It is just who I am OK? So you really got to bear with me.
Whenever I get myself obsessed on a certain food, I will go and find out more about it. I am no expert but I have an insatiable curiosity for information.
What I was really obsessed about of late is something called the XO Sauce. Lily was telling us in this post that Western Lake has the best XO Sauce. It is so good that legend has it that they charge $2 for a saucer. Wow, that I had to see for myself.
Suanne and I made our way to Western Lake on Victoria and 33rd. We had never been to this particular restaurant before. Frankly if not for that XO Sauce discussion I don’t think we would even come here at all.
So I did some research and it seems like this is one place I should have visited long ago. A lot of people like this place and many reviews talked about the long waits for tables. People were telling me that I either go at 9AM (that’s when they open) or you better call for a reservation.
It’s not that they will honor your reservation and have an empty table waiting for you to show up. No siree. This is a Chinese restaurant. LOL! At least with a reservation you stand a better chance of being seated ahead of the walk-in customers.
We had a reservation and we got there just in time by 10 in the morning. We did not want to go earlier than 10AM because this restaurant does not serve the Kitchen Specialties until that time. We are here for their Kitchen Specialties, not the ho-hum stuff like siu mais and har gows.
The restaurant is big and busy. It was running at full house already. I think in Cantonese the expression is “bau pang” which literally means that the tent had exploded. Something like that.
So we were lucky we had a reservation. We just had to wait for 5 minutes before they jostled us to the far corner of the restaurant. I did not quite like the spot because it has blind spots and we can’t be seen by the waiters in case we need them. Well … take it of leave it, I guess.
We took it. I have a feeling those guys have little patience for my petty peeve.
While waiting we stood there and counted 25 tables, mostly 4 to 10 seaters. Quite big is what I say. You know I like double table cloth.
Service was very prompt, very fast. They will throw you a smile or field a question or two but you sense that they really have a lot on their hands serving all the customers. So in that respect I gotta hand it to them. At least they were never rude or have a grumpy face.
You may click on the menu above (and below) to show it larger. Sorry I had to constantly repeat this because I know it is not obvious to everyone. Believe it or not, not every chowtimes readers are that savvy like most of you are.
Anyway, there are no push cart dim sum here. It is by order form. On one side (above) is the normal dim sum which is served from opening time at 9 AM. We only ticked one item on this page (#15 Steamed Prawn Siu-Mai with Dried Scallops) because we wanted this to go with the famed XO Sauce. I mean, we can’t eat the XO Sauce by itself right? We gotta had something to “dim” the XO Sauce.
Oh … one more thing. Although there are no dim sum carts, they do occasionally bring out trays of their specials to the table. So for strategic purposes, I advise you to:
- get a table closest to the kitchen so that you can intercept the good ones faster, and
- order 1 less dish that you can finish so that when the specials come to your table you don’t have to deal with the dilemma to say no to an absolutely item
What do you think? Good strategy? Trust me … I had eaten enough dim sum and is “kiasu” enough to have these strategy ingrained already. :-)
Ah yes … flipping over the page is the Kitchen Specialties. Again, this is available only after 10 AM.
We took quite a while looking over the menu because we wanted so many dishes and yet there is only that many we could order. The waitress came by twice asking if we are ready. I am a charming guy and flashing my usual charming eyeless smile, I told them “why do you have so many good dishes? How am I now gonna decide?”
After consultation with Suanne, we decided that since it is a cold snowy day, we will order dishes that will fit the winter theme. We went for almost all soupy dishes for a change.
The Clams in Spicy Chinese Wine Sauce is $7.
We would normally not order clam dishes because we thought it has little substance (meat) to it and has lots of light soup. But what made us choose this dish are two words … “wine” and “spicy”. It is a combination that we don’t come across very often.
To the Chinese, ginger (which give this dish the spiciness) and wine has body warming properties and is good for cold weather. This is no super spicy like Sichuan food but considering this is a Cantonese dish, it is spicy.
What makes this delightful is the generous amount and size of the ginger, green onions and wolfberries. Really it is so enjoyable.
