I haven’t purchased a package from VANEATS.ca since my meal at Ebisu a year ago. I remember that meal as being fulfilling, but admittedly lacklustre. Still, I purchased the package available for Siddhartha’s Indian Kitchen, a small, relatively new Indian restaurant on the Drive. I love Indian food and hadn’t had it in a while, and the reviews of the package seemed quite positive overall. So on a rainy Monday, SB and I headed down the Drive to redeem our meal for two.
The restaurant itself was clean, but a bit empty during our visit. I suppose that’s to be expected for a small restaurant on a Monday night, though. We took our seats by the window and informed the server of our VanEats package, and added on another curry for good measure. The package itself cost $18.
The first dish of our meal to arrive was the Aloo Tiki, two crispy potato cakes served with a blend of Delhi, tamarind, and mango sauces topped with pomegranate and cilantro. The first dish of any meal is important in setting the tone for the entire meal, especially if it’s your first visit to the restaurant. Sadly, this dish was a flop. On the bright side, these little cakes were crispy on the outside, which was a nice textural contrast from the dense inside. However, parts of the inside were seriously cold, like it had just come out of the freezer. It was just unacceptable and inedible. There was really no excuse for this, especially considering that there were only two tables occupied at this point in our meal (and the other table hadn’t even ordered yet). The sauces were both sweet and savoury, and reminded me of tonkatsu sauce. It would have been a good dish otherwise, but the inside being frozen and cold was just a horrible first experience. We were seriously unimpressed by this, which set the tone for the rest of the meal.
Next up, we had the Cucumber Salad, which was a small portion of fresh cucumber, onion, tomato, and bell peppers. The veggies seemed fresh, which is all I really ask for in a salad. It was a refreshing way to clear our palates when sampling our various curries.
The curries included in the VanEats package were the Chicken Korma on the left and the Butter Chicken on the right. Of these two, we preferred the korma, which tasted strongly of coconut. It was creamy and sweet, but also had a spicy aftertaste that we enjoyed. However, the meat was quite dry, which could have been fixed if it had been served in smaller pieces. Meanwhile, the butter chicken was different from what we’ve had at other Indian restaurants. It was quite thick and creamy, and for some reason reminded us of Campbell’s mushroom soup. It had less of a strong tomato flavour, and the chicken again was quite dry. The creamy texture of it was so overwhelming that we couldn’t really notice much else about the dish. The accompanying rice was undercooked and quite hard in some places, although it was of a decent portion size.
Lastly, we also added the Chennai Lamb Curry ($13.99), figuring that we wouldn’t get full from the VanEats package alone. I personally love lamb, but I wasn’t a huge fan of this. The curry itself was very oily (as you can see from the photo), and incredibly salty. The more you ate of it, the more you noticed the saltiness. It was fine when eaten with the rice, but it was still a tad too salty for my tastes. The lamb, like the chicken in the other curries, was quite dry, and served in large pieces. To their credit, it didn’t taste overly gamy, as tends to happen with lamb. There were no other real discernible ingredients in the curry other than the lamb–no potatoes or anything, which made it a bit uninteresting to eat as well.
In any case, I would categorize our dinner at Siddhartha’s as unmemorable. Although the rest of the meal was average, the frozen inside of the aloo tiki left us sorely unimpressed and a tad disturbed. Still, judging by the number of positive reviews they’ve garnered online, it appears that our experience doesn’t reflect on their usual food preparation practices. Still, as much as I love Indian food, I probably wouldn’t return to Siddhartha’s again.
Siddhartha’s Indian Kitchen
2066 Commercial Drive
Spaghetei recently opened near Robson and Denman, taking over a space previously occupied by Benkei Ramen. SB, Dolph, Justin and I decided to try out this new restaurant and its somewhat unfamiliar specialty, Japanese-style pasta. When we visited, the restaurant was still in its soft opening phase. This meant that our food was discounted by 30%, but that they were also only accepting cash as payment.
