Chef Makoto ono is trying to steal my wife from me. His charm offensive? A deceptively simple rice bowl, topped with cubes of foie gras, soy-braised daikon and chestnuts, the pile of goodies all lathered up with a sweet unagi glaze. “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” she says, fighting me off with her chopsticks. I fear I’m about to play Billy Crystal in the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene.
Pidgin tends to elicit intense responses, whether from the anti-gentrification protestors outside or the fashionable crowd inside this minimalist Downtown Eastside room, designed by Craig Stanghetta. The cuisine of Winnipeg-born chef Ono, who ran restaurants in Beijing and Hong Kong, draws from multiple languages; that seductive rice bowl speaks a coherent mix of French and Japanese.
But not every dish collects passport stamps: fried chicken wings, drizzled with Korean fermented chili gochujang, are strongly East; spears of crisp chard and broccolini are ideal vehicles for a fundamentally Euro hollandaise. Proper cocktails (tequila + falernum + chili water = the Savage Butcher) are backed by local sake on tap, served in carafes made from sawed-off glass bottles of 7UP.
By the time pastry chef Amanda Cheng’s superlative yuzu curd with meringue and chopped celery arrives, we ought to be emotionally spent. But Pidgin doesn’t wear you down; it lifts you up. Two girls in their going-out best (sequins, pearls) glide up to the bar, slurp down a glass of champagne and an oyster shot, spiked with horseradish and frozen shards of apple, and set out into the night. Clearly, we’re all speaking the same language here.
- BUTTER PLUS: Adding fat to butter? Whether duck fat (Supply and Demand) or barbecue drippings (Electric Mud BBQ), we say the more, the merrier.
- FOOD-FRIENDLY REDS: Versatile, high-acid, low-tannin red grapes, like zweigelt, lacrima, frappato and gamay, have moved to the top of the sommelier’s speed-dial list. Don’t call us, cab sauv, we’ll call you.
- LAMB BELLY: The new pork belly.
- SMALL PLATES, SMALLER TABLES: If you’re going to ask us to order four dishes per person to share, you’d better have a plan for where to put them. Yes, we are still working on all of these.
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