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Chef's Choice Chinese Cuisine is a Cantonese restaurant that opened in Vancouver during the pandemic. It specializes in old-school Hong Kong and Guangdong dishes.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

Name: Chef’s Choice Chinese Cuisine

Location: 955 West Broadway, Vancouver

Phone: 604-558-1198

Website: chefschoice1198.com

Cuisine: Cantonese

Prices: Dim sum, $8.38 to $29.88; weekday lunch sets for two from $48.80; set banquet dinner for 10 from $598

Additional information: Open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; reservations recommended; takeout (UberEats and DoorDash); No patio.

For lovers of Cantonese cookery, the hallmarks of excellent har gow are fairly easy to recognize.

The traditional shrimp dumplings should be wrapped in thin, chewy, slightly transparent skins that stretch tautly without tearing. A good filling will contain whole or hand-chopped prawns that are plump and juicy with a bouncy crunch (not minced or mushy).

Chef’s Choice Chinese Cuisine, a terrific new Vancouver restaurant that roared out of the pandemic to win three awards at last week’s Chinese Restaurant Awards, makes exemplary har gow (listed on the menu as Chef’s Choice signature shrimp dumplings). And I definitely recommend you order this dish if you go there for daytime dim sum.

But what about gold coin chicken, steamed Cantonese soup dumplings, thousand-layer cake and all the other old-school classics that can’t be found at any other restaurant in Metro Vancouver?

These are the dishes (many of them rare these days even in Hong Kong and Guangdong province) that helped make Chef’s Choice a “Game Changer” – a special honour bestowed on it by CRA head judge Lee Man.

They’ve also generated a lot of fun, friendly conversation among customers who haven’t tasted them for decades, which makes them a little less easy to judge.

Co-owner Louie Lee, speaking through a translator during a dim sum service earlier this month, laughed about all the chatter: “People come in and say ‘Oh, you should try doing it this way. That’s the way I remember it.’ Or ‘Why don’t you make this dish? I haven’t had that in so long.’”

Since opening last January, the restaurant has been regularly switching up the menu and adding more of these revived (mostly dim sum) classics. If you go, narrow in on the menu’s old-school series section and start ordering there.

But there are a few special items that have remained consistent and should not be missed.

Barbecue pork jowl and chicken liver.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

Gold coin chicken (also known and listed here as barbecue pork jowl and chicken liver) was one of the winners for the CRA’s critics’ choice signature dish awards – for which, full disclosure, I am a judge.

Rich, sweet, chewy and slightly metallic, these artery-clogging sandwiches of chicken livers nestled between sticky layers of barbecue pork are an old peasant dish that originated as a way for the vendors of roast meat stalls to sell off the less desirable trimmings. Here it is elevated to haute-cuisine standards with premium pieces of lean-fat pork, house-made chashu sauce and a slow-cooked roasting technique that crisps up the outer layers of juicy pork. (This dish is available for both lunch and dinner.)

Steamed minced pork and seafood soup dumpling.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

The steamed minced pork and seafood soup dumpling was another CRA critics’ choice winner. Although similar to Shanghainese xiao long bao, these dumplings are much bigger (served one piece per order) and even more difficult to execute.

The delicate skins leak easily and don’t always work out. The yellow wrapper should be swollen with pork, shrimp and warm broth. If the dumpling is dry and shrivelled, do not feel bad about sending it back (it happened to me once). But when they do work out, you just poke that skin with your chopsticks, let the voluptuous broth spill into your bowl and inhale.

Baked Portuguese-style chicken pie.

Steamed sweet salty egg paste layered cake.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

On my most recent dim sum visit, I also enjoyed baked Portuguese pies made with warmly spiced pork mince encased in buttery, yellow filo pastry; shatteringly crisp spring rolls filled with shrimp, cheese and nori; and a sweet-salty layered cake made with thick custard, salted duck yolk and candied winter melon.

Although I haven’t fully explored the dinner menu, I was very impressed when I went last winter and had Alaskan king crab served simply steamed. Don’t get me wrong – I love the traditional Cantonese preparations served with big tubes of split legs smothered in buttery garlic, egg whites or ginger-soy sauce. And Chef’s Choice will serve it those ways when requested.

But it takes extreme confidence for a Cantonese kitchen to say this is an exceptional product and we’re going to serve it in its purest form.

This kitchen should have confidence. It’s led by Tommy Pang, the chef who opened the acclaimed Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant in Richmond. Backed by a private investor, he and the owners (who all hail from Chef Tony) have recruited from a rich talent pool of elderly chefs who trained in Hong Kong.

Their wok-frying skills – another hallmark of Cantonese cuisine – are impeccable.

And no matter whether you go for lunch or dinner, do call ahead and preorder the roasted chicken with sticky rice. The whole chicken is deboned, fried and stretched over a cake of glutinous rice flecked with sweet lap cheong sausage. I’ve had this dish before, but never so golden, moist and perfectly finessed.

“Food is a source of comfort … and these are flavours that transport diners back to the simpler and happier times of their childhood,” Mr. Man wrote about Chef’s Choice for the Game Changer award.

But you don’t necessarily need those taste memories to recognize the craftsmanship and love infused into every bite. Chef’s Choice is simply one of the best Cantonese restaurants in Vancouver.

13th Annual Chinese Restaurant Awards

2021 Critics’ choice signature dishes

For full descriptions of each winning dish and other award winners: https://chineserestaurantawards.com/

Gold coin chicken

Chef’s Choice Chinese Cuisine

https://www.chefschoice1198.com/


Steamed soup dumpling

Chef’s Choice Chinese Cuisine

https://www.chefschoice1198.com/


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