Monday, 23 December 2013

Vancouver Eats: Pidgin

Chefs Amanda Cheng and Makato Ono of Pigin restaurant in Vancouver
A few years ago my chef friend Amanda Cheng opened a dessert bar on Wellington Street in Central called Riquiqui.

It was a small place on the second floor of a building where she prepared a set dessert menu in front of guests at a bar. The HK$200 three-course dessert menu could be paired with wine, tea or coffee, though the main event was chatting with Amanda and watching her prepare the plates of sweetness.

A delicate combination of raw tuna and seared veal slices
However after two years she decided to pack it up -- with boyfriend Makato Ono in tow she met who was working in the restaurant upstairs -- and moved back to Vancouver.

In early February their restaurant Pidgin opened on Carrall Street near Chinatown. For Vancouverites the address is part of the Downtown East Side -- which was considered the poorest postal code in Canada because of the down-and-out drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless people who hung out in the area.

For the past 10 years the city has created many initiatives to revitalize the area, from trying to control the drug situation with a safe injection site, and then inviting entrepreneurs and developers to redevelop the neighbourhood with new residential units and businesses.

A good spread is duck rillette with endive salad
Pidgin is one of the latest businesses to contribute to the gentrification phase, but it had the unfortunate luck of being singled out by poverty protestors to focus their anger on the redevelopment of the area.

Since it opened the restaurant has been targeted by protestors, not every night, but periodic organized demonstrations that only bring more attention and curiosity to the dining establishment.

Four of us visited Pidgin last night and while my brother is used to seeing shifty characters on the streets, I was a bit nervous walking by them and was glad we were in a group.

Beautifully presented mushrooms and sugar snap peas
However once inside we were brought into a minimalist space made warm by the use of woods, soft glow lights and a casual ambience. All the staff seem well trained and upon looking at the menu we were encouraged to try both set menus at $40 and $55 in order to sample most of the dishes.

To start the amuse bouche was a diced fresh oyster in a shot glass with pureed apple and a splash of horseradish and a bowl of "pickles", pickled fennel and kim chi brussel sprouts. So we realized we were in for a fusiony meal...

The first of the dishes was raw scallops with pomegranate red curry oil, thin slices of daikon and green apple. We liked the sound of the dish, but in reality the scallops lost their fresh seawater taste, seemingly drowned out by the chilli oil, or didn't have much taste to start with.

Yummy crunchy and spicy deep-fried chicken wings
Grilled octopus with romesco and fennel biscotti was intriguing, the octopus cooked sous vide then grilled just before serving, but was not memorable, but we savoured the "vitello tonnato", veal and albacore tuna with fried egg emulsion and togarashi. The tuna was fresh and flavourful, an interesting combination with thin slices of veal.

Next came a nice presentation of duck rillette accompanied with endive salad and pickled raisins with grilled bread, while the following dish was a mixture of mushrooms, sugar snap peas, soft-boiled egg and soy yuzu brown butter sauce with a pea mash. We quite liked this vegetable dish and wished we had more greens in our set menu.

The highlight was smoked ling cod with lentils and clams
Another winner was the deep-fried chicken wings that had a slightly spicy kick, the batter light and crunchy, followed by a fast favourite -- smoked ling cod paired with hearty lentils, clams and bacon dashi veloute. The fish was perfectly cooked with a lingering smoky flavour, the lentils worked well soaking up the sauce.

By this point we were starting to get full when we were served roasted half squab with ras el hanout on a bed of tomato cous cous and raisin tea jus. The squab was pedestrian, but we quite liked the cous cous hidden under the carrots and arugula.

Bowl of braised pork belly with fried quail egg on rice
One of the last mains was pork belly rice bowl with Asian pear kimchi, bamboo and a fried quail egg. The pork belly was very tender as expected, though nothing particularly outstanding about this dish. Finally we were presented a large plate of half duck confit with carrot cake sauce that was too meaty and large a portion for us to finish. Two-thirds of the portion would have been plenty, and the plate had no vegetable accompaniment.

Despite not finishing the last dish, we were impressed by the desserts Amanda prepared. The milk chocolate Ovaltine mousse with a dark cookie crust was delicious and accompanied with a delicate orange blossom yogurt and chunks of honeycomb.

Scrumptious dessert of milk chocolate Ovaltine mousse cake
A lighter option was the caramelized and gingered apple slices on a bed of cinnamon streusel marscapone and kobacha squash. There was a play of textures here, soft and crunchy, sweet and spicy.

Finally the meringue was not cooked all the way through so it was slightly crunchy on the top and bottom, and soft in the middle. It came with three dollops of passion fruit curd, topped with almonds and white chocolate.

Overall we liked the concept of the menu, but the execution was inconsistent at times. Nevertheless the flavours on the whole are refreshing and hopefully Pidgin will improve with time and aiming for quality each time.

A light delicate option of meringue with passion fruit curd
350 Carrall Street
604 620 9400

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