DINER: A Look Inside Chef Makoto Ono’s Stylish ‘PiDGiN’ On The Downtown Eastside

by Andrew Morrison | Pidgin, the highly anticipated first Vancouver restaurant from Canadian Culinary Champion Makoto Ono, opened last night to friends and family at 350 Carrall Street (across the street from Pigeon Park on the DTES). I took a look inside while they were preparing for service and stayed until it started to fill up. “We ended up feeling pretty good,” Ono’s business partner, Brandon Grossutti, told me this morning — so much so that they let the door go and finished the night with two full turns.

Designed by Craig Stanghetta with several installations by local artist Ricky Alvarez (a tandem we also saw to great effect at Revolver), the finished room is startlingly beautiful — the most mature of Stanghetta’s restaurant spaces to date. Alvarez’s works – I spied a collection of suspended scissors, a white forearm with hand brandishing a cleaver, golden thread-suspended blocks of quartz in the washrooms, a goosewing fastened to an orange decahedron, a California quail taxidermist’s triptych set in alcoves above the chef’s table – make for easy conversations, as do the weighty metal menus, the magnetic wall sections (to fasten the menus to, natch), and the service of JoieFarm “Noble Blend” and soju from gleaming taps.

Clearly, a lot of thought went into everything a diner’s eye might set upon, and that includes the wide angle view of the oft-sordid goings on across the street at Pigeon Park. There are at least a dozen seats right in the window, which tells me Grossutti and Ono are not in the least bit embarrassed by their bright projection of style and cuisine in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. And nor should they be. The contrast between inside and out might be massive, very real, and as striking to those who congregate on the northeast corner of East Hastings and Carrall as to the diners themselves, supping foie gras rice bowls and sipping Negronis in heated, cloistered comfort behind an unfrosted window, but that’s the reality of Vancouver, and I dig that they’re framing it instead of running from it. Stanghetta and Alvarez may have outdid themselves, but for the time being this is the talking point that will dominate the rest.

That is, until its Ono’s turn, because the heart of the matter is his French/Japanese/Korean food. I tried just a few of his dishes, definitely not enough of the menu to square and share a judgment with any kind of confidence, but suffice it to say that he’s wicked clever, and that I’d happily eat everything that I tried last night again (especially the squid and the tataki). I will, however, predict that if the service can hold up its end of the bargain (always a tall order when there’s a fierce talent in the kitchen) that Pidgin might just rapidly join the rarified ranks of the most ambitious restaurants in the city. It definitely has the potential to be that good. But make your own call. Pidgin opens tonight (Sunday) for real at 6:30pm. Click here for further intel/context, and browse the fresh shots below…

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ALL ANTICIPATED OPENINGS

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Andrew Morrison lives and works in Vancouver as editor-in-chief of Scout and Culinary Referee & Judge at the Gold Medal Plates and Canadian Culinary Championships. He also contributes regularly to a wide range of publications, radio programs, and television shows on local food, culture and travel; collects inexpensive things; and enjoys rare birds, skateboards, cocktails, shoes, good pastas, many songs, and the smell of camp fires.

  • Mr Paywall

    Paulo if your story is true, you would have seen those comments pending moderation, then in the comment form you would have replaced Tedor/Theodor’s name with your “name”/or email address and then posted your comments complaining that Tedor/Theodor was a Nazi.

    I just hope there weren’t any similarities in your grammar/sentence structure to Theodor’s rant because I just won’t believe you when you tell me you went to the same elementary school together.

  • Paulo

    My “friend” did something fucked up. After me showing him this thread he posted that shit under that other name and said look at this shit.
    I swear. I confronted him. He told me he was just trying to make people Angry to fight for “the cause” (we met at a housing rally.)
    Anyhow, he also admitted he’s going around pretending to be a racist in order to set up straw men to take down. So he’s a troll and I feel like a big piece of shit for trusting the wrong people and getting sucked into being a jerk and Im really really sorry.

    In defence of my friend, this person I know. He’s had it rough, he’s poor and has a mental illness and he’s very anxious about changes in his neighborhood.

    But I’m an idiot because I should have known that comment was written by him and I actually suspected it but I didn’t confront him with my suspicion because I was being a naive idiot. There’s a lot of crazy emotions happening in the DTES. Maybe I’d be better off taking this friend for a walk instead of letting him get riled on political issues.

