Location: 140 – 8060 Silver Springs Blvd NW
I feel like more and more my parents are becoming okay with me pulling my phone out and taking pictures of the food, so hopefully this means that there’ll be more reviews on Chinese restaurants to come.
Meals with my parents are usually more impromptu and I can never prepare or plan for such an outing. I found out this morning as I was crawling out of bed that we were going out for dim sum. I love dim sum because they, like tapas and sushi, are small plates that allow me to try a huge variety of dishes. It’s a little bit sad and a little funny that its food that is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
I was worried that it would be extremely crowded and that we wouldn’t be able to find parking anywhere close as most Chinese people go for dim sum on weekend mornings (literally, every occasion is an occasion to eat) and as it was almost noon, places would have started filling up as I had been getting out of bed. I was terrified to find out what the situation was like when we finally got out the door and to the restaurant.
When we arrived at the restaurant, we were surprisingly able to find a relatively close parking spot. A peek into the restaurant showed the place to be packed and when we stepped inside, we only found that one or two parties were waiting for a seat. Funnily enough, we were seated right away, while the other party or parties were given a number. They were understandably annoyed because I definitely would have been. However, I was happy that we didn’t have to wait long because I was starving and starting to get hangry.
With the restaurant as busy as it was and typical of Chinese restaurants, servers were rushing back and forth trying to clear tables as quickly as they could so that they could seat more patrons. The main issue I usually have with Chinese restaurants is that it’s really hard to get the server’s attention at any given time. We ended up ordering the tea at nearly the same time we put in our order.
We ordered ten dishes between the four of us: pea shoots with garlic, har gow, siu mai, chicken feet in a black bean sauce, beef tripe with onion and ginger, fried shrimp dumplings, bean curd wrapped steamed pork roll in soup, fried chicken bun, beef brisket rice crepe, and turnip (daikon) cakes in XO sauce.
Many of the things we ordered have become our dim sum staples, but today, we had a twist on one of the classics we ordered: the beef brisket rice crepe. Normally, when we order the rice crepe, it comes with shrimp, and sometimes chive, with soy sauce. This dish, with the beef brisket comes in a pot with Shanghai Bok Choy topped with the rice crepe and beef brisket. I’m pretty sure that beef brisket is my dad’s favourite thing. When we eat out at a Chinese restaurant, we can’t get by without at least ordering something with beef brisket in it. Even when we go have Vietnamese food, my dad finds the pho that has beef brisket in it to order (when he’s not ordering the broken rice, that is). So it doesn’t even surprise me that he found a place or a way to fit beef brisket into our dim sum routine. Well, that and he seems to think that there are too many items with shrimp in them and that every dish we order shouldn’t all have shrimp in them. While I agree that variety is the spice of life, I love shrimp and when it comes to dim sum, I do not mind having shrimp in every dish. Which brings me to the point that because shrimp features in pretty much every dish, it makes things difficult for those with an allergy to shrimp to have dim sum.
Our first dish was the fried shrimp dumplings with salad sauce. Whenever you see salad sauce listed on a Chinese menu, it’s not salad dressing, it’s mayonnaise, but not the egg based creamy one, the tangier one. Sometimes the salad sauce/mayo will have canned fruits mixed in when it’s being used as a dip for fried shrimp dumplings. A variation of this that is my all time favourite is the shrimp wrapped in bean curd and deep fried, served with Worcestershire sauce. I liked that these dumplings used thin wonton wrappers rather than egg roll wrappers because it provided a more delicate and crunchy exterior that didn’t leave me feeling like I had just eaten a crunchy oil soaked sponge. As much as I like the creamy, tangy salad sauce on my dumplings, I opted not to use it this time because my dad can get really judgy at times when I do, so I used the hot sauce instead. This hot sauce was a lot waterier than the usual dim sum hot sauce and a lot more sour, leading me to think that it may have been diluted with a water-vinegar mixture, but that’s just a guess. It may very well have been a completely different brand of hot sauce.
The next two dishes that hit the table were the turnip cake with XO sauce and the pea shoots. This restaurant chose not to cut the turnip into bite sized pieces as most other restaurants did and there were fewer onions and red peppers, which was both good and bad. The good was that it was more turnip cake, which is what we ordered, but the bad was I enjoy the onions and red peppers in the XO sauce because I feel like they help to enhance the flavour of the dish overall. The amount of pea shoots at this restaurant compared to Bobby Chao seems like there are a lot more shoots, but unlikely Bobby Chao, this place clearly does not pick out the old (the Chinese way of describing it), woody/fibrous ones. Flavour wise, Bobby Chao’s preparation of the pea shoots with garlic is much tastier.
