Day 13 – Red Star Seafood Restaurant…
I feel kinda bad for not taking the kids someplace warm during spring break. While their classmates are parasailing in Cancun, surfing in Hawaii, and cruising the Caribbean, my kids are enjoying the abundance of rain and wind in the second warmest major metropolitan area in Canada. I thought I’d partially make up for it by taking them somewhere fun everyday. The plan today is to have some indoor fun time at fun4kids in Aberdeen Centre.
We had already been to Aberdeen Centre twice in the past five days but my daughter and son were unable to play at fun4kids either time. The first time was because it was overcrowded and the second time was because there was a private party. We called ahead before we went for the third time to make sure that there they could play there. After confirming that they were indeed open and not overcrowded, I proceeded to search for a restaurant nearby where we could have lunch beforehand. My wife was craving for some Beijing roast duck so I steered my search towards restaurants that serve the dish. I also wanted to visit someplace new so that was another criteria in my search. I knew that my wife’s favorite duck was had at Red Star in Vancouver, and the Red Star in Richmond was on my list of to-try restaurants, so it became the most logical choice.
I plugged Red Star’s address on my car navigation unit and I trusted that it would lead me to my destination. I was quite confused when I saw myself approaching Aberdeen Centre while listening to the female voice in my nav unit tell me that I was approaching my destination. I don’t recall seeing Red Star Seafood in Aberdeen and I distinctly remember not entering the address of Aberdeen Centre. So why was my nav unit leading me to it? The answer quickly became clear as I drove past the Cambie/Hazelbridge intersection towards No. 3 Rd. The nav girl informed me that the destination was on the right. Aberdeen Centre was on the left. I turned right when she instructed me to turn right and landed in President Plaza. As I entered, I see a sign for Red Star Seafood Restaurant but I don’t see the restaurant itself. I proceeded up the ramp into the indoor parking structure and parked in a space close to the entrance. I didn’t see any sign for the restaurant but thought that I would find it once I entered the mall. I entered and immediately saw this:
No Red Star here, just the food court. So I looked down:
No Red Star downstairs either, just TnT Supermarket. So I thought I’d ask the people walking in front of us where Red Star was. As I caught up to them and was about to get their attention by tapping the lady closest to me on her shoulder, I see the restaurant:
The location is kinda hidden and you’d have to know where to look to find it. The main sign is on a side wall so you might miss it if you were just quickly scanning the landscape. Entering the restaurant, we were relieved to find that there were tables readily available. Of the more than 10 times we’ve been to their Vancouver location for both lunch and dinner, I don’t think there was once that we’ve not waited for a table – even when we had a reservation.
We were immediately led to our table and a server came quickly to ask us what type of tea we wanted. Since I already knew that we wanted the Beijing roasted duck two ways, I ordered that with the tea. We then sat down to order from the dim sum menu. There were only five of us, so we tried not to order too many items as the duck dishes themselves should be quite substantial.
The duck dishes were ordered first, so the sliced roasted duck skin and it’s accompanying dishes came first. We were first graced with the presence of the flour pancakes:
Then came the sliced roasted duck skin:
Lastly came the garnishes of sauce, cucumber, and scallions:
For those that are uninitiated in the art of the Beijing roast duck, you basically combine all the ingredients to form a taco. Here’s what my daughter’s first roast duck taco looked like:
If the duck was well-roasted and pancake well-made, the final combination should come out to be an explosion in flavours and a complimentary contrast of textures. My first taco confirmed that the duck was indeed well-roasted and pancake well-made. The pancake had enough elasticity to create nice chew (known in both Cantonese and Mandarin as ‘teeth bouncing’) while being easy to bite off. The duck skin was also slightly ‘teeth bouncing’ and crispy at the same time. Combine these two with the garnishes, you get a great combination of flavours with the sweetness of the sauce, the aroma of the duck oil on the duck skin, the slight spiciness of the scallions, and the water-rich, refreshing burst of coolness from the cucumber. Textures complimented each other like cogs in a well-oiled machine. Both the pancake and duck had a little chewiness, but the pancake was sticky-chewy and the duck skin was crispy yet chewy. The cucumber was a big, watery crunch while the scallions were layers upon layers of crunch. There was a lot of chewing and crunching going on in my mouth with every biting motion introducing a new sensation.