We started off with some complimentary Pesto-Garlic Bread, with one piece being brought out for each person at the table. At first, we we were somewhat disconcerted by the vibrant green colour of the bread, but it simply tasted like regular garlic bread. It was well-toasted, crisp, and warm. This was accompanied by some kind of Soup or broth that looked like water with a few lettuce shreds floating around. We couldn’t really identify what this was, except that it tasted vaguely salty. Well, I’m not going to complain about free food, so whatever.
SB decided on the Meat Sauce ($11) pasta, which was spaghetti with minced beef and vegetables topped with a Japanese Bolognese sauce, sprinkled with grated cheddar cheese. He thought that this dish lacked a clear Japanese element. The tomato flavour was quite mild, while the meat sauce itself was a little bit thin. I found the dish to be a bit bland overall, and would have appreciated some pepper, which wasn’t provided at the tables. The noodles were also done a bit past al dente, although SB found that this didn’t hinder his enjoyment of his meal.
I opted for the Mentaiko ($13), spaghetti tossed in spicy cod roe with button mushrooms and dried seaweed. I’ve always been partial to the mentaiko udon at Sushi Garden, so I thought this would be right up my alley. Sadly, though, I preferred the version at Sushi Garden, which has enoki mushrooms and tastes a lot cheesier. I found the portion size to be a bit small for $13 (although we only paid 70% of this price because of their promotion). Overall, this dish was quite average. It was a tad spicy, but overall quite mild, which I suppose is characteristic of most Japanese food. The four of us thought that it tasted the most Japanese out of the four dishes we ordered–possibly due to the cod roe and the seaweed. The mushrooms included in the dishes had a strange spiciness to them that reminded me of wasabi for some reason. While I enjoyed my lunch, I didn’t think that it was worth $13.
Justin had the Neapolitan ($12), which to my disappointment wasn’t spaghetti with chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream, but instead spaghetti in a mild ketchup sauce and served with chicken, bacon, sausages, and vegetables. Described on the menu as a “Japanese all-time classic”, it was again quite mild. There was nothing wrong with the dish itself, with all the meats being cooked correctly, but it failed to draw us in. The noodles themselves were again quite chewy and had good bite.
Lastly, Dolph, our resident noodle aficionado, had the Butter and Soy Sauce ($13), which included shrimp, mushrooms, and spinach. She commented that the sauce tasted exactly like what she expected–simply butter and soy sauce mixed together. Like the rest of us, she failed to see anything extraordinary about the dish, commenting that it tasted like something that could easily be made at home. I suppose that the homey quality of the food could also be seen as a positive aspect of the restaurant, though.
I think that overall, the four of us enjoyed our lunch at Spaghetei, although that might be due to the excellent company we had in each other rather than the food. We were curious about the restaurant itself, since the concept of Japanese pasta isn’t a widespread one in Vancouver, despite the prevalence of other types of Japanese food available to us. The food was decent, but bordered on bland, and in general I felt that my mom could whip up many of the dishes on the menu. I also wasn’t sure about the Japanese influence on the dishes that we sampled. Still, the service is attentive, and there is a certain charming quality to the homeyness of the dishes that we sampled, so I would recommend that you give Spaghetei a try.
1741 Robson Street
After a tiring day of shopping at the Seattle Premium Outlets, my family decided to eat out for dinner, since my mom was too exhausted to cook anything. We decided to try out Sushi K Kamizato, which had been recommended to me by my friend Pickles. It’s a small restaurant located in a fairly new complex of buildings which include a large Shoppers Drug Mart and a pet supply store.
I found the decor of the restaurant interesting. It’s a blend of modern, minimalist furniture, traditional Japanese elements, and, somewhat oddly, a wall of LP covers. From this, I figured that the chef is a fan of classic rock–an inference supported by the music that was playing throughout our visit. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this, partly because I had somewhat of a headache after the long drive, but also because I didn’t feel that the music really complemented the atmosphere of the restaurant, or the food. I suppose that’s just nitpicking on my part though.
We started off with four small bowls of complimentary Salmon and Tuna Karaage. The bite-size morsels of fish had been freshly fried in a light layer of batter, and drizzled with what tasted like spicy Japanese mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce. These pieces of fish still retained a tiny bit of their natural fishiness, which I enjoyed–why eat fish if you can’t stand a little fishiness? Overall, these unexpected snacks were a pleasant way to start off the meal, and gave off a positive impression, especially to us as first-time patrons of the restaurant.
