Kerridale’s Suvai offers simple food at a fair price

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Restaurant serves straight-forward dishes with good value, although some dishes need more depth to be knock-outs

Mia Stainsby

Suvai chef de cuisine Segar Kulasegarampillai with his Dungeness crab and shrimp cakes. Photograph by : Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun


2279 West 41st Ave. , 604-261-4900

Overall 31/2

Food 31/2

Ambience 31/2

Service 31/2

Price $$

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

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It’s dressed down on the outside and you could sail past it without a blip on the radar. But Suvai gets more interesting inside with a warm, intimate bistro feel. Note the chocolate walls (dark, that is, not milk), spare but twinkly chandeliers, ’40s retro music and regulars, a grateful bunch who make a point of telling the chef how much they enjoyed the meal.

The man behind the stove at Suvai (means taste in Tamil) is Segar Kulasegarampillai, who started in the restaurant trade at the bottom rung in Toronto.

“I started as a dish pig,” he says in restaurant lingo, “and I worked my way up.”

Along the way, he’s done a stage at Ontario’s culinary zenith, Michael Stadtlander’s Eigensinn Farm.

In Vancouver, he’s sourcing ingredients locally like a good chef should and applying what he learned during his mind-expanding experience with Stadlander. “Huge,” he says of Stadtlander’s influence. “I learned how to be simple, how not to mess with food and to be true to myself. I learned how to be a good chef.”

Before moving to Vancouver in 2005, he was the chef at Mildred Pierce, a Toronto restaurant that’s been doing things right for 17 years. (It recently closed but it’s reopening at another location.) Kulasegarampillai also taught at Cookworks, the adjoining cooking school.

At Suvai, his food is straightforward and for it to be worthy of revisits, it’s got to be delicious and succulent, not boring. He delivers with most but not all the dishes on his streamlined menu. Some need more depth to be knock-outs but the thing is, this is a good-value restaurant so you cannot complain that you’re not getting exquisite returns.

Starters are $7 to $11 and mains are $14 to $29. The best dish I had — the star anise ginger-braised beef shortribs with scallion mash and sautéed spinach — was $19. If you eat meat, I insist you order it.

To start, try the crab and shrimp cakes with chipotle aioli, with an abundance of crustaceans.

A maple-roasted butternut squash soup with duck confit had a silky, luscious texture but was strangely, not flavourful; Fanny Bay oysters with black tiger prawn dish might be better received without those imported prawns — I’d prefer a greedy assault on local in-season oysters.

The pan-seared scallops were great — it still had the wobbles, which meant it wasn’t overcooked. It was served with lentils with bacon, swiss chard and a lovely sauce tasting of truffle.

Grilled salmon didn’t hit the bulls eye; it was cooked longer than I like and had turned a little tough; the black Thai rice and coconut ginger broth held their own on the plate though. Roast rack of Australian lamb was perfectly cooked and came with roasted garlic mash, ratatouille and rosemary jus.

Desserts are comfort dishes — a bread pudding was better than most, not too dense and heavy as it often is; creme brulée was more of a home-style version, not velvety smooth.

The wine list features some good-value choices for a neighbourhood restaurant. The Almansa Reserva Piqueras Castillo de Almansa and Cotes du Roussillon Chateau du Parc were delicious by-the-glass choices.

Servers are older, experienced guys, appropriate for Kerrisdale market and refreshing, really. On one visit however, the quiet ambiance was rudely interrupted by the arrival of the dishwasher, who works in the open kitchen. He banged, crashed, clanged and rattled like he might be capturing an elephant back there. The boss didn’t seem to notice.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


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