Name: Blossom Dim Sum & Grill
Location: 808 Bute St., Vancouver
Cuisine: Modern Chinese fusion
Prices: Lunch combo, $9.99 to $13.99; dim sum, $5.80 to $16; dinner appetizers, $8 to $18, share plates and mains, $12 to $34.
Additional information: Open daily, 11:30 a.m. (11 a.m. on weekends) to midnight
Rating system: Casual dining
The first two times I went to Blossom Dim Sum & Grill, which might best be described as a Chinese Cactus Club, the 200-seat restaurant was nearly empty.
One Saturday night, the private room was filled with a very loud group of young wine enthusiasts dressed in track pants and skimpy dresses. The only other table in the dining room was a family celebrating a birthday with cake and sparklers.
A few days later, for happy hour, I sat in the sprawling, open-plan lounge with one other customer, a middle-aged gentleman who ordered several shots of the bar’s finest tequila (Patron Reposado) while watching football on the giant TV screens.
But today, when I arrive early to meet friends for lunch, there is a lineup that winds all the way down the stairs to the sidewalk.
“Are you here for the pineapple buns?” I ask an elderly woman, knowing that the kitchen only makes 20 orders a day.
“No, I’m here for the free lunch combo,” she replies, pulling her umbrella tighter.
Free lunch? Yes, for the first 50 customers. I guess it fills the seats.
Blossom likely hasn’t found the audience its excellent kitchen rightly deserves because nobody has any idea what to make of it.
The second-storey location, at Robson and Bute, where several sports bars have quietly withered, doesn’t exactly scream serious dim sum.
The 6,000-square-foot interior, with its high ceiling, tall wall of windows, whimsical canopy of paper parasols and giant murals (including God giving life to a steamed dumpling in a pastel rendition of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam) looks like a lighter, brighter version of Moxie’s or Milestones.
There is a strong value component to the menu, including one of the best lunch deals in town. The $11.99 lunch combo gets you shrimp-and-tofu soup in rich pork broth, three pieces of dim sum and a terrifically gamey, Salt Spring Island lamb-belly bao.
But then there are all sorts of high-end trappings – the $68 wok steak for two, the smoked-glass-encased private room set with a large Lazy Susan, the showpiece wine cellar stocked with Ace of Spades Brut Gold ($600 a bottle) and all the dead soldiers of Premier Cru Bordeaux marched across the fireplace mantel in the lounge’s plush-velvet nook.
Founder and general manager Eric Yang, who is backed by deep-pocketed silent investors, has a fine-dining pedigree. He was the opening manager of Mott 32, and worked at the Four Seasons and Shangri-La hotels before that.
Service can be a bit green and overly chatty, but is polite and capable, especially when the restaurant was slammed with all those coupon clippers at lunch.
When Blossom opened in June, the menu had three largely self-contained sections – Chinese, Western and aburi sushi. The new menu, released earlier this month, scales the sushi way back to five items.
And while it reads more resolutely Chinese, there is a lot of creative co-operation happening in the kitchen between executive chef Derek Bothwell (who previously ran Gastown’s Chill Winston and Guilt & Co.) and dim sum chef Jensen Ouyang (Hon’s, Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant and Lee Garden). Assistant chef Jim Hong Chen, a legendary dim-sum trainer from Guangzhou, might be Blossom’s secret weapon.
Blossom’s modern dim sum is innovative, but not in any way dumbed down. Soft, pillowy pineapple buns with their crispy, crunchy toppings are usually served plain with a pat of butter. Here, they come stuffed with barbecue pork and juicy pineapple.
Steamed har gow are stuffed with bouncy prawn flecked with freshly ground black pepper. The wrappers are a little thick, but the flavour is really bright.
The black truffle crystal dumplings are more delicate and filled with four types of wild mushrooms, each cooked separately so they sweat down to the same creamy consistency.
There are also free-range chicken and black-bean siu mai crowned with balsamic pearls and romesco (a tad overstuffed, but interesting); bison puffs with black-pepper jam (a bit dry) and some trendy knock-offs, including Mott 32’s famous hot-and-sour xiao long bao (not as tangy or spicy as the original, but made with very good wrappers from black squid-ink as well as the standard carrot purée).
Quail egg siu mai is also an excellent rendition of the Mott 32 signature dim sum (the pork here isn’t Iberico, but the runny eggs are perfectly timed). Even more interesting is Blossom’s novel dinner version, which transfers the filling into an Italian ravioli smothered in béchamel. The decadent dish is crowned with a parmesan tuile and served with wild-boar-belly lardons and an arugula salad. This is fun fusion, tightly executed by both sides of the kitchen line so that it tastes at the same time Italian and Chinese without getting muddled.
Blossom soup with silky, fishtailed chicken wontons, charred Brussels sprouts and milky pork-bone broth is my new constant craving.
The red-bean rose buns, mango pomelo soup cheesecake and other innovative desserts created by Faubourg Bakery and Café owner Franck Point are utterly delightful.
Blossom’s ambition cannot be faulted. It feels new-world Chinese – brash, outward looking, playful, but also completely at home in Vancouver with its nods to the West Coast style of casual fine dining and attention to sustainable food sourcing.
Blossom might not be easy to define, but it is definitely one of the most inventive restaurants to open in Vancouver in a very long time.