It just so happened that in the past few weeks, I have been able to try a few places that have been on my wishlist for a little while. So I save all of my pictures for this big post. I feel completely unqualified to really review the dishes we had so this is largely a post of photos and that speaks more than words, doesn’t it? I’ve been so excited to try these three places like you wouldn’t know.
When Su-lin came back to Vancouver for a visit last year and posted about PiDGiN, I finally took notice and just couldn’t get the restaurant off of my mind. PiDGiN participated in Dineout and while the six-course menu was undoubtably good, I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed to what they chose for me. We wanted to make sure that we could try what we heard was really good.
Modern menus with abbreviated descriptions of the food. Put your faith in their hands.
In time for the Olympics and all that controversy surrounding it, PiDGiN concocted a special cocktail they named Putin’s Pride and thumbs its nose in the direction of Sochi. The limited edition cocktail is made with Mount Gay Rum, Cointreau, pineapple syrup and coconut water. Note how the unflavoured ice cubes are a rainbow of colours. You get the point and you get an idea of the kind of humour PiDGiN has.
This sounded so much better than I found it to be – humpback shrimp toast. I would much appreciate if the menu were to reveal that the shrimp was raw because a cooked shrimp toast sounded so nice. Shimp on sushi menus is actually often cooked and raw shrimp tastes so … pasty. My cousin found the toast to be stale and I just had a difficult time enjoying it.
The raw scallops were labeled as such on the menu and a seafood served raw that I am much more accustomed to. In addition, there was in a curry oil drizzle. The crunchy and fresh daikon and apple garnish was nice and refreshing, not that the curry oil was heavy. The scallops were silky and part way divine.
Things were getting better and better with vitello tonnato – cubed tuna and seared veal. The yellow paste is a fried egg emulsion and I made sure to drag each piece of meat to through it to have tasty “sauce.”
Then came the foie gras rice bowl that Su-lin said was a well-balanced dish when it was all stirred together. I forgot the stirred-together tidbit and left the wasabi off to the side. My cousin’s friend said the foie gras rice bowl was the best thing to ever enter his mouth. Well, weren’t we looking forward to it?
It was delicious but not the best thing ever. The foie gras cubes were fatty and gloriously cooked and unagi glaze makes it nice and comforting Asian fare. Chestnut pieces were velvety and a luxurious and filling accompaniment and the braised daikon was complementing in flavour but added a vegetable and juicy component. It’s a really cool combination.
Vadouvan spiced lamb belly. I’ve never had this cut of lamb before and the spices and smokiness attenuated the otherwise really “lamb-y” taste that the belly would have. So it was just really nice and tender.
Once upon a time (recently), PiDGiN had this awesome sounding milk chocolate Ovaltine mousse with orange blossom yogurt and honeycomb. I would have ordered that too in the blink of an eye. But it was no longer on the menu and between the three choices, I went with the safest one. The neighbour table got meringue with coulis and it looked more special. But a matcha opera cake is not bad and really easily shareable, a better portion and easy to linger over.
Broken Rice is not somewhere I would have heard of but BIL and his gf went a few months ago and after her description, it made it onto my wishlist. It was the strategic place to suggest for a triple date with friends – just beyond the Vancouver-Burnaby boundary, it’s almost in the middle between the three of us living on south False Creek, Coquitlam and south Vancouver area.
Salad rolls aren’t exactly my thing but they are a refreshing start. The ingredients and thus the smell and taste of the rolls were fresh. The peanut sauce was thick. We ordered the shrimp salad roll and the Phnom Penh Roll, both ended up being salad rolls. I think the intention was to order spring rolls with the “blistered skin” but we’d get a taste of it later.
Duck confit sliders – the server was nice to accommodate the six of us by cutting the three sliders in half and I took a smaller half with less confit. That’s okay, I could still taste it and it was richly braised. The fresh and tender steamed bun was the winner.
So I’ve learned that at a Vietnamese place, to try their wings-here named Uncle Hing’s Chicken Wings! For my standards, they were a little mini but also a nice taste of wings. To accommodate everyone’s tastes, I asked for it to be tossed in the garlic butter sauce.
