Starbucks, Toyota Corollas, and Vancouver food trucks. What do these three things have in common? They’re arguably fairly good products and services, except they’re abundant in Vancouver and pretty boring. Most trucks here are serving tacos, sandwiches, burritos, and other things that you can easily get anywhere else. Most are too scared to do anything that’s too creative. Sometimes I do hope that somebody could break that trend of being boring and just come up with something exciting that can put Vancouver’s street food scene on the map. The newcomer, Le Tigre, which stylishly branded itself as “modern Chinese cuisine”, might do just that and restore my faith in Vancouver food trucks.
Le Tigre had their “soft opening” from the Richmond Night Market, and I loved their Kick Ass Rice and grilled meat skewers when I was there a few months back. From that visit, I can tell that they were on the right track in terms of food, and I’m happy that they graduated into a food truck after their successes in the night market. The fact that they have the balls to reinvent Chinese food and reinterpret them in their own special ways – something of a taboo in Chinese cuisine – is also commendable.
Unlike the night market, gone were the Japanese-influenced skewers. The Kick Ass Rice remained, and I’m excited to see there were a couple of the new items. Having already had the Kick Ass Rice last time, I went for the combo so I could get a little bit of everything. It also included a drink. It didn’t say what the drink was on the menu, so don’t ask any questions: it’s a drink.
While I waited, Eat Street was here, filming the grand opening. It’s funny how they told the interviewees how to hold their food and what to say for the cameras. But then again, I guess you have to, because we don’t want the world to see some poor student food blogger whining how everything is “too pricey”.
The pork belly steam bun, something of a David Chang inspiration, wasn’t what I was expecting. First, it was gigantic. Then there were two of them. Flavor-wise, lots were going on in here. There was the bulgogi sauce/kimchi which added some heat and cut in to the creamy mayo. The generous amount of pork, which was the star of the show, was tender like liquid and melted in my mouth like butter. The bun itself was very fluffy like marshmallow candy. Everything came together when I bite into it, and I could feel the different flavors fighting for my taste bud’s attention.
I had the beet frites as a side. I thought it said beef frites when I made the order, so I was wondering why it is so red. But yes, it’s 2012, sweet potatoes and yam fries are out, and beet fries are in. I’ve always had beets as a small complement on more refined dishes, but never as the main thing. The outside crust was beautifully seasoned and I loved that crunchiness. The inside was in sharp contrast, smooth and silky. It also had a nice aroma to it that generated quite a few complaints from hungry co-workers when I bought it back to the office. I ate it with some green onions that fell out from the bun, and found that it actually tasted better because it cut down on the sweetness, so it wasn’t as overpowering.
Kick Ass Rice was the chef’s interpretation of the classic Chashu Don, braised pork belly with poached egg topped with some kind of mayo aioli. Normal Japanese ramen joint would just stop there, but this food truck was anything but normal. What really caught my attention was the amount of herbs and spices which made this humble Japanese comfort dish so much better. The pork, egg, and the mayo was creamy and it was contrasted by the spices which added a bit of heat, the spectrum was wide but it hit the perfect balance.
Food wasn’t the only thing that was modern, it was their service as well. They had two girls outside the truck taking orders which pretty much eliminated the dreaded single, mile long line up. While long line ups are indications of good food, it’s a turn off for us busy professionals working in downtown, and I am glad that they took this into account. It also made the service more personal; it didn’t feel like you’re ordering food from a pawnshop, which was what I felt when I was ordering from other food trucks. If I were to change one thing, I would probably make the menu more clear and structured, as I was confused what the combo and drinks options were, and I’m sure the girls that were taking the orders were tired of answering the same questions again and again.
So, not really modern Chinese per se, as the things I ate today had some Korean and Japanese influence, but nothing wrong with that. These guys took a huge leap from Vancouver’s conservative norm of tacos sandwiches tacos sandwiches tacos sandwiches and more tacos/sandwiches and created something that’s creative, delicious, accepting to the general public, and something that just works. Major props to the chef for taking a risk and being inventive. I honestly hope the Vancouver food truck scene continues down this trend and the city quit issuing licenses to food trucks with boring menus.