We shortly received our order of Appetizer Sashimi ($9.95), which included two pieces each of tuna, wild salmon, ebi, and hokkigai. The fish itself was incredibly fresh and obviously of a high quality. If you’re used to the huge portions and low prices at Sushi Garden, this might seem a bit pricey, but here the focus is clearly on quality over quantity. Still, the slices of tuna and salmon were quite large. I liked that the sashimi was served alongside some cucumber slices, which we used to clear our palates.
I felt bloated from having spent the majority of my day sitting in a small car, so I decided on the Tuna Tataki Salad ($9), which consisted of baby spinach, slices of cucumber, cubes of tuna tataki, and some small pieces of pickled daikon, red pepper, and some other pickled veggies. The dressing was a mixture of vinaigrette and soy sauce. This was exactly what I wanted from my salad, as the veggies were fresh and crisp, and the tataki was perfectly seared and flavourful. I especially enjoyed all the tiny pieces of daikon, which added an extra crunch and refreshing acidity.
My brother, meanwhile, had the Tuna Don ($11.95). There were two kinds of tuna here: the regular slices of tuna sashimi, alongside tuna in some kind of spicy mixture with pickled veggies and julienned carrots. We were especially impressed with the chef’s attention to detail, exhibited in these small pieces of ginger dispersed throughout the rice, which added an element of freshness to the meal. However, I suppose this could be a turn-off for people who dislike the taste of ginger, though. The fish itself was fresh and tasty, without being too mushy, as tuna often is.
My dad had the Chicken Teriyaki Teishoku ($8.95), which included ebi sunomono, miso soup, and rice. The sunomono was tasty, while we found the miso soup a tad salty (which is nothing unusual). Although the food came in a small quantity, nothing was amiss. The chicken was moist, and the whole thing wasn’t doused in overly sweet or salty teriyaki sauce. The flavours were quite mild, which we appreciated. I liked how this version of chicken teriyaki tasted very clean and allowed the simple ingredients to shine.
My mom opted for the Yakisoba ($8.95), which comes with either chicken or veggies. It was a small portion size, but the chicken was once again nice and moist. This bordered on being bland, but my family happens to prefer bland food to oversauced dishes, so it was perfectly fine for us. The noodles were chewy and had good bite. Overall, we were pleased with this dish, although I personally prefer it when yakisoba is served on a sizzling hotplate.
Lastly, we also had an Appetizer Tempura ($5) to share. This consisted of two prawns, and two pieces of carrot, and one piece of zucchini. The tempura had clearly been freshly fried in clean oil. It arrived at our table quite hot, but the veggies were still naturally crisp underneath the light layer of batter. Along with the requisite dipping sauce, this was also served with some grated daikon. As far as tempura goes, this was excellent, satisfying our craving for deep-fried food while not leaving us feeling too disgusting for having consumed it.
Overall, we were pleased with our experience at Sushi K Kamizato, although it failed to eclipse Matoi Sushi as our all-time favourite spot. I would happily recommend this restaurant to anyone in the neighbourhood, and will definitely return to try their specialty rolls, which we weren’t in the mood to try during this visit.
Sushi K Kamizato
2105-2850 Shaughnessy Street
Port Coquitlam, BC
Mid-April: that time of year when university students (in Vancouver, at least) are drowning in final papers and exams. Luckily enough for me, my exam schedule this year ended relatively early (although this resulted simply because I had all four of my exams within three days). SB’s last exam was on the day after mine ended, so we decided to celebrate by having dinner–and for this celebratory dinner, I chose Baan Wasana, recommended to me by my friend Chris.
Baan Wasana is located in this charmingly quaint area of Kerrisdale, across the street from Faubourg and just a few bus stops away from Oakridge Centre. Compared to other shops in the area, its storefront may appear a bit shoddy, but the inside is clean, pretty, and surprisingly upscale. However, the prices are still affordable (around the $10 mark), so we ordered our food without feeling too overwhelmed.
