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

Extreme Sticker Shock: Noodle Noodle

Two co-workers and I decided to indulge in a dim sum lunch last Friday to celebrate Chinese New Year. With only two options within reasonable walking distance for our one hour break, we chose Noodle Noodle over Urban China. Though I hadn’t been to Noodle Noodle in years, from what I remember, the prices weren’t egregious.

We arrived at the restaurant just after noon. It was pretty busy already, not unexpected for a Friday before a long weekend. We were quickly seated at a table by the door, and before long, were greeted by cart-directing servers.

As soon as our first dishes were marked on our tally sheet, we realized that the prices were way above average for dim sum – they ranged from $4.75 to $9.95! We were unfortunate enough to select a dish on the latter end of that scale (the ginger beef, primarily for one colleague who does not consume pork). As soon as the dish was priced my co-worker and I looked at each other and laughed at the absurd mark-up – it would be a painful meal.

Ginger Beef

Rice crepes, with either beef or shrimp? $6.50. Almond tofu? $5.95. BBQ pork buns the size of dumplings? $4.95. The quantity of food provided exacerbated our sticker shock as well – not only we were paying double for each dish, but in almost each case, the portion size was smaller than what we would find elsewhere.

Rice Crepes

 

 No joke, they were serving $10 dim sum dishes at Noodle Noodle

Good service was also something to be desired. After we told one waitress about our colleague’s non-pork diet, the next time she whizzed by, she did not bother to stop, and just commented in passing that there was nothing on her cart that we would want. Thankfully, the other servers were not as dismissive, but needless to say, we were not impressed.

Ellen and I “showing off” the BBQ pork buns

In terms of quality, the only dish that we were remotely happy with was the almond tofu. Lightly scented and accompanied by a decent amount of canned fruit, it provided a sweet end to an otherwise bitterly comical experience.

A serving of almond tofu

We all agreed in the end that our next dim sum trip would be in a vehicle.

Noodle Noodle
10008 106 Avenue
(780) 422-6862
Monday-Thursday 10am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-11pm, Sundays & Holidays 10am-9:30pm

“You win some, you dim sum”: Urban China

You can thank Mack for the eye-rolling title quote.

It’s always nice to have more options within walking distance of the office, so when signs of a new restaurant where Rosie’s used to be on 106 Avenue and 100 Street appeared, I was excited. Urban China opened up in the fall, and I was eager to give them a try.

Dickson and I met up for a dim sum lunch one afternoon. A handful of tables were occupied, with one or two non-Asian groups seated when I entered. The host immediately greeted me in Chinese, to which I ungracefully replied in English, and was led to a table.

The interior had been completely redone, with fabulous results. Unlike most Chinese restaurants that utilize too many gold accents and fake fauna, Urban China chose the sophisticated route of dark wood, leather chairs, bright aquariums and a single red accent wall. It is a sleek space that seems destined to become popular for special occasions and banquets.

Interior

Of course, that previous statement would only be true if the food matched the expectations set by the décor. At Urban China, dim sum is both a cart and paper affair. For the limited number of tables, it seemed rather silly for the restaurant to offer carts at all, even though I prefer the jostling atmosphere incurred by drive-by hawkers. Because of their limited pre-cooked selection, we ultimately ended up ordering a few dishes directly from the kitchen anyway.

The dim sum litmus test of ha gao and siu mai ($4.25 each) wasn’t overly positive for Urban China – the shrimp dumplings were the better of the two, but for the price and wavering quality, we were better off at a cheaper establishment.

Shrimp Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

The rice crepes with shrimp ($4.75) were probably the best of our dishes that day, which contained a fair amount of shrimp encased in a silky wrap. My BBQ pork buns ($3.75) on the other hand were poor, a congealed meat filling with an almost pasty quality in every bite. Dickson was similarly unimpressed with his steamed egg yolk sauce buns ($3.75), commenting that the frozen versions at T & T were better.

Rice Crepe with Shrimp

BBQ Pork Buns

Egg Buns

Sharing small plates for lunch is always a nice way to go, particularly in a clean and chic environment. But at least for dim sum, Urban China doesn’t provide the best value or quality. I’ll have to come back to try their dinner menu to see if it holds up.

Urban China
10604 101 Street
(780) 758-1888

Eat Until You Burst: T. Pot China Bistro

Craving dim sum in Calgary, my family (and Mack) hit up T. Pot China Bistro on Felicia’s recommendation. I was a bit leery if not only because of the name (any Chinese restaurant that attaches “bistro” at the end of it wouldn’t appear to be the most economical).

Though we had an idea that the restaurant was in northwest Calgary, we didn’t realize just how far north until the drive. We were nearly into Airdrie when we hit the small retail area that contained, among other shops, a T & T.

T. Pot is not much to look at from the outside, being a generic big box. But it was quite lovely on the inside, with beaded curtains, crystal chandeliers and cushy high-backed chairs. And while their dim sum wasn’t the fun push cart kind, a few staff members wielded plastic trays as their push cart-equivalent, and offered us plates of food from their arms.

Interior

The area to the back of the restaurant where we were placed steadily filled up during our visit, but was never completely packed, unlike the other dining area separated from us by a median. Items were priced from $3.99 to $5.99, which are above the norm, but once the dishes started to arrive, we understood why: we were either given double the quantity normally provided, or items were twice the size of those commonly seen. Case in point, the steamed shrimp dumplings ($4.99):

Shrimp Dumplings

Standout dishes for me included Chinese doughnut wrapped with rice crepe and the pan-fried pork dumplings. Overall, we were pretty impressed with the quality of the dishes. Here are just a few of the plates we ordered:

Chinese Doughnut Wrapped with Rice Crepe (served on one side with some oddly paired peanut sauce)

Rice Crepe with BBQ Pork

Bean Curd

Coconut Buns

Pork and Shrimp Dumplings

Pan-fried Dumplings (beautifully arranged to boot!)

Deep Fried Pork Dumplings

Needless to say, we all ate until we nearly burst, and still ended up with leftovers. Ordering by paper always seems to have that effect – T. Pot China Bistro: 1, Yeo Family and Mack: 0

I’m glad we had the opportunity to try out the restaurant – I’d recommend it for dim sum off the beaten path in Calgary!

T. Pot China Bistro
100, 9650 Harvest Hills Blvd. NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 532-3982