Sunday, December 11, 2011

$20 Food Overload at Fisherman's Terrace Seafood

Fisherman's Terrace Seafood 釣魚台海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon
Saturday afternoon was taken up by an astonishing 30+ dish 2-hour dim sum lunch on the third floor of Aberdeen Centre at Fishermans Terrace Seafood Restaurant with the Vancouver Food Bloggers.
I don't get out to Richmond all that often. It's a different world with different priorities. For example, I could only find one type of Christmas cards (at Daiso). Nothing anywhere else in the entire mall. :sigh: The mall also doesn't have paper recycling -- boo! And, curiously enough, the motion-activated water and soap dispensers actually come with instructions in English and Chinese.

Since I grew up in a Chinese family and mom cooked Chinese food, I rarely bother to go to Chinese restaurants or dim sum, because, well, I grew up eating this stuff and mom makes it better (usually). Because of that, I also have pretty high expectations and am not easily impressed except by the most novel or interesting foods. So please read on with that caveat in mind. If you didn't grow up eating this stuff, you may find it far, far, more interesting and tasty.

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The last time I went to a Chinese resturant for dim sum must have been at least three years ago, somewhere along Broadway. It was pretty typical:
  • Someone rolls a cart by your table and you tell them what you want.
    • Generally, unless you speak Mandarin or Cantonese, you are out of luck and have to hope something comes your way that you might like. Then you point at it.
    • If you do speak Cantonese or Mandarin, you could probably get away with asking for something to be brought.
  • The server sets it on the table and usually immediately cut it up for you (typically with scissors) so your table can share it, since each plate might only have, say, two or three buns and sharing is expected.
  • Then they put a little print on a sheet of paper indicating plate sizes and portions you ordered. Once you have been stuffed to the gills and can hardly move, they come around, take the sheet of paper, and return with the bill.
It's not the same at Fisherman's Terrace.
  • They have sheets with the entire dim sum menu on it. The white sheets are in Chinese, the yellow sheets, are in English -- thank God! (You can see pics of the English menu at the end of this post). Translation might be iffy (more on this later), but if you don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese the English menus mean you're not completely lost, which is a good thing that makes dim sum so much more accessible to an increasingly multicultural world.
  • You indicate on the sheets what you want, then the waiter collects it. Shortly after, they bring the food. Unfortunately, they bring EVERYTHING in a non-stop stream of food. If you run out of space on the turntable, too bad: They start stacking dishes, so remember to look underneath to make sure you ate everything. (e.g., Toward the end of our dim sum lunch, I discovered we had one untouched dish of sticky rice! It had gone cold, of course.)
    • Bringing everything all at once may be easy for the kitchen, but as a diner you're pretty much guaranteed to get a lot of cold dishes because they'll have sat at the table too long.
    • It's a bit unavoidable with groups larger than, say, 4 or 6, since with a smaller group you could share and clear dishes more quickly. To be fair, some of the dishes were okay at room temperature, but some really were more palatable when hot.
    • There's generally no big hurry with dim sum, so you can try taking your time here and ordering maybe just one item per person or per two persons each time and pacing yourself that way.
  • When they drop the plates off, they DON'T chop it up and you don't automatically get any utensils.
    • At the table you have blunt ceramic spoons in small soup bowls and you have chopsticks -- the standard at any Chinese restaurant. If you have a large group sharing many dishes, I recommend asking for forks and knives early on, and several sets. Scissors might be overkill and there's no guarantee the restaurant will have so many to spare.
    • Also get SPOONS. Some items have soups or accompanying condiments that are just too hard to pick up with chopsticks and that don't adhere well to the food items.

It annoyed me that the jasmine tea didn't appear to have been refreshed, just constantly refilled with hot water, so as time passed the tea got weaker and weaker, to the point where you were basically drinking hot water. Sure it's free, but it just seemed bad form for the restaurant to be cheap about it, especially when a table of 11 had to share the one same pot.

Richmond is very cash oriented and (especially smaller stores) are not credit card friendly. Bring CASH. That said, we had I think at least two persons who wanted to pay by credit card and Fisherman's Terrace Seafood Restaurant didn't make a fuss about it, which is good. I've been to Chinese restaurants where they cap the number of persons who can pay with credit cards (probably because of the sometimes sizable amount the credit card company will skim off the top).

Now, on to the actual food! Very, very, few vegetarian options here. You should probably just write this place off if you're a committed vegan. We had easily over 20 items and multiple plates of some, so I'll only touch on some of the more noteworthy experiences. Remember to make room for dessert.

#16. Steamed Duck Tongue with Taro Root in Black Pepper Sauce.
Unless you've had it before you might not recognize this when it comes because it's a heap of thick meat slivers with a large bone in it. It's a pretty big bone, too. Bird tongues have a bone because they primarily use their tongues to position food into a swallowing position.

#55. Braised Pomelo Skin with Mixed Mushrooms.
Unless you have an acquired taste for pomelo skin, give this a pass. The pomelo skin is brown and looks like a thick slab of pork skin/fat. It is soft and very wet, and tastes bitter. Honestly, why do people eat this if they're not desperate? Maybe it's like beer -- it's bitter, but you somehow acquire a taste for it. Eating it with the mushrooms didn't help me at all. If you've never tried it, get it only if you're masochistically curious.

#19. Steamed Stuffed Fish Maw with Shrimp Paste.
Even the Mandarin speakers at our table weren't entirely sure what this was from the Chinese description. Although "maw" can mean stomach or mouth, fish maw specifically refers to a fish's swim bladder. It often appears in soups in Chinese cuisine, where it expands into a large, spongy mass that's typically a light dirty yellow in colour. The taste itself is pretty mild.
Although I ordered this, I had a hard time finding it in the jungle of dishes and when I finally did, there was just one slice of it, with no stuffing and no shrimp paste. ("Great. Thanks for sharing, guys.")

#60. Deep Fried Chicken Knee with Spicy Salt.
Looks like KFC popcorn chicken. Not oily at all. There's a small bit in each battered and deep fried nugget that's probably cartilage. You may be surprised that there's actually a chunk of meat here, on par with or slightly more than what you get with a KFC popcorn chicken.
The "Spicy Salt" turned out to be a mix of very salty bits of either crunchy batter or maybe deep fried and crispy garlic. I honestly wasn't sure, but either way, it was so intensely salty that whatever the bits were made of wasn't important.
This mixture also had some shredded chili, so if you had a bit of that, you got some heat, but not too much. The chili was also too inconsistent, so it was luck of the draw whether you got that or not. Here's where a regular spoon would really help. The ceramic spoon is okay, but a bit thick and clumsy to maneuver on the small plate without spilling things. Try to get both a nugget of Chicken Knee plus just a bit of the "Spicy Salt" mix.
At our table, most of the "Spicy Salt" here and on the #71. Deep Fried Squid with Spicy Salt was left behind. You can ask for a takeout box (which turns out to be just a white styrofoam box) and take it home for seasoning whatever you're making, such as fried rice, for example.

#38. Chilled Coconut Cake with Diced Taro.
The taro was so token as to be insignificant, but the coconut cake was a simple yet tasty cold dessert, not overly sweet. A safe choice out of a limited selection and a refreshing way to end a heavy lunch.

Overall the food is good, probably as good or slightly better than how my mom might make it. Nothing inventive here -- it's a lot of dim sum staples and there probably just isn't a market for inventive dim sum. None of the items appeared to be decidedly skimpy on ingredients, so you're not getting cheap fillers on anything you order. I'd have to score Fisherman's Terrace Seafood as a solid and safe choice for a dim sum recommendation.

It was super-busy at noon, so make reservations unless you don't mind dining at 1:30pm or later, in which case the restaurant had already started to empty from the Noon crowd and it appeared that dropping in and getting a table would probably not be a problem.

Prices are $3.45 to $5.65 per plate, more for the "kitchen gourmet" items that can run up to $8.80. We were stuffed but had little leftovers after our meal, which worked out to $20.02 per person after tax and tip. You can see a picture of the bill, and tons of pictures of the dishes, at Eat With Jenny.

In attendance was professional videographer Alex Yu the Ragin Ronin. You can see his video coverage of our dim sum at Fisherman's Terrace on YouTube and the frenzy of picture-taking whenever a dish came to our table...



2011-Dec-10 Fisherman's Terrace dim sum menu FRONT

2011-Dec-10 Fisherman's Terrace dim sum menu BACK

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