This version of Beijing roast duck trumped the ones I had at Shanghai river, the Vacouver Sun Sui Wah, and the various locations of Kirin. It was better than all but one: Red Star Vancouver. The one there had all the elements I just mentioned plus one more extra flavour. Try as we might, but my wife and I couldn’t put a finger on what the flavour was. The best term I could use to describe the flavour was “umami”. But even without the umami, everyone at our table was enjoying the heck out of our duck tacos.
Our dim sum dishes came as we were finishing off the last of the duck tacos. The first dim sum dish we got was B.B.Q. pork in puff pastry:
This version had a strong ginger flavour, adding a different flavour profile to the dim sum standard. The puff pastry was robust and filling was still hot. Nicely done.
After the first savory dim sum dish came the first and only sweet, the egg tarts:
I’ve noticed that different restaurants serve the egg tarts at different points of a meal. Some serve it only when you’ve finished the savory dishes while others, like Red Star Richmond, serve it along with the savories. The egg tart was unfortunately already cold. When I eat egg tarts at restaurants, I like them served hot. Eating cold egg tarts make me feel like I’m at home eating an egg tart that was bought at the bakery the previous day.
As opposed to the cold egg tarts, the spare ribs that came next were steaming hot:
These had a nice flavour. The meat was neither too tough nor too fatty. A good version of the dim sum classic.
Next came the soy sauce and chive fried noodles:
My wife and I diverged on our opinions of the dish. She thought it was too dry while I liked it precisely because it was very dry. I also like the fact that it had a hint of a charred flavour.
The shrimp rice rolls were ordered for my daughter:
I didn’t have any but my daughter showed that she liked the dish by finishing the whole thing.
Our final dim sum dish was the soup dumplings:
This was excellent, better than the version served at Red Star Vancouver. The were four smaller dumplings instead of the customary one big dumpling. This made a big difference as normally the one big dumpling would break apart in the soup. I could eat each of these four individual dumplings whole. The soup was also very flavourful. It had an umaminess not present in the soup at Red Star’s Vancouver location. And just for kicks, they included a row of shark’s fin instead of individual slivers. I’ve never seen this in a sub $10 soup dumpling. This was the top dim sum soup dumpling I’ve had among the dim sum restaurants in the area.
After the procession of dim sum items ended, we got the second dish of our Beijing roast duck, the lettuce wrapped stir-fried bits:
By the time we starting eating this dish, we were so full from eating the rest of the dishes that it’s flavour and texture didn’t resonate much with us. I mean the bits certainly had a contrast in textures and the lettuce was fresh and juicy, but eating another bite of it just felt like trying to swallow another pill after already ingesting 20 capsules. This dish tasted exactly like the one I had at their Vancouver location, which was also served at the very end of the meal.
Honestly, for a weekday lunch, the meal we had was overkill. We usually reserved having Beijing roast duck for dinners on weekends; not to mention the fact that we were not accustomed to stuffing ourselves silly for lunch. But of course the great roast duck we had was worth every extra calorie.
Though excellent, the roast duck we had at Red Star Richmond was not the best version we had in the area. It came in second place to the superlative version we had at this same restaurant’s Vancouver location. We did, however, have a soup dumpling that was better than any we’ve had in the area. This version even bested the previous champion: the soup dumplings we had at this same restaurant’s Vancouver location. It says a lot about a restaurant when different locations of the same chain serves the best and second-best versions of not one but two dishes. It shows their overall dedication to putting out an outstanding product. So I won’t be nitpicking the differences between the quality of the dishes when I next visit one of these two restaurants. I’ll instead be asking them to serve me the lettuce wrapped duck bits first, before I lose my appetite by overstuffing myself again.