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A fine celebration deserves a fine destination. My brother has earned an “MD” at the end of his name, and my beaming parents arranged a dinner to commemorate the occasion. Dinner tonight would be at one of the more fancier known Chinese fine dining restaurants in Vancouver. Though having it hidden on the second floor of a less popular mall really didn’t convey the above message well.

I am not familiar with “City Square mall”. And the sign posted on the side of the building did little to guide me to my intended destination. I ended up walking towards it and not finding an entrance directly into the restaurant. It turns out the only way in is a ride up the elevator, or a climb up two flights of stairs to the second floor. I wonder how well they do after the mall closes and no one passing by knows they are here. I guess you know where to go if you plan to be here. And are only here because you want to be.

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Walking through the corridor you are forced to face their live seafood tanks. Fancy restaurant or not, the conditions of the soon to be main course didn’t look too comfortable. Though I highly suspect majority of these tanks would be empty by night’s end. And sadly it did not dissuade me from the meal ahead. The geoduck enclosures were designed to have the molluscs expose their “necks”. “Geoduck” or “gooey duck” is a species of very large, edible, saltwater clams native to the west coast of North America. The geoduck is both one of the largest clams in the world, and one of the longest-lived animals of any type. I refused to eat any. I consider them like snails and that does not appeal to me. To its right huddled sickly fish. And below it a tank with crabs and lobsters mingling. The king crab earned its title by roosting itself on top of the other regular crabs.

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I was horribly early, but allowed to be seated at our reserved table, in the centre of the room. Though being hungry and being surrounded by other diners grasping chopsticks was difficult. Everything smelled so good. I was familiar with the dishes and now began to crave them, but I wouldn’t be able to order any. As I have stated before, I only really indulge in Chinese cuisine when out with my relatives. It is not a cuisine I often crave, nor one I would solicit friends to come out with me to try. So I was sure to enjoy the bounty of eleven courses between eight people tonight. Not a predetermined set menu this time. Though you could be sure the meal would still start with a soup, continue with a cold or fried appetizer (sometimes both), there would be a vegetable dish, a fish dish, a shellfish dish, a meat dish; and to end the savoury portion: a rice or noodle dish to ensure you would leave with belly full.

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Our table, like all the others felt perfectly set. I could imagine rulers were pulled out to guarantee the exact one centimetre from charger to tables edge. Their colour scheme was a spectrum of ever greens paired with a golden brown. Unknowingly I came in matching the room with my army green coloured dress. The carpet was a circular pattern in deep green, navy, and brown. Each setting had a charger rimmed in a pine green set against metallic gold. The pattern of a lion coiled in a continuous ribbon danced along this edge. The white table cloth draped over the table gave it that fine dining flare, along with the use of cloth napkins. On each dining plate was a reusable spearmint green napkin, it was folded into a cone, pointed at the tip. Each triangular origami project faced inward towards the lazy Susan. A “lazy Susan” is a circular rotating tray or turntable. It is placed in the centre of the table to aid in the moving of food without reaching. It requires each dinner guest to wait patiently, and to take their turn. This is pretty standard furniture at any family style Chinese meals. On the turntable was a frosted image of a lotus flower and more ribbon.

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From here the details only become more ornate. Each chair had a hand carved element: a Chinese dragon with feathered tail and wispy whiskers blowing smoke. Puffs of curly clouds surrounded him. On the table, individually wrapped, reusable chopsticks rested on their own tiny chopstick bench. It gave you the impression that the set you were using was new and thoroughly sanitized. Though sadly no one else would get to experience this, because as soon as I sat down, one of the servers removed all the paper packaging from all the chopsticks and crumpled them up to discard. One by one, until all eight were done.

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Similarly, was their set up of tea. I was offered hot tea as I waited. Good thing, as the room was so cold from an effective air conditioning, that I needed the warm cups of tea to helped to keep my shivering to a minimum. I agreed to the jasmine. Two porcelain tea pots showed up. One was labeled with the tea it held within. The other hot water to dilute the first. Hot water kept hot with the aid of a candle light and a metal coil. The candle goes under the covering. It’s flame heats the silver plated metal and keeps the pot and its contents at the ready. This was a standard accessory at each table. Of note, our tea pot was never refilled with fresh tea leaves. Odd considering how many guests were at our table and how salty Chinese food is in general. We needed several cups of tea to help cut the grease, though in the end what we were left with was leaves in water. In hind sight we could have asked for a fresh pot, but by the time we noticed we were already at dessert.

