Noms: Vij’s Indian restaurant in Vancouver

Last night, Larry Moran, biochemist at the University of Toronto and author of the biology/atheism website Sandwalk, was kind enough to take me, his son (who lives in Vancouver), and one of his old friends to dinner at Vij’s, which may well be Canada’s most famous Indian restaurant. It is immensely popular, and deservedly so, as the food, which is high-class Indian—with recipes devised largely by Vij, his wife, and the cooks—is superb.

They don’t take reservations, so people line up about half an hour before the restaurant opens (5:30 p.m.), and once it’s full the next group simply waits outside. We were fortunate enough to get there right before the restaurant opened, which usually means waiting an hour or more, but we managed to get in right away and secured the best table in the house, next to the window.

Here it is from the outside, with people waiting to get in.

Restayrabt

As you see below, Vij’s is a small, cozy and unpretentious place. After you’re seated, the waitstaff brings around gratis appetizers on trays. During the meal, hot naan and rice are provided ad lib, so one never runs out of bread. This is important to me, as I eat Indian food the way northern Indians do: without utensils and using pieces of bread to grasp and enfold the noms, as well as to sop up the luscious, savory sauce. The interior, full of happy diners:

Inside

We started off with glasses of a local IPA. Beer is the best accompaniment to Indian food, though if you must have wine I prefer an off-dry, fruity white like a Gewürztraminer or Riesling. I was struck by how the late sun slanting through the windows turned the beer into a kind of liquid gold:

Beer

Here’s Larry with one of the appetizers (menu here), eggplant in thick yogurt and garlic curry, served with deep-fried onions on top. You can see the gratis plates of naan which are brought frequently:

Larry and eggplant

The appetizer of the day, not listed on the menu: shrimp nestled in grilled red pepper with a spicy sauce. Superb:

Shrimp pepper

We each ordered one main dish and split them. This is braised beef shortribs with asparagus and a delicious sauce, with cardamom and ghee, that required many naans to sop up:

Short ribs

My choice: Rajasthani style spicy goat stew with vegetables:

Goat curry

Larry chose Vij’s most famous dish, a must-have. It’s called “Wine marinated lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream curry on turmeric and spinach potatoes.” It was ethereal. As you can see, the “popsicles” are separated chops from a rack of lamb.

Lamb popsicles

I was impressed by the colors in the sauce:

Lamb popsicle 2

This was a vegetable dish that was a daily special. I’m not sure exactly what was in it, but it was a combination of zucchini and other vegetables in a spicy sauce, with the “balls” resembling the idli, or lentil dumplings, of southern India. It was also great:

Veg

During dinner Vij himself came around, and we had a chat. I told him that I had been to India many times, and loved the food.  He lived mostly in northern India (and most of the food shown above is northern Indian style), and has had his restaurant for two decades. Larry photographed me with the Great Man, who later brought me extra chutney.

Vij and I

It was a spectacular dinner (reader Merilee, I believe, also suggested I visit this place), and Larry’s son goes here often. Thanks to Dr. Moran for hosting us! I doubt I’ll eat this well again on this visit to Canada.

55 Comments

  1. kurtzs
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I’m envious! No such quality available near either Northampton MA or Rockland ME where we have a cottage.

    • Wendy Smith
      Posted June 5, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Not here in Sudbury MA or Wayne ME either!

      • Richard Jones
        Posted June 5, 2015 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

        And neither in Sudbury, ON.

  2. joneall
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Why did we almost never see such good-looking food in India itself? I can think of two restaurants where the food was maybe that good. Looks wonderful! I’m drooling.

  3. Barry Lyons
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Fantastic. I am just CRAZY about Indian food. It’s strange that I never tire of it. Well, I don’t want it for every meal, but it could be *a* meal every day for the rest of my life.

  4. Posted June 5, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Glad you enjoyed such a well-known place.

    As for “eat just as well” – well, no Indian place has as high a reputation.

    But there are lots of less “flashy” places around with neat things. Granville Island had (has?) a good place to get take out smoked salmon (Native American style, I might add), which one can get a bread and mayo (or whatever) for and have a simple but unique sort of sandwich, for example. Vancouver is also full of sushi (very cheap) and Chinese places ranging from Canadianized/Americanized boring stuff to Cantonese banquet to homestyle from all over, etc. etc. There was a good homestyle Cantonese place near UBC; Golden Ocean is good banquet style (but without requiring the clothes except wrt the waitstaff!)

