Saturday, January 04, 2014

A Visit to Vij's

At a 2011 book launch event for the Las Vegas dining guide Eating Las Vegas I attended as part of Vegas Uncork'd, a foody event the city has every May, a person in the tiny audience asked the 3 authors where's the best Indian food in Vegas. "In Vancouver," said one of food critics. He was referring to Vij's. He could have suggested a taxi to the Vegas airport, a trip to the Vancouver airport, and then a cab ride to Vij's for the quickest you could get great Indian food from starting in Vegas. I'm not a fan of Indian food. But here I am at Vij's.
Some Fijian-Indian friends of ours pummel my wife with Indian food on a regular basis and she submits. She had been to Vij's twice before, once with our huge dog Icy, Vij's offering him a dish of water while Fumiyo bathed in its spicy entrees, and I had read Vij's contributions to The Flavour Bible, a book I'd discovered in the local North Van library. Food affinities are important to me, and perhaps everyone with a tongue.
Waiting for dinner, I tried their personalized Mimosa. It was strategically subtle. As I told the ubiquitous Vij, it was a great introduction to his food, full of subtle spices and fruit and he told me how he wanted to have a few very good cocktails, not a lot of minor league drinks. I tasted allspice and star anise, and I'm not sure I know what star anise tastes like. My palate dances. Fumiyo has ordered the Jack fruit. I have a bite. It tastes like generic Indian food. Imagine going to a store and buying a can called Indian Food. That's what this tasted like. No fruit flavour involved. Then the lamb popsicles arrive.
I know this as his signature dish. The dish he served the luminaries in New York when Daniel Boulud brought Vancouver's top chefs to his flagship city to show how the Vancouver palate was sophisticated enough to appreciate Daniel's perfection attempts. Our companion kept saying, "this guy's a multimillionaire and yet he keeps hanging out with his customers." He thought that weird, but also reverent. He likes hanging out, I figure. I like eating not hot spiced food. I'm not enjoying the popsicles. When my friends made them, assuring me they were identical to Vij's, they probably toned down the heat knowing how I disliked it. Vij knew not of that. Whoever decides what's on the drinks menu saves the day. My favourite local cidre, Red Roof, is on the menu, though I keep having to request a glass of ice cubes to keep it at its optimum level of temperature sensitive exquisiteness. A finely chilled apple cidre mis-directs the heat seeking missiles of the fenugreeked; lamb and I survive the meal. How did you like the meal, asked Vij? The lighting is really good here. Your staff is extraordinary. The cocktails were as you promised. We discuss the excellence of the cocktails of my cousin's bar around the corner. And the food? If I liked Indian food, I'd probably like this a lot. Follow your tongue, eh? What Vij prooves with his cocktails is that he can intrigue and please me with his flavours. His food? I await pleasure. I have never met any restauranteur in this city who was so committed to the experience of his customers., He deserves Michelin stars for that. Food? Ask someone who likes Indian food.
We go around the corner to West and eventually get seats at the bar where my cousin David's is dazzling every lucky tongue with his spontaneous creations. I suggest he do me a passion fruit spectacular, never dreaming of what he was about to unleash. He'd created subtle passion fruit cocktails over the past few years as I discovered this taste seemed to bring me the most pleasure, when appropriately invoked. The sudden (see previous blog post- I was in Vegas before this) disappearance of the Passion Fruit Sour from Pierre Gagnaire's Las Vegas restaurant Twist, made me wonder if its signature drink, still listed on its website, could be recreated. Well, no. David's passion fruit cocktail hit my palate like Mohammed Ali in his prime, using my palate for a punching bag. Ouch. I didn't know it was possible to have too much passion fruit. But the reason we have taste buds is to learn how to use them to our advantage.
What I need to do here is to pay attention. What tastes good? Why? Can I recreate it, or add to it? That's what I've been thinking about since returning from Vegas food trip a few weeks ago. Food enjoyment is a ladder. We can keep going up.

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