Unforgettable Chinese Restaurant – Edmonton, AB


Unforgettable Chinese Restaurant
7219 – 104 Street
Edmonton, Alberta T6E 4B8
(780) 431-0220

Blink and you might miss this place – located on Calgary Trail (southbound), across the street from Strathcona High School. This restaurant replaced the previous tenant ‘Jewel of Kashmir’ in the early part of 2009.

A big red sign, advertising daily dim sum should catch your eye amidst all of the small shops along this stretch of road.  Limited parking in front, with a few additional stalls in the back.

Arriving shortly after they opened, there was only one other couple which made it easy to get a table.  Once seated, we were promptly delivered a dim sum order-sheet along with an additional list of available items on a separate display card. As we pondered our choices – we were offered a selection of ready-made items: Chinese long-donuts, egg tarts, baked pork buns, and a few others which are escaping my memory.

unforgettable_lemon_tart

This egg tart, was a good start – soft filling with a hint of lemon, in a light pastry with no trace of excess grease at the base.

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Golden Rice Bowl – Edmonton, AB


Golden Rice Bowl
5365 Gateway Boulevard
Edmonton, AB
(780) 435-3388

A couple years ago, I had a fantastic multi-course authentic Chinese dinner here at the Golden Rice Bowl with some friends to celebrate Chinese New Years, and noticed they offered daily dim sum.  So we scheduled to meet back a few days later to give it a try, and immediately added it to the regular rotation.

GRB

Located on Gateway Boulevard (northbound), tucked in a stripmall – is home to daily Dim Sum from 11am – 2pm weekdays and 9:30am – 2:30pm on weekends.

It seems as though most dim sum restaurants in Edmonton have managed to keep the cart parade going – where many other cities have moved to an order-sheet method.

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Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine – Richmond, BC


Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine
6360 No. 3 Rd
Suite 6
Richmond, BC V6Y 2B3
(604) 270-6169

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Richmond BC, as many people already know, is a great place to eat Chinese food. Chinese restaurants of varying quality dot the city – specially around the main drag of Number Three Road. When it comes to breakfast spots – it is a real challenge to find anything worthy to eat. The choices seem limited to chain restaurants such as the Whitepot, the IHOP, and similarly mediocre restaurants.

I was running errands early one chilly morning and I wanted to have breakfast….so I drove up to Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine, a restaurant that I knew served dim sum at 8:00 am. Nice.

tea

Dim sum for breakfast? Sure…why not? People in the West think of dim sum as a lunchtime experience. In China (Hong Kong in particular) and other countries in Asia, dim sum is most certainly a breakfast meal. Dim Sum restaurants there open very early and often stop serving at noon. Here in Canada (and the US) most places that serve dim sum often start serving at 10:00am or 11:00am and stop at 3:00pm.

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine is a mid-sized restaurant situated in one of Richmond’s oldest strip malls. It is somewhat upscale – it is clean, the tables have nice linen  and they are set with nice white porcelain settings. Like most dim sum restaurants these days, Imperial Court uses order sheets instead the once ubiquitous cart service.

At little after 8:00am on a weekday when I walked in, the restaurant was well staffed – having two “captains” and about four servers. I sat down and ordered a small meal. The captain asked for my tea preference – jasmine, I said. Using the green order sheet, I ordered some Sou (flakey pastry) with Char Sui (BBQ Pork), Chao Fun (Rice Noode Rolls) filled with enoki mushrooms, and Congee with Pork and Century Egg.

The Sou pastry dish came first. Imperial Court’s rendition of this dish is coated with a shiny and sticky syrup – so sticky that with each bite, a bit of the pastry stuck to your teeth. I notice that some of their other buns were similarly coated with this shiny syrup. They looked beautiful…almost like porcelain orbs. The BBQ Pork filling tasted fresh and tender…and not as “porky” as the others I have had.

dimsum1

I didn’t get a picture of the dipping sauce, but now I wish I had in restrospect. In my opinion, dipping sauces are the unsung heroes of the dim sum universe. It can really make or break the whole dining experience for me. In this case, Imperial Court’s dipping sauce was a sweet, but thin soya sauce concoction. It was a nice balance between sweet and salty and it had subtle notes of spice (perhaps some anise or five spice).

dimsum2

The Rice Noodle Rolls came in quick succession. The noodles tasted freshly made – soft, tender, and still resilient. The enoki mushroom filling, while delicious, was a bit unwieldy as bits of it fell out as I tried to pick up a piece. (The kitchen had failed to completely cut through the rolls).

dimsum3

The last dish was the Congee with Cooked Pork and Century Egg. The rendition came with an embellishment of deep fried wonton skin and scallion. It was good and creamy. On a cold day, it was definitley hitting the spot.

congee-copy

All in all a nice meal for under $10 CAD including tax. Unlike a “regular” breakfast – I didn’t leave feeling bloated and greasy. I asked myself why I don’t eat dim sum for breakfast more often.

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Hei Yuet Seafood Restaurant – Causeway Bay, HK


Hei Yuet Seafood Restaurant
517 Jaffe Road
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2980 2565

My visit to Hei Yuet Seafood Restaurant began with a memorable entrance…

After wandering around with an American friend of mine (who was visiting Hong Kong for the very first time to meet up with me during this trip, despite having lived in another Asian country for the past eight years) among the busy streets of Causeway Bay, we sought out some refuge from the masses of people and satisfy our growing hunger at the same time as it approached 8pm. After trying to get into several other places that we came across and had long lineups out the door, we continued zigzagging the streets until we came to the ground floor entrance of the restaurant.

Taking an escalator ride up to the first floor, we immediately saw a boisterous room and thought we would be turned back again. One of the waitresses was near the front and the first thing that came out of non-Cantonese speaking mouths was, “do you have an English menu?”.

Now, I am not sure if foreigners are a rarely seen presence here, but she immediately called over another worker and they broke out into a burst of laughter, while looking back in our direction. I made eye contact with my friend, who had just as bewildered a look on his face as I did. Scanning each other dressed in casual t-shirt & jeans attire and after spotting nothing out of the ordinary, I returned my confused gaze to the woman, as if asking for an explanation with just my eyes. It was not the kind of greeting we were expecting, and we didn’t know if we should be amused or offended. But she then grabbed some menus off a table and started leading us deeper into the restaurant. But by this time, all the people sitting at tables near the front had turned their attention to us in mid-meal, and it felt like we were making the long lonely walk to an execution chamber. Has this ever happened to any of you?

From here, things did not really improve as we got led all the way to the very back corner, and to a smallish table even though it was clear that others more in the middle of the room were open. Frankly, it felt like we were being treated like second-class customers. But with the language barrier, it made it hard to be understood, let alone protest the strange treatment we were getting. With our hunger being more important to satisfy, we resigned ourselves to this blatant discrimination and settled into the menu.  Furthermore, while placing our order, the male server seemed intent on “up-selling” us on dishes that included crab and abalone, when we were vehemently saying NO to, and clearly pointing to other dishes in the menu booklet.  As he walked away, we were not quite sure what he understood and what we would eventually get delivered to our table later.

An assortment of Canton-style dishes could be had, but we immediately knew we’d dig into some of the seafood-inclusive offerings. Looking back on it, I didn’t realize that prawns were such a heavy component of what we did end up choosing. The Har Gow was delicate, a perfect thin, translucent wrap around a nice meaty shrimp (Incidentally during my entire time in Hong Kong eating dim sum on several occasions, I never once experienced those much thicker filling wrappers that you unfortunately get too many times in dim sum restaurants on the west coast).

I tend to agree with those that say Cantonese cuisine is perhaps on the blander side, amid all the other regional styles of Chinese cooking that I have been exposed to. Some would go beyond this characterization and say its flat out boring. After more than a week in Hong Kong, eating mainly Cantonese, by the end of my time there, I was in full agreement with this latter group. I found it interesting that a few local Hong Kong people that I met had said to me that you could get just as good, or even better Chinese food in restaurants over in Canada (Vancouver and Richmond in particular) since so many top chefs had gone abroad.

Hei Yuet Seafood Restaurant was cleary a popular place with the many tables filled with diners, and our general summary of our dishes was of a satisfactory grade.  Nothing overly exciting was ordered, but everything that was, came out prepared solidly and not disappointing on taste.  I could not forget the service component of the evening though, so would have to say it did put a damper on our overall experience.  I still don’t know the Richmond restaurant scene as well as I could, to even justify the afore mentioned claim put forth by the Hong Kongers, but I am sure some of our readers have some thoughts on this matter and would love to hear opinions.

Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant – Vancouver, BC


Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant
3888 Main Street
Vancouver, BC V5V 3P1
(604) 872-8822

Reputation is a funny thing. Through various means, usually newspaper reviews, internet forums, or word of mouth, a certain establishment develops a particular reputation – either positive, or negative. Those restaurants on the negative side have a tendency to disappear very quickly. Positive news, on the other hand, seems to launch through channels like wildfire – a restaurant becomes the choice du jour – the place everyone is going.

Fast forward some years. The restaurant is established. It has a steady clientele. And many of the impressions drawn from the first few months are still very much prevalent in most mediums. The issue of course is barring an amazing experience that requires consistent, repeat visits, most people will not go to the establishment more than once or twice, yet they still have a very firm opinion on it. Positive reviews, however, date back 5 or 6 years – you all know places like this. Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant is one of them.

The original Sun Sui Wah on Main has an excellent reputation for Dim Sum, and with the positive reviews, rewards, and accolades, a fairly sterling reputation over all. “Best of the City”, “Best High End Chinese”, “Best Seafood”. High praise in a dining city as diverse, filled with excellent quality choices, as Vancouver.

It was a Saturday, and we woke up late. Previous evening’s activities kept us out a bit later than usual, which is really quite late! Not feeling like making the drive to Richmond to go to Sea Harbour, and not up to trying Red Star, the much respected fmed’s (from Chowhound) recommendation, we decided to hit the Sun Sui Wah on Main instead. Much closer, and in our condition, close was good. We were hungry – famished really – and needing a greasy breakfast. At 1:30pm of course.

Sun Sui Wah is a very well designed room. Great use of natural light, clean and simple lines, it is clearly well designed for banquet services. This transalted into fairly reasonable dim sum service as well, as wide, easy to navigate corridors are needed to help facilitate ease of transport. No funny angles, and odd table crammed into nooks and crannys trying to fit every last seat available.

By the time we had arrived, the restaurant was starting to wind down. It was maybe 25% full, and they were starting to set up for a banquet. We were told they carried Dim Sum service till 3pm, so we had plenty of time to get our food. We offered to leave if it was inconvenient, but they insisted we stay, though warning us that there could be slightly longer waits than usual, and if we didn’t see what we wanted, we’d have to order it and they’d make a fresh batch.

The first thing we had an interest in is the BBQ Pork “Crispy Bun” – Cha Sao Bing. Usually, the layers of the sao bing (which in Taiwan, a more traditional take on the dish, are eaten with fried doughnut and fresh soy milk, and not BBQ Pork) are flaky and multi-layered. Pastry rolled back against itself over and over and baked until a bit will shatter in your mouth with crispy, oil shards. These were a bit flaky, but fairly thin, and upsettingly, quite cool. The pork was decent, though on the sweet side, but i disliked the sao bing. The dish was unsuccessful in my mind for these reasons.

Shrimp and Chive dumpling, these were steamed and pan fried to perfection. Crispy on the top, a nice thin gelatinous skin, and a moist, flavourful filling. Other than wanting a touch of seasoning (preferably incorporating a bit of soy into the pan fry process), they were excellent.

Gelatinous rice roll with doughnut. As i mentioned in a previous article, i am not generally a fan of these. These were no exception. They were soggy, the rice roll was bland, this was a generally unpleasant dish.

As we saw fewer and fewer carts, most of them recycling the same dishes, we called a manager over to order some of the standards. These came a bit slowly, but understandably so. Nonetheless, waiting 20 minutes for your dim sum to show up, while you’re within acceptable dining hours, is a bit annoying.

Sha Jiao – definitely not worth the wait. Impossibly thin skins that were oversteamed, stuck to the wax paper, and came broken. While the filling was ok, they really are a dish that requires a careful orchestration between the two.

Siu Mai, shrimp and pork balls wrapped in cabbage and topped with Roe. A very reasonable rendition, but the pork was a bit rubbery – likely worked too much. Nonetheless, it was a reasonable way to end the meal.

All in all, Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant was a reasonable, yet disappointing Dim Sum experience. There was nothing wrong with the food per se, but based on the recommendations, and the reviews, I was expecting a lot more. Sadly, all i got was another average Dim Sum experience. This leads me to question how often people really dine here – because while the quality of their reputation lives on, the food clearly fails to match. I wonder if in this case, the restaurant has lapsed into complacency – content to live on their reputation alone. That would be disappointing, because if they truly deserve the reputation they’ve carried for 20-some years, I would expect something better. Much better.

Sun Sui Wah Seafood on Urbanspoon

Pine Lake Restaurant – Calgary, AB


Pine Lake Restaurant
118 5 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 0E2
(403) 266-3720

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.

Pine Lake Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Golden Phoenix – Vancouver, BC


[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]

Golden Phoenix Chinese Seafood Restaurant
2425 Nanaimo Street
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-253-9717 & 604-253-6183
Hours: Sun-Thu, 9am-11pm; Fri-Sat, 9am-1am

Popularized in western culture, dim sum is a style of Cantonese cuisine that revolves around an array of small dishes that are eaten with Chinese tea, and typically in the morning hours.  The act of drinking Chinese tea (yum cha) plays a key role in this type of dining, and its roots go back to the long ago times of teahouses where people would gather, socialize and share some simple meals.  There was an older Chinese gentleman sitting nearby who took this to heart, as I watched him drink tea constantly, and then occasionally taking a bit of some dish he had ordered, and this continued in ten minute bursts.  Personally for me, I think its a great combination as despite that fact that many dim sum dishes are steamed, and thus have the image of being healthy, a lot are fatty, oily and darnright salty, so the refreshing Chinese tea does aid in digesting it all.

The addition of the word “seafood” in this restaurant’s title is a bit deceiving, as checking out the menu, there is indeed a section for seafood but its just 14 items on a full menu that boasts a total of 106 dishes.  My main intent on this day was to check out their dim sum offerings, which still get delivered to your table by staff pushing around carts or carrying them around by hand.  There is a narrow yellow sheet of paper that tallies up your choices that ends up being totaled up to generate your final bill.  Items ranged from $2.95 to $4.25.  The randomness of it all is part of the appeal to me of going to these old-school dim sum places like at Golden Phoenix.  Its always a game to discover what is indeed under those little lids and sometimes it takes a tearing apart of the food itself to know what is contained inside.  Sure there are the staple beef, chicken, pork, prawn and vegetable offerings that I’ve gotten familiar with over the years, but sometimes there are many unknowns out there that raise my curiousity level.

At the Golden Phoenix, I felt that the servers were a bit pushy with trying to get your to try just about all the dishes that came around.  Everything was “very delicious” according to the staff, who must have seen that the overcrowded table could not possibly accept any more plates or steamed baskets.  I think I took more than was needed, and some I regretted: the lo mai gai (glutinous rice wrapped in a lotus leaf) is one of my favorites and it contained some chunks of chicken and mushrooms and was very flavorful; deep fried and coated in black bean sauce chicken feet – not my cup of tea; shaomai (steamed pork dumplings) were good, though you can’t get anymore basic than this for dim sum; something that resembled har gow (a large shrimp inside topped with a layer of scallop) was probably my favorite on this day, the shrimp was big and tender; and then some sweets whose names I can’t recall (one was a ginger flavored sweet potato mixture inside).

The Golden Phoenix is a mid-sized restaurant, with round tables scattered about and tight seating, which made it impossible for some of the carts to navigate around the room without bumping into someone or something.  Its brightly lit, with some simple faux-wood paneling on the walls and the tables were all clean.  Its a little out of the way for those who don’t live on the east side of Vancouver, and there are many other choices for dim sum in the downtown core or out in Richmond, but the Golden Phoenix should meet your dim sum craving should you be in the neighborhood and want to avoid the monsterous and busy caverns elsewhere where dim sum is served.  And this way, you can better enjoy your Chinese tea and not feel rushed.

Golden Phoenix Chinese Seafood on Urbanspoon