Consistency is King on Torafuku’s New Menu
The pan-Asian restaurant turns three. By Vancouver standards does that make it an institution?
July 25, 2018
Torafuku, the lucky tiger that began as a food truck, is celebrating its third year open on Main St. in the shadow of the Georgia Viaduct. Chef Clement Chan has rolled out a whole new menu to mark the occasion, joined by a flight of fresh cocktail inventions from co-owner, and front of house boss, Steve Kuan.
On their birthday’s eve, Chan and Kuan invited a room full of hungry media members to Torafuku’s sparse, industrial space for a full-menu preview.
“The menu,” said Chan “shows how we’ve matured as a restaurant.” Maturity, and consistency, certainly came across on the short, sharing-focused menu. Chan uses a greatest-hits list of pan-Asian ingredients. His dishes are studded with eye-catching uni, or topped with a gently quivering cascade of bonito flakes, delivering umami bombs, one after the other.
Kuan’s cocktails were a playful counterpoint to the menu, using sweet and savoury flavours like Grand Marnier and roasted rice tea for the Kyoto Moonlight. My standout was the stir-it-yourself Funky Town Sling, a highball of Gin, Cointreau, Baijiu (a personal favourite), and pineapple juice atop a concentrated base of hibiscus syrup. It drank like a mouthful of gummy tropical fruit and worked shockingly well next to Chan’s consistently savoury food.
That consistency, though, can become a little repetitive. Everything sits within a consistent bar of good, well executed dishes, celebrating Asian flavours. But those flavours weren’t necessarily being pushed into surprising or unexpected places. At the same time, nothing really didn’t work.
The new menu makes for a fantastic three dish pop-in. A juicy cocktail and a few bites of unctuous five-spice duck breast, or chicken liver pate with some charming pieces of torn sourdough, I can think of far worse ways to spend some time. There’s enough consistently good stuff on offer too, that you could pop in a couple nights a week, order a few different things, and walk away happy.
The two real standout dishes were also the most playful. The “Poutine?” is a stack of crispy tempura-fried polenta atop duck leg ragout, studded around with a star anise gastrique. It might be unrecognizable to a Quebecer but shares the same easy, sultry charm as any roadside poutinerie. The market fish, Sea Bream in our case, came whole and was expertly deconstructed tableside by a server. The skin was glazed in a sweet and sour sauce, and then topped with a crispy pork and shrimp floss. It might have done well with some vinegar or chili oil on the side, but I’m a sucker for a good tableside carve and a chance to eat some fish cheeks.
After a dessert of near-perfect citrus tart—ripping sour, just how I like it—Chan and Kuan took our applause and basked in a remarkable achievement, keeping a Vancouver restaurant going for three years. No mean feat in today’s industry. Consistency was obviously key in getting them here, now we get to see if they’ll head somewhere more curious.
Torafuku are marking their birthday with three days of celebrations. Until July 26, all cocktails are $3(!) during their ‘Happy Birthday Hour’ 5:30 to 7:00 and desserts are $3 all night long!