Suanne and I was thinking that if there is just one dinner we organize this year for readers of chowtimes, it should be one for the Alaskan King Crab. This is because in order to properly savour the Alaskan King Crab, you need at least 6 people. And more is better. A proper sized Alaskan King Crab would be about 8lbs and up. Anything smaller than that will mean little flesh in skinny legs and claws.
We came to learn that not a lot of people had tried the Alaskan King Crab before. This is despite that proximity to the fishing grounds of these prized crabs. The reason is simple. At off peak season, these crabs could cost $30 and beyond per pound and with a 10lb crab, you are looking at some serious dollars.
It is in late February to mid March every year that the prices of the Alaskan King Crab gets to a more affordable level. The season is short. Just 2-3 weeks and then prices will inch up again.
So we put the word out for this dinner and the response was very good.
There are many many Chinese restaurants that will serve Alaskan King Crab. You can easily get almost 2 dozen ads in the Chinese newspapers during the peak season. Each of them will try to outdo one another. Some by offering lower prices. Others by seeking different and novel ways of making it. It is bewildering exercise trying to decide which to go to.
We decided that for this chowtimes Alaskan King Crab dinner, we go to a place that is considered by some the granddaddy the Alaskan King Crab feast. Sun Sui Wah claims that they are the pioneer having perfected the preparation of the Alaskan King Crab. How far true their claims are, I have no idea. But for a moment, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt if not for the reason that no one is challenging them to this claim.
Secondly, I thought that we would not go wrong if the good folks at the Chinese Restaurant Awards selected Sun Sui Wah to win the award for best Alaskan King Crab two years in a row, in 2010 and in 2011.
So how wrong could that get right?
Sun Sui Wah is famous. Sometimes I feel that tourists knows more about Sun Sui Wah than Vancouverites. I remember seeing their big floor to ceiling ads walking out of the arrival hall in the YVR airport. It is so big, you can’t miss it. It is effective in forming an impression that Sun Sui Wah is the place to go to for great Cantonese style dinners.
And rightly so too. They had been part of the Chinese restaurant landscape for close to three decades now. They were certainly the king of the hill in the earlier days when Chinese cuisine is in its infancy in Vancouver. They were poised to meet the demands of the waves of newcomers from Hong Kong who were leaving the island in droves fearing the worse about the return to China control.
We tried to time our dinner. We were planning to have the dinner at the weekend when we expected the price of the Alaskan King Crab is the lowest. So we went a week before my own theoretical sweet spot to work out the menu with Sun Sui Wah.
That week prior to the actual dinner, their price was $16.80 per pound. Because of the erratic nature of the prices, they understandably could not confirm the prices for the following week. Unfortunately for us, the price of $16.80 per pound remained the same.
The Alaskan King Crab price in Sun Sui Wah is definitely one of the most expensive around town. I guess they can command a premium for the price because of their reputation and visibility.
We had a total of 30 people attending the AKC dinner. We could not even …
accommodate more last minute requests because the tables were already tight and adding just one more seat will be difficult once the configuration had been finalized on the day. So I am sorry for those I had to disappoint that day.
You see, Suanne and I decided that for a dinner like this we should have it in a private room. With 30 people as a target, we could do either a 3 tables of 10 or 2 tables of 15. I got to give it to Sun Sui Wah. They can accommodate any party sizes as they have all kinds of table sizes and they can partition their huge dining hall in rooms of various sizes.
There are nice things about Sun Sui Wah and there are not so nice things.
Frankly, our experience in planning the menu with them are less than desirable. No, we did not nor did we plan to tell them we are chowtimes. We did not expect extra treatment. Anyway, even if we had told them, I really do not think it would have made a difference. Chinese restaurants are mostly just clueless about food blogs and social media and such.
When we called them the first time, they told us that we need to spend $400 a table for a private room. Not a problem we figured it would be easy to meet that requirement. When we went to plan the menu, we were told that it is $500. We protested and only then the manager retracted saying what he meant was it was to “up to $500”. Oh please, don’t think this Mensan for an idiot.
So we worked on the menu and we decided on a menu for the day. It worked out to be around $40 everything in (taxes and tips included). Here is the problem. I should have had the manager write down the menu in their menu sheet and confirmed the prices and dishes we wanted. Instead, he sent us on the way saying that we needed to pre-order the Alaskan King Crab and one of the dessert. The rest of them we can confirm on the day of the dinner.
The day of the dinner … it was a lot of high-handed pressure-selling tactics by the manager. He now turned to me and said that what we ordered is not enough for that night. I was totally flabbergasted with the timing and all. When I was re-confirming the dishes, the manager told me that the portions is not sufficient and insisted that we order bigger portions with prices that were off the menu. All these happened behind the scenes and so most of the attendees were not aware of that. But I just gotta mention this. I had earlier told everyone that the dinner was to be $40 all in and it turned out eventually to be $46 all in.
So, be careful dealing with Sun Sui Wah!
We asked for a total of 40 pounds of crab which I figured would be the minimum to be shared among 30 people. So we had four crabs and the total weight is 39 lbs.
Or at least that was what Sun Sui Wah told us. The crabs looked like they were at least 8-9 lbs but there is no way to tell really unless we bring our own scales there. Yeah, I read somewhere that there is some elements of dishonesty with these subjective weights and all. For me, I don’t really want to bog myself down questions like this. Just enjoy it and not worry about that 1 lb short or something because you can never win here.
I wonder if anyone had ever brought their own scales to such dinners. Hmmm …
DragonFire helped me review the dishes that night. So I got a lot to thank him for all the support. Hehehe … he was the guy who commented on chowtimes about the “jau lay say” (about to die) and “bai geok” (crippled) Alaskan King Crabs he had been buying on the cheap. Go easy on him OK? LOL!
