Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ping's Cafe

(April 25, 2008)

Two reviewers: ts and js

Friday night. We decided to go out for dinner at the spur of the moment. This was already at 7pm, by the way. We heard some good press about a new place, we decided to check it out.

Ping's Cafe is supposed to serve homestyle Japanese food.

We arrive a little after 7pm. From the street, we couldn't tell if the place was open. One couldn't see inside at all. I had to do recon first while JS waited in the car.

Yes, they're open! But it was a little strange because there was nobody inside!

We decided to try it out anyway.

The space
There was country music playing. I liked the pleated upholstery on the banquettes. Otherwise, the room looked very spare and plain. Just grey. At first, I thought all the tables were dirty, as they all had (cup) ring stains all over them, but I think that's how they wanted it to look. But yeah, not too appetizing.

After about 10 minutes, more people started to arrive. Strangely enough, all the other parties were all female as well!

Enough of this. On to the food!

I like that they automatically leave a carafe of water at the table. Bonus points!

It's supposed to be a tapas-type of thing, so we ordered the following from the "starters" section of the menu:

saba nanban
bangbang chicken
gyoza ebi
ping dog

We also ordered a "main" of hambagoo.

saba nanban $6.00

This was reportedly marinated or pickled saba (mackerel). The dish was very unbelievably small. The saba pieces themselves were very tough. I didn't really get any of the nice oily mackerel taste and texture. (And you know how I like saba.) These were grainy in the mouth. It was just as well that the serving was small.

bangbang chicken $8.00

This was a shredded chicken salad. It had jicama in it, I believe. The dressing was a sesame-based one. It tastes like "Chinese Chicken Salad." It was "OK". (I believe "Chinese Chicken Salad" is an LA or California invention, sort of like how BC Roll is a Vancouver invention.)

gyoza ebi $6.00

OK. Tasted dumpling-y. The skin was loose and scraggly around the filling, though.

ping dog $6.00

Bratwurst with beets and radish. The bratwurst was very tasty. I liked. (I'm assuming, though, that they buy the brats. So I guess I should say, "Good job, manufacturer!")

hambagoo $15.00

"Hambagoo" is the Japanese take on hamburgers. I actually just read about yoshoku here.

Ping's served theirs with rice, squash, broccoli, and a sweet-tangy sauce (reminiscent of ketchup). It was good. Very home-style.

Actually, it tasted like Philippine hamburger! Like the ones we made. The Ping's hambagoo was softer, though; it didn't have a crusty exterior like ours.

Sometimes there is nothing better than Philippine-style/Japanese-style "hamburger" with plain white rice.

Oh, I must mention the plates. They were very "Asian home-style". Brings back memories. =)

The total before taxes was $44.63. It seemed a bit much for the type of food it was. This is only for two people, by the way. Granted, we may have ordered more than others, but still. As you can see from the pictures, it wasn't really a lot of food. Compare that to a HK-style cafe, for example. The level of food is about the same, but the discrepancy in price is huge. For $45 bucks, it should've been great.

Let's get my big bias out of the way.

I have never been a fan of the "tapas" concept, as least how it's been practiced around town. Spanish tapas, Japanese tapas, small-plates, whatever. I've never liked it.

I don't know how people are supposed to "share" these small plates, given that the servings are very small. I feel that, for most of these small plates, two or three people in a group would not even have an adequate taste of the dish were they to share it. I've been on several groups doing a small-plates, izakaya, tapas thing and there has always been hesitation in the air. People can't figure out how big a part of the plate they're going to take. In my opinion, it makes for a kind of uncomfortable dining.

And it's not a meal for me. I always feel like I've been subjected to a whole lot of previews and not given the main show. Or worse than previous, commercials. It lacks the "seriousness" of eating for me. Snacking, yes, and I suppose I can get the tapas appeal, especially when one is out on the town dancing and drinking the night away. Alas, I'm just too unhip for all of that.

Ping's Cafe did not change my mind. The whole experience felt like snacking for me, not dinner, and I was not wholly content after the end of the meal. I felt like I still wanted to eat something. We were debating whether or not to drop by a HK-style cafe for a bowl of noodles.

I also feel like it's too much money to pay for average food:

The dressing for the chicken salad was too salty.

The mackerel was iffy: I think I'm tending towards I don't like the dish rather than finding it okay.

The bratwurst was merely okay, but for 6 bucks a brat, I expected more.

The gyoza tasted "gyoza-y," but there were no prawns in sight.

The hambagoo was all right, moist and tender, with hints of star anise in the gravy, but it was nothing spectacular. Fifteen bucks a plate was too much for the quality of food.

All in all, it was very underwhelming. Still not convinced about the whole tapas thing.

Still waiting to be convinced.


  1. We went to Pings Cafe last Sat for the first time. Nice atmosphere. Unfortunately the food is way overpriced for Yoshoku-style Japanese food (mostly deep fried). I have been to different Japanese tapas (Izakaya) restaurants in Vancouver, this one so far is the most expensive for the quality of food they provide.

  2. Thanks for sharing! There seems to be a couple of other Yoshoku-style places cropping up now. So like the izakaya "craze", maybe soon we'll have lots of Yoshoku places to choose from.

  3. "you are what you eat."
    i've been to Ping's a few time and it gets better every time. to be perfectly honest with you, i didn't get it at first but now i appreciate there is a place like this exist in vancouver instead of another cheap japanese sushi joint. it's like comparing Starbucks over Artigiano cafe.
    Your article is kinda interesting but such a typical feedback from a north american point of view...."more for less!" and the world wonder why north americans are more often over weight compare to asia and europe. we tend to eat more than we need to and not thinking about quality. the thought of sharing when it comes to food are non-existent. Its social food and atmosphere not stuffing your face for 5 bucks. i don't hear people complaint much about paying for 6/7 bucks for a beer straight from a tap in the club. i do agree it is a bit more pricey but i'll rather go to places like this then yaletown or kits.

  4. I'm with you there about people not seeming to care about paying for alcoholic drinks.

    re Ping's: It's not so much that the food was lacking in quantity. I believe I wrote that the price was "much for the type of food it was." Basically, the price doesn't match the *quality* of food.

    But they were fairly new around the time we went, so perhaps there have been major improvements in the execution of the food. But from what we sampled, I don't have a huge desire to return.

    This is sort of the same thing I feel about western "casual dining" chains: the quality of food is "OK", yet the price is about the same as other places with much better food.

    There are other places such as izakaya places or other Asian restaurants where people are expected to share food. Ping's doesn't seem to be designed in such a way that promotes a group of friends to dine together (tables for 2 of 4 seem the norm).

    We're not averse to paying for food; it just needs to be worth it.

    (For example, Ajisai in Kerrisdale is more "expensive" than cheap sushi places, but that's where we eat. I dislike "fast-food" sushi myself.)

  5. (I believe "Chinese Chicken Salad" is an LA or California invention, sort of like how BC Roll is a Vancouver invention.)

    --Um, no. That salad is actually a Northern Chinese creation. The version at Ping's is actually not far off from how it should be served. Google it!


LinkWithin Related Stories Widget for Blogs