On the most important day in the Chinese calendar, the best Chinese chef in Canada served me what may have been the finest Chinese meal I’ve had in my life.
It was Chinese New Year at the Jade Seafood Restaurant (www.jaderestaurant.ca) in Richmond, British Columbia, and chef Tony Luk, named Canada’s most skilled chef of 2011 by the Chinese Restaurant Association, pulled out all the stops.
My friend Mijune Pak, a Vancouver-area food blogger (www.followmefoodie.com) who is fluent in the Cantonese language, did the ordering. We wound up with a creative yet traditional seven-course dinner plus a dessert sampler.
The meal was not cheap. Paying $25 for a single abalone is not normally on my budget. But this was a meal that I will long remember.
We started with seafood soup served in a hollowed-out, miniature pumpkin. It’s a worthy alternative for the more customary shark’s-fin soup. “I won’t eat shark’s fin,” said Mijune. “Sharks are getting fished out of Chinese waters.” This excellent soup instead had shrimp, scallops and whitefish.
The second course was a seasonal delicacy: braised whole fresh Australian abalone with leafy pea shoots. Abalone is a meaty and somewhat rubbery shellfish with a distinctive flavor. But it is always served on the lunar new year because its circular shape is said (by the superstitious) to represent money and, thus, prosperity. I had two.
Before a course of “live” rock cod was served, our server presented the reddish-scaled fish straight from the tank, and asked if we approved as it flopped around in a plastic container. Of course, we said yes. Minutes later, it laid on a large platter covered with sliced scallions and a sweet, vinegary sauce. Competition for the white eyeballs was not severe.
Next came Grandpa’s smoked chicken, chopped and served cold with ginger and onions. Although this recipe has won chef Luk several awards, it was one of my least favorite dishes.
A baked and grilled beef brisket, cloaked in a brownish-gray mushroom gravy and served with green beans, did not look appetizing, it was one of the best plates of the night. The meat was the consistency of melt-in-your-mouth short ribs, and the flavor was superb.
A course of dried oysters and mushrooms, wrapped in tofu dumplings, was savory and delicious.
Our final hot course was a mixed-mushroom chow mein, tossed with shiitake, oyster and black trumpet mushrooms.
For dessert, we tried several of the restaurant’s sweets. We had a hot almond soup with egg whites and a warm red-bean soup with lotus seeds. Swirled mochi (rice) cake was a traditional recipe, and coconut cake was baked with preserved and salted egg yolk. But our favorite was a light mango pudding that put the perfect accent on an excellent meal.