Before I started my new job, I only knew one guy at the downtown studio and that was Yoni. He was a design intern at Backbone and when that finished up, he got a full-time gig at EA. We went out for lunch one day during my first week at the studio. He took me out to this restaurant that he described as “a place inside a women’s clothing store”. It turns out that it was the cafe inside the L2 Leone store.
That place turned out to be alright but Yoni mentioned he was always on the lookout for obscure places to have lunch. One day, I was on the corner of Dunsmuir and Howe when I noticed a sign out in front of an office building. It was advertising cheap Chinese food of various kinds. At the bottom of the sign, there was the name of the place and the word “basement”.
On Thursday, I told Yoni about this and he said we should go try it. I agreed. Yoni brought another co-worker along and we all walked to this office building at Dunsmuir and Howe. W entered the lobby and found a set of stairs that led to the basement. While the lobby was somewhat modern, the staircase was decidely industrial and sterile looking. Fluorescent lights illuminated the pale green painted walls.
The staircase led to the basement where we arrived at a small hallway. It was also very industrial and sterile looking. It kinda reminded me of what a 1950s hospital basement would like. As we walked along the hallway, I could see an electrical room on my left. On my right was the janitor’s closet.
At the end of this short hallway was the “restaurant”. It appeared to consist of two rooms. One room had a sign above it, labelling it as an “eating area”. The other room was apparently the ordering area. Also at the end of the hallway were two small tables where people were already eating food. I cautiously entered the ordering area. Inside I was greeted by the sight of a small room. There was a makeshift counter that had been erected in the middle of the room. Behind the counter was a smiling couple. I could also see a small beverage refridgerator that stocked cans and bottles of drinks. A large cardboard menu was next to the counter.
The room gave me a sketchy feeling about the whole place. The equipment behind the counter wasn’t exactly the professional stuff you saw in restaurants. It was mostly stuff you would get for your home. There wasn’t a real grill or a gas stove. I saw a rice cooker that you could find in just about any Chinese family’s home. It was kinda like Mom and Pop decided to sell their home-cooked food out of a spartan room in the basement of an office building.
I warily eyed the menu. Surprisingly, they had daily specials during the week. Each day offered a new special. After a minute of wondering what the hell was going on, I decided to get yellow curry chicken on rice lunch special which meant I also got vegetables and a spring roll. Yoni got some beef and rice thing. Yoni’s co-worker got a dim sum special and a won ton soup.
The lady behind the counter smiled at us the entire time we were ordering and while she was preparing our food. We elected to eat in so she gave us our food on a really thin paper plate. We proceeded to the “eating area” which in itself was quite an experience. It was another small industrial looking room that had been converted into, for a lack of a better term, an “eating area”. There four really small tables with chairs in the room. These were old looking tables and chairs and looking at the fabric, were probably quite stylish in the 70s.
The surprising thing was that two of the tables were occupied by people. One table had two women at it and another was taken by a university-aged girl. As we sat down to our table, I noticed a cart next to it. On the cart was a 28″ TV and a DVD player. It was playing a DVD about the migratory patterns of birds from North and South America.
As I began to eat my meal, I was so hoping that despite all the quirks of this place, the food was going to be really good and this would be the hidden gem of dining in downtown Vancouver. Sadly, I was disappointed. The vegetables turned out to mostly half a plate of cabbage. While I got a hefty amount of rice, the curry chicken was way too salty for my taste. I’ve had my share of yellow curry from Thai and Indian places and this did not even come close to the best. In fact, without a doubt, my Mom makes better yellow curry chicken. Now keep in mind, my Mom has almost killed me twice with food poisoning, so that was a hell of previous statement I just made.
Yoni must have liked his food because he almost finished his. Yoni’s co-worker’s dim sum combo consisted of four pieces of dim sim and some sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf. It looked alright but he said the won ton soup wasn’t that great.
As continued to eat, I looked at the room we were in. In one corner there was a small dresser. On top of the dresser were a set of small plastic figurines. Each one was a musician from a big band. In another corner was a set of shelves. Each shelf had some quaint trinkets on it. There were also some picture frames with pictures in it that appeared to be the ones that came with the frame at the store. There was also a small vase with a single plastic flower in it. It all reminded me of the stuff you’d find at Value Village or a Sally Ann thrift store.
We all ate very quickly and the consensus was that it’d be quite doubtful if we were to return any time soon. While I did not enjoy my meal, the whole experience left thinking about the place. How did that couple come upon the decision to open that place up? How did they see two small rooms and a hallway in the basement of an office building and decide, “Yes, we will serve food from here and people will buy it”?
I admit, I have to give the proprietors a modicum of respect for at least trying to make their little space a bit better than some random set of sterile rooms. They brought in a reasonably large TV and a DVD player for patrons to be entertained. The “eating area” was filled with decorations, which while kitschy, required a bit of effort. Above all, the couple behind the counter had a genuine sincerity about them was quite remarkable. They did everything with a smile and it was clear they were trying to make the best of the situation.
From the amount of people I saw there during my visit, I think that place might actually break even on any given month. I’m actually curious how well they do. Anyways, I’m not going back anytime soon but if anyone is interested, there’s a quirky place for ya.