It was a crisp Saturday night when we decided to visit PiDGiN. We knew what awaited us at the door so we figured our walk to the restaurant should consist of short steps, brisk movements and avoiding eye contact as much as possible. When we finally got close to the bright lights of the restaurant, BAM! The screams were hard to ignore…
“HEY! HEY! HEY! WE’RE BOYCOTTING THIS PLACE!”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“DON’T GO IN THERE!”
I looked to my left and S was gone, in through the doors in a flash. I was through shortly after and what was for a second screams, was suddenly lively and vibrant chatter.
PiDGiN continues on, displaying an unfazed demeanor in spite of the chaos that glooms over its doorstep.
Since its doors opened in February 2013, PiDGiN has been garnering a lot of press. Not due to its very recent opening, not for its chef and most certainly not for its food. Instead, most of the publicity in relation to this restaurant has been due to the protesters outside its doorstep staunchly opposed to the gentrification of the downtown east side area. (Side note for those that do not know: the downtown east side of Vancouver is known to many as Canada’s poorest postal code).
Rumours of having lights flashed in our eyes or being verbally attacked are, to be honest, what excited me most about coming to this restaurant. It would have made for quite a unique dining experience, but reality was not as bad as it was made out to be and once we entered the restaurant, it was easy to forget the chaos that we just passed. The frosted glass blocked out the visual of the protesters and the acoustics from the packed restaurant drowned out any external audio.
As for the rest of the PiDGiN interior, Craig Stanghetta (also noted for the interior design of Vancouver restaurants Bao Bei, L’Abattoir, Meat & Bread and several others) elected to override the walls with white tiles and strips below it that served as magnets for the menus to be placed on – ingenious.
The menu at PiDGiN is significantly influenced by the fusion of traditionally western and eastern cuisines. The eastern influences can be narrowed down to Japanese and Korean. In keeping with Korean cuisine, we opted to start with their pickled vegetables. The pickled cucumbers really absorbed the vinegar flavour and was extremely sour for my liking. S on the other hand, who has a propensity for vinegary and briny flavours, loved it. The pickled bok choy and other greens however, were much milder and more pleasant to my palate. The rice crackers and sweet soy anchovies that followed were my favourite. Crunch from the crackers accented by the sweet and chewy nature of the anchovies provided an excellent way to start the evening.
Our childhood friend who accompanied us this evening thoroughly enjoyed what came after in the form of cured steelhead slices with asian pear, ginger and sesame. The combination was very light, like a salad. And the roe that accompanied the thin slices of steelhead was a nice play on showcasing the lifetime of the trout from its infancy to adulthood.
The sea urchin with cauliflower mousse, ponzu jalepeno salsa and dashi flavour that followed was so close to being a gustatory delight. The ponzu provided a nice bit of a kick to the tasty combination of uni, mousse and sauces. However, even the bits of greens and thinly sliced cauliflower incorporated into the dish did not add any physical bite. Instead, the dish was flat as the smoothness of both the sea urchin and mousse was the overriding consistency.
To play on traditional gnocchi, rice cakes were used as a pasta substitute and then drenched in tomato sauce. On top, were several pieces of pork belly and furikake. On paper, I wasn’t exactly sure how rice cake would taste with the other components all mixed together, but aside from the stickier consistency compared to traditional gnocchi, the carbohydrate very nicely replaced the traditional pasta and overall was quite a treat.
After the rush of several small entrées we opted for a few more before dessert. We took in the beef tataki that was accompanied by black garlic, gruyère, woodear, wasabi mayo and chips as well as a foie gras rice bowl that came with chestnuts, daikon, unagi glaze and wasabi. Always an eye-grabber when on a menu, the beef tataki fell short on flavour, tasting quite bland and lacking in salt. And where the beef tataki failed in execution, the foie gras rice bowl failed in concept. With an ingredient as perfect and flavourful on its own as a seared foie gras, there really is no need to compound it with many, if any, more flavours. The rice and chestnuts blended together like mush, and the unagi glaze completely overpowered the natural flavour of the foie. All we could think about after was an unagidon.
The dessert we ordered shortly after, pudding with puffed rice and miso caramel, was an excellent end to the evening and a great recovery from the previous dishes. Pastry Chef Amanda Cheng brought together just the right amount of textural contrasts and a subtle sweetness from the miso caramel to what could potentially have been a one note dish.
After our meal we found out that pidigin is actually a language, and is defined by Wikipedia as “a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common.” In many ways, the restaurant name is very fitting for this restaurant as the culinary offerings take inspiration from around the world. But we‘ve also learned that the name of the restaurant extends beyond its culinary offerings. For the team at PiDGiN, it has become their motto, a word to work and live by. Being situated right by Pigeon Park, the physical and social divergence of Vancouver’s downtown west and east side communities, it means trying to be a part of the community, to integrate, communicate and give back. Whether it be by working closely with various groups in the area, sourcing their food locally or hiring those from within the community, staying true to its name in so many ways, it humbly attempts to bridge the social dichotomy in Vancouver and the gastronomical cuisines of the world.
To view pictures of our meals in its entirety, click through the photo set below. If you are using a mobile device, please click here for compatibility.
Thanks for reading,
C & S