Name: Jade Seafood Restaurant
Location: 280-2811 No. 3 Rd., Richmond, B.C.
Prices: Appetizers, $9.99 to $27.99; rice and noodles, $9.99 to $22.99; main plates, $19.99 to $88.99 (all for sharing).
Additional Info: Open daily, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; reservations recommended.
Rating System: Casual Dining
Fleshy prawns and cubed squash are battered in a salted egg yolk crust as plush as buttered velvet. A vermicelli stir fry is tossed with fragile clusters of sweet egg floss that taste like shredded tamago. Succulent tea-smoked chicken is wrapped in dimpled skin that holds a chill yet melts in the mouth.
Oh, Jade Seafood Restaurant, you never disappoint.
Metro Vancouver is spoiled for choice when it comes to Chinese dining. There are great soup dumplings, superlative barbecue meats, ethereal dim sum delicacies, spicy Sichuan in every neighbourhood, value-priced food courts galore and an endless stream of new hot-pot joints.
But when people talk about Vancouver (more accurately, Richmond) having the best Chinese food in North America, they are usually referring to a handful of traditional Cantonese banquet-style restaurants. Some of the big names no longer deserve the accolades on which they’ve been coasting. Jade Seafood Restaurant, however, remains among the top standard bearers – for dinner – even though the head chef has changed and it recently moved to a smaller venue.
You can’t really judge Jade by the same standards applied to Western restaurants. The new location on No. 3 Road (on the second floor of a building owned by restaurant proprietor and real estate developer David Chung) has zero curb appeal. The entrance is an unassuming side door off a dark parking lot covered by a concrete overpass.
The dining room, lit blazingly bright, is appointed with smoked-glass chandeliers that are slightly more modern than the teardrop-crystal relics in the old location, but the polyester tablecloths are still frayed and shabby.
And yet the cooking coming out of this kitchen is of the highest standards, as it has been for years – even after the former award-winning head chef, Tony Luk, retired (many wouldn’t even notice, perhaps because the website is outdated). And even on the nights that the new head, Chi Ling Tam, (who was second-in-command under Mr. Luk) is off.
Jade’s signature dishes have won so many Chinese Restaurant Awards, it’s hard to know where to begin or which to suggest. If you’re in the mood to splurge, you can’t go wrong with fresh Dungeness crab stir-fried with mixed mushrooms, green onions and ginger crisped to a jerky-like chew. Amazingly, under all that rich umami earthiness, the sweet brininess of the tender crab flesh still shines through.
It’s an expensive dish, with the current market prices hovering around $30 a pound and a decent-sized crab with good meat-to-shell weighing about 2½ pounds. But it makes a fine centrepiece to a meal and a fun show as you watch the server scoop a crab out of the tank, trundle it over to the table in a bucket for inspection, then return when cooked with cap and legs carefully arranged to mimic the live article.
For a less pricey crab option, Jade also does a fine job of baking the shelled meat in a quivering egg-white custard and sautéing it with wild rice and dried scallops.
Grandpa’s chicken is another must-try, although the dish must be reserved in advance as the chicken is precooked, chilled, then smoked to order in a wok set over smoky tea leaves, sugar and toasted rice. The latter imparts a subtle campfire aroma that wisps through the cool meat and cuts through a light, winey sauce. “This would be such a great picnic dish on a hot summer day,” one of my friends, a first-time Jade customer, enthused.
My favourite dish at Jade is anything that comes coated in salted duck yolk sauce. I’m not sure what they do with the cured yolks, which are usually quite grainy, but here are lush and creamy. It’s most likely mixed with a ton of butter, although one friend suggested butternut squash. Or perhaps they just take the time to cook it out low and slow. Whatever they do, I could devour this sauce until my arteries choke.
For all its consistency, the Jade kitchen is constantly innovating. Among the fresh crop of featured dishes, I really enjoyed the slow-cooked short rib blanketed in honey and black-pepper sauce. The meat is sliced thin and tender; the sauce thick and gloopy, but not overly starchy. Try it with a ring of white onion, which has been lightly blanched. It balances the honey and brightens the pepper.
What I don’t recommend is the dim sum. Jade used to be one of the best, before the dim sum chef left for Mott 32. Now the daytime dumplings are just okay. The award-winning mushroom dumpling still has clean flavour and a meaty chew. And they do a great rice roll wrapped around a thin Chinese doughnut stuffed with fluffy, mousse-like fish paste. But the filling in the shrimp har gow (a benchmark for dim sum) is a bit too loose, the wrapper a bit thick.
For dinner, however, Jade is still one of the best.