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VANCOUVER -- After 17 years in the police force in Israel, some of it as a chief forensic inspector, dealing with incidents we’ve witnessed in the world news, Eran Rozen had enough.
He resigned. He moved to Vancouver three years ago and immediately turned his attention to his passion – cooking. He’s loved cooking since boyhood; in fact, he cooked for his own bar mitzvah.
Quelling my astonishment, he says: “It was only 20 people,” he says. Only? He was 13!
In Vancouver, he enrolled at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, worked for a French patisserie and a catering company, then finally, about eight months ago, opened his place.
“I’m not a young guy but I put all my love into my dishes,” he says.
Gaia Bistro is about the foods from the Mediterranean areas near his homeland so the menu cruises the Middle East, Greece, southern France, Italy and North Africa. They’re all cuisines which influence modern Israeli cuisine.
I’d definitely give residents in or near Kerrisdale a heads up about Gaia. You get really good value. Where else can you get good coq au vin for $14?
His love for his second career is obvious. He makes everything from the demi-glace to desserts himself (except for the cheesecakes which he buys from Trees Organic, a coffee shop which has earned a reputation for their cheesecakes).
Dishes are bistro style, not fussy or primped, but it’s good honest cooking, with lots of organics, including the coffee and some of the wines and beers.
The meal starts with an amuse bouche, a plate with tabbouli, Asian pear/mint/orange salad, and olives. And the water is perfumed with mint, lemon and rosewater (just a hint of the latter, lest it be cloying).
The two main dishes I’ve tried were a big deal, as in what a bargain. The aforementioned coq au vin, came with a rich, reduced wine sauce. The chicken had flavour (don’t laugh, it often doesn’t) but the wild rice turned out to be flecks sprinkled amid white rice.
Duck breast with pomegranate demi-glace was really tender and was a very reasonable $18.
A goulash appetizer was an almost-meal-sized beef stew ($9); nothing special but it was hearty. Rosemary panisse (a chickpea flour cake from southern France) sandwiched feta, basil and a sun-dried tomato mix and was served with a side salad.
Other offerings include lamb osso bucco, shakshuka (a North African dish with vegetables and free-range eggs cooked over low heat and served either with feta cheese or spicy sausage).
Luna’s puff pastry is an homage to his grandmother. It’s a savoury pastry stuffed with roasted eggplant, Balkan cheese, beef, pine nuts or with spinach and feta – just $3.95.
The desserts on display looked inviting. Of two I tried, pear and almond tart and almond cake, the latter was the better. (The former turned too pasty in the mouth.) The ground almonds lent a marzipan taste and it was a straight forward, not too sweet, end to the meal.
He also does a Turkish rice pudding (with rosewater and orange blossom), a financier and crème brulee.
The food is honest and offers very good value but the wines could be improved. Many are pedestrian (the mediocre Mouton Cadet’s gotta go); even a sit-down with an LCB staffer might help hone a good-value wine list to match the food.
Rozen says he wanted to name his first restaurant after his grandmother, Luna, but the name was already taken.
Instead, there’s a photograph of her on the wall.