IMG_3507IMG_3508

Dim sum is something I don’t often get to partake in. Mostly because I choose not to wake early enough to take advantage of the brunching hour. So on my day off I took my parents up on their offer for dim sum. Dim sum is the Chinese equivalent to tapas, small share style plates meant to give diners a taste of everything. Because there is just something so wonderful about being surrounded by a bounty of food, and being able to pick out only that which you want to eat.

We chose this destination out of convenience. A Chinese restaurant in the middle of our two homes. Its easy destination and ample free parking was as good enough of a reason to dine here. The parking lot in front was shared with a neighbouring small car garage. Its stock seemed to spill over in the form of abandoned empty husks of vehicles. This took up some crucial room right in front of the building, creating an eyesore and taking up space better used for customer vehicles. As a result of insufficient stalls patrons opted for more creative solutions. Cars in disarray: some blocked others in and any free corner had a car adjacent, but most had to park road side forcing guests to trekked in.

It was busy this Remembrance Day, even at 11am the place was already packed, luckily we had made a reservation and had a table waiting. We by passed all the other guests standing by the front. This gathering blocked the entrance, created unsightly clutter, and invaded the personal bubble of those seated at the tables adjacent. The room was packed with Chinese and Chinese blended families.

The host sat us without a word. He along with the servers were dressed in uniform. Suit and ties for the managers and white tops with black pants and a patterned vest for the wait staff. Everyone was working at their top speed. So quick that their movements were abrupt. Tables got bussed quickly, with the goal to improve turn around time. More empty tables meant less guests waiting to eat. Servers stopped if you managed to grab their attention with a wave of a limb, but no one would speak until spoken too. No small talk. No explanation of the dishes that came.

IMG_3511IMG_3512

The room was decorated like most other Chinese restaurants. A jumble of traditional Chinese art and functional pieces with no consideration of interior design. Chinese paint brush scenes hung on walls. Chinese characters etched on plaques. Vases painted with country scenes and statues staged in motion. An ancestor shrine above the bar with real fruit offerings. Shimmering chandeliers pieced together crystal by crystal. And the quintessential red velvet wall at the back of the room. This was the room’s focal point with a golden Phoenix and raging dragon framing words of luck and prosperity. Yellow table cloths partnered with brown suade chair covers, set against a navy and amber patterned carpet. I have yet to see a traditional Chinese restaurant with a decor that isn’t an eye sore.

IMG_3509IMG_3510

A form waits for you at the table. You check off the box next to the dishes you want, it’s descriptions are listed in Chinese and English. You hand this completed form off to the closest body you see. It gets inputted into their system, then the sheet is brought back to the table to be checked off as your requests get delivered. I was curious about the “Seating tea charge”.

When my family eats dim sum we begin with empty plates and a few styrofoam take out containers. We eat then pack up what we don’t finish as we go along. Its quite efficient, but doesn’t really allow you to enjoy eating. It’s more meant to help clear the table.

IMG_3514IMG_3516

Hungrily we said “yes” to the first dish offered. “Green tea and black sesame balls”. Each ball was nestled in a cupcake liner, this little gesture greatly helped to dress up the plate. With its fragrant green tea scent, its crunchy exterior shell and its runny black sesame paste inside, this was quite a treat to eat. Though not ideal to start with on an empty stomach, better as a dessert with its too sweet filling. I don’t advise cutting these in half or sharing with anyone, they need to be consumed with the idea of careful eating in mind. One tear and the best part comes spilling out. These tasted fresh out of the deep fry. Each round was oily to hold and even oilier to bite into. Crispy on outside, sticky and chewy on inside. Each bite stuck to the bottom of my teeth.

IMG_3518IMG_3519

We jumped at these BBQ pork rolls, the second dish that was offered at our table. Sweetened pork chunks surrounded by layers of flaky pastry and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. As before, the doily dressed up the plate. When passing the plate on, the server used large scissors to split each portion in half for smaller bites and more sharing. Once again another deep fried and oily plate, it enforces my belief that dim sum food is meant to taste good, but not necessarily be good for you. Here the dish wasn’t as fresh, the pastry wasn’t crispy, and each bite was dense. With the sweetness of the filling this too felt more like a dessert. A meaty dessert.

