On the plate: Chinese chefs present Signature Dishes – Westender
By Andrew Morrison
There has long existed a divide between the amazing Chinese
restaurants of Richmond and the polyglot collection of restaurants often
referred to in these pages as the “Vancouver restaurant community”.
The proof of this is often obvious enough to the
customer. Some of Vancouver’s best known restaurants employ the unsubtle
art of ambiance, often (unfortunately) valuing decor above food and
service to capture the attentions of easily pleased scenesters, while
many of Richmond’s best known Chinese restaurants pair cheap furniture
under bright, fluorescent lights with all manner of exquisite
Come in closer and the divide is more plainly witnessed at the
annual Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards. It’s the one day out of the
year when the cream of the local food and beverage trade gathers to
celebrate one another in an orgy of drink-swilling, back-patting and
face-stuffing. It’s meant to be inclusive, but it’s long been a struggle
to get representatives from the restaurants shortlisted in the Best
Casual Chinese, Best Formal Chinese, and Best Dim Sum categories to even
show up, let alone RSVP.
Attendance has increased in recent years, with at
least some Chinese chefs and restaurateurs taking the stage for their
accolades, but most other attempts to join one restaurant community to
the other have come to naught. There’s even now the The Chinese
Restaurant Awards (CRA). Wildly popular and enjoying its fourth year, it
has pretty much put an exclamation mark to this mutually acquiescent
(if wholly unofficial) state of culinary apartheid.
Which brings me to the CRA’s new initiative,
aptly dubbed Signature Dish. It’s a brand new dining festival on the
immediate horizon (November 1 to 18), and it has me all a-flutter for
good reason. It’s similar to Tourism Vancouver’s annual “Dine Out”
festival in that there are appealing price controls, but instead of
menus for individuals (say, $25 for one person’s three courses), the
restaurants charge by the group. To wit: four people for $100; six
people for $150; or 10 for $300.
That’s all well and interesting, but the biggest
difference is the one that I anticipate in quality. From the beginning,
Dine Out was meant to put bums in seats during the slow season (January
20 to February 5). The racket has worked well for the past 10 years, but
the natural consequence of its success has been that many of the
restaurants along for the ride become madhouses. In my experience, not
one of them has ever shown its best foot forward during Dine Out. The
service is often demonstrably harried and the kitchens become nightly
conveyor belts of rushed repetition, making for evenings from which few
memories can be made.
In contrast — and instead of presenting an
easy-to-execute menu designed to maximize profits — the novel point of
Signature Dish is to show off the best plates of the individual chefs.
Period. That means me and up to nine of my friends can sup on
“grandpa’s smoked chicken” at Richmond’s Jade Seafood (prepared by 2011
CRA Chef of the Year Tony Luk) or on the many other plates that each
participating restaurant is best known for. Feel like salivating? Find
all the participating restaurants and menus at ChineseDiningGuide.com.
My point is that they aren’t “Plan B” plates
prepared half-heartedly for the perceived “great unwashed masses”, but
rather the ultimate expressions of a handful of celebrated (if still
widely undersung) chefs’ skills. Truly, if there was ever a net positive
to the long standing divide, this is it, and I want in. With only 18
restaurants on board in Richmond, Vancouver and Burnaby for the
inaugural Signature Dish (as opposed to 215 during Dine Out), I’m
confident that they’re all going to come out swinging.
Participating Vancouver restaurants are
Fraser Court Seafood, Golden Swan Seafood and Prince Chinese Seafood.
Let them know that you’re booking for Signature Dish.