Akemi and I don’t get out as much as we used to but, the other night, we hung up our pots and pans (and packed away the sous vide machine) in favor of a night out. We headed to Gastown to check out Pidgin, one of the newest additions (less than a week old!) to the local dining scene. The man behind the menu, Chef Makoto Ono, was the winner of the first Canadian Culinary Championship at Gold Medal Plates back in 2007. Since then, he has opened Makoto restaurant in Beijing, as well as Liberty Exchange and Liberty Private Works (which made the World’s Best 50 Restaurants) in Hong Kong. And finally, Chef Ono has set up shop in Vancouver.
I’ve heard the menu described as mix of French, Japanese, and Korean influences with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. Akemi and I were intrigued…
The menu is a one-sheet covering everything from appetizers to larger plates, the individual prices a guide to their relative portion sizes. We started small and worked our way up.
The rice crackers and sweet soy anchovies weren’t my thing (as I enjoy neither rice cracker or anchovies) but Akemi is a big fan of both and loved this starter.
More my speed where the fried shisito (Japanese) peppers with parmesan and pine nuts. I’m a big fan of their sweet and slightly bitter taste, also the fact that roughly one in every three is mouth-blastingly hot.
One of the highlights of the night, however, was the sea urchin with cauliflower mousse, ponzu jalapeno salsa, and dashi. Forget what you think you know about sea urchin. Most of the stuff served at many sushi restaurants is packaged and possessed of an unpleasant funkiness. But get them fresh – as served here – and they’re nothing but creamy sweetness melting in your mouth. I ended up having two servings.
Akemi also did a wedge salad with tofu dressing, nori, and bonito flakes. Again, not my thing but very much hers.
The only dish that didn’t impress was the Korean rice cakes with pork belly with tomato sauce and furikake. It wasn’t bad, but I thought the belly and rice cakes an odd textural combination.
On the other hand, there was the other highlight of the night: beef tongue and cheek with broccoli pistou and mustard. A marvelous dish but, I thought, a little pricey given the portion size.
We had three options for dessert and, rather than risk second-guessing myself, I decided to go with all three.
The black sesame cream with red bean and snow fungus was interesting and I loved the little crunch imparted by the fungus, but it felt like a very good Chinese dessert – which is my way of saying it was better than what I’d expected but not something I’d order again.
The chocolate fritters with the matcha dipping sauce were a bittersweet treat. My only quibble was that the chocolate inside the fritters hadn’t totally melted and were solid and cool at their center.
The meringue with yuzu curd, vanilla, and celery (Yes, celery!) was excellent – and Akemi’s favorite. This was the dish she was talking about on the way home.
The verdict? Akemi put it best: fresh, clean flavors.
We’ll definitely be back and, on our return visit, I’m definitely getting the one menu item I regretted missing: the foie gras rice bowl with chesnuts, daikon, and unagi glaze!