Having heard that Vancouver and Richmond feature some of the most interesting Asian cuisine on this side of the Pacific but largely out of my element save for a few excursions to taste Peking Duck or Dim Sum in Chicago and Toronto respectively, it was with great fortune that I managed to make contact with Sherman from shermansfoodadventures.com prior to our departure for some advice – where to go for dim sum, where to go for more traditional Chinese dining, and even where to find the best hand pulled noodles and XLB. Helpful and prompt but more so glad to answer my myriad inquiries it was with some effort that I eventually put together an agenda that was likely far too aggressive considering the tame palates of my traveling partners and an agenda that would prove impossible when I had the worst gastroenterological night of my life poisoning en route to Canada thus limiting my capacity to eat for the next two days…but still allowing me to get in some great experiences just the same.
Beginning with the night after “the incident” we all awoke late – approximately 2 hours later than I generally get up and eschewing the gym due to both poor energy and what felt like an excessive amount of hunger we all loaded into the car and made the short mile and a quarter drive from our hotel in Richmond to Sea Harbour – a decision I knew would not go over well with the pancakes and eggs half of the car but an idea that my sister seemed keen on and I hoped would impress – a wish that would be granted more by the room and the setting than the food as it would turn out.
Entering to realize that we were the only Caucasians in the room we were greeted by a nice young woman near the door who asked if we had reservations and stating that we did not she smiled, scribbled something on her seating map, and with a “one minute” led us to a nice table in the center of the room. With menus and checklists left at table’s center she inquired “what kind of tea?” and having not realized there would be a choice my sister simply stated “black” – an order I’m not entirely certain was appropriate as what we received was a grassy green concoction that was rather watered down – plus a large pot of hot water that I’m still uncertain regarding the intended purpose of.
With the menu in hand and looks of skepticism coming from my mother and aunt I was told to order whatever I liked and along with a bit of input I began checking boxes. Having done some research beforehand but not really taking into account my still recovering stomach I opted for approximately two selections for each person, a total of nine dishes that would invariably be too much even when we were told they were sold out of Pork Buns, and handing over the card our unsmiling waitress disappeared to the kitchen while my aunt complained of an odd natural gas odor emanating from behind her that I at first did not notice but later realized to be the cleaning product they were using to sanitize the counter tops and chopsticks.
With the restaurant absolutely packed and the service sufficient but certainly not friendly it would not be long before our plates would begin to arrive and within 10 minutes we received our first two selections, the first a trio of tasty and jiggly Baked Egg Custard Tarts with perfect texture and the second a misstep by our server and the kitchen when we were given a set of repulsive Preserved Salty Egg Yolk Dumplings in place of the Sweet Sticky Rice Dumpling with Durian that we had ordered – a flavor and texture that could best be described as an edible sinus infection and without a doubt one of the ten worst things I’ve put in my mouth in the last ten years…to say that my already troubled stomach was further perturbed by this would be an understatement.
Perhaps appropriately the next couple of items to arrive would be Pork and Preserved Egg Congee and Deep Fried Spring Rolls, one a food traditionally fed to the ill and the other by far the most “familiar” flavor on the table for our less adventurous eaters. Beginning first with the Congee this thin porridge was nicely flavored with just a touch of brine and a hint of sweetness to the rice while the pockets of fatty pork and salty preserved eggs were delicious, plentiful, and nicely cooked. While I have to say I would have preferred some accoutrements like scallions or soy sauce under most circumstances this was a great dish. Moving next to the spring rolls, I only had a bite and overall the shell was crisp with an interior filled with shrimp and vegetables just as they should have been – no complaints and certainly better than the typical “Americanized” spring rolls served back home.
Moving to the last two savories of the morning, the two best by far, Har-Gow (or Crystal Shrimp Dumplings) and the Duck and Preserved Salty Egg Yolk Roll would arrive and with both an impressively large portion I was thankful that my sister loved both as my stomach was already beginning to give out. Beginning first with the dumplings, each with a translucent wrapper that gave way to crunchy fresh shrimp within, I immediately understood why many considered these to be a must order and why nearly every table around us had at least one order. Moving next to the duck, this time using the salty egg to much greater effect than in the dumplings, I loved the use of the lightly prepared bird as a contrast to the briny notes of the egg and although the priciest item we ordered that afternoon it is definitely the one I most regret not being able to enjoy more of.
