My friends have been waiting half a year to celebrate my birthday at “Pidgin”. Me being a food blogger means it is always hard for them to find a restaurant that I like and won’t rip to shreds. “Pidgin” was their choice, and frankly they couldn’t have done a better job. The name is a nod to their location and the proximity to the neighboring pigeon park.
Heading in I was skeptical of this place. Finding a parking spot consisted of double block laps to avoid one way streets, and stopping a block a way for meter parking.
I actually missed the restaurant my first lap around. It is a plain black building with the word “Pidgin” done in a shade of medium blue. It is also has its name tiled onto the threshold’s floor.
Upon entry I was in awe. The environment inside is serene in off white walls, light coloured furniture, and tiny blossoms vased in their voluptuous holders.
The smaller kitchen was partially visible from behind a half frosted crop top window. The top portion of the glass was scrawled on with magic marker. And behind and under it were two sets of busy hands. We could see them cutting, stuffing, and fussing. They finessed the ingredients on the chopping board, and canoodled over the elements on a plate.
The bar is a wooden counter top that matches its high top seats. Behind it is a row of unmarked beer taps; each one topped with a golden talon. The counters are lined with bottles of liquor. Japanese makes from sake to whiskey, and all the North American favorites in between. Their cocktail list was as stunning to read as it was see and drink one.
I confused the bartender when I asked for the “best looking cocktail” so I could take a picture of it. I didn’t mind the strange look, he was handsome and patient and prepared for me a fantastically unique cocktail called “Sazer-quak”. It was duck infused brandy, smoked plum syrup, a Grand Mather rinse, and an orange twist. It was severed in a hollowed out egg shell, balancing in a cocktail glass topped with crushed ice. With it was a pickled cherry stuffed with frois gras. I highly doubt this is available anywhere else. I ordered it to try what duck infused brandy would taste like. This drink was sharp, and with some lip licking you could faintly make out the salty essence of duck meat. I really didn’t get the connection between the cherry and the fois gras. They were ok as a taste, but did nothing for me as a bite to be taken in with a sip. After a few sucks through the metal straw, I concluded I much rather prefer my cocktails sweet. I asked our server to see if the bartender could remix it, to make it more tongue friendly. He added more plum syrup and some lemon juice. That was enough to make a world of difference. As my guests noted after a taste, this was now a “dangerous” drink. A drink so smooth that you can’t taste the alcohol and are more likely to order more.
“One eyes samurai”. Watermelon infused tequila, sake, lemon juice, and orange blossom water. You stir in the watermelon granite for sweetness. A tropical drink with a tropical look to match.
“Mary Ellen smith”. Gin, carbonated sake, cucumber, and lime juice. This combination of fluids created a very refreshing and light tasting cocktail. It reminded me of flavoured water, spiked.
“Geisha girl”. A zero proof cocktail, made with tea syrup, lime juice, pineapple, and egg whites. The eggs are what gives this drink its for light foam on top.
Shishito peppers. Spicy peppers seasoned and coated with grated Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. We were warned that not all of them are spicy, but if you are “lucky” enough to get the spicy one, it will be hot. This was one of our host’s favourite dishes at “Pidgin”. And I was surprised how much I actually liked it too. I don’t like spicy foods, but this wasn’t. Chewy pepper partnered with grainy cheese and crunchy nuts gave this dish the perfect texture. The cheese was really the highlighter of the dish. And after we got our serving they were officially sold out of this at 8pm. A must try.
Oyster shot. A fresh oyster in a shot glass taken with an apple puree and horseradish. It all comes in layers and you are advised to stir it all together before taking down the big slurp. I suggest you do this thoroughly or else you get a hit of eye tearing wasabi in the back of your throat. I did not get to taste the apple as the spice really took away from it and the flavour and texture of the mild oyster.
Daily pickles. Pickled onions, beets, and cucumber. Not your usual appetizers. And not as tart or vinegary as your grocery store purchased bottle of “Bicks”. Each piece and each vegetable was gentle and light. They all came with a crunch that was punctuated with. moistness.
