The Search for Contemporary Chinese Cuisine in Vancouver

Ah . . . the elusive search for great Chinese food in Vancouver.  In nearby Richmond, of course, finding authentic Chinese is no problem – There are something like 200 Chinese restaurants clustered on Alexandra Road alone (aka “Food Street”).  But it gets a bit trickier in Vancouver.

There’s Chinatown proper, which features some traditional restaurants of note, like Jade Dynasty, as well as many touristy joints.  There’s also Main Street, which was once a hub of great Chinese cuisine and is still home to some classic restaurants like Sun Sui Wah Seafood.  But finding top-notch contemporary Chinese food in Vancouver – which respects traditional recipes while also incorporating international influences and all of BC’s natural bounty – can sometimes be a challenge.

All of which is why I was pleasantly surprised with Wild Rice, an intimate restaurant located near the intersection of West Pender and Abbot Streets (opposite the Tinseltown Mall).  Now, Wild Rice has been around for years – It’s hardly a new find.  But it offers something that is really distinct and is worth another look.

The first thing you’ll probably notice when you walk into Wild Rice is the atmosphere.  It’s totally different from  the typical cavernous Chinese restaurant with harsh fluorescent lighting and fans on the wall.  Instead, the space is dark and stylish, with a long, glowing bar along one wall.  Two sets of stairways lead to upstairs loft spaces where small groups of tables are clustered.  The ambiance is chic without being intimidating, with chill club music playing at a low volume.

Of course, the real question is how’s the food.  In contrast to the encyclopedic menus at many Chinese restaurants, Wild Rice’s menu features just a few, carefully thought out dishes.  If you’re in the mood for sampling, there are dim sum and small plates, including updated classics like siu mai with Sloping Hills pork and BC spot prawns and seared albacore tuna with ginger shallot daikon.

Larger plates highlight some of the restaurant’s specialties.  I tried the braised Pemberton Meadows beef and the Maple Hill Kung Po Chicken (As you may have noticed, Wild Rice is dedicated to using local meat, fish and produce, which sets its dishes apart from much Chinese fare in Vancouver).  Both plates were exquisite: attractively presented on large sharing platters; well spiced; respectful of tradition but pushing the envelope with new flavours and sides.

I know there must be other great contemporary Chinese restaurants out there.   I’m looking forward to trying Bao Bei, for instance, a modern Taiwanese place in the same neighbourhood.

If you’ve got a favourite contemporary Chinese restaurant (whatever that means exactly), please share your suggestions by leaving a comment.

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