Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine Opened — Want To Join Suanne and I for Dinner?

Updated: 17th Nov 2014; This restaurant is closed.

In December last year, we came across a shop lot in Steveston that with sign saying that Zen will be re-opening. Well, Sam Lau’s Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine restaurant had re-opened last week.

Suanne and I had just booked for dinner on Friday, February 26th. We were wondering if an chowtimes readers would like to join us in checking out Sam Lau’s re-incarnation of his famed “Greatest Chinese Restaurant in the World”.

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Zen became famous overnight in 2008 when Jennifer8 Lee of the New York Times wrote a book called The Fortune Cookie Chronicles in which she traveled around the world checking out Chinese restaurants. In her book, she heralded Sam Lau’s Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine as “the world’s greatest Chinese restaurant outside China”.

Whether Zen is really the world’s greatest Chinese restaurant outside of China is open to debate, I know. There is a question too as to why Sam had to close Zen even after getting a second wind from Jennifer 8’s review in her book.

Anyway, we wrote about the publicity Zen had from Jennifer8 Lee’s review and our tasting at Zen shortly after. Recently, we wrote to Hakkasan about Zen and we had a very in-depth response from Hakkasan which we will share on a later blog post.

Suanne and I was thinking that perhaps if we could get like 2 to 4 couples to join us, it would be great. We have a reservation for 5:30PM. For hockey fan, please note that the 2nd Semi-final of the Men’s Hockey game is on at 6:30PM.

Please send me an email at ben@chowtimes.com if you are interested in joining Suanne and I.

The menu are as follows … we are looking at trying the Menu B.

Menu A – $33
Salad ~ Micro Mix, Mango Ravioli, Salted Plum Oil Crumble, Seasonal Fruit, Rice Vinegar Foam
Baked Whelk ~ Stuff Diced Seafood, Chicken, Vegetables With Coconut Curry
Double Boiled Soup
Tofu Duo ~ Crispy Egg Tofu, Steamed Silky Tofu with Mushroom
Pork Belly ~ Braised In Chinese Spice, Serve With Glutinous Risotto
Dessert Of The Day

Menu B – $55
Terrine ~ House Smoked Salmon Wrapped With Souffle
Baked Whelk ~ Stuff Diced Seafood, Chicken, Vegetables With Coconut Curry
Foamy Seafood Cappuccino ~ Layered With Egg Tofu
Lobster ~ Stir Fried With Black Bean Sauce/Steamed Garlic Sauce
Deep Fried Crispy Chicken ~ Serve With Five Spice Infused Salt
Lotus Leaf Rice ~ Stuff with Dried Scallop, Mushroom, bbq Duck,Diced Chicken, Crab Meat, Bamboo
Dessert Of The Day

Menu C – $120
Seafood Duo ~ Curry Stuffed Whelk, Sliced Geoduck Fondue
Chinese Seafood Soup ~ With Fresh Crab Meat and Fish Maw
Braised Abalone ~ Slow Braised In Oyster Sauce (3 Heads)
Steamed Lobster ~ Steamed With Mince Garlic
Rice ~ Lobster Claw Stir Egg White, Fried Rice
Dessert Of The Day

Here are some of the pictures of Sam Lau’s previous creations (credit to Zen’s website … http://zencuisine.ca – this website no longer exist)

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There are more …

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Zen-Cuisine-13Zen-Cuisine-14

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Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine on UrbanspoonBusiness Hour

Wed to Sun
Lunch: 11:30 am to 3:00 pm
Dinner: 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm

Closed: Mon & Tues

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  1. Hey Ben and Suanne,

    Great post!! It sure makes me hungry!
    And just to let you know, your link to the Zen site leads to your previous review of the restaurant!

    Shelley

  2. I was treated to a dinner at Zen 1.0, when I had just arrived in Vancouver, before the GREATEST CHINESE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD (as the Zen website trumpets) buzz began. So, I ate it and thought I was eating a slightly better executed version of what I’d eaten at high end North American Chinese restaurants. It was good food. Most of the dishes hit well enough in the taste department. Everything was made with obvious care. Presentation was okay, a little unoriginal, a modern take on what you see in fancy hotel restaurants in Mainland China nowadays, where chefs are discovering tricks that would look pretty dated if you came across them in a 4-star joint in 2010.

