Vij's, Recommended by Stuart McLean

It was my mom's birthday on February 7, so my parents came over to see our new place, and then we went out to dinner at Vij's, a fantastic Indian restaurant on 11th at Granville.

Kate and I had seen it in our travels around the neighbourhood, but hadn't give it much thought. It doesn't look like much from the outside -- a sort of dark gray front with a little front courtyard, and the name in purple neon. But my mom heard about it from Stuart McLean (Stuart needs to blog more -- then I could link to an entry about Vij's). Apparently he raved about it on-air. Vij himself dropped by our table, and we mentioned this, and he said he never spoke to Stuart -- he wasn't there the night he came.

In any case, we stopped by around 6pm and put our names on the waiting list. Vij's opens at 5:30pm, and there is often a line up before it even opens. There is a great little waiting area at the back, with some low tables, chairs, and a bar that serves free appetizers and chai lattes. We decided to window shop along Granville, since we had over an hour to wait.

We returned and started sampling some beer (they serve Storm Brewery's India Pale Ale, Pilsner, and Scottish Ale) by the bar, and were seated about 10 minutes later.

We had already been browsing the menu at the bar, so it didn't take us long to decide. A server came by with a brass water pitcher and glasses for everyone. We decided on just two appetizers, Roast Kale with Chick Peas and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms. For our mains, we each picked one, but were going to share everything (that's pretty much how things are set up -- the dishes aren't really meant for individual eating).

When the appetizers first came, I was a bit dismayed by their small size. But, it was actually the perfect amount. Enough to get a good taste for all four people, not too much to get full with the taste or spoil your appetite for dinner. Warm naan bread accompanied it, and Vij came by to bring us more when we finished the first serving. The naan was mediocre, probably due to how busy the restaurant was, or perhaps just that I've had really great homemade naan in Ottawa.

The appetizers were cleared, including the warmed plates we were eating from, and we got fresh cutlery and fresh warm plates. The servers were attentive about coming by and offering to refresh drinks, and filling up our water glasses and pitcher.

More naan bread and some bowls of rice accompanied the entrees. Everything was very flavourful, and nothing was too spicey, although some dishes had a bit of kick. I chose the ghee-braised short ribs, my dad picked some grilled pork tenderloin, my mom had roast eggplant, and Kate selected the saag with daal. Salt also featured heavily -- which wasn't a problem for us, since we're all salt fanatics. There wasn't too much, but none of the dishes needed any more.

Saag was explained to us as a Punjabi dish that is composed of mustard greens that are simmered for a long time with spices. It was a bit like creamed spinach, but much tastier. It was also topped with homemade paneer, which is a type of cheese. The paneer was a bit like feta (small crumbly white bits) and a bit like curds from Quebec (very soft and mild tasting).

The entrees again looked small, but we barely finished what with the accompanying rice, naan, and some other grilled breads. Yes, of course we had room for dessert! We each tried a different one: my mother had the house chocolates, Kate had dumplings in a hot cardamon syrup, my dad had a type of almond rice pudding, and I had mango pistachio ice cream. These were all covered with silver leaf, which apparently is edible and has good anti-oxidant properties.

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With a couple of beers each and three courses, the meal came to about $50 per person, including tip and tax. Very worthwhile, and I can highly recommend this to anyone that enjoys good food. We got our coats and were about to walk the 2 blocks back to our place, when my mother found something extra in her coat pocket.

It might be a bit hard to see, but I'm holding a can of Lucky Lager. Not exactly upscale beer, but it has a certain retro cachet. I guess some Vancouver hipster came in with it, and then hid the empty can in my mom's coat pocket!

Update: I don't know why I didn't look for the website earlier. It's linked at the top now, and here's a direct link to the menu.