The Week of Eating Dangerously

Clockwise from the left: Refuel Chilled Pea Soup, Duck Breast and Gnocchi at Wild Rice, Roaming Dragon’s Don Letendre

All photos by Anya Levykh

Ah, summer, a time to indulge in fresh produce, light eating and healthy living—or not. If my eating pattern over the last week  is any example, this will be a summer of rich braises, much gobbling and a bit too much of the hooch.

It all started innocently enough. I met a friend for lunch at Refuel to indulge in Pemberton burgers and meatball sandwiches (okay, perhaps not so innocently, after all). To offset the inevitable guilt, we both ordered the chilled English pea soup to start, which turned out to be one of the best chilled soups I have eaten in a goodly while. The light, just-picked-from-the-garden flavour of the puree was laced with super-fresh olive oil, and finished with a creamy stick of ricotta custard and housemade biscuit (great for dipping).

I then moved on to the dry-aged burger with cheddar and bacon, backed by a large side of poutine, while my buddy had the open-faced meatball sandwich. We could have stopped there quite easily, except for news about a new pastry chef, one Paul Croteau by name, who will be supplying both Refuel and sister restaurant Campagnolo with their desserts, specializes in macarons, and also sells his goods at the Main Street Terminal Farmers’ Market on Wednesday afternoons. I had the strawberry tart, which featured a perfect puff pastry base, vanilla cream and a mouth-puckering lemon sorbet.

That would normally have been my stopping point for the day, but I had a dinner to go to that very night. Wild Rice has launched a new “hawker’s fare” menu, focusing on dim sum-style offerings, all priced at $6, as well as more substantial dishes for sharing. Our group tried out almost all of the dim sum and a couple of larger plates, and finished everything with positively indecent haste—to the point that 45 minutes after we had arrived, we all looked at each other blankly and said, “Did we just eat all of that?” Yes, if truth be told, we did.

Items like Sloping Hill pork and spot prawn siu mai and smoked tofu congee are rich, hearty offerings that belie their $6 price tags. The monster basket of tofu alone, all silky interior with crispy skin, is worth going back for, but it was the spot prawn toast that stole my heart—and wallet. Crispy, sesame-crusted triangles of mashed and fried prawn are served with a bit of chilli oil for dipping. I definitely gobbled more than my fair share, and ended up ordering another set to take home—but they never made it out of the car, as the crumbs on the passenger seat can attest to. Another stunner was one of the share plates, featuring Yarrow Meadows duck breast with bitter orange peel and jus, sliced and crisped, sided with duck liver gnocchi. The latter had a richness and texture that really worked, and could be served all by themselves.

We also sampled some of the new cocktails (this be the hooch), including the Twisted Fashion, an interesting blend of Maker’s Mark, muddled orange, orange bitters and ginger syrup, and Spiked Ginger, which was the hands-down winner with its white rum, ginger-orange syrup, sambal, mint and lime.

And as if all of that wasn’t enough, the following Friday night had me roaming the Richmond Night Market, and getting into a smackdown with Roaming Dragon’s Chinese pork belly sliders on fresh mantou buns, their chilled mushroom salad with seaweed and citrus-braised daikon, and the lychee and basil lemonade. Like most night market vendors, the food is a steal, at $6 per item, or two for $10. Unlike other vendors, however, Roaming Dragon has Don Letendre, former EC at Elixir Bistro, onboard as menu consultant and chef-in-charge, and the food more than lives up to the hype.

As for me, I am resolved not to eat any rich food this week, whatsoever—which should make next week’s column interesting. Well, except for that upcoming dinner at Pourhouse, or the menu tasting at The Fish House, or that return trip to the night market for more pork and lemonade, not to mention the potato curls on a stick and the deep-fried cheesecake and the doughnuts and…oh, whatever. See you next week!

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