Sunday, 1 January 2017

Hometown Favourite

Chef Makoto Ono's crispy chicken with cauliflower tartare
It's been interesting watching my friend Amanda Cheng evolve with each new culinary project. She started several years ago with a little dessert bar called Riquiqui in Hong Kong on Wellington Street, and a year later she gave the space to Peter Cuong Franklin to try out his dishes before starting Chom Chom.

Cheng then moved back to Vancouver with her then chef boyfriend (now husband) Makoto Ono from Winnipeg, and they started Pigin in 2013, a restaurant that served dishes with a mix of Japanese and French cuisines.

Cozy interior with a small bar in the middle of the room
While the food was great, the location was not -- right in Vancouver's downtown east side -- considered the country's poorest postal code with alcoholics and drug addicts hanging around the area.

What made it worse were the anti-gentrification protesters who made it awkward for both the chef/owners trying to make a living, and the patrons feeling embarrassed to walk in.

About a year ago the pair left the restaurant and a few weeks ago just opened Mak N Ming on the west side of Vancouver in Kitsilano. It's their nicknames -- Ming is Amanda's Chinese name.

The restaurant is a small cozy space that only has 28 seats that is good for set menu dining, and there are two choices, a CAD$54 demi menu and CAD$78 for the chef's menu. You'll be full after the demi menu, that features four courses that we tried.

Kale three ways with soy cured steelhead trout
Our "first bite" was a deep-fried cheese ball topped with Parmesan shavings, inside was a mini lava of cheesy goodness.

Next came our first course of kale salad, with soy cured steelhead trout. The kale was done three ways, crispy, steamed and the ends were pickled. Loved the texture of the dried kale combined with the soft texture of the fish, and seaweed sauce.

The main was quite a large portion -- crispy chicken and oyster with quinoa and rice, broccoli florets and a delicious cauliflower tartare. The medallion-shaped chicken pieces were breaded and deep-fried like a po' boy, though only one piece included a piece of oyster in it. Nevertheless it was a very hearty dish and we could barely finish it.

For dessert, Cheng created a lovely hibiscus pear pavlova. She described it as an upside down pavlova, as the meringue shell was on top of the hibiscus-infused pear. We cracked open the thin meringue shell to find a cream in it and we loved the rose-coloured pear that wasn't too sweet.

For dessert, a delicate hibiscus pear pavlova
We were quite stuffed by the end of it. During our dinner, Cheng also gave us a small sampling of the chef's menu -- a small bun topped with nori that was slightly sweet, slightly savoury, and accompanied with sultry spicy mayo.

Hopefully Mak N Ming will thrive in this hipster neighbourhood, and the evening we went the bookings were already full for 6pm and 6.30pm. They suggested we come at 5pm and we weren't the only diners having an early bird dinner.

The restaurant was named one of the best new restaurants of 2016 and we hope they can settle in at this location and really create some culinary waves.

Mak N Ming
1629 Yew Street
(604) 737 1155

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