Wild Rice – Bao & Brew Menu for Asian Heritage Month

Restaurant: Wild Rice
Cuisine: Chinese/Modern/Tapas/Dim Sum/Vegetarian
Last visited: April 28, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown)
Address: 117 W Pender St
Price Range: $20-30

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

Food: 2.5-3 (Based on Bao & Brew menu)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4.5
Overall: 3
Additional comments:

  • Restaurant/Lounge
  • Modern Chinese tapas
  • Dim sum/small plates
  • Executive Chef Todd Bright
  • Trendy/Posh atmosphere
  • Local/Sustainable
  • Seasonal menus
  • Good for groups
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Vegan friendly
  • Dairy free restaurant
  • Cocktails/wine list
  • Open late
  • Sun-Thurs: 5pm to at least 10pm
  • Friday: 11:30am to midnight
  • Saturday: 5pm to midnight
  • Wild Rice – Review/Post 2

**Recommendations: Jiaoza, Yarrow Meadows Duck Breast “China Town” Style, Flourless Cardamom and Chocolate Torte

Spot Prawn season starts May 7, Asian Heritage Month is May 6-31, and Vancouver Craft Beer Week is May 6-14! Come what May… I will love you until my dying day! And really what comes in May is something all foodies should look forward to. It’s a celebration of culture, food and festivities and I can’t think of a better way to participate then to eat my way through them. So where did I start? Well I killed two birds with one stone and so did Wild Rice!

I didn’t even know it was so nice inside!

Let’s be honest now, Wild Rice has been open for about ten years and there’s a reason why I haven’t posted on it yet. I’m simply not the target market and the concept of modern Chinese food never sat well with me. Until this day I have no interest on really trying places like Red Door Pan Asian Grill or PF Chang’s. For me the idea of modern and fusion seems to do best in Japanese cuisine out of all the Asian cuisines.

I should clarify though, I have tried it. I’ve given it a chance at Terracotta Modern Chinese, which didn’t work out as well, Goldfish Pacific Kitchen, which was okay, and a few others, but nothing has really changed my mind. However I did have a positive experience at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, which has also won numerous awards this year including “Best New Restaurant” by Where Magazine.

The concept of modern Chinese has its place, but whether it’s for me is something I’m still doubting. Thoughts of I can find this better for cheaper, or comparing it to the “real deal” is always what I find myself doing when dining this type of cuisine. Therefore when I was invited to the tasting of Wild Rice’s Bao & Brew Menu for Asian Heritage Month I was hesitant.

That being said I do believe you can’t pass judgment on something you’ve never tried, so I was curious to see if Wild Rice could show me something new, or even just good. To be fair, I tried my best to come in with an open mind. So now Vancouver, with an open heart (and mind) and an empty stomach, I say to you in the words of *his* uncle, Allez cuisine!’

Okay, now little did I know that he would be the one doing the Allez Cuisine! I introduce to you Executive Chef Todd Bright. Yes! That’s white! I mean right!

Chef Todd Bright is actually trained in Cantonese cooking. I know! What?! Yes, rub your eyes, but it’s true. He was also “that” chef that caught people off guard at the 2011 HSBC Chinese Restaurant Awards this year – see here. Considering Wild Rice offers modern Chinese cuisine, I guess I can’t be too surprised. But regardless, as Michael Jackson once said “it don’t matter if you’re black or white”. Or in my own words, it don’t matter who’s doing the cooking, but as long as it’s good. I have so many biases that I can only approach this post with that perspective.

I was here for the Bao and Brew Menu which features dim sum and beer pairings. The concept was almost a hybrid I’d call “Chinese Izakaya” which is quite new for me. I’m also not the type to enjoy dim sum with anything other than hot tea, so I faced many challenges. I’m still not convinced of this “modern Chinese” thing, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and it left me curious enough to perhaps try from their regular menu.

The following “Bao and Brew Menu” is available for Asian Heritage Month May 6-31. To see items from their regular menu see my post here.

On the table:

Seafood Siu Mai – 2.5/6

  • House smoked Sablefish, Coho salmon, cilantro and rock crab with orange and red vinegar sabayon $7 With brew pairing $16
  • The idea of red vinegar sabayon did not sit well with me, but it ended up tasting better than I thought.
  • Besides the shape, it was closer to a wonton than it was a Siu Mai. Enjoying it as a wonton with vinegar worked better anyways.
  • They were plump and wrapped quite loosely and the filling was flaky and juicy.
  • They were very tender with very soft skins, which were a bit overcooked, but they kind of just melted away in your mouth.
  • I found the sablefish a bit of a waste because I couldn’t taste it though.
  • The rock crab was most apparent surprisingly and the salmon did bring a stronger flavour while adding a denser texture.
  • It was all very light especially with a citrus tang from the vinegar, but all the other sauces used to marinade the seafood was lost underneath that.
  • Since it was also foam it made it even lighter and it absorbed easily into the seafood filling. Foams don’t bother me, but I didn’t really see its purpose here.
  • I could taste dill which was classic with the salmon, but it kind of battled the equally as powerful cilantro that complemented the crab.
  • Overall there were a bit too many things going on and it was a bit confusing.