The turnip cake and pea shoots were followed by the har gow and the beef tripe. Aesthetically, the har gow looked very nice with that extra mini har gow in the middle, almost like a flower (if you turned the dumplings the other way. The dumpling wrapper was well made; there was a bit of elasticity in the wrapper, which is what you should look for. It should never be so soft that the wrapper breaks when you try to pick the dumpling up. The filling is the same as the ones in the fried shrimp dumpling and the same as all dim sum items that require the shrimp “paste” (not to be confused with actual shrimp paste which has a very pungent flavour and smell). The filling is standard for dim sum, which is to say, it was well made. You don’t typically find a spectacular filling as they are all made in the same way pretty much, but there are times you will come across bad ones which are either too finely chopped or grounded that it turns into almost meatball consistency or the shrimp used is not fresh and you can taste that its going. In contrast, the beef tripe was a giant mess. It was not very well plated and the tripe was falling out of the bowl that held it. Furthermore, the beef tripe was way overcooked (over steamed) and became soft, which is not a good texture for tripe; it should always have a bit of a bite to it.
The next to come was the beef brisket rice crepe, which I’ve touched on earlier. The beef was well stewed, it wasn’t chewy, but it wasn’t exactly melt in your mouth either. Usually my problem with brisket is that it comes apart in strands and those strands tend to lodge themselves between my teeth, which is fantastically annoying. This dish wasn’t overcooked as the rice crepes were still able to maintain their integrity.
The siu mai and fried chicken buns followed the brisket. When topping siu mai with tobiko, it must be the last ingredient added to the dish before serving. While the restaurant may have done that, I suspect when they put on the lid and brought it to the table, the heat of the dumplings within the enclosed area inadvertently steamed the eggs, cooking them. There’s nothing really wrong with cooked fish eggs except that they lose a lot of their crunch and they become milky coloured, which is aesthetically unappealing to me. Other than that, the siu mai were pretty good. The pork didn’t have a strange pork flavour. I know that sounds weird and it might just be a Chinese thing or my family thing, but its a taste I can’t really describe, but everyone in my family knows exactly what that strange flavour is like. It can almost be likened to oil going rancid. In the pork it wouldn’t be super noticeable, but it does affect the overall taste and enjoyment of the siu mai its used in. The fried chicken buns are another thing my dad loves. I really don’t get why because they really aren’t anything special and fried buns are obviously oilier than steamed ones. For those who haven’t had these, it’s essentially just a chicken bun that has been steamed and then pan-fried. The filing is very similar to ones found in dumplings, and the filling is wrapped in a lot of dough.
Next came the bean curd wrapped steamed pork roll. Usually this is a very simple dish with some sliced onion and ginger in a clear broth, but this place has so much more. I’m not sure if I like having carrots, wood ear mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, white mushrooms, carrots, water chestnuts, and pea shoots in there, but they don’t detract from the dish either. In fact, I’d say they are very complementary and if they wanted to, they could make this into a separate larger dish with noodles and it would be delicious. I will say that the soup is a little cloudier, but it is much more complex in its taste and the depth of flavour was actually really nice. Unfortunately, this one was also overcooked as the roll practically fell apart, which made it really hard to pick up and eat.
The final dish I nearly forgot about because it came so late that I was practically full. I had learned from a very early age how to eat chicken feet. To people who haven’t eaten chicken feet before, it may seem very daunting, but it’s really easy. I think because of Chinese food and the way things are prepared, mostly whole fish and a lot of things with bones, I learned very early on how to navigate eating things like this. It has given me a lot of dexterity to pick out pieces of bone out of food so I’m not super worried about eating fish with bones in them or biting off a piece of meat with bones in it because I’m confident in my ability to pick it out. The easiest way I’ve found to eat chicken feet is to bite it off at each joint individually and then “unwrap and roll” the skin off before discarding that joint. Pretty much just repeat until the whole thing is gone. Describing the process, I realize that this may sound kinda gross, but if we choose to avoid eating something that sounds or looks gross, we’ll never get to experience foods from other cultures and maybe never learn that we actually enjoy eating that food or those flavours. I know that I can be picky at times, but I truly believe that giving everything a chance, at least once, is the right approach.
At the last minute, my dad had added egg tarts, but due to their popularity, the restaurant didn’t have these so we will have to come back to give them a try in the future.
I feel like I have to rate Chinese restaurants differently than other restaurants I go to because so many times I have to take an aggressive stance just to get the servers’ attention and that’s not really my style. Every time I walk into a Chinese restaurant, I feel like I’m going into battle and that’s not how I like to enjoy my food. Everyone is just running around and its utter chaos at the best of times. Usually they are short with you because they’re doing a hundred billion things at once and don’t have time for small talk or even checking in with you.
Overall, the food was not terrible, but it wasn’t the best I’ve had either. Despite that, as I mentioned, I am not opposed to returning to this restaurant, if only to try their desserts (egg tarts and egg yolk custard buns, if they have them). Based on today’s experience, I’d have to give this place a 2.75/5.