    The aforementioned UBC place my father and I just went in and picked 4 things in a row off the menu and went from there. Simple and tasty. That was 8 years ago, so I suspect it may be different. 🙂

    Then there is the rest of the country. Toronto also has good Asian restaurants.

    • Posted June 5, 2015 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Speaking of Toronto…I’ve been there once, for a conference, and it happened to be during a general strike of sanitation workers. No garbage trucks picked up trash for the whole time I was there (a long weekend) and the trash piled up in the streets. Ever since, I’ve had an inside joke with my wife (who was there with me) – whenever anyone mentions Toronto, I say “Toronto smells like garbage.” It makes me laugh and confuses everyone else.

  5. drakodoc
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Great photos!

  6. barn owl
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Wow! All the noms look exquisitely delicious, but I’d love to be able to make something like those shrimp-and-red-pepper appetizers. Will have to investigate (and experiment!).

  7. darrelle
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    “Wine marinated lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream curry on turmeric and spinach potatoes.”

    OMGG. (Oh My Gustatory Gods)

    That sounds custom made for my taste buds. I’m full, having just eaten lunch, and yet I had a classic Pavlovian reaction to that description.

    • Posted June 5, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Me too!!!

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted June 5, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        And me!

  8. Jeff Rankin
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Oh – everything looks so good! And I never thought to try a riesling with indian food – I’ll have to give that a try (like you, I usually have a beer – typically a pilsner).

  9. Posted June 5, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Oh, s#!t, I’m so envious! That food looks sublime!

    And good on you for getting goat! I always order goat when it’s available (and make (Caribbean-style) goat curry regularly.

    In fact, if you visit us this summer, and we hope you will, I’ll make some blue mountain goat curry in your honor! And I always have a selection of beers on hand (and wine etc.).

    Enjoy!

  10. Posted June 5, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m loath to identify any single cuisine as being “the best,” but no list of great cuisines would be complete without India’s being mentioned early and often.

    Jerry, did you and Larry have any interesting biology discussions over dinner? If so, I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall….

    b&

    • Posted June 5, 2015 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Yep, we talked about a popular book he’s writing (I’ll let him talk about that), and about the ENCODE project, junk DNA, Steve Gould, and so on.

      • Posted June 5, 2015 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        Sounds like a great conversation. At the risk of encroaching on Da Roolz…I’m looking forward to your take on his book whenever it’s public enough for that and would absolutely love a report on the biology part of your discussion…not that you’ve got the time for that sort of thing right now what with all the rest of the conference stuff, I’m sure….

        I see Larry’s posted a link to your post here…Larry, if you’re lurking, I’d as much love a similar report from you!

        The antitheology stuff is great gravy, but the real meat and potatoes here is the biology….

        b&

  11. denniskeane
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    One of the things I lack living in southern New Hampshire is a good local Indian restaurant. Looked wonderful.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m so hungry.

  13. Martin Levin
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    My favourite restaurant anywhere. Food ranges from superb to spectacular. First time there (taken by a Vancouver publisher friend), Vij said: “let me order for you.” Perfection it was. Go there every time I’m in Vancouver (a city full of exceptional restaurants), and never remotely disappointed. The wait is well worthwhile.

  14. Mark R.
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    And if you can’t get to Vancouver, you can always get one of Vij’s cookbooks. Both have 4.5 stars on Amazon. I’ve cooked some of his recipes, and they are sublime. Though my favorite Indian cookbooks are Julie Sahni’s.

    • Posted June 5, 2015 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the tip!

      • merilee
        Posted June 5, 2015 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

        Just ordered a couple of Sahni’s cookbooks, very cheaply, from amazon.

        • Mark R.
          Posted June 6, 2015 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          If you got Classic Indian Cooking, make sure you make the chicken kabuli…insanely good. Plus the mysore rasam recipe is splendid as are the dals. You’ll have to make usli ghee (indian clarified butter) but it’s well worth it. I can go on, but that’s the first thing that came to mind. And there is a sublime spinach lamb dish…forget the name…and don’t forget raita!!!

