Torafuku

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Everyone is talking about the mushrooms.

Hidden amongst the other delicious ingredients—candied walnuts, torched burrata cheese, pickled beets—from Torafuku’s Dropping Mad Beets dish, the local mushrooms sing a song all their own, and everyone at the table takes notice. Soft with a bit of bounce and exploding with juicy flavour, these fungi sure are fun. As a whole, the plate is fresh, playful, and comforting—the very embodiment of Torafuku.

A staple since it opened in Vancouver at the border of Chinatown and Strathcona in 2015, this Pan-Asian restaurant is all about serving high-level grub in a lowbrow environment. It’s not necessarily created as food for the masses, but it’s safe to say most Vancouverites will be able to find at least a few (if not many) beloved dishes here. Combining the best ingredients and flavours of Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan with influences from Canada, Italy and France, Torafuku strikes a delicate balance between the weird and the wholesome. Dishes are appetizing and accessible but they push boundaries in stimulating directions, unafraid to have fun or to make a mess.

Designed by Scott & Scott Architects, the minimal space has mostly bare white walls, exposed piping over the kitchen, and industrial concrete flooring; the focal point of the small room is its large communal table, meant to foster engagement, socializing, and sharing. This evening, the room is also accented by a giant tangerine-coloured balloon, which marks the restaurant’s third birthday.

“Torafuku translates to ‘lucky tiger’ in Japanese, and the tiger is the third Chinese zodiac,” says chef and co-owner Clement Chan, addressing an intimate group gathered to mark the occasion with a charming 12-course meal. “We want to show that we have matured as a restaurant and as a team,” he continues, “but that we still have fun, creative menu items and cocktails.” That is certainly the case, with dish names such as The Dirty Birdy (chicken liver pate, apricot puree, yuzu-pickled Tokyo turnips, furikake sourdough) and Finding Dory (sake katsu halibut, dashi chowder, buttered carrots) prompting various chuckles around the table. Paired with cocktails like O My Sake (Senkin sake, pear juice, smoky bitters, lime) and Funky Town Sling (Long Table gin, Cointreau, pineapple juice, hibiscus syrup, baijiu) created by Chan’s business partner and head bartender Steve Kuan, there is a lot to explore here, and it’s all worth the dive.

While two Torafuku signatures (Everyday I’m Brusselin, General Tao’s Fried Chicken) remain on the menu, the rest of offerings are completely new—including the crispy yet light Gone Fishing (whole market fish, sweet and sour sauce, coconut rice, toasted shrimp and pork floss) and the surprising and delightfully indulgent Poutine? (polenta tempura fries, dug leg ragout, star anise gastrique, shaved parmesan). The entire plate list is meant to be communal—“Sharing is Caring,” as the anniversary menu states—although when it comes time for Humble Pie (citrus custard tart, vanilla mousse, candied orange), that will be easier said than done.

Humble Pie is a great way to end a meal here, and not only because it is deliciously tangy; Chan, Kuan, and their dutiful team clearly operate with a certain level of humility, and it allows Torafuku a commendable lack of pretension. Throughout the evening, their heads were down as they worked fast to make some magic for their guests. Everyone left full and happy, and there’s no greater tell than that.


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July 27, 2018