Lunar New Year Disappointment in Chinatown

I suppose I shouldn’t complain – after all, it was our wooden, weekend morning feet that prevented Mack and I from getting to Chinatown on time to take in the Lunar New Year celebrations on Saturday. Still, for the most significant date on the Chinese calendar, and the most mainstream holiday with which to attract the public, it was more than a little disappointing that the only information I could find about the day’s activities was limited to a tiny box on the Chinatown/Little Italy Business Revitalization Zone website.

From the looks of it, the event was the same as what they’ve organized in the past – remarks from various dignitaries, lion and dragon dances, and the lighting of firecrackers. It appears there was a modest crowd on hand for the hour-long festivities, but with more exposure and better advertising, I really think it could have been bigger.

Lunar New Year 2014

Party on the street

For one thing, there was no detailed program available online, just a single start time. It would have been helpful for prospective attendees to be aware of the schedule and the length of the program. At the end of the day however, I think the barebones event was a missed opportunity that failed to encourage Edmontonians to discover their Chinatown.

I recognize it’s not easy, planning an outdoor program to take place in the middle of potentially uncooperative winter weather, without the cushion of a large indoor back-up option on 97 Street. In addition, in the last decade, the family-friendly Lunar New Year carnival has moved away from Chinatown, from being staged in Heritage Chinatown at the Edmonton Chinese Multicultural Centre (drawing attention to the problem of “two Chinatowns”), to the Expo Centre, and now, at West Edmonton Mall.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that Chinese residents (and other Asian immigrants) also live all across the city, and may have more convenient shopping and hospitality options elsewhere. Chinatown has become somewhat of a destination, instead of a routine, but if the occasion of Lunar New Year can’t entice people, what will?

From what we caught of the tail end of festivities, bystanders were enthralled by the sights and sounds of firecrackers and colourful lions bucking around the pops and sparks.

Firecrackers!

We also tailed one of the lion dance groups into a few storefronts, as they performed inside to bless the businesses for the coming year.

Lunar New Year 2014

Inside Super Tasty BBQ

The potential is definitely there, to feed the curiosity of those unfamiliar with Lunar New Year traditions and the cultures that celebrate them. It was evident through organizing the night market last year that people had a hunger for learning (our tour groups were oversubscribed!), and the Chinese New Year dinner hosted by the Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum Society sold out in a matter of days.

I’d expect the Business Revitalization Zone to lead the charge – after all, they are tasked with the job of increasing the economic activity of the area, and have the resources and connections to do so – but they seem to be resting on their laurels. Their events throughout the year amount to this seasonal foray, and the annual East Meets West festival. No historical tours, food tasting events, and nothing to highlight the influx of exciting new businesses (such as the rise of hot pot).

I’m not sure what it will take for the shift to happen – I just hope it does, and the sooner the better.

Recap: 97 Street Night Market

Over the summer, I worked with a team of volunteers to put on an event that we hoped would encourage Edmontonians to rediscover Chinatown. The neighbourhood is so full of history and possibility, but has largely been overlooked over the last number of years. While we recognized that the Business Revitalization Zone and to a greater extent, the McCauley Revitalization Strategy, had attempted to facilitate positive developments, we believed that something different was needed to foster the imagination of what Chinatown could be.

From there, the 97 Street Night Market was born. With a generous grant from the City and some committed supporters, we were able to transform a vacant parking lot into a welcoming space that introduced or reacquainted patrons with the dynamic nature of night markets right in the heart of Chinatown.

97 Street Night Market

97 Street Night Market

Vendors were the commercial anchor for the event, and we were happy to have engaged some area businesses, including Universal Music and Pacific Café, as well as others from around the city. The range of trinkets to fashion items was varied enough for visitors of all ages!

97 Street Night Market

Gama

No doubt, one of the most popular booths that day was actually one of ours – we had borrowed a set of fortune sticks from the Edmonton Chinese Bilingual Education Association, and volunteers sold fortunes for $1 a pop. That night, nearly 200 fortunes were told!

97 Street Night Market

Step right up!

We were fortunate to have The Lingnan Express, Molly’s Eats and Swich on-site, offering Asian-inspired dishes, including oyster omelettes, curried fish balls and matcha green tea ice cream sandwiches. Though not from the window of a food truck, Gama was able to offer another night market staple – bubble tea.