At 6pm the room exploded. Bodies filled seats and voices rang throughout the room. The room had slight dips and elevated areas to create the illusion of space. Instead of a sea of tables you had pod-like clusters of tables.
As is often the case at Chinese restaurants, the staff are in uniform. Coloured vests over white shirts, partnered with black pants. Their vests were greens. The men wore ties and the women bow ties. The managers were in full suits. They roamed the room and jumped to help when they could. Everyone kept themselves busy.

I was impressed by the menu’s detailed. High quality, full colour photos tempted you. A showcase of what they offered and how the intended to plate it all with care. Both the chef’s recommendations and all the set meals, divided by number of diners, included  details in multiple languages. Chinese characters, Japanese kanji script, and English pint. A few items required a day in advanced ordering. When making the reservation my father requested the melon soup and stuffed duck.

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Double broiled whole winter melon with assorted seafood and meat. Sadly this was not presented at our table. I made an effort to capture its photo while it was on a serving table to the side of our table. It had quite the presentation. Soup served in a melon, carried in a silver plated bowl-dish combo. A platform that looked like it was made just for this occasion. I can only imagine the time required, boiling on low heat, to cook this melon through. There was so much going on in here: real crab meat, fish maw, mushroom, shredded chicken, garlic, and bacon. You scoop the melon from right off its rind. It is so tender that it easily peels off with the aid of a ladle. It had as much flavour I expected it to, given its ingredient line up. A rich yet light broth, savoy with pops of bacon salt. Though as good as it was, it could have been served hotter. They left it sitting out for too long.

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Chilled jellyfish is enjoyed by most. A salty cold snack that everyone loves for its chewy spongy texture.

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As mentioned above, the Chef’s special stuffed deboned duck required an ordering in advance. Like the melon, it too required many ingredients and a long time to prepare. Time spent to have the duck coming out tender and moist. So tender that cutting through its bone with a steak knife was no problem at all. It was carved at our table, before our very eyes. Though after cutting the whole duck down to dispensable sizes, it looked less appealing. It looked as mushy as it tasted, with all the lumpy stuffing spilling out. The stuffing tasted like the filling that would be inside a “Zong zi”. “Zong” are sticky rice dumplings stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo, reed, or other large flat leaves. I could make out the ground meat, bean, peanuts, lotus seed, water chestnut, and barley in the mix. Eight different ingredients in total. I appreciated the workmanship, but did not like its  texture. I rather it a regular barbecue duck, to have the meat more solid, less stringy. At least the flavour was good.

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A mixed vegetable dish for the vegetarian in our group. A selection of broccoli, celery, mushroom, baby corn, carrot, baby bok choy, and bamboo shoots.

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Salt and pepper fried tofu. Considering the other dishes before and after it, I found this quite bland by comparison.

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Green bean with mince pork. This has always been my favourite vegetable dish. Combining your greens with salty and spicy meat. I enjoyed the length of the beans and their crispy texture.

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The black pepper beef was very salty. But at least each cut was tender and easy to chew through.

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Pan fried prawn in black bean sauce. Large stalks of vegetable to match the large prawns. Eggplant, green pepper, and green onion. The eggplant was surprisingly very good. It held its purple hue and didn’t get mashed up in the stir frying process. These were some of the largest shrimp I have ever had. Cut in half, served butterflied, they were flavourful and beautiful.

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Braised pork belly in the chef’s special sauce. Served as a slab, and then cut down for individual portions at the table. It was so easy to slice through because of all the fat. You felt guilty eating it, though couldn’t help but to enjoy the way that it melted in your mouth, it was just that creamy. I couldn’t have more than one piece it was just so rich. It needed a starchy base, like fried noodles or steamed rice.

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The Portuguese baked seafood rice, was like a rice casserole. It tasted like fried rice, but with a creamy layer, baked to a bubble. Though once you started mixing everything up, you realize there is an uneven cream to rice ratio. I expected a curry taste because of the yellow colouring, the same colouring that made the dish look drab. It needed something green, a leaf or a vegetable for added colour and texture.

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For desert it was the standard red bean desert soup. I am not a fan. I do not like the sandy, grainy texture of it.

 

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? – Yes.
This was definitely one of the more fancy Chinese dinners I have ever had. Our meal even ended with a hot towel. That kind of service hardly exists anymore. The setting was incredibly clean, and we were well taken care of by the staff. Used dishes bussed promptly, staff working at less abrupt pace, everything we required delivered speedily. And the food was good, but I felt it no different than some of the dishes served at other, less prestigious Chinese seafood restaurants. I would definitely save this one for more special occasion, like ours. Don’t deny your cravings.

 

KIRIN
201-555 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver BC
604-879-8038

kirinrestaurants.com

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