Location: 14, 5010 – 4 St NE
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.