Quirky, eccentric and unusual. All in a good way, of course. Oh, and absolutely delicious. That pretty much sums up Wild Tangerine, the "East meets West" modern Asian restaurant perched just west of our lovely city's downtown hub.
I know, I know, I really shouldn't blurt out everything in my very first paragraph. But I couldn't help myself. When something erupts with such personality, so completely and with such abandon, well …
Wild Tangerine, run by brother and sister team Wilson and Judy Wu, has received its fair share of attention over the past few years. But I'd never been. Something to do with some pictures I've seen and the use of black, white and orange, all in one room. A wee bit too avant-garde for me, shall we say?
But the promise of local, healthy cuisine and a reputation that simply refused to fade away finally found a friend and me futilely circling the packed parking lot on a recent Friday night.
While Wilson Wu, our very affable host and server, got our table ready, I had time to take in our surroundings. The room was smaller than I had envisioned, and yes, there was ample evidence of the aforementioned black, white and orange, but the restaurant wasn't really like the pictures. I mean, it was, but it wasn't. The orange wasn't as bright, the white wasn't as stark and the liberal use of earthy browns rounded everything out. It just worked.
By the time I had admired the many-coloured napkins dotting the tables, the eccentric piggy banks gracing the front entranceway and the mosaic tiles adding interest to the walls—along with Wilson's sporty orange glasses—I was comfortable. Very comfortable. All in a room that I had thought I might be scared of.
After presenting us with orange clipboard-like menus, Wu beamed his ever-present smile and left us to mull. My friend, intrigued by the "Beers of the World" menu, opted to sample a Spanish Cerevezas Artesanal ($6). I was equally enthralled by the exotic drink offerings, but a glass of the bold and hearty Kaiken Malbec ($9) won out.
After much indecision, we ordered, sat back and watched Wu in action. He appeared to be the consummate host, with a flair for making everyone feel welcome.
As we were marvelling at how private our table seemed, despite being in such an open, rectangular space, our appetizers arrived. We had mustered up our collective willpower and deliberately avoided ordering the shrimp lollipops; they've received such unequivocal rave reviews over the years that we made a conscious decision to explore other parts of the menu.
My tomato soup with kaffir lime leaves ($5)—one of the daily specials—was very light, very fresh and very tomato-y, and the lime leaves added a welcome splash of brightness.
As much as I enjoyed my soup, it was my friend's caesar oriental salad ($9), Wild Tangerine's stellar interpretation of this ubiquitous institution, that I really coveted. A big bowl of crisp lettuce, speckled with red cabbage and tomatoes, was lightly tossed in a refreshing oregano vinaigrette.
Addictive, candied walnuts gave it a sweet edge, and a liberal dose of parmesan added its trademark stamp. Lounging on top, split in half to reveal all of its succulent glory, was the crowning touch: a very long, very yummy and decidedly non-greasy pork spring roll.
Our entrées were no less impressive. I gave in to my craving for lentils—yes, I actually crave lentils—with the lemongrass-Thai basil lentils with grilled portabella mushroom ($16) and was presented with a bowl full of rather brothy lentils, topped with a whole portabella mushroom. It wasn't the prettiest dish, and the portabella had a penchant of oozing dark brown juice into the lentils every time my fork hovered anywhere near, but appearance be damned. The light and slightly citrusy lentils contrasted affably with the bold and earthy portabella mushroom, and between the juicy portabella and the flavourful broth, well, yum.
Needing something green, I also ordered, and promptly downed, a side of perfectly cooked Shanghai bok-choy ($4). I liked how Judy Wu, Wild Tangerine's culinary master, gave the veggies just as much consideration as the rest of the dishes.
My friend thoroughly enjoyed his cha-siu organic Pembina pork tenderloin with spicy tangerine glaze ($23). Perched atop a bed of bok-choy and jauntily garnished with carrots and red pepper, it looked as amazing as it tasted—or so I'm told. The tenderloin was declared deliciously tender and slightly sweet, and the graduated heat quotient made quick work of the beer.
I've heard comments that portion sizes are small, but as much as I wanted to sample dessert and extend the evening, my stomach simply wouldn't agree. I was just too full.
So yes, Wild Tangerine is good. Unforgettably, exceptionally good. And kind of orange, but in a soothing, good kind of way. V
Mon –Thu (11:30 am – 9 pm); Fri & Sat (11:30 am – 10 pm)
10383 – 112 St, 780.429.3131