We assemble the pieces on the clams and eat it together. Suanne was telling me we eat like kids. Oh yeah … remember to scoop in a bit of the soup with the clam shell before you pop it into your mouth.
The wine flavour is strong too. It was really nice scooping spoonful after spoonful of the soup. We can feel the wine in the nostril.
Also from the Kitchen Specialty section is the Fresh Bean Curd Sheet with Ginkgo and Pork Stomach in Broth ($6).
Yeah I know. We eat a lot of pork stomach soup these days. We just like the texture.
The broth is milky but not very peppery. We would have preferred this to be more peppery but its OK. We like the fact that it has lots of pork stomach which were tender and chewy at the same time.
The other thing we enjoyed is the sour mustard which balances the richness of the broth well.
The fresh bean curd sheet is very soft. We were wondering what makes it so soft compared to the bean curd sheets in other places.
One thing we could not figure out is this: what is the purpose of ginkgo nuts in this dish? It doesn’t do a heck lot for the dish and doesn’t seems to play a role here. I mean if they don’t serve the gingko, I would not have missed it at all.
Anyway, we think (not sure!) that it was the fresh bean curd sheets that made the soup so creamy white. We know that the soup would have been nice with steamed rice. No we did not order any steamed rice because our next dish already have rice.
The dish I said that has rice is the one above … the Minced Pork and Oyster with Rice in Soup ($8).
This is a really big bowl. It is so big that I think it would be enough for two people for a light breakfast. This is not congee at all but it is rice served in soup. Some of you know that I like to put rice into soup and so this is comfort food for me.
And this is certainly a great winter time food … the soup keep the body warm.
This is lovely. It has tung choy, shiitake mushroom, green onions and oysters. Lots of delicious ingredients.
I call this food for the masses.
The Steamed Prawn Siew Mai with Dried Scallop is $3.75. It has four big pieces in a steamer basket.
Look at the size of it in comparison to the spoon it sits on. In that department, I am impressed. Size does matter.
The dried scallops only tops the siew mai. Just a tiny bit … not much. It was so little that I could barely taste it. I mean, what do you expect for $3.75 right?
Texture-wise I would like to report that it is QQ. My new Chinese cuisine sifus (BuddhaGirl amd HM) taught me this word. Apparently the word QQ is a cute-cute word used by Taiwanese to refer to a texture that is springy, chewy, song-hao and ngan.
Remember this word now … QQ.
Use it liberally because a lot of Chinese food are QQ.
And so … ladies and gentlemen … boys and girls … may I present to you the legendary XO Sauce of Western Lake!
OMG … just look at the “lieu” (ingredients) in this thing. Unlike most other XO Sauces where the “lieu”sits under the oil, the “lieu” here burst through the oil like outstretched in worship to the heavens.
Mind you, the XO Sauce is not on the menu. Only the regulars (fine, chowtimes als0) knows about this. You have to ask for it.
We asked for this and they gave us just a small saucer. So we asked the senior waitress (the only one in suit) if I heard it correct that they charge $2 for this. She said yes but they will not charge if people ask for a little.
With a XO Sauce like this, I know many people will ask for a lot of this. That is why the senior waitress said that if people ask for a lot they will charge for it.
Nope. We did not have to pay for this. Maybe it is because the senior lady saw the camera … or maybe I charmed her too. I tell you, I have a way with aunties. Not kidding you.
Can any of you think of any other restaurants who makes equal or better XO Sauce than this one in Western Lake?
So what makes an XO Sauce good and makes it sometimes expensive. It depends on the amount of expensive ingredients used. The XO Sauce has nothing to do with XO Cognac. The name XO is given to this sauce because it denotes luxury. There are no XO Cognac used in making this.
The main ingredients is dried seafood and obviously the expensive stuff are like the scallops in this.
So yeah … the XO Sauce went very well with the … all together now … QQ Siu Mai.
It was a very satisfying meal. The total bill for the two of us came to $28.60 before tips. Surprisingly they accept Master and Visa card unlike most other Chinese restaurants. Their daily business hours are from 9 AM to 3 PM and from 5 PM to 10 PM.