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Rostra rating: 4
I really hate doing drive-by reviews. Bestowing rostras based on a single meal is unfair to restaurants as well as our readership. This is particularly the case for negative reviews. Even great establishments have bad days and your humble scribe has proven capable of ordering the wrong thing off a great menu more times than I would care to admit.
Unfortunately, multiple reviews require more time on station than Team Mago is currently capable of when we are in transit as we are now. So read our short takes with a grain of salt, and of course let us know if we have screwed the pooch in either direction. Also, remember that for any eatery with four or more rostras, there is a high probability that we are going back for more at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Team Mago hopped a sky train in downtown Vancouver and rode the modern, fast, and spacious conveyance (note to U.S. politicians: they know how to do infrastructure in Canada) to the close-in suburb of Richmond where the most recent wave of Asian immigrants have made their homes (ditto Canada and immigration). We were in search of dim sum and we struck culinary gold.
Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant is a ten-minute stroll from the Aberdeen Center on Number 3 Road, but for Montucky round eyes it is the functional equivalent of traveling to The People’s Republic sans jet lag. We arrived at 2PM on a Thursday with an hour remaining for dim sum service to find the place mobbed and a hungry hoard of about thirty waiting for tables. Now I am a dim sum junkie emeritus and I am here to tell you that the drill is the same from Hong Kong, to Sydney, to London, and beyond: man up, take no prisoners, and spare no children or (especially) old ladies, unless you want to starve within sight and smell of heavenly sustenance. So I forced my way to the head of the throng (line? we don’t need no stinkin’ line!) and held the formidable dragon lady hostess hostage until I got a table.
Mago tip: If you want to avoid the malnutrition vs. seriously negative karmatic experience tradeoff alluded to above, make a reservation—especially on weekends—but be prepared to wait at least 15 minutes for a table even if you exercise such prudent forethought.
The food banished whatever lingering guilt I retained after my Attila-the-Barbequed Pork Bun act, but first a word about service and decor. I long ago decided that old school dim sum trolley service was simply an inscrutable means of holding down costs by imposing luke warm food on the dining public. Chef Tony He apparently agrees. Dim sum is ordered sushi style on check box tablets that are numerically correlated with large, spotless, copiously illustrated, laminated plastic menus. On top of that, an enormous flat screen rotated through a list of chef’s specials displayed as captioned photos and simply begging you to tell the server “I want one of those.” The result is that dishes always arrive hot (if that is what they are supposed to be)—very close to, if not quite, dim sum a’ minute. Bravo Chef Tony.
Otherwise service was brusque yet efficient. The only hitch was that we were promised chili sauce that never arrived. This was a shame because everything I ingested could have done with more heat, especially the tripe dish. I let our side down by not demanding that the staff live up to their pledge, but I had already expended all my ass hat credits on obtaining our table and being only one of two 外国人in the place, while gratifying, was a bit intimidating. To cut the servers some slack, they were trying very hard to turn tables and conclude service amongst about a million little old ladies that did not possess any of my reticence concerning their wants and needs.
Unlike most dim sum parlors, our dining experience at Chef Tony was enhanced by the restaurant’s décor. The dominant color theme is white. The walls are grooved white with red accents and the white ceiling sports no less than eight chandeliers. The large immaculate dining space is dominated by a central turquoise neon pillar complemented by suspended off-white globe lighting in front of four separate VIP rooms for well, I guess, VIPs.
We managed five dishes before last call, which arrived in time to stop us from foundering as there were about fifty more I desperately wanted to try.
Eggplant stuffed with fish paste in abalone sauce: Crispy eggplant skin surrounding soft unctuous eggplant flesh topped with spongy, pungent fish paste comprised a textural tour de force complimented by the lush fishy mouthfeel of the abalone sauce.
Stewed ox stomach and beef tendons: My tripe-o-meter has been flashing empty since my last encounter with the fireman’s apron at St. Jack, so I really needed a bowl of guts. The addition of gelatinous tendons made this dish an inside the park home run and left me wondering what I had missed in terms of Chef Tony’s take on chicken feet.
Rice crepes stuffed with ground beef and cilantro: Amazing savory slime, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Sticky rice dumpling stuffed with meat and dried shrimp: I could eat my body weight in these puppies. And Chef Tony’s are the apotheosis of the species. Powdered sticky rice is somehow shaped into a hollow tear drop, stuffed, and then fried to a crispy millimeter thin shell followed by about five millimeters of chewy sweet “dough” that gives way to a savory salty interior. These dumplings are often under cooked, over stuffed, or both. Not so at Chef Tony, where attention is focused properly on the overall effect rather than the various constituents. The result is a sequenced tripartite culinary experience: crunchy, chewy, savory in that order. Amazing.
And we not only barely scratched the surface of the dim sum menu, but completely missed out on the dinner menu that in my humble opinion looked even better than the dim sum. Tony He is a serial entrepreneur, first generation immigrant who made his first fortune in e-commerce and then built a restaurant empire in China, Canada, and the U.S. His dishes combine both classic Asian and western culinary themes and they all are made with less oil and salt than traditional preparations. His devotion to sustainable and healthy ingredients not only in Canada and the U.S. but in China (where he purifies water on-site for each of his restaurants) is quite impressive, even by Vancouver and Portland standards. Team Mago cannot wait to return for a much more immersive gastronomic experience.
Mago tip: After you have dined at Chef Tony, walk off some calories at the nearby Aberdeen center, Richmond’s premier Asian mall. It is chuck full of amazing stores selling everything from the latest electronic gadgets and toilets that do just about anything you can imagine to jade emporia and Chinese apothecaries with the most bizarre ingredients in this spiral arm of the galaxy. And, although the thought of additional food should disgust you at this point, there are some great looking restaurants too.