  • Steve

    just gonna chime in from the Yukon here… i lived/worked on the DTES for many years. i”ve been following the Pidgin protest via my friend’s facebook profile, and also have noticed the rampant gentrification of the DTES. it is noticaible every time i come back to visit and the fear of displacement that the DTES denizens feel is noteworthy. with its proximity to pigeon park (and all that that entails), i’m not surprised that pidgin has been targeted for protest. just sayin’. i hope the voyeristic opportunities it affords its customers is coincidental. if intentional, post colonialism and gentrification aside, it should be put out of business a.s.a.p. and by all means necessary. that’s just mean.

    tyson’s comment: “You keep on building walls and the rest of us will continue on helping the neighborhood through employment, charity and good old fashion hospitality.” strikes me as one of the most naive comments I have ever heard. do you really believe that, or do you say that to yourself to feel better about your part in this process. btw, i must add that your hectoring of people struggling with addictions is disgusts me.

    paulo (whom i know personally, ergo can “vouch” that if he did start that whole hate speech thingy, he would have owned up to it) brings up many valid points and certainly is NOT advocating for ghettoization. he merely states legitimate reasons why centralizing services for this marginalized population is fiscally and socially responsible.

    Andrew, thanks for writing your eulogy (was it a eulogy?) for Jamer after he passed. your words touched me.

  • Thomas

    This is the best thread ever on Scout!

    Paulo, whatever it is you are trying to accomplish, let someone else “take the wheel”…. If it weren’t so funny it would be sad but right now I am laughing my ass off!

  • Tyson Reimer

    Yeehaw! this is just AWSOME! I know of no restaurant owner in this area who hasn’t gone out of their way to assist someone in the neighborhood or a local charity group. We don’t all tell the world about it and wear the “I did something nice so there!” badge on our chest in hopes that we can lord it over others. If you feel you need to tell everyone what a nice and kind person you are, you’re probably only trying to convince yourself of it. Neither Paulo or Yukon Steve have a clue of who they are so angry at. Just the usual by standers with chips on their shoulders who think only they could ever know what the reality of the situation is. Christ Steve , you cared so much about the DTES you moved to the Yukon, but hey, you follow it on twitter so attboy! You draw these stupid 1+1=35 conclusions that “well if he put a picture of a buffalo on his wall he must have done it to show how much he hates the Native comunity”. Or they must have called it pidgin because it would really stick it to the homeless and that’s totally what a restaurant owner would do! You arbitrarily throw out words like “bigot, racist, genocide et al” and figure even though you can’t actually site any of these things as fact that it’s good enough.
    The ease in which you will make up facts to support your statements is wrong. The fabrication of a boogyman in absence of any provable, substantial one is wrong. The co-oping of real, serious and important issues to support your personal animosities is wrong.
    I have no doubt that you care about those who have to deal with addiction, abuse and a multitude of the other shitty cards life can deal. But for you to insist that the ills and evils of the world are yours and yours alone to understand, and that those who are not doing things they way you would like to see them care not, then you are hopeless. And I don’t mean that as an insult. You clearly have no hope.

  • http://www.pidginyvr.com PiDGiN

    We believe it’s time that we at PiDGiN sent out a response to both the protests as well as clarify what we are all about.
    http://www.pidginvancouver.com/SocialMedia.aspx

  • Steve

    tyson, please don’t put words in my mouth that i never said or would never say. i would never claim that the “ills of the world are mine alone to understand”. i would argue that that is everyones responsibility.

    further, you have no clue as to why i moved north, nor what i am doing up here, so just save it boss.

  • Jaketown

    For anyone who is interested and open to learning more about gentrification, check out this upcoming series hosted by SFU Urban Studies: http://www.urban.sfu.ca/blog/?p=127

  • Jonathan

    The theatrical display of condescension and superiority by the defenders of the restaurant is enough to make my mind up. @Pidgin, with friends like these who needs enemies, eh?

  • nick

    Since when does a legal business have to defend their right to operate,and create jobs for employment minded people?
    This has gone on far too long.
    Why does every business that opens in that area have to appease the DTES dregs?
    What I find insulting as a lifelong resident of Vancouver is the sheer decay of that area for years,and as soon as there is some sort of reprive brought in, everyone is against change.
    People shooting and smoking up in plain view of everyone. Police do nothing to stop it.
    But you try and sell a decent sandwich in a 3 block strip of hastings,and you might as well be shooting dogs and babies.

