Due to the fact that my usual haunts were beginning to bore me, I decided to venture out to try La Chine (Hwy 7 and E. Beaver Creek). The restaurant is located inside a little strip mall and was not at all what I expected when I first laid ears on the place. When I entered the restaurant though, I was comforted a bit as the decor was quite pleasant and the servers quite attentive.
The maitre d' introduced themselves to us and explained the specials of the day - which included a foie gras for only $7. How can one go wrong at such a price? So I promptly placed an order for the budget foie. By the time the foie arrived, we had placed our order. The menu was a refreshing departure from the usual suspects: there was a lot of mention of caramelized ducks, or beef, as well as some interesting stuffed birds. My SO and I settled on ordering the highly-touted Shark’s Fin Soup meal with the Grouper and fresh snap peas, as well as a second dish – the steamed milk tofu, which was explained to us was not at all tofu, but was rather a solidified milk product. We were welcome to the change and actually found this more intriguing than if it had indeed been just tofu.
The meal began with an amuse-bouche designed by the chef that included some excellently textured fungus and tender beans. The appetizer was nicely seasoned with a nice wasabi-like aioli. A nice level of heat emanated throughout each of the three mini-courses.
When the foie arrived, we were shocked at how large a piece was plated in front of us. But once we took a bite, we realized that this was not like any foie gras we had ever tasted, and in fact was much more liver-y in taste and firm, thus hinting at its inferior quality. It did not have any of the succulent qualities we were accustomed to when typically consuming this delicacy. Of course, we suspected that it would not be authentic foie gras at such a discount, so we were not at all disappointed. It was still a nice starter and we enjoyed eating it with its accompaniments. You could tell they were trying very hard to please their customers.
Foie Gras: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
Unfortunately, after the foie gras course, the rest of the meal went downhill – fast. The shark’s fin soup was wheeled out in a large bowl, and unfortunately stopped about 8 ft short of our table. I suspected that this was our serving, as we were the only table that was possibly at the soup course in the near vicinity. And that is precisely where my soup stayed for the next 8 minutes, while the waitress disappeared to every corner of the restaurant for no foreseeable reason. She returned just as she had left, and then proceeded to half-heartedly ladle the soup into the bowl, while still standing 8 ft away from the table. Then she came by, dropped off the soup and left. I thought that they had purposely went through the trouble of wheeling the soup out in such an elaborate fashion to ‘heighten’ the experience and elevate the caliber of the restaurant – however, it was lost in the execution. The soup had generous helpings of shark’s fin in the broth and I was pleasantly surprised. The shark’s fin soup meal for 1 was about $40, so I did not expect there to be that much fin in the actual broth. However, once I tasted the broth, I could immediately tell that this was not a quality production. The broth was drastically overly salted. The flavour was way too heavy and was nothing like I would usually associate with such a superior-type soup. SkylineR33 informed me that this taste was attributable to jin wah ham – personally, I have never tasted anything like it before (or at least nothing so pungent and ‘beef’-like). As well, the soup appeared to be coated in a film of oil. Not the most appealing, nor appetite-inducing sight. Not my idea of a ‘high-class’ soup at all. Personally, I would prefer a portion of the fat to be skimmed off the top of the soup before service, especially when it is so highly visible. The quality reminded me of the “house” soup that oft times comes “on the house” at the beginning of a Chinese dinner.
Shark’s Fine Soup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
Next came the tofu dish and the fish course. These dishes were polar-opposites to the aforementioned soup as they appeared to be devoid of flavouring and salt. This is especially shocking since I generally find foods to be over-salted. This is not to say that the ingredients were not exceptionally fresh. There were generous portions of ‘milk tofu’ and grouper in the dishes and they were very sweet. The dish could have been quite successful if it had been properly accented with the necessary herbs (just some basic chives/green onions, ginger and cilantro would have highlighted the sweet notes of the fish). These are just some of my suggestions, and to each their own, so maybe others prefer this level of flavouring.
The meal ended with a complimentary mango pudding that was not too shabby. It was a bit too gelatinous for my liking, but it was a nice, refreshing end to the meal.
I would like to hear some others’ opinions about the food because perhaps others have had better experiences on different days. Overall, I found the experience to be very disappointing, especially given the fact that we tried their most highly-acclaimed premium dishes. Though the price was very reasonable given the quantity of shark’s fin in the soup and the quality of the ingredients – it did not at all match with the level one could expect from how these dishes were marketed. Nor did it match the dining echelons we expected, given the price-point they were charging for their average dish. All they were missing was the correct seasoning in their dishes and if that was corrected, it could possibly elevate them to a superior level. Would I return? Perhaps - if the right opportunity arose. I would not order the shark’s soup ever again, but I would like to perhaps taste another one of their attempts at the fish, or milk dish, or one of their many other more innovative dishes. Would I be confident in recommending this restaurant to anyone else? I would have to say no. Not unless they fine-tune their execution, both in flavouring and service.
Cheers and Happy Eating!