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…

ALL ANTICIPATED OPENINGS

—————————————————————————————–

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.

DINER: Inside Chef Makoto Ono’s Highly Anticipated PiDGiN Restaurant In Gastown

by Andrew Morrison | I think the restaurant that I’m most excited about on our Anticipated Openings list is PiDGiN. It’s the upcoming Gastown effort from past Canadian Culinary Champion Makoto Ono. You might remember us breaking the news of its coming last summer:

Ono was the first to win gold at the Canadian Culinary Championships back in 2007. He’s been on the ascendancy ever since, opening the eponymous “Makoto” in Beijing and the celebrated “Liberty Private Works” in Hong Kong. He returned from China [in 2011] to guest chef at his father’s famed restaurant, Edohei, in Winnipeg. The revered sushi establishment closed in late February (Sadao retired), which freed Makato up for this project. There was some speculation that Makoto would head to Toronto, but lucky for us, he decided to return to Vancouver instead, where he went to culinary school and where his girlfriend works as a pastry chef.

I suspect that Pidgin, as the new restaurant is called, will be something of a summation of Ono’s career to date. The concept will see a hybrid of Japanese and French cuisine with a thread of Korean weaving throughout. The name alludes to the expression of that combination, and to Pigeon Park, which is right across the street.

The menu will offer share plates, from small to very large, priced from $10 to $25 per. The wine and cocktail program will be buttressed by a healthy supply of sake, baekseju and even soju, all designed to wrap neatly around the food conept. They keenly aware that Gastown is very much a cocktail-forward neighbourhood, and I suspect they’ll be putting a little skin in the game.

The project has been evolving since March, and plans for the redeveloped addresses of 350 Carrall (combining for some 1808 sqft) have already been submitted to the City. What they envision is a stylish 66 seater with a 10 seat bar. They’re also considering doing a chef’s table (which I wholeheartedly encourage them to do).

Ono is an incredibly gifted chef. He could have gone to Montreal or Toronto or decided to stay in China or Winnipeg, so it’s our good fortune that he picked a spot off Hastings instead. I say “good fortune” because I trust PiDGiN to be an above average dining experience. It won’t be traditional fine dining, but I do expect it to be one of the better restaurants in the city when it launches.

My hope is that it will be like a Japanese/Korean Bao Bei of sorts, the kind of place where cuisines are interpreted idiosyncratically but with respect by an experienced and imaginative chef whose confidence and competence sing loud and clear across on the plate. I definitely see that in every one of Ono’s plates presented in the photo gallery below (all the food shots are by TT Lui). This hope is also buoyed by Ono’s choice of designer: Craig Stanghetta, the same fellow (interview) responsible for the looks at Meat & Bread, Revolver, Clough Club, and Pizzeria Farina (he also had a hand in the stunning aesthetics at Bao Bei, so it’s not like I’m pulling my hope out of my ear…).

Beyond sharing a thought or two, the point of this post was fourfold: to let readers know that PiDGiN is on track to open in early February, to reveal some shots of the construction progress (hats off to the Tetherstone crew), to give some indication of Ono’s game by teasing some of the plates he has planned for opening day (without knowing what they are), and to make all of those individuals who are interested aware that opportunity knocks. To wit:

PiDGiN is looking for a Bartender and Lead Host/Hostess to join our opening team. The ideal Bartender will have an intimate knowledge of all classics and be ready to join a top notch team behind the wood. The ideal Host/Hostess will have previous restaurant experience and knowledge of OpenTable. Both candidates will have a passion for food and beverage, be self-motivated with a pro-active attitude, and share our commitment to offer our guests exceptional service. Please reply with your resume and availability details to resumes [at] pidginyvr.com.

Seeing how Gastown is ground zero in Western Canada’s cocktail culture, the bartending opportunities here are pretty huge. Though I’m keen to work my way through Ono’s menu (so I can at least discover what I’m looking at in Lui’s photos), I’m also looking forward to seeing who ends up on the wood. Less than a month to go…

ALL ANTICIPATED OPENINGS

—————————————————————————————–

Andrew Morrison lives and works in Vancouver as editor-in-chief of Scout and National 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.