Sherman's Food Adventures: Miantiao


Once considered a dirty word, fusion cuisine is more of a thing these days.  For me at least, I always accepted it because some of the most iconic foods are fusion such as Vietnamese (with its French influence) and Macanese (with its Portuguese influences).  If we look at Europe, Alsatian cuisine has both German and French influences.  In North American, we have the French-influenced cuisine of Louisiana.  Of course we see Asian influences in most of the West Coast cuisine we have here in BC as well.  I could go on and on, but you get the point - without experimentation and mixing of cuisines, we won't innovate and have all the delicious food we know today.  Locally and recently,  we've already seen Say Mercy and their combo of Italian and American BBQ, now we see Italian and Chinese at Miantiao in the Shangri-La found in the former space of Market.  As part of the Kitchen Table group, Miantiao joins such Vancouver staples such as Ask for Luigi, Di Beppe, Pizza Farina and the Pourhouse.  If you ever set eyes on the menu at Miantiao, you will immediate see the influences of Chef de Cuisine, Justin Song Lee, formerly of Crowbar and Superflux.

To get a sense of the menu, we ended up going for the "Let Us Cook For You" family-style dinner for $105.00 per person (14 plates in all including dessert).  Things started off with the Oysters on the half shell with Bloody Mary mignonette.  These were actually poached and chilled so they weren't raw.  However, they were still buttery and delicate with the usual brininess (although I would've preferred them raw personally).  I found the mignonette to be tomatoey as expected, but it did have enough acidity.

Onto the next course, we had the Mouth-Watering Frog cooked in spicy self-sauce and Sichuan pepper.  I believe this is a take on Sichuan Mouth-Watering Chicken, but it lacked the heat.  The usual elements such as the ginger, garlic and Sichuan peppercorns were there though and it was still tasty.  We could've done with more spiciness.  As for the chilled frog legs, they were tender and moist and essentially was a blank canvas for the sauce. 

Moving onto some greens, we had the Chicories with sour ginger scallions, grana padano and champagne vinaigrette.  Yes, if these look like endives to you, then you are correct (same thing).  These were fresh with a bright bitterness and crispy.  We thought the dressings and scallions provided enough pop and acidity to keep our tastebuds interested.  We could've used more of the scallions as not every leaf had enough of it.

At first, I was a little apprehensive about the Beef Heart Crudo because the last time I had it was not very good.  This one was pretty solid with a combination of long pepper, preserved mustard greens, toma and walnut crunch.  As much as I noticed the tender beef heart, it was well-seasoned with the salty tang of the mustard greens and the complex hit of the long pepper.  The little nuggets of toma added texture as well as the crunch from the walnuts.

Something familiar to me was the Kohlrabi with century egg, lemon, parmigiano and crispy butter.  It reminded me of the Turnip Caesar I had at Superflux.  This was a bit different due to the type of turnip and the addition of century egg.  But really, we didn't notice it much.  There was enough lemon that the dressing was rather acidic.  We enjoy acidity, so it didn't bother us.  The crunch from the kohlrabi itself and the crispy butter provided texture.

Although it didn't look it, the Crispy Sweetbreads atop smoked tonnato was fantastic.  Tender and properly prepared, the sweetbreads retained an appealing bite.  The panko coating was super crispy and not greasy at all.  We thought the smoked tonnato was super flavourful bordering on salty (but still okay).  The tuna was a bit obscured by the intense saltiness, but it didn't stop us from enjoying the dish.

Moving onto the pasta courses, we began with the Tajarin with aged quail ragu and crispy brown butter.  Yah, this was really good with perfectly cooked fresh pasta.  It was supremely al dente and made our mouths happy.  Completely enveloping the pasta was a rich buttery ragu that sported plenty nuggets of tender quail.  There was less gaminess than I was expecting, but it still tasted great.  Again, the crunch on top added the necessary textural contrast.

Our next pasta was the Spaghettoni with lamb, pistachios, fermented black bean and mushrooms.  If we thought the tajarin was al dente, the thicker spaghettoni was even more so.  No matter, as we prefer harder al dente pasta anyways.  It was plenty flavourful from the salty black beans and mushrooms.  It wasn't salty though.  Also, we found the lamb a little lost in this despite there being enough of it.  The nuttiness of the pistachios did work in this dish.

Our last pasta, the Spicy Duck Rigatoni, was a bit of a miss for us.  So far, the fusion aspect of the meal worked more or less, but for this one, the chili oil sauce would been more effective with a Chinese noodle such as biang biang.  With the robust chewiness of the rigatoni, the sauce didn't work.  Also, the spice level and overall seasoning was too subtle to make an impact.  We didn't really notice the duck either.

Served as a large flat piece, the Beef Tongue was topped by a chive brown butter with cumin, chili and rosemary.  There was also plenty of acidity here which was fine by us.  As for the chive brown butter, this was bright, acidic and ultimately super tasty.  It helped lighten the heaviness of the beef tongue.  As much as most of the tongue was tender enough to chew, it could've been just a touch more tender, especially at the base of the tongue.  This portion was not edible and I had tried chewing it for quite awhile.

Now the dish we had been waiting for...  A Chef Justin classic - The Cabbage Bolognese!  Oh man, this is pure genius...  The tender layers of cabbage (that were not mushy) were the perfect substitute for lasagna noodles.  In between, the tender meat bolognese was flavourful and full of aroma.  As if that wasn't delicious enough, the black vinegar based sauce combined with olive oil kicked the flavour quotient up a few notches.  For us, this is the crown jewel of the menu.

Just before the desserts, we had the Stir-Fried Green Beans with crispy shallots.  This was a miss for us as the beans themselves were a little old being stringy and some parts were tough.  Secondly, they were overdone where the texture was lacking crunch and vibrancy.  On the other hand, the dish was well-seasoned and the crispy shallots were both aromatic and provided a nice crunch (much like many of the other dishes in the meal).

For dessert, we were served the Cannoli Nostra featuring a pistachio mascarpone cannoli and a lemon ricotta "spring roll" cannoli with balsamic macerated strawberries.  We found the pistachio mascarpone cannoli to be too hard in texture, but the filling was aromatic and just sweet enough.  We much preferred the spring roll cannoli which was crispy and light.  The lemon ricotta was airy and semi-sweet.

As if this wasn't enough, we had one more dessert in the Coconut Panna Cotta with lychee, sago and mango sorbet.  Texturally, the panna cotta was on point being silky and not too sweet.  The lychees and sorbet on top added the necessary complimentary sweetness and flavours to make this a refreshing dessert.  A real nice finish to a relatively uneven meal.  To be clear, we did enjoy our meal as whole, but there is much more refinement of the menu that is needed here.  I am a huge fan of Chef Justin, so I know things will be worked out, but if we looked at the 14 dishes we had, only half we would order again.  The dishes were a bit clunky and given the Downtown location in a high-end hotel, the menu seems more suited for a more casual spot in Kits or Main/Fraser Street.  For some people, I can see them misunderstanding the intentions and combinations of ingredients.  So when I've heard some people say the food "sucked", I would like to disagree and say that is a bit too harsh.  I think the food is fine and the restaurant is still in its infancy.  But if I had to judge it solely on this one visit, it has some work to do.

The Good:
- Definitely interesting food
- Plenty of acidity and textures
- That cabbage bolognese

The Bad:
- Some dishes are a bit clunky and lack refinement
- Would this restaurant be more well-situated away from Downtown?


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