Update 15-Feb-2011: Sadly this restaurant had closed.
There is this thing about the Mao Tai Restaurant (with its distinctive garlic bulb and chili pepper logo) that I was curious about. No, this post is not about Mao Tai but the new restaurant that is now in its place. As far as I know there were at least three Mao Tai’s in Richmond throughout the years. I think there is one last one still operating on Park Road. Something tells me they have a colorful story behind that name, you know like the saga of Koon Lok and Koon Po restaurants in Vancouver. Does anyone know about the people or story (if any!) behind Mao Tai?
We had on our list to visit the Mao Tai on Westminster Highway but it’s gone now. In its place is a new Szechuan Restaurant called Chuan Xiang Ge Szechuan Restaurant. At one point they were called Mascot Enterprise until the signboard came up. This is located in the same strip mall as Tsim Chai Noodles and Banzai Sushi House.
Parking had always been a challenge here for us. However, the turnaround time is quite quick because most people who parks here goes for shopping groceries, meat, fish and produce.
Chuan Xiang Ge is new — they are four months young. The decor is simple but importantly it is clean and organized. Being organized and having everything in its proper place is a sign that gives us confidence that it is also the same in places we do not see … the kitchen and storeroom.
They were not extremely busy when we were there. It was half full at its peak. I thought that perhaps that they are new and many people does not know of this place yet.
They speak perfect Mandarin and had trouble communicating in English. That is quite fine by us because their menu was quite user friendly anyway. The translation on the menu was pretty good and does describe accurately what the dish is. They do feature their specialty with pictures at the bottom of every page. Our selection was based on those pictures.
Most of their main dishes like meat, fish, soup, and tofu ranges from $10 to $13. A number of them ranges as high as $30. However, they do have a lunch menu too which is really cheap — just $6.50. So the lunch menu should be worth checking out but not for this time.
We had chrysanthemum tea as our choice of tea this time. I like their plates and cups.
They recommended this dish above. It was absolutely superb. They call this the Marinated Chicken with Spicy … yup, you read it correct. It is called “Marinated Chicken with Spicy” on the menu.
It is listed on the Appetizer section. I thought the dish is more of a main than an appetizer. It came in two serving sizes, small for $9.50 and large for $17. We ordered the small one expecting it being a small appetizer. It was more of a main dish.
The chicken is served cold. Perhaps that explains why they consider this an appetizer. They told us they only use free range chicken for this dish. Not only is the boney chicken delicious, but the main character of this dish is …
… the appetizing (no pun intended), peanuty and especially numbing spicy sauce. It was awesome. It was so good that I could just have the sauce with steamed rice alone. Very, very good. If you go to this restaurant, this is a must-try.
Besides the pictures on the menu, we asked for their recommendation. They recommended the fresh Steamed Fish Head with Pickled Chili. This is one of their more expensive dishes, $22.50. They steam the whole fish direct from the tank. So this is fresh fish we are talking about here. We were warned that this will take a while to cook — we were OK with that.
The dish is quite oily, just like a lot of Szechuan style dishes. There were lots of pickled chili — not spicy hot. From the looks of it, it does look really spicy hot doesn’t it? It was not at all. We felt the fish was kind of small.
OK, a little trivia for the non-Chinese which I think you will find interesting. Do you know that the Chinese will serve fish dishes in a way that you don’t have flip the fish over to get to the other side. It is a taboo because if you do that, it signifies the overturning of the fishing boat … something like that. Anyone can expand on this?
We had a lot of left over sauce. At the end of the meal, the waitress insisted that she put the sauce into a container for us to bring home. She said that the sauce is great to make tofu. Suanne used the sauce at home to make a simple tofu dish. It was really good.
We wanted some soup. We selected the Pickled Cabbage and Shredded Pork Stomach Soup. We love pork stomach soup and Suanne makes it often at home with black peppers. This one here is made with pickled cabbage and so it is salty and lightly sourish. They were generous with the pork stomach in this soup. At $6.50 for a small portion, it was one of their cheapest dishes. Even though it was a small serving that we ordered, it was sufficient for the four of us in the family.
For some reason, we had never come across this vegetable before. It is called “A-Choy” which we thought that they made up the name because there is no proper English word for it. The Chinese name sounded like “tong hoe”. They recommended we try this one. We did … and we like it.
They stir fry this anyway you wanted it. We asked that it be made simple with just garlic. This dish is $9.50.
It was a very crunchy vegetable — even the leaf was crunchy. I could hear the crunch from Suanne and the boys as they eat this! A-Choy has a very thick stem. It was like three time the size of a good size Gai Lan (Chinese Brocolli). If you have never tried A-Choy before, you should give it a try.
Steamed rice came in a bucket for four and was $3.50.
The total bill was $54 before tips. Actually this is a cheap meal if not for the steamed fish.
Guess what? They gave us a $10 discount for our next visit. I am not sure why they gave us this. Maybe they thought we were food journalist or something. They were really curious alright with us photographing our food but they did not quite know how to ask us about it. They seem quite pleased we we told them that liked their Marinated Chicken “With Spicy”.
We will certainly be back. They proudly told us their chef is an experienced chef from the city of Cheng Du. It looks like this is one restaurant that could make it good … except that they have a lousy location. Otherwise, I think they just need to get the word out that they are there. Go check them out if you have the time.
Oh … after the meal, we walked across the parking lot to the Asian grocery stall and lo and behold … see what we found … A-Choy! Gosh, this is only $1 per bunch and they stir fry this with garlic and serve this to us at $10. Good profit huh? LOL! We bought a bunch to cook at home.