Wild Rice – A Tale of Two Restaurants Part 1
As Dickens once wrote… “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us”. Now, you may be wondering why I’m quoting one of the most iconic opening lines in written history but I feel that the common theme of juxtaposition between two differing ideas to be very appropriate.
In Part 1 of our Tale of Two Restaurants, I will attempt to capture the spirit of “the winter of despair” and “the worst of times” as I describe the experience we had at Wild Rice, a local “fusion” restaurant that bills itself as serving “modern Chinese cuisine”.
If you want to save some time from reading any further, take my advice: if you’re Asian, don’t eat here. That’s it… ’nuff said. Krispy Bites, Follow Me Foodie, and Good Eat all have reviews of this restaurant and their verdicts are pretty much spot on. But, if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, please read on and enjoy our somewhat amusing, first and only visit to Wild Rice.
Our story starts on a bitterly cold Sunday evening. One of our friends had invited us out for dinner at Wild Rice to use some gift certificates that were about to expire. To be honest, I’ve heard of Wild Rice in the past and, despite some poor reviews that I had read, I was still curious to try them out.
Our initial alarm bells starting going off when we first arrived at the restaurant. While they bill themselves as being located in “Historic Chinatown”, I personally think that they’re more like on the outskirts of Chinatown… probably a few blocks away from what I would consider the edge of Chinatown. Heck, they’re not even on the right side of the large Gateway to Chinatown. While I could probably forgive the slight exaggeration, you have to remember the location that we’re in… a bit sketchy to say the least. After carefully bypassing a few “eccentric characters” on the street, we managed to arrive at the Wild Rice entrance only to be hit by a big waft of Mary Jane.
The restaurant wasn’t very busy and we were the only Asian diners there… not a good sign for a “Chinese restaurant”. The atmosphere would have been a lot better if it wasn’t so cold in the restaurant (I think the ceiling fans they had on were blowing cold air down at us).
Apparently, they don’t change their menu very often… they clearly have their menu labelled “June 2011” despite the fact that Christmas is right around the corner. And, speaking of their menu… I’m not sure how they justify charging $7 for dim sum dishes. They do make a big point in emphasizing that their dishes are meant to be shared family-style but the portion sizes are so small that it’s not very practical to do so.
We decided to try a bunch of different dishes including the Maple Hills Chicken and Squab San Chau Bow Lettuce Cups for $14. In a regular Chinese restaurant, the serving size that they gave us probably would have been enough for one person but then again, the “lettuce cups” that they provided were kind of small so it would have been difficult to overstuff. The filling wasn’t bad but I had difficulty detecting both the chicken and squab.
The Orange and Black Bean Pemberton Beef with Drunken Potatoes and Steamed Greens for $13 was one of the better dishes. The veggies (broccoli and bok choy) weren’t that great but the potatoes weren’t bad. And the beef, although dry, was better than the pork we had.
One of the bigger disappointments of the night was the Chinatown Style Duck with bok choy for $19. I believe there were 4 pieces of the driest duck I’ve ever tasted sitting in a salty soy sauce mixture. On the one hand, I didn’t want to use the soy sauce because it was way too salty but on the other hand, the duck wasn’t the least bit succulent. Unfortunately, the best part of this dish was the crispy duck skin.
For about $4-$5 for each slice, I expected much better than this. This was the only dish that came with rice and you would expect that with a name like “Wild Rice”, they would know how to make rice… but you’d be wrong. Seriously?!?! How do you screw up making rice? It was so dry and hard that it was pretty much inedible.
One of the better dim sum dishes (which is a relative term in this case) was the Steamed Ling Cod with fried ginger and honey soy marinade. The fried ginger was an interesting textural component but the frying process removed any of the actual ginger flavour from it. The ling cod seemed fresh but, as with all of their other dishes, it was a bit dry. I expect steamed fish to be more succulent and juicy but it seemed like they somehow managed to suck all of the juices out of the fish.
We also ordered the Mixed Vegetables and Glass Noodles Spring Rolls (you get 3 spring rolls cut in half for $7). While the spring rolls weren’t that bad, I’m not sure if they were worth $7.
The Sweet and Sour Pulled Pork with Pickled Watermelon was also disappointing. The dry pulled pork was actually the best part of this dish (which isn’t saying much) as the watermelon chunks were too sour to complement the rest of the dish.
So, how bad was this restaurant? We were already making plans to go out for some real food by the first course. Fortunately, Chambar is only a block away from this place so while we were waiting for the bill, we quickly called over to make sure they had a table ready for us.
And so, our story of a Tale of Two Restaurants (one the best of times and one the worst of times) will continue with our visit to nearby Chambar.
Food: 1 / 5
Service: 2.5 / 5
117 West Pender