Our host was truly disappointed that they were no longer serving the scallop and polenta. She inquired about it, and we found out we were not the only table to be upset over its disappearance in the last two days. Since the menu was updated. Our server took the time to explain the why. They were unable to maintain the quality of the dish. The scallops in season that they were getting, were not being delivered consistent in size. And once you cook it down and it shrinks you want them to still look uniform.
Instead, we got the raw scallops dish. It was seasoned with pomegranate red curry oil, shredded daikon, and green apples. The flavours were really subtle. It was a shame that the pickled vegetables were a lead in to this. The sharpness in the dish before took away the subtle enjoyment in this one. The texture really comes through. And by having the raw apple and daikon you get that contrast of soft and crunchy.
“Dan Dan”. A Kohlrabi noodle salad with tofu and almonds. This was a vegetarian dish that didn’t look or taste like it. It was impressive how thin and lengthy they were able to get their pieces of kohlrabi. It truly had the texture of noodles. And if you were served this without a description you would think you were eating noodles. The sauce was savory and full of flavour. The tofu simulated meat; and for a carnivore like myself, it fooled me into thinking that this was not a vegetarian dish. An exciting and delightful taste journey. I wouldn’t order it again, but suggest that others try it before they decide the same for themselves.
Mushrooms with sugar snap peas. The peas were served whole and as a puree. It came with a soft boiled egg, and a soy yuzu brown butter sauce. We were advised to dab the vegetables into the runny yolk, like a dip. This was another vegetarian dish that was surprisingly delicious. Good thing we ordered another portion, on top of the one we got as part of the prix fix.
Ling cod, clams, corn purée, sea beans, and bacon dashi velouté. The fish was flaky with a crispy skin. The calms were velvety and gave the broth a delicious thickness. I was the most excited to try the salty sea beans, having seen them featured in a “mystery basket” on “Chopped”. All these ingredients were only brought together to me ok. It just fell short compared to the rest of our dishes. This was deemed the most “normal”
Market vegetables. Beets, onions and kale in a spicy Hollandaise sauce. We found the kale tough and all in all a pretty lack lustre dish. The vegetables felt bottom of the barrel. And the dull colours made it look less appealing.
Braised beef, with fennel two ways, in a soy lime syrup. The beef was tender and it came a part in threads of meat. The fennel gave the dish an airy crisp that the savory meat could not on its own.
Half duck done three ways. It came as one, crispy fried skin; two, succulent breast meat; and three, in a rich confit. The fried pieces of duck skin could have been crispier. Instead they resembled a fluffy chip that was both juicy and oily. This was all prepared with a carrot cake purée, orange jelly, and spices. The carrot cake reminded me of stuffing at Christmas dinner, especially with the use of iconic cinnamon and nutmeg. The duck breast was dipped into the orange jelly with orange rind. Its taste reminded us of Peking duck. A great citrus crisp with your meaty morsel.
The prix fix menu comes with the meringue for dessert, but we were able to swap it for the “Ovaltine” mousse cake instead. This was a smooth slice of cake paired with an orange blossom yogurt. The hardness came from the milk chocolate and toffee honey comb pieces jutting out at all corners. Our host knew the pastry chef, who not only created all the desserts, made in house, in a kitchen with very limited spacing . She was able to pre pipe this special birthday message for me tonight. From looks alone I knew this was going to be a delicious dessert. I enjoyed the pieces of chocolate and candy. They helped to create angles in the smooth, and give a crunch in the soft.
Would I go back? – Absolutely. This is officially my new favourite restaurant of 2013. One of those places that is still on the cusp of being a hidden gem and a Vancouver hot spot. I will not be surprised to see “Pidgin” listed with awards and earning accolades in the months to come.
Would I recommend it? – Yes, and I already have. This place is a delight. Beautiful decor, Stunning food, and Great service. In an area that is out of the way, and in a place that is not well known. This helps with no wait lines, no tightly squeezed in tables, and no rowdy dining neighbours. Just a great unique meal in a unique setting. And let us not forget the amazing cocktails. You eat with your eyes as much as you do with your mouth. And here you were delivered on both fronts, for food and drink. The night was a success with great company. I was wished a happy birthday by three different members of staff, and we were all made to feel extremely welcomed throughout our entire night. I left this night wanting another right after.
350 Carrall Street, Vancouver BC