Driftwood Whitebark Ale (650ml)

  • “A little coriander and orange peel makes this ale a natural pairing with the siu mai which contains oyster sauce, cilantro and sesame and chili oil” $12.50
  • This is available on the regular menu and it was actually quite nice.
  • I found it brought out the sweetness in the seafood and made it a light and summery appetizer.

Fun Gwau (Vegan)- 2.5/6

    • Portobello mushroom, smoked tofu, fresh basil, truffle oil, black pepper with ginger, spinach coconut sauce $7 With brew pairing $16
    • I liked the idea and the presentation, but the flavours were a bit bland.
    • I tried not to compare it to the traditional Chinese fun gwau (see aka “Steamed Pork Dumplings with Peanuts” here), but it was hard.

  • It was smoky and nutty from the bits of firm tofu and sesame seeds on top.
  • It had a crumbly texture with some sweet Shiitakes and I could taste a hint of truffle oil and black pepper at the end, but it was still a bit bland and the flavours didn’t pop.
  • The skin was nice and chewy and well executed which surprised me since it’s a technique that’s hard to master.
  • For a vegetarian fun gwau it was quite good, but I still wanted more texture from perhaps some water chestnuts or peanuts.
  • Chef tried to replicate the traditional peanuts used in fun gwau by incorporating toasted sesame seeds, which I could taste, but I wouldn’t have minded some inside the dumpling or even some sesame sauce as well.
  • The spinach coconut sauce was also very mild and soupy so it didn’t do much. Basil instead of spinach would have given it more flavour and the lack of creaminess made it taste watered down.

Driftwood Farmhand Ale (650ml)

  • “This tart ale has a subtle black pepper finish which complements the smoky, peppery qualities of the dumpling” $12.50
  • This is available all throughout May.
  • It was a bit robust for my liking and if the fun gwau wasn’t as bland and light I think it would have held up better with this beer.

**Jiaoza – 6/6

  • Local Wing Wing sausage, shiitake mushroom and taro root with cauliflower puree $7 With brew pairing $11
  • These were delicious! I would come back for these!
  • I’ve never had anything like them, which is good so that I have nothing to compare to! It was something new and different that worked!
  • There was nothing traditional about it, but the combination of ingredients was spot on!
  • It was a very rich appetizer and hands down the best thing I had here.
  • The pan fried dumpling had a crispy nutty skin and creamy soft filling of pureed taro root mixed with bits of savoury and sweet cured Chinese sausage (Wing Wing is the brand), and juicy sweet Shiitake mushrooms. Great texture and flavour!
  • It was so different dipping them into a creamy sauce rather than vinegar, but it worked!
  • The cauliflower puree was silky smooth with lots of butter and its richness complemented the creamy texture of the taro root filling. Both were rich and creamy, but their flavours distinct and perfectly matched.
  • I feel like the cauliflower puree had some celery root in the background and it was dynamic and sweet and almost like a velouté it was so creamy.
  • I highly recommend asking the Jiaoza to be fried extra crispy because I had ones that weren’t as golden brown and they weren’t as good.

Lighthouse Riptide Pale Ale (341ml)

  • “The sweetness of the cured sausage needs this medium-bodied beer which also has enough crispness to cut through the richness” $6
  • This is available on their regular menu.
  • These dumplings were so rich I personally prefer having them with tea, but I could see where they were going with this pairing.
  • It was crisp, but it also had a mild honey flavour to it which went nicely with the dumplings.

Sheng Jian Bao – 2/6

  • Curried Pemberton beef brisket $7 With brew pairing $11
  • These looked very professional and based on presentation I was impressed.
  • Sheng Jian Bao is a Shanghainese dim sum dish, and that’s another cuisine that’s hard to tackle and perfect, so I was quite excited to try these.

The bottoms were pan-fried nice and crispy as they should be.

  • This was a Shanghainese Sheng Jian Bao meets a Chinese curry pork pastry.
  • I wasn’t a fan of this and I prefer the traditional Sheng Jian Bao instead – see Pan Fried Pork Buns.
  • Okay, now not comparing them to the real deal, these ones were still only okay.
  • The filling tasted similar to the beef curry puff pastry buns you would find at a Chinese bakery, except the seasonings were off.
  • The curry powder was too strong and there was a lack in savoury flavour and depth.
  • The bun was a good thickness with a crispy bottom and the inside was filled with shredded beef brisket, onions and carrots.
  • It was tender and a bit oily rather than juicy.
  • The soft mantou bun was well executed and the filling was a mild spicy, but it just tasted like curry powder.

Phillips Blue Black (341ml)

  • “Robust mid-palette beer enhances the richness of the beef, while the malty flavour complements the curry style” $6
  • I missed my photo of it, but this is available all throughout May.
  • I didn’t have enough of this to really comment.

