Vij’s has a reputation that precedes itself. Between its consistent top-five Canadian ranking, celebrity sightings, and tales of its mythically long wait times, perhaps owner Vikram Vij was blessed with foresight in choosing the large tusked animal as its symbol – there is no doubt that great expectations are the elephant in the room.
Exterior lineup (you know you’re in Vancouver when you see at least two other people pull out their wireless devices to check for internet)
Even though we had eaten a full meal not three hours prior, we joined the line about 20 deep outside Vij’s at around 5:15. When their doors opened fifteen minutes later, some of the line stragglers behind us failed to be seated, and faced with a wait time of at least an hour and a half, chose to head elsewhere. Others however, through the course of our meal, either chose to lounge in the bar at the rear of the restaurant, or, when that was full, took their drinks out onto the outdoor patios to wait it out. We were glad not to be amongst that crowd.
My only minor complaint about the restaurant was their lack of more than one bathroom – for the number of people frequenting the restaurant, I would think regulations would stipulate at least two stalls per gender.
After the waitresses swept through the room, efficiently doling out menus, glasses and tin carafes of water to each table, we were also given a free cup of warm chai, and throughout the moments of menu perusal, three hot samples to try from a basket offered by a gregarious server (a pakora, a fry, and a spiced chip of some sort). It was the beginning of the Vij’s welcome: hospitable efforts that made us feel like guests instead of diners.
Chai (the cups were too cute)
I already knew I wanted to try the spicy paranta ($11.50) made with ground crickets that I had read about in the Globe a few months back, and I remembered the praise always heaped upon the wine-marinated lamb popsicles ($26.50). For our second entree, I thought a vegetable-based dish would round out our meal nicely, so opted for the cabbage, potato and bell pepper in coconut, blueberry and cilantro masala with homemade crispy noodles ($24).
Our wait was pleasant, and though I was disappointed that we didn’t see any celebrities (Shermie had waited alongside Eric McCormack on her last visit), our door-side table did provide many opportunities to gawk at the patrons that did pass through (a Buddhist monk and two Southern beauty queens walk into Vij’s…). The paranta arrived, complemented by a turnip salad. Had the menu not mentioned crickets, I would have assumed, from both the taste and the texture, that the thin bread was made from whole wheat flour. The turnip was nicely prepared as well, albeit too spicy for my palate.
Paranta made with roasted, ground cricket and chapati flour
Our entrees, served with a bowl of rice and a basket of naan bread, were the stars of the show. The lamb popsicles were our favourite, perfectly grilled and immersed in a creamy fenugreek curry sauce. I’ve been scarred in past experience with lamb, but if it were always cooked to such tender conditions, I’d opt for lamb over pork anytime. The masala received a more mixed review, as I found the potatoes a tad undercooked, but the unusual addition of blueberries were a nice sweet treat.
The entire evening was a satisfying blur of attentive waitresses, a thorough attention to detail, and a surreal feeling that accompanied my first dining experience that felt wholly like an exquisitely choreographed dance. Unlike our meal at The Blue Pear, where being tended to by several people resulted in a scattered and haphazard impression of the service, the fact that multiple waitresses had a hand in our evening made us feel more at home and taken care of. Perhaps that had to do with the little things – immediately bringing us a cooling bowl of raita when I mentioned offhand that one of the dishes was a bit spicy; a mere forty-five seconds between an empty basket of naan being replaced by a fresh basket; and most impressive of all, the use of a plate warmer to ensure that the food to be consumed didn’t lose their heat upon transfer to an individual’s plate.
Suffice to say, our experience at Vij’s survived the hype. Bravo to the staff, and keep up the great work.
1480 11th Avenue West