IMG_3529IMG_3532

“Rice rolls with Chinese donut”. Steamed rice roll stuffed with Chinese donut, topped with green onions, pork frost, and soy sauce. Then served with a hoisin and peanut butter dipping sauce. The Chinese doughnut is long instead of round, more like a Mexican churro, it has no holes and is more savory then sweet. But like a North American donut it is also deep fried and chewy. Its oiliness was well hidden under the layer of white dough and the thin film of soy sauce. Together with the sauces each bite had a chewy and mushy texture. Pork frost is an interesting thing, it is dried and preserved pork pulled apart for a light texture. Its fluffy, chewy, and often sweet.

IMG_3541IMG_3542

“Steamed shrimp dumplings”. I have been only once before, but remembered that their larger than usual shrimp dumplings were something I had to get. Balls of shrimp paste, mashed and moulded to mimic whole shrimp. I eat the filling first, saving the doughy starchy outer layer to eat as is, it is my favourite part.

IMG_3549IMG_3550

“Fish maw with shrimp purée”. Chewy and soft globs in a thick syrup-like sauce. Eaten more for its interesting texture, I found it tasted a lot like the shrimp dumplings above.

IMG_3539IMG_3540

“Steam buns with taro”. It amazes me how the filling remained this runny. It tasted like egg custard, it was smooth and silky, and had just the perfect amount of sweetness to it. Though I could have used more taro taste as it’s in the name of the dish, maybe to flavour the bun?

IMG_3551IMG_3552

“Steamed pork intestine with spicy sauce” The sauce was really good, it helped to hide the fact you were eat intestines. There was a lot of chewing needed to break a piece break down. I failed at my second go of the plate and ended up chewing the piece dry before spitting it out. Not for me. Though I did use the sauce to flavour my bowl or congee, see below.

IMG_3553IMG_3554

“Chicken feet in black bean sauce”. This is the first time I have seen coloured peppers served with chicken feet. This is an acquired taste and distinctively Chinese delicacy. It’s pretty good if you can get over the texture of chicken skin and tiny feet bones, though this batch was over salted. Growing up eating this I don’t mind it, but now I find the process too tedious. I am just too lazy, and believe you should never have to work so hard to eat something already cooked.

IMG_3543IMG_3545

“Steamed wrapped mini sticky rice”. Savoury sticky rice steamed in bamboo leaves. The leaves gave the rice an earthy flavour. Warm rice hiding bits of ground meat, dried shrimp, and egg yolks. Unwrapping it is half the fun.

IMG_3537IMG_3538

“Spareribs in black bean sauce”. Meat and bones you pop into your mouth. The pork is tender, but not exactly fall of the bone. If you can get past the grinding chew, the joints came be eaten too. Overall the dish was too salty, but the sandy textured pumpkin cubes and coloured pepper slices did help to temper this and add a pop of colour.

IMG_3523IMG_3526

“Sea cucumber and mussel congee”. When having all these small flavourful plates it is nice to have a base to eat them with. As it is brunch, congee comes instead of rice. As expected it was mild in flavour and plain considering the other dishes. I stayed away from the lumpy bits, not wanting to bruise my jaw further with an extended chew, and being wary of sea cucumber. The bowl was best flavoured with sauces from the dishes above.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
A pretty descent Chinese seafood and dim sum place, but nothing to write home to mom about. Standard in decor, service, and food. But having said that we left happy and full at a decent price, so I can’t ask for much more. Though given the steady line out the door and the extra traffic from a statutory holiday our meal felt rush. The sweet spot was between 10-11:30am to avoid lines and to be seated without a reservation. We were offered our food quick and our dishes were bussed as soon as we chopstick-ed up the last dumpling. It was clear that their goal was a quick turn around, to be able to seat and serve more patrons. I deem them successful in this, which also explains the lack of small talk from servers and managers, and the need to move quickly and abruptly from all the staff. Don’t deny your cravings.

HAPPY VALLEY
3432 Lougheed Hwy, Vancouver BC, V5M2A4
604-216-0100
Happy Valley Seafood Restaurant 名閣海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon