Wild Rice Modern Chinese Cuisine (Review 2)

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
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4.5
Overall: 2.5
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 – Bao & Brew Menu (Visit 1)

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

It was only a few weeks ago when I blogged about the limited time Bao & Brew Menu offered at Wild Rice located in Gastown Vancouver, BC. That was my first dining experience there and I mentioned how the concept of “modern Chinese food” didn’t sit well with me. Surprisingly my experience was better than I thought, but I still wasn’t convinced of what Wild Rice had to offer. I don’t want that to sound “snooty” at all, but they know, as much as I know, that I fall in the market that would not likely dine here. That being said, I’m open minded with food and the only way to explore and learn unfamiliar cuisines is to try more of it. So that’s exactly what I did.

As I mentioned previously, the chef here is not your typical Chinese chef. For one, he’s white, however he’s trained in classic Cantonese cuisine. And for two, he’s white… I think that’s a big enough factor to at least state twice! To see more on Chef Todd Bright – see my last post here.

After my post, I was invited to try some items from their regular menu, which I agreed is a better representation of what they do on a regular basis. To be honest, my thoughts haven’t changed too much and I found the food okay, but overpriced and not as good as dim sum dishes I could get for half the price. I really tried not to compare modern and authentic Chinese food, but when it comes to what tastes better, I think it’s somewhat fair.

On another note, what is the concept of fair? Is it fair that an authentic Chinese restaurant can afford to charge half the price because they use cheaper unsustainable ingredients? Or is it fair that Wild Rice charges more because they only use local, natural and sustainable ingredients? Although the food might not be as good (for me), I have to give them credit for being one of the very few “Chinese” restaurants who support this sustainable initiative. Regardless, as diners, we have the option to invest our money on what we perceive as being important when dining out.

Of course I appreciate the philosophy of local and natural ingredients, but overall the flavour still has to come together to justify the cost, and it doesn’t always do that for me here. I do believe that the concept of “modern Chinese” can work, but I also want these new creations to taste better than the original or at least be innovative enough that it’s incomparable. I get the feeling that the concept of modern Chinese is going to get really popular in Vancouver and I’m really curious to see, or I guess taste, how it will all work out… or “wok” out!

On the table:

Sloping Hill Pork & BC Spot Prawn Siu Mai – 2/6

  • $7
  • A modern take on the classic Siu Mai. Just for reference, one of my favourite authentic Steamed Pork Shui Mai Dumplings (Siu Mai) is from Red Star Seafood – see here.
  • It’s BC Spot Prawn season so I was hoping to see some on the menu, but probably not in this form. Having them chopped up and mixed with pork to make a meatball just seemed like such a waste.
  • It was predominantly pork, but I could taste a couple pieces of shrimp, and everything was tender and very juicy and sweet, but it was more or less a pork meatball.
  • The skins were wonton wrappers which wereΒ  too soft, but it did give the dumpling a melt in your mouth quality.
  • I could taste the sweetness of the meats and it was served with a sweet vinaigrette which just lightened up the dumpling. It wasn’t really required, but it was nice to have that contrast.
  • I didn’t find it that impressive or innovative as a modern Chinese dish, and I’d chose their Seafood Siu Mai before I would this one.

Seared Albacore Tuna 3/6

  • Ginger, shallot, daikon $13
  • This was almost a modern Japanese dish rather than a modern Chinese dish.
  • I love Albacore Tuna, so naturally this will be good for me. The tuna was excellent and seared perfectly, but more seasoning on the crust would be nice.
  • It was served on a unique pickled ginger, shallot and daikon relish and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
  • It was very light, bright and tangy, and the minced relish was almost like a Japanese pickled ginger salad.
  • The relish had a lot of dill and it tasted like dill pickle chips, but without the chips of coarse. I actually would have liked this with crispy garlic or shallot chips on top and I think that would play well with the relish.
  • The relish was very strong especially with the dill and ginger and the tuna only needed a little bit of it.
  • The balsamic vinaigrette was tang on top of tang so I just wanted another flavour or another texture to break things up a bit.
  • Pickled ginger is often eaten separately and I enjoyed it more as a palate cleanser rather than a side to this tuna.

Maple Hill Chicken & Scallop Potsticker2.5/6

  • $7
  • Another classic Chinese appetizer that you can usually get for under $5, but not with these ingredients.
  • This was also finished with a drizzle of truffle honey so it required no dipping sauce.
  • It was tender shredded chicken with a bit or scallop and then some crunchy minced chestnuts in the filling.
  • I could taste a bit of seafood, but the scallop felt a bit wasted in here too.
  • I was most excited for the truffle honey, but I could only smell a hint of truffle and then taste the honey, but no truffle flavour.
  • It was fried nice and crispy and it was savoury and sweet with a little bit of heat, but it’s not spicy. I think the heat took over any hint of truffle though.
  • This was okay, but I would much rather have their Jiaoza – which are amazing! A must try in my books.
  • I’d request any of their potstickers to be fried extra crispy.

Roasted Mushroom & Smoked Tofu Ravioli2.5/6

  • Vegetarian and Vegan $12
  • About 40% of their menu is vegetarian and vegan friendly.
  • It was a whole lot of sauce and it’s not really Chinese at all, except for maybe the use of Shiitake mushrooms, tofu and won ton skins for the ravioli wrapper.
  • It’s very saucy, but the sauce was bland and I had remembered it being used in their Fun Gwau – which was actually a dumpling version on this exact dish. I’d prefer those over this because I found this a bit bland and repetitive.
  • The sauce was a spinach, mixed herb and coconut milk sauce with a drizzle of chili oil for some heat. It’s not as rich or indulgent as it looks.
  • The sauce isn’t that creamy and you almost wanted it to be rich like a green Thai curry sauce, or salty and nutty like a pesto sauce, or sweet like a green pea puree, but it was none of the above.
  • The spinach doesn’t add much flavour or texture and I felt the same way about it the first time I tried it with their Fun Gwau.

It came with 4 jumbo sized pieces of ravioli.

  • The ravioli skins are won ton wrappers and they’re very thin and soft and decently stuffed with a minced filling of smoked tofu and roasted Shiitakes.
  • The filling was a bit bitty for my liking and I would have preferred the filling more whole so that I could taste the individual ingredients.
  • I actually lost the tofu in there, but I know it was firm tofu that was being used.
  • It’s somewhat smoky and a bit one dimensional and I just wanted more flavour from this filling and sauce.

**Yarrow Meadows Duck Breast “China Town” Style4/6

  • Bok choy, cucumber ribbon, jasmine rice $19
  • Usually it’s served with a side of rice wrapped with a cucumber slice, but everything else is the same.
  • This did not look that impressive to me at all for $19, but given that it’s “Yarrow Meadows Duck Breast” I guess the cost has to come from that. I still find it overpriced though.
  • On another note, it tasted very good and it was very impressive for a modern Chinese place.
  • It actually tasted pretty authentic to me and almost even better than a traditional “China Town” duck.
  • This was the most traditional item I had, and it takes a lot of skill to master. I think they said it’s marinated for 2 days and hung dry for 1 or vise versa?
  • It’s not really anything I haven’t had before, but I really didn’t think it would be as good as it was.

  • The sauce was sweeter and more intense than a traditional Chinese sauce.
  • It was almost like a soy duck au jus reduction rather than a gravy so it was bold, savoury, syrupy and sweet with sauteed garlic and shallots too. It wasn’t that oily either for what it was.
  • Baby bok choy was the most obvious side, but I would have liked more variety with either more vegetables, some Shiitake mushrooms or just something to make it different if it’s going to be “modern”.
  • The duck was all breast and it had a very crispy skin and a pretty substantial amount of fat. The fat was incredibly creamy, melt in your mouth, and not really that gelatinous or chewy at all though.
  • It was a bit too fatty for my liking, but it was made well and the meat was moist, falling apart tender and incredibly well marinated. I barely had to chew it.
  • Overall it was well executed and there was nothing wrong with it, but I think it should be at least $2-3 less especially since it’s just baby bok choy.

Desserts

Ginger Panna Cotta Sesame Praline (Vegan) – $7

Key Lime Pie, Anise Honey Drizzle – $7

**Flourless Cardamom and Chocolate Torte – $7

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Wild Rice on Urbanspoon

19 Comments

  • Bow says:

    I think the Wild Rice suffers from the competition of the wonderful Chinese food we have in Vancouver. This restaurant would do better in a place like New York,where most people aren’t cognizant about Chinese food. For this place to survive, you need lottsa people traffic…preferably out of towners who don’t and won’t go to authentic Chinese places but like its looks…mebbe Robson street?Hard to justify the cost of the Sui Mai and potstickers just because you use Sloping Hills Pork. It’s not better tasting than those of great Chinese restaurants. The Hakkasan has tried to overprice itself doing Asian fusion and had to really lower it’s prices to survive. Too much great competition at much lower prices.

