Sherman's Food Adventures: Top Cantonese

Top Cantonese

Chinese restaurants, other than the ones which reside in Downtown, Richmond and on the West side of Vancouver are generally reasonably-priced. Sure, there are some exceptions, such as Fortune House at Metrotown, Grand Dynasty in at the Villa Casino, Top Gun at Crystal Mall and Kirin at Starlight Casino and Henderson Centre. There are many factors for this including rent, "prestigious" location and an affluent customer base. Kirin (City Square, Downtown & Richmond), Spicy Court, Red Star, Fortune, Victoria, Imperial, Sea Harbour, Shiang Garden and Fisherman's Terrace are such examples. What we generally see for the rest of the GVRD are mid-range restaurants and hole-in-the-walls. For me, the very best Dim Sum do not necessarily reside at the most expensive Chinese Restaurants. In fact, some dives can do Dim Sum quite well. However, to get the best of both worlds, the mid-priced restaurant is the best bet. Top Cantonese on Kingsway at Earles is somewhat of an anomaly where it fits into the middle-tier while the overall pricing is somewhat higher than its peers . From the outside, I wouldn't expect it to be any pricier than Come Along, which is just a block away. However, one look at the menu and it is indeed more expensive. Now, not by a lot; but it is more. With higher prices than the immediate competition nearby, there comes a level of expectations. Nicer decor, better food and service all come with the territory. In terms of decor, it is indeed inviting and clean. However, they seemed to have stopped at the washrooms. They need to work on that. Today, Goose joined our family for Dim Sum along with my parents. Mother Goose decided to stay in Bellevue, leaving the kiddies with Goose. I think he got the raw end of this deal!

We were seated in a section that was separated from the rest of the restaurant. Doubling as a VIP room during dinner service, this section is a result of them taking over an adjacent storefront. Good thing for us! Noisy kids and mad picture taking on my part. Privacy. Now as for the food, what else would we start with other than the Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumplings) and Sui Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings). Honestly, not a good start in terms of the haw gow. The skin was too thick and steamed too long. At the very least, the filling was good though. Lots of whole shrimp; yet maybe a little heavy on the seasoning. The sui mai were much better. With a large shrimp atop well-seasoned pork exhibiting a nice snap, these were well-executed. A good amount of shiitake mushroom added an earthy flavour. From the normal, we head to the offal. Personally my favourite part of Dim Sum, I ordered the Assorted Offal consisting of beef tripe (honeycomb & bible), tendon and spleen. Another well-seasoned dish with each item being tender enough to chew while still retaining some chew (which is good). If that didn't tickle your fancy, we also got the Duck Tongue. This is not a complex dish really. Just duck tongues parboiled and then steamed with an oyster-based sauce. The texture should be soft, slightly fatty and gelatinous. This was good; yet once again, aggressively seasoned.

Moving away from offal, we got the Ja Leun (or Rice Noodle Roll with Salty Donut). This is generally a dish that is more textural rather than flavourful. Consequently, the donut itself needs to be crunchy while the rice noodle needs to be soft (yet still structurally sound). I'm happy to say that it was both and with the addition of dried pork on top, this dish was a winner. With the same rice noodle, the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll was very nicely executed as well. The rice noodle wasn't completely soft, it had lots of integrity (unlike some politicians...), so it didn't fall apart on contact. Large shrimp with a nice snap texture rounded out the solid offering. Next up was the Daikon Radish Cake. These had an acceptable amount of browning on them; but they were slightly on the greasier side. Furthermore, they were on the softer side as well. I personally don't mind that since there is nothing worse than a hard radish cake. Nice flavour to them, we could taste the daikon and the Chinese sausage (hey, don't make fun of anyone here!) provided the saltiness (I know what you are thinking...). Only problem is that picking these up was tricky.

Now for the dish my son absolutely loves... The Shrimp Spring Rolls or "crunchies" as he affectionately calls them. Well, they are indeed crunchy, so the nickname does work. Little do you know that it is only named as such because he only eats the wrapper. Tragically, he doesn't eat the shrimp. His loss, my gain. There were large pieces of shrimp in the crunchy spring roll. Well, at least my son said it was crunchy since I
didn't get any of that part! Believe or not, my son does eat something else other than spring roll wrappers. He actually eats the Sparerib Rice Hot Pot. Okay, let's rephrase that. He eats the rice only. Doesn't touch the spareribs, chicken feet and hell will freeze over before he touches the Shanghai bak choy. I think he's on the anti-Atkin's diet... Well, the rice was pretty good, not soggy with a nice chewy texture. It was a good canvas for the sweet soy sauce. The tender spareribs were meaty and garlicky. I liked how they weren't too oily; hence the rice was not oily either.

The next dish was the Steamed Chicken and Fish Maw. Fish maw is the name given to the fried air sac found in the body cavity of fish. It's often found in many Chinese herbal shops. It is dehydrated and then usually used in soups. There is also a dried version as well. The trick is to not overcooked the fish maw because one that occurs, it's plain mush. I'm happy to say that this was good. The fish maw was soft while still remaining in one piece. It was probably on the softer side; but still alright. The chicken was tender and the whole dish was not over-seasoned; thus we could taste the natural sweetness of the components.

As per usual, we finished off the meal with a couple of orders of the Egg Tarts. Yes, my son eats this! Of course he does, it's sweet. Despite the appearance of a thick pastry, it was actually very flaky and buttery (or lardy?). The egg custard was soft and semi-sweet. These were good egg tarts. In fact, most of the food was solid all-around. Of course it wasn't perfect; but what is really? Especially with all the variables of running a kitchen. We were pleased with our meal and there was even talk about a return visit. Sure, the prices are on the higher end in comparison to nearby restaurants; yet, the food quality and level of execution reflected that. In the end, it wasn't that much more expensive than Come Along, which is just down the street. With that being said, there was no lineup at Top Cantonese in comparison to Come Along, so I guess it really depends on the point of view. Maybe saving a few bucks does matter even if the food is better at Top Cantonese.

The Good:
- Solid Dim Sum
- Service was friendly and efficient
- It was comfortable, well in the section we sat in at least

The Bad:
- Costs a bit more than the immediate competition
- Some dishes were overseasoned
- Sure, there is a parking lot, but it's cramped

Top Cantonese Cuisine Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Hi Sherman. My family consists of people of all ethnicities therefore it's great you are able to give both an Asian and Western perspective on foods since backgrounds and palates are very varied when we go out. We love dim sum but many of us are less adventuresome than others (as well as vegetarian).... thus it's great you review restaurants that can accommodate this. Thank you for all your 'hard work'. haha.... honestly though, it does take some tough stuff to eat out all the time.

Sherman Chan said...

Thanks! The hard work is sure tasty! :)

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