Serving authentic (Desi) Indian style Chinese food, not quite sure what that entails… After our first choice restaurant was closed at 8:30pm (that’s going to be a whole other blog post), and after painful minutes of indecision we ended our back and forth at “Chili Pepper House”. I have been a few times before with family and friends. It’s near my old neighbourhood and they serve everything you need from your typical Chinese restaurant. Parking is easy with ample street side and a few stalls in their own lot. You can’t miss its bright yellow awning on the corner of Kingsway and Rupert. And you can’t help but wonder about the massage pallor adjacent to it that is still open at 10pm on a Wednesday night.
Walking in, the bright side was how delicious things smelled. The dark side, how worn out and down everything looked. Dusty plants, a grimey washroom, and a high chair that looked as if it wouldn’t pass recent safety inspections. But it was busy with patrons seated and ones coming in after, that we were optimistic enough. To summarize its decor would be to call it run of the mill. No stand outs or attention gaining accents. The yellow lights, the toupe walls, and the black chairs paired up with white tables did nothing for the decor. A few Asian inspired paintings and works of art hung on walls; and one of an Italian landscape, just to throw you off. Thought clearly with this traffic the food spoke for itself. That and the corner in which all their awards displayed. Surprised it was tucked away, as apposed to bring front and centre when you enter.
We were seated at one of the tightly placed tables. So close I could hear the man at the table next to ours scratching, dragging nails through flesh. Each table was pre-set with plates and utensils, as many dishes were meant to be shared. A plate of spices and sauces over a paper towel sat at each table. The condiments included salt, pepper, soya sauce, chilli sauce, and pieces of whole chilli bobbing in brine. The menu was a duotang filed with page protectors. Each a page, a different category. Though they ran out of content pages five short. It took for granted that its customers knew the ins and outs of Chinese food. It was page after page of simply naming proteins, and what sauces and vegetables they would be paired with. I did appreciate that a few of the meat dishes were specified as being either dry or boneless. This was of course followed by its description in Chinese characters. There were no pictures to rely on or any detail to help you decide. Without the two there is a less likely chance of customers trying anything new, or wanting to come back to try more of what they know not. Though at the end of the day, if you have a favourite Chinese dish you can be sure this menu covers it. All except for pork, they don’t cook pork. Didn’t get a chance to ask why.
Originally we were eye balling the “Deep fried mini buns” and “Papadum” for appetizers. Only to find that the former was empty inside and only used as a bread to dip into sauces and soups. And that the latter was a corn chip, served with out the accompaniment of sauces. It worried me that no server bothered to lend clarity to anything we ordered. If a dish landed on our table not to our expectations would we be able to return it to the kitchen?
“Chicken hot and sour soup” for a small it came to $4.25. In it was tofu, shrimp, bamboo shoots, chicken, mushroom, cabbage, and black seaweed. This is my favourite soup, perfect for those who enjoy a flavour explosion in their mouth. A bold taste and complimentary ingredients; all wrapped up in a great slurpy, spicy, and tangy profile. Be warned this is one of those soups you chew. Interestingly, when one of the servers delivered this bowl she mentioned being able to tone down the spiciness, and suggested we give it a try to see if it was too much. We didn’t take her up on her offer, but it was nice that we were given the option. I now wonder how much different would this be the second time around with less spice.
There was a section of chef recommended dishes. The “Five treasures” intrigued by guest. All it said was it was chicken, beef, prawns, scallop, and squid. At $14.95 this was the most expensive dish, and luckily the best tasting one as well. This was definitely the sole stand out of dinner. The sauce had a sweet teriyaki like finish. As promised it was mainly proteins intermingled with a few vegetables. All the vegetables were surprisingly tender and well cooked, often the case they come out half raw. The pieces of squid was the best part. It was cooked perfectly soft that you had no difficulty cutting the large piece through with your teeth. Though with only two pieces in whole dish you felt cheated.
With Chinese food you always get a rice dish, it serves as a good balance to even out all the strong dishes and salty spoonfuls. “Black bean fried rice”. At $8.75 it was disappointing that the rice tasted plain on its own. This is despite the fact that it had over half a dozen ingredients in the mix. As expected it made a good base to eat everything with. Though we could not taste any black bean.
“Chicken curry”, when asked one of the servers confirmed this was a yellow curry. I Immediately had a bowl of florescent yellow stew enter my mind. So when I saw this plate for $8.95 I was disappointed. This is proof that pictures and details are necessary on a menu. It was ok, spicy with the appropriate curry flavouring, but it was just not I was hoping for.
A spoon of “Sweet and sour chicken” for $10.25 gave a great break in between all the spicy dishes. It’s thick syrupy sauce was a burst of freshness, along with the juicy segments of pineapple, and crisp pieces of red and green pepper. Much better than the variations found under food court heat lamps, and in all you can eat buffet lines.
Everything came out so quick and all at once that I was skeptical over its freshness. We speculated whether it was made to order or reheated on the spot, but were unable to dicipher this through taste or appearance. Oh MSG. As a whole the dishes were spicy, hot enough that there was a constant lingering of it in your mouth. And as a result everything eventually started to taste the same despite dish, sauce, or seasoning. Everything was also very salty, not even four glasses of water could rectify this. I was happy that the meal ended with a complimentary fortune cookie. It’s simple, one toned taste helped to clear some of our palate. Not enough Chinese restaurants adopt this practice. I know fortune cookies aren’t originally Chinese, but the two are associated hand in hand now.
Would I come back? – Yes. Like today if I was in the area and needed something in a pitch this would be a decent go to. They had surprisingly good customer service. Tonight was the most interaction I have ever had with staff at an Asian restaurant. One lady called us “friends” and asked us to enjoy. She made small talk about what we thought of the food. And after finding out it was our first time, suggested we tell all our friends to visit her. This is a rarity as most Asian places focus on speed of service and ignore the human interaction piece. So I was impressed at her attempts, despite the language barrier. Though truthfully there is no need to return again, as you can probably find something similar to this Chinese restaurant around any block.
Would I recommend it? – No. This is your typical Chinese restaurant, good but nothing about it was memorable. This is the kind of food you eat to be full, but expect to be hungry with an hour later. I ate until stuffed, but then enroute home digested enough to be able to stop for bubble tea. I needed something to refresh my palate. It is telling when you want to scrub your mouth clean of the taste of the food you just had.