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