    Zen is cool, though. The bombastic boasts of “self-made man, artist, craftsman” Sam Lau, humble proprietor of the GREATEST CHINESE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD, leads haters to come out absolutely against him. It’s a good place to take your girl, spend some money, eat a decent meal, maybe run into Lai Changxing.

    High concept Chinese food actually works and people are doing it all over Mainland China, HK, and Taiwan (I can’t say much about Southeast Asia or the United States or Europe), but nobody’s doing it in Vancouver, as far as I’ve seen. Zen is a good start, but with the amount of money and hunger for Chinese food in a place like Richmond, somebody is going to pop up and give us the real thing.

  3. I don’t know but for me I always equate Chinese food as cheap and satisfying food. (meaning cheap and plentiful). I still can’t bring myself to pay more for Chinese food that’s just nicely arranged on a plate. But that’s just me. I’m a cheapskate by nature. 🙂

    1. I’d have to agree with you, Jonnek. While I don’t totally feel Chinese food must be “cheap” food, but I do believe it’s the techniques and quality of ingredients that make all the difference. Good plating and presentation, while a bonus, don’t define the essence of quality Chinese cuisine, and were only reserved for the imperial courts of China [wink].

      1. What’s your guys’ take on Bao Bei then? Myself, blah.

        1. Never been to Bao Bei and it’s not on my priority list. I will probably check it out one of these days but I do suspect that it is over-PR’d.

        2. I enjoyed Bao Bei on first visit (with reservations about certain things). My second time there was a more distinct “meh.”

          The cocktails were excellent though…so I would go back to drink, but not to eat. The clientele was predominantly Caucasian, so it introduced some of them to some less common dishes like Shao Bing (their best dish that I had there.) The jiaozi, and a few other dishes I had were mediocre at best and certainly wouldn’t hold a candle to some foodcourt stalls at Crystal Mall, etc.

          I noticed a 1st and 2nd gen Chinese family in the corner (the adult kids must have taken their parents there) – they were clearly perplexed at this scene. Looked like they didn’t know how or what to order.

          The Keefer Bar a couple of doors down is the same – go to drink, but not to eat.

          Actually – there are three cocktail bars I can say that about…all serving mediocre Asian small-plates. The Diamond (Gastown), Bao Bei, and The Keefer. Go to drink, but not to eat. They all serve very good and/or innovative cocktails.

    2. I’m with you on this for the most part.

      It is important to note that it is quite easy to spend much more on food at a high-end Chinese seafood restaurant than at a place like Lumiere (where it is the wine that will blow your budget).

    3. Hi Jonnek: Cheapskate? LOL! To each their own … and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. I find that food is a very personal thing — and at times a very emotional topic too.
      Hi LotusRapper: Talking about Imperial feasts, I was wondering if there is anywhere in Metro Vancouver one could have lavish feasts like those we see in movies!
      Hi fmed: So … would you recommend Bao Bei to foodies, food-wise?

      1. I would recommend it for a couple of reasons:

        -The unique cocktails (Tannis Ling’s creations are very unique and very “Vancouver”)

        -And that Bao Bei (and the others) could be the vanguard of a next-gen Chinese restaurant genre here in Vancouver. It is a restaurant to watch to see if others follow suit (eg the way Bin 941 and Salt Tasting Room became the prototypes for new restaurant genres).

        I would give it some time to settle it (it is only a few weeks old). I found my experiences there positive overall. But if you are food-focused, then you will find better executed examples of the dishes elsewhere.

        1. I have since come to the conclusion that the best comparison for Bao Bei is a place like Dos Pallilos at the Camper Hotel in Barcelona, which has a similar ethic and menu, and not a standard Chinese restaurant. As such, I don’t think Bao Bei measures up at this point in time, but that’s not to say it won’t in the future.

          I do agree with fmed in terms of giving it time to settle, but with the months of hype it got from Scout, et al., I couldn’t help but be disappointed.

