It seems like every time we stroll through the downtown eastside yet another previously boarded up storefront has been transformed into a new culinary destination. Pidgin, which opened its doors earlier this month, is the latest local restaurant to pick up on the small plates trend, offering an unusual menu of Asian-inspired dishes served family-style and designed to be enjoyed shared. With chef Makoto Ono – the 2007 winner of the Canadian Culinary Championships – at the helm, the eclectic menu offers an innovative take on Asian fusion, which is no small feat since this concept has become tired in its ubiquity. Vancouver-trained, Ono has crafted a menu that clearly exhibits its heritage; it very much feels like these dishes could only have been designed in this city. With an emphasis on seafood, the menu offers a broad selection of plates that range from small snacks to heartier portions, that all incorporate Asian ingredients and flavours in unexpected and at times quite ambitious ways.
Since so many of the menu items offered surprising pairings of flavours and ingredients – yakiudon inspired calamari, potatoes topped in cod roe, daikon foie gras – we followed the example set by our fellow diners and selected a wide range of dishes to sample. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that unlike many of the small plates restaurants in town, Pidgin makes a conscious effort to deliver items roughly according to course so that snacks don’t follow more substantial fare, and the pacing was perfect; clearly whoever is managing the service knows what they are doing and it really makes a difference in the overall dining experience. We started with the daily pickles – made from Asian vegetables including plum and daikon – and rice crackers smothered in dried anchovies. The pickles were among our favourite dishes of the evening and were skillfully seasoned allowing the taste of the individual vegetables to remain palpable. The steelhead – a slightly larger dish – was cured to perfection and had an extremely appetizing texture. The flavour of the fish was offset nicely by the sweetness of the pear and ginger.
The highlight was definitely the bowl of shoe-string potatoes accompanied by cod roe and seaweed butter. Treated akin to a pasta, the butter and roe are tossed in the bowl to coat the thin potato slices creating an extremely decadent and flavourful treat. The mushrooms served accompanied by a soft boiled egg with a liquid yoke ready for dipping, though Asian-inspired with the addition of snap peas and soy yuzu butter, had a delightful almost brunch-like feel. Of the larger fare, we enjoyed the beef tongue and cheek which was succulent, tender and expertly prepared. We completed our meal with an incredible dessert – a deconstructed lemon meringue pie – that had us clamouring to return for more immediately. The meringue was a gooey delight and perfectly balanced the tartness of the lemon cream.
Bar manager Robyn Gray, formally of Hotel Georgia and Revel Room, has crafted an exquisite cocktail list and with so many tasty selections it was difficult to choose. We opted for a delicious concoction comprised of gin, lemon thyme and cinnamon smoke; a dangerous drink, we could have easily knocked back a half dozen. The beer and wine selections, while limited, are well curated and feature varieties from our favourite local microbrewery Parallel 49th. With sake on tap from Granville Island’s Artisan SakeMaker, on the drink side there really is something for everyone. Designed by the ubiquitous Craig Stanghetta, the space is airy, contemporary and quite spacious for the neighbourhood. With a heavy use of wood offset by white porcelain table settings, the aesthetic is clean and simple which translates into a very warm and inviting atmosphere. With an ambitious menu that is anything but boring and an exciting cocktail list, Pidgin offers a cozy environment in which to share a few snacks and drinks with friends.