Friday, May 22, 2009

Eating Vancouver '09: food insanity, pt.2-the Church of Vij's

We've all had Indian food. Probably fairly decent Indian food. It's one of w and my favorite cuisines. Complex flavors, pungent spices...even the vegetarian dishes are some of the best things I've eaten. Then there's Vij's in Vancouver, BC. I thought I had a pretty good handle on how good sublime sub-continent cooking could be. Turns out I'm not so well informed and I blame our dinner at Vij's for bursting that bubble. We'd read about Vij's and the incredible food rumored to be flowing out of the kitchen. We have the Vij's cookbook. Many of our friends who had been to the 'Couv were salivating as they told us we HAVE to go. So we went. We knew about the "get there at opening or you wait 1-1/2 hours" thing. We didn't and we waited (although a good part of that wait was spent in a very cool nearby wine bar, Bin 942). There are very few dinners worth waiting 90 minutes for, but I would wait for this again in a heartbeat. In fact, going to Vij's alone is almost worth an overnight trip from Portland. Crazy food, absurdly flavorful, awesome service. One thing we noticed as we looked around is that the whole staff is women. Kitchen, floor staff, host. Our server explained that when Vikram Vij opened the restaurant, he put his new wife Meeru in charge of the kitchen. In a confined space where bodies are constanly bumping into noe another, it wouldn't have worked to have men being in contact with women, so an all-woman kitchen staff evolved, and it seems to have carried over to the front. Now I don't know if this is the reason or not (it is according to our server), but the whole restaurant exudes this calm aura. There's no tension in the air, just seamless attention to detail. I've always said if I opened another restaurant I would absolutely hire a female chef. It's a rare male chef who doesn't let his testosterone-driven ego get in the way. This only reaffirms that observation.

Enough of that, it's time to focus on what's important. So here's the Vij's show-and-tell. May I suggest you lean away from your keyboards to keep from drooling all over your keys.....
Our first appetizer, Spicy Ground Cricket Paranta with tomato-onion chutney and celeriac salad. The flour for the flatbread is actually made partially from ground crickets! It was delicious, and the chutney was so flavorful, and they gave us a little bowl of whole fried crickets (pic at top left) which we sprinkled on top. They were delicious, witha salty crunch. Here's a pic of the way to get your insect on (take that Bourdain!):
next up....
This was a pungent, incredibly spiced Jackfruit in a black cardamom and cumin masala. The jackfruit had pineapple-like texture, and the sweet fruit and spiciness were, of course, perfect together.
Our server highly recommended we order this app, BC Spot Prawns (fresh off the boat that morning she said) with spinach and mung sprouts in a coconut and lemon curry. She was correct. The shrimp was so bright and fresh, and a lemon infused curry is obviously something I need to experiment with!
w ordered the Marinated and Grilled Sablefish with grilled zucchini in a mango reduction. Read that again and you'll know all you need to know about how amazingly delicious this was: "grilled fish in mango reduction". Of course when you have a mastery of Indian spices and know just what to add, it helps. A beautifully cooked piece of fish, moist and tender, dredged through the sauce it absolutely pops in your mouth!
My pick was their Wine Marinated Lamb Popsicles (what do you think of that dds? The Greek's don't have a monopoly on lamb "popsicles"!) in a fenugreek cream curry on turmeric spinach potatoes. This was simply stunning (although w said the same thing about her sablefish, and it was). The lamb was a wonderful, juicy medium-rare, the cream curry was silky smooth and defines "understated", yet it filled my mouth with so much flavor. A ridiculous combination that as I look at the picture, I know it is something I MUST have again!

For wine we ordered a bottle of Hugel Sylvaner, a crisp, delicious Alsatian white that was spot on with all the different flavors. w considers, and I can only agree, that this is one of the best meals of any kind we have ever had. Brilliant, stunning cooking in a serene settting. This is why I can only feel blessed to be able to have an experience like this. If Tojo's was food as art, this is food as religion.


Lika said...

I was hoping you would go to Vij's! The lamb dish is my husband's favorite!


bb said...

likja...I think EVERY dish could be my favorite. amazing skill set in their kitchen!

Food Dude said...

I drive up for dinner at least once a year, sometimes coming back home the next morning. I always take a cooler to bring back food from Rangoon next door, which is also owned by them. I don't know if you saw it, but they have a huge freezer case full of packaged take home food.

Very nice piece!

bb said...

Thanks FD for your kind words on the post. And I totally understand the overnight....the drive is very much worth the reward. And thanks for the cooler idea. We didn't look next door, but we won't make that mistake again!

Lisa said...

Is there still the indian food counter service place right next to Vij's? I'm pretty sure it was the same owner... Lisa

Phyllis said...

Hi BB,

I was at Vij's too last week eating cricket bread! I just featured crickets as my weird food wednesday topic. Gave you a shout out at the end and linked to this post.

Phyllis (me HUNGRY!)