November 30, 2010 | | Comments 37

Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant on Victoria and 33rd, Vancouver

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.

Western Lake Chinese Seafood on Urbanspoon

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Categorized Under: Cantonese/SouthernDim SumVancouver

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  1. Mike says:

    hmmm i shall have to go here agian sinc its right by my house and i’ll let oyu know hat i think lol

  2. Celina says:

    Yap. QQ means “chewy in a good way” in Taiwanese XD

  3. Buddha Girl says:

    Ooooh that XO sauce does look good!!! The one at TG (which you will see on Friday) looks similar! Just like you, I have been having a lot of pork stomach soup lately…yummy…chewy….mmm!!! Thanks for sharing!

  4. LotusRapper says:

    “There are no XO Cognac used in making this”

    Well that sucks !

    j/k

    Ben (and others) : do you know if they sell their XO sauce by the jar ? Some restos do that, as well as some Chinese bakeries. Go figure, eh ?

  5. Ah, this resto has been on my radar for a long time, since somebody recommended it to me a while back. Supposedly they have a chicken dish with pumpkin that’s really good? I’ve always been deterred by the lines: seems like everytime I drive by, there’s a lineup out the door.

    • LotusRapper says:

      I only noticed Western Lake since I’ve been going to Dona Cata ! Gotta say Victoria Dr isn’t a frequent destination for me food-wise except for the said DC. Went to Nancy Wonton House once after reading Ben’s review, but felt their foods were a bit too MSG’d for me.

  6. Jean says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how you can dive into this amount of Chinese just after a trip to Spain and that food too..and not gain alot of weight.

    • Ben says:

      Not gain a lot of weight? Well, I am within .5 of the BMI index of being classified as obese by Health Canada. :-( Ben

      • Jean says:

        Bring Suanne along to get back into cycling again!

        • Ben says:

          Yeah, I know I should. The body these days can’t take it as well as it used to be anymore. I could attack the hills very well and leave everyone behind but these days I can’t even crank up 5m up a slope. Suanne and I used to bike around the seawall in Stanley Park and we love it a lot. If ever, we might pick it up in spring, definitely not winter. Ben

  7. Gloria says:

    I agree with you Ben.
    I am just “ok” with Western Lake. They’re dimsum was so-so. Just typical. I haven’t had their XO sauce before though.

    Have you tried Happy Valley Seafood Restaurant? I really like their dimsum, lots of things you don’t typically see & things they do WAY better than other places. Their “no mai fan” is stir-fried (all the ‘regulars’ know to order this) and eggplant-shrimp puree is great, not very oily but lots of sauce ( good with rice hehe). OH, did I mention their XO sauce is soooo good!
    Decor is even ‘fancy’ for dim-sum restaurant standards (cloth napkin and everything)
    I would definitely recommend you check this place out but like Western Lake, make reservations.

    • LotusRapper says:

      Gloria – is Happy Valley the one in the same plaza as T&T on 1st & Renfrew ?

      • Lily says:

        Hi LotusRapper,
        Happy Valley is down on East Broadway past Renfrew heading eastbound but before reaching Boundary Road. It should be on your right side. It’s on my to-try list but I’ve not been there. There has been a series of failed Chinese restaurants at that location. The parking lot in front of the restaurant is limited, and it’s virtually impossible to get in if you’re coming westbound (i.e. Burnaby and beyond) because you have to make a left hand turn.

        • LotusRapper says:

          Oh that place. Thanks. Guess I drive past so fast I never even notice that restaurant (which, as you say, has changed many times over the years).

    • Ben says:

      Hi Gloria: I have never heard of Happy Valley before since it is so far from where I live. It looks like a place to check out. Ben

  8. David Y says:

    I just went there for dinner 20 minutes ago hahaha

    I believe QQ doesnnt mean when something is springhy, whenever i see the term used, it is to depict a sarcastic sad momment, because when written out as Q.Q it looks like a crying face similar to T_T

    but thats just my input, as a teenager =)

  9. dita says:

    One time we had reservation for 11. We ended up sitting at 12. This place is nuts.

