Sherman's Food Adventures: September 2016

The Dumpling Trail (presented by Tourism Richmond)

The dumpling.  Something common to almost every culture with various fillings and prepared in many different ways.  Some of the most iconic dumplings are of the Asian variety and hence, Tourism Richmond came up with an interesting concept.  Take a concentrated area of restaurants in Central Richmond and create a self-guided tour where people can experience some of the best that the GVRD has to offer.  To exemplify this, I was sponsored to give the Dumpling Trail a try with Sean, Nora and Diana.

We started early at 9:30am at Empire Seafood Restaurant with a host of dumplings including the standards - Haw Gow and Siu Mai.  These actually arrived separately, but these are what every Dim Sum restaurant are judged by.  I found the dumpling skin on the haw gow to be on the thicker side while being chewy as a result.  Inside, the shrimp filling was on point with a buttery snap and a sweet essence.  Exhibiting all of the desired attributes, the siu mai was the beneficiary of enough shiitake for both texture and flavour.  The chunks of pork were a touch on the drier side, but still sported a nice rebound.  Buttery and sweet, the snap of the shrimp added another layer of texture.

Normally, people often associate dumplings with something with an exterior "skin" of some sort.  Hence, the Deep Fried Glutinous Dumplings and the Deep Fried Taro Dumplings are typically forgotten.  Well, these were definitely memorable as they were completely on point.  With a thin exterior layer, the glutinous dumplings were crunchy and not particularly heavy.  Inside, there was a modest amount of well-seasoned pork and shiitake mushroom.  As for the taro dumplings, there was just enough mashed taro on the outside without making things heavy.  They were crispy while not being greasy.  In addition to these items, we ate a few more dishes, but I'm only going to focus on the dumplings.

From Cantonese Dim Sum at Empire, we made the short jaunt over to Suhang for some Shanghainese Dim Sum.  Similarly to the haw gow, it would be a tragedy if we didn't order the Xiao Long Bao.  These were medium in size and filled with a good amount of soup.  I found it be well-seasoned with a hint of sweetness.  The meat filling was tender and moist while the dumpling skin was fairly thin except for the top twirl.  Onto another favourite, we got the Pan-Fried Dumplings featuring a fluffy bun.  Inside, the meat filling was succulent and juicy with a balanced amount of salt and sweetness.  As evidenced in the picture, the bottom was nicely browned.

Completely the trifecta of dumplings, we had the Potstickers that were beautifully seared on the bottom.  Hence, there was a contrast of textures from crunchy to chewy.  The chewy part of the dumpling skin was a touch doughy, but not overly thick either. Again, the meat inside was tender, juicy and well-seasoned.  I found it mostly meat with only a bit of veg.

Making our way over to Westminster Hwy across from the Public Market, we went with Korean in Samsoonie.  We decided to try all of their dumplings including the Wontons in soup.  I found the exterior skin to be a bit gummy, but the filling was moist and tasty with just enough greens.  The soup itself was mild and slightly sweet.  We tried all 3 versions of Mandu (Pan-Fried pictured) and I found the fried version to be the best with a crunchy skin giving way to succulent meat that sported just enough chives.  The other 2 were a bit drier.

Walking across the parking lot, we found ourselves at Tsim Chai Noodle where we went for the a Wonton Noodle and a Siu Gau SoupTsim Chai is highly regarded as one of the best places to eat wontons.  These were pretty good with chunks of shrimp that had a sweet snap, but this time, there was a bit too much soft mousse filler.  We also found the soup to be on the sweeter side too.  However, the thin wonton noodles were on point being chewy.  I much preferred the Siu Gau as they were large and filled with crunchy shrimp, wood ear mushrooms and pork.  In addition to the crunch of the sweet shrimp, the added texture of the wood ear mushroom was pleasing.

We then headed over to the Public Market to visit the Xi'an food stall.  Usually, one would come for their fabulous hand-pulled noodles (specifically the lamb), but we were on the #dumplingtrail!  So we got the Potstickers and Spicy Wontons.  Featuring a well-seared and browned bottom, the potstickers were predictably crunchy.  The rest of the dumpling sported a chewy, medium-thick skin.  Inside, the meat was juicy, nicely seasoned and tender.  As for the spicy wontons, they were drenched in a flavourful mixture of soy, chili oil and crushed peppercorns.  Hence, there was a spice level that kept rising after the initial bite.  I found the wonton skin to be tender and buttery while the amount of filling was rather meager.

