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Restaurant: ReFuel Restaurant & Bar – Whole Hog Dinner
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/West Coast/Eclectic
Last visited: November 30, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Kitsilano)
Address: 1944 W 4th Ave
Bus stop: EB w 4 Av NS Cypress St
Price Range: $30-50+ ($20-25 mains)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
Food: 3.5 (Just for Whole Hog Dinner)
- Neighbourhood gem
- Local ingredients
- Seasonal menus
- Local favourite
- Higher priced
- Wine list/cocktails
- Lunch: Mon-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm
- Dinner: Mon-Fri. 5pm-10pm
- Brunch: Sat-Sun 11:30am-3pm
- Dinner Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm
*Oink* It was a dinner date with a pig and at the end of the night my lips were greasy and I don’t wear lip gloss. It was the annual Whole Hog Dinner at ReFuel ($59 + taxes and gratuities) featuring 10 courses made with various parts of the pig. From the brains, snout, ears, hock and of course belly, it was a feast I could also call Sunday dinner at grandmas. Being Asian, head to tail dining is all too familiar, but for North American tastes it is considered “exotic”.
Not only was the concept familiar, but so was the style because it happened to be Asian inspired. I’m really biased when it comes to anything Asian fusion because generally I can find the same thing for better and cheaper at an Asian restaurant. On the other hand, it’s not really fair to compare, so I have to take it as is. Some courses were better than others, which is usually the case, and although I haven’t been to ReFuel on a regular night, I have a feeling it could be better.
The Whole Hog Dinners are served family style over long communal tables, which I like, but it tends to work better when it’s actually your own family or friends. The dinner starts off as a mad house, which is understandable since everyone is so hungry from “dieting” for the day. It’s nothing against the other diners we were seated with, but the set up for the feast wasn’t great.
Unfortunately, my friend and I ended up getting seated in what I call “the crack”. It’s the part of the table that’s considered “no mans land” where the food never gets served and is last to get passed to. Normally it would be fine if there was enough for everyone, but we ended up getting a bit shafted. The food ended up being divided by groups and not by person and everyone paid the same price. I don’t want to sound like a pig, but we really got the scraps of almost every single plate, but two, and one was the salad. In the end I was getting full off the leftover vegetables and condiments, which is almost wrong at a Whole Hog Dinner.
The quality of the dinner was generally good for being prepared for about 60 people, but the logistics and serving arrangements weren’t ideal. ReFuel features one of these feasts on a monthly basis and I would consider it a decent value if you get your fair share. Again, I’m pretty biased because I know I can order 10 courses of various parts of the pig a la carte at an Asian restaurant for about $40/person, or even have an 8-10 course Alaskan King Crab meal for the same, but it’s apples and oranges.
The Whole Hog Dinner is unique to the somewhat “safe” Vancouver food scene, and I appreciate the concept and intent of showcasing the use of the whole animal and not wasting. Just pick and choose your seat carefully and avoid “the crack”.
On the table:
- It had all the ingredients ready for a banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) and it included pickled daikon, pickled cucumbers, pickled carrots, cilantro, and jalapeno.
- There was a Japanese whole grain mustard seed sauce and an apple and ginger sauce for the shredded pork pancakes.
- There was a bowl of Chinese green onion and ginger oil, which is traditionally eaten with chicken, so it was interesting to see at a pork feast.
- The green onion and ginger oil also tasted Japanese. It was sweetened with mirin and tangy from rice wine vinegar which are both not normally used.
- Pickled condiments are best with such a rich, hearty and greasy meal, but it would rarely be served like this.
- It was a Western take on kimchi.
- It didn’t have the traditional Korean Gochuchang paste so it wasn’t red, pungent, or as sweet or spicy.
- The cabbage was crunchy and it was still spicy and tangy, and commendable for a non-Korean restaurant.
- Again, it was a smart condiment to have since everything was so rich and greasy.
- Normally I’m not a head cheese fan and it’s a texture thing, however this one I really liked.
- I’m not a fan of the Chinese style head cheese or grocery store head cheese, and this one was just so much better.
- It was still incredibly gelatinous and gelatin like in texture, but the flavours were good enough to overlook it.
- It tasted like layers of solidified soy sauce gravy and it was sweet and savoury and made with good pork stock.
- This was a bonus dish!
- It looked like Ma Po Tofu meets that Chinese egg and tofu dish.
- Initially I was so excited that there were black Century Eggs in it, but then I realized it was eggplant. I love eggplant too though, so I was still happy. Both would have been even better!
- It was definitely a Western take on Ma Po Tofu served over steamed rice, and it wasn’t as sweet or spicy as the original and I prefer it with the added black beans and szechuan peppers.
- For a non-traditional Ma Po Tofu it was still very good, but just more mild.
- The sauce was a soy based sauce with some chili flakes for a little heat, but it wasn’t spicy.
- This was the “healthy” salad.
- Mizuna tastes like arugula and it was lightly dressed in a Japanese whole grain mustard seed and pig brain vinaigrette with shaved cheese on top.
- The pickled brain was almost dissolved into the vinaigrette so you wouldn’t even be able to tell it was in there. I couldn’t even taste it.
