Sherman's Food Adventures: Alvin Garden

Alvin Garden

Last time we had a blogger's dinner, Ben (Chowtimes) organized it. While at the that dinner (@ Long's), he suggested that I should organize the next one. Reluctantly, I agreed. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy organizing things, I seem to be doing that all the time anyways. However, I certainly couldn't invite everyone, I don't think they made tables that large. I actually ended up giving Ben a call for some advice. He really had no solution for it either, you can't really please everyone. Well, I ended up inviting as many as I felt comfortable with and we ended up with the following participants: Kevin (604Foodtography), Jessica & Mark (Yum-o-Rama), Gigi & Jenkins (Ho Yummy!), Drea (TBDFBTI), Christina and ET (Doesn't TaZte Like Chicken), TS (eating_club Vancouver), Wilson (La Petite Vancouver) and Kim (I'm Only Here for the Food!). It was actually Kim who suggested Alvin Garden and we'll see if his recommendation makes him look good or not. See how I like to pass the buck?

From the outside, I would have never known that the inside was actually quite nice and clean. However, the tables are situated quite close together, so everything is a tight fit. We took quite a bit of time trying to decide what to order because frankly, we weren't familiar with most of the dishes. You see, Hunan cuisine is not very common in the GVRD. The dominant Chinese cuisine is Cantonese food. Thus, we just randomly ordered items off the menu with a little help from the server. We found out at the end that our dishes may have not been the right ones to order. Oh well, it just means we have to come back and do it all over again! While we waiting for our food, we got into the typical banter about food and my favourite topic - Richmond. One person posed the question which parking lot was worse: Aberdeen or Crystal Mall. Well, my personal choice would be Crystal Mall because why would you design a lot that is a big circle with only one entrance/exit? Futhermore, as a result of this circle, each parking spot is shaped like a pie slice. Imagine the difficulty for someone trying to use the lines as a guide to park straight! No joke, I once watched someone spend 10+ minutes going back and forth trying to park in one spot.

The food actually arrived pretty quickly; mind you, we really didn't get to eat until much later. Imagine 7 cameras taking turns snapping photos of EACH dish. Kevin was getting a little impatient because he appeared to be very hungry. I guess we got a taste of our own medicine since people who eat with me have to suffer the "don't touch it, let me take some photos first" procedure. Curiously, 5 dishes arrived before we even got the large soup we had ordered. It appears that they do not have a food expediting system present. The first dish was the Hunan-Style Braised Pork. Essentially, it was pork belly stewed in a mostly sweet soy broth. It was enjoyable to eat, while the dish itself was nothing special. The next dish, Duck Braised with Beer was quite spicy. By just tasting the sauce, you'd never know that there was beer. I guess all the alcohol had been cooked away or that the spice overwhelmed any other flavour that was present. Although I enjoyed the sauce with my rice, the duck itself was chopped into really small pieces. Therefore, it was tough to find any pieces with any meat on them. I mostly got bones in every spoonful.

Now the next dish was really good. The Dong Ting Broiled Fish in Chili Soup was a symphony of flavours. The sweetness of the fish combined with the spicy and salty broth was absolutely delicious. Continuing on the spicy theme, the Pan Fried Spicy Chicken was quite an intimidating dish. The small pieces of chicken were hidden in a mound of fried red chilis. Although the dish itself wasn't incredibly spicy, the chilis made it look spicier than it really was. The chicken was very well-seasoned; but yet again much like the duck, it was cut up into little pieces. By now I was starting to sweat; but I think Kim was sweating much more than I was. Luckily he brought his own towel (smart move). The Ma Po Tofu looked spicier than it tasted; however, it was very well spiced. Another great dish to go with a big bowl of white rice.

Alright, someone tell me why we got the soup as our 6th dish? As mentioned before, the expedition of dishes was quite odd. I guess they merely brought out stuff as the kitchen cooked it. But soup in the middle of the meal? The soup we ordered was the Daily Soup which happened to be Corn and Pork. It arrived in a really large pot packed with corn and slow simmered pork. I really liked the soup, it was not very salty; in fact, it was rather sweet because of the corn. From sweet, right back to the spicy, the Pan-Fried Green Beans with Minced Pork had just enough heat. Combined with the sweetness of the crunchy beans and the saltiness of the minced pork, this was a balanced dish. Next up was the Double-Cooked Pork with Garlic and Chilis. I bet they buy their chilis in bulk at Alvin Garden, because they used them like there was no tomorrow. In this dish, the fatty pork appears to have been stewed first, then sliced and pan-fried; thus the double-cooked moniker. This was a solid dish, with many different textures and flavours.