    And that sauce is godsent.

    • Ben says:

      Hi Dita: That would annoy me if I had to wait for 1 hr despite having a reservation. I understand that some (most?) Chinese restaurant does not hold the table for you but they should have given you a table as soon as one comes free. Ben

  10. Mom2jnk says:

    Ben, I guess you speak Cantonese. I am Hokkien and we used to describe food such as fish ball as QQ, meaning bouncy and springy. So, I knew exactly what what you meant even before reading your explanation and of course your infamous word “kiasu”. Is it just Singaporeans and Malaysians who are so kiasu? I too would strategize so that I can pick a good spot near the kitchen. I guess no matter how far away from our home country, the “kiasu” mentality never goes away. As always, enjoy reading every of your blog!

  11. etranger says:

    We were in Germany recently and their “reserviert” policy was the opposite! Apparently if you make a reservation for a certain table they hold it for you for the whole morning or the whole evening.

    Several times we were squeaked into tiny two-tops in a sea of tables marked “reserviert” but no one ever showed up. We were there for long brunches and dinners too. The restaurants seemed to be doing well and the prices were ok. Also, you only tip about 1 euro on a 50 euro tab as they are paid a wage they can live on. I felt a bit like a jerk leaving such tiny tips.

    So how much do you tip at a dim sum place when you’ve gotten special service from the aunties?

    • Ben says:

      For dim sum places, we tip 15% tops. Usually it is 10% rounded up to the nearest dollar.

      • LotusRapper says:

        I don’t tip at dim sum nor at AYCE places [blush]

        • Ben says:

          Hi Lotus: You had been so funny these days I am not sure if you are still joking or what. :-) What do you really mean that you don’t tip at dim sum? Tell us more about it (if you are not pulling our legs). Ben

          • LotusRapper says:

            Sorry if I worded that poorly, ben !

            I meant I don’t tip the servers (directly) at the table. Since there’s usually not just a single person (or if any, depending on the resto) who is in charge of serving your table. Food is brought to you by different servers, dim sum cart ladies, etc, etc. So I add a 10% tip (net of HST) at the cashier when I pay, knowing that 10% likely gets into a larger tip pool that gets divvied up to all the serving staff anyway.

            I do the same at AYCE places (not that I even go on the rare occasion, hot pot being the closest).

            Hope that helps clarify.

            And no, I don’t eat the lemon consomme soup ……………

  12. HM says:

    Ben, I must agree their XO sauce is great & I always get 2 free saucers when I go. Will be going there for yum-cha next week with foodies from Australia, therefore I’m sending your blog their way so they can decide what to order even before touching down at YVR! Thereafter, I’m sure you’ll have new fans. I see you now use the description “QQ”…LOL!!

  13. [...] The XO Sauce was a perfect compliment to the shrimp tofu. It was spicy enough but I must say that it is not the best we had. To us, the best is still the one from Western Lake. [...]

  14. Sedap Makan says:

    Stopped by West Lake for Dim Sum Today. Fairly busy with a line up so they told us the wait would be half an hour. We took the chance to stroll around the neighbourhood on Victoria. It is very interesting neighbourhood with a wide variety of restaurants and bakeries. Italian, Mexican, chinese, japanese, Indian… and vary little fast food.

    We returned after 15 minutes to find they had just called us so we were seated immediately. The decor is nice and we set about picking out some dishes. Some of the usual suspects and a couple of different things. The Supreme seafood dumpling was 4 large shrimp filled dumpligs in a salt fish broth and it was delicious. We also had the steamed Shanghai pork buns which were she like XLB but had no soup inside and were flavured nicely with ginger and spring onions. The Chicken feet were cooked just right and the black bean sauce was nicely balanced, some times I find that the black been is overdone but this was flavourful without being overwhelming.

    Overall we had 8 items plus the tea and it came out to just under $32 with GST.

    Overall one of the better Dim Sum’s I have had in a while and at a reasonable price. We did acquire some of the XO sauce and enjoyed that as well at no extra cost.

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