The duo behind Vancouver’s popular Le Tigre food truck knock it out of the park with Torafuku, a Main Street restaurant where you’ll want to sit and stay a while.
If you’re a food truck enthusiast — and really, who isn’t in Vancouver? — you have probably eaten at Le Tigre. It’s time to check out Torafuku. With Torafuku, Steve Kuan and Clement Chan have taken the roaming Asian restaurant concept to another level, one that does without the wheels and ups the wow factor with dishes that look not just pretty on your Instagram feed but are an actual flavour orgasm in your mouth.
Meaning “lucky tiger” in Japanese, Torafuku has become the dynamic duo’s lucky charm. “Both Clement and I wanted to open a restaurant back when we were working at the Hyatt,” says Kuan. “At that time we did not have a clear vision, and did not know when we would open one, but that was our goal.” Kuan and Chan are trained in the culinary traditions of France and Italy, and at first they thought of opening a (gasp!) French or Italian restaurant. “As years went by, we realized we had developed a niche with clients seeking Asian style food,” says Kuan. And we’re glad they did.
“When we first started the restaurant concept, we did not want to limit ourselves to one certain type of cuisine,” says Kuan. At Torafuku, the duo fuse the flavours of Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and Korea in a piquant (though sometimes not too cohesive) way. “At the end of the day, food is food, we just love and enjoy eating all these types of cuisine around the world. We just created a menu that we all love eating on a daily basis. Comforting and satisfying.”
Designed by local architects Scott & Scott, the minimalist, 50-seat restaurant on the edge of Chinatown is packed practically every night it is open. But it’s still early on a Thursday night when Tyler and I arrive and quickly score one of the seats at the large concrete-cast communal table that runs most of the length of the dining room. From the bench we take in the theatrics going on in the open-concept kitchen while we sip on handcrafted cocktails created by Max Borrowman. My Ipanema Sunset is a refreshing concoction of cachaça, lemon, Giffard Banane Du Bresil, 33 Acres of Ocean Pale Ale, and a punch of cayenne and sea salt. On a drizzly Vancouver night, the cocktail is the closest you’ll get to being transported to a sexy beach in Fernando de Noronha (look it up and book a flight there immediately).
Before we can order our second cocktails, the dishes begin to arrive. The first one (and my favourite of the night) is a delicate miso sablefish served with fried snow crab, dash congee, and tenderly cooked vegetables. The Kickass Rice 2.0 is a Le Tigre favourite that’s been reinvented, and we’re thankful for it. Order it at the food truck and you get a tasty but not so pretty rice bowl. At Torafuku, the vinegar seasoned rice is firmly pressed into delicious bite-size rectangles topped with pork belly and lightly sprinkled with sesame seeds. The result is a crunchy delight that is at once gourmet yet playful.
“The menu at Torafuku is very focused on seasonal ingredients, working with local farms, sustainable seafood, organic meats as well as urban farming,” explains Kuan. “At the same time, the flavours are bold and kick-ass.” The same playfulness found on Le Tigre Food Truck menu is still here. The main difference is that one is street food meant to be eaten on the run while at Torafuku the dishes are meant to be shared. And you’ll share them in a simple but well thought out room.
Indeed, the colourful, kick-ass dishes are the star in a room that is all raw concrete and timber. Clever panels on the white walls wrapped in denim and felt serve as hipster decor and for sound absorption. Hanging from the ceiling above the communal table is a leather-accented linear pendant. Vancouverites, Kuan tells us, are not too keen on the communal table concept. “However, we’ve noticed once they sit down and drink a few cocktails or beers, they get really friendly with their neighbours,” he says. Before long, diners get talking with their neighbours about the dishes or the food they have in front of them. “In the end, they love the experience.”
Tyler and I do too.
Steve Kuan’s Vancouver
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FAVOURITE CAFE Matchstick in Chinatown
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FAVOURITE SPOT FOR OUT-OF-TOWNERS Farmers Apprentice
FAVOURITE HOTEL Fairmont Pacific Rim Lobby Lounge/Raw Bar
FAVOURITE WORKOUT Gracie Barra gym on Main Street
FARMERS MARKET Winter Farmers Market at Nat Bailey