          • Posted June 6, 2015 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

            I’ve ordered it now, plus Savoring Spices and herbs.

            Speaking of spices and herbs, Ottolenghi’s Plenty More is my current can’t-live-without cookbook. Everything in it is amazeballs:-)

            • Mark R.
              Posted June 6, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

              Never heard of that cookbook…I’m off to amazon to check it out. thanks!

              • Posted June 6, 2015 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

                Ottolenghi’s got a fantastic restaurant in London ( I haven’t been there). He’s a transplanted Israeli Jew with an Israeli Palestinian as a partner). I have all 3 of his cookbooks, but Plenty More I find the best, despite being all vegetarian. You won’t be disappointed.

              • Mark R.
                Posted June 6, 2015 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

                I love vegetarian cooking and vegetables…when judging a cookbook, I always look through salads and veg recipes first. Plenty More is on order…thanks again for the tip. As always, WEIT enriches my life!

              • merilee
                Posted June 6, 2015 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

                Be sure to try something called Curry Laksa (it’s veggie, but I added some shrimp on the second day – yum) (I used Curry leaves) and the pan fried Brussels sprouts. Do you have good sources for spices near you?

  15. Posted June 5, 2015 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Drooooooool! Glad you made it, Jerry, and nice to see Vij. The food is so good! I believe the recipe for Vij’s turmeric sauce for the lamb lollipops can be found online. I have made it very successfully several times with leftover sauce to dip other things into. Everything else looks delicious, too. We will have to make a point of stopping there again either on the way to or from Whistler in the Fall.

  16. Posted June 5, 2015 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a version ( and it’s fenugreek, not turmeric, which is the dominant spice.
    Vikram Vij’s Marinated Lamb Popsicles in Fenugreek Curry Cream

    The size of the lamb popsicles will depend on the rack of lamb you buy. If the popsicles are bigger, then four per serving is usually enough; if they are slightly smaller, then go with five per serving. Adapted from Vij’s cookbooks (I can’t recall which one this is in, and it appears I’ve either loaned both copies out or been the victim of a very tasteful theft, but this recipe is all over the internet.)

    Lamb:
    1/4 cup sweet white wine or apple juice
    1/3 cup grainy yellow mustard
    1/2 tsp each salt & freshly ground black pepper
    2 French-cut racks of lamb, cut into chops

    Curry Sauce:
    2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp paprika
    1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
    1 1/2 tsp dried green fenugreek leaves or crushed seeds
    2 Tbsp lemon juice
    1-2 Tbsp canola oil
    2 garlic cloves, crushed
    1 tsp turmeric

    In a bowl or zip-lock bag, combine the wine, mustard, salt and pepper. Add lamb, stirring to coat, cover or seal and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.

    In a medium bowl whisk together the cream, salt, paprika, cayenne, fenugreek leaves and lemon juice. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat and saute the garlic until golden. Stir in turmeric and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the cream mixture and cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, or until thickened.

    Preheat your grill or set a heavy cast iron skillet over high heat; remove lamb from its marinade and grill (or cook in a hot skillet drizzled with oil) for 3-4 minutes per side, until medium-rare. Serve popsicles immediately; depending on their size, place 4 to 5 lamb popsicles on each plate. Pour the cream curry over the meat or ladle it into a small bowl and use it as a dipping sauce. Serves 4-6.

    • Chris
      Posted June 5, 2015 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Whoa, thanks for that!

      • merilee
        Posted June 5, 2015 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

        Let me know if you make it! I made if very successfully with New Zealand frozen racks of lamb. You’re going to want to eat a lot more chops than you usually would, because it’s so good.

    • Posted June 5, 2015 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      Must try this. Thanks!

      • merilee
        Posted June 5, 2015 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

        I think you’ll love them!

    • John Frum
      Posted June 7, 2015 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      The lamb chops are marinating as we speak.
      I will leave them for four hours.
      Two cups of cream sounds rather decadent, but “I’m worth it”. 🙂
      I had to ask what a sweet white wine is at the bottle shop as I don’t drink much wine.
      The guy recommended Moscato so hopefully that will do the trick.
      I often cook Indian and SEA (South East Asian) food but have never seen a marinade like this so am very excited to see how it turns out.
      It will go nicely with the Chettinad chicken I made last night.
      The recipe calls for five tablespoons of dry spices for 700g of chicken which seemed a lot but it turned out quite nice.