First, we shared the Satay ($8.75 for 4 pieces). We chose to have chicken, but pork and beef were also available. These skewers were served with Thai peanut sauce and cucumber relish. The peanut sauce was a bit thin and watery, and we would have preferred it to be thicker and more flavourful. The cucumber relish was vinegary and refreshing, especially in contrast with the chicken. Meanwhile, the chicken itself was quite moist, and while I’m not enough of an expert to identify the different spices used, I could still taste the different spices that the meat had been marinated in. The meat also came off the skewers quite easily, although we would have preferred to be given knives, as the only utensils provided were forks and spoons.
Moving onwards to the entrees, SB had the Raad Naa ($10.95), which was a stir-fried rice noodle dish in soya gravy, with Chinese broccoli and chicken (or pork). Neither of us had even heard of the dish before so we weren’t sure what to expect, but here goes. The gravy had a very strong savoury flavour that we guessed was due to the use of MSG. (And after the meal, both of us did get quite thirsty, which was also probably due to the use of MSG). The gravy was quite thick and gloopy, and would have probably congealed if left alone for a bit. The noodles themselves were very soft and not at all chewy, lacking what I love best about flat rice noodles. This was an acceptable dish considering that we randomly picked it from the menu, but we probably wouldn’t order this again.
And, of course, I had the requisite Pad Thai ($10.95), which came with a choice of either prawns, chicken, or veggies. You can also choose the level of spiciness that you would like. (Having been warned by Chris, I ordered it mild, and it stil had a strong spicy aftertaste after each bite). As you can see, I chose the prawns, of which there were four. These prawns were on the large size and had a nice snap to them. Although this dish looked promising, and I ate quite a bit of it, it was a bit lacking. The noodles could have been chewier, and the pressed tofu was served in tiny pieces that made it difficult to really taste anything. Moreover, this pad thai simply didn’t have the X factor. It lacked that tangy, sour taste that I strongly associate with pad thai, and in the end, it simply wasn’t memorable. It wasn’t a bad plate of noodles by any means, but it was not outstanding.
Would we visit Baan Wasana again? Perhaps. If we were in the neighbourhood and I didn’t feel like spending a lot of money, this would probably be a good option. Both of us were quite full at the end of our meal, and our bill totaled to less than $40 after tax and tip. Although the food was acceptable here, it didn’t completely satisfy my craving for Thai food.
Baan Wasana Thai
2143 West 41st Avenue
The corner strip mall on Austin and North Road holds a special place in my heart, as my favourite Burnaby HK Style Cafe when I was little was located next to the current Sushi California. Its name was something like Big Wok, which sounds silly but hey, I was 8, names didn’t matter as long as the food was good.
Unfortunately, my fave spot closed down, and has since been through several incarnations, all of which stuck to the HK Style Cafe cuisine. The most recent replacement is called E2 Cafe (but in Chinese it’s Butterfly something-or-other), and it was with a little apprehension that I went there with my mom one day.
See, my reason for not being so excited was that the last few restaurants that took over weren’t that great. The food was bad, the service was awful, and the restaurant itself wasn’t very clean (actually, a lot of the older HK cafes are pretty questionable…). My visit to the last one left a less-than-stellar taste in my mouth, but my mom ended up dragging me to this one, telling me that it’ll maybe, probably, definitely be better.
The HK Café is often a mixture of Asian and Western dishes (rather, Western dishes with an Asian twist, like spaghetti in a ketchup-based sauce), and E2 seems to be holding true to this style. On the menu here were various appetizers and Western mini specials (for Afternoon Tea), as well as stir-fries and the pick-your-own noodle combos that are permeating many restaurants.
I went for the Noodle Combo ($7.95), and much like my visit to Deer Garden, I opted for a Malaysian Laksa soup base with rice noodles, but had fried fish cake and pork balls for my meat choices. Each bowl of noodles also comes with siu choy, long slippery slices of bean curd, and a sprinkling of cilantro and green onion. I felt that the Laksa wasn’t nearly as spicy or coconut-y as I’d have preferred—in fact, it was rather bland. However, the noodles were prepared perfectly, and there was an abundance of them in the soup, as well as a large amount of toppings. I’m certain that the balls and fish cake were previously frozen, but they still had a good chew to them, so there isn’t too much to complain about there. Despite my lack of enthusiasm about the soup, this was a great deal; there was so much in the bowl, I ended up having to take part of it home.
