Admittedly, the poor service and the dirty chairs and the stale smell mentioned in the review titled “Look before you sit” by contributor Apple Pie of Burnaby on Dine Here (http://dinehere.ca/vancouver/sing-kee...), are all true. And Apple pie could have further complained about the cigarette burns in the tabletops and the people playing dice games that may or may not be gambling. However, I am telling you people, Apple Pie is dead wrong about the food. I swear there is a five star secret weapon of a Chinese chef back there in the kitchen. That’s probably why it isn’t dirt-cheap. I don’t know what to say about the Kung Pao chicken that Apple Pie was complaining about in the above mentioned review, except maybe ordering Kung Pao Chicken at Sing Kee is like ordering a steamed hotdog at Morton’s, or a coke at a good wine bar. Kung Pao Chicken? Maybe you just get what you order.
But it is a strange place to be sure. I still don’t really believe that the place is even possible. I start to doubt my own judgment and it takes me forever to screw up the courage to go back, reassuring myself all the while that yes, I really do know what good Chinese food is and yes, that really was good Chinese food I had at Sing Kee. This inner conflict, along with the fact that the service is slow (it will take 45 minutes for the food to start arriving), are the only two reasons I have only been back three or four times in as many years. Every time I expect to be disappointed, but so far I have been totally blown away. And still, I continue to anticipate disappointment and put off returning. What I am really hoping is that I can convince someone else to go so I can have a witness.
One of the things I suspect about the place is that you might have to be savvy. For instance, the waiter will offer you a really boring fixed menu dinner for however many are in your party (You know the scenario – chicken chow mien, sweet and sour spare ribs, etc). I always decline this offer, preferring to choose my own dishes. Here is an account of the four dishes I remember the best, along with my attempt at descriptions through recollection (it has been a while now since I have been back):
Crispy chicken –
My guess is that they make this by brining the raw chicken, steaming it, air drying it, and finally deep frying it. But whatever they are doing, they are doing it right. Now this is not the plump juicy southern fried type of thing you get from Churches. This is a different product altogether. The meat is dense and flavorful and the skin is both crisp and salty. It is really almost a confit or other charcuterie of some kind.
Gailan with Chinese sausage.
I really have no clue how exactly they prepare this simple and common dish, but it is so delicious. Served piping hot and always at the perfect point of doneness – still very crisp yet cooked through so the juice is almost like a broth. And coated in some kind of hot nutty flavored micro thin oil slick.
Two kinds of squid.
(I can’t remember if this is a hot pot or just a dish). Served ultra piping hot, it has both oniony and faint smoky flavors. Both squids, fresh and dried, are perfectly tender and perfectly cooked – the dried squid offering the faint smoky flavor.
Black Cod with tofu and black bean.
This has got to be the chef’s pride. Or at least one of his (her?) faves. Black cod steaks atop slices of soft silken tofu, finished in the most amazing black bean sauce that tastes of good wine and the earth - and garlic, of course. Probably garnished with something like slivered green onions or something but I cant remember. The oily smoky flavors and tender fleshy texture of the black cod fish (cooked absolutely perfectly, by the way) pair beautifully with the silken texture of the tofu and all the black bean and fish flavors it soaks up. This dish is quite small. Three people get three small servings. But it is one of the finest dishes I have ever had.
Now above, I eluded to poor service. I have to qualify that. True, if you complain about a dirty chair, the waiter will most likely move it rather than clean it, and there is nothing otherwise friendly about the service either. If you try to compliment the chef after the meal, for instance, the server will most likely reply in grunts. You will also wait longer than you want for your food. 45 minutes at least. However, the dishes, when they are served, are served as they are supposed to be in the Chinese fashion - one dish at a time, absolutely piping hot, and at the perfect point of doneness, and it is in this sense that the service is actually perfect.
The hours are weird. They aren’t posted, but I think its something like 5PM to 5AM.
Sing Kee Restaurant
3479 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5R5L5, CA