Firstly, I’m still really new to Vancouver, but it’s the obvious that there is no shortage of pretty great Chinese restaurants of various levels, from steam table buffets all the way to seriously upscale. But figuring which is which can be difficult, especially for someone with zero ability to read or speak Chinese.
Secondly, I work in film and so my first order of business in a new town is to find the independent and art house theaters that will show the kinds of things I love. (Obvious why I miss LA, no?)
So I was very pleased to find Chongqing just a short walk from the Rio Theatre on Commercial and Broadway. Unfortunately, the first time I went was utterly blind, and the dan dan noodles were a real letdown. The kindest thing to be said about them was they were inoffensive. The Chinese equivalent of buttered spaghetti.
It was only later, after doing some online research and consulting with coworkers who DO know about these things, that I realized I just ordered the wrong dish. Chongqing is a better version of the North American Chinese restaurant that all of us older white folk grew up with. You want a place that’s inexpensive but not cheap, where your mom and your aunt can have fried rice and sweet and sour pork and not worry about it.
Well, sometimes even the mundane is special. First we had this:
Pork wontons in spicy peanut sauce with spinach. Nothing wrong here. Juicy dumplings decent filling. Tasty peanut sauce with a mild kick. And spinach, not overcooked, so you can say you ate something green.
But then… there was this:
Honey garlic beef. I ordered it expecting the standard issue battered and fried mystery meet with sweet orange-ish msg sauce. No. I got what looked to be a skirt or flank steak (or some other lean grainy cut) that had been well marinated and grilled, , or griddled, or gotten tossed in a wok hot enough to crisp up the edges. They were glazed with a very mild soy and honey glaze that was a far from generic 'sweet and not really sour flip as you can get. Charred crispy meat, rich, dark brown glaze that you WILL pour onto your rice if there’s any left on the plate. It’s not adventurous. It’s pretty yawn worthy when you consider the amazing food at a million other places in the city.
But it just hit the spot. Perfect. Those little things around the beef are bite sized garlic buns. Mostly another thing to use as a mop on the plate once the beef is gone.
I know I’ll be spending a lot of time at the Rio (they host horror and grind house feats so I’ll be there) and it’s good to know there’s something I like in the neighborhood. I’m looking forward to see if anything else rises above and beyond.
I also think that I might have seen something similar to this beef dish on the thread about Chinese imperial cuisine, but I can’t seem to locate it at the moment.
In any case, if you find yourself at the Rio Theater wondering where to go to talk about what you just saw, Chongqing is a pretty solid option.
Also the tea is a light jasmine and really appreciated now that the cold weather is here.