The One -
Today was my daughter’s last Mandarin school session for the school year, and it marked the temporary end of my family’s weekly visits to Burnaby for lunch on Saturdays (Mandarin school resumes in September). I have to say that this little break came just in time. I’ve almost run out of new places to visit around her Mandarin school and I could use the time during the break to do a little research in compiling another list of restaurants to try in the area.
But before the break, we still had one Saturday family meal left in Burnaby. Since I had run out of ideas for places to go to, I turned to my wife to see if there was a restaurant in particular that she wanted to visit. She suggested that we pay a visit to The One restaurant. I asked her why she wanted to go there, and she answered that it was because I’ve never posted about it. She’s right. I’ve never written a post about the restaurant, and that was as good a reason as any to visit the restaurant.
It has been a long time since my last visit to the restaurant, so I was a little disoriented by the dated lounge-y look of its interior. The bright (predominantly red) colors, multiple patterns on the walls and furniture, and lounge-like seating felt more like an Asian karaoke than a Taiwanese restaurant.
Our previous experiences at the restaurant taught us that the restaurant served food in mega-sized portions, so we ordered two mains and three side dishes to share between the four of us (my son had already eaten at home, so it was really only three of us that were eating).
The first side that we ordered was the blanched/boiled vegetables, which is a staple of Taiwanese cuisine.
This dish was not a hard one to execute, and the kitchen did not screw it up. The vegetables were well blanched. They were not soggily limp and retained a crispy, crunchy, and juicy texture. The flavours were provided by the thick soy sauce and the aromatic deep fried shallots. The kitchen did a good job in moderating the amount of thick soy sauce used so that the dish did not become too salty. I felt that if they had mixed in a little bit of rendered lard into the soy sauce, it would’ve enhanced the flvaours of the dish tenfold and made the dish perfect.
The second side we had was the marinated seaweed, another popular casual/street side dish in Taiwan.
This marinaded seaweed dish was another dish that was well-executed (or should I say well-marinaded). The seaweed/kelp had a bitey crunch, and it had very enjoyable garlicky flavours. The only downside of the dish is that the garlicky flavours tend to linger in the diner’s mouth for the rest of the day.
The third side dish we ordered was the salt pepper deep fried tofu cubes, which is quite the popular dish in my household.
The tofu was crispy crunchy on the outside and silky smooth on the inside. The salt and pepper flavours were very pronounced in this dish, more so than most versions of this dish at other Chinese restaurants. Sliced pickled cucumbers were included on the plate, and they provided a nice, cool counterpoint to the piping hot deep fried tofu. The two sauces that were provided were also nice touches. They allowed you to customize the flavour of each individual cube of tofu to your liking; You could have alternating cubes of sweetness and saltiness by dipping the individual tofu cubes in either the sweet sauce or the thick soy sauce. If you like to both flavours together, you can apply both sauces to the tofu cube at once. This dish was simply and enjoyable.
The first main dish we ordered was one that we have never ordered before: the special railway sausage lunchbox.
The first thing I noticed about the railway lunch box was its portion size. This lunch box contained barely enough food for one person, whereas other main dishes we have ordered at this restaurant had portion sizes that at least doubled the size of this lunch box. I guess they were trying to stay true to the origins of the railway lunchbox by filling the authentic throwback Taiwanese railway lunch tin with the proper 1-person portion size.
I’m actually old enough to have eaten lunch on a train in Taiwan contained in the exact shaped and sized metal container that our food today came in (the container that our food was served in today was an exact commemorative replica of the original). From what I remembered, there was never a lunch box that had sausage as its exclusive meat component. The sausage always served a supporting role to a pork chop or a drumstick.
With the sausage taking the lead role today, I didn’t think that it played its role well. Although they did give us a lot of it, I felt bored after eating about two or three slices. I mean if they wanted to use Taiwanese sausage as the main meat component, they should at least include a more flavourful sausage. And if they couldn’t find or make a better-tasting sausage, they should’ve at least given it a more charred flavour or included some raw leeks and/or garlic. Simply giving us a larger portion of generic Taiwanese sausage with no enhancements just doesn’t cut it.
The minced meat that was on the rice was also quite bland, and so were the preserved mustard greens. The only thing in the tin that I liked was the rice. It had the slightly firmer than usual railway-lunchbox-style-rice texture that was consistent with my memories.
The order also came with a plate of four sides, they were:
- black beans with dried tofu – There was a very small amount on the plate and I finished the whole portion with one and a half spoonfuls of rice. The saltiness of the black beans went really well with the rice. I just wished they gave me more of it.
- julienned cucumbers and carrots – They tasted exactly like julienned cucumbers and carrots, with maybe a little seasoning. I thought that this tasted pretty boring.
- picked daikon/radishes – These pickled daikons were sliced too thin to make their crunchy texture enjoyable. If they had given me thicker pieces, I would’ve enjoyed them more.
- deep fried crab claw – The crab claw came with a sauce that was very sweet. I think that the sweetness was supposed to act as some sort of cover for the fact that this was an item that came straight out of the supermarket freezer aisle. This item does not belong in a restaurant that charged real money for its food.
Our second main dish was one that we never failed to order on our previous visits to this restaurant: the salt crispy chicken fried rice.
There was enough in this order to feed three average-sized adults. The rice was also well-fried, being neither too moist nor too dry. I liked that they included slices of vegetable (gai lan or yu choy) stems as a component of the fried rice. The stems provided a crunchy texture that was nice change of pace from the normal vegetable components of normal fried rices.
The salt crispy chicken in the rice was very crispy, but surprisingly, not salty at all. The saltiness actually came from the fried rice, which was saltier than usual. Together the flavours of the salt crispy chicken and the fried rice complemented each other. But when eaten apart, the chicken tasted too bland and the fried rice was too salty. I guess they were meant to be eaten together and not meant to be torn apart.
I was the only one that ordered a milk tea for my beverage (my wife was on a diet and my daughter wanted to save her sugary drink quota for something else).
The milk tea was pretty flavourless. I could not detect any tea flavours, but I did detect a lot of creamer (think coffee mate). I can’t comment on the sweetness because I ordered the milk tea half-sweet, but I thought that they did properly reduce the amount of sweetness in my milk tea. I personally like the milk tea from Pearl House- located a few blocks away- better.
It was not surprising to me that I didn’t really gain any new insight to the food at The One after my family’s lunch at the restaurant today. The meal was exactly as I expected it to be; I had some dishes that were good, and some that were bad. The sides were generally all good, and the salt crispy chicken fried rice was also good when all its components were eaten together. The railway lunchbox was pretty boring and the milk tea was flavourless. This meal was also exactly the meal I needed before my three month hiatus from my weekly Burnaby family lunches. It was average enough that I won’t be missing my weekly family meals there while also being average enough for me to not hesitate in returning for meals when Mandarin school starts up again for my daughter.