This was supposed to be our last stop, but hey, we love to eat!  Therefore, we traveled to the Lansdowne Mall food court and paid R&H a visit.  There, we did another trifecta of dumplings including Xiao Long Bao, Boiled Dumplings and Potstickers.  Like all of my other visits to R&H, their XLBs were pretty good, especially from a food court.  Featuring a relatively thin dumpling skin (except for the dense top twirl), the XLB contained plenty of soup.  I found it to be aggressively seasoned though.  For me, the boiled dumplings are the real star of the show as they were plump with succulent and tender meat with just enough onion. 

Equally juicy, the Potstickers were on the saltier side while the dumpling skin was medium-thick and nicely seared. Since we already had pork and chive mix in the boiled dumplings, we opted for the cabbage and pork filling for the potstickers.  Hence, there was less of a brightness from the cabbage as opposed to the chives. So there you have it, our crazy version of the Dumpling Trail!  I'm sure most of you won't go as nuts as we did (or maybe your might!), but we experienced a good selection of the very best dumplings in town.  Generally inexpensive and totally walkable, this is a fun and filling way to spend an entire day in Richmond (without driving if you took the Canada Line).

*All food was complimentary* 

Western Lake

My love for Western Lake has never been very discreet.  Just look at my recommendations (yes, I need to update them...  I know!), Western Lake is there for both Dim Sum and dinner.  However, I need to clarify why it lands on my list despite many other sexier and nicer Chinese restaurants in town. I believe Western Lake combines the best of 3 important factors including price, portion size and quality.  The place hits all 3 of them equally which means it is "overall" one of the best places to go for Dim Sum in Vancity (just look at the lineup!).  Yes, I realize that Chef Tony offers up some of the best (if not the best) Dim Sum in town, but remember, not everyone can shell out that sort of money on a consistent basis.

So with a ChineseBites meetup at Western Lake, it meant plenty of food at my favourite spot.  How could I resist?  With only 7 of us, it was highly unlikely we would even put a dent into the food. We began with 2 cold dishes in the Japanese-Style Chicken Feet and the Chef's Specialty Shredded Chicken.  Completely gelatinized with generally crunchy tendons underneath, the chicken feet were flavourful with a touch of Maggi sauce.  As for the shredded chicken, they did their best impression of the one found at Koon Bo.  Everything from the jellyfish to the pickled greens were texturally on point while the strong sesame oil essence was balanced out by the sour tang and mild saltiness of the pickled veg.

Continuing on with the kitchen specialties, we had the Rice Flour Rolls & Beef Offal Hot Pot as well as the Rice Flour Rolls with Steamed Spareribs Hot Pot.  Naturally, these 2 dishes shared a common ingredient in the plain rice flour rolls which were soft with a nice elasticity.  In terms of flavour, they were very different though.  With the offal hot pot, there was a certain richness and background gaminess.  The thinner sauce combined with the daikon was appealingly sweet.  As for the offal, the pieces were tender while retaining a chew.  The sparerib hot pot was a bit saucier due to the use of starch as a thickener.  There was a noticeable amount of black bean as well as a natural meatiness from the spareribs.  The meat itself was classic bouncy.

Oh and the specialty dishes didn't end there as we were served one of my personal favourites - Stir Fried Radish Cake with Spicy XO SauceLightly crispy on the outside with minimal grease, the daikon cake was soft with a medium density.  The dish was garlicky and spicy as well as briny from the dried shrimp.  Strewn within the daikon cake was enough cured sausage to add an aromatic saltiness.  Exhibiting an equal amount of impactful flavours was the Deep Fried Squid Tentacles with Chili Salt.  The tentacles were tender with a buttery chewiness.  Light and crispy, the batter wasn't too oily and was nicely spiced by garlic, chilis and wok salt.

After awhile, we were wondering if any of our dishes would be anything other than large ones as we got a large bowl of Minced Pork & Oysters with Rice in SoupThe dish ate and appeared exactly how it was described on the menu.  No, it wasn't a congee per se as each grain of rice was still intact and as you can see in the picture, it really was a soup.  Due to the addition of fresh oysters, the broth had a certain brininess and seafoody flavour.  Personally, I would've preferred an actual congee.  Continuing on with shellfish, was had Clams in Spicy Chinese Wine Broth. Plump and buttery, the clams were cooked expertly just on the threshold of being done.  The broth was briny and spicy with a slightly herbal aftertaste.