    • Vaal
      Posted June 7, 2015 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      I just noticed this recipe Merilee.
      It’s now in my recipe folder and I MUST try it out….soon1

      Thank you.

      • merilee
        Posted June 7, 2015 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        let me know when you’re makiing it and I’ll swing by;-)

  17. Posted June 5, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you were down the street and I missed you!

    Glad you liked our neighbourhood restaurant. Vikram is indeed a deity in the local cuisine scene and I’ll bet those lamb popsicles were as good as I remember them (haven’t had them in a year – must remember to go back soon).

  18. DrBrydon
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, what’s your favorite Indian restaurant in Chicago?

  19. Manon
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Next time you are around Vancouver you have to try his second resto….My Shanti….in South Surrey, amazing decor and the food as great as Vij’s. Everytime I go to Vancouver(4hrs drive)My Shanti is my first stop 🙂

    • merilee
      Posted June 5, 2015 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the tip! It might be more on our way than the original Vij’s.

  20. merilee
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    sub2

  21. Vaal
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    A-mazing looking meal!

    Why didn’t I know about this place when our family vacationed in B.C.? Boy did I miss out. (I’m slightly mollified by living in Toronto which has good Indian food).

    • merilee
      Posted June 5, 2015 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Try Oakville’s Coriander Green sometime. It’s just about as good as Vij’s. What are your favorites in TO?

      • Vaal
        Posted June 5, 2015 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the tip. I’ll definitely travel out of T.O. for good food.

        Admittedly I’m now a bit out of the loop for Indian food. It’s one of my favorite cuisines but I’ve been so busy exploring other restaurants – especially “fine dining” type – that I haven’t had good Indian food in quite a while.

        Off the top of my head: The Host is upper echelon Indian food, always good. Amaya, sort of fusiony, but I think it jumped the shark quite a while ago. I used to go to Bombay Palace when it had a killer buffet, but I think it’s more of a dive now. I’ve eaten at various restaurants in Little India but unfortunately can’t remember the names.

        I’ve been meaning to try Pukka, a new haute cuisine Indian place that is garnering generally enthusiastic notices.

        Most recently I’ve been partial to a teeny hole-in-the-wall Pakistani take out place up in northern Scarborough. They do the most wonderful roti breads, uniquely crispy dense and chewy, and a killer spicy chicken to go with it.

        There are some really promising Indian restaurants that are on my list, but I’ve yet to try them.

        • merilee
          Posted June 5, 2015 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

          Thanks – might try some of those. Don’t get to Scarberia too often but sometimes drive by on the way to hike the Oak Ridges Trail.

          If you do go to Coriander Green, tell him I sent you. We’ve become kind of like family and we all go there for birthdays. I find that Indian buffets can often disappoint. CG’s food is super-fresh and they have the best garlic and butter naan I’ve ever had anywhere!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 6, 2015 at 2:59 am | Permalink

            If you’re ever in Waterloo, Masala Bay is a really good Indian food restaurant as well. Their lunch buffet is excellent. I used to go there when I worked in Waterloo. Added bonus: Stephen Hawking went there when he was working out of Perimeter.

  22. Posted June 5, 2015 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Namaste. I so honoured to have met u and also i wanted to talk to about ur time in India( we briefly did) but then i wanted all of u , just to have a great time and i did not interrupt too much… Meeru creates the best food and our staff and I bring it to u with love and attention…

    Vikram

    • merilee
      Posted June 5, 2015 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

      Vikram, your food is the best!! Can’t wait to get back in September.

    • Posted June 6, 2015 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Surely you and your staff make the food of the gods, if Jerry’s photos and accolades are any indication!

  23. Nick260682
    Posted June 5, 2015 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I hope any leftovers were taken home to have for breakfast. As any lover of Indian food knows, it’s even better the following morning!

    • Posted June 5, 2015 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      What are these “leftovers” about which you write? Seems like an interesting theoretical possibility, but I’m not sure that there’s any possibility for real-world actualization.

      b&

      • merilee
        Posted June 5, 2015 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

        Indian leftovers are the best. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach.

  24. Diane G.
    Posted June 6, 2015 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Yum yum!


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