In Hong Kong, most people live in self contained housing developments, where a forest of residential towers surround a central podium which houses amenities for the residents, including transit, shops, and restaurants. Usually there is a giant Maxim’s – a hugely successful Hong Kong chain that meets the daily dining needs of the local middle class.
This big podium restaurant will start serving dim sum early in the day and in the evening provide a full service dinner menu. The staff at these restaurants work tirelessly – providing good value and aspirational service to their customers. The floor managers are on their feet for a good 10 to 12 hours a day and the waitstaff hustle with snap and purpose. If you are a regular, you are quickly identified and the staff will address you formally. Mrs. Chan, how nice to see you, would you like your usual tea?
For customers, these restaurants quickly become an extension of their home life. In an unrelenting fast paced city like Hong Kong, they are an oasis of civility and welcome. A place for weekend leisurely lunches with the family, easy going dinners when mom does not want to cook, or celebratory banquets to mark weddings and the birth of children. When I lived in Hong Kong, it would not be surprising to see older gentlemen saunter in, wearing their most comfortable (but still presentable) pajamas.
In Vancouver, there are a good number of neighborhood full service Chinese restaurants that serve this same purpose. They are not feted like the shiny top tier restaurants, but they provide great value, fresh cooked classics, and snappy service. Such is the depth of Vancouver’s Chinese restaurant ecosystem, that there is usually very little attention paid to these places.
Take Fortune City Seafood Restaurant for example. It’s the place that your mom likes to go because she is a regular and is seated quickly. Where the dim sum is inexpensive (perhaps even made offsite) – but served fast and hot. Where there is always a great seafood special on offer, and you can order a very well priced set menu dinner that will please everyone in the family.
As part of the Chinese Restaurant Awards, the judges dropped in unannounced for a tasting. Fortune City’s signature dish is their roasted duck – and it’s the one dish that I would drive across town to have.
The skin is beautifully crisp and well rendered, the flesh succulent and cleanly flavored. Made in house by the former chef from the famed Red Star Seafood Restaurant – it was impeccably fresh, even though we were having a late dinner and probably the last table in the place.
The other dishes ranged from very good to serviceable. The crispy skinned roast chicken was superb, brought down a couple of notches because they don’t use free range chicken. The manager said that the chicken would dry out if they used the scrawnier free range birds, which is a bit of a story if you ask me. The steamed egg tofu was lovely, though the chicken on top was a bit chewy.
The steamed Malay cake tasted like a mix, infused with the chemical vanilla of Bird’s Custard Powder – completely and perversely delicious.
The only serious fail were the clams stirred fried with garlic chives – clearly frozen and well past their sell by date.
But that is the lesson you learn as you become a regular, what are the restaurant’s strengths and the restaurant will get a sense of what you like, and make recommendations accordingly.
It’s a real relationship.
As we were leaving – we could see the managers, waiters, and kitchen crew having a late night staff dinner. It was simple and filling food, home style and devoid of restaurant flourishes. They sat quietly – each lost in their own thoughts. They had the air of a team of people who had fought a battle together and now needed a little bit of time to recover.
Tomorrow, they would be back at it again, early in the morning – opening their doors at 9 am – spending another day with their customers
Fortune City Seafood Restaurant
2800 E 1st Ave, Vancouver, BC