  • tyson

    Finally Steve!! You’re absolutly correct. I don’t know sweet fuck all about you, what you’re doing or what you really think. What I did was take what you and the mighty Paulo said and totally blow it up into some outrageous parody just to support a point of veiw. What kinda dick am I??? Who would commit such acts of douchbaggery just so they could prove a point? Lable someone with inflamitory words like bigot, racist and other gems when there’s no bases for it?
    Fuck, dude this is a comment section on a blog and well, we all agree, this is where all smart and important dialogues take place.

  • steve

    tyson, i’ve read this thread, and to be fair you have made some bigoted comments. ergo, you shouldn’t be surprised/offended if peeps call you out on that.

    dude, all i was really trying to say it the undeniably, the DTES is becoming gentrified, which will displace denizens that have been there for years. it is one of the few if not the only neighborhood they can hang out in without being hectored. further it is the only neighborhood in the city that is still affordable. that concerned citizens in this hood are protesting/picketing restaurants that absolutely are an intrinsic part of the gentrification machine is not at all surprising. why Pidgin has been isolated in this matter is beyond me though. resterantuers (spelling?) and boutique shops and over priced grocery stores can argue that they support local charities till they are blue in the face, but as long as they are still part of the machine, they will continue to drive out and displace an already marginalized population. bottom line.

  • Rocket Sam

    Why does this neighbourhood belong to the poor and the substance-addicted? What about the hard-working middle-class people who worked here and owned businesses and buildings in this area before it was “slumified” and they were forced out? A boarded-up ghetto benefits nobody. This isn’t “gentrifuckation”, it’s a reclamation of a thriving business and residential neighbourhood. This city needs to help the poor, the addicted, the down-trodden and the marginalized, but it is the responsibility of ALL citizens of this city, not just the businesses in the DTES. Just because you live in Kits it doesn’t mean it’s not your problem. Slums and empty condemned buildings don’t help anybody.

  • Rocket Sam

    Oh yes, and all these businesses also pay taxes that fund programs on the DTES. I’m going to find out where the protesters live and take over their homes. Apparently it’s my right to take over their space and claim it as my own.

  • Russ

    I live in this neighbourhood and have watched the continued gentrification of the area. Unfortunately the model is broken if the goal is co-existence. The current model collects the residents into a single few blocks bordered by the rest of the city, making it easier for those who prey on them to find a very accessible pool of victims.

    This restaurant has actually tried to engage the locals, offering employment to a friend of mine in the area who collects pop cans for a living. I’m seeing some hope in his eyes for the first time since I’ve known him. Looking down the street I see a new deli that displaced a woman who slept in its entry way for years. Also down the street is a women’s treatment centre that has lost funding.

    This protest singles out one restaurant and building on the rough edge of gentrification. It’s not fair or even effective. It’s a simple answer to a complex problem and we as a society should beware. Energy needs to but put into developing better programs for recovery and healing, funding affordable housing in true mixed communities where co-existence is possible and healthy and finally finding ways to protect our most vulnerable community from the vultures that are waiting in the alleys of my home to sell them drugs and exploit them in many different ways.

  • steve

    what is currently happening in the DTES is text book gentrification.

  • Kevin

    I live a block from this, resident for 10 years and I am excited to check it out.
    I am hoping this will encourage other entrepreneurs to try new concepts in the cheap rent world of the downtown eastside.. and hope for the reemergence of the real city core that existed for decades before ghetto politics came about. The city and province must start building more social and low income housing in places like Point Grey, Kerrisdale and all over the lower mainland.
    Welcome to my neighborhood, you are welcome.

  • pizzapyramid

    Think about what would happen to the poverty industry if you spread social housing and services more evenly throughout Vancouver. There’s your answer for all the “outrage” over a restaurant like this. Pidgin, you’re taking away their business.

    For those outside the area, they’re protesting again tonight. Pidgin has covered their windows with black paper.

  • Joe

    If you are on welfare and/or drug addicted then congratulations you get free food and housing and all the social services you could possibly want -all within a few walking blocks so that you can successfully fund your drug habit. Marvelous.

    If you are middle-class – move to the suburbs!

    “21-Doors” above this restaurant is one of the very few properties in this city that the middle class can afford. The government is building even more SRO’s in the area. These plans should be shelved and more housing like “21-Doors” should be built.

