Last Saturday I went to Wild Rice again. The server recognized us, and my husband commented it was the third Saturday in a row we’ve stopped in. To say we’ve been heavily sampling what Wild Rice has to offer New West would be an accurate statement; I’ve gone to a post-market late lunch, a fancy romantic dinner, a business meeting, and a birthday party. I’ve tried most everything on the menu and I’ve liberally sampled their infamous cocktails menu. I’ve been served by various staff and I’ve gone at various times of day. The short version of this review: Wild Rice changes what going out for a meal means in New Westminster.
Here’s the longer version:
In case you haven’t heard of the restaurant, Wild Rice is a recently opened tenant in River Market, overlooking the Fraser River. They’re open for lunch and dinner 6 days a week (Tuesday through Thursday: 11:30am to 10pm, Friday & Saturday: 11:30am to 11pm, and Sunday: 11:30am to 10pm) and offer simple, fresh and modern Chinese fusion “family style”; that is, share plates large and small you can share with your dining companions that come in no set order and in their own time as they are prepared by the kitchen. It’s the second location of the same name – the other is on Pender on the edge of Gastown in Vancouver – and much has been glowingly written about Wild Rice’s menu and service since the first location opened in 2001.
Chef Todd Bright offers dairy free fare and many gluten free and vegan options. Many of the ingredients have been carefully sourced from ethical, local, small scale producers by owner Andrew Wong, and this attention to detail is reflected in the prices on the menu. This is not the least expensive restaurant in town, although there are definitely bargains to be had – the lunch time truffle salt and szechuan pepper tofu with braised mushrooms, water chestnuts and fresh peas served in a bowl on rice may very well be the most perfect comfort food of all time for only $10.
My favourite items so far? Besides the lunchtime salt and pepper tofu which will keep me coming back with regularity (a fuller variation is also on the dinner menu at $13), I’d pick the seared albacore tuna with ginger shallot daikon, black vinegar reduction and toasted sesame seeds ($14), maple hill chicken kung po with twice cooked peanuts, local broccoli, rice noodles ($19), turnip cake with shiitake mushroom, smoked tofu and pickled vegetable salad ($7), and the vegetable spring roll with seasonable local vegetables, ginger soy dip ($8) for the top of my list.
My least favourite? Although I enjoyed the flavour of the hot and sour soup, I wasn’t “in love” with it – the broth to veggie ratio seemed high on the broth side and it just didn’t blow me away the way I was expecting it to. I have one other minor quibble: while their great local craft beer is well priced at $5 a sleeve, I find their per-glass wine prices a little high for New Westminster at $8-10 for a 6oz glass. (Update: Thanks to Wild Rice for the correction – their wine is 6oz not 4oz! )
Family-style modern Chinese fusion isn’t for everyone (one friend tells me “this isn’t real Chinese food”) but it is a type of eating I personally love. Like tapas style dining the now defunct Orange Room tried hard to capture but didn’t quite nail, I love sitting down with a group passing plates back and forth, and experiencing little bites of many kinds of food.
All in all, however, Wild Rice has so far lived up to the hype, and I find the unpretentious and cozy atmosphere welcoming and comfortable. The staff are top notch, happy to make recommendations, and know the exact right moments to appear and disappear. Two thumbs up.
But really, the point of this review isn’t about the food or the service – both well documented as being above average and star quality – as much as it is about how Wild Rice’s choice to set up shop in our community has changed what going out for a meal means in New Westminster.
For a very long time, the choices for a fancy dinner here in our city have been twofold for me: reliable chain eateries with predictable everything, or independently owned crapshoots that might be awesome or might be horrific from one visit to the next.
I don’t want you to get me wrong – there are a number of places I frequent and enjoy and heartily recommend (and many of them we’ve written about at length here on Tenth) in our city. Places like Okonomi Sushi or the Dublin Castle consistently impress me with their food quality and freshness. And while I can be spotted at Boston Pizza, White Spot, the Keg, and even The Boathouse, they are… well, predictable. The variables are not about the food; the variables in these familiar places are more environmental: service, parking, and how clean the bathrooms are. It becomes less about the sum, and more about the parts.
New Westminster News Leader editor Chris Bryan and I talked about the shift a few weeks ago when we talked about the Newsmaker of the Year - the feeling that New Westminster is once again becoming a golden city like in the early days of our province. Wild Rice is a part of that shift for me and has managed to completely change the game by capturing the essence of the experience I always want to have when I head out for a meal cooked by someone else without me having to leave my town. Wild Rice offers the trifecta of awesomeness – inventive food that surprises me, gracious staff who are able to be invisible and available at the same time, and decor and ambience I can’t get at home.
Simply? You should go.