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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.
Pigs Ear & Offal Head Cheese Terrine – 4/6
- 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.
Mizuna Salad with Pickled Brain Vinaigrette & Crispy Pig Ear – 4/6
- 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.
Pig Snout Fried Rice with Meatballs – 4/6
- 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.
Crispy Pata/Fried Pork Hocks – n/a
- 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.
Asian Pear Strudel with Blood Chocolate Ice Cream – 4/6
- 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.
“It was a dinner date with a pig ………….” Awww Mijune, you shouldn’t be so critical on your dinner companion, lol.
“Being Asian, head to tail dining is all too familiar, but for North American tastes it is considered “exotic”.
Possibly. That would also depend on your background. Folks of German heritage, as you know, are well known to smartly utilize all sections of a pig in their cuisine. Same for the Irish, Portuguese and Filipino.
Doesn’t sound like ReFuel’s whole hog dinner was a knockout. Hey have you done Cafe Regalade’s roast suckling pig feast yet ? I haven’t yet, but looking forward to it.
What ? !!! Don’t they know you’re a DIVA ??? Seated in the “crack” ? Well you’re too polite. I would have just got up and grabbed a plate to make sure you had your turn to first dibs …or started to make LOUD and POINTED remarks to shame the greedy buggers that wouldn’t pass the plate or who “hogged” all the food. Comments like: “Hey FATSO why do you always pick off the plate first ? Can I get some food TOO, PIGGY ? What the F…K’s wrong with you Ahole, don’t don’t you share?!!!
Well, mebbe I would just pass the meal by, ‘cos I can cook whole pig at home or eat Chinese whole hog. You had better pig at the summer BBQ.
@ Bow: look up diva in the dictionary, it’s not exactly flattering. IMHO Mijune is not a diva, that title is way beneath her.
@Lotus Rapper, hope the readers realize my comments were tongue-in-cheek as a rant.
It goes back to what I have been saying before: on things like this, your experience will be skewed depending on whom you go with. Remember Incanto in SF? While the food we had was good in its own ways, I am certain the leg of the beast would have been our main target had not been for *cough*you know who*cough*
But, you certainly nailed it with this phrase: “Being Asian, head to tail dining is all too familiar, but for North American tastes it is considered “exotic”.
As for the price of the dinner, while there were several types of dishes, I would have been happier if I got a whole roasted pig. It can easily feed 20+ people and you just have to get some sides. Costwise? < $350…
Finally, I think they have to work on the presentation of the ice cream. Regardless of how many scoops, it (literally) looks like crap.
i can’t believe you got seated in the CRACK!? i think they should make it a neccessity that you get your own group of like 4 ppl to go with you to one of these things, makes it much easier and the portions definitely would’ve made more sense – i’m sorry your experience was so horrible.. i usually go to refuel just for dinner and trust me, their service is pretty good and so is their food.. i’m just so sad your experience was off on the way side!
the pig dinner sounds delish but i definitely agree with KimHo and i’d rather have a whole roasted pig but maybe that’s because i’m asian and i just don’t think the other dishes are that foreign to me.. the best dish was probably the meatball one as you said but i think everything else is pretty standard.. especially the roast pork.. why ppl go crazy for porchetta and pay $7 for a sandwich when you can buy better quality roast pork in chinatown and make tons of sandwiches is beyond me lol
@LR – lol hahaha! German is not North American though.. that’s European 🙂 Same with Irish and Portuguese.. that’s why I said “North American” 😉 Lots of European cultures eat various parts of pig 😉 Pate anyone? Ohh thanks for the Cafe Regalade update! Didnt’ know about them! I’ll check! I’ve blogged about the restaurant though! Love it!