  • Mike Wilson

    Only the naive or selectively ignorant believe people that choose to live as they do on the streets while refusing millions of dollars in available services and aid should be allowed to continue to oppress one of the most historic and iconic neighbourhoods in Vancouver. It is human freewill to choose how you live and abusing drugs and alcohol has consequences we all suffer from and pay for. Its tome to take back the streets and finally end the look the other way attitude the city has taken. Business owners in this area are doing the heavy lifting the mayor and police chief are to weak to do. Those who refuse to be part of society have no say in how that society evolves. There is no value to anyone in promoting slums and ghettos over functioning communities.

  • Martin

    To all the people and Teresa Diewert, who are against this establishment:
    What the hell is wrong with you? Too much of a good life? not enough life problems?

    If this was a crack house would you be supporting this? it would give your sorry existence something to work about?

    I have started a business in a foreign country and I know how much hard work, dedication and hard earned money goes into….

    I respect the owners and staff of PiDGin for what they are doing.
    They did not choose to open in a nice shopping centre or Robson/Kitsilano area, but because of lower rent ( I hope! ) they are changing the area from bad into good.

    Keep up the good work and don’t let the bullies stop you!!!

  • Christine

    As one of the ‘rich’ (read: first time homeowner who only available to buy my condo because of low-market pricing) people who lives above this place, I need to say that it’s getting frustrating. I’m fairly certain the only way people will encourage or support any new business near the DTES (Pidgin is technically still in Gastown) is if it is an entirely low income building or a drug shelter.

    You can’t reason with people who would rather scream than do any research, unfortunately.

  • pizzapyramid

    Here’s the full transcript of what a pro-protester wrote to manipulate the conversation, posing as a patron of Pidgin. This was not published by Scout for good reason. However, i feel there needs to be accountability for those that seek to harm our neighbourhood. This is the Vancouver poverty industry at work.

    “Author: Teodor
    Comment:
    Look how much we already give to them! These parasites are never happy until we’re all as destitute as they are!
    Why are we wasting our time on these subhuman mongrels? See what these fools are trying to do? They’re trying to get in the way of progress. We’ve been much nicer to the DTES than they deserve. Why we don’t throw them all in jail is beyond me. Maybe we should let Pickton out to finish the job so the rest of us can get on with cleaning up our city from these lazy native Indian whiners and their anarchist window smashing friends. Hey Idlenomore wannabes, why don’t you be idle no more and get a job!
    Vancouver needs to get over their squeamishness at dealing with these vermin. This town needs an exterminator to get rid of this subhuman filth. I work hard all my life and no one gave me a free lunch. I for one, will gladly eat at Pidgin and I will gladly indulge in the food I’ve worked hard for. I will walk right up to one of those smelly dirtbags and gleefully eat my deliciously prepared food with no shame or hesitation. In fact, I hope I make them cry, I hope those scumbag homeless people are so filled with fear and envy that they leave. Good riddance!
    We are the people with money and business and this is our city. If you can’t or won’t work that’s your problem. If you get killed by a serial killer maybe you should have gotten a job instead of loafing off the system and being a hooker. If your an native indian, look you guys lost and this is our land now so get over it, stop trying to act native and just assimilate already. Go get your free school and your affirmative action job and maybe you can get to eat a nice meal, too.
    No sympathy for dead hookers or useless bums.”

  • Leslie

    Aside from the racist crap this doesn’t much different from what the Pidgin supporters are saying.

  • vcrer

    Is this thread closed?

  • omiya

    I don’t think the restaurant owners are villains and I am sure they are socially conscious. Yes the DTES is rapidly gentrifying, and they are one of many.

    But what seems to be lacking here is sensitivity. First, the name of the restaurant. Second, this:

    Clearly, a lot of thought went into everything a diner’s eye might set upon, and that includes the wide angle view of the oft-sordid goings on across the street at Pigeon Park. There are at least a dozen seats right in the window, which tells me Grossutti and Ono are not in the least bit embarrassed by their bright projection of style and cuisine in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. And nor should they be. The contrast between inside and out might be massive, very real, and as striking to those who congregate on the northeast corner of East Hastings and Carrall as to the diners themselves, supping foie gras rice bowls and sipping Negronis in heated, cloistered comfort behind an unfrosted window, but that’s the reality of Vancouver, and I dig that they’re framing it instead of running from it.”

