Devilishly good food at heavenly low prices

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Ling Zheng and her staff create the food they want to cook for friends and family

Mia Stainsby

Server Andrew Beatty with cumin chili-crusted rack of lamb and a bowl of Prohibition Punch at Grub restaurant . Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

This busy ribbon of urban life is reclaiming its name. On the food front, Main Street is busting out with some of the nicest little places and good value ones at that.

Grub is the latest to slip into that category. No. Correction. It offers great value. The food is devilishly tempting, you leave well-fed and, at the end of dinner, your bill will surprise you. (In a good way.)

When I mention the generous portions to owner/chef Ling Zheng on the phone, she makes me laugh. “It’s a Chinese thing. I’m so afraid people won’t be full. I’m sick and tired of going to places and getting home and having to order take-out. I’m amazed, though, at how much people eat. They’ll go through three courses and that’s just how it should be.”

Well, lemme tell you, I was full, Ling. Very full as I left, tail wagging, doggy bag in hand. My six-foot-tall husband was, too.

Grub has been open for a month or so. The music’s great — indie rock, mostly. The cow print wallpaper along one wall looks like nursery room sweetness, but a closer look tips it into adult whimsy. The Calder-like mobile was made by friends of her father. At some point during your meal, you’ll see a server ferrying a punch in a bowl to a table. Grub has resurrected old-fashioned punch, but Zheng had to resort to urban archeology to find punch bowls with hanging cups. She finally found a whole bunch in a box, languishing in the back room of a Salvation Army store. They didn’t have the hanging half-handles she wished for, but still, they’re punch cups.

When I first walked into Grub, the menu got me all excited. The name Grub fits — the food is bistro-style spun out with flair. Entrées are well under $20 and I’d recommend sharing an antipasto plate to start ($13 to $15). Zheng and her cooks in the kitchen are quick-change artists; entrées are here, then gone so fast they’re written on erasable chalkboard (which, by the way, is hard to read from some angles). The printed menu features sharing appetizers and pizzas. I wanted to try everything, but settled on a dish that seemed to have “everything.” The seafood sharing platter is a big plate of salmon gravlax, seafood ceviche (squid and clams) and smoke trout brandade. I just loved the latter. My entrée, Alaska cod with roasted yam, had a bright contrast of mango, strawberry and celery salad (and lots of it). My husband dug into his ancho pepper rubbed pork shoulder with eggplant and chickpea stew with gusto. A fruit cobbler nearly burnt my mouth, but upon cooling was a pleasant, mom-made kind of dessert.

On a return visit, we dug into the colourful vegetarian platter with ratatouille, pickled red cabbage, pickled curry cauliflower, marinated mushrooms, hummus, vegetarian paté, bocconcini and olives. It was a really good mix of flavours and textures. (Thanks to a couple of vegetarian cooks, there’s always vegetarian and vegan options on the chalkboard.)

Duck confit was fall-apart tender and served with sausage and “been” ragout; a thin-crust pizza with sopressata (dry-cured sausage), lamb sausage, rapini, garlic and crushed chili, for $12, was rustic and once, again, generous, filling up the plate. For dessert, a lemon brulée tart.

The kitchen’s hoping not to repeat dishes as they keep switching up the chalkboard.

Other dishes have included: braised pork shoulder with anise, rock sugar, lemon grass with mango and sweet potato stew (Zheng’s mother’s specialty); butternut squash ricotta frittata with spinach dumplings and roasted red pepper sauce; empanada with roasted mushrooms, olives and goat cheese; and roasted eggplant and tomato stew with soft polenta (vegan).

“We’re creating a place and food we like to cook for our friends and family,” Zheng says. “My staff and I think and talk about what we want to eat.” As it turns out, it’s what I want to eat, too.

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