed with a grapefruit sorbet course to cleanse our pallets, with candied ginger and campari. This was delicious, but I found the grapefruit and the ginger very strong for a cleanser.
Sablefish was up next, with an intense Cantonese vegetable sauce, and bok choy and croquette. I enjoyed this, but there was some discussion about its texture, and Steve informed us that sometimes Sable fish can be mushy from enzymes, as in this case. But I did not find this to be as big an issue as some at our table did, but then I was nearing food coma and not feeling very critical. The croquette however was heavy and huge and not what I needed at this point in the meal.
Finally, just when I thought I might pass out, we finished with a dark chocolate mouse with raspberry coulis and hazelnut. This was rich and delicious and huge. A knock-out punch. I would like to meet this as a midnight snack one day. After the other courses I could barely do it justice.
In summary, Steve’s menu is a serious menu, it has gravity. And this was my main criticism, the meal was too heavy. There were too many strong components, heavy sauces and bitter vegetables. Even the sorbet refresher was very bold. The meal would have been a lot better with a more delicate touch and slightly smaller portions. That said, it was a delight, enjoyed by all. Steve and his sous chef were extremely friendly, while at the same time leaving us to enjoy our dinner. I would not hesitate to book another dinner at NFA, and I recommend it to any hungry, meat-eating group curious about the underground scene.
Other reviews, with more photos: