What is open on a statutory holiday? You can always count on Chinese restaurants. We were here celebrating Christmas on Boxing Day and it was no surprise that the restaurant was not dressed for the occasion.
Parking was a challenge. Limited spots in the limited lot out front meant taking laps around the block, and eventually parking across the street. Or in the case of a couple of vans: illegally parking in the middle of said lot, and blocking the possible exit of the other vehicles they choose to box in. This, their strategy instead of finding a less convenient spot a short walk away.
As for the restaurant my French Canadian partner didn’t even make it through the door. As a self proclaimed particular eater he was wary going in, but was ultimately scared away by what he saw through the barred windows. First it was the unappetizing sight of their washroom’s interior, made visible from the entrance. A single stalled room with dank tiles and a grungy sink. This was one of the last things you wanted to see before sitting down to eat. If this is how they keep their facilities, I can only imagine the state of their kitchen. My partner then grew more disgusted by the condition of their seafood tanks. So bothered that he refused to move any further in to the restaurant. In fact, he didn’t even make it past the threshold.
The tanks especially were a sight he was unfamiliar with, as he very seldomly visits such Chinese restaurants. It was a double decker set of tanks; the temporary home to fish, molluscs, and crustaceans. A blue background with pockets of filth and grime, it wasn’t meant to be an enjoyable stay. During busier nights I have seen such tanks filled to capacity. Shellfish with claws rubber banded together, attempting a break out by climbing over their tank mates. I have always felt bad about the living condition of the seafood forced to bid their time. Though on the same token, realize it is not for an extended stay. Just a practical way to serve fresh seafood I guess.
The restaurant was pretty generic. The off yellow lights gave the setting an aged look. An worn-ness that was furthered by the faded peach coloured table cloths. Cloths used and reused, embroidered with a pattern of roses in bloom. A curtain detail hung over the plastic pull blinds. Their golden tassels hanging made an attempt at dressing up the place. They also matched the wood chairs with their gold and brown upholstery. This too helped to give the place a more formal tone, as it balanced the lack of effort made in the wall decor. Television sets mounted on opposing walls, had customers tuning in more for background noise than a foreground distraction. In fact the hand written menu options on coloured construction paper garnered more views. Chinese characters written in sharpie, similar to the writing on the small white board that hung on the wall adjacent. I found the writing on the wall did little to urge me to wanting what they were selling.
The room was packed. A heated, restaurant with no air circulation. Hot food eaten by warm blooded bodies, all in a confined space. It hardly made you feel like staying any longer than necessary to digest your meal. My famished family spent no longer than an hour there, and most of the time was spent waiting for our food.
The tables were to capacity, with lingering bodies by the door. I didn’t envy them. Two families sharing two spare chairs by the two washrooms. They were seated amongst storage items, forced to breathe in the scent of water tanks; while bearing with the sounds of continuous water running. I couldn’t be sure whether the crowd was here due to the season and the statutory holiday, or was this the restaurant’s regular busy traffic. The crowd was composed of all older asians and their younger families. The volume of the room was boisterous, you added to it each time you spoke. Though there was a need to shout to be heard. In actuality, the majority of this chatter was from the high pitch crying of various babies.
I always find Chinese menus intimidating to navigate, and it doesn’t help that I am not fluent in the script or speak. Such menus often have very few photos with very little English in its descriptions. I wouldn’t know what to have and couldn’t rely on the servers to give their recommendations. The language barrier alone was too much. They don’t describe any one dish specifically, and any slight variation from one ingredient to the other often changes the dish completely. Not to mention there is just so much pressure in selecting a dish that is to be shared family-style by a group. So for all those reasons I sat back and allowed my parents to order on my behalf. They generally know what’s best and I am not really a picky eater. In fact, according to my father, the way the food is prepared here is most similar to that of a traditional home cooked meal, in flavour and setting. The dining experience is meant to be more casual and mostly comfortable. Closer to something you would have at home then at any restaurant, ironically. I could see this being true with the quaintness of it all.
There was a long wait to be seated, but with reservations it was nothing we had to worry about. We were instead faced with a longer wait, waiting for our food. As a result we were given a complimentary full serving of bean curd soup to tie us over. This is notable as it is the first time I have seen this sort of gesture at a Chinese restaurant. It was a clear stock soup made from stewed beef on bones, whole soy beans, and carrots cut into chunks. A full flavoured broth without much oil, it was a nice slow start for the heavy meal ahead.
We also ordered our own soup, and really didn’t need two large servings of two different kinds of soups. Like the one before it, it was served share style in a large bowl. Presented with a ladle and individual bowls for you to self serve. Also something not common at most Chinese restaurant. Usually the server assists in doling out portions, often so quickly that they make a mess out of the tablecloth.
“Crab meat with fish maws in soup”. We immediately noticed the unappealing grey smear of the soup. It looked lifeless, like what you’d imagined the hue of bland food would be. Looking at it, it didn’t exactly make you want any. Though the addition of red vinegar and salted pepper did help to pick things up in both colour and taste. But first you had to get over the unappetizing reusable plastic containers both came in. When were these last cleaned out and wiped down? This is the kind of soup that is best enjoyed hot, but got saltier the more you drank. The tender gel-like fish maw, dangerously hid tiny plastic-like bones. I spent a great deal of time pulling chunks of it off my tongue and out from between my lips.
“Steamed pork toro slices with cauliflower”. The crispy wok fried vegetable was a nice contrast to the softer pieces of pork neck. The dish was cooked well and was clearly centred around the cauliflower. Filling, but unmemorable.
“Beef brisket and daikon hot pot”. A stew of tender beef that pulled apart, daikon cubes that melted in your mouth, and a gravy so rich it was more solid than liquid. Clearly this won my vote as the best dish of the night. It was taken as is, but would have been more enjoyable over a bowl of light and fluffy steamed white rice. But that would have been extra and we already ordered a noodle filler, below.
“House special chow mien or fried rice”. You make your preferred selection between the two carbohydrates, we went with the former. The trick to achieving these crispy strands of noodles is to deep fry it before bathing in its savoury garlic sauce. It gave the noodles two distinctive textures and made them interesting to eat. Surrounding them were pieces of tender chicken, crunchy broccoli florets, rubbery mushrooms caps, and waxy cuttlefish segments and whole shrimp. It was a smorgasbord of textures and flavours, a dish that ate like a complete meal.
Your choice of live seafood was between scallops, oysters, prawns, cod fish, lobster, crab, tilapia fish, sole fish, and king crab. Each one was made to your liking, with your choice of sauce. We choose the classic and ever popular cream crab. One choice out of a Chinese listing of over fifteen versions. What looked like only a half portion of this popular crustacean was actually a whole serving of a much smaller crab. The distinctive butter sauce masked any flavour of the crab. This was just as well, I enjoyed the easy to scoop sauce more compared to the flakes of crab. Crab meat that required getting your hands messy and putting in a lot of work for very little yield. As a whole the dish was on the saltier side and more work than its worth.
Our meal ended with my parents urging us to finish our plates and the presentation of a complimentary desserts. We were asked to find a way to feed a few more bites into our bulging bellies. It was a request made with the intention of not having any of it go waste, and not wanting to pack most of it to go. Speaking of going, it was time to go, and our level of service went with it. There was no choice in desserts, the “tapioca pearls with egg dessert” was our only option and therefore presented to us without asking. I was happy, I rather it over a sweetened bowl of red bean soup. Five bowls for four people were offered on a large plastic serving tray. On this tray was a large spill, it was left un-sponged, pooling around the bases of individually portioned out bowls. The mess made the exterior and the handles of a few of the bowls and spoons sticky. Presented at room temperature, the dessert soup would have been nicer if heated. This was a pretty simple, but winning combination of tapioca mixed with coconut and condense milk.It was sweet, with a thick and refreshing quality; similar to a fusion of jello and porridge combined. I found it enjoyable to slurp up the pearls, to take in each little round through a small gap between my lips. Overall so good that I had the extra serving.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
There was nothing remarkable about this restaurant. Nothing that made it stand out against its competitors. Nothing that made it any different than the restaurant across the street. The food was decent, and the setting had nothing I would go out of may way to avoid. Though at the same time it offered me nothing to have me wanting a return trip. Just another generic Chinese restaurant offering more menu items than customers seated. Don’t deny your cravings.