The Sizzling Saigon Crepe is an impressive display and it turns out it is presented as a lettuce wrap dish. That’s a pile of romaine, green leaf lettuce and sprigs of basil for you to choose from. It’s a thick crepe with tumeric and coconut flavour. Although a lot of fillings are listed in the crepe, it struck me as primarily bean sprouts (which were cooked and actually pleasant to me) and miniature shrimp. I enjoyed the crepe on its own without lettuce but with a dash of the nuoc mam sauce.
A house vermicelli with chicken skewer and pork brochette and the “blistered skin” spring roll – a staple on Vietnamese restaurant menus and each component was good quality.
To share largely between me and NPY but also with others, I ordered the pork belly and anise, a clay pot dish and it was beautifully presented if not earth-shattering in novelty. It was more than a decent amount of pork belly elegantly tied in a bundle with kelp. The broken rice that was served with it was marvellous at soaking up the braising liquid.
The wonderous part was how each of the three couples ordered the curry chicken ballotine dish. It sounded splendidly novel and it was a special dish with the stuff chicken (with chicken), panko broken rice balls and root vegetable chip garnishes.
While the idea of Vietnamese coffee ice cream sounded good, it didn’t seem like a great value so I ordered black eyed peas, their Vietnamese rice pudding with black eyed peas and coconut cream. It looked … well, you just have to turn off your Western aesthetics when you ordered an Asian dessert. To suit Asian palates, dessert will never be too sweet and there was each a touch of saltiness. It was definitely a segue from the savoury dishes of dinner to the light sweetness (and kind of healthy taste) to dessert!
To round out this modern Asian mini-tour and to get some sustenance before going to a concert across the street at Vogue Theatre-Pentatonix!-I lined up dinner at ShuRaku. I’ve been to ShuRaku for lunch twice and really looked forward to dinner and trying items off the dinner menu. I even did my “research” in advance and wrote my choices on a yellow sticky note, which I didn’t think to photograph. Happily, it all pretty much went according to plan.
So the thing that happened was I had a 6:15 reservation through Open Table and NPY told me he was leaving work at 6. I went back to update my reservation to 6:30 and saw that if I made a 6:00 reservation, I would get 1,000 points (versus 100 points) for dining. So, I was there at 6 and waited and looked stood up for over half an hour. After about half an hour, to get things moving, I tried to order two items that would not suffer from cooling down. They were out of Eggplant Poppers but I could order the Roulette Roll.
The Roulette Roll was selected because it has everything we like – chopped scallop, toro and avocado. The crisp lotus root chip and black seaweed soy sauce was a nice touch.
When I went to Hapa Izakaya in Toronto, I tried “sea foie gras” for the first time, an item off their daily menu/sheet. I wanted NPY to try it, too, but of course it was a little different. Hapa’s was smoked and sliced very thin, presented inside a upside-down stemless martini glass that clouded up from the smoking process. ShuRaku’s were steamed and thicker cut tasting more dense. It was still a great deal lighter than beef/pork liver and tasted indulgent.
Since I couldn’t get Eggplant Popper, my back-up dish was the Spicy Salmon Tartar. What a fun dish! A lotus root chip was a garnish so that NPY and I could be even at two a piece and it was held up with soba noodle sticks. I mixed the spicy wild sockeye salmon with the raw quail egg, pine nuts and avocado. The tempura seaweed squares were perfect delivery vehicles for the salmon tartar that was not too spicy.
ShuRaku has to “Age” dishes, shrimp or tuna that has been wrapped in seaweed and flash-fried. I deliberated and went with tuna, Tuna Isobe Age. It melted so easily such that I thought it had been chopped. Maybe I overdid it with the mushy textures since this followed negitoro, chopped scallop and salmon tartare.
Then we waited for a really long time for Hitsuma-bushi, which is highly recommended. I let NPY have most of the only rice dish of the meal. We were instructed to have half of the unagi rice dry then to pour the dashi sotck in and have “soup rice”. It was a fun dish and worth the wait.