Wild Rice: Andrew Wong and Stu Irving

Andrew Wong & chef Stu Irving (who went on to open Cobre). Hmmm, sure took some awkward pics in those days!

Wild Rice, Andrew Wong’s trend-setting downtown room at Vancouver’s Pender and Carrall streets, has closed. Wong has decided to focus his energies entirely on Wild Rice Bistro at River Market, in New Westminster. I’m sure he’ll do well at the centre of such a rapidly growing region. If you haven’t yet made the trip to River Market, it’s well worth checking out. I think it’s important to put into context just what Wong achieved (and risked) when he and then business partner Tom Poirier took that leap in 2001. At the time there really was no such thing in Vancouver as crossover Chinese cuisine. Nor were a whole lot of people heading down to Pender and Carrall.

A look back at Wild Rice v.1…

Here’s what I wrote at the time: “Looking much like a proud new father, Andrew Wong is showing off the deep indigo glazed small squared plates and bowls that ferry affordable small plates to an already bustling crowd at Wild Rice, Vancouver’s newest—and unique—Chinese restaurant. Last week, a few weeks behind schedule, Wong (who used to be front and centre with the edgy Brickhouse on Main Street) and partner Tom Poirier finally opened the doors of their very stylish, contemporary space, kitty-corner to Tinseltown at Pender and Carrall.

When it comes to culinary choice, Vancouver is hardly lacking. Nevertheless, the city’s established Chinese restaurant community has been curiously slow to embrace the possibilities, beyond its built-in clientele, to take Chinese cuisine to the mainstream and tempt more cautious western tastes. Asian ingredients may enjoy prominence front and centre in many once purely classical kitchens—but a true melding of Chinese and western dining styles has been a while coming. 

Is Wild Rice that bold cross-over offering for which many of us have been waiting? Hold on to your chopsticks!  With its blend of  tapas styled, progressive Chinese dishes delivered in a truly contemporary setting, this dynamic, be-all space adds up to a genuine hybrid.” (Vancouver Courier)

I couldn’t make it to Wild Rice Pender Street’s closing night. I’m sure it was a bitter sweet Lunar New Year celebration. But I’ll be back soon to River Market to see Wong and savour some Pemberton beef and Shanghai noodles or addictive Chicken King Pu. It really is a quick and easy trip on SkyTrain from downtown. Wild Rice is just one of an interesting and growing group of eateries at River Market, that includes  Angus An’s (Maenam) Longtail Kitchen, La Grotto del Formaggio, Re-Up BBQ, and more. CBC’s Margaret Gallagher did an excellent interview with Andrew Wong  pre-closing. I’ll put the link up here as soon as it becomes available.