Ping’s Cafe

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Restaurant: Ping’s Cafe
Cuisine: Japanese/Izakaya/Tapas/Fusion
Last visited: August 20, 09
Location: Vancouver, BC (Main Street)
Address: 2702 Main Street
Price Range: $10-20

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4.5
Service: 3
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Westernized Japanese dishes, pretty funky
  • Izakaya dishes – small plates meant to be shared
  • Offers selection of larger plates too – $14-18
  • Japanese chefs/cooks
  • Homestyle/Homemade Japanese comfort food w/a twist
  • Dainty rather than hearty or greasy
  • Creative dishes, few ingredients, done well
  • Definition of “don’t judge a book by its cover” – looks ghetto on the outside, inside is nice
  • Small restaurant, not much seating so go early
  • Hip and trendy, but laid back
  • Art and interior done by local artists
  • Dinner service only

**Recommendation: Bang Bang Chicken Salad, Pork Gyoza, Tonkatsu Kushi Age, Tori Karaage

I’ve waited a long time to try this restaurant an I’m glad I finally did it. I’ve driven by it and was always hesitant because from the outside it looks like an old Chinese diner that serves all day breakfast for $2.99. However, the inside is completely different. It’s actually really contemporary and relaxed with donated art pieces. Quite hipster actually.

The chefs and cooks are actually Japanese. Each dish is prepared upon order rather than mass produced. It’s one of those places that feels so home made that a dish may taste a little different the next time. It’s homemade Japanese comfort food with a slight twist. For a place that self quotes “Canadian Japanese food” I expected the kitchen to be run by students of all nationalities; but it’s actually older Japanese people, maybe even family run. Nothing gourmet here – just creative ideas, made with few ingredients, done well.

We ordered all izakaya dishes – but if you go for a large plate they recommend the Cod Miso-Teri or Sukiyaki Steak Frites. I hear about their “Ping Dog” and wanted to try it so I asked about it; but the server was really honest and said “it’s a bratwurst”…so I passed.

On the table:

