I had been wanting to go to Koon Bo for the longest time. People had been telling me that their Squab is the best.
And just a month ago, I had to pull out (at the last moment) dining there with a very well respected chowhound from Portland. “Portland Hound Iona” was the first to document the Vancouver Chinese food scene on Chowhound. I kicked myself over missing that dinner because I would love to hear first hand how the Chinese restaurant scene was from the early days. I am hoping a reader out there who knows Portland Hound Iona to comment and let us know a bit of those early days … fmed? 🙂
Koon Bo is a restaurant that you can find so much fault with and yet amazingly it is very popular. Any lesser restaurant would have closed a long time ago.
The location is not impressive. It is on a small strip mall right at the intersection of Fraser and 41st.
Parking is an issue too. Well, not much on an issue considering you could park by the street along Fraser or 41st nearby. But if you expect to find parking in the strip mall, it is not easy to come by.
The decor … it is dated and certainly nothing fancy. If you ask me, I think they are in the dire need for a makeover but I do feel that Koon Bo is happy with the status quo. They do not seem fazed by all the swanky new, modern Chinese restaurants opening these days.
Service is not bad because we were there off peak times. So we did not have any service issue although I heard that people complaining about their service.
Koon Bo is a Cantonese restaurant. Our original intention was to try their 2010 Gold award winning dish from the CRA. That was until we also found out that they also won Gold last year in 2009 and was amazed with all their other dishes on the menu.
The above is their specialties. We pretty much ignored the rest of the menu because there are enough here to make our selection difficult.
Their food is not cheap if you consider the decor and the looks of the restaurant. We really thought that their prices were kind of expensive for the most part, although they have cheap lunch specials with congee ($2.00-$6.00) and soup noodle ($3.50-$6.50)
What surprised me is that the CRA has a category specifically for Squab. Maybe it is because I can’t think of many ways that one could cook squab.
So, Koon Bo won Gold this year pipping Sea Habour in Richmond for the same dish — both awarded for Roasted Squab.
Actually we were taken aback by how much this costs. Fine, we did not ask when we should have. Squab are basically pigeons and definitely much smaller than chicken. So if you use the price of chicken as a yardstick for the meat, I would say the Roasted Squab would be $8-$10 each. But no. It was … $16.80 each. We ordered two too. If we knew it was $16.80, we would have ordered just one to tell the truth.
Squab are basically young pigeons. It was a tad too salty for my liking but it is just my personal preference I know.
I love the skin though. It was crispy.
Some people will find it too oily as you can see. The meat was tender and had fine fibers. It reminds me a lot of roasted duck in many respect but not exactly.
No one touched the head though. Our boys did not eat much of the roasted squab even though we told them this is their best dish. We tried to get them to eat because it was expensive and Suanne and I did not want to end up eating all of it.
Last year’s CRA’s award winning dish was something else. This is excellent in every respect.
We only found out about this dish when we saw a big sign in the restaurant about this. This is called “Sauteed Spot Prawns with Soya Sauce” by the CRA and in Koon Bo’s menu it is Soy Sauce Spot Prawn.
We can roughly know that this will not be cheap too. You know when they scoop the live/fresh seafood out of the tank and then bring it to your table to show you before taking it to the kitchen to cook it.
These are spot prawns, the largest prawns in the west coast. They can be easily identified by the pair of distinctive white spots — one set near the head and another near the tail.
Did you know that the spot prawns are always born a boy-prawn and then turn into a girl-prawn after puberty? Something like that. I couldn’t believe it when I first heard it but it is true. They turn into female in the final year of their life.
The price is $13 a pound. We had a little more than 1.5 pound.
If you look at the size of the prawns, you can see how big it is.
You gotta eat this with your hands. No two ways about it. It is the only way to totally enjoy this.
The real technique is to mop the rice so that the delicious sauce gets mixed in. You MUST do this first before you proceed to the next stage.
The next stage is to break the head off (not shown) and suck hard at the shell of the head. There are lots of juices that you must not waste. Yeah, suck hard until the head has it’s original color of pale red.
Next step is to eat the head above … yup, together with the legs. It is crunchy and frankly, this is the best part of the prawns.
You can then proceed to eat the rest of the prawns (with shells peeled).
Spot prawns has a sweet delicate flavour with firm meat. You will like it.
The sauce is juicy and this is what makes this dish award winning.
Don’t be shy doing this. Just dump your steamed rice into the serving plate once all the prawns are gone.
Oh yeah … mix it with the juice. Beauty!
The spot prawns season normally starts in May and last for 3 months. So it is the time to enjoy this.
Our waiter told us that we should try the House Special Shredded Chicken ($15.50) because it is their signature dish.
It is a cold dish served with crispy wonton skins and jelly fish and seasoned with sweet chili sauce and sesame oils and seeds.