I really wanted chicken wings that night, so I added an order of Desert Fried Chicken Wings ($2.95 with the noodle combo; $8.95 as a 10-piece appetizer). Guys: I swear these are probably the best chicken wings I’ve had at an Asian diner. Perfectly seasoned and deep-fried, these were crunchy on the outside, but the meat remained juicy on the inside. I probably could devour an entire plate of this by myself if I didn’t order the noodles, and every time I pass by the restaurant, my mouth starts watering from the memory of those wings.
As with most HK Cafes, the meals come with a drink; the great thing about E2 is that the cold drinks are free of charge too, which is a rarity in the Lower Mainland. The last restaurant I went to that had free cold drinks ended up changing their policy within a month. Now paying an extra $1.50 isn’t that big a deal (think about how expensive it is to order drinks at other restaurants!)… but obviously I had to take advantage of this. Needing to stay up to write a paper that night, I went for the HK Style Milk Tea. This was exactly what I was hoping for—there was a good balance of black tea and milk, and the syrup came on the side, so I could choose how sweet I wanted it to be. My mom had a Hot Lemon Tea. There isn’t too much to say about this—the drink was hot, the lemons were fresh, and nothing tasted amiss.
My mom ordered a Mix and Match Combo ($10.75 2 choices, $12.95 3 choices), and chose lamb chops, ox tongue and steak as her meats. These set meals, a staple of HK Cafes, come with soup (sometimes bread), the entree, side of spaghetti/rice/veggies/fries, side sauce, and drink. Out of cream and Borscht, my mom chose the HK Style Borscht, which was made with a tomato base, so this is definitely something that’s been adapted for Asian taste buds. In it were a ton of veggies (celery, potato, carrot) and a few pieces of tender beef brisket. We really liked this hearty, full-flavoured soup, as it wasn’t too watered down, nor was it too salty. As for her main dish, my mom was unable to finish this (which was great since that meant she had lunch for the next day). There was a large spool of spaghetti (more than enough to feed 1 person), and the cuts of meat were large, but remained tender. The lamb didn’t taste too gamey and wasn’t overcooked, despite us not having been asked the degree of doneness we wanted, and the steak was a perfect medium-rare, as if the kitchen read our minds. The two thick slices of ox tongue– tender, juicy and not-too-fatty– were easily the best part of the dish. Some places I’ve been to only serve really thin pieces of overcooked meat, but here each one was prepared well and came in a very generous portion. Our only qualm with the meal is that there weren’t more veggies (but that’s typical of this dish); still, some broccoli florets would’ve helped.
We returned to the restaurants a few weeks later with my cousins, aunts and uncle in tow; they had all been to the restaurant previously and enjoyed it, so we made a Tuesday night get-together of it. My uncle ordered the Lamb Curry ($10.95), with steamed rice served separately. There were quite a few pieces of lamb in the dish, as well as potatoes, peppers and onions (though I wish these were stewed a little longer). I liked the curry sauce as it provided a bit of heat, and wasn’t too sweet and was bursting with coconut flavour. Again, this was a very large portion, though my uncle had no trouble polishing it off.
My mom, Aunt Knife and Cousin Nomi all ordered the Noodle Combo ($7.95 with drink) I had above, but switched out the laksa base with the more traditional cilantro and century egg fish soup. They found that this soup had more flavour and depth, and after trying it, I would order this over the laksa. Again, their noodles were prepared well, and toppings were plentiful; Of note were the slices of luncheon meat (Spam) that Nomi ordered with her noodles, as these were pan-fried perfectly with slightly crisp outer edges.