97 Street Night Market

Food trucks

97 Street Night Market

Char siu pulled pork sandwich from Molly’s Eats

In addition, the market provided us with an opportunity to highlight many young performers. Some were more traditional, such as 5 Elements, who opened the evening with an engaging lion dance, while others displayed a fusion of cultures, including Nanyen Lau, who played the Titanic anthem of “My Heart Will Go On” on an erhu.

97 Street Night Market

5 Elements

97 Street Night Market

Edmonton Chinese Dance Academy

My favourite act was the energetic Convergence Dance Crew, who drew the biggest crowds to the stage with their infectious K-pop covers of Psy’s recent hits.

Convergence Dance Crew

Patrons also had the chance to participate in three different walking tours of the neighbourhood that highlighted various facets of Chinatown. The first had nearly thirty participants so engrossed in the tour the guides ended up doubling the originally-intended length! No question, we learned that tours of all varieties should be offered of Chinatown on a regular basis; people are curious, and want to learn about the neighbourhood’s rich history and hopeful future.

97 Street Night Market

Tour group

For me, it was the creation of a neutral, safe space that most excited me. The perceived “ethnicity” of Chinatown is daunting to some who aren’t familiar with its businesses, while for others, the stereotype of an unsafe, neglected neighbourhood discourages exploration. That night, it was heartening to see people of all generations from many different backgrounds convening in a single parking lot, feasting, shopping, and otherwise socializing. It was a gathering place not normally found in Chinatown, and one that I hope will be replicated in the future.

97 Street Night Market

Beautiful sunset

There are a litany of people to thank who helped make this event a reality. Qualico and Ledcor generously donated the site, and worked around our request, in spite of the ongoing demolition of the building directly south of the lot. Jane Molstad of the McCauley Revitalization Strategy immediately recognized the potential of this idea, and worked tirelessly to ensure the grant came through! We also couldn’t have done without the enthusiastic and hard working day-of volunteers. Lastly, thanks to all those who came, taking a chance on a first time event!

I’ve been asked more than once if the night market will become an annual event. Although I can’t answer the question definitively yet, I can say that a few of us are working to continue the momentum we began that day in some form or another. Stay tuned!

Rediscovering Chinatown: 97 Street Night Market

I remember spending weekends in Chinatown with my parents as a kid. It was always busy; parking was hard to come by, and the sidewalks were lined with people shuffling from shop to shop. At the time, I’m not sure I understood why my Mum would drag us to four seemingly identical grocery stores, but now, I understand it was not only the price differential, but the fact that each establishment offered a particular specialty that was worth seeking out.

In my teenage years, I accompanied my parents on their errands less and less, though on the odd occasion out and about in Chinatown, it was evident the neighbourhood was changing – businesses once vibrant were shuttered, buildings were falling into disarray, and the streets were noticeably quieter. I’m sure the opening of megastore T & T didn’t help matters, offering convenience and easy parking, but the visual aesthetics of Chinatown – neglected and unkempt – probably also didn’t do much to boost the image of the district.

Chinatown

Chinatown today

Five years ago, I began to rediscover Chinatown. My office is within walking distance of the main shopping hub, and at lunch time and after work, I’d pop over for a bowl of pho at Pho Tau Bay, a banh mi from Nhon Hoa or pick up a box of buns from Garden Bakery for breakfast. For Asian groceries, Lucky 97 is my first stop, while Ying Fat meets all of my tofu needs. And though not Asian at all, the Italian Bakery is my go-to deli.

You can now find me in Chinatown at least once a week, eating, shopping and appreciating a neighbourhood that is still very much pedestrian-oriented. We now celebrate streets like the 104 Street Promenade and 124 Street for their walkability, independent businesses and diversity – but what about Chinatown?

The area has made some strides in recent years, adding Urban China, and its new sister eatery Urban Shabu, which have helped draw crowds as destination restaurants. The Wild Rose Circle Project, with housing and retail, is finally under construction, and the McCauley Revitalization Strategy continues on. But in the short term, what else can be done to encourage Edmontonians to discover or rediscover their Chinatown?

