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Posts tagged ‘chicken feet in black bean sauce’

Restaurant Review: Phoenix Kitchen + Lounge

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.

Restaurant Interior
Fried Shrimp Dumplings
Left: Turnip Cakes in XO sauce
Right: Pea Shoots with Garlic
Left: Har Gow
Right: Beef Tripe with Onion and Ginger
Beef Brisket with Rice Crepe
Front: Siu Mai Back: Fried Chicken Buns
Bean Curd Wrapped Steamed Pork Roll in Soup
Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce

Restaurant Review: Central Grand

Location: 1623 Centre St N (Central Landmark Mall)

This restaurant is a place I have frequented since I was a child both for Dim Sum and dinner. Regardless of time of day or month, the restaurant is always bustling. Yesterday, we arrived shortly after 11am and grabbed a number, it wasn’t until an hour later that we were called in and seated. By that time, the restaurant was packed and they had made several makeshift tables to accommodate smaller parties (read: parties of two). Because my Chinese isn’t strong enough to engage in any sort of coherent conversation, the waitresses generally avoided any sort of conversation. From one perspective I can see that that would have been interpreted as being extremely rude, but from another perspective I can understand that some of them know English to the same extent that I know Chinese. From my work experience, it is frustrating for me that they refuse to speak English as this is Canada and it is one of the official languages. I expect that they should be able to speak the language of the country they have chosen to take up residency in. I don’t know if this is an unreasonable expectation, but it is my expectation nonetheless. Due to the language barrier, they did not ask what kind of tea we wanted and just brought one out for us. I’m not even sure what kind of tea it was. The thing that annoyed me was that later when they took our tea to refill the hot water, they delivered it to the wrong table… The one thing I really love about this place is that it still has its tradition method of serving dim sum: through the use of carts. This is one reason why I continually bring or recommend this place to my non-Chinese speaking friends; it is much easier to point to an item than it is to try and figure out what the English or Chinese name is off of a piece of paper that you tick off the items you want to eat. Of course, the disadvantage of the carts is that you have to wait for the item you want to come around if there is something specific that you want, but don’t know the name. On this visit we ordered a total of twelve dishes which easily came to seventy odd dollars. The first round we got Braised Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce (Fung zauu), Fried Taro stuffed with Seasoned Ground Pork Dumpling (Wu Tau Kau-according to wikipedia…), Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe (Har Cheong), Chiu Chow Dumpling (Chiu Chow Fun Gor), Curry Fish Balls and Chive & Shrimp Dumpling. The Chicken Feet in Black Bean sauce is kinda like a rite of passage dish, every person’s first visit to dim sum will involve this dish. The chicken feet are first deep fried before they are smothered in black bean sauce and steamed or braised. The thing about eating chicken feet are that they are incredibly bony, with the occasional chance of splinters, and essentially you’re just eating the skin off of them. So in other words, there is no way that you will look nice eating them. As I’ve been eating them for a very long time, I can polish them off in about five seconds a piece. Less experienced eaters will attempt to neatly consume them. Don’t. It’s more enjoyable if you just stop caring about how you look when you eat them. The Fried Taro stuffed with Seasoned Ground Pork Dumpling is a personal favourite of mine because of the combination of the sweet of the taro, the saltiness of the pork and the crunch of the outer shell is to die for. However, this time I was disappointed. It was clear that this had been on the cart for a few rounds because the dumpling was cold and not very crunch, but what was more disappointing was the filling. There was hardly any. The dumpling was overwhelmed by the amount of mashed taro filling that I didn’t even notice the pork. Besides that, a random piece of shrimp got mixed in. The Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe is another classic dim sum staple. It is exactly as the name states, shrimp is wrapped in a soft, but smooth rice crepe blanket and smothered in soy sauce. The perfect rice crepe is one that stays intact when you try to pick up a piece as opposed to not being able to support the weight of the piece of shrimp which results in the shrimp falling out of the wrap and tearing a ginormous hole in the crepe before falling from the grasp of your chopsticks. Another favourite of mine is the Chiu Chow Style Dumpling. Unlike most other dim sum dumplings, the wrap on this one is closer to the consistency of mochi or sticky rice. The Chiu Chow Style Dumpling is unique because of it’s ingredients, aka not shrimp. It has peanuts, celery, ground pork, carrots, cilantro, and possibly really minced shitake mushrooms. This is one of the few dishes I don’t mind having “cooked” peanuts in because they aren’t cooked until they are soft. Honestly, in my brain, a peanut should be crunchy, not cooked to mush. Though I’ve seen them as a dim sum item, I’ve never actually seen the Curry Fish Balls going around on the carts. It wasn’t bad, though the curry was well flavoured, the fish ball tasted a bit off and had random cuts in it.  