The boys decided on the Kids Meal (forgot to take down the price, but something like $7), and were really excited to get them. Cousin Ham ordered the pasta in cream sauce meal, which came in a heaping portion of spaghetti with chicken and corn in a sauce that seemed like thickened Cream of Chicken soup. Cousin DingDing, on the other hand, ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese meal (with a ketchup-based meat sauce, which actually didn’t taste as bad as it sounds). Both Kids Meals came with 3 chicken wings (which they loved as much as I did), fries, and a drink (they had Sprite). We all felt that the portion size of this meal was more than adequate, as the boys, who are pretty big eaters, couldn’t finish the meal themselves– plus it was nice that they shared their fries with me, of course.
I like E2 Cafe because of the great food they offer at relatively low prices, as well as its convenience– I live really close by, but it’s also very easily accessible by transit, if one doesn’t want to tackle the horror that is their parking lot (since they share it with Sushi California and the other businesses there). Though there are a few Chinese places nearby, none of them are direct competitors, and I feel that E2 is superior in service anyways. If you live in North Burnaby, and don’t want to trek into Vancouver or Richmond to grab some HK style food, then E2 is definitely the place for you.
E2 Cafe Restaurant
501 B North Rd
Whenever I visit Hong Kong, I make sure to go have congee and noodles for breakfast at least 3 times a week– there’s a little shop near my uncle’s apartment in Tsuen Wan, and my mom and I (sometimes joined by other relatives) would trek over there to feast before heading out on our day. Here, that’s a little difficult, since most places that do serve congee are too far away for me to get to on a regular basis.
In fact, I haven’t had congee in the morning since my visit over two years ago. So when my dad suggested he drive me down to Richmond for breakfast while we waited for my mom to finish up her badminton game, I jumped at the chance to have a Chinese breakfast.
We actually got to Michigan Noodle House on Alexandra Road a few minutes before opening. Funny thing was, if it weren’t for a huge traffic jam on the 91, we would have arrived far too early, and would have chosen some other place to eat. So you could say that it was destiny…
We were the first ones in the restaurant, so we had our pick of the tables. We chose a booth furthest from the kitchen so we (really, I) could watch the goings-on of the waiters and chefs. After checking to see if the congee I wanted was on the menu, we flagged them down to get our order in.
My absolute #1 favourite is the Pork Stomach Congee ($6). My other favourite is the century egg and lean pork congee, but when pork stomach is present on the menu, I always get it. This one was full of thick, chewy pieces of stomach that tasted clean and fresh– stomach, and other innards, are notoriously hard to clean out, but they did a great job here. The thin slivers of ginger and rings of green onion helped to add some crunch and flavour in the congee (think porridge, but with rice instead of oatmeal), which was lightly salted. I felt that the congee was a little too mushy, as the rice was too broken-down. Maybe it’s just me, but I like my congee a little grainier. I would also have liked them to add some black pepper in, but the white pepper at the table did the job.
It is my opinion that congee should never be served alone, and any Chinese restaurant (that serves congee) worth their salt should also have fantastic Chinese Donuts ($2). I really liked the one they had here, as it was fried up fresh (I saw them in the kitchen), so it was nice and hot when it arrived. It was also very light, crispy and chewy, and not overly greasy. Cut down to a good size, these were perfect for dipping into my congee, and I wanted to order another one just to munch on, but that would have been a little too indulgent.
My dad likes his noodles, so he ordered the Shrimp and Pork Dumpling Noodle Soup ($5.25), which looked pretty small in size, but ended up being quite the hefty bowl. The long, thin wonton noodles were the right texture, being slightly chewy, though they were a bit long. I understand that it’s tradition to leave the noodles uncut (they signify good luck), but that just makes it a lot more difficult to eat, and as you remember, my chopstick skills are not great, and don’t involve cutting chewy noodles (I left that for my dad to do). The four large dumplings had a thin, wrinkly skin, and hid some really well-made filling. The shrimp and pork were both appropriately bouncy and chewy, and the wood ear mushrooms provided that crunch needed to round out the dumpling. The soup was quite flavourful, but I didn’t detect too much MSG in it, which is always a plus.
I felt that our meal here was pretty standard, but definitely did the job in satisfying my 2-year-long craving. Prices are rather reasonable– one can get very full for less than $10– and the noodles were of especially good quality. I do wish that the congee was less goopy, but that is the way that some restaurants make it, so I can’t complain too much. There are many other restaurants like this in Richmond (and Vancouver), but if I were in the area and had a hankering for noodles and congee, Michigan Noodle would be on my list of restaurants to choose from.
