555 W. 12th Ave
Canada V5Z 3X7
I had often heard that Vancouver has the best Chinese food in North America. All of that due to unique historic and geographic circumstances over the last 20 years. Like the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles, Vancouver was a hotbed of real estate investment from rich people in Hong Kong and Taiwan. However, with the hand off of Hong Kong from the UK to China in 1997, panicked, rich Hong Kongers used Canada’s more generous immigration laws to buy properties and even settle down in Vancouver and the neighboring suburb of Richmond. There has since been a slow emigration of some Chinese Canadians back to Hong Kong (paired with a rise of immigration of Mainland Chinese immigrants) when their worst fears were unfounded, but the impact of hiring and moving some of the best chefs from Hong Kong meant that the quality of Chinese food remains top notch.
I decided to test this reputation for Chinese food by going to one of Vancouver’s top and most highly recommended restaurants for Dim Sum on Monday. After a fairly light breakfast and a stroll around Olympic Village, we headed to Kirin’s City Square location, right across the street from Vancouver City Hall. The hostess asked if we had a reservation, and even though we said no, she was able to seat us fairly quickly. I quickly ordered chrysanthemum tea and a pot of tea as well as hot water came to our table quickly.
We also looked at the Dim Sum menu which was filled with special dim sum menu items. Unbeknownst to us (though clearly to the rest of the diners) we could have also ordered more standard items. However, that didn’t matter too much as there were a number of special menu items my friend and I were interested in. We decided on the following six items:
- Prawn, Peatip, and Chopped Garlic Spring Roll – The first item that came out and it was absolutely divine. The prawns were cooked perfectly and paired excellently with the vinegar soy sauce. I could have easily ordered another plate of these spring rolls, probably the best Chinese spring rolls I’ve ever had
- Steamed Prawn and Tender Scallion Rice Roll – This dish was decent. It was made well, though even with the soy based sauce to pair it with, it was perhaps too subtle for my tastes. Executed well, but a little bland.
- Har Gow – Some say that the way to tell how good a har gow is, count the number of pleats (9+ being great, 13+ being master craft). The 9 pleats, a resilient but not too thick wrapper, and juicy fresh prawns, it was definitely some of the best har gow I have ever had.
- Steamed Crab Meat, Scallop, Prawn, and Spinach Dumpling – Fairly good with a great skin that bent, but did not break. The filling could have used a little more seasoning, but otherwise solid.
- Scallop and Asparagus Rice Roll – This was one of the best rice noodle rolls I have ever had. The scallops were very fresh, plump, and cooked just right. The asparagus was tender but with just the right amount of crunch. It all went well with a gentle pouring of the soy based sauce
- Mango Pudding – Probably the only lackluster item during the meal. The mango pudding was rather pedestrian and didn’t quite seem to have fresh mangos. The bits of fruit inside were nice, but its money that could have been spent on, perhaps, nice egg custard tarts.
The service was rather stiff. It was certainly different from the gruff “take it or leave it” attitude of some harried servers in restaurants that serve Dim Sum in the US, but not necessarily better. Two asks for a glass of water came unanswered (though it perhaps foreshadowed a seemingly Canadian or non-US disdain to serve people cold tap water).
However, even the stiff service couldn’t detract me from some of the best Dim Sum I’ve ever had. In terms of quality, it was slightly better than Sea Harbour in Rosemead (a restaurant which also has a branch in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond). The price came out to about $31.50 CAD (excluding tip), which, including a cheaper exchange rate in Canadian Dollars, meant I was also paying less than the best places in LA. Better quality food at lower prices? My mom would be proud.