Organic Jasmine Pearl White Tea 5/6

  • When submerged in hot water, these hand rolled pearls unfurl a fragrant medium character $6.50
  • The teas are from Tea Laves and this one was delicious. It was a beautiful sweet Jasmine tea that was floral in aroma and flavour with a hint of green tea in the background.
  • For the creme de la creme of Jasmine Pearl Tea, see my post for Sphere Jasmine Tea.

Desserts

The desserts are all made in house, but I kind of feared them. As you already know, or don’t know, I’m not a fan of Chinese desserts. The good thing is, is that these were barely Chinese! Definitely catered to a Western palate these desserts were not bad. On the other hand I was hoping to see more Chinese influence. I sound contradicting, but what I mean is that there are ways of sticking to Chinese desserts, but just making them modern.

Ginger Panna Cotta Sesame Praline (Vegan) – 1.5/6

  • $7
  • If it’s vegan, it’s not a panna cotta, well it’s not an authentic panna cotta at least.
  • This was more like a coconut jello and the ginger flavour was so faint and only kicked in at the very end and only after a few bites.
  • It was topped with a mandarin compote, but there was nothing very good about this dessert.
  • The sesame praline was also soft like a cookie so it wasn’t crunchy as it should be although still tasty.
  • It really bothers me when they call coconut jello or pudding “panna cotta” because it sets you up with expectations and you end up getting disappointed since it’s nowhere close to one.
  • It was better than the Coconut Panna Cotta at Terracotta Modern Chinese, but I would rather have the the Ginger Panna Cotta at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie any day, which was an actual panna cotta and an excellent one for that matter.

Key Lime Pie, Anise Honey Drizzle – 3.5/6

  • $7 (Contains dairy)
  • This was almost a straight up American dessert. I guess they tried with the anise, but maybe they could do a sesame crust or a coconut key lime custard.
  • It was a large slice and it was thick, rich and creamy, but I wanted more of a key lime tang.
  • A key lime pie also requires some whipped cream, so I was hoping for that.
  • It wasn’t too sweet and there was key lime zest, but that tang is important to me.
  • It was a thin, tender and soft graham cracker crust which I’m not sure if it was supposed to be crunchy or not.
  • The anise honey drizzle was a great idea, but I don’t remember it making much of an impact because I didn’t know that’s what it was until re-reading the description now.

**Flourless Cardamom and Chocolate Torte – 4/6

  • $7 (Contains dairy)
  • I really enjoyed this, but it was more Indian inspired than Chinese inspired.
  • It was a rich and dense bittersweet moist chocolate cake that was perhaps made from ground almond (?).
  • It’s quite indulgent and there was an aromatic scent of cardamom that was strong, but not overpowering.
  • It was topped with a chocolate sauce and the texture was very soft and creamy and all very decadent.
  • As good as it was, I wouldn’t be able to have a full piece, but I wouldn’t object to a few bites for sure!

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7 Comments

  • Linda says:

    ahh wild rice! i have really fond memories of this place because i had a bday party here once and i met with andrew and he was fabulous! he told me the story behind the origami hanging down from the ceilings and the history behind the building. too bad you didn’t get a chance to come here until now especially since now that chef stuart irving is no longer there since he now runs cobre 🙂

    when i first looked at the siu mai, i thought it was a macaron! lol i find asian fusion modern, whatever you want to call it, chinese places never seem to hit the mark in terms of dumplings – the dough is never right, the fillings are somewhat too trendy and not traditional enough and its really difficult to replace something that you’ve known the taste of all your life – i’m glad the chef hit the mark with the potstickers though 🙂

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – Lol I love your initial guess at what the food is! Yes Andrew was very nice and I got to learn a bit more about the menu and concept. I have to keep remembering that it caters to a Western palate so I had to keep an open mind… you said it right though “its really difficult to replace something that you’ve known the taste of all your life” – thanks for commenting Linda! (As always)

  • LotusRapper says:

    Ah Wild Rice, the pioneer of modern Chinese fusion in Vancouver. Man it’s been a LONG time since I was last there (2002 ?). Andrew W. is actually a relative of a cousin-in-law of mine. Cool to see they kept to their original formula all these years.

    Love your interludes of ales 😀 So did you like um, finish each one before the next course ?

    Were all the jiaoza (love that hybrid name !) and bao’s made in-house ?

  • LotusRapper says:

    Ooops, I meant to ask if the jiaoza and bao wrappings are made in-house ? But now re-reading the bit about Chef Bright’s background, it would be foolish to assume otherwise !

    Definitely I’m overdue for a re-visit to WR !

  • Mijune says:

    @LotusRapper – wow! What a small world!! Then perhaps this is the perfect time to revisit!! Thank you for your awesome comments! I did finish each one! I had more than one of the jiaoza too! Loved those!! I’m curious to hear your opinions of this menu so if you get the chance to try it please let me know 🙂 And yes, he made all the wrappers! I think all of them at least… I’m not sure about the mantou actually, I was too busy taking photos and should have listened more :S

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