Sherman's Food Adventures: Ampersand Bistro & Bar

Ampersand Bistro & Bar

Expectations and institutionalized perceptions about certain things can often be hard to charge, especially when they are considered the norm and/or widely accepted.  For instance, trying to get people to pay more money for things that have been traditionally inexpensive can be a severely uphill battle.  For the longest time, Dim Sum has been reasonably-priced in the Lower Mainland, but it has been trending up in terms of pricing where in the past 5 years, we've seen the introduction of some serious high-end spots (such as Mott 32).  Now we have Ampersand Bistro & Bar has recently opened up in Gastown offering "designer Dim Sum" in the old location of Mosquito.  It may not be as expensive as Mott 32, but prices are on the higher end while the decor doesn't scream out "Chinese restaurant".

I recently checked out the place trying as many items as my appetite could handle.  We went right for the standards including the Ha Gau and Siu Mai.  Attractively plated, each dumpling was served in their own little vessel complete with accompanying sauce.  Topped with an "Asian pesto" of sorts (cilanto, parsley, leek oil and vinegar), the ha gau featured a thick dumpling skin that was doughy with little elasticity.  As for the filling, it was fully of whole shrimp that had a nice meaty snap.  The dumpling itself was rather mediocre, but the green sauce added lots of umami and brightness that complimented the combination of nuoc cham and dashi underneath.  As for the siu mai, it was far too meaty where there was little variation in terms of texture and flavour.  The lean pork didn't exhibit the classic rebound and the lack of shrimp contributed to the one note texture.  There also wasn't enough shiitake.  These were set on a soy vinegar sauce with a dollop of srirracha on top.

Probably the prettiest dumpling was the Seafood with 4 little treasures on top.  These also sat on a soy vinegar sauce that was subtle enough not to overwhelm the dumpling.  That was necessary as the filling wasn't particularly flavourful.  I guess it wasn't a surprise as seafood (I think it was a mix of shrimp, scallop and fish?) isn't usually that robust.  As with the ha gau, the dumpling wrapper was fairly thick and doughy.  Topped with the same green sauce, the Chicken Dumplings also were complimented by some black sesame on the side.  Again, the dumpling wrapper was no different that the rest, so it was already behind the 8-ball in that regard.  However, the chicken filling was moist and tender with mild-seasoning.  The sauce helped make the chicken dumpling flavourful enough whereas the black sesame didn't seem to go (was delicious on its own, but not particularly complimentary with the green sauce).

Similar to the ha gau, the Shrimp & Chive Dumpling featured an even more doughy dumpling skin due to its shape and subsequent folds.  That made it a bit clunky to eat, but it wasn't horrible either.  The filling was roughly the same as the ha gau except with the addition of chives.  This made it more bright and varied the flavours of the dumpling.  Without the aid of the green sauce, this was a little bland even with the sweet soy underneath.  I had high hopes for the Crab Xiao Long Bao, but ultimately, it had too many flaws for it to be good.  First of all, the dumpling skin was thick and lacking in elasticity.  Second, the way they arranged it in the overly small steamer ensured they would stick together (hence destroying them when picked up with juices leaking out).  There actually wasn't enough soup to quality as a legit XLB, but the filling was juicy and delicious (being impactfully sweet and savoury).

They didn't have any of their king dumplings available, so we went for the Sassy Wontons instead.  These boiled dumplings were served with spicy oyster sauce, parsley, scallions and crispy noodle sprinkles.  I thought the wontons themselves were decent with a meaty filling encased in tender, yet chewy dumpling wrapper.  As much as the sauce was spicy and impactful enough, I wasn't sure the oyster sauce paired well with wontons (too salty and thick).  Rather, it would've been better served with a more traditional spicy chili oil dressing.  Moving away from dumplings we tried their Salmon Soba Bowl consisting of Oceanwise salmon, free run egg ribbons, roasted eggplant, edamame, peashoots, japanese pickles, spiced cashews and sesame soy infused soba noodle.  I thought the individual ingredients were good including the surprisingly moist salmon (it didn't look it), but the thing as a whole was only okay.  I think the main issue was the bland and somewhat soft noodles.

Lastly, we had their version of Charcuterie sporting Chinese cured sausage, Taiwanese sausage, cured pork belly, pickled veggies, brioche bun and hoisin chili sauce.  For me, this was nothing special because I eat these meats all the time, including making cured meat rice at home.  However, the way they prepared it was good as they fried them up creating a crispy exterior texture as well as caramelization.  So I gave myself a few days to think about what I just ate at Ampersand to give a balanced opinion.  To be completely blunt, I think Ampersand is too much style and too little in substance.  With all of the great high-end Dim Sum spots in town, there is no reason to spend so much on mediocre food.

The Good:
- Attentive service
- Nice little space
- Some good ideas

The Bad:
- Dim Sum just doesn't measure up to all we have in town and at that price point

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