Shang Noodle House 350 Gifford Street New Westminster, BC (604) 527-3388
I suppose its kind of fitting as I’m about to head off on another trip – this time to the gambling capital of America – that I visited Shang Noodle House which is connected to a casino. Having the image of folks who are serious gamblers as not really caring much about taking a long break to eat between their money chasing activities, nor perhaps about the quality of food they consume while gambling, I don’t have high hopes for restaurants that are located right next to gambling establishments.
Seemingly dedicated to serving noodles in a bright, contemporary setting, it was refreshing to enter the doors and see this rather clean, well-lit seating area. Anchored in the middle of the floor was a prep station (and sushi conveyer belt?), although with the high counter I couldn’t really see what was being done over the wooden bar. Fitting with what you find in many a bar near casinos, was a set of flat panel displays showing various sports, hanging on above for a good viewing angle.
Kalvin’s Szechuan 5225 Victoria Dr Vancouver, BC (604) 321-2888
As far as Food Trends go, Pork is an odd duck. After many years (even decades) of virtual banishment from many restaurant menus, this “other white meat” has surged with a vengeance. Pork Belly Anything, Pulled Pork on Anything, and Bacon Anything is all the rage in restaurants from casual breakfast joints, all the way to fine dining establishments. It is getting quite tiresome to be honest. The Chinese diner, insulated and bemused by these strange Western trends, have never shied away from this beautiful meat. Kalvin’s – a relatively unsung Chinese restaurant on the East Side of Vancouver serves two of the finest examples of Pork dishes in town.
Kalvin’s Szechuan, is a Taiwanese-run restaurant that specializes in Sichuan cuisine by way of Taiwan. Taiwan became an incubator for Sichuan-Taiwanese cuisine when the civil war forced the defeated Chinese nationalists to retreat to the island of Taiwan and declare the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a sole governing authority over all of China. The connection to Sichuan (and thus its cuisine) is a primarily symbolic and spiritual one as Sichuan province was the last stronghold of the Republican forces and the last to fall to the Communist troops. Chongqing (in Sichuan province) was also the home base of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Republic for many years. The two dishes examined here, however, are not Sichuan in nature – they both probably originate from other parts of China. We will have a look at the Sichuan inspired dishes here in a later post.
Hee Rae Deung Korean Chinese Restaurant #24 435 North Road Coquitlam, BC (604) 939-0649
Normally I’m not one to wait in line. Blame it on impatience or a sense that my time is worth more than waiting for my turn at something. Especially something as mundane as getting something to eat. As a result, you’ll never find me in line at the latest, hippest joint in town despite what all the critics might be spouting on about regarding the place. It might not even be that “cool” of a spot either, just the fact that there is a queue will deter me from stopping and joining the line of lemmings. Are you the same or perhaps different (e.g. more patient)?
The photos from this meal at Hee Rae Deung are actually from a trip there that dates back a few months to early May. I’ve driven by a few times since and just like that first visit, I could clearly see some waiting customers just inside the door, and some even outside on the sidewalk. It kind of baffled me when I walked up to the doors and had to get in behind about six other people for a late dinner meal. Was there something special about this place? Was the food something amazing? Or were the prices incredibly pleasing and could you get fantastic value? All these things swirled in my head as I tried to rationalize what I was seeing…
Calgary Court Restaurant 119 2 Ave SE Calgary, AB (403) 264-7890
[Note: I had a “brain fart” and posted this incorrectly and prematurely earlier today, sorry folks! Reminder to self not to blog after a night of too much wine.]
With the typical “over a hundred choices” kind of menu booklet you can find in places like this (a Hong Kong cafe), which covers off various subsections such as rice, noodles, beef, chicken, vegetables, etc., its always a chore to decide what to eat. I suggest sharing (if you’re in a group) that way you can sample everything and not be limited to what can end up becoming a single monotonous dish in terms of flavors and textures. Having said that, sadly, I usually end up ordering pretty much the same types of dishes. To change things up this time, I allowed my trusted dining companion to order for us.
Looking to have just a very light meal given the time of night, other than some simple steamed Gai Lan, a dish that I’ve frankly never heard of before, let alone tried, was our main. How do I describe this? Well, I was told it was a baked rice dish with a breaded and deep fried chicken cutlet, and topped with lemons and a thick layer of cheese. A monster of a dish! Almost casserole or baked lasagna in appearance. Frankly, I was shocked. Never had a I really associated Chinese food with such bright color cheese. As I scooped out my first spoonful, I had no idea what to expect…
Bushuair 121-4600 No 3 Road Richmond, BC (604) 285-3668
Those who are familiar with Bushuair know that it is infamous for two things: its many names (it has been called Gordon Park, Aroma Garden, the Xiangcai Museum/Pavilion, and now finally Bushuair); and its menu is peppered with hilariously endearing Chinese to English mistranslations.
Hunan cuisine will probably never attain the level of acceptance of Sichuan food in this part of the world. Hunan and Sichuan share some similarities – they are both known to be spicy cuisines that rely on the chili pepper for much of their flavour profiles. Hunan cuisine is more assertive in its use of chilies. Hunan cooks use fresh and pickled chilies about as much as dried. One type of Hunan dried chili – Hunan White Chili is particularly incendiary in the Scoville scale of chili pepper heat. It is this heat – which can go on unabated throughout the meal – that provides a challenge for the prevailing Cantonese palate here. Sichuan cuisine has the potential to reach this level of spiciness, but more often than not, the dishes are mitigated by a a balance of sweetness and spiciness…and most importantly of ma la – or the numbing heat introduced by Sichuan peppercorn. (The Sichuan peppercorns provide an antidote to the chili pepper’s capsaicin.)
Wen Xin Chinese Restaurant 5240 Rumble Street Burnaby, BC (778) 737-8898
Though I’d seen it a few times while in this little corner area of Rumble Street and Royal Oak Avenue, I’d never thought to bother with stepping inside Wen Xin until local readers (LotusRapper and Karl of thefridaylunch) mentioned/wrote about it in one of the comment threads of a previous south Burnaby post. My visit was actually back in the late-summer, while school was still out so a lunch hour timing actually turned out to be perfect – as it was just me who was inside getting a meal (to go). No annoying teenagers to get in the way. 🙂 Its in the same general area as Makoto and Georgio’s.
Unsure about what to get as the extent of my ability gained over the years of travel that I’ve done to read any Chinese characters is limited to beef, chicken, fish, pork, and perhaps a few of the preparation terms (fried, stewed, roasted, etc.). The English descriptions really don’t do it justice, as I’m sure the Chinese readers can attest to. That chalkboard you see pictured below, looks like it could be a special menu for Chinese-readers only, but I didn’t bother to ask. Also note here, they are a cash-only establishment with a CIBC ATM inside the nearby Seven Eleven if you are out of greenbacks.
Now that we’re rolling into the fall season and coming back from various journeys over the summer, I thought it would be a good time to do another one of these consolidated posts and provide an update on previously visited places again as a refresher. The links throughout will lead you to original posts and/or commentary on follow up visits. If in doubt if you’ve viewed them all, please do a search on the main page for all your queries…
Previous editions of multi-restaurant/monthly recaps: 1, 2, 3, 4
O’Tray (Tianjin Flavours)
2285 – 8181 Cambie Road President Plaza
The topic of street food often comes up in discussion amongst this city’s food-obsessed. We longingly look to Asia where street food has been elevated to artform. Or even a few hundred kilometers south to the city Portland deemed a streetfood mecca by the American food press. Portland has hundreds of street carts serving fairly mediocre, but sometimes great streetfood. “Why do we have to settle for hotdogs and chestnuts?”, we ask rhetorically. Now that the City of Vancouver’s street food initiative is underway, we finally have some hope. But if you look hard enough, you will find street food here….but not on the street. Street food lives in the city’s Asian food courts.
Those who have been to Singapore know the story well. The city (perhaps my favourite city in which to eat) used to have thousands of quasi-legal food carts and stalls that served often sublime (but inexpensive) food. In the spirit of modernization, the Singapore city government forced all these stalls to operate within government regulated “hawker centres” or food courts. Many of these are built into the parking stall levels of mid-rise residential buildings.
I’ve always been more than a bit suspicious of Chinese restaurants whose appearance doesn’t scream “Chinese,” – meaning the divey dumpling joint with specials written on the walls only in Chinese characters or the slightly-tacky upscale Cantonese seafood palace/aquarium – as if compromise in decor suggests similar in the kitchen. Lucky Strike is a Sichuan restaurant with an unfortunate name and a decor which screams “Portland” despite the Chinese theme. Portland oozes hip from seemingly every pore, and no number of dragons is sufficient as camoflage. Countering my normal skepticism were a number of strong reports of real Sichuan food.
Balance is certainly one of the hallmarks of great food no matter what price point or region. Cantonese food seems to balance the sublest flavors like a game of Jenga in a windstorm – the smallest wrong move and the whole thing comes tumbling down. Sichuan food balances flavor Jenga blocks the size of entire buildings, with flavors almost bigger in scale than appropriate for humans. It’s no wonder that some Sichuanese (apocryphally?) wonder why all other cuisines taste so bland. Two of the key flavors are ma, usually translated as “numbing” but to me has a strong hint of “tingling” as well, and la or spicy/hot. The former comes from huajiao or Sichuan peppercorn (among a whole list of names).
5880 Marine Drive
Its hard to believe but it was a year ago this week that I was chilling out and relaxing on the beaches of the Hawaiian islands. Good memories and fun times eating my way around Oahu are still fresh in my mind. I can remember upon my return to the west coast that I had it in my mind to try and find anything in the GVRD that resembled the offerings or stylings of my trip. I reckoned my best bet would be something like this, as it had some familiar North American fast food/diner items. After some very preliminary searching, I discovered an establishment on Kingsway with Honolulu in the name, but alas, disappointingly I learned that it was more of a Hong Kong-style cafe.
So it was with a tingle of excitement that caused me to stop when I randomly drove past the Hawaii Cafe. Built into the same building as a convenience store and near a gasoline stand at an awkward three-way stop intersection, parking is sparse and difficult to acquire. You could park down the road at the larger pub with well-sized car lot and walk down, which would be my suggestion. As I got closer however, my hopes of a Hawaii-themed meal were struck down, as I noted it was billing itself as a “Chinese food and Taiwanese beef noodle” place. Recently opened judging by the signage, I figured since I had come this far, I would venture inside.
Hakkasan Contemporary Chinese Cuisine
110-2188 #5 Road
Taking a cuisine with the length and depth of history that Chinese cooking has and making bold adjustments and giving it a contemporary twist in an environment like Richmond, that is stocked with a multitude of restaurant choices from the east Asia region. must be acknowledged for its bravery. Hakkasan does just that with their aim of bringing the visual impact of traditional Chinese dishes and ingredients to the forefront, in this out-of-the-way location in an industrial/commercial district of this waterside city. Supported by an eye-catching website and a rotation of various special and tasting menus (with no fear about raising some culinary sustainability flags by showcasing one right now on shark’s fin), this sleek operation has found a way to rise above the field and make some inroads with the local food loving community.
The regular dinner menu is separated out into groupings that one would normally find with Chinese restaurant menus (e.g. by protein, rice/noodle, dessert, etc.) but without the numerical references that go into the hundreds that you can find on occasion at those all-purpose Chinese places that try to cater to a very generic audience. After being seated and examining our choices, including the higher priced promotional tasting menus, my dining partner and I settled on the monthly dining special – priced at around $29/person.
Its been said many times, but there is something special about the big blue skies of summer in Alberta. On a recent visit to Edmonton, I had the pleasure of driving around a bit, seeing some rural and urban landscapes that reminded me of how great the scenery can be where there isn’t that abundance of grey clouds and gloomy rainy weather that dominates the west coast in June. I guess that has something to do with the large quantities of great produce and livestock product that comes out of this oil-rich province. Good eats under sunny skies, what could be better!
During my stay, I made a completely random jaunt to 97th street just north of the downtown core of Edmonton that resulted in a trio of stops all within the span of about an hour! While the Alberta capital’s Chinatown isn’t as pronounced nor expansive of say Vancouver’s version, it does have some of the same classical appeal and is worth checking out. Alas, this early Saturday morning resulted in stopovers at least than traditional Chinese places for the most part, but hope you can follow the story…
4850 Imperial Street
Wow, its been over a year since gastro first introduced (it seems, to the world) this Hunan Chinese restaurant on the pages of foodosophy. Much has been written about it since in the blogosphere, and it now has its share of fiery (to match the food) fans. Pretty impressive for a place with a somewhat odd sounding English name, Alvin Garden.
Despite passing it numerous times since but never having solid plans to venture in with a group, I recently broke the barrier and visited as a solo lunch diner, just to get myself a small sample. Well aware the experience in Chinese cuisine is best shared across many plates and with as large a party as possible in order to get a full range experience, I temper this report by saying that I only had one of their single plate, lunch specials. As I looked around, there were just two other tables of two occupied this noon hour and from what I could tell, they were all doing the same kind of ordering. With lunch deals in the seven to eight dollar zone, its not a bad idea.
at Aberdeen Centre
4151 Hazelbridge Way
If anyone asks how to find this place, just mention the eye-catching, replica Terracotta figures proudly standing guard at the entrance of the Northern Delicacy restaurant. With an open, well-lit, clean, modern looking dining space, it certainly is a welcome change from many of the more grungier, poorly laid out, hole-in-the-wall joints that one can find in this city by the airport. With wait staff that is for the most part more attentive as well, an eating experience here feels a lot less rushed, more pleasant and welcoming from the customer perspective.
As we were greeted and led to our table, we passed by a private dining room at the front of house, which was unoccupied on this particular evening. Curious, I wanted to know more about it and posed some questions. Our male server quickly replied that it required a $700 minimum group charge, to which I followed up by asking “how many could it seat?”. “15 people”, he replied, so doing a rough calculation that would come to about $47/head. Not cheap.
Negative Space Chinese Restaurant
1030-8888 Odlin Crescent
The naming of this restaurant situated in a strip mall just off the intersection of Cambie Road and Garden City Road in Richmond is to me, a fine example of twisting things around and boldly challenging the perceived connotations of the English words, in a weird reverse psychology sort of way. After all, who in their right mind would deliberately name their fledging business, and a service-oriented one to boot, with such a word that suggests interpretations and feelings such as ‘invalidating’, ‘unaffirmative’, and just out right ‘refusing’. Even upon first read, to me it gives the sense of an empty, barren place – again, not the ideal word association for a restaurant, the kind of business that welcomes and needs customers and to be full to make a profit. Alas, perhaps I’m reading too much into it and there is a rationale or explanation behind it. Maybe it was taken as a direct English meaning from the Chinese language characters, or is just another sad case of bizarre English translation?
In any event, I only came upon it as I had mistakenly forgotten that Sushi Hachi around the corner is not open for lunch, and I made the turn and came across their still open sigh, even thought it was getting late into any lunch time service, approximately 2:30pm. With little else to choose from as I was on foot, my friend and I decided to enter the establishment. An uninterested fellow was slouched on a chair near the cashier, and seemed to be watching a computer screen of some kind. A younger boy who was apparently the lone server quickly showed us to an empty table (there was another pair of customers inside already) near the corner window. As we sensed they were shutting things down soon for the lunch service, we quickly picked two of the basic combination plates, both featuring a meat, some veggies, a soup and a side of steamed rice.