The dishes were served out of order the way I asked for it. They said OK with my order and yet they served this out of the sequence I wanted. Oh well.
For the soup, we had the Diced Seafood and Winter Melon Soup. We got this because it was one of their cheaper soup and yet sounded nice (seafood). Yeah, their soups could get several times the cost of these ones.
I enjoyed this soup. It is a cooling and clear soup and has respectable amount of prawns, crab meat, scallops, egg whites and button mushrooms.
For the poultry dish, Suanne and I were debating between having Sun Sui Wah’s famous Roasted Squab or the Peking Duck. Sun Sui Wah claims that their squabs are world famous. We eventually did not settled on squabs because we wanted to play safe and was uncertain how the non-Chinese diners would take to having squabs (with head, beaks, eyes and the whole shebang). Yeah, it could get totally gross to some.
The Peking Duck is more presentable. As usual it came with two courses.
It is just the usual way of serving that I am sure that most people is already familiar with. For those who are not, I am sure they are taken aback that this course is served with just the skin of the duck.
Just consider this like eating tacos – slater some hoisin sauce, add a green onion (white part only) and the most important next step is to discretely eye the biggest piece of skin you can find. In Chinese dinners, do not move the food around. You gotta eye the piece you want and then pick it up with one fell swoop.
🙂 I think I got a biggie.
For the second course, they took the meat of the duck and stir fried it and served that on a bed of puff vermicelli. This is to be eaten with a crisp lettuce wrap.
I did not think much about this because I was fixated with what was to come.
Sun Sui Wah won the CRA award with their King Crab served three ways. The manager told us that they don’t have it done three ways and their menu is only for two ways only and if we wanted a third way it is a separate dish. I wasn’t quite thinking straight then but thinking of it while writing this post, it did not quite gel.
The first course is with the king crab legs steamed with garlic sauce. Since we had two large crabs a table, there were quite a bit of crab for everyone on the table. It was served on two platters.
The meat was very flaky and firm. The garlic was light. My preference is for a bolder garlicky taste but I think purists will say no to that. It’s just a personal preference. The meat was steamed in its natural juices.
Despite all the uneasiness earlier with the manager, it was satisfying eating this. Hehehe … this took my minds completely off that exchange I had.
The second course for the Alaskan King Crab is the body which is deep fried with spicy salt. The body is not big. The two crabs for each table ended up in just one plateful.
BTW, I had never know the parts of the AKC. The body here … is it really the body. I heard elsewhere that the body of the Alaskan King Crab is mostly empty. Is that right? Is this the part where the legs joins the body?
Suanne and I prefer this dish better. It is more flavourful than the one steamed with garlic and that there are more meat to chew on.
The batter is light. Just amazing. My estimate is that this one piece costs $3.50. 🙂
The third course for the Alaskan King Crab is Baked Seafood Rice on the Shell. This is an extra $30 per table which translated to $2 per person.
It has lots of ingredients like prawns and scallops.
It is basically like Portuguese style curry which has a mild curry flavour but very rich. So I am not sure where the Alaskan King Crab comes into play in this dish. Taste-wise, whatever delicate AKC juice there are is overwhelmed by the curry sauce. I think this third course is more gimmicky than anything. It is just rice served on the leftover AKC shell.
The rest of the dishes are just “keh-leh-feh” dishes. They are like the extras in movies.
For vegetable we had the Three Mushrooms with Snow Peas. It has shiitake, button mushrooms and wood ears. I like the mushrooms but did not care much about the snow peas. The mushrooms were of good size and texture was good.
The Tofu, Shiitake Mushroom and Ham might look a little bit different. It is supposed to be a dish of contrasts. The ham was salty, very salty and has a rough texture. This is opposed to the silky smooth tofu. Layered in between is the mushrooms.
We also got a simple carb noodle dish. It is the Yee Mien with Chicken. On its own, I would have loved this a lot more but this humble dish was overshadowed by the Alaskan King Crab and this looked a bit unloved.
The Tapioca Pudding was one that requires advance order. This common and popular dessert in most good Cantonese restaurants is topped with a flaky pastry crust. There are some red bean paste in it and it was served warm.
After the dinner and on the way out we noticed that all their other customers had free dessert soup served. Under normal circumstances, a meal at a Chinese restaurant like Sun Sui Wah will end with free dessert soup at least. However, we did not get any, perhaps because we had ordered the tapioca pudding. We did see customers in the main hall got red bean soup.
All in all, I was particularly unhappy with the way the restaurant changed things on me. I also felt that the service could have been better. For our party of 30 people, there was only one server assigned to our room. When we had the 8GTCC Cantonese dinner in the Red Star restaurant, we had two servers for a smaller party.
So I felt rushed at some point, especially the later part of the meal. The table became messy with empty plates piling up and the server could not keep up.
Food-wise, it was good in patches but overall it did not wow me – especially when this whole thing costs $46 per person all in. In the next few days, I am going to write about another $40+ meal we had and the service was top notch. For $46, I was not impressed.
For this dinner, there were not many bloggers in attendance. Mostly regular people. Is that a right word to use? LOL! Catch Star Girl blogged about this dinner. Go check out what she had to say about this dinner.
Anyway, thanks to all who took time to attend this dinner. I love organizing dinners like this. However, I also had a lot of learnings dealing with restaurants like this. I declare here now … that because of the heavy handed tactics of the manager, I do have a very poor image of Sun Sui Wah. I really don’t care if they win awards or not.