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Posts tagged ‘dim sum’

Restaurant Review: Caltons Chinese Restaurant

Location: 14, 5010 – 4 St NE
Website: https://www.caltonschineserestaurant.com/

A lot of time has passed since we were actually here. Unfortunately, I’ve just been too mentally exhausted to be able to get to reviewing this restaurant until now.

We dined here on September 8 for dim sum and September 9 for my mom’s birthday dinner.

For dim sum we ordered the siu mai, shrimp stuffed eggplant, turnip cake cubes in XO sauce, gailan with braised beef, shrimp rice crepes, beef tripe, har gow, fried noodles, Chinese doughnuts wrapped in rice crepe, bean curd wrapped rolls in soup, and the congee on special that had bean curd, preserved duck egg (or century egg), and pork (that was like $2 (?) because we had reached a specific dollar amount with our other others. I can’t the price exactly remember since it was so long ago, but I know it was cheap).

The congee was the first to come. It was a decent size and within the first few bites, I felt my heart and insides warming up (ginger will do that). Now, I’m not the kind of person who really likes congee because at home that’s what we have when we’re going on a “cleanse” or when we’re sick, so the memories of it are not the greatest. I don’t know if it’s part of getting older, but some days I find myself craving congee now. However, there’s a difference between the ones made in restaurants compared to the ones we make at home. For one, the ones in the restaurants are more heavily seasoned than when we make it at home. We shared this congee between the four of us (because that’s usually how Chinese meals are eaten, but also we had a lot more dishes coming and no one wanted to just fill up on congee), but this portion size could easily have been consumed by one person. The congee was well seasoned and not overpowered by the ginger, as is often the issue I have with ginger. Ginger is such a strong flavour that a little goes a long way. This congee was unique in that it had bean curd in it. That’s not something I’ve ever seen, but then again, my go to congee if we eat out is the century and pork. I mean, this is essentially the same, but the bean curd (because it’s tightly rolled up into a two bite package) provides a different, more hearty and meaty texture that you normally wouldn’t get from ground pork or a century egg.

Next came the siu mai. These are pretty typical in terms of taste, which is a good thing. When you go to dim sum, there is an expectation for things to taste a certain way. While restaurants do typically put their own spin on things, they have to be careful not to deviate too far from the recognizable image and flavours of the siu mai. Caltons did not put their own spin on it, flavour-wise, but size wise, I felt like these were slightly larger than the average siu mai. What I like from a siu mai, when I bite into is that the meat is firm. This tells me that they didn’t cheap out cut the pork with fat. I’m not saying that there’s no fat in there (I mean, have you seen the things?!) , but there has to be a good balance. Too much fat and it leaves the mouth feeling like it’s been coated in fat, too little and the siu mai is dried out in the steaming process.

The shrimp stuffed eggplants followed. This is one of my all time favourite dim sum dishes and probably one of these least healthy. Generally speaking, eating out isn’t known for being healthy, but these are especially. The shrimp paste is stuff inside of slices of eggplant and deep fried, then it is drizzled with a black bean sauce that is also swimming with oil. The perfect eggplant is one that has a little bit of crisping around the edges, a little bit of chew in the skin and tender fall away flesh. The shrimp should have a little spring in it when you bite into it and the sauce should be balanced to provide that perfect amount of umami flavour to round out the bite.

The turnip cake cubes in XO sauce is another favourite, especially with my sister. She already loves turnip cakes, but this variation, that emerged quite recently, I feel (maybe within the last 5-8 years), is something else. In case it wasn’t clear, it’s not actually turnip, but daikon. The cake itself isn’t 100% daikon, but it is cut with rice flour to make it more of a “cake” consistency. It is often mixed with dried shrimp and chinese sausage to add flavour. This dish is much of the same except that the cake has been cut into cubes, each pan-fried to give it that wonderful crispy exterior and smooth, soft interior that is now bite sized. The variation in this dish is that it is then stir-fried with XO sauce which is a spicy dried shrimp and scallop sauce. XO sauce is one of my favourite sauces for food to be prepared in. Green beans and shrimp top that list.

The next dish is a favourite of my dad’s. Actually, it’s the braised beef part that he loves. We seriously cannot go a meal out at a Chinese restaurant without some kind of braised beef hot pot (though now, he will occasionally go for a different hotpot or settle for a chicken dish). Now imagine the beef from those hot pots poured over gailan, the braising sauce drizzled all over the vegetables. It’s truly an experience. This works well with gailan especially because of its hearty, firm stalks, the beef doesn’t overpower it texturally. The tender beef provides a wonderful, textural contrast to the crunch of the gailan.

