This one has been recommend to me by a few for good Chinese food. Their claim is that they are Canada’s leader in the premium northern Chinese cuisine, with three locations in Vancovuer. They offer plenty of dim sum made in house and noodles that are hand pulled. So we came in with high expectations, and knowing we would be eating plenty of carbs tonight.
My mother and I planned to have an early dinner at 5pm, expecting to beat the dinner traffic by doing so. Although others had the same idea, and as a result the place was busy, seated to capacity. I suspect this was the working crowd, stopping by for a meal after work in order to bypass rush hour.
Driving past the front the restaurant, it stood out as the one with the red and white awning presented by a cut out of a woman in white, lifting a dish of food.
But we entered from the back, an option that only seem to be available at Chinese restaurants. They had free parking in the back, if you were lucky enough to snag one. If I was to judge the restaurant solely by its back alley presence, I wouldn’t have gone in. It was a dingy and grungy walk through a dark corridor. Not exactly the first impression you’d want a first time diner to have. Coming out the other end we surprised the staff and forced them to seat us right away. Doing so by interrupting the seating of another group. We didn’t do it on purpose, but there was no booth or hostess waiting at the back entrance to seat you. And we were already where most patrons were being sat. So we easily grabbed the table that we wanted.
The dining area was cramped, more functional than artful. Their accomplishments were framed on the wall as magazine articles. It was bright lights and closely set tables like a cafeteria. It gave me the impression that everyone present now was here for the food, and no necessarily the setting. This thinking got us even more excited of the food to come.
We were seated in the isle adjacent from the kitchen’s pass. We only got a glimpse of the men and women working the narrow kitchen in their white paper hats. But a good view of dishes ready to be served. They were being pushed out, steady like a conveyor belt.
The menu was easy to navigate: predominately in English, with only the name of dishes in Chinese phonetics.
Whenever I get the option, I order “Xiao-Long Bao”, it translates to “small steamed buns” in Chinese. They are thin dough dumplings filled with pork and “savoury juice”, as the menu described. It was correct, as there was no soup in any of these deflated dumplings. Not the soup bombs I expected, no wave of soup pouring into my mouth once teeth pierced through dough. All eight arrived burst with its liquid pooled at the bottom of the bamboo steamer. The way you eat them otherwise is to bite the top off and suck out all the soup. Although in spite of its poor execution, they at least tasted delicious, with a nice ginger warmth to each. Mild soften pork paired with a chewy and starchy covering.
The “Peaceful beef roll” is meat and sauce wrapped in a Chinese pancake. Strips of beef seasoned in Chinese five spiced and served with a sweet hoisin sauce. The menu described the pancake as “a crispy green onion flat bread”, though the grilled brown dough was without a speck of green inside or out. Shame, as the wrap would have been nicer with the fresh and fragrant flavour of green onion. Similarly I would have liked the sauce on the side to dip into as I wanted. Though their balance between meat and sauce inside the wrap was spot on.
The menu gave you all sorts of noodles to choose from: wet and dry, ones with soup, some stir fried, others in sauce. With each dish you could choose to have it made with either their hand dragged or blade sheared noodles.
We went with the “Xin-Jiang chicken noodle”. Chicken braised with potatoes and hot peppers in a reduced spicy star-anise sauce. We had every intention of ordering the blade sheared noodles as I enjoy its thicker and chewier texture. However we weren’t asked our preference for noodles and instead were given the hand drawn variety. When we called it to the attention of one of the severs, she said that we had to specify and since we didn’t we were given the default noodle. My mother assumed all responsibility for the mistake and was apologetic, as she ordered and I was disappointed. I told her she shouldn’t be, as it wasn’t her responsibility. As a server it is their’s to inform the diner of their options. Like “how do you want your steak?”, “which side do you want with your entree?”, “how much spice would you like in your food?” Often diners miss out on key information on the menu, a server calls it to their attention and helps to guide their meal in the best direction. We missed out on this and worst of all my mother felt bad about it. The server that gave us our dish overheard our conversation and came over to check on us. She was the one that told us of the default noodle situation. Then passed on our feedback to her colleague, the one who took our order originally. The other server was apologetic, but at this point nothing could be done. I was happy to keep the dish as is, but would have liked to know that they were willing to make us a new serving with the blade seared noodles, to have us satisfied and enjoy what we had wanted. But that was not the case.
As for the dish as a whole, it was interesting. Like the other two appetizers before it, this was another dish that was the chef’s recommendation, as told by the red arrow pointing to it on the menu. It had plenty of flavour and was tasty enough. Though I found the inclusion of potatoes and jalapeño in the noodles quite unique. The former added extra starch and a gummy texture, and the latter some back of the throat spice. My mother assessment was that it was good, but she couldn’t identify which part of China this style of cooking originated from. Though the noodle was definitely the best part of the entire dish. Its texture was wonderfully consistent, I could have had a bowl of just noodles and sauce.
When it came time to pay it was cash and debit only, and we were asked to do so at the front. During the wait, the host made small talk, asking what we thought of the meal. My mother was honest and later felt bad about it. The host seemed disappointed in her response. My mother brought up how the food was not served hot enough, that the meat in the wrap was cold and how the wrap itself was missing the advertised green onion. She went on to critique that even the tea was cold and the cup we drank it in seemed grimy at its bottom. The host defended the chefs insisting that everything is made fresh daily, and it was probably just the sauce that cooled down the filling of the wrap. More importantly, we missed passing on the feedback that the dumplings were pretty disappointing as well.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
As a whole I wouldn’t mind coming back and trying more. They offered a lot of dishes I liked, and it was easy to order and ask questions as a non Chinese speaker. Everything I saw coming to the pass were I wanted to try. It was just the details that got missed and a lot of the intricacies they couldn’t hit in their preparation. But maybe it is because they specialize in quick and easy meals like at a food court; And maybe we should to judge them a little gentler because of this. This wasn’t a sit down establishment, but a cafe for fast food. And if that was the case they were amazing for what they did.
My mother on the other hand wasn’t convinced. She has been to China and has had plenty of experience in Chinese cuisine. She felt that things weren’t as they intended to be. That it was a hassle to get here between the drive and the parking, and they are so many similar restaurants out there with similar options; that she rather go to one of these different restaurant to try something new. We agreed this was westernized Chinese food for the non Chinese. The only other Chinese person in during our stay order fried squid as “calamari”. Don’t deny your cravings.