Thursday, December 26, 2013

Vancouver is winning

The soup dumpling perched delicately on my spoon at Dinesty restaurant in Vancouver, BC was the unintended and delicious consequence of events that were set in motion 170 years ago when the Qing dynasty refused to sell opium to the British Empire. As a result, a war ensued in which the port of Hong Kong became a British colony and, for other than a brief period when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong during WWII, remained so until July 1, 1997, when the land was finally returned to China.

The HK Chinese, who had prospered greatly over the post war decades while those on the mainland adjusted to a new social order and economic system, were not eager to be repatriated to China. As members of a relatively prosperous colony with British Commonwealth status, Hong Kong citizens were able to immigrate to nations such as Australia and Canada with relative ease. Vancouver, with its temperate climate, natural beauty, and relative proximity to Asia became the prime focus of Chinese immigration. British Columbia was transformed, and as a result, I was able to partake of a delicious Xiao Long Bao dumpling at this extraordinary restaurant called Dinesty today. 

Ian, Will, Taimei, and me @ Dinesty

Richmond, the city next to Vancouver where most Chinese Canadians make their home, is bustling with Asian stores, restaurants, malls, and businesses of every kind. The majority of the signage is in Chinese, and sometimes English too. The density and diversity of the food choices in Richmond will boggle your mind, and with an Asian population of over 100,00,  your restaurant will need to be very good to succeed. Richmond is where we found Dinesty, thanks to our friends' Will and Taimei's suggestion. Will and Taimei live in NYC too, but Will was raised Richmond and judging from his choice of restaurants, he seems to know his way around a chopstick.

Dinesty seems like a Taiwanese/Shanghainese hybrid much like the world famous Din Tai Fung of Taipei, a restaurant with outposts in Shanghai, Beijing, and even LA and Seattle. They are especially known for soup dumplings, but also for the all around greatness of just about every dish on the menu and the crispness and efficiency of service. When I ate at Din Tai Fung in Beijing with Ian and Joan last year the food was excellent, but the price was steep for Beijing; around $150 for three of us. Dinesty reached the same level of excellence as Din Tai Fung for only $20 each, although the excellent soup dumplings at DTF have just a slight edge over Dinesty for depth of flavour.

My first impression as we walked to our table after a very small wait was, every single dish on every table looked incredibly delicious. I wanted to grab dishes off other people's tables on the way to ours but I felt that might be frowned upon. I was also impressed with the open kitchen-- nothing to hide here. And did I mention speed? Will ordered for the table and within a few minutes the food began to flow in an uninterrupted stream of deliciousness.

Love the open kitchen

We started out with some spicy, garlicky cucumbers with just the right amount of crunch and these were quickly followed by some braised pig ears dusted in Mala (Sichuan) peppercorns, one of Will's favorites. I found the interesting texturally, they were loaded with cartilage, but a little bland in the flavor department.

Ears and Cukes

As you can see, Ian had fun with his pig's ears:

Can you hear me now?

This was followed by some remarkably fresh and garlicky pea shoots

Green and healthy but most of all- delicious pea shoots.

And then the food just kept coming-- The soup dumplings or Xia Long Bau were light and delicious but a little less fatty and smaller than I am used too. Dainty is a good thing when it comes to Xiao Long Bao- the dumplings aren't as filling, and they aren't as messy to eat. After eating dumpling's at NYC's best soup dumpling restaurant, Joe's Shanghai, where the XLB are much plumper and fattier, my plate often looks like the scene of minor border skirmish. There are many other dumplings I would like to try at Dinesty, including an intriguing looking and most certainly hand rolled pan-fried pork dumpling that is much longer than the more common half-moon shaped variety.

Scrumptious and dainty Xiao Long Bao
The table started getting really crowded after that with so many delicious dishes we had to eat as fast as we could just to keep up- I've posted the rest of the meal below. What about noodles you may ask? Well... we did have a chicken soup, it was pretty nice but not a heavy hitter, the noodles were pretty they were intended to be in this type of soup I suppose, but this meal really wasn't about noodles. There are a dozen or so noodle dishes on the menu, and a few of them, including a spicy sesame noodle in a broth that looks like a relative of Sichuan Dan Dan noodles look like they could be pretty exciting. As far as diversity, quality of food, and the tastiness/fun factor- the $20 I dropped at Dinesty is by far the best value for money spent on a meal in 2013. And its just a great place. I really, really wish I could taste every dish on the menu-- and I wish NY could support a restaurant of this caliber. Instead of opening the umpteenth Sichuan restaurant in NYC in 2014, it would be great if we could have a Dinesty or a Din Tai Fung in NY. Is there anybody out there?

Delicious pork that we wrapped in pancakes- NOT Mu Shu tho

The very best Shumai- shrimp on top meat and a little soup on the bottom

Chicken Soup with soft noodles

Turnip Cakes

Turnip Cake- interior view

Really delicious beef roll



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