I’m assuming that was to get some curry flavour in there, but that didn’t work out so well. I don’t think I’d like to try that again. The Chive and Shrimp Dumpling is a variation on the typical Shrimp Dumpling (or Har Gow). It’s another first for me. In terms of taste, it’s not too bad, though the chive isn’t really that noticeable. Other variations of the Shrimp Dumpling include pea shoots and shark fin. The second round consisted of Fried Eggplants stuffed with Shrimp (kei sze), Tripe (gow pak yeep), Bean Curd Spring Roll, Fried Wonton Wrapped Shrimp Ball, another shrimp dumpling (not sure what kind this time), and a dessert tofu. The fried eggplant is another staple for our family. Unfortunately, these ones tasted like they had been on the cart for a while too because they were also cold and a bit hard. The tripe was amazing. Usually I don’t like their preparation of the tripe, serving it with onions and garlic, but this time they seemed to have made a modification to their typical recipe and I enjoyed it immensely. If I had a favourite dim sum item of all time, it would be the bean curd spring roll. I mean what isn’t there to love about succulent shrimps wrapped super crispy fried bean curd? Okay, maybe the fact that it is super high in calories and they decide to serve it with salad sauce (as they like to call it, but really it’s just mayonnaise with chunks of canned fruit in it). I could honestly eat an entire meal of those if I wouldn’t gain any weight from eating that much. Despite being deep fried, the bean curd keeps the dish rather light (but you are constantly reminded about how oily the dish is by the oil pooling under the spring rolls). The fried wonton shrimp balls are essentially the same thing, but aren’t nearly as good. The wonton wrapper is substantially thicker than the bean curd so if you’re looking for something to fill you up, this dish would be a better choice. I think this other shrimp dumpling had carrots and shitake mushrooms, but honestly can’t remember. It’s not a bad thing that I can’t remember. It just means that it was good enough that I had no complaints or problems that I remembered. The wrapper, like all dumpling wrappers of its kind was what Italians would called al dente (that would be the closest term to the Chinese one). It’s sufficiently chewy, but not so chewy that it is like eating rubber, but also not so soft that it would break upon contact with one’s chopsticks. I’m not a fan of the tofu, but the ginger sugar syrup is really good. I could just drink that stuff, but you can literally taste the diabetes. The dish is plain soft tofu in this ginger syrup. Really simple, but it doesn’t make you feel like you ate a heavy dessert. So essentially it is impossible to eat every dim sum item in one sitting unless you have a party of four or five or go several times. Over the years I’ve been to this place for a lot of dim sum. Other common dishes that we didn’t order this time are Shrimp dumplings (Har gow), Pork dumplings (Siu mai), Chicken Sticky Rice (Lo mai gai), Spare ribs in black bean sauce (pai gwat), crispy pork buns (char siu so), daikon/turnip cakes (Lo bak go), Egg Tarts (Dan Tat), assorted fried noodles, and Steamed bean curd rolls (sin zuk gyun). Though their customer service maybe a bit lacking, it’s not any worse than any other Chinese restaurant. Sometimes when I have gone with my Chinese speaking family, I have found that they are rather impatient, but that’s a rare occurrence. The food more than makes up for their behaviour. I’m not saying that it’s okay for them to be rude or anything like that, but if I am going to a restaurant, it is as much about the food as it is about the service. And I never expect much of Asian restaurants (as bad as that sounds, I’ve come to expect some sort of rudeness at some point in the service). They are always noisy and you have to yell just to be heard by the person next to you. The restaurant opens up at 10am and though there isn’t much of a crowd then, there isn’t much of a selection of dim sum and a higher chance that food will be cold. If you go early, be prepared to order thing because you will never get what you want if you just keep waiting. The trade off of coming later for a larger selection of food is waiting for longer, minimum one hour, regardless of what they say (not literally, if you can see that there are three families before you, it’s likely that their estimate is correct, but if there are ten or more, it is completely inaccurate). And the annoying thing is that it’s so hard to get the waitresses’ attention. It’s like they’re on a mission to avoid all eye contact to avoid helping you so it takes even longer to get out of there and that’s why there’s usually a huge delay. In terms of cost, it’s really not that expensive. Each dish is about $4-6 and they really add up, so I suggest that if you have someone who is big eater going with you, order fried noodles or rice to fill them up and save you some money. I know from experience because every time I go with my mom we eat about $30-40 worth of food, but when we add my sister the price is closer to $80… In taking everything into consideration, I’d rate this restaurant 4/5. I would definitely continue to return here. If you don’t mind waiting then definitely give this place a chance.

Top Left: Fried Eggplant Stuffed with Shrimp Top Right (counterclockwise from bottom left corner of picture): Curry Fish Balls, Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce, Fried Taro, Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe, Chiu Chow Dumpling, Chive and Shrimp Dumpling Bottom Right: Siu mai (top), Shrimp Dumpling (bottom) Bottom Left (working from top down): fried wonton, some kind of shrimp dumpling with carrots and shitake mushrooms, bean curd spring roll, tofu in ginger syrup, and tripe

Top Left: Fried Eggplant Stuffed with Shrimp
Top Right (counterclockwise from bottom left corner of picture): Curry Fish Balls, Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce, Fried Taro, Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe, Chiu Chow Dumpling, Chive and Shrimp Dumpling
Bottom Right: Siu mai (top), Shrimp Dumpling (bottom)
Bottom Left (working from top down): fried wonton, some kind of shrimp dumpling with carrots and shitake mushrooms, bean curd spring roll, tofu in ginger syrup, and tripe

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