I am part of a new group called Our Chinatown. We are a group of young professionals working to revive Edmonton’s Chinatown – reclaim its heritage, embrace its present and imagine its future. As our inaugural event, we are organizing a night market as a way to create a lively, energetic gathering that inspires a new vision for the neighbourhood.

Event: 97 Street Night Market
Date: Saturday, August 17, 2013
Time: 6-10pm
Location: parking lot on 97 Street, south of 105 Avenue

Heritage Chinatown Night MarketPart of our organizing team

Building on the success of the Heritage Night Market organized by the Chinese Benevolent Association on July 1, 2013, our market will set a different tone, anchored by a DJ and three food trucks.

We’re thrilled to have The Lingnan Express, Molly’s Eats and Swich offer Asian-inspired dishes, which will include ever-popular night market items like curried fish balls, green onion cakes and oyster omelettes, and modern takes on Asian cuisine such as Korean smoked meat and matcha ice cream sandwiches. Gama will also be serving up bubble tea! Check out the menus here.

Besides food, vendors also form the cornerstone of night markets, and we’ve assembled a great selection of items for your shopping pleasure! You will find everything from accessories to clothing, CDs and movies, toys and stationary to hand-made art and keepsakes.

Heritage Chinatown Night MarketHeritage Night Market vendor

We’re also excited that a few young performance groups will be on hand for entertainment. 5 Elements Drums and Lion Dance Crew will help us kick off the market at 6pm, and at 8pm, Convergence Dance Crew will bring us their best K-pop dance covers! I had the pleasure of watching Convergence at this weekend’s Heritage Festival – they just nailed Psy’s Gentleman!

Convergence Dance Crew!

For those who are interested in learning more about Chinatown’s past, present or future, we have also lined up several tours on the history, future development and artistic side of the neighbourhood. The schedule will be posted on the website on Tuesday.

August 17 is shaping up to be a Chinatown equivalent of Downtown’s Super Saturday. The Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival rocks the North Saskatchewan River from 9am-5pm in Louise McKinney Park, while the 5th Annual East Meets West Festival runs 11am-8pm on 107 Avenue and 99 Street. End your day at the 97 Street Night Market from 6-10pm.

We hope you’ll join us in (re)discovering our Chinatown on August 17!

Recap: Heritage Chinatown Night Market

When I heard that the Chinese Benevolent Association was organizing a night market, I applauded the effort. After visiting the Waterfront Night Market in Toronto last year, I started thinking about how something similar could be replicated here – though we don’t have the same level of density or Asian population numbers, Edmonton makes up for that lack in spirit!

What I didn’t know was that the CBA was planning to pull this inaugural event together in just over a month, after the idea came up at the Chinatown Unveiled Conference that took place in May (something I’m more than just a little sad that I only heard about after the fact). As a result, I didn’t know what to expect as a final product, but I’m happy to say that the results should be commended!

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

I was among forty or so volunteers who helped on the day. We were all given (and proudly wore) “I (heart) YEG Chinatown” t-shirts. It will be interesting to see whether or not others embrace this logo as readily as others have taken to “I (heart) #yegdt”.

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

We love Chinatown

102 Avenue from 95 to 96 Street was closed for the event, which ran from 4-9pm. The Lingnan Express anchored the west side of the street, and offered location-appropriate spring rolls, pork dumplings and crack chicken.

More than a dozen vendors lined the rest of the street, selling wares ranging from art, jewelry, tea, and small toys. On that scorcher of a day, I’m sure tents would have offered a welcome reprieve from the beating sun for both merchants and shoppers alike.

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

Vendors

A stage was set-up on the east end of the street, and a continuous program offered five solid hours of performances, including martial arts demonstrations, Chinese dancing, choir songs, and spoken word poetry entertained the solid crowd.

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

Choir

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

Dancers

And ever the scene-stealer, there was not one, but two lion dances! I’ve seen my share of lion dances, but they always manage to stop me in my tracks – I love the spectacle of noise, colour and drama.

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

Lion dance!

The event also managed to incorporate a bit of history, with photographic displays of Chinatown past and present. Though organizers had to scrap the walking tours due to the short lead time, they did distribute pamphlets for self-guided walking tours of notable locations.