I think the shrimp crepes came as the biggest surprise to us. We’re used to variations made on many dim sum dishes, especially at the high end/expensive dim sum places, but I’ve never seen it done like this. There were shimeji and wood ear mushrooms, peas, and carrots in addition to the shrimp. Usually, if the restaurant is feeling “fancy,” the most I’ll find are golden chives, so this was a welcome addition. I have to say, this is one of the best shrimp crepes I’ve ever had. I mean, I do love the traditional ones that just have shrimp, but when that’s what you expect and this is what you get, it makes it all the more special. Normally, the only “crunch” you get from this dish is the shrimp (unless the shrimp aren’t fresh or they use shrimp paste instead. I don’t know if I was clear in my previous reviews about shrimp paste, but there are two kinds. One that has a very fish smell used in sauces and the shrimp paste that is more like a meat patty or meat ball consistency. I’m talking about the latter in this context). I had never considered including wood ear mushrooms in here, but it’s absolutely genius!

The har gow and beef tripe came at the same time. The har gow were pretty standard. The wrapper was thin and slightly sticky, as it should’ve been and didn’t tear when picked up. This preparation of tripe is not my favourite, but it is a favourite of my sister’s. As many know, tripe is the stomach lining of a cow. I know that this is a very polarizing dish; some people love it and others absolutely hate it. I am definitely in the former camp. This preparation uses Sichuan peppercorns and has a thicker, darker sauce. I still love the texture and flavour of this dish (except for when I bite into a peppercorn because then my entire mouth goes numb and I can’t taste anything), but I prefer my tripe with the onion and ginger.

The fried noodles are pretty standard too. The kind we get is essentially a toss up because it’s like whatever vegetables they have get thrown in. So sometimes I’ve seen this prepared with bok choy, other times, as in this instance, there’s broccoli. The only things that are pretty standard are the sauce, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, and shrimp. Sometimes it’ll have char siu in it too. If it wasn’t clear in my other reviews (or if I haven’t mentioned it), I love noodles. These ones especially because they are fried before the sauce is poured over them and some of the edges are still crunchy. I love crunchy, but also the sauce soaked noodles are equally delicious.

For those who know me, I get easily bored aka I have the inability to stick to just one food, that’s why buffets are so great (and terrible) for me. Actually, I don’t like buffets at all, I’d rather tapas or dim sum or sushi (small plates of really good food). The whole point of eating out for me is to enjoy the entire experience: food, atmosphere, and service. Maybe I’m a bit of a snob in this way, but if I’m going to be paying money, I’d much rather pay a little more for someone to bring my food to me than for me to go get it on my own. Besides, I’m really bad when it comes to buffets because my eyes are often bigger than my stomach and I always end up with way more than I can eat and it goes to waste. The only way I’m able to eat a whole dish is if there is variety in flavours and textures. Flavour-wise, my favourites are the ones that either hit every flavour profile or are some combination of sweet and savoury. Texture-wise, there isn’t too much variation, but I cannot eat a dish that is all one texture. It just feels like too monotonous.

Lastly, we got the bean curd wrapped rolls in soup and Chinese doughnuts wrapped in rice crepe. The former is a favourite of my mom’s and the latter a favourite of my sister’s. While the bean curd rolls look healthy, they’re really not. The rolls are deep fried before they’re steamed and put in soup to keep them from falling apart during the steaming process. The rolls are often filled with pork, wood ear mushrooms, and carrots. The broth is always light, but packed with flavour. It’s also one of my favourite dishes. The Chinese doughnuts wrapped in rice crepe are a dim sum staple. Again, this plays on the textural contrast of crunchy and soft. It is often served with a thinned out peanut butter and hoisin sauces. Some restaurants will put the sweet soy sauce on the side, but others will pour it on for you before they bring it to the table. I think I’ve only seen this at one place, but they had a sesame sauce, which was different. Sesame has such a fragrant quality that lends itself well to both sweet and savoury dishes.

We returned the following day for dinner. For dinner, we had the complementary house soup (lai tong), abalone with a chicken’s foot, crispy skinned chicken (za ji gai), green beans with shrimp and chicken in XO sauce (or something similar, as I was told that was not XO sauce), a lobster hot pot, and fried oysters.

It’s always interesting to see each restaurant’s take on the complementary house soup. Sometimes it’s really good, a lot of the time it’s just meh. But sometimes, it’s downright awful. Especially when you find a vegetable in the soup that has mold growing on it. There is literally no recovering from that because the entire pot soup is now completely tainted. Luckily, that didn’t happen here. It was pretty unremarkable, but for something that is complementary, I don’t have any complaints.

