On Oct 22nd, ChineseBites hosted the 8th Signature Dishes Tour dinner at Cindys Palace Chinese Seafood Restaurant on Nanaimo and East 2nd. Although I had heard about the place, I had never actually eaten at Cindys so I was pretty interested in seeing what the food quality was like.
We started off the meal with a few dim sum starters. First up were the Deep Fried Shrimp Cakes 泰式鮮蝦餅 which were pretty good. Served with two different types of sauces, the outer layer of the cake was lightly breaded and crispy while the shrimp inside were kept piping hot and juicy. If you enjoy shrimp, you will like this dish as the cakes are pretty generously filled.
Next up was a classic favourite with a bit of a twist: Shrimp Spring Rolls with Wasabi 日式鮮蝦春卷. To be entirely honest, I could not really taste the wasabi but the spring roll itself was very good. The outer shell was wonderfully deep fried and the shrimp was once again of good quality. I did note that these spring rolls were noticeably longer than you will find elsewhere which was a bonus. The oblique cut of the roll really showcased how much shrimp was packed into each roll which was much appreciated.
The next dish was not really Chinese but was still pretty tasty: Crispy Tofu Stuffed with Vegetables in Thai Sauce 花心酸辣脆豆腐. This is actually a very popular dish at Malaysian/Thai restaurants, deep fried tofu cakes drizzled in a very mild sweet chilli sauce. I was surprised to be served this at a Chinese restaurant but still enjoyed it. The tofu itself did not really taste like anything so the dish really leans on the sauce to add flavour to the very mild primary ingredients.
The third and last dim sum starter were some of the largest Pork Dumplings 飛魚子燒賣皇 I have ever seen. It is difficult to see from the photo, as there is no real relative measure, but the dumplings were significantly larger than normal. Extremely plump and very hot, I thought these ‘siew mai’ were quite good. Definitely a mouthful of well steamed pork that went well with the chilli accompaniment.
The first main entree of the night was a large bowl of Lamb & Fish in Hot Pot 魚 + 羊 = 鮮味鍋. This soup dish was very strong and you could really taste the various distinctive seafood flavours in each spoonful. I will caution readers that the fish has a lot of bones so be very careful when drinking the soup. The pieces of lamb were very tender but it is definitely the fish that shines as the broth is simply phenomenal on a cold Fall day.
The next entree definitely appealed to the vegetable lovers at our table: Steamed Chinese Melon with Vegetables 鴻福玉環上素. The actual Chinese melon did not taste like much but served as an edible bowl for a whole myriad of vegetables. A very simple, classic veggie dish, many diners would be more than happy to order this along with a couple bowls of white rice.
Moving from the veggie feast above, we dived right into a large bamboo container filled with Steamed Chicken with Mushrooms on Rice in Lotus Leaf 籠仔金菇蒸走地雞飯. I was not a huge fan of this dish but still had a half bowlful. The chicken itself was decent but I felt the overall dish was too busy. I liked the random slices of Chinese sausage but would have enjoyed the dish more if the allocation of ingredients was more uniform. Not a bad dish but not one I would order again.
The next dish was a creative twist on a very classic dish: Stewed Spareribs in Whole Pumpkin 南瓜排骨盅. For those that regularly go to dim sum restaurants, this spare-rib dish is almost always served in a small, round earthenware pot. Serving the meat in a hollowed out pumpkin was interesting but did not add a whole lot in terms of flavour. The spareribs themselves were quite good, well seasoned with decent amounts of meat. Serving them in a pumpkin was festive but I would have liked to have seen the melon bowl add more in terms of taste.
The ninth dish definitely won first place for having the most aesthetic wow factor: Stir Fried Prawns with Special Tea Leaves 茶香基圍蝦. We often order prawns at Chinese restaurants but this is arguably one of the nicest plating concepts I have seen. The chic presentation aside, the prawns were quite good. The tea leaves did not add that strong a taste profile but the prawns were quite edible on their own.
The tenth dish was a plate heaped with Deep Fried Squid with Salt & Pepper 椒鹽鮮魷. I love fried squid so this was a no brainer for me even though the squid was a little soft for my liking. The batter was crisp and well seasoned but you will probably want to eat this dish with some rice as it is somewhat salty.
The eleventh dish was a generous portion of Pork Toro with Vegetables 金盞川辣猪脊肉 in an edible cracker bowl. This dish had a strong kick of spice that really surprised but pleased me. I am a big spicy food person so I really enjoyed the bold flavour profile of this dish. The pork toro was tender yet slightly chewy and went well with the veggies and sauce.
The twelfth dish was a large bowl of Braised Pork Hock with Special Preserved Plum Sauce 九制話梅豬手. I was pretty full at this point but grabbed a large piece just to taste. The actual pork hock has a large bone component which you have to creatively navigate around to get at the fat and meat. The preserved plum sauce is very traditional and comes together with the pork very classically. There was a lot of bone and fat and not much meat but from what I had, it was pretty good.
The thirteenth dish was a moderate serving of Pan Fried Vermicelli with Beef in Black Pepper Sauce 含苞欲放牛煎米粉. Although it is difficult to see from the photo, the actual soft noodles form the base of the dish and then the beef and veggies sit on top. The triangular pieces of crisp noodle are there for presentation but also serve as a nice textural contrast to the mostly soft dish. The black pepper sauce is very strong in this offering and almost overpowering. The pieces of beef were very tender and went well with the soft vermicelli noodles.
The fourteenth and thankfully final main of the evening was a massive plate of Cindy’s Special Fried Rice 金牌肥媽炒飯. This dish was not bad as far as fried rice goes, very traditional and simplistic with the egg, pieces of pork and vegetables. The dish itself had a subtle smokiness that I enjoyed, and the rice tasted almost rustic which was interesting.
To wrap the dinner up, we tried two different desserts: Glutinous Rice Balls with Sesame Paste 麻沙糯米糍 and Baked Pumpkin Pastries 田園南瓜棵子. Both ball shaped desserts were good, not too sweet and very hot. Personally, I preferred the sesame ball but both were quite good.
A few final thoughts: Cindys definitely surprised me as the overall quality of the food was pretty good. Although the restaurant is a bit further east than I normally travel for food, there were definitely a few dishes I would order on a return visit. The dim sum were very large in size and quite good and a few of the mains like the Lamb & Fish Hot Pot would definitely be well received as the weather turns colder. With a tub of white rice, I would order the spicy pork Toro again along with a vegetable dish and maybe a noodle dish. I am pretty confident that would be more than enough for 3-4 people.