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

Displays

As a first time event, I think the Heritage Chinatown Night Market was very well attended! It was especially wonderful to see many generations on the street – Chinese and otherwise! Given the plethora of Canada Day attractions available in the city and beyond, it was a coup that so many chose to stop by the market – I think it speaks to the need for more events like this!

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

The crowds

As my fellow volunteer Kathryn pointed out though, events at that very site won’t be possible in the near future. With Downtown LRT Connector construction set to start as early as 2015, organizers intent on this night market becoming an annual one will have to contend with some location pains.

Heritage Chinatown Night Market

With my fellow volunteers Olivia and Kathryn

Bravo to the Chinese Benevolent Association for a well-executed event! For those who may have missed out, you may be interested to know a few of us are working on a follow-up night market to take place later this summer. Stay tuned for the details!

Ramen on the Brain: Meguro Ramen

The topic of Chinatown revitalization has been bandied about a lot in the past year, especially with flashy projects like the Yorkton Development residential towers and the Wild Rose Circle Development. But in the short term, existing businesses that bring people into the area will have a greater impact – no area can rely on large-scale developments alone.

That’s why it was great to see that a new ramen joint joined the Chinatown fray in recent months. Instead of opting for a newer, suburban location, Meguro Ramen chose to situate itself in the heart of Chinatown on 97 Street, in the space formerly occupied by Padmanadi.

In other large North American cities, the ramen trend has exploded, with eaters ravenous for hand-pulled noodles and umami broth. Ramen doesn’t yet have the same foothold in Edmonton, but we may get there soon if more restaurants with this focus continue to open up. During November’s cold snap, I met Annie at Meguro Ramen for lunch on a Saturday.

Save for the instant version, my experience with ramen has been limited. But in many ways, because of my love of pho, I am already partial to oversized bowls of noodle soup. At the same time, I knew my bias would affect my reception of dishes outside the realm of beef broth and rice noodles.

The interior has been completely transformed – gone is the buffet service, the dated paint, the wall of thumb tacked photos. In its place is a dramatic red and black room with paper and glass lantern accents, a space that I think would look even better after dark.

Meguro Ramen

Interior

Although Meguro does serve dishes outside of the ramen family (about ten appetizers, and three different rice bowls), we zoned in on their namesake entree. We had the choice of ten varieties, made up of different kinds of broth and toppings, including the most unusual combination of ramen and cheese of all things. I didn’t stray far from pho, ordering the beef noodle ($10.95), while Annie opted for the curry ramen ($9.95).

Meguro Ramen

Menu (I really appreciated the pictures)

Given we were among just three other parties, it wasn’t a surprise that our food arrived quickly. But we appreciated the expedient service, especially on that cold afternoon. The steaming bowls were garnished beautifully, while the atypical soup spoon helped round out its presentation.

Meguro Ramen

Beef noodle ramen

I enjoyed the beef very much, tender, with just the right amount of fat. The noodles were quite good as well, thicker than I had anticipated, but satisfyingly chewy. The broth was a bit of a disappointment for me; bland and lacking flavour, I had to reach for quite a bit of the spice shaker on the table to liven it up. Annie had similar thoughts about her dish – thumbs up to the pork (which she found to be better than Nomiya), but was expecting a broth to have much more kick.

Meguro Ramen

Curry ramen

When we went to the counter to pay, we asked the staff whether or not their noodles were made in-house. He responded, “It’s a secret.” Maybe it was meant tongue-in-cheek, but we interpreted that to mean, “No.”

Though our lunch didn’t quite show me what all the ramen hype was about, Meguro Ramen is close enough to my workplace that I think I will be back again soon – there are at least nine other ramen dishes that I’ll have to work my way through after all!

Meguro Ramen
10626 97 Street
(780) 497-8280
Sunday-Thursday 11am-9pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-10pm

Edmonton’s Original Green Onion Cake: Noodle Maker

The green onion cake. Savoury, crispy and oh so satisfying, it is one of my favourite indulgences, but only when done right. I’m not a fan of the flat pancake-like versions at the Fringe that many others adore; my preference is for the doughnut-shaped cakes – airy, and really, with even more surface area to absorb hot oil, it’s on a different plane of existence. When I heard about Noodle Maker, opened by the man who is said to have introduced the tasty treat to Edmonton, my curiosity was piqued – what would the “original” green onion cake be like?

