Sherman's Food Adventures: Chen's Shanghai Kitchen

Chen's Shanghai Kitchen

Not too long ago, I had revisited Chen's with Sean, but never got around to do a write-up.  Fast forward to only a few months back, I had returned with a Groupon and also didn't blog about it.  This had partially to do with the stipulation we had to order 4 bowls of noodles (not the most exciting things to talk about).  Then only a month ago, I did an XLB crawl for the 365 Days of Dining where I remarked that Chen's had the best overall XLB in Richmond in my opinion.  Finally, with a ChineseBites tasting on the horizon, I was going to get to the revisit write-up that had been long overdue.

Arriving on a giant platter, we sampled a collection of appies including Jellyfish with green onion oil, Smoked Pomfret, Marinated Bran Dough, Jelly Pork and Mixed Malatou with dried bean curd.  Although the jellyfish exhibited the classic and appealing buttery crunch with only a touch of chewiness, there was not much flavour to it (other than sesame/green onion oil).  As expected, the gluten was rather sweet, but the texture was spot on being soft and chewy.  I really enjoyed the gelatinized skin of the smoked fish, but the meat as a bit too dry.  It was also sweet with only a minor hint of smoke.  I found the jellied pork to be overly firm while tasting "porky". Normally, I'm not particularly fond of the Shanghai vegetable and pressed tofu, but his one was good with a bright crunchiness where it was accented by a good amount of seasoning.

The next platter consisted of Spring Rolls, Beef Shao Beng and Radish Pastries.  Although a bit greasy and flat, the spring rolls were still ultimately crunchy.  Inside, there was well-seasoned shiitake mushrooms and pork.  I found the shao beng to be crispy on the outside and a bit nutty from the roasted sesame seeds.  However, the layers beyond that were rather dense and mealy.  The thinly sliced beef shank was good though while the pickled cabbage added crunch and a good amount of spiciness.  I wasn't a huge fan of the radish pastries as they were even more doughy and dense than the shao beng.  On the other hand, the filling was not bad consisting of ham and shredded radish that still retained some texture.

Our 3rd consecutive platter was made up of only 2 items including Potstickers and Chee Fan (sticky rice rolls with Chinese savoury donut, dried pork floss and pickled mustard greens).  Sporting a chewy skin, the potstickers were nicely browned on the bottom.  Texturally, it wasn't as crunchy as it appeared.  Inside, the filling was tender and moist with a good balance of meat-to-vegetable ratio.  As for the chee fan, the sticky rice was a touch on the softer side while the donut was dense and not crispy.  There was a considerable amount of pork floss which added both a light crisp texture and some saltiness.  I would've liked to see more mustard greens to jolt some tang into the roll.

Moving away from the appies, we had the House Special Chicken Soup with wontons and Shanghai bak choy.  Mild, yet silky and creamy, the soup was flavourful.  It wasn't salty though as the flavour of the chicken did come through.  Since the chicken was boiled in the soup, the meat was pretty much dry (but to be expected).  As for the wontons, they were good sporting a thick, yet tender skin where the filling was meaty with just the right amount of veggies.  Of course we couldn't have a meal at Chen's without eating their Xiao Long Bao.  Similar to all of my previous visits, these featured a fairly thin skin that was only slightly chewy.  Inside, there was a good amount of well-balanced soup and a pork filling that was tender.

Onto some serious seafood, we had both crab and lobster.  The first to arrive was the Crab with rice cake and edamame.  I thought that the meat was overcooked just a tad where it stuck to the inside of the shell.  Flavours were good though with a nice balance of savoury and sweet without being too salty.  Interestingly, the edamame was my favourite part since it was buttery with a firm chew rather than being chalky.  As good as the sliced rice cake was to eat, there wasn't enough of it.  So the crab was okay, yet the House Special Spicy Lobster with lotus root and ham was fantastic.  With tongue-numbing spice while still flavourful, the dish made me go back for more.  The lobster itself was cooked beautifully being buttery with a moist bounce.  The batter was light and crispy while just a tad salty.

Next up, we had the Black Vinegar Pork Spareribs that were aggressively sauced with a sticky glaze.  Hence, they were syrupy sweet with a side of tanginess.  I would've liked to see much less sauce as it was a bit overwhelming.  As for the ribs themselves, they were meaty and still relatively moist with a slightly chewy exterior.  They were tender to the chew while not being overmarinated.  At first, I wasn't aware that the Tea Smoked Chicken was in fact, chicken (usually it is duck).  As much as I was skeptical of this dish, it was prepared really well.  The skin was rendered and crispy while the meat was succulent and purposefully salty.  It was mildly smoky though, which was a good thing as the sweetness of the chicken was still present.

Looking a bit odd, the Deep Fried Fish with seaweed was served next.  I found the fish itself to be good with a soft flakiness.  It was just cooked enough that the textures were consistent throughout.  I found the flavours to be mild, yet not bland either.  The batter was a bit thick and soft while lightly crisp on the outside.  Squeezing the lime wedges on top was necessary as it helped brighten up a relatively non-impactful dish.  Still staying with seafood, we had the Tiger Prawn and Eggplant Hotpot.  The whole thing was laced with a spicy and garlicky sauce that was crying out for white rice.  I found the eggplant to be soft, however, the oil-blanching ensured that it remained in one piece.  As for the shrimp, they were bouncy while completely sauced.

Another spicy dish was the 4 Seasons Green Beans with beef.  It featured lingering spice accented by a good amount of garlic.  It was on the greasier side though, but that ensured caramelization from the proper wok fry.  The beans were still a bit crunchy giving way to tender slices of beef that were not overtenderized.  Next, we were served the Beijing Shredded Pork with crepes.  As tender as the pork turned out to be, it was ultimately over-tenderized where the meat texture was missing.  On the other hand, I liked how there wasn't a whole lot of excess sauce or grease.  In terms of flavour, it was sweet with only minor savoury elements.  The crepes were a little doughy, yet remained soft throughout.

Finishing off with a carb, the House Special Crispy Noodles were good as crunchy noodles, but there was not enough sauce to soften them up.  Otherwise, the bevy of seafood was prepared properly with the right textures.  For dessert, we had the Egg White Puffs filled with red bean.  These were very eggy and filled with a pretty sweet paste.  They were super light and airy which meant eating them in one bite was possible.  In the end, I was glad I waited until this visit to do my second Chen's post.  Normally, I wouldn't order these items at a Shanghainese-type restaurant (in particular, the seafood).  However, it was a bit ironic that those were the dishes that shined as opposed to the more traditional Shanghainese Dim Sum items.

*All food and gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Large portions
- Generally well-executed
- Excellent XLBs

The Bad:
- Regular Dim Sum items paled in comparison
- Normally, service is rather sparse (due to limited staff)   

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