Happy Lunar New Year! To celebrate the year of the rooster, I've been voraciously feasting on dim sum at the finest Chinese restaurants in Vancouver and Richmond. We are fortunate to have such a great depth of Chinese culinary excellence in our midst. The scene is big enough to be highly competitive, yet still too small for outsourcing to commissary kitchens. There are no frozen dumplings to be found at any of the restaurants in this guide to what I consider the city's eight best dim sum dishes.
1161 West Georgia St., Vancouver, 604-979-8866, trumpvancouver.com/mott32.html
Last Saturday, on the eve of Mott 32's soft opening in Vancouver, the ultra-posh, modern-Chinese restaurant from Hong Kong was deluged by thousands of protesters participating in the Women's March. Tarnished by its location inside the Trump International Hotel and Tower, the stunningly designed restaurant will likely be boycotted by many when it officially opens at the end of February. Others might be turned off by the exorbitant dim sum prices ($16 to $18 for two to four pieces). The abstainers, however, will be missing out on delectable dumplings elevated with innovative twists and luxury ingredients. New for Vancouver, a short dim-sum menu will be available at night.
- Hot and Sour Shanghainese Soup Dumplings: Bright orange and palate smacking, these juicy dumplings are a mash-up of Shanghai’s two greatest culinary hits – xiao long bao and hot-and-sour soup. The slightly thick skins contain aspic cubes infused with premium Iberico ham, chili paste and dark vinegar. When steamed, the gelatin melts into a spectacularly spicy, unctuous broth. Order it with: black truffle sui mai with Iberico pork and soft quail egg; lobster har gow with Yunnan ham; scallop, shrimp and beetroot dumplings.
Dynasty Seafood Restaurant
108-777 West Broadway, 604-876-8388, dynasty-restaurant.ca
This upscale restaurant with spectacular views of the city has become immensely popular, partly because of its convenient proximity to downtown Vancouver, but more to do with its confident handling of Cantonese classics that often incorporate West Coast influences.
- Baked Minced Pork Pie: Easily the best dim sum I tasted all year. The soft and buttery pastry puffs (flaky enough to rival a fine French patisserie) are filled with warmly braised pork mince, headily fragranced with sharp white pepper and brightened with green onion. Order it with: oyster congee; baked lemon barbecued pork pie; pan-fried chive-and-shrimp dumplings.
Peninsula Seafood Restaurant
Oakridge Centre, 650 W. 41st St., Vancouver, 604-428-9999, bandao.ca
Pricey and swanky, this mahogany-and-marble-clad dining room is the power-lunch hot spot for Vancouver's new mainland-Chinese millionaires, as evidenced by all the Bentleys parked outside. Owned by a large restaurant group from Guangzhou, it specializes in elevated Cantonese classics with nutritious twists and also boasts its own sushi bar.
- Peninsula Buns: Baked to order, the tall buns are soft and airy with a sweet, crunchy topping (similar to pineapple bolo bao buns) and filled with creamy taro paste. Not necessarily healthy, but divinely addictive. Order it with: vegetarian red-yeast rice rolls; wild-rice crystal pudding; double-boiled bird’s nest soup.
Various locations, kirinrestaurants.com
The Cactus Club of Chinese restaurants, this Vancouver-based chain towers above the other large groups (Dinesty, Sun Sui Wah) with its consistently dependable Cantonese cooking and exceptionally suave service. The fried dim sum can be greasy. But where else do they cover the coat on the back of your chair with a garment bag?
- Sticky Rice with Pork and Dried Scallops Wrapped in Lotus Leaf: This dish changes seasonally, but the texture of the glutinous rice – chewy yet moist, without any broken grains – is always excellent. Spoon some spicy XO sauce over the rich meat stew, inhale the dank, earthy steam and lap up the oozy umami goodness. Order it with: prawn-and-pea-tip spring rolls; deep-fried shrimp dumplings with consommé.
Yue Delicacy Restaurant
8077 Alexandra Rd., Richmond, 604-233-1219
Small and intimate with low ceilings and dim lighting, Yue Delicacy is an elegant oasis in Richmond's vast sea of bright, noisy banquet rooms. Its classic Cantonese cooking is cleanly sauced, plated with finesse and across-the-board excellent.
- Stewed Beef Brisket with Rice Rolls in Hot Pot: Fatty, fork-tender brisket cubes hit the perfect point of soft chew without falling apart. They’re served in a bubbling cauldron of richly braised gravy seasoned with warm five-spice powder and fresh cilantro. The tightly packed rice rolls are as light and fluffy as gnocchi. Order it with: deep-fried eggplant with shrimp paste; gailan with ginger; steamed scallop dumplings.
Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant
101-4600 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, 604-279-0083, cheftonycanada.com
Over-the-top flashy – from the crystal chandeliers glinting off glossy white walls to the mounds of black truffles heaped over everything – this expensive outpost from Guangdong helmed by a celebrity chef screams nouveau riche. And yet the cooking, especially the ethereal dim sum pastries, is seamlessly tailored.
- Yi Dong Special Egg White Custard Tarts: Sweeter than its Portuguese egg-yolk cousin, this exquisite snow-white custard is barely set and still trembling in its delicately crumbled short-pastry cup. Order it with: anything that comes in pastry; foie-gras-stuffed chicken wings; marinated chicken flecked with black truffle flakes.
Golden Paramount Seafood Restaurant
8071 Park Rd., Richmond, 604-278-0873
May Chau, a rarely seen female chef-owner, began apprenticing at the age of 12 in a top dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong. The quiet hush that envelops this small, calmly civilized dining room is a reflection of her delicate craftsmanship, meticulous technique and focus on restrained flavours.
- Steamed Dumplings with Crab Meat and Pork: A finely diced brunoise of shitake mushroom, bamboo shoots, crab, pork and cilantro are neatly wrapped with glutinous rice-flour wraps so thin they are almost transparent. Eat these first, before spoiling the palate with stronger tastes. Order it with: daikon spring rolls; deep-fried wontons with sweet-and-sour sauce; pan-fried water-chestnut jelly.
Jade Seafood Restaurant
8511 Alexandra Rd., Richmond, 604-249-0082, jaderestaurant.ca
One of Richmond's most acclaimed Cantonese banquet-style restaurants, Jade combines formal elegance with gracious service and graceful cooking. Seasonal specialties can be quite innovative. The lauded dim-sum service lost some of it shine after the head chef departed for Mott 32, but the signature dishes still stand out.
- Steamed Rice Cake with Brown Sugar: This bouncy honeycomb cake with deeply grooved striations is a textural delight. The darkly caramelized flavour is long lingering and slightly sweet. Order it with: Portuguese egg tart; fried egg-puff balls; almond milk buns.