    This just seems like a REALLY REALLY BAD IDEA. I know the restaurants press release says the following:

    “When choosing this location we knew that there would be a stark contrast between what is outside and inside. Rather than this being viewed as a negative we believe it starts a conversation, one that is overdue. Our patrons come from the DTES and all over the city, some of which have never taken a step in Pigeon Park. This venue is on the divide between the east and west of the city and can serve as an opportunity to bring a more integrated community, where we can better understand each other’s viewpoints and struggles.”

    Staring at the “oft-sordid goings on” in Pigeon Park, and having the occupants of the park stare at diners eating foie gras, has nothing to do with conversation. It is deeply insensitive and incredibly arrogant, all in the name of style (however it is framed/publicized). If the restaurant had a non-controversial name and did not focus on the window and tables, I suspect there would be been no picketing…

  • Gibbs

    “Staring at the “oft-sordid goings on” in Pigeon Park, and having the occupants of the park stare at diners eating foie gras, has nothing to do with conversation. It is deeply insensitive and incredibly arrogant, all in the name of style (however it is framed/publicized). If the restaurant had a non-controversial name and did not focus on the window and tables, I suspect there would be been no picketing…”

    And there you have it: the mountain from the molehill. And you talk about arrogance! A business can sell what it wants wherever it wants however it wants if it is within the law. Honestly, how is that news to you?

  • omiya

    That is the point. A business can do whatever it wants. How it chooses to do what it wants is the issue…this has nothing to do with the law. Choosing to intentionally focus (in a voyeuristic sort of way) on the disparity between low-income DTES residents/the people who frequent Pigeon Park and the diners as a stylistic marketing tool, is arrogant. Picketing by low-income residents has nothing to do with arrogance. It has to do with anger at being belittled and mocked by this ill-thought out marketing tool.

    How often have you seen a movie where the rich people are inside a warm restaurant, laughing and dining, while some poor down-on-his-luck person stares mournfully inside while getting drenched in the rain? The way this restaurant was planned highlights this type of difference — who is inside and who is outside. Almost like going to the zoo and seeing a rare endangered species from the other side of the bars, the low-income DTES Resident…

  • Gibbs

    What makes you think it’s a stylistic marketing tool? Also…

    “How often have you seen a movie where the rich people are inside a warm restaurant, laughing and dining, while some poor down-on-his-luck person stares mournfully inside while getting drenched in the rain?”

    Oh my God. You can’t be serious?

  • Peter Driftmier

    Foodies need to be responsible citizens. Don’t cross community picket lines. I have seen so many places go up like this, each one anchoring the condominums that then go up above them (or the reverse order, in the case of Pidgin). Foodies should be boycotting gentrifiers like Pidgin, and taking their business elsewhere.

    If you consider yourself part of some kind of food movement or food community, support the low-income movements for social justice when they speak out against how parts of food culture displace communities. If you cross the picket lines, you’re clearly engaging in pure gluttony.

    Oh wait, shit, glutony’s apparently what this magazine is all about according to its mast head.

  • Harper Lee

    Quit it with the tiresome myopia, Peter. Your dull-minded, inarticulate, holier than thou lecture grates because its rhetorical approach is never effective, on anyone, like, ever. To listen to you go on about social justice and your special food community in the context of this optically ridiculous farce of a protest would be entertainment if it weren’t so fucking poetically emblematic of what is wrong with the DTES and the short-sighted NIMBY thinking that is so irretrievably hardwired into this City. You think you know about food? You’re a former sandwich worker from Save On Meats. Honestly, the way you pass yourself off as some sort of community food security czar is a joke. You want to make a difference? Learn nuance. You want to fight for the DTES? Punch a drug dealer. Don’t just sit on the internet and comment on blogs as if you’ve really got something valuable to say. Not that that has ever stopped you. I just googled you and that shit is off the charts! You’ve written freshman spin and bleeding heart vitriol for just about every socialist piece of shit website from here to Halifax and back. You’re a legend, Peter! But a baby. A big fucking, spoiled baby. And a pitiful bully. Sadder than Pigeon Park. Dumber than Grossutti. A real Vancouverite. A credit to your ideas (and the way in which you communicate them) and a tribute to your city. Keep up the enthusiastic stupidity.

  • http://scoutmagazine.ca Sean Orr

    ^