Monday, October 29, 2012

Taste of Yaletown 2012 - Chinois

Chinois on Urbanspoon
Chinois was a year old in the final week of the Taste of Yaletown. As it coincided with the weekend before Halloween, they also had Heaven & Hell Halloween night on Saturday, October 27th.

The restaurant opened to some buzz last year, although mainly what I heard was a lot of whining about the price. And as some of these tapas plates do come in at the $20-$30 range, that's not unjustified.

The room is rather dimly lit, but if you want a bit more light you can sit against the wall on the right side, which has lower-hanging lights.
Decor is interesting and how they do the Chinese theme is definitely worth a look. Far in the back is a cocktail lounge (Pierre's) where they completely drop the Chinese theme in favour of a curious classic-artwork-meets-irreverent-additions pieces of art on the wall. You'll understand what I mean when you see it.
Servers are all friendly hotties in tight black dresses. Our two servers, Jessica and Rebecca (Becky) were super, super nice and patient with us. Five stars for service (and separate five stars for being heart-stoppingly gorgeous).

Their Taste of Yaletown promotion was quite tame at a very modest price for this restaurant. In fact, the one appy we ordered (Jumbo Prawns) was $24 for a single sharing plate -- almost as much as the Taste of Yaletown three-course! I went with the FoodBloggers Meetup, so invariably someone pulled out the cellphone camera... which means pics, for a change!

Before I proceed with my review, I should say that I grew up eating Chinese food, so there's that mom-made-it-differently bias that can really skew things. For example, my non-Asian dining companions thought our meal at Fortune House was interesting and impressive, but I was rather bored with it.

2012 Taste of Yaletown Menu
$25.00 per person (excludes taxes, gratuities and alcohol)

Appetizer - ONE of
  • House Made Wonton Soup with Roast Duck Broth
  • Crispy Curry Potato Dumplings with Basil and Coriander Aioli
  • Wok Tossed Green Beans with Spicy Pork and Fresno Chilies

Entrée - ONE of
  • Wok Seared Beef with Gai Lan, Sui Chuy and Oyster Mushrooms; served with steamed white or brown rice
  • Vegetarian Crispy Noodles with Tofu, Peppers, Enoki Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy
  • Sweet and Sour Fish with Ling Cod, Pineapple, Jalapeno, and Cold Cucumber Salad

Dessert - ONE of
  • Mango Swirl Ice Cream with Fresh Mango and Lychee
  • Coconut and Vanilla Rice Pudding with Condensed Milk Cream
No one ordered the soup, and I didn't get to try the Ling Cod, but had a bite of everything else. Here's how dinner turned out.
  • Jumbo Prawns with candied walnuts and creamy spicy sauce ($24! - not part of the Taste of Yaletown menu)
    • While we were poring over the menu, I ordered something outside of the Taste of Yaletown to nibble on. This was the server's suggestion, and she assured me that it was the customer as well as kitchen favourite, with chefs making "accidental" extras for themselves and the servers as well.
    • Totally, almost exquisitely, delicious. Large prawns, perfectly crunchy-firm. Interesting taste combined with the not-bitter walnuts, plus a bit of kick from the sauce. About six prawns or thereabouts.
    • Portion is that of a large appetizer or largish tapas plate. Cost is frightening and high enough to make you question whether something even that delicious should be priced at $24. We were foodies (and it was all on my bill) so everyone who tried it, loved it.
  • Crispy Curry Potato Dumplings with basil and coriander aioli (picture)
    • Hands down the winning appetizer and probably the second-best item that night.
    • Hot and very crispy and beautifully browned from the kitchen. The crunchy outside made the creamy potato insides an interesting surprise and change in texture.
    • Lightly curried, nowhere near spicy or bitter.
    • The Taste of Yaletown portion was 4 per plate. Didn't see it on the online menu.
  • Wok Tossed Green Beans with spicy pork and Fresno chillies (picture)
    • Barely any spiciness to this, but I'm used to hot curries like Rendang, so your experience may be different.
    • Could have used a spoon for the ground pork.
    • Rather boring, actually.
  • Wok Seared Beef with Gai Lan, Sui Chuy and Oyster Mushrooms; served with steamed white or brown rice (picture)
    • A surprisingly filling plate here, primarily because of the very full bowl of rice. Looked tiny, though.
    • Tasted a bit boring here, plus it waited a bit long in the kitchen while everything else was prepped, so it came lukewarm. The server offered to take it back to the kitchen to be re-tossed in the wok. Helped a lot, but some of us had concerns that it might toughen up the pork, and passed on that option.
  • Vegetarian Crispy Noodles with Tofu, Peppers, Enoki Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy
    • We were seven at our table and no one ordered this, so I had to. The rectangular plate was slightly smaller than your 8-1/2" x 11" printer paper, and was filled almost to the edge with mostly the veggie component. Not the heaping amount of filler noodles that you typically get in every other Chinese restaurant. Quite a bit of sauce so you had to be careful or it would spill off the plate.
    • Overall this didn't taste particularly special if you've had a lot of chow mien.
  • Mango Swirl Ice Cream with Fresh Mango and Lychee
    • Pretty simple dessert. Nothing too special. A nicer, more refreshing dessert choice after an essentially comfort-food dinner.
  • Coconut and Vanilla Rice Pudding with Condensed Milk Cream (picture)
    • A simple and delicious rice pudding. Could be a bit heavy as a dessert especially if you had the rice bowl.
Overall I thought the Taste of Yaletown promotion was pretty sad (with the exception of the potato dumplings), and maybe they should have done a $35 and offered more interesting bites. If my order of Jumbo Prawns was any indication of what they can do and what the regular menu is like, then they definitely didn't show any of that potential through the Taste of Yaletown lineup. So I was glad I did try it (even at $24) just to know Chinois can really serve up some excellent plates.

Drinks were a bit tricky for a non-drinker like me. No fresh-squeezed fruit juice (but then, who does?). Mostly pop or very limited tea (nothing fancy here -- orange pekoe, green tea). Drinkers will have a better time with their interesting cocktails.

2012-Oct-26 Chinois coupon (front)

2012-Oct-26 Chinois coupon (back)

2012-Oct-27 Chinois Heaven and Hell Halloween night

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