          But I would recommend Bao Bei for anyone going out for drinks.

          1. I had to Google the Dos Pallilos menu…you are right. Pan-Asian plus Cocktails. The menu is broader.

            I personally think it is closer to one of the Momofuku’s (NYC) menus. Momofuku Noodle Bar seems to be the closest one out of the four in the chainlet.

            (I’m now thinking about Flying Tiger as another similar, local similarity.)

      2. Lavish feasts. If you mean like 12-course style, seems to me many weddings can go that lengths (constrained only by budgets of the groom’s and/or bride’s parents’ budgets, LOL).

        I’ve had the (rare) pleasure of dining at the Imperial Chinese Restaurant (Burrard) and Victoria Chinese Restaurant (Melville). Both are “high-end” in price and ambience, BUT judging solely by the foods I ate, I would say their food is maybe at most 10-15% better than the average mid-end Chinese restaurants, and perhaps at par with Kirin and Sun Sui Wah. But ambience-wise Imperial is hard to beat.

        Do others have thoughts about this, and of other high-end Chinese restaurants in town ?

  4. In Mainland China, there’s been more awareness of the quality of ingredients, seasonality, and digging into the traditional roots of certain dishes. Mainland China definitely has more food bloggers and foodies and gourmets than anywhere on earth and these kind of places are hot. But… unlike, say, Zen, there’s almost no emphasis on fancy plating. In fact, there’s an intentional movement away from fiddly, intricate plating (crazy pyramids of meat and Jenga-like structures made of vegetables and carved carrots still dominate at the usual fancy restaurant, though– don’t worry). I’d love it if someone in Richmond could say, “What’s local? What’s seasonal? How can I cook my regional cuisine with those ingredients?”

    I think you can look at even gourmet French or Japanese chefs in Vancouver, who aren’t as much about flying in esoteric ingredients as they are about finding local, sustainably-produced meat and fish and produce, and cooking the hell out of it and returning to the roots of their respective cuisines.

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that most people associate Chinese food with cheap/filling, because… well, look at the amount of cash being spent on big, fancy meals at big, fancy restaurants in Richmond. I can dig people going to Bao Bei and Zen and saying, “Damn, I’ma just go grab some rou jia mo at the Yaohan food court next time.” I feel the same way, because those places just aren’t doing it for me, either. I’ll take food courts over Bao Bei and a good Richmond seafood restaurant over Zen anyday, but that doesn’t mean high concept Chinese food is impossible or inherently rubbish (you know, it could even be high concept AND cheap and filling).

  5. Those dishes look beautiful, nothing like Chinese food I’m used to. : ) mmm….

    On the topic of price, quality and plating of Chinese food, I personally find it very important. I’ve grown up eating at cheaper Chinese dives around Vancouver (large family dinners and what not), and was never interested in the food. I disliked most of the dim sum dishes as well because of how they looked, and definitely how they tasted. They may have been cheap, but the quality really affected my judgment of Chinese food negatively.

    Fast forward a few years, I try a few higher up Chinese restaurants, and my perception of Chinese food has changed completely.

    I feel that plating should be -most- important in Chinese food (although it really isn’t at the moment). A lot of Chinese foods by nature do not look very appealing (fish paste.. mushroom and pork stuffing..? Unidentifiable filling in spring rolls..?) One of the main ways we judge food is by their appearance. So why shouldn’t plating be important when it comes to Chinese food? At least, when you’re not going for it only to achieve the “cheap and filling” aspect.

    1. Hi Yen:
      I understand what you are trying to say. He he he … brace yourself because I think you might be getting a few rebuttals coming your way very soon. LOL! However, I just want to chip in and say that I remember a chef telling me that it is very important to have the diner “feast” the food with their eyes first before the smell and the taste. Just saying.
      Ben

      1. Haha, how about I revoke my previous statement about it being the -most- important, and just leave it at -very- important then. : ) Maybe most important is a little overreaching.
        But other than that, bring on the rebuttals >D haha~

        To Dylan: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. : ) Indian food too. Curries and all that never look very pretty, but they present it in such a way that makes it very appealing.
        I have yet to try out Vij’s though. I will. One day.

