Restaurants & Bars 5

Wild Rice, Vancouver – fusion confusion

grayelf | May 10, 200808:04 AM

After an early movie at Tinseltown, we were deciding between Foo’s Ho Ho and Wild Rice, two restos serving Chinese food at opposite ends of the spectrum. Since I had never made it to the latter, and remembering a recent visitor’s post http://www.chowhound.com/topics/511928 we thought we’d give it a try as walkins. Although it was 7:45 on a Friday, we were seated immediately after being given a choice between two tables. We sat in front of the much-vaunted and very gorgeous ice blue glass bar. Watching the barman in action was entertaining. Our server was delightful, not the least bit snobby (a slight problem for our dining partner when she was last here more than a year ago).

We decided to start with cocktails from an interesting sounding list (all about $10). Friend J was very happy with her gingery concoction, I enjoyed my girly passionfruit based “martini” (although it could have been colder) and the marital unit was less pleased with his drink which had gin, grapefruit juice and tonic in it (he found the combination too much, whereas both J and I liked it).

We ordered a wonton soup with rock shrimp, chow mein with five kinds of mushroom and asparagus, the kung po chicken with twice-cooked peanuts and the short ribs. The menu is designed family style so the plates are meant to be shared in whatever order they come, just like a regular Chinese restaurant, and maybe that was part of the problem, considering how many great Chinese restos we are blessed with.

The soup came first, and had only 5 wonton which may be the standard serving but seemed a bit chintzy since the kitchen would have known it was going to a table of 3 – would it have killed them to throw in a 6th one? Maybe with margins being what they are the answer is yes but still… anyway it turned out not to be an issue as the soup was not so good. As soon as someone mentioned Oxo cubes, it was doomed. The broth was very beefy tasting and not in a good way. The idea may have been to think outside the light, clear broth I’m used to in wonton soup but we did not feel it worked. Too heavy handed, salty and dark. And the wontons were nothing to write home about, too chewy (a leap past al dente) and the shrimp was tough.

The short ribs arrived with a small bowl of bamboo frites. Bamboo is all about the texture, so the frites had an interesting crunch to them but all I could taste was the oil they had been cooked in, and the batter around them was glutinous, not light like tempura. They might have been saved had the smear of dip with them had some gumption but it was a mild mayo-y nothing. The ribs were sliced very thin in what I’m realizing is a way I’m not fussed about (same presentation as at Flying Tiger in Kits) and ranged from tough with very little meat to fairly tender with a fair amount of unrendered fat. My love for short ribs does not extend to this kind of dish, apparently. The sauce on them was quite nice, tasting a bit hoisin-ish.

The two noodle dishes (and in retrospect it may have been a mistake to order two) were not stellar. Despite the presence of the promised 5 mushrooms, the chow mein didn’t have much flavour, kind of just salty, although the pieces of asparagus were perfectly cooked and very tasty. The kung po sauce was a bit too thick and bland, although again the broccoli and chicken were both cooked very nicely. Even the twice-cooked peanuts were nothing special.

As the marital unit put it (who is getting more Chow-ish by the day), it seemed like someone had been given a lot of prepared/packaged ingredients and just kind of put them together. There was no brightness or lightness to any of the dishes. The amount of food overall was more than adequate – there was some kung po leftover. The tab before tip was $90, which although not outrageous for three with one round of cocktails at $30, did not feel like good value. Especially when you consider what we could have ordered three blocks away at Foo’s for $60… this was definitely a miss, despite the great service and beautiful room. I doubt that I would go back. With all the other Chinese options available, I think I’d go for the “real” thing.

Wild Rice is on Pender just west of Abbott.

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