- Instead of croutons it was crispy pig ear, which is even better than croutons in my opinion. It’s like gourmet “bacon bits” or bacon chips.
- They were incredibly crunchy and salted with a pork fat aftertaste and it was nice with the tangy salad.
- If you like the sound of this I also recommend the Tonkatsu Caesar at Hapa Umi with pork cheek croutons.
- This was a portion for 6 and by the time I got the plate there were no meatballs left so I had to ask my neighbours for one of theirs. That shouldn’t happen at these dinners.
- I got to try one meatball and it was delicious, which made it even worse that I only got one. My friend only got one too.
- The meatball was well browned and very meaty with no added fillers.
- It was a chunky meatball and it was very moist and well seasoned, but not particularly spicy or herby.
- The fried rice was really wet and mushy though, but it tasted good and was full of oyster mushrooms which I love.
- I actually couldn’t find any of the pig snout in the rice, so I’m not sure if that was all eaten by the time I got it, or if there just wasn’t much to begin with.
- It was a delicious dish, but the most impressive part were the meatballs.
- Had this been a Chinese restaurant, the fried rice would be more unforgivable.
- This was also the “non-adventurous Western dish”, but good is good. I liked it!
- If you like the sound of pig snout fried rice, you should also try the Sizzling Pork Sisig at Kumare.
- I don’t get excited for it, but I actually don’t mind sweet and sour pork. Good versions of it do exist.
- There is a Western version and a Chinese version of it, the orange deep fried one (sometimes with pineapples) is the Western version.
- This was overly battered and soggy though and the pork was tough.
- The sweet and sour sauce was quite standard and not glowing orange which is nice, but it was really “mass-produced” and I wasn’t feeling it.
- By the time I got the plate there wasn’t much left, so I’m not even going to rate it.
- If you like pork hock though, I’m going to recommend the Braised Pork Hock at Pink Thai Elephant.
- I didn’t even know there was supposed to be pork in these pancakes and I definitely which it had more.
- This was meant to be eaten with the apple and ginger sauce which I actually really liked. It tasted like a fresh puree of stewed apples and ginger and it was sweet and aromatic, but not spicy.
- An Asian restaurant would have served this with Hoisin sauce, but the apple sauce seemed like a German or Eastern European take.
- The ginger was Asian, but it generally tasted Western.
- I thought the pancakes were going to be like Malaysian roti or Shanghainese style crispy green onion crepes, but it was more like an American pancake.
- The pancakes were soggy and a bit doughy and I kept thinking how good they would be with some shredded potato if they were going to be Western anyways.
- It did have some green onions, but they were slightly bland.
- They were good in a buffet style context, but I wouldn’t be as pleased if I had ordered them a la carte.
- The deep fried tofu was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, but it was bland.
- It really need to be seasoned with 5 spice powder or even just salt and pepper especially since tofu is so bland already.
- It was topped with a delicious mixture of minced offal (liver, hearts, kidneys), and I could taste the liver which I like.
- The offal was the salt to this dish and it tasted very Chinese to me and sauteed with garlic, green onions, soy sauce, sesame oil and topped with sesame seeds.
- It was a really great dish, but the tofu not being seasoned really limited its potential.
- Pork’s belly. It’s what everyone looks forward to and knows.
- Ohhh it’s hard to beat the Chinese BBQ places in Richmond serving this. I would compare them too because I think that’s what they were going for here.
- It was thick strips of fatty pork belly and the pieces at the end were almost pure fat.
- The best part of this was the crackling, or pork skin. It was crunchy like meat candy and I always love that part.
- The pork belly meat was really tough though and if it was my first time trying pork’s belly, I wouldn’t want to try it again.
- It was really chewy and I needed my knife.
- I just missed the Asian style Suckling Pig or the Porchetta at Meat and Bread which I guess is different though.
- It was also served with their house made green onion and ginger oil which is unusual to eat with roasted pork. I could see the theory, but there are better sauces to complement the pork belly.
- There was a sweet Japanese soy sauce and sesame vinaigrette which was great, but I would have liked some Hoisin sauce too.
- Totally different style, but the Maple Chipotle Tamarind Glazed Wild Boar Belly at Cobre is divine.
- This was supposed to be a portion for 6. Six.
- Yes, I asked myself the same question, why are there only 4 scoops of ice cream? I asked it out loud too, and the response was “it’s really rich”.
- Richness isn’t really a concern for anyone at a Whole Hog Dinner, but the 4 small scoops of ice cream for 6 people was a bit stingy.
- The pastry for the strudel was delicious and it was super flaky, tender, sweetened and also not too thick.
- It was stuffed with some Asian pears, but they were too lightly seasoned and Asian pears need a lot of help because they’re quite watery and mild fruits.
- The blood chocolate ice cream tasted like a malted chocolate ice cream and I wouldn’t have even known there was pig’s blood in it. It didn’t have any flavour of pig’s blood, but it had that sort of grainy texture of the blood.
- It was good ice cream though, but I wish it wasn’t all melted too.
- It was a great dessert overall, but I wouldn’t mind more pork blood flavour and some bacon sprinkles on the strudel or just more flavour in the pears.
- It’s not dessert, but if you’re into pork’s blood, a great pork’s blood dish is also the Dinuguan at Kumare.