It has a refreshing taste and mildly sweet and sour. What I like too is the crispy-chewy texture combination.
I have to say that their hand pulled chicken salad is the best I’ve ever had … made just the way I like it … with lots of jellyfish, pickled vegetables, and just the right amount of crispy wonton wrap.
This was actually the first dish served while waiting for our other main dishes above. Our boys gobbled this down in no time. I know they enjoy it when they automatically go for the second and third helping without us telling them to.
We loved the Baked Sago Pudding so much at Koon Lock (Koon Bo’s previously related restaurant). So we had to order this.
This is called the Baked Sago Pudding with Taro and Lotus Seed Paste on their menu. We had the small serving ($9.50) which is more than enough as a dessert for the four of us.
The top is nicely caramelized but Nanzato just did not like the crust. Arkensen however loves it.
It is creamy and has the perfect firmness. If you want this, order this up front as it takes some time to make it.
We thought we also order a small bowl of dessert to try because we like the name of this and wanted to see what this is … the Ginger Flavour Double Boil Milk ($2.50).
This takes 10 minutes to prepare and when it came, it was very hot. It is a lot like tofu pudding and is very gingery and rather sweet.
BTW, Suanne makes wonderful tofu pudding/tofu fa at home. See her recipe of the tofu pudding here.
Yeah, they are not cheap. That is almost $90. The biggest damage was the Squab.
Let’s see how Koon Bo stack up as a whole.
The location is nothing great. Actually the restaurant faces a cemetery.
Good luck finding parking in front of the restaurant.
The decor is dated and no ambiance to write home about.
The prices are not particularly cheap.
They only accept cash despite the prices of the dishes they serve.
I had heard of poor service here.
And yet despite this, this is a very popular restaurant. People will still come back again and again. We are one of those who will certainly come back again.
And why is that so?
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We patronize the place because they’re good! LOL
That House Shredded Chicken with Jellyfish is definitely a winner. We’ve enjoyed that for so many years now. In our house, we know it only as “Appetizer.” My mother would go, “I want the appetizer,” and we all know what she’s talking about. LOL
Here is a link to fmed’s writeup on the chowdown with Iona at Koon Bo that you missed, Ben — I’m sure you’ve read it but for your readers’ interest: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/709033
As I said there, I was a little underwhelmed by our meal here with Iona. I’m not a squab fan so that dish didn’t excite (though the SO enjoyed it). I preferred the chicken. The Peking duck skin was also a bit heavy and unexciting for me — I’ve had better, though the lettuce wrap was tasty enough. Agree with fmed — I’ve never had sablefish I didn’t like before either. I thought the chicken with jelly fish was tasty but you need to eat it quickly. We had a very odd fish soup that I would not recommend. I don’t get spot prawns at all, so that award winning dish was lost on me. I didn’t mind the pork and tofu dish. The sago we got appeared to be drastically overbaked and was quite dry and mealy. I would have much preferred to try the ginger flavour double boil milk (now there is a dish with a LOT of whacky translations in English!) as it is my favourite Chinese dessert at the moment, but I’m glad to have tried the sago. We also had beef with walnuts (too sweet for me). Overall not a bad meal but no standouts and I’m not sure I’d return, given the downsides you mention that I agree with (though we certainly got outstanding service that night).
Oh thanks Grayelf. I did not think of that. I really can’t remember if I had read the report on chowhound. There had been too much reading to do. For the last few weeks already I had stopped following blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook and everything related to food. Been keeping all my reading to the bare minimum. But thanks for the link and for your report! 🙂
You’re welcome, Ben. There is a lot to read out there, for sure :-). I would give Koon Bo another try if I got the chance to go with a larger group again.
BTW if you happen to make it to Michigan Noodle, they have a nice version of the gingery milky dessert.
The ginger milk dessert is super easy to make at home!
I’ve done it a few times myself, just google the recipe.
We started going to this restaurant over 10 years ago. It’s become a family favourite, and that of many of our closest friends too.
You are right about the parking, service, decor, and location, but compared to Sun Sui Wah, Kirin, and Sea Harbour, we feel we get the most bang for our buck in terms of taste. The quality is also very consistent. It is nothing fancy, and that’s how alot of people prefer the atmosphere. The dishes speak for themselves, and I think that’s why they keep coming back.
Oh my, that “APPETIZER”!!!!!! (aka House Special Shredded Chicken)
We don’t really eat at the restaurant often (I only recall perhaps 3 occasions), but we’ve ordered that “appetizer” for take-out numerous times. S.O. G.O.O.D.! Yes, it’s definitely their signature dish!
That appy is one of my favorites. And I love baked tapioca pudding. Does anyone know where to get recipes for either of these dishes? Yummy!!!
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