The next dish was the abalone. One of the best things I’ve ever had. Abalone is a delicacy and the fact that it (and the chicken’s foot) were the only two things on the plate (we each got a plate), definitely made it feel that way. The presentation was a little odd, but the flavours were all there. The only issue is eating that giant chicken foot with a fork, knife, and chopsticks proved to be impossible. We did the best we could because the braising liquid/sauce was amazing and I’d feel bad wasting not eating something that had been so exquisitely flavoured. There was a fair amount of sauce on the plate after we were done with the chicken’s foot and abalone, but as I said, it would be a shame to waste something so delicious, so we all put some rice on the plate to soak up that sauce for us to continue enjoying.

The abalone was followed by the crispy skinned chicken that my dad loves (I told you we couldn’t get away with not having a chicken dish!). This one is pretty standard too. If it’s good, there’s not much to be said about it. The only time anyone “notices” anything is when its bad…or served with pringles (seriously, what the hell!!). The chicken was moist and the skin crispy. I think of all the chicken dishes my dad likes to order, this is probably my favourite (the contrast between moist, tender chicken and crispy skin probably has something to do with it).

The green beans and lobster hot pot came at the same time. The green beans were very similar to the XO ones I love, so I automatically loved this dish. I was really excited about the lobster hot pot because I love lobster (I prefer it to crab actually), but was unfortunately disappointed. The lobster meat had already started to break down and there was a very distinct rotting seafood taste. This hot pot had the potential to be one of the best dishes, comparable to the abalone, but alas. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of what was in the lobster hot pot as the taste of the lobster pretty much spoiled the dish for me. I vaguely remember that there were konjac noodles…maybe?

The other dish that was surprising to me was the fried oysters. Normally, I don’t like oysters because the consistency and flavour don’t agree with me. I actually almost posted this review without mentioning this because I completely forgot we got this. The best oysters I’ve ever had. The fact that I ate them was a surprise in and of itself to my family. It’s nothing super special, but they were very fresh and didn’t have a fishy taste. It also helped that this was in an XO sauce (this one was the XO sauce dish, I believe).

The best thing about birthday dinners at Chinese restaurants (in particular my mom’s birthday because that’s generally what she wants) is that my dad splurges on quite a bit of seafood and makes it feel special with dishes we don’t normally get.

As with all Chinese restaurants, the meal ends with a complementary dessert soup too. Red bean is the most common and that was the case here as well. I used to feel like I had to eat all of everything that was put in front of me, but as I grew older, I learned I didn’t have to, so I almost never finish my dessert soup anymore. The only exception is if it’s a very good taro tapioca coconut soup. It’s got to be one of my favourite finishers for a meal.

Despite the hiccup with the lobster, we’ve always had good experience with this restaurant. It is a little far for us, but that’s the thing with my dad, he doesn’t care how far he has to go for good food, which I appreciate. Service is pretty good for a Chinese restaurant. i would definitely come back.

Based on this experience, I would give this place a 3.5/5.

Caltons Exterior
Caltons Interior
Caltons Interior
Caltons Entrance (Interior)
Interesting Lights

Dim Sum

Bean curd, century egg, and pork congee
Siu mai
Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant
Turnip Cake Cubes with XO sauce
Gailan with Braised Beef
Shrimp Rice Crepe
Front: Tripe
Back: Har gow
Chow mein
Front: Chinese doughnut wrapped in rice crepe
Back: bean curd wrapped rolls in soup

DINNER

Complementary House Soup
Abalone with Chicken’s Foot
Top going clockwise: Crispy skinned Chicken, Lobster Hot Pot, and Green Beans in “XO” sauce
Fried Oysters
Complementary Red Bean Dessert Soup

Restaurant Review: Phoenix Kitchen + Lounge

Website: https://www.phoenixkitchen.ca/
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: Kwong Tung Seafood Restaurant

I found these reviews saved to a USB when I was clearing out some old files and decided I might as well post them. These reviews, you could say, are where I got started originally. They’re not as detailed as I do them now, so take them with a grain of salt.

