A bright and sunny fall day provides the perfect back-drop for a couple of foodie friends and myself to go on a special Dim Sum run, in search of some out-of-the-ordinary offerings, in the Richmond Hill/Markham area. We selected the old stalwart - 'Casa Imperial' and a spanking new addition - 'King Dragon' as our chow destinations.
Frequently mentioned but seldom reviewed or posted, 'Casa Imperial's' position amongst GTA's top echelon Chinese Fine dining establishments is un-disputed. 'King Dragon', newly opened and located atop of Commerce Gate on Hwy 7, apparently has hired the ex-Dim Sum chef of down town Lai Wah Heen to run their Dim Sum department. This alone is enough to instill curiosity for a visit.
Shying away from all the usual traditional selection ( except for the Shrimp Dumpling 'Har-Gow', which I usually pick to use as a reference yard-stick ), our order focused exclusively on innovative or previously unheard of dishes.
From the Casa Imperial menu we selected the following:
- Baked BBQ Pork and Pine Seed Puffs
- Premium Abalone and Chicken Pie
- Crispy Wafer net wrapped Shrimp and Peach Roll with Salad Dressing
- Papaya and Milk Pudding Puff
- CI Signature Jumbo Size Shrimp Dumpling - 'Har Gow'
- Braised Oxtail in Lemon Grass, Satay Sauce
- BBQ Duck and Chinese Cabbage Dumpling with Conch topping
From the King Dragon menu we had the following:
- Fried Taro Croquettes dusted with Salted Duck Egg Yolk Crumbs
- Steamed 'Lobster' Dumpling
- Pan fried Pumpkin Jello Pudding with Honey Dip
- De-constructed open Abalone and Chicken/Scallop Pie with Broth
First off, Casa's offering. Overall, presentation was surprisingly rough with an edge. Some of the baked items were unexpectedly burnt! However, these defects were more than compensated by some outstanding taste and texture. BBQ Pork Puff was packed to the brim with juicy and tasty filling. Abalone and Chicken pie oozes with the delicate aroma of Awabi amidst a slightly creamy and delicious filling. The grease-less wafer wrapping of the Peach and Shrimp roll added a lovely delicate crispy textural component to the sweet, chewy and crunchy shrimp filling. A winner! Taste of the braised oxtail was exotic and tasty. Unfortunately, the dish was spoiled by the tough and under-cooked oxtail. Another hour in the slow cooker would render the final product ideal! For once, the taste and overall texture of the Har Gow actually met with my approval!! Could be the BEST in the GTA?! Skin was fairly thin, ductile and chewy, staying intact when picked up! Shrimp and bamboo shoot filling was sweet, juicy and crunchy. Unfortunately, the end result was spoiled by the abnormally huge morsel size which required several bites to finish! Imagine eating supposedly bite size sushi the size of a Hotdog??!! The Steamed BBQ duck and Cabbage dumpling was IMO a piece of false representation. Expecting a slice of Conch as topping, the chef apparently uses a piece of 'Conch Look Alike' King Mushroom instead!! May be acceptable to the generally unaware public, but to Chowhounders??!! This is an insult!
Next, the offering of King Dragon. Presentation in general is more innovative, 'cute' and, in the case of the de-constructed pie, pretty elegant looking for a Chinese Dim Sum. However, most if not all of the dishes were under-seasoned. Taro croquettes was less than delicate. The undetectable, less than pin head size Salted egg yolk topping was a joke!! Lobster dumpling has a thick and chewy wrapper that was tough enough to withstand a few knife cuts!! Filler was pitifully bland! BTW, where is the lobster?? The visually appealing de-constructed pie was a ' no man's land ' creation. Either they should provide more broth for the BBQ bun dough to soak up or the chef should render the broth to the consistency of a sauce. This pseudo, badly calculated, approach was most un-appealing!. Again, taste was extremely bland!! Lastly, the Pumpkin pudding was another disappointment. Mushy on mushy, the overall textural feel was not inviting at all!
Based on the above tasting, IMHO, Casa Imperial still safely retains its position as one of GTA's top, if not 'the top' Dim Sum go-to place in town. As for King Dragon, I will give it a pass for now. Hopefully, if and when more experience are gained by the staff down the road, I will reconsider my current decision.
BTW, for a fine dining establishment, service at Casa Imperial was pretty cold, blunt and unprofessional!! To tolerate Bad Service for Good Food??!! That is the question!!