Most people would probably say that gentrification is a good thing. You start with a neighborhood that struggles with poverty, drugs and crime, then you try to “clean” it up. However, this “clean up” process can easily be interpreted in a negative way and that’s something that PiDGiN had to face when it first opened in what is almost the boundary between Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Gastown.
That being said, restaurants like L’Abattoir are only a block or two away, but they never faced the same kind of resistance. Maybe it’s because Pidgin Restaurant is literally across the street from Pigeon Park. Maybe it’s because the stylized “PiDGiN” name makes it sound like the restaurant is poking fun at its less affluent neighbors.
Given everything that I’ve heard through both mainstream and social media, I was almost led to believe that PiDGiN was this swanky overpriced restaurant in one of Canada’s poorest postal codes. That wasn’t at all the case. Sure, it’s no dive, but I’d say the overall ambiance and decor would be at the same level of “smart casual” as places like Cactus Club or Milestone’s. You can dress up a little if you want, but you wouldn’t feel out of place in more casual garb.
But I’m not here to comment on the politics of the situation. I’m far more interested in the food. And that’s part of the reason why we decided to have a “no nonsense” dinner at PiDGiN. Unlike nearly everyone else, they weren’t putting together a more expensive prix fixe menu for New Year’s Eve. It was just the regular menu.
I started my evening with one of their house cocktails. This is their take on a standard whisky sour, opting for Irish whiskey, along with Guinness syrup, Irish bitters, egg white and fresh lemon. With just the right amount of sour, this was one tasty cocktail.
One of my dining mates went with this house cocktail, made with rum, lime, verjus and frozen grapes. I didn’t have any, but he sure seemed to enjoy the generous helping of grapes. The cocktail list is pretty fun, if you’re into that kind of thing, and they also offer beer, sake, plum sake, wine, single malt whisky, shochu and Japanese whisky too.
Recommended to us by the PiDGiN Twitter account, this was a great little “salad” to start our meal. I don’t remember what kind of mushrooms they were, but we were told they were wild and hand-foraged.
This was the appetizer special of the night. You could say it was similar to a duck terrine, spreading it over some nice crispy bread. If you prefer duck over canned tuna, then you’ll like this dish.
The cut-up octopus had the nice smoky char that you get from the grill, interestingly offset by some crumbled fennel biscotti. I was totally expecting the crunchy batter-like bits to be salty, like the batter you have on fried calamari, but instead they took on more of a sugar and cinnamon-like character.
Here we have very thinly sliced veal, accompanied by quite a bit of sashimi-grade tuna. It wasn’t the star of the night, but it was pretty darn good too.
You can’t really go wrong with gnocchi, can you? With a little bounce and chew, the tender little morsels helped to add some balance to our meal.
I’m not usually the biggest fan of “fusion” cuisine, especially when it’s unnecessarily overpriced, but this was pork belly with a fried egg in a reasonably priced bowl.
As our most expensive dish of the night, I expected a little more out of this brisket. The beetroot “jam” was an interesting touch and I enjoyed the Gorgonzola crust, but the meat itself was definitely on the drier side of things and the piece wasn’t all that substantial either. If you didn’t know any better, you’d almost think this was a picture of chocolate cake with some sort of berry coulis.
We ordered two desserts to share. The lightness of the meringue and almonds contrasted heavily with the bold flavor of the passion fruit. For my personal tastes, I think they should have shifted the ratio a little more toward the light meringue for better overall balance.
New to the menu, the matcha opera cake was served with wine poached pear and pomegranate. If you’ve ever had an “Asian” style green tea cake, then you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. It was fluffy and not too sweet. I think I preferred the meringue dish though.
The total bill for five guests, including taxes and gratuity, came to $160. That works out to just over $30 per person, which I would say is very reasonably priced for a dinner like this in the city. You might recall that I spent much more than that at Miku Restaurant the year prior and that was for just two people!
If you can get past the controversy, look beyond the politics, and overcome your fears of the less than perfect neighborhood, PiDGiN is one of the cooler spots in town to get an interesting and creative meal. I’d highly recommend going in a small to medium-sized group, ordering several dishes to share family style. You’ll have a far more enjoyable experience than if you order individually.