Alright, here we go with the incorrect order of dishes once again. We got the sweet Pumpkin Cakes filled with red bean paste too early since there were a couple more dishes yet to arrive. Suddenly I felt like I was having Cantonese Dim Sum because of the randomness of the dishes. The pumpkin cakes were not really that sweet, even with the red bean paste. I liked the texture, it was very similar to that of a Lo Po Beng; however, the cake itself was rather bland and a bit oily. Now, from dessert, back to the entrees! The Steamed Ling Cod Head with Hunan Chilis was another intimidating looking dish. It was topped with a large amount chilis; yet, once again, it was not as spicy as it looked. In fact, the flavours were quite nice being a bit spicy and sweet. However, since it was Ling Cod head, it was boney and a bit hard to eat. I would have much preferred that they didn't cut up the head into little pieces.

Bringing down the spicy quotient was the Steamed Egg with Mince Pork. This is somewhat of a "home-cooking"-type dish that is usually very light in texture and flavour. For those who don't normally eat it, it could be misinterpreted as being bland. It was alright; but it was a bit on the watery side. The last dish of the meal was the Corn Cakes and it arrived in a big steamer. Once the lid was removed by our server, it revealed cone-shaped pastries. The consensus from the group was that the cakes were not very good. In fact, Jessica's boyfriend probably summed it up best - "it had the texture of Playdoh". This is not a ringing endorsement for the corn cakes. At the very least, they showed up in the proper order.

I generally enjoyed my meal despite the awful expedition of the dishes. I liked some of the dishes more than others; but that would be my personal preference. One thing I didn't like was the fact they cut up some of their meats into really small pieces. This is not good for eating or the actual cooking process itself. But really, Kim said it best. The main focus is enjoying each others' company. We had a blast chatting about our common interest - FOOD. Thus, the dinner almost became secondary. Mind you, some of our dishes seemed grossly overpriced such as the duck for $16.98, Ling Cod head for $19.98 and the soup for $14.98. After our meal was over, we looked around and noticed that we didn't order some really good looking dishes at other tables. I guess that alone warrants another visit.

The Good:
- Dishes that you would probably not find at other Chinese restaurants
- If you like it spicy, this is your place
- Service was a bit hectic, yet it was still friendly and helpful

The Bad:
- Some of the dishes seemed a bit overpriced
- They like to cut up their meats into little pieces
- Proper expedition of dishes was non-existant

Business Hours:
11:30am - 9:30pm (Mon - Fri)
12:00pm - 9:30pm (Sat & Sun)

Alvin Garden on Urbanspoon


La Petite Vancouver said...

Thanks a lot for organizing the dinner =)

Jonnek said...

The dishes look yummy. Too bad only food bloggers are invited. With the explosion of food blogs and food blogs readers I think we can have a Vancouver food blog exposition. Or a food blog fest where participants gets to go out and sample as many restaurants as possible in a day. Hmmmm..

Sherman said...

Hi Jonnek! Yes, I had a hard time figuring out who and how many to invite. I even had to consult Ben because he's an expert at organizing these things! I'm thinking next time we can have more than one table or... just take over the whole restaurant!

ET said...

I second LPV's comment - thanks for organizing the dinner Sherman. Since we've had Chinese twice in a row, maybe the next one should be some other cuisine... :-)

Anonymous said...

Does that mean I won't be thrown to the wolves (because it was me who suggested the restaurant)? ^_^

Yeah, just like LPV and ET said, thanks for organizing it. Sure, I will take the credit (or blame) for choosing Alvin Garden but that is just a minor detail compared to what you had to do. Thanks!

604foodtography said...

I want to try Filipino food next time!

Sherman said...

Well, Kim, I thought it was a good choice!

Kevin, funny u mentioned that, cuz my friend just came back from the Phillipines and he gave me a bag of Cornick. What a tasty snack! Oh, Clover chips rock too!

KimHo said...

(BTW, that "Anonymous" post was mine, I accidentally clicked publish before filling all the details... Darn...)

gigi said...

haha...I totally agree with your comment about meat being cut into itsy bitsy pieces. I'm not really sure why they did that! Thanks for organizing the dinner was fun. :)

holly said...

I was at Alvin Garden for lunch today. I like their folk style art hangings and the nicer than your average asian cafe dining setting.

For lunch, we ordered the spicy lamb and rice, and the spicy wonton appetizer. The lamb was very well seasoned and flavoured and the spicy wontons were the tiniest wonton bites I have ever seen swimming in a sweet/spicy broth. If you can't take too much heat in your food, I would recommend a cooling cold soy milk.

My sister and I were impressed enough to plan our next visit, which will definitely include the spicy lamb and rice dish again. Lunch prices are very good value ($6-7) and I would probably skip coming for dinner as those prices are much higher, and not necessarily worth it in my opinion (unless someone else is paying).

Sherman said...

Exactly Holly. I thought it is quite expensive for dinner. I did like the food though, quite spicy and different.