Michigan Noodle Restaurant
8580 Alexandra Rd
A few months ago, my friend Hanzhou (he has a blog about his amazing food escapades too!) told me to try out PiDGiN, whose chef used to work at the restaurant he’s currently working at. Unfortunately, he caught me at an inopportune time, as March was my month of Madness (papers! work! midterms! quizzes! Bolivia meetings!), but I told him that once my schedule freed up, I would definitely visit.
This visit happened on the Thursday before Good Friday (no classes, whee!)– I was downtown with Samson, Darek, David and Emo at the Vancouver International Auto Show at the Convention Centre already, so we decided to make a night of it. A late night, as we didn’t leave the Auto Show until 8:45pm– who knew you could sit in THAT many different cars, grab SO many recyclable bags, and win a lift ticket to Whistler, all in one place?
It was a chilly night and a long walk (since we haven’t eaten since 1pm) from the Convention Centre, so we were glad that PiDGiN was so warn and cozy. We were seated at one end of a long table, and thankfully, no other parties were seated next to us, so we could spread out a little bit. I don’t really know what I was expecting to see when I was seated, but it was a pleasant surprise to see chopsticks and bowls in a decidedly un-Asian looking place.
PiDGiN features a focused menu, with obvious Japanese and Korean influences. Over the course of the night, we ordered a large majority of the dishes, each of which demonstrated the great skill and vision of Chef Ono. Without further ado, our first foray into his menu: the Oyster Shot ($3). I said a few months ago (at Cork & Fin down the street) that I would eventually try this, and here I am, knocking back a Golden Mantle oyster topped with icy apple bits and horseradish cream. I suppose this isn’t quite the same as slurping up an oyster on half shell, but a girl’s got to start somewhere, right? We loved how the flavours and textures worked together (the horseradish cream wasn’t too spicy, and the crispy, cool apple served to contrast the smooth oyster) so much that we ended up ordering another round to finish off our night.
The next dish brought over was the Beef Tataki ($13), artfully presented as a long puzzle of interlocked slices of slightly seared beef. Topping it off were small slices of gruyere cheese, dots of black garlic, wood ear mushrooms, sprouts, and wasabi mayo, with a pile of shredded potato crisps that we crumbled over the beef before we ate it. The beef was served at the right temperature and was very buttery, and each different topping was impactful– we especially liked the black garlic and wasabi mayo for their distinct, but not-overwhelming flavours.
The “Dan Dan” Kohlrabi Noodle Salad ($8) was a little misleading: I actually expected there to be noodles in the dish, but it was actually just long shredded pieces of kohlrabi made to look like noodles, then topped off with the usual dan-dan (tan-tan) noodle toppings– peanut sauce, tofu, shredded pork. The kohlrabi, which none of us had had before, was very refreshing when paired with the sauce–it reminded us of a less pungent Asian white radish. The sauce was adequate, but we would have appreciated a little bit more in the way of spiciness and some more peanuts and almonds, which would have been truer to the dan-dan noodle concept.
The Beef Tongue and Cheek ($17) came at the same time as the kohlrabi, and featured a very, very tender piece of beef that was braised in their house sauce. There was definitely more cheek than tongue in the dish, and Samson stated that more tongue would have been better. We especially liked the garnishes of broccoli pistou (light pesto and minced broccoli that actually looked a little bit like green quinoa) and the tiny fried and heavily seasoned broccoli florets, which packed a lot of flavour into the dish. There was also a scattering of mustard seeds that we ate along with the beef, which helped enhance the flavours even more.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the Pork Belly Rice Bowl ($12), presented to us beautifully with its melt-in-your-mouth, fatty, delicious pork belly resting on a bed of sushi rice. Topping it off were kimchi pears and a sunny-side up quail egg. The rice was the proper texture, being moderately chewy but fluffy, and soaked up a lot of the sauce so that it was very flavourful, but not too salty. The pork belly had just the right amount of fat so that we didn’t feel too unhealthy, and the meaty parts of it were tender. The quail egg was a nice touch (I didn’t realize it was quail til later, and was wondering why a chicken egg was so dinky), and the kimchi pears provided some crispness and spiciness to balance out the texture of the dish.