        1. Suanne wants to chip in on this debate but does not want to put her name to this. So here goes … me sticking my neck out on her behalf. Suanne is saying that:

          The Chinese determines if the food prepared by the following criteria … ‘Sik Heong Mei’

          Sik is colour/presentation
          Heong is fragrance
          Mei is taste

          So presentation is first, obviously as you see first before you eat smell second and taste is last. Please direct all rebuttal to Suanne, not me. I am just the messenger — don’t shoot me!!

    2. I think a place like Vij’s suggests the right way here. Indian food ain’t usually that pretty. But he makes it look pretty enough without being fiddly or too intricate, and it still has a certain homey charm, and most importantly: it tastes amazing.

      1. Even a place like Long’s Noodle House – they serve their very simple, homey dishes with an attention to detail in terms of plating. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

    3. err you never even sat on their chairs! which are super comfy! don’t judge a book by it’s cover

  6. I passed by Zen not too long ago before their opening, they were still preparing. The interior was almost done.

    I am wondering why they use really cheap cafeteria chairs. You know…metal legs, no cushion, no padding, just a piece of plastic for you to sit on. It doesn’t look like a high end restaurant at all. It looks more like a brand new stylish canteen or funky food court instead of a fine dining restaurant. The cheap furniture totally ruins the ambiance.

    If they want to sell fine dining, they got a long way to go. The dishes in some of the photos are not even Chinese food or Asian food. I mean the ingredients and the way they are prepared have nothing to do with Chinese food or Asian.

    1. Ho ho ho … Zen better NOT have the plastic chairs when we go for the dinner this Friday. If Zen is like what you said you saw, I am gonna cut-and-paste your comments on my write-up and embellish it with my own scathing observations. For $33/$55/$120, they have caused high expectations from me. Can’t wait for Friday!
      Ben

      1. Considering the very well appointed Lumiere has a 5 course tasting menu for $115, I would expect much more than plastic chairs too! LOL. All the little details count.

        1. Many of the well-known dining establishments in town provide very decent (some almost posh) ambience along with their tasting menus/prix fixe from as low as $25 up to $60 per person.

          For even $55/person, I hope Zen will blow you and Suanne away, Ben.

        2. I’m assuming the $120 price point has something to do with the cost of abalone, which that set menu includes. Not to say that justifies it….

  7. Fuschia Dunlop wrote an article about Dai Jianjun’s Dragon Well Manor in Hangzhou: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/11/24/081124fa_fact_dunlop — and this place isn’t the only place in China doing the same thing (not always to the same degree, not always as high end/pretentious; different regional cuisines). The food is carefully sourced, carefully prepared, filling, relatively inexpensive, and there are no fiddly dots of passionfruit sauce on top of towers of abalone. Places like Dragon Well Manor are the model for high concept Chinese food:

    “The meal began with a selection of appetizers: crisp young ginger, pickled in a sweet-sour marinade; slices of pressed bean curd made by the elderly brothers and bathed in a luxurious stock; the wild sesame greens we’d shared with Farmer Bao; tiny cucumbers, picked that morning, with a dip of sweet fermented sauce; crunchy jellyfish with local rice vinegar. Waitresses in qi pao and pearls poured us glasses of freshly pressed juice: yellow peach and wild kiwi, from the fruit we’d helped to gather.”

    I wish I could eat a meal like that at a Vancouver Chinese restaurant– Richmond, and British Columbia, have their own amazing produce and seafood and meat (a better supply than Hangzhou, I’d suggest), and a good supply of great Chinese chefs and food mad people, so, why can’t I?

    I think Zen is cool, but it ain’t like this: it’s a slightly more pretentious, careful take on upscale banquet food, I think. And… Bao Bei is… the drinks are good but… the food ain’t amazing. Neither place should totally negate the idea of high concept Chinese food, though. That’s what I’m saying.