  • **Bang Bang Chicken Salad 5/6
    • Shredded chicken breast, daikon, carrot, cucumber and lettuce with spicy goma-miso dressing and crispy wonton skins.
    • I really enjoyed this. It’s one of their best sellers so it’s a tad expensive at $8…but it was good. There was a nice mound of salad with a decent amount of chicken and everything is cut to a julienne so the composition is great. You taste some of everything in each bite because it’s all cut to the same size. The ingredients literally fold around each other because they’re cut so thin. The veggies are fresh and the dressing was a vinaigrette made the sesame gomaae (dressing you usually have with spinach gomaae) and Miso – it worked really well and was very flavourful.
  • Goma-ae 2/6
    • Cooked spinach with sesame sauce. Regular or spicy.
    • This is a dish I almost always order at any Japanese restaurant so I have a selection to compare to. This one was recommended, but it wasn’t great. It lacked flavour and there was definitely not enough sesame sauce. It came on a plate not a bowl so there was nothing to hold the sauce and there wasn’t even sauce drizzled on top. The spinach shouldn’t be soggy or drenched in sesame sauce, but it should be nicely coated. Much of the time I felt like I was eating cooked spinach with a few sesame seeds sprinkled on it.
  • Tuna Tataki 4/6
    • Seared Albacore Tuna with greens, cucumber, daikon & shoyu vinaigrette
    • We had it with half tuna belly and half the regular Albacore Tuna. I don’t think they offer this option all the time though so you have to ask them. Pretty nice presentation but it could have used one more ingredient to give it that extra something. Whether it’s garlic chips or freshly grated wasabi it needed an extra note. It came with no wasabi actually which is a no no because wasabi and seared tuna go hand in hand. This was still enjoyable, but it didn’t make an impression because I’ve had better.
  • **Pork Gyoza 5/6
    • Panfried dumplings made of pork, cabbage, garlic and green onion.
    • I would usually pass on the gyoza because it’s so typical and usually tastes all the same. For me it’s a ‘try one try them all’ thing…however this gyoza changed my mind. At a restaurant like this where there’s so many different items I usually would have passed for sure. However our server said it was a favourite so I decided to give it a try…on the second round of ordering. I’m really glad I did too!
    • The gyozas are homemade and you can tell. They’re nice and plump with a generous amount of stuffing and the skin is not too thick and not paper thin either. You can see the green onion and cabbage and they’re not used as a filler but more as a complement to the pork. They’re better than the gyozas I’ve had at many other Japanese restaurants. At $1 they’re totally worth it. These are gyozas done well…finally.
  • **Tori Karaage – 5/6
    • Shoyo, sake, garlic, ginger marinated chicken thigh deep fried and served on greens with ponzu and mayo.
    • Another popular item. Chicken karaage like you’ve never had it – not the chicken karaage you get at Japanese all you can eat. This is the homemade kind! The marinade they use is great – it tenderizes the chicken so well. When you bite into it, you can taste the special marinade and the chicken is juicy. Yes, it’s deep fried, but no it’s not very greasy, just juicy. The batter is not thick so it’s very crispy and you can tell it’s made upon order. It almost tastes baked rather than deep fried.
  • Ika Karaage – 4/6
    • Lightly battered calamari with wasabi tzatziki.
    • It wasn’t the best thing I’ve had, but I would still order it again because it’s a unique dish you can’t find anywhere else.
    • The calamari are the rings, not the little squid balls. You get and taste more squid than batter which is really nice. The squid was a bit chewy and tough (overcooked) rather than tender though. I think they need to experiment with the cooking temperature/method – if the squid was tender and they managed to keep the coating still crispy this would be recommended for sure.
    • Wasabi tzatziki – what a brilliant idea! It tastes like yogurt mixed with wasabi, so an easy recipe, but it does the job just fine.
  • Sake Drunken Chicken – 3/6
    • Grilled chicken marinated in sake.
    • This was worth it at around $2 a skewer. Sake really does the job in tenderizing meat. The sake wasn’t over powering and you could still taste it lingering in the chicken. Nothing spectacular in terms of flavour – but just simply done well for what it is.
  • Kabocha (Pumpkin) Korokee – 4/6
    • Kabocha pumpkin, potato and sauteed onion croquette with yoshoku sauce.
    • The presentation caught me off guard – it was quite cute and because of the atmosphere it was very suitable.
    • The yoshoku sauce – tastes like a bold BBQ sauce – it has a kick to it, it’s not really spicy though – it just has a kick…a cross of spicy and tangy – like mustard. I liked it though. The croquette is very nice, the filling was the texture of a mashed potato puree and it’s homemade – you can really tell, you can see the minced onion. Part of me felt like I was eating gourmet McCain Smiley Fries – you know those fries stuffed with mashed potatoes with smiles on them? The ones that kids eat…yeah I felt like I was eating those, but upgraded and for adults. Maybe it was because it was served with a smiley face? Anyways the pumpkin tastes like squash so this croquette was on the sweeter side and it went well with the BBQ…or I mean yoshoku sauce.
  • **Tonkatsu Kushi Age 5/6
    • 4 skewered panko breaded pork cutlets with Japanese hot mustard Yoshoku sauce.
    • This sauce was the same sauce that was on the Kabocha Korokee aka croquettes. AND so it IS a hot mustard! That explains the bold/tangy/spicy flavour I was trying to describe. All makes sense now…so the sauce tastes like a combo of BBQ sauce and hot mustard…
    • This dish tastes way better than it looks, and it doesn’t even look bad. The pork cutlets are lean and thin, and really tender. You can actually bite a piece of pork cutlet off without having to use your teeth to pull and tear a piece off. The pork manages to stay together with the panko batter skin which is great. I hate when it separates so that you’re left with a piece of pork and then the battered skin. This dish is crispy and delicious, simple and perfect.

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