For the final pair of plates during our morning at Sea Harbour two desserts would arrive in tandem, the first a gelatinous Cocoa and Coconut Pudding that tasted something like a firmed up cup of hot chocolate and the second “Steamed Honey Flavor Cake,” a wispy open sponge that tasted like honey rye bread but substantially lighter and more nuanced – a nice finish to the meal that I’d certainly recommend, though all things being equal I cannot say I’d recommend Sea Harbour “overall” as it would turn out to be the least impressive of all the meals we had in Vancouver/Richmond in terms of the food, service, and setting.
With a few days of Vancouver sightseeing and eating in the rearview, our second venture into the world of Dim Sum would be the last day of our stay in Canada and with a Canucks game plus Phnom Penh to look forward to plus great word of mouth from a couple of trusted sources we arrived at The Jade approximately twenty minutes after opening – a good thing, too, as the restaurant was already 3/4 full thanks to the morning 20% discount. Again welcomed by a pleasant host who inquired about reservations that we did not have it would be only a few moments before she found someone who spoke English to assist us and lead us to a seat in the center of the room – a room where we were once again the only Caucasian’s to be found.
Greeted next by our waiter, a middle aged gentleman who spoke excellent English, menus were provided and tea was poured – this time a pleasant green variety at an unannounced charge of $2 per person along with ice water – much more practical than the boiling pot at Sea Harbour two days prior. Sitting and drinking the tea while weighing our options and chuckling at the rather traditional room still decorated for Christmas we decided this time to avoid over ordering and to instead go with two large items, two dim-sum selections, and two desserts – all of which were deemed ‘good choice’ by our waiter who hustled back to the kitchen as it appeared he was serving no fewer than ten tables.
Sitting and chatting while we waited no more than fifteen minutes I have to say we were all a bit surprised when two waiters returned carrying four of our six choices and while I must say that each was beautifully executed I cannot help but think that they all would have been even better had they arrived separated so we could enjoy them all hot – a small quibble perhaps, but something that was most notable in the first of the choices, “E-Fu noodles with Crab and Mushroom,” as the savory ginger and scallion broth, abundant sweet crab, fibrous mushrooms, and tender noodles were wonderful when piping hot but significantly less so once they had cooled as we sampled the other items.
Moving next to a pairing of familiar items – one a quartet of snappy Har-Gow with a delicate wrapper and crunchy shrimp kissed with ginger on the inside and the second a dish that seemed much more French or American than Chinese but a dish that impressed all of us in the form of “Baked Mushroom Pastry,” an intensely earthy and savory blend of soy and sautéed mushrooms in an impossibly light shell that literally melted in the mouth.
Moving next to the less traditional selection of the dim sum savories, Steamed Milk and Pumpkin Cake would also prove quite tasty with the flavor somewhere between angel food cake and canned pumpkin pie mix and the texture somewhere between bread pudding and flan –the combination certainly something more sweet than savory but a nice juxtaposition to the other items currently on the table.
With the first four choices being shared around the rest of our meal would arrive perhaps fifteen minutes later as a duo – one sweet, one savory, and both delicious. Beginning first with the sweet, a dish titled Deep Fried Milk with Mango Sugar would arrive as eight crispy fritters laced with the smell of coconut and a soft pudding-like interior consisting of little more than coconut milk and condensed milk but lovely none the less. Slightly sweet on their own but served with a bowl of fruity sugar these little delights reminded me mostly of funnel cake at the fare, something I’ve not had in ages but was glad to indulge in.
For the final dish of the morning and perhaps the most unexpectedly delicious item I’ve ever had as part of a Chinese meal, Sauteed Pumpkin with Salted Egg would arrive on a large plate with a bed of lettuce and appearing to merely be fried pumpkin I was astounded when I bit into my first piece to find it far more nuanced and elegant than I could have imagined. Seemingly made only from pumpkin, preserved egg yolks, and perhaps a bit of wine and shallots each bite of this dish started with a salty crispness that immediately gave way to the sweetness of the creamy pumpkin within. Bite after bite all I could do was sit there wondering how this item isn’t more prevalent on Chinese menus and how such a simple combination (eggs, pumpkin, seasoning) had never occurred to me before – a situation I’ve remedied by making similar meals thrice since returning to Ohio.
With service excellent throughout and the bill tallying less than 1/2 of what was spent at Sea Harbour I can say without much hesitation that I would return to The Jade for dim sum or dinner and while I cannot say that is a ringing endorsement given my limited experience with Chinese cuisines I can say that meals like this one make me want to seek out similar experiences in the future.