  • Linda says:

    you went to wild rice again!!?? i hope you at least used an entertainment coupon this time πŸ™‚

    i will also have a soft spot for this place but since they’ve changed chefs, i’m more or less a but more objective – i often find that their menu items are a bit confusing – i know they’re supposed to be ‘modern chinese’ but it seems like they follow this mentality only halfway.. like the siu mai – if you’re going to make it more modern, maybe use a different wrapper.. add more unique fillings and even change the shape of the classic siu mai into something else…. and if you’re going to use spot prawns, use that as a topper for the dish so it’s not lost in a sea of minced pork!

    wow that ravioli may as well been called a soup or something – look at all that sauce! and the fact that the sauce wasn’t very good really spoils the flavour potential the ravioli could have had πŸ™ props for the duck though! but i would rather mine be a little less fatty lol

  • Linda says:

    wow look at all my spelling errors! horrible! lol

  • Sherman says:

    Boy… that ravioli has so much sauce. Looks a bit unappetizing. The duck looks good though. Yah, I agree with Bow. Wild Rice would do well like in Seattle or something like that. With that being said, I didn’t mind Bao Bei. I guess it is still up to personal tastes. However, people have to realize they can’t really compare places like Wild Rice, Bao Bei and Terracotta to a Chinese restaurant. Not the same thing. But when you got a bunch of Asians who are used to paying a lot less for usually better food, it is hard to convert.

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – Hi Bow! Did you read my first post on Wild Rice? I raised a lot of the topics you mentioned… on the other hand I think it’s important to try really hard to not compare it to the authentic stuff and instead compare it to places like Terra Cotta, Bao Bei, or Red Door and things like that.

    @Linda – Linda I have tons of spelling errors! it’s a blog not a term paper πŸ™‚ Don’t even worry!! The siu mai is actually a different wrapper, it’s a wonton wrapper πŸ™‚ But yet I agree, less fat on my duck too. And yes the ravioli was soupy πŸ™

    @Sherman – If the sauce had been good, I wouldn’t have minded the sauce.. but…
    I like Bao Bei too! omg that’s exactly what I just wrote in response to Bow and I didn’t even see your comment yet!! Hanging out with you too much lol

  • Bow says:

    Mijune, I’m suggesting that Wild Rice may not find many Asian fans ‘cos of higher prices and food below par on Chinese cuisine. It’s W-A-A-Y out of the way for heavy pedestrian traffic. Ergo, it competes with other “tapas” style places(Mis Trucos, Helm, Nook, the Glowbal Group etc.,etc.) but Westerners prefer the traditional style…only Izakaya bars are popular w. Westerners, yet most patrons are Asian.

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – ahh yes I see what you mean. Yes, in that case I see what you mean and agree.

  • Mau says:

    Now imagine, that the chef that used to work at Wild Rice became the chef at Cobre (Latin-fusion)…that’s because Chinese and Latinamerican food are so similar (…not!!). That’s another reason why I don’t like Cobre that much…not really Latin food.

  • Mijune says:

    @Mau – Hmm I’ve never tried Cobre. I know you know your Latin cuisine though… have you tried the new place that opened in the Waldorf? Thoughts?

  • Mau says:

    I read a review about it in the Vancouver Sun and it wasn’t that positive, and I then found out that the main chef at the Waldorf left shortly after…so that scared me and haven’t gone yet.

  • Mijune says:

    @mau – well I guess we can’t say unless we try right? Let me know your thoughts if you try it though.

  • Mau says:

    well, I’ll be honest with you: before I go to a “new” restaurant I have to do my extensive homework since I have to make sure (as much as I can) that the place won’t disappoint me. This is due to the fact that I don’t have a lot of money and whenever I spend money for a good dinner I want to make sure it counts. Thus, I will until until bloggers, such as yourself, go to that restaurant before I even consider going πŸ™‚

  • Mijune says:

    @Mau – LOL!!!! I don’t know whether I should take that as a compliment or… or… I don’t know lol. Yes… we are your “trial and error” “take one for the team” people… trust me we are broke people too.. AHAHAH… it’s an expensive “hobby” to keep up with I’ll amit

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