The Aura of the off hours

The "inbetween hours" was what we were looking for

The 'inbetween hours' of Aura offer fine restaurant experience.

The 'inbetween hours' of Aura offer fine restaurant experience.

Weekend wandering without thought of time or schedule is my weekly craving. In warmer weather, I saunter and daydream until the need to sit, sip and chew becomes more desirable. Usually it doesn’t take long.

On Sunday, I wandered along the Inner Harbour with another food-loving soul, past the big bold sounds of marching bands and groups of teens costumed in early whispers of summer, along the green side paths and into the quiet and sophisticated arms of Aura (690 Montreal). Despite the dining hours specificity (7-11 breakfast, 10-2 Sunday brunch, 11:30-2 lunch and 5-9 dinner) the ‘inbetween hours’ was what we were looking for, a hotel lobby without the rush, a dining room without waits, and smooth glass tables with beautiful afternoon cocktails.

We came to the right place. Aura not only has a very extensive wine list that leaves you feeling like you’re into a good novel set in the hills and valleys of B.C. and Europe, but also a cocktail list that evokes nostalgia for a good westcoast spa. Ingredients like muddled cucumber and mint, elderflower and lemon dominate the menu with prices ranging from $8.50 for signature martinis (although the name is touristy, try the Butchart Gardens with sauvignon blanc, vodka, muddled grapes and elderflower) and $12 for premium martinis (you could simply not lose with a Victoria Gin martini, especially with the addition of cucumber).

I opted for a mellow glass of Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc ($9) while my companion was greatly delighted to receive a thyme-infused grapefruit and soda (beautiful pregnant friends take note, the virgin French Beach will relieve the blues of temporary abstinence).

With the clock ticking well into the late afternoon, I was happily surprised to see both brunch and lunch options. Although I did not find anything on the menu that may cure my fancy for fiddleheads, I did note that the Wild BC Mushroom Omelet ($16) with carmelized onion, baby spinach and brie would be a close calling. The Dungeness & Snow Crab Benedict ($16) also looked especially appealing due to both the promise of Oceanwise seafood and the wonders of arugula pesto.

The Smoked Albacore Tuna Sandwich ($14) with crisp double smoked bacon, tomato, butter leaf lettuce, avocado and basil aioli, and the Aura Classic Ceasar ($11) with a side of herb and garlic butter prawns ($8) was what made the final cut. Thick triangles of beautiful tuna topped the thin and elegant layers of sandwich while the Ceasar arrived, also with bacon, and a delicately balanced white anchovy vinaigrette and parmesan reggiano.

Dessert should have been cheese with the selection of both Canadian and International cheeses. Plates of cheeses and condiments ($15 to $21 for up to 5 cheeses and 3 condiments) served with Raincoast crisps would make for a pleasant afternoon. Saint Agur, La Roubine de Noyan, and the Beemster would be my choice with blood orange marmalade and smoked salt and pepper cashews. Sea Cider Pommeau Cider ($9) and Mt. Boucherie Late Harvest Pinot Noir ($7) are highlights of the dessert menu. It would also be worth flipping back a few pages in the wine menu to order the Vista d’Oro Walnut Port ($12) from Langley.

Although not all desserts are available before 5 p.m., our curiousity was fixated on the Dessert Tasting for Two ($21), a generous sampling of surprise sweets such as black cherry gelato, dark chocolate pate, apple toffee cheesecake and butternut squash creme brulee.

Seating areas are flexible for night and day and the staff knows how to make sure it appears you are in the best spot possible, even if you are within the intimate proximity of possibly the worst first in-person internet date conversation ever witnessed. This together with canned jazz may bring you close to the mood of Sofia Coppola’s newest movie, Somewhere, but there is something artistically melancholic to be harnessed. Seek the patio (now open) for a little more open space if the opportunity seems far-fetched.

With no rush required and service professionally aloof, the evening seemed anything but urgent, although I know Aura fills to the brim for dinner. Executive Chef Takashi Ito even had time to wander through upon our departure to say goodbye. M

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