When a pair of hot pot rice offerings arrived, we were already full!  Imagine the pain! (Yes, #firstworld problems).  The first was the Chicken and Cured Sausage Rice with one broccoli floret (added colour...).  This featured chewy and dried rice topped with a considerable amount of marinated chicken thigh meat.  Hence, the chicken was tender and bouncy.  With the addition of sweetened soy, this was a solid version of the dish.  The other rice hot pot was the Pork Jowl and Salted Fish also with a necessary green accent (the dish was pale!).  As much as the pork was pale (nice and bouncy though), the flavour was also rather mild.  However, when little flakes of the salted fish was added, there was more than enough flavour to go around.

As we moved onto Donut Rice Noodle Roll, the meal was getting closer in resembling a regular Dim Sum service. I found the rice noodle to be medium-thickness, yet at the same time soft with a nice elasticity.  Inside, the donut wasn't exactly crunchy anymore (but could've been due to our delay in eating it).  The addition of pork fluff on top added a sweet saltiness.  Stuffed to the max with shrimp mousse, the Pan-Fried (more like deep fried) Eggplant with Shrimp Paste was on point.  Soft while not mushy, the eggplant was blessed with a considerable amount of buttery and bouncy shrimp mousse.  The richly-coloured black bean sauce was impactful with a noticeable saltiness. 

Arriving at the same time as some of the specialty items were the Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumplings) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings).  I found the haw gow to be large with a buttery and sweet shrimp filing.  There was a natural flavour to the shrimp as well as aromatic sesame oil.  There was the requisite snap texture, but the dumpling skin was a tad thick and doughy though.  I would have to say that the siu mai was better than the haw gow as it hit all of the good qualities. Again, they were large with buttery shrimp and bouncy pork.  The pork fat was mixed well so that it helped bind the filling without there being chunks of fat.  Moreover, the amount of shiitake was impactful adding that strong Earthy taste.

Maybe being a bit repetative, we got a few dumplings that were similar in some ways to the previous two.  First, the Prawn Siu Mai with corn and dried scallop resembled the regular siu mai but ate very differently.  Since it was comprised of prawn, the snap texture was more apparent as well as more sweetness especially with the addition of corn.  The dried scallop did its sweet briny thing which made the flavours even more impactful.  With the same prawn found in the haw gow, the Prawn & Pea Tip Dumplings had the same bouncy texture with the addition of tender pea tip leaves.  I found the dumpling skin to be a bit on the chewier side, but not in a bad way.

Off to something without shrimp, we had the Beef MeatballsMuch like the previous dishes, these were some large balls!  However, size ain't everything right???  These were on point texturally with a buttery bounce as well as a balanced amount of greens.  Other than that, they were mildly seasoned and definitely needed the Worcestershire sauce.  Okay, we really couldn't escape the shrimp here as the next dish was the Pan-Fried Chive Dumplings with...  yep, more shrimp (not that we were complaining though).  Frankly, there was more shrimp than chives hence once again, it was buttery and sweet with the bright herbalness of the chives.  I would've liked to see even more browning on the exterior though.

Double the offal, double the fun right?  In addition to a big hot pot full of assorted offal, we also got the Steamed Beef Tripe and Tendon.  The plate was practically overflowing with tripe which made me happier than finding an empty parking lot in Richmond during the middle of the day. These were tender with a bite while being penetrated fully by the sweet garlicky sauce. Off to dessert, I wasn't so fond of the Deep Fried Yam Balls topped with syrup.  Sure, they were crispy and sweet, but they were also very glutinous and dense.  Pretty heavy after eating all of savoury dishes.  But what do I know, I'm sure some people enjoy them very much (as food is super subjective).

For me at least, I enjoyed the 2 cold desserts in the Chilled Goji Berry in Lychee Gelatin and the Green Tea Coconut Milk Gelatin.  The first was lightly sweet and aromatic from the lychee.  Firm, but not overly so, the gelatin was served cold and was an excellent palate-cleanser.  As for the second gelatin, it was a bit heavier due to the coconut milk.  This was creamier and a bit sweeter, but still a nice way to balance out the barrage of savoury dishes.  I didn't get much in the way of green tea though.  However, there weren't many things to complain about here since Western Lake has the perfect combination of good eats, large portions and reasonable prices.  There is a reason why one cannot get a table without advance reservations.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Large portions
- Consistent eats
- Reasonable prices

The Bad:
- Trying to get a table is tough
- Tight seating
- Hurried service     

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