On Thursday, another miserably cold day, Kathryn and I made our way to Noodle Maker for lunch. Just past the gates heralding Old Chinatown, it seemed to be a quiet afternoon for the restaurant – only one other customer to be seen during our visit (given how bustling the cafeteria in Canada Place is, I had to wonder how many people know this place exists).

The interior isn’t much to look at, save the artificial cherry tree blooming from the take out counter, and an antique stove in the corner. The dated décor contrasted amusingly with the large flat panel television screen mounted to the wall (tuned to a Chinese news channel), and a shiny new Mac at the till.

The menu features dishes from many Asian cuisines, including Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai(take a look here). I opted for a ramen bowl with teriyaki chicken ($8.50), while Kathryn chose the rice stick stir fry ($11). Of course, we also ordered a green onion cake ($3.50) to share.

The green onion cake didn’t look like much, but looks were deceiving! While it was the flat version, pulled apart, there were discernable, flaky layers inside. With a crispy, salty exterior, we had to pull ourselves away to try our entrees. It really was worth venturing out for, and would be something I’d return specifically to order (we both agreed that the name of the restaurant really should celebrate their green onion cake instead).

Noodle Maker

Green onion cake

The entrees were good, but didn’t live up to their green onion cake counterpart. The butter soy broth and ramen were all right – broth not overly salty, and ramen well-cooked, but neither wowed me. I did like the inclusion of vegetables though – bean sprouts, corn, and spinach. The teriyaki chicken was probably the wrong type of meat to order (especially after reading Lillian’s review) – it wasn’t as moist as it could have been. Kathryn enjoyed her stir-fry, noting that the rice cakes were very fresh, but like me, also kept returning to the green onion cakes.

Noodle Maker

Teriyaki chicken ramen

Noodle Maker

Rice stick stir-fry with pork, shiitake mushrooms and su choy

Noodle Maker has started a $7.67 “popular lunch express” feature for either dine-in or take-out, a great deal that includes a vegetable stir fry, a ramen noodle or rice bowl and two toppings (teriyaki chicken, tiger beef, pork ribs, shrimp, basa fish tempura). On January 18, 2011, from 11am-2pm, those that register on their Facebook page will be charged just $5.

There are definitely a few more dishes that I’d be interested in returning to try. And given its proximity to the Arts District, it’d be an interesting choice for pre-show dining. Not that I’d need an excuse to come back for the green onion cakes.

Noodle Maker
9653 102 Avenue
(780) 428-0021
Daily 11am-10pm

Chinatown Addition: Emperor’s Palace

Emperor’s Palace, the newest addition to Chinatown, mirrors Urban China in many ways. Clean and modern, they are both a part of a movement towards the kind of restaurants Vancouver (and Calgary, to some extent) already have down pat. We’re always looking for new dim sum places, so it made sense that my first two meals there were for just that: I checked out the restaurant once during the lunch rush on a weekday before Christmas with Dickson, and again a few weeks later for brunch with Mack and my family to celebrate Felicia’s birthday.

Emperor's Palace

Interior

The restaurant is gorgeous, with bright yellow and red tones. The crystal chandeliers help lend the room a touch of elegance, though what really captured my attention was the stunning floor-to-ceiling glass wine case facing the dining room. As with Indian restaurants such as Origin India trying to encourage diners to pair wine (instead of the requisite beer) with their cuisine, perhaps Emperor’s Palace is trying to do the same with Chinese fare? (something that others are attempting elsewhere in the world.)

Emperor's Palace

Wine case

The high-backed chairs were visually appealing, and comfortable to boot, but unfortunately, did take up a lot of space, which prevented carts from going between some tables. This wasn’t a problem when dining with my family, but at a small table with Dickson at the rear of the restaurant, two tables stood between us and the aisle. As a result, the verbal exchanges between us and the waitress were a bit comical – we were nearly shouting to be heard above the lunchtime din.

The only other notable occurrence with regards to service happened with my family – a server leaned into our table, and in Cantonese, offered us a plate of fried shrimp wontons – “a dish that white people like.”

Emperor's Palace

Shrimp wontons

The food was a mixed bag on both occasions, with portion sizes far from generous. The shrimp dumplings were all right, but they had paper-thin skins; my preference is a thicker shell. The pork dumplings, another dim sum staple, were disappointing – too chewy. The BBQ pork buns were perfectly shaped and browned, but the bread was dry and unappealing.

Emperor's Palace

Shrimp dumplings

Emperor's Palace

Pork dumplings

Emperor's Palace

BBQ pork buns

The temperature of the dishes also varied (albeit better at brunch than at lunch) – the rice wrap with BBQ pork, for example,  was served to us lukewarm.

Emperor's Palace

Rice wrap

But we were surprised by other dishes – the spring rolls, for example, contained no filler, only shrimp. Hot and crispy, the skin was decidedly light in colour, and not the deep brown characteristic of a bath of old oil. A dumpling with pork, peanuts and chives had great texture. Rolls made of dough and sticky rice were new to me, delightfully garnished with what we took to be greens and egg. I also thoroughly enjoyed their custard tarts – but then again, I’m a sucker for warm custard tarts!

Emperor's Palace

More dumplings

Emperor's Palace

Pretty rolls

Emperor's Palace

Custard tarts

My sister and I both have a bit of a Chinese restaurant restroom fetish, but I’m sure I’m not alone in having a negative connotation of dive-bar restrooms in association with Chinese restaurants. Emperor’s Palace joins Urban China on the short list of nice washrooms, with lovely azure bowl sinks.

Emperor's Palace

Women’s restroom

As a whole, though the décor is fabulous, the dim sum was only average. That said, flipping through their dinner menu (a huge, cardboard book), I think it would be worth a try, with options like squab and geoduck available.

Emperor's Palace

Dinner menu

So go for the decor, but as far as dim sum is concerned, don’t expect to be blown away.

Emperor’s Palace
10638 100 Street
(780) 757-2288

Chinatown Resurgence: Samurai Bistro

I can usually find a pretty good excuse to try out new restaurants. On Monday, that excuse was the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts. We’ve been attending the annual arts awards and recognition evening for three years (sadly, there was no on-stage closing dance number this time), and needed to have a pre-show meal. Samurai Bistro, open just two weeks, fit the bill perfectly.

I remember visiting Chinatown practically every weekend when I was younger, a stop for Asian groceries a necessary errand. At the time, the empty storefronts were fewer, and the traffic was heavier – mainstream grocery stores at the time didn’t carry as diverse an aisle of ethnic products, and T & T Supermarket didn’t exist. Even though Samurai Bistro and Basil Leaf make up what I would consider the western edge of Chinatown, it’s still nice to see some new development and revamped buildings anywhere in Chinatown.

Samurai Bistro is a tiny 30-seater restaurant, focusing on ramen and noodle bowls. The staff, who were friendly and attentive, did say that their dozen-item menu would be expanded in the next week, and would include daily seafood features. They also seemed sincere in their request for feedback after our meal, stating that they were a new business looking for any ways they could improve – it’s not something I’ve experienced a lot of, and though I didn’t have anything constructive to say, was a welcome inquiry.

The long and narrow restaurant was equipped with a refreshing open kitchen, lined with seats so patrons have the option of watching their food be prepared. I’m sure if the restaurant was packed, it would create quite the lively atmosphere. I loved the granite tables and the high-backed chairs, while Mack found the mounted wall “fireplace” to be particularly amusing. I thought the flat screen televisions, tuned to Food Network and ESPN, were two signs that we were in the right place.

Samurai Bistro interior

We underestimated our appetites that night, and opted to order the gyoza (7 for $7) to start. For our mains, I decided on the chicken and spicy herb ($9) bowl, and Mack chose the shrimp, scallop and seafood ($11) bowl. The restaurant had run out of ramen (brought in from Vancouver), so udon was our only option.

Order by photo!

The gyoza were fantastic – crispy and light on the outside, they were filled with just the right amount of pork and crispy cabbage. Definitely a keeper.

Gyoza, beautifully presented

As for our udon bowls, they were never-ending vessels, and ultimately defeated both of us. What first struck both of us was their generosity with seafood – Mack’s was filled to the brim with plump shrimp, scallops and calamari rings, in addition to crab legs. My accompanying chicken wasgood (the spicy coating making the difference), but seafood was definitely the winner here. The broth was all right, but my frequent pho ventures left me wanting for more flavour depth, which I realize is an unfair comparison.