  8. Hi Ben,
    How was your dinner at Zen? Arvind and I would have joined you but we had a dinner party that day. I’ve been wanting to try this restaurant for a while. The price surely must be one of the higher tasting menus in the city. But the photos of the dishes look great!
    Incidentally, we tried Bao Bei last week and were a bit disappointed in the food. A couple of the dishes were pretty good but I was very disappointed by the pork belly. I love fat in a pork belly dish but here…the fat was hard and chewy and the flavour of the dish wasn’t to my palate. The beef tartare was very good though. And I thought the dumplings were pretty good too.
    I agree with Joe’s comparison of Dos Pallilos with Bao Bei. It’s the atmosphere of these two places that make the food a bit hip…but the food itself is nothing special.

    1. Hi Michelle: The dinner at Zen was … good but really pricey. I think that is what will cause Zen to have an uphill battle. Having said that I was surprised to see so many people dining there too. I’ll try to write about Zen sometime this week. Thanks for the intel about Bao Bei. We will need to check it out for ourselves and see what the fuss is about.
      Ben

  9. I just wonders … does chinese food really have to be CHEAP in order to meet the majority’s satisfaction?? Sometimes…i wonders..howcome the west coast/ french bistros could charge $30-40 for an entree maybe just serving fish say halibut and charge $10-15 for a salad and we still thinks its a good deal…meanwhile looking at Zen’s menu..for $33 we get 5 courses…comparing to the DOV menus..i still think its more a bargain than a rip off…come on guys…lets be fair… chinese food can has its own value…if we continue to battle chinese food against price.. honestly speaking…i can’t see one day there will be a fancy chinese restaurant in vancouver or even in BC. At least if i were a chinese chef…i don’t tbink i would ever put my efforts out in cooking chinese food for the audience…i would just cook cheap food…b/c seems like its the price that could really win their heart! Thank you for all your patience reading thru this…FYI…I am just saying what i wanted to say…no offence to or not in the favour of anybody …just a CHINESE gal speaking her mind… LOL

  10. I dined there shortly after the first review. There was four menu tasting menu choices at the time. We opted for the one of the middle ground menues. It still had lobster and foie gras on it.
    Certain dishes were executed quite well. We had shark fin soup in a young coconut. Which was my first time having shark fin soup, and probably my last, because I don’t agree with it, but it was delicious. The foie gras dish was terrible. Cold centered seared foie gras. With chinese mustard and chili sauce. I could understand the chefs thinking behind the dish, because often in dim sum mustard and chili sauce is used to cut the fattiness of dim sum, but with foie gras it did not work what so ever.
    What I didn’t like most about the restaurant was that the courses were sent out on a timer. Like they give you 10 minutes or something to eat each course then the next arrives. For the price of the meal, the guest should not feel rushed to eat. Also, the interior of the restaurant was quite budget, dirty old wallpaper, cheap linens, etc. For 300 dollars for 2 people I expected much more.
    Best chinese outside of china. Blow me.

  11. I had a pretty nice Easter dinner at Zen with my Hubby and Family; four of us pick the $88 (half price special) new menu. I like the atmosphere and service, deluxe bathroom and that simple look plastic chair is sooooo comfy, said @$600. It is entirely difference with traditional Chinese Restaurant; good quality of food, interesting and nice presentation. Didn’t expect to have Foie Gras as appetizer in Chinese menu, serve with some organic vegetable and fresh cut fruit, very refreshing to start up…. Well, I like it. Then we have the Whelk bake in curry sauce, tasty and well balance with some mixed ingredient. I’ve taken some excited photos of the flaming dish when the dish brought to our table. Soup was so good, I’ve never had such a fantastic “double boiled soup”, say it’s steam over hot water instead of boiling; anyways, I would say it taste better than 6 Star Hotel’s soup. Next course is wok fry lobster in black bean, and this is one of my favorite dishes of the night. Such a crunchy texture of lobster, black bean sauce is just slightly touching on lobster and I really appreciate that the lobster is not battered with thick corn starch. Can’t wait for the Geoduck rice and I had a bowl of steam rice with the lobster.
    This is the first time I had cold chicken dish, not bad. The last course is wok fried Geoduck egg white rice, I just love it.
    Overall, we all enjoy the dinner very much. I will definitely go back and try some other menu.

    Rochette

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