Our first round done with, we decided to order some more food, a) because we definitely weren’t full, since portions are on the small side, and b) because the food was so darn good we wanted to try even more of it. I am a huge fan of Mushrooms ($12) in any way, shape or form, though sauteed in browned butter is probably my favourite– these had a touch of soy sauce and yuzu as well for the extra depth in flavour. That same seasoning was used to marinate the eggs, which had lovely brown-coloured whites and a mildly runny yolk (which we dipped the mushrooms into). Along with the mushrooms were several split sugar snap peas, light, crisp and green-tasting, and the same veggies were pureed and used as a garnish (which was also light, crisp, and green-tasting).
We actually ordered the Sea Urchin ($12) with our first set, but it didn’t get put through; it eventually made its way to our table, after much apologizing from our server. This was a favourite of the night, as the chunks (blobs? what would you use to quantify this) of sea urchin tasted fresh and extremely sea-ish, and the cauliflower mousse was delightfully creamy, light, and faintly cheesy. Topped off with plenty of ponzu jalepeno salsa and a few sprigs of sprouts, this was a dish we were very glad we ordered (and our server was very pleased that we ordered this as well, as it was his favourite dish).
Next, we had some Yakiudon Inspired Calamari ($9), which was prepared in the same fashion as the kohlrabi “noodles”– the long, thin slices of roasted squid were formed into a spool of “udon”. This was, again, a stellar dish, with fresh, expertly prepared squid, crumbled bacon as a garnish for a salty hit, and a brush of black squid ink in the bowl to help bring out the flavours. Although the presentation of the dishes can be a little repetitive (you’ll see that to some extent with our next dish as well), I found most of these endeavours to be very interesting and refreshing.
Besides bread and mushrooms, one of my favourite foods are Potatoes ($10) in any style: these julienned potato slivers were served cool, tossed in seaweed butter and spicy cod roe. I found the flavours of this dish reminiscent of the Mentaiko Udon at Sushi Garden, which has a slightly cheesy taste to it. The stringy potatoes ended up tasting like un-fried hashbrowns (it’s tastier than it sounds), and we felt that the roe was relatively fresh. Although this was a good dish, I don’t think it was particularly special, so I probably wouldn’t order it again.
I was excited to try our next dish, the Parisienne Gnocchi ($12), since I had never had this potato dumpling pasta before. I found the skins to be surprisingly thin, and the potato-y filling very light, which totally ran opposite to what I had in mind– not that that’s a bad thing. Garnished by thin slices of light pink radishes and sorrel (which is apparently an herb), I thought this dish was really aesthetically pleasing, reminding me of the cherry blossoms that are outside now. I don’t really know what makes this dish Parisienne– anyone care to enlighten me in the comments?
And now I present to you the final dish of the night: Scallops ($17), seared and served with rectangular blocks of fried polenta, brussel sprout leaves, caper raisins, and house-made XO sauce (for more scallopy goodness). This was an excellently prepared dish, everything having been cooked just right: the scallops were warm, and not overcooked, and the brussel sprouts were unwilted. However, the XO sauce wasn’t as flavourful as we would have liked, though the dried scallops were easily discernible– we definitely wanted a bit more of a kick. Aside from the scallops, my favourite part of the dish was the fried polenta, with its crispy outer coating masking the grainy goodness within that I was still able to pick up with my chopsticks.
Our long day ended with a very enjoyable wrap-up at PiDGiN, as the food, service and atmosphere were all superb, for a newer restaurant that may still have been figuring out some kinks, and especially in light of the protests they’ve been subject to. The plates are on the small side, but they’re meant to be that way (and you can try more), and each dish showed the exquisite care of the chefs. PiDGiN does change up its menu every so often, and I hear they’ve incorporated tasting menus into their line-up, so it would be a good idea to go soon to see what it’s like! I wholeheartedly recommend this restaurant, and will definitely be going there again in the near future.
350 Carrall St