You know, in the course of writing so many blog posts about restaurants I had been thinking that perhaps I need to rethink the focus of my writing. I was thinking that I should be dining out based on a particular DISH I wanted to try rather than a particular RESTAURANT.
These thoughts came about when I came across a new website called FoodSpotting. Foodspotting is food-centric quite unlike Urbanspoon which is restaurant-centric.
Also, you have seen a lot of “Best Restaurant of The Year” awards before. There are so many such lists from almost every newspapers, magazines and even some websites. There are so many that sometime you just don’t know which to follow.
However, there is one particular award that is very well thought out. While it is not perfect, it is a list I came to respect a lot. These are the awards handed out by the Chinese Restaurant Awards (I’ll abbreviate it to just CRA). What I like best about these awards is that it has two sets of awards.
The first set of awards is called the Diner’s Choice. The Diner’s Choice recognizes the best restaurants in the various categories. These are restaurants selected by the public, people like you and I. Most of the “Best Restaurant of The Year” awards are selected using this method. As you know these kind of awards are subject to manipulation in some ways. You can’t really weed out entirely attempts to pad numbers. A properly coordinated voting can propel a ho-hum restaurant right to the top. This kind of lists are a dime a dozen. I don’t really pay a lot of attention to them.
What I respected most of all is the CRA’s other set of awards. It is called the Critic’s Choice. With the Critic’s Choice, the focus of the award is to recognize the best DISHES in each category … and they are selected by a panel of expert foodies. While this list is not perfect (no list is ever perfect), at least this list is created by named individuals who are well respected in the industry.
There are 25 separate categories in the Critic’s Choice List with the best two dishes awarded Gold or Silver. So, in all, there are 50 separate dishes identified! (see list of dishes here).
And guess what … Suanne and I had been systematically visiting each restaurant and trying each dish listed on the Critic’s Choice for the past few weeks. So, here we go … this will be a long series stretching over a few weeks. We call this the “CRA 2010 Signature Dish” series.
Our series started with a long trek to the far reaches of Coquitlam on Austin Avenue. I did not think it was that far. I mean, Coquitlam center is already quite a drive from Richmond but this restaurant is another few kilometers drive from North Road.
From the outside the restaurant is unremarkable. If not for the CRA Critic’s Choice list, I would have brushed this aside as one of those Chinese restaurants that gives out fortune cookies along with the bill.
The interior is just about an average sized restaurant. The decor (if you can even call it decor) is just as unremarkable as the outside. Maybe I should describe it as unpretentious. It is just a simple Chinese restaurant.
At the back of the dining area is a glass enclosed area where you could see part of the kitchen at work. That has to be the master chef at work deftly slicing noodles from a block of dough in quick strokes. I guess he must be the master chef because our waitress checked with him when we asked for permission to take pictures of his menu. It is amazing to see him work. Their specialty is the hand sliced noodles.
You may click on the menu above to enlarge it. The menu is impressive and has a vast array of dishes that will put it on par with any of the Chinese restaurant in Richmond and Vancouver.
As you can see, their prices are cheap. They are apparently a Northern Chinese cuisine restaurant.
There were four of us in the family dining here. We ordered a cold dish appetizer to start off. Frankly, it is only off late that we learned to savour Chinese appetizers.
I need your opinion here and correct me if I am wrong. If I am correct, appetizers are not common in Chinese cuisine. These so-called appetizers are usually referred to as Cold Dish — dishes that they prepared up front and left to cool in room temperature. Most Chinese dishes are served warm or hot and will be cooked only when ordered. So, since these cold dishes are already pre-prepared, they are served first while waiting for the main dish to arrive. Am I making any sense? LOL!
Anyway, the plate of Smoked Fish above is $8. As you can see it is … quite a serving.
The Smoked Fish is lightly salty, with deep flavour and the meat firm. It was really nice. The bones are brittle and they can even be eaten.
We thought we also order a soup dish. So we ordered the Pickled Cabbage, Pork and Tofu Hotpot ($20). This is served on a burner to keep it constantly piping hot. Soup like this tastes horrible when cold.
We all love every aspect of this soup. Even Nanzaro who doesn’t like anything that is green in color enjoyed this. The pickled cabbage is finely shredded which we thought must be quite laborious to manually chop them up. Despite being boiled in the soup for some time, the cabbage is still crunchy.
The hotpot is top with quite a lot of thinly sliced bacon. The bacon is, well, so porky. We can smell the aroma of pork. Oh the layer of fat … wunderbar!
It was superb all round. There is also the tofu which is of the “hole-y” coarse type which sponges up the full flavour of the soup.
This is what we came for. He he he … I captioned this and bordered this in silver to show that this dish won the Silver award in the Northern Noodles category.
The Hand Sliced Noodles with Xingiang Spicy Chicken (新疆大盤雞) is $16. We did not realize that it was going to be such a big serving. I thought that it would be a normal noodle dish and that it is $16 expensive because it was popular. It turns out that there is more than enough for 2 to 3 people. The serving is huge and is meant to be shared.
You would probably find it hard to locate this on their menu. We brought along the English version of the award and when I showed them the English translation, they could not recognize it until I walked over to the entrance and pointed out to them the CRA 2010 award plaque they had on the wall.
On their menu, it is called Deep Fried Spicy Chicken and Potato on the Noodles.
We had an option of either the long or cut noodle. Seeing the Master Chef in the kitchen slicing the noodles, we opted for the cut noodle. The noodle is dense and texture is chewy. Slathered with the sweet and spicy greasy sauce, it really is wonderful.
It is a really spicy dish. It is spicy with a numbing sensation. The chicken is with bone in.
Thinking that we ordered too little (i.e. we had a cold dish, a soup and a noodle) and not realizing that the servings were so huge, we went ahead and ordered a chicken dish.
The Stewed Whole Chicken with Special Sauce is $16. It is served on Shanghai Bok Choy. The really sticky brown sauce has a strong star anise flavour. The meat is so soft that you can just easily tear this apart with a fork.
The fussy dad warned everyone not to break this apart and make a mess. When it is all torn apart, it look horrible. If they want a piece, I will get it for them.
It is a whole chicken … head included. No one ate this.
We tried. We really did.
At the end that were lots of left over. None of us could eat another bite.
We asked for take away boxes. This is perhaps the most we had to take home.
The food here is fantastic. There are so much to discover from their vast menu. I wish they are located closer to Richmond. I can safely say that if they relocate to Richmond, they will be even more wildly popular.
Service wise, don’t expect much. When we asked for this to go, they just gave us the boxes and expected us to pack it ourselves.
Total damage was not too bad considering we ordered double what we needed. Lucky Gate accepts cash and debit cards only by the way.
This is a restaurant worth the drive all the way from Richmond. Why oh why did they not open closer to civilization?