Shrimp, Scallop and Seafood Bowl

 Chicken and Spicy Herb Bowl

Mack, a self-described “unstoppable crab-eating force”

With their responsive service and generous portions, I wouldn’t hesitate to return in the future. I hope others do the same, and perhaps in the process, help Chinatown regain some of its former glory.

Samurai Bistro
10632 100 Street
(780) 756-0834
Monday-Wednesday 11am-9pm, Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-6pm

The Comfort is in the Heat: Boualouang

Though Chinatown is only a ten minute walk from Downtown, depending on what event we’re running to, sometimes it is an additional distance we don’t have time to travel. That wasn’t the case on Thursday, when both the weather and our schedules were cooperative, with our Global Visions screening at Paramount falling at 8 (on a sidenote – I don’t like the trend of plays moving their start times to 7:30. I like the option of lingering at dinner).

As a result, I was finally able to return to Boualouang, many months after my first visit, and six months since the restaurant relocated down the block to a beautifully-renovated space. While the original location was functional and well-kept, it was bland and visually unattractive. This new venue better suits the wonderful food produced by the kitchen, and of course, provides the owners with a few tables to spare (they seemed to be forever turning people away at the previous restaurant). I especially love the lavish blue drapes that help separate the room from the bustling world outside.

Interior

I was very tempted to order a dish I hadn’t yet tried, but the side of me seeking a familiar, reassuring meal eventually won out. I couldn’t complain though – their green curry is (in my opinion), the best in the city. The chicken was tender, drenched in a sauce lovingly prepared with flavour that was worth the heat (which is saying something for a person who usually stays away from spice). We ended up ordering an additional bowl of coconut rice to soak up the curried goodness, and kept our server busy who insisted on keeping our water glasses filled to the brim.

Green Curry

The pad thai was also great, with a serving size that blows me away each time. Mack loved the grilled shrimp (and surprisingly) the tofu strips, and though isn’t a big fan of the sweet and spicy profile of the dish, was willing to overlook it for me.

Pad Thai

We were both stuffed, with leftovers remaining. For just over $40 (including tip), we were treated to a satisfying, relaxing meal with time to spare before our next engagement. If you’re in the area, be sure to keep Boualouang in mind.

Boualouang
10569 97 Street
(780) 423-4207
Monday-Thursday 11am-9pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-10pm, Sunday 12-9pm

Marathon Pho: Ninh Kieu

The ongoing chronicles of pho continued at Ninh Kieu, an establishment I have passed by countless times on my way into Chinatown, but never really noticed. The only reason it stood out at all was due to the fact that they had, at some point, put up a white vinyl sign which attracted my eye.

The restaurant is most notable because of their large windows, which enclose just about the entire dining area. As I am used to the shadowy corners of Pho Tau Bay, this was definitely a pleasant change. We could have done without the tinkering elevator music though, which although had the intention of providing a relaxing atmosphere, had the opposite affect.

Interior

As is standard, we split an order of green onion cakes ($4.75) to start, and opted for our usual benchmark bowls of pho – for me, the medium rare beef ($7.50) and for Dickson, the special beef noodle soup ($8.50).

Service was friendly and fairly efficient – we weren’t left waiting for our food. I would pass on the green onion cakes next time though – while crisp, the kitchen may have misplaced the salt while making the dish.

Green Onion Cakes

As I always order the smaller portions of pho when given the opportunity, I wasn’t ready for Ninh Kieu’s marathon version of pho. And it wasn’t just me – even Dickson had difficulty getting through the entire serving. However, quality is more important than quantity in the case of pho, and though we found the broth to be satisfactory, it didn’t make an indelible impression on us either.

Medium Rare Beef Pho

Special Beef Noodle Soup

Having the opportune location next to Pho Tau Bay, whose closure periods are hard to predict, I would consider returning to Ninh Kieu in a pinch. I would just have to prepare my appetite for a worthy opponent beforehand.

Ninh Kieu
10708 98 Street
(780) 429-8881
Sunday-Thursday 11am-9pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-10pm