@Bow – lol aw no it’s okay. The crack is fine if the portions were equal. It was more the logistics than the diners because even if they had dibs and were very hungry, then there should be still enough for everyone. I had no expectations except all across fairness since we all paid the same price… but nice play with the word “hogged”… I totally missed that one!! Funny thing you say.. I TOTALLY mentioned the summer BBQ when I ate this!! in fact I was with my friend that made that pork’s belly!!! Right on the money bow.
@LR – aww thank you LR! Yeah again I had no expectations except all across fairness since we all paid the same price. 🙂
@kimHo – Yes, I see your points. I do like experiencing various interpretations of head to tail dining, so I saw value in that part… yeahh ice cream situation wasn’t as cool… literally too I guess.
@Linda – yea groups of 4 is what we were thinking too. It wasn’t a horrible experience as much as it was a bit disappointing with the set up. I take your word for it and I’m sure a regular night would be much better! I’ll have to try for sure!
PS: So are you not a fan of the porchetta at Meat & Bread? I know what you mean though. I try not to compare Porchetta with Chinese roasted suckling pig.. but they are similar. I can see your point.
@ Mijune, I realized I forgot to say: “North American folks of German heritage, yada, yada, yada …….” [blush]
Pigs ear … mmmmm ! I started loving them since I was 10, during Chinese New Year we’d buy the marinated ones that come sliced thin. Dad loved it with cold beers. And I loved them with cold (root) beers, LOL !
@LR – lol it’s ok LR! I think we understand each other by now 🙂 LOL that’s so cute!! The beer/root beer thing! I actually didn’t grow up eating them because the thought of it freaked me out, but I like them now.
Funny how many folks are put off, or scared of, parts of animals that sound too unusual or exotic to eat. Yet if they only knew what the average processed protein (hot dog, fast-food burger, etc) contains, they’d be put off by them too.
Not a criticism, just saying 🙂
well to be fair, i haven’t had the porchetta at meat and bread yet – i know the salsa verde is really what makes it but because i tend to make my own pork at home, i never found the reason to try.. i’ll give it a go next week and keep you posted 🙂
my favorite sandwich when i was younger was actually roasted pork sandwiched between a baguette.. ppl always thought i was weird for liking it but now i guess it’s a trend – the same with apples and cheese and strawberry jam and brie 🙂
LR – I see your point, but I think it comes down to a visual thing. Like grilled chicken hearts isn’t appealing, but chop it up and mix it with meatballs or puree it like pate… you wouldn’t even know it was in there. It’s ilke getting kids to eat their vegetables… carrots or carrot cake?
@Linda – you haven’t?!?!? Oh my dear… okay go try and let me know. Again it is what Asian ppl have been doing for years, but it’s still no doubt good and a different style. I think at least.
Apples, brie, jam and chicken is even at Earl’s now… so you’re definitely not weird.
@ Linda: during high school and university years, I’d take day-old fried chicken (had to be Church’s), peel off the skins, put ’em between white bread (has to be white, not that fancy smancy whole wheat stuff ….. wink), and lots of mayo, then pop it into the toaster oven set to HIGH (or grill it like how you’d make grilled cheese sandwich). I tell you, it’s pure fattiness heaven :-))
Another weird (to others) thing I did in those days was dipping McD fries in McD ice cream cones ….. hot & cold, sweet and salty, oh the juxtaposition was delish !
^^ I meant put the fried chicken skins (only) between the bread slices, not the chicken itself.
@LR – the fries thing I think every Asian kid did lol… my dad likes to think he invented that. ha! Actually lots of ppl do the ice cream and fries thing now though 🙂 The Church’s thing… omg LR.. you are baaadd!!! hahah.. but you didn’t add bacon? lol j/k! love hearing your recipes 😉
@ LR I’d try your Church’s skin thing, but I don’t think I could resist leaving it aside for the next day to make into that sandwich of yours…
Oh and I find chicken hearts so appealing. They’re …cute. and chewy.
@kevin – lol.. cute and chewy? sounds so gross lol. You’d have to eat the sandwich right away… bring bread to Church’s next time you visit!