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Vij’s in Vancouver: Cutting edge Indian with an excruciating wait | Sortachef

Vij's in Vancouver: Cutting edge Indian with anexcruciating wait

A week or so ago Kathy and I went to Vij’s for a celebration dinner. It was a Saturday night, the night for celebrations. We knew what to expect, as we’d been 4 or 5 times before – a long wait, drinks in the back lounge, with its crowded coat room and a few low tables; tasty little snicky snacks they bring you around on a tray; and whirls of discussion among the throng of people who are there waiting for tables in the dining room to become available. When you wait in an environment like that, you meet people. You just can’t help it.

Vikram Vij, the owner, has set it up this way on purpose. You can’t make a reservation at Vij’s, not even if you’re the Dali Llama. Just ask him: he’s tried.

According to the manager, this is all part of Mr. Vij’s vision. And up until this particular evening I was a fan of his philosophy. I believe, as he does, that we all need to sit down and talk to one another. If we do, the world will be a better place. In defense of his conviction, I’ll say this: it generally works.

It worked a couple of years ago, when we had a long and rambling discussion on the merits of cross-border friendship with two doctors’ wives from Sun Peaks. Their diamonds glinted in the low lighting as they sipped pinot noir from goblets and laughed about the little plane that brought them in from the frozen north to buy Christmas presents in the big city. The time passed quickly and before we knew it we were moving on to the Lamb Popsicles and some most amazing curry. It worked a year or two before that, when we had a slightly drunken discussion with a couple who were about to go off traveling; their eyes got bigger with every tale and every glass of wine. It worked best in the month after 9/11, when Mr. Vij himself had a long discussion with us about the state of the world that was as heartfelt as it was serious. All of these discussions – no, not just conversations, connections – happened in that wait for a table.

This time we took our time scoping out the crowd. We stood in the vicinity of the bar, near the crowded coat drop, and jockeyed for a place at the small central counter, where there is space for maybe 10 people to park their drinks. (The low tables were all full, as was the space at the back where some people try to hide for an hour or two.) We ordered small beer and watched the proceedings. Almost an hour into waiting, and except for talking to each other, we had engaged in very little discussion.

The people nearest us, some 3 inches away, were very into each other, not wanting to talk. By moments, we drew them out, but only just; he had been here before, she had not. Still, very cagey, stilted conversation. She went to the loo.

“Ready for the Olympics?” I asked.

“Are we not!” he replied, in what almost sounded like a Scots accent. He’d been drawing on a napkin. “This is where we are heading, when the tourists come to town.”

He pointed to his rendition of a European locale, a small village betwixt and between large centers. He dabbed at it with the tip of his pen. “Want to rent our flat for the duration?” he asked me. “It’s available.”

By turns, once his partner had returned, we wore the conversation to a halt. We just ran out of things to say. When one of the low tables became available, I talked to an East Indian émigré by way of London, who worked now for an oil company in Calgary. He was a very sweet man, but I sensed that his wife wasn’t really into the camaraderie thing. Again, the conversation flagged, and Kathy tapped her foot with impatience.

I really like Vij’s. When I’m eating there, I really love Vij’s. It has so much meaning for me that it counts among my favorite restaurants in the world. But on this most recent evening, our love for Vij’s and its incredible food (oh, have I mentioned what great food they have?) was for once eclipsed by what became an interminable wait.

Just go to any other review to see how incredible the food is – fabulous curries, lamb dishes, vegetarian entrees. They do them all so well, and so beyond the pale. Or pick up ‘Vij’s elegant and inspired Indian cuisine,’ a wonderful cookbook that is truly inspirational, to get a taste for the offerings. I’d be showing you a photo of the Punjabi Heart Attack (cashews, sugar, paneer and ghee) if I didn’t think it would disturb the thirty-something with the massive tattoos and the distressed jeans who was sitting next to me at the time.

If I go again (okay, I’m going to have to go again, it’s just that good!), I’ll put my name in at the bar, and actually BELIEVE them when they say the wait will be two and a half hours. We’ll use the time to wander around Broadway, maybe have a drink – heck, maybe even take in a movie in the time we have to kill – and come back when our name has moved up the list.

In the meantime, when we’re having a celebration dinner in Vancouver on a Saturday night, from now on I think we’re going to stick to restaurants that actually take reservations, because there are just so many good ones like that around.

Copyright 2009 by Don Hogeland

1 comment to Vij’s in Vancouver: Cutting edge Indian with an excruciating wait

  • I found an alternative to waiting in line at Vij’s (because we LOVE that place too). Buy his book. Really. The food is spot-on and the recipes are very accurate (except for being a little salt-shy in some and over-salted in others).

    We usually make 4 – 5 dishes at a time, freeze parts of them, and we’re enjoying Vij’s without the trek.

    Last time I was in BC we ate at Rongoli, but I didn’t care for it as much. No wait, but I think the wait was almost worth it.


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