Another morning having dim sum, I think I might not want to eat it again when I get back to Calgary for a while. We went down to Victoria’s Chinatown, which is the oldest China town in Canada! We didn’t order too much because we can’t pack things away, so we ordered shrimp rice crepes, beancurd rolls, xiao long bao, house fried noodle, cilantro shrimp dumplings, shark fin shrimp dumplings and tofu stuffed with shrimp. The crepes for the shrimp rice crepes were too thick; therefore it wasn’t smooth enough for me. The waiter recommended their xiao long bao as one of their best dishes and it really was one of the best things that we had from this restaurant. The beancurd was pretty good too, only problem was that there wasn’t enough meat stuffed inside and it was done so unevenly. The house fried noodles came very crispy, but it was all broken into small pieces and falling apart, making it hard to eat; it also created a lot of “soup” in my bowl from all the sauce. The cilantro shrimp dumplings were ordinary; they tasted pretty much like they’re supposed to, but nothing spectacular. Their only issue was that they were over-steamed and thus the casing was too soft and fell apart upon touch. We didn’t even get to try the shark fin shrimp dumplings because it never came, they completely forgot about it and they actually steam it right before they serve it, so they didn’t have time to steam it (or rather, we didn’t want to wait for them to prepare it). Lastly, the tofu was tiny. I honestly think I could fit the entire piece of tofu in my mouth, but since it was being shared between 4 people, I only got half, so I practically swallowed it without having to chew and really don’t remember what it tasted like. For this restaurant, I would give it a 3 out of 5.

Restaurant Review: Kirin

I found these reviews saved to a USB when I was clearing out some old files and decided I might as well post them. These reviews, you could say, are where I got started originally. They’re not as detailed as I do them now, so take them with a grain of salt.

There are several Kirin restaurants in Vancouver, but we decided to go to the Richmond one. We got there around 10:45 for brunch, I was pretty hungry and ready to eat everything in sight especially dim sum. We didn’t order too much because we can’t pack anything away and it would go bad. We were also going to board a ferry in a couple hours, so not very convenient. We ordered chicken feet & pork stomach in black bean sauce, gai lan (I ate mine plain), rice crepe with green onion dipped in soy sauce, fried eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste, stir fried seafood udon, fish stomach & shrimp with a artificial crab meat and masago sauce, and spare ribs in a black bean sauce. The restaurant look pretty nice and the service was quick. Then came the bathroom…that was so bad, it could be comparable to the smell of a bathroom in China! For the food I would give it a 4.5 out of 5 but the bathroom pulls the rating down a bit to 4.

I do plan on returning here, so look out for another review that delves into food quality.

Restaurant Review: Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant

Location: 4989 Victoria Dr

This was our second last full day in Vancouver and we spent it with our cousin. Dim sum is a must in Vancouver. She said this place has some of the biggest siu mai she’s ever seen, setting my expectations. We walked in with a giant cluster of people around the entrance but we decided to go up to the counter anyways and put our name down. The lady at the counter told us that the wait would be about an hour and a half. Our cousin was shocked, in all her time coming to that restaurant, she had never had to wait that long even with a line winding around the corner. We waited for about twenty minutes inside the first set of doors before moving into the restaurant to wait. In total we only ended up waiting about half an hour before we were seated. However, when seated and got our order in we waited for twenty minutes before anything came out.

The first dish we got was the prawn spring roll. It’s the closest thing to the bean curd spring roll that I love so much. It came with worcester sauce just like the bean curd things do. I’m not sure if I prefer this one because spring roll wrapper is substantially crunchier and way less messy than the bean curd one. The siu mai and beef tripe came at the same time. She wasn’t kidding about the size (look below for a picture of the sui mai in my bowl next to my teacup for reference). The sui mai had: pork, scallop, shrimp, fish roe, and shitaki mushrooms. It looked like the wonton wrapper could barely contain it. My cousin didn’t like tripe, but that’s fine because that means more for my sister and me. The tripe was plain in comparison to the siu mai and spring roll, which was not a bad thing. I think I prefer the tripe marinated in garlic and chilis than in ginger and green onion. Next one that came was one of my sister’s favourite: the deep fried Chinese doughnut in rice crepe with soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and peanut butter. I usually only can eat one or two pieces, since it’s primarily dough (or all dough), it fills me up so that I can’t eat too much else. One reason we order doughy/carby things at dim sum are to make sure we don’t overspend on food (in particular, for those with a larger appetite). The next dish was the ha gow. It was equally large. Maybe not as big as the siu ma, but still large in its own right (look below for another comparison picture). The last, is another favourite of my sister’s, the shrimp in rice crepe. Even though I took a rice crepe from the bottom, it had not soaked in enough soy sauce.

This place may look dingy and run down and you’re willing to wait a little longer, this is a good place for dim sum. The portion size really stuck with me and I hope to come back here again with family or friends in the future. I’ll give it a 4.25/5.

Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant

Restaurant Interior 1

Restaurant Interior

Prawn Spring Rolls

Back: Siu Mai Front: Tripe

Siu Mai compared to my teacup

Chinese Doughnut wrapped in Rice Crepe

Ha gow

Ha gow compared to my teacup

Shrimp wrapped in Rice Crepe

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

Restaurant Review: Central Grand

Location: 1623 Centre St N, Calgary, AB 

This is a restaurant I’ve been going to since I was a child. It was my go to place for dim sum and fancy family dinners with my extended family, usually for grandma’s birthday or something like that. It still keeps the traditional method of serving dim sum, that is, ladies will wheel a cart loaded up with food around offering their goods. I prefer this to the restaurants that give you a paper to tick off what you want because even if you can’t speak or read Chinese or don’t know the English translation of Chinese dim sum dishes you can always just point to what you want. Of course, the downside is that some of the cart ladies can be rather pushy, trying to get you to buy their more expensive dishes and then there is the noise. Because they are pushing their carts around, they need to call out what they have on them because lifting the lid would eventually make the food cold and would take way too long. But it’s not a turn off really as it has a traditional Chinese feel to it. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Chinese restaurant where everyone was quiet, like when I go to a Greek or Italian restaurant. I think it has to in part do with the culture. China is considered to be a collectivist culture and the way dishes are presented reflect that. It is what Westerners call family style. It’s just how we eat. Besides, we’ve been taught that food is always better when we share. It’s similar to the idea that food is better when we are having it in good company. For me it’s both. Today we went for an early mother’s day brunch. Sometimes it feels like I’m yelling all the time and it gets my adrenaline pumping, but it’s really enjoyable. Maybe that’s where I developed the liking for arguments. Anyways, in the last few years the quality of the food has gone down slightly. Not significantly, there are still a few signature dishes that cannot be beaten.

So I’ll start with the staples of dim sum: har gow and siu mai, Har gow are shrimps that are wrapped in a semi chewy clear skin. The shrimps should be de-veined and slightly seasoned. There are many dim sum items that contain shrimp and there are many variations of the har gow. Other fillings that are often added are bean shoots, scallops, chives, and green onions. Of course once you add these other fillings in they are no longer called har gow, but have different names (ex. dow miu gow). Siu mai, the other staple, is made from pork. Often they have mushrooms mixed in as well, are topped with tobiko, and wrapped in a wonton wrapper. The pork used in the siu mai must be fresh (like super fresh, no keeping it in the fridge for a while, don’t freeze then thaw then use) otherwise it leaves a strange taste that I don’t know how to describe in English (it’s kinda like stale fridge taste?).

Other staples that our family have are: steamed daikon cake, chicken’s feet, spare ribs in black bean sauce, Chinese doughnut in rice crepe, shrimp wrapped in rice crepe, deep fried bean curd shrimp spring rolls and shrimp wrapped in eggplant. Sometimes we order a chow mein for my sister because otherwise we would spend over $100 for food. Today we didn’t do that.

It was all dim sum and we did have over $100 of food, but for six people. Those little dishes range from about $3-$5 depending on the size and cost of the ingredients. Like sushi, they add up. But unlike sushi, these dishes are mostly meat and fill you up really quickly. So if you’re a relatively small eater, a couple dishes and you’re done.

In reading the reviews posted on urbanspoon about this restaurant, I’d have to agree with some of them. My Chinese isn’t that good. Verbally, I can barely get by. My knowledge of food words is a little bit better because of the times I’ve gone out to eat at Chinese restaurants. When I go went with my non-Chinese friend, the staff were very accommodating and attempted to speak English although some were having more difficulty than others. So, I returned the favour and tried to speak Chinese. Though I wasn’t very good at it, I was able to communicate what I wanted to them. When I went with my sister, they didn’t extend the same courtesy. They automatically assumed that we could speak Chinese and were a little less patient with us, though they were still pretty nice about it. I could mostly understand what was being said but had trouble forming a coherent sentence and oftentimes, I would get the tone wrong.

My only complaint is that like many Chinese restaurants, this one uses MSG. It is really annoying how thirsty I get afterwards.

Despite some of its failings, I still think that this is a very good restaurant. I would rate it 3.5/5

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Eggplant with Shrimp and Bean curd roll

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Chicken Feet, Har Gow, Siu Mai

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Fried Bean Curd Shrimp Spring Rolls

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Shrimp Rice Crepe, Fried Chinese Doughnut wrapped in Rice Crepe,  and 2 variations of Har Gow

 

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