If one wanted to find some good Xiao Long Bao in Vancouver (and I mean only Vancouver, because there are just as good or better in Richmond), then Lin Chinese Cuisine would come to mind. Yah, the place is pretty basic with its dark Creamsicle-coloured walls, super tight seating and overall afterthought decor. That is somewhat ironic when you look at their latest venture. You see, they took over the old location of Posh on Broadway at Burrard and did little to change it (including the big exhausts above each table because they still offer Sukiyaki?!?!). Hence, they inherited a modern-looking dining space that apparently has inspired their menu as well. I was invited, along with many others, to check out what they were cooking up at their new place named Sen Bistro.
We started off with an appetizer sampler consisting of Celery & Dried Scallop, Lotus Root and Chicken Salad with spicy peanut dressing. Served on the side was Broad Bean & Sherchai Mash. I liked the celery as it was vibrant and had a nice crunch while the dried scallop offered up some saltiness which combined well with the sesame oil. However, I found the lotus root marinated in a strawberry pickling liquid to be strange. I enjoyed the crunch, but wasn't a fan of the sweet sryupiness of the liquid. As for the chicken salad, the main problem was the meat itself. It was stringy and dry which ended up being quite mealy when eaten. Too bad really since the sauce was pleasant enough with a smooth peanut hit with only a hint of spice. Despite the visuals, the bean & sherchai mash grew on me as I ate more of it. It was smooth and salty with bits of crunch.
Next up was the Sticky Rice Sui Mai which looked better than it ate. I found the filling gummy with an equally doughy wrapper. I found the flavours to be rather bland despite the appearance of shitake mushrooms and Chinese sausage. The accompanying dish was much more flavourful being the Salt & Pepper Crunchy Tofu. The plethroa of peppers, onions, garlic and chilis really amped up the flavour quotient. However, I found the tofu to be too crunchy. But that could've been the whole point. So chalk it up to personal preference. From flavour explosion to completely mild, we had the Chicken, Enoki & Shitake Soup. This was okay where the broth was sweet, yet somewhat bland. The ingredients were good though, especially the crunch from the snow peas.
Onto the entrees, we began with a visually impressive offering in the Flambé Salmon. In reality, it didn't do much for the final product, which was "alright". The fish was cooked slightly past what I would've liked (however, we took our time to take pictures, which meant the fish cooked longer on the hot plate). On top, there was a red pepper sauce with fried garlic. It was a curious flavour which was slightly sweet and a bit tart. Not particularly plated in an attractive manner, the Braised Pork with pumpkin in soybean paste hit our table. I found the belly to be melt-in-our-mouths worthy, yet we were wondering about the pumpkin - it didn't seem to go. The sauce was a little on the sweet side as there was a bit too much hoisin mixed in with the soybean paste. Steamed Buns and Pan-Fried Pancakes were served on the side. The buns were pretty standard while the pancakes were crispy, greasy and slightly dense.
Something a bit more traditional arrived next - Golden Honey Prawns and Garlic Chili Prawns. I found the honey prawns to be slightly overdressed, but in the end, they had a nice snap and were sweet. The chili prawns had less snap, yet had a richer flavour profile consisting of sweet, salty and spicy. Moving away from the proteins, we had the Wok-Fried Vegetables which consisted of eggplant, snap peas, mushrooms and carrots. Due to the large amount being prepared, the veggies got a bit mushy. As evidenced from the glistening sheen, the whole dish was greasy. I did like the addition of vinegar as it brightened up the flavours.
For dessert, we were served Pumpkin Pudding with a yam ball and a chocolate Pocky stick??? Yes, a look of bewilderment was had by all. Sadly, I didn't like this pudding at all as it didn't have an appealing texture since it was dense. And personally, I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin. Secondly, we had the Glutinous Rice Balls filled with either strawberry jam or ground peanuts & sugar. I got the latter which was not bad. The jam really didn't go and was rather unappealing. The pumpkin dessert, in essence, exemplified our meal - confused. I do appreciate the effort put forth by the chef as it would be really easy to just replicate the menu from Lin. However, I thought the food missed the mark. I also think that retaining the Sukiyaki setup further adds to the confusion.
*Note: This was an invited dinner where all food was comped*
- Comfortable digs
- Give them props for trying to be different
- I wasn't even sure what cuisine I was eating
- The Sukiyaki needs to go