Last Monday was an extremely sad day for me. No, the Canucks didn't lose, the season hasn't even started yet. No, Miss Y didn't get out of that cal-de-sac. And no, I'm not moving to Richmond. The sadness emanated from the conclusion of the regular softball season. That meant... GASP! No more Monday night food adventures with the team! The agony, the horror, the pain! But with some quick thinking, I "organized" a practice for the team in anticipation of the softball tournament this month. Yes, I used the "practice" as a cover for more eating out!!! Suffice to say, I was not that into the "practice". Rather, I had dumplings dancing in my mind.
Still thinking about dumplings, when Bear mentioned that we should head to Chen's Shanghai in Richmond, he had me at "Xiao Long Bao". Not really knowing the exact location of the place, we all sort of wandered in different directions on the Richmond roads, driving aimlessly and a bit confused. Excellent, we blended right in! Finally heading down Cooney and just barely spotting Park, I took a hasty right turn which mad Boss Woman yelp. Hey, once again, when in Rome, do what the Romans do. I explained that being in Richmond, I had carte blanche to drive terribly. When we arrived at the parking lot, it was almost completely full; but I was able to snag a space right in front of Chen's. To my horror, the restaurant was completely packed and it was already nearing 9:00! There were suggestions about leaving and heading to a different restaurant; yet we decided to wait for the only table that could fit all eleven of us.
The people already occupying the large table were not really rushing to leave; but we really had a chuckle when the lady manager yelled out real loud, "Just sit at this smaller table for now, and you can take the large table when they leave!" Bear whispered to us that she was merely telling the other diners to leave indirectly. Hey, good for us because we got the table shortly afterwards. By then we were very hungry and that would probably explain our haste in ordering a bit too much food. The lady manager was nice enough to point out that we would never finish the food and told us to remove some items.
The first item to arrive was the Chicken in Wine Sauce. Exhibiting distinct wine flavour, the chicken had excellent texture and a good bit of yummy gelatin underneath the skin. I just wish they had put more wine sauce on the plate, I can practically drink that stuff. We got 4 orders of the Xiao Long Bao because they let Barry and I order. It turns out we were a bit too greedy and ordered too much. I'm going to let someone order next time because I suffer from the "eyes too big, pants too tight" syndrome. The Xiao Long Bao were filled to the max with tasty juice. Despite being quite soft, I found the outer wrapper a bit too thick. I still prefer the ones from Shanghai River the best.
When the Beef Roll arrived, we couldn't even recognize what it was! The pancake was so soaked in grease, it was either pan-fried with too much oil or heaven-forbid deep-fried! We were all scared to try it; but fortunately it tasted a lot better than it looked. There were nice slices of beef layered between scallions and hoisin sauce.
The next dish was a quite the topic of discussion. Okay, on the surface, there shouldn't be much to talk about Spicy Wontons; yet they were a bit too spicy for Boss Woman and Judes. I personally like spicy, so I really enjoyed them since there was a hit of saltiness, sweetness, tartness and then a real wallop at the end of spice. However, I can understand their point of view because my tongue was still stinging throughout much of the meal.
Continuing on spicy, the Dan Dan Noodles had its own level of zing as well. Bear, Milhouse and I found it to be a perfect balance of spiciness, savory and smooth peanut flavour. But Dan Dan noodles vary with each restaurant and in this case, it was a bit spicy. The first real flop of the meal was the Stir-Fried Shanghai-Style Rice Cake. The sauce was a bit wet and was not really flavourful. Furthermore, the sliced rice cakes were not chewy; rather they were soft and mushy. Again, Shanghai River makes a better version of this dish. One dish I was really looking forward to was the Ja Jeun Mein or Noodles with Bean Paste Meat Sauce. In fact, I was eyeing a table eating these noodles while we were waiting. Not sure if the people at that table saw me salivating. They probably thought I was psychotic. Anyways, the sauce itself was excellent. It was rich and flavourful without being salty. The freshly julienned cucumbers added a nice refreshing crunch to the dish. Only thing is that I would've preferred thinner noodles such as the ones in the Dan Dan Noodles. It's just a personal preference since I know most places use this type of noodle for this dish.
We originally had ordered the "small" dish of Fried Pork Chops; but the lady manager pointed out that the regular order was only $8.99 and it was much larger. It was indeed quite large with big juicy pork chops perfectly fried. They were wok-tossed in a very tasty salt, garlic and chili mixture. This dish was quite popular with my teammates. One dish that was curiously not that popular was the Szechwan Beef Noodle. It looked good, with big chunks of beef on top of a good portion of noodles. Once I tried it, I figured out why - it was spicy. Again, I like spicy; but not everyone else is in that boat. One problem I had with the noodles was that it was more spicy than flavourful. I much prefer a more rich tasting broth. Once again on the spicy theme, the Spicy Green Beans were really good. They were perfectly fried being cooked all the way through; yet still maintaining a fresh crunch. I thought that there was a good balance of sweetness, salty and spiciness.
Okay, if you were thinking that there was too much food for 11 people (2 were kids!), you are right! However, there was much more food to come. We had mistakenly ordered Potstickers instead of Pan-Fried Shanghai Buns. It was our fault though because we couldn't read the Chinese (where's Viv when I need her???) and there was something lost in translation with the English menu. No matter, the Potstickers were fried up nice and crispy. Another nice and crispy dish was the Fried Tofu tossed in salt, pepper, scallions and garlic. The tofu was fried a bit too much resulting in a very dry interior. Yet, it was still very tasty and would've went well with a beer.
While we were ordering, Siena suggested we order the Deep Fried Buns with Condensed Milk. Turns out that they didn't have the ones we had in mind. Rather, they had fried mini-buns. Didn't matter to anyone at the table because they were demanding it like a pack of hungry wolves. Being fried a nice golden brown, the mini-buns were pretty good, especially with the condensed milk. However, we still prefer the large fried loaf, the soft inside of the larger loaf gives a better texture contrast. Alright, we didn't finish all the food; but we almost did it. Yes, we were that hungry! Overall, the food was pretty good at Chen's. Compared to a place like Shanghai River, Chen's is definitely less refined. Consider it a home cooking version of Shanghainese food. With that being said, Chen's is also considerably less expensive than Shanghai River as well. With all this food (we had duplicates of 6 of the dishes!), it only cost each person $16. Thus, it is like comparing apples to oranges. Each has their niche and that's a good thing, because I like both in their own way.
- Inexpensive, a good value
- Generally good food
- Honest service (if not absent-minded, took 4 tries to get water)
- Small restaurant, gets full quickly
- Food lacks a bit of refinement (more home-style cooking)