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
I don’t remember when Cynthia and I talked about going to Medina for brunch, but it was certainly a while ago– probably sometime back in January. Anyways, for some reason or another (craziness of school, craziness of work, craziness of life in general), we had to keep postponing our date– but with the end of finals in April, and a lighter course load in the summer, we were finally able to meet up for some much-needed catch up time.
Of course, a brunch trip would be incomplete without Darek; if it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have met Cynthia in the first place (ah, the joys [?] of math tutor…). So we drove over to the Gastown restaurant (kind of misleading to me, since it’s actually right by Stadium Station and nowhere near the Steam Clock) on a Friday morning, parked at the meter (which promptly stole Darek’s toonie), and put our name down for a table for 3.
I was worried that we would have to wait a long time for a table, since there were at least 3 other groups ahead of us, and the storefront looked quite small (and full). Silly me, I didn’t realize that there was more seating in the back of the building, which was spacious and bright, with high ceilings and big windows. After a wait of about 15 minutes, a waitress brought us to our table, where we eagerly perused the menu.
We ordered our drinks first: for Darek, an Americano; for Cynthia, a Chai; and for myself, a large Hot Chocolate. The Americano was “good”– the perfect pick-me-up for Darek, who honestly looked pretty dead when we were waiting outside. The coffee smelled and tasted really pleasant, and we liked that the half-and-half was served on the side. Cynthia’s Chai was presented with a foam leaf on top; this was so pretty, she barely wanted to drink from it, and insisted (jokingly) that we could only drink from the stem. Her cup of tea was cinnamony and flavourful, and is certainly just as good as, if not better than, the chai I had at Aphrodite’s Cafe. Her only qualm was that it was smaller than what she wanted– our waiter didn’t confirm the size she wanted with her. I was surprised that my Hot Chocolate came with a foam leaf as well– it was nice to see that they put the effort into all their drinks. My cup was appropriately hot and sweet, and I felt that the price I paid ($3.25) wasn’t too unreasonable.
And now, onto the food! Darek, being a meat-lover, ordered the Fricassé— applewood smoked cheddar melted over a mix of braised short ribs, roasted potatoes, watercress, caramelized onions, finished off with two sunny-side-up eggs and julienned granny smith apples. In general, Darek thought that the ingredients weren’t anything special when eaten separately– for example, the green apple slices were too sour, and the short ribs were a little on the dry side (perhaps they were overcooked?); meanwhile, the eggs and potatoes, while good, were fairly standard. It was when he took a balanced mouthful that all the flavours worked together– the tartness was balanced by sweetness from the onions and saltiness from the short ribs and sauce, and the crispness of the watercress complemented the runny eggs, the crunch of the apples and the softness of the potatoes. With the exception of the cheese, which he could have done without, Darek ended up really enjoying his dish– so much so that he was using the small piece of foccacia to mop up all the sauce on the plate!
Cynthia’s Saumon Fume, served on an open-faced ciabatta bun, was quite different from what I expected. I thought that there would be slices of the usual cedar plank smoked salmon you could find at the supermarkets, with salad served on the side– I couldn’t be any more wrong! Instead, the salmon was actually flaked and mixed with a creamy, lemon-dill sauce, making it look somewhat like a less-pungent tuna fish sandwich. The salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes and a strong and tart vinaigrette was placed on top of one of the pieces of bread, and not in a side dish; meanwhile, a sliced avocado half and a fried egg sat atop the other. Since it was so beautifully presented, Cynthia ate this sandwich using a knife and fork (how ladylike!), so that the ingredients wouldn’t fall out of the sandwich. This way too, she was able to grab a little bit of everything– a sliver of egg, a square of avocado, some greens along with the bread and salmon– so that each bite was jam-packed with flavour. While the portion looked a little small at first, Cynthia found that it was actually the perfect size, and by the end of the meal was quite full– not a bad deal for $12! Her only problem with her meal was that her knife wasn’t nearly sharp enough to cut through the bread, so it did get a little messy. Maybe we’ll ask for a steak knife next time…
For myself, I had the Paella, which was a curried orzo dish mixed with corn niblets, pieces of zucchini, tomatoes, Hungarian chorizo sausage, red peppers and grana padano cheese. This pasta-y mixture was then finished off with a spicy tomato stew, a baked egg, some pieces of avocado and a ton of watercress. Having never had raw bunches of raw watercress before (I’ve had it in tea sandwiches, but in that case the cucumber tends to overpower the other ingredients), I was very pleased with the taste– it definitely wasn’t as bitter as I thought it would be. Besides that, the mingling of the curry and tomato stew along with the lemony avocado (I’m guessing to keep them from browning? But it tasted really good) made for a very delicious dish– and a very filling one too. I really struggled to finish my portion, and I was pretty hungry that day too.
Unfortunately, we were all too full to try out their liege waffles– but maybe that’s a good thing, since it meant that we got our money’s worth! For about $15 each, there was a ton of great food, and while it may have been a little on the pricey side for lunch after our drinks, tax and tip (I usually spend less than $10… but then most of my lunches are eaten at school), I would certainly return in the future. In general, I found that while the staff was a little aloof at times, the atmosphere and food more than made up for it, so that my experience was on the whole a great one. Thanks for the recommendation, Cynthia!
556 Beatty Street