Pine Lake Restaurant
118 5 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 0E2
Dim Sum, or Yum Cha, is the equivalent of Chinese tapas. Small dishes of seafood, meat, vegetables, or sweets, there are many simple adjectives that generally come to mind when most people discuss Dim Sum. Greasy. Weird. Odd. Mystery. Different. Tasty. Cheap. Fun. No matter your opinion on Dim Sum, generally speaking, you’ll have one. It’s a polarizing thing – generally you either like it or you don’t.
The most important factor when assessing a Dim Sum restaurant is quality. While availability, service, quantity, and number of “real” Asians present are all factors that add to the overall equation, the quality of the end product is all that really matters. Reheated Dim Sum dishes pulled from a freezer pack generally fall far short on the quality scale. And you’d be surprised – many Dim Sum places use these, primarily because they are quick, and fairly inexpensive. No intensive labour costs required. Because of the large seafood, fried, and meat related nature of dim sum, fresh is really important. In Calgary, many Dim Sum places get their items from the same restaurant supply establishment. Luckily, Pine Lake bucks this trend.
Pine Lake Restaurant is a fairly obscure restaurant on 5th avenue, across from the EnCana hole in the ground. Certainly obscure when compared to larger Calgary institutions like Regency Palace, Harbour City, Central Grand, and Silver Dragon. Located in the basement, it is a fairly small (for a Dim Sum restaurant), yet fairly clean place. It is patronized by mostly Asians, and is pretty much always busy.
In Calgary, no place generally does all dishes well. Pine Lake Restaurant is no exception. Based on the experience of the cooks and ingredient suppliers, typically, there will be sets of dishes that each restaurant excels at. The key to enjoying a repeatably good Dim Sum experience is learning what a restaurant does well, and sticking to those kinds of dishes.
Har Gau, or Sha-Jiao. Reasonably decent flavour, filled with plump, but slightly bland shrimp, the skins were both quite thick, and extremely tacky, sticking to everything and ripping easily. Not the best I’ve ever had, but not the worst by a long shot. Decent.
Char-Siu-Bao, or BBQ Pork steam buns. I’m not usually a big fan, and these did nothing to change my mind. Not enough meat, overly sweet, the only redeeming part for me is the man-tou, or the steam bun itself.
Siu-mai, steamed pork wrapped in cabbage topped with white shrimp and fish roe. Similar to the Har Gao, these are large, plump, but with only decent flavour. Quite moist (which is a plus), they are good, but not great.
Ahh, the first dish I really loved. Steamed garlic ribs with black bean. The meat was tender, the interplay of garlic and black bean very well balanced, this was a fantastic rib dish. The cartilage pieces are especially tasty, as they had managed to become a bit more toothsome without being as hard as stone.
Tripe. The scary dish of the day. Not extremely popular with most people, this dish was utterly fantastic. Crunchy, garlicky, yet supple and tender. Fantastic flavour and texture.
Siao-long-bao, or Shanghai Soup Dumplings. The key to these are consistent folds, great, silky thin skin, while not bursting, and retaining a lot of soup. Typically, the soup should be incorporated into the filling via absorption so it absorbs and saturates in liquid, but these days, it usually involves placing some frozen stock inside the wrapper to help incorporate some soup. These? Too much ginger. Lousy skins. Not enough soup. An overall disappointment.
Lastly, Rice roll with fried doughnut. The doughnut, which im not usually a fan of, is amazing. Crisp. Crunchy. A great counter-point to the softness of the rice roll With some sesame, green onion, and hoisin sauce, these are an excellent version of the friend doughnut rice roll. Funny, since i usually won’t eat them. I find them too bland. These are not.
It’s a pretty simple verdict at Pine Lake Restaurant. It’s busy so the turnover is high. The ingredients are of reasonable freshness. They are a bit expensive, but not more so than any other establishment Dim Sum place in town. They have a few can’t miss dishes, and do a reasonably good facsimile on the standard, bellwether dishes like Har Gao and Siu Mai. Definitely worth a visit, regardless of whether you’re looking for odd and different, weird and greasy, or tasty and fun.