Burned Rubber and Hidden Gems in RichmondPosted by Ben Garfinkel on Friday, April 1st, 2011
Tags for this Article: barbecue, BBQ, Bell's Bake Shop, burnt ends, Canada Line, Delicious Cuisine, Delizia Fusion Cuisine, Hog Shack Cookhouse, RichmondEats, Steveston, Tourism Richmond, Tri-Pot
When Tourism Richmond sent out their invitation to join them to uncover some of their “Hidden Gems” they were keeping them a secret, and invited guests guessing. Kind of fun I suppose. Made me think back to my youth growing up in that city, entirely a different place back then.
I kind of doubted they’d take us to the end of No. 5 Road to clamber up the sand dunes, a by-product of the constant river dredging, to take flying leaps off the ever-present piles. The Pop Shoppe closed down sometime in the 80s and you can’t buy real penny candy anymore. The canneries are no longer working operations, and I’m not sure there’s mass appeal for control-line model airplane flying either (yes, there really is a park dedicated to this). Then there’s the somewhat unlevel, ramp-like rail crossing south of No. 4 Road on Blundell lovingly referred to by teenagers of my era as “The Blundell Jump”—this has long since been re-graded so it was sure to be excluded from the list too.
These hidden gems were all about food. I kind of figured that to roll us through a series of Asian restaurants would be somewhat expected so there must be something else cooked up. Sure enough, our first stop was the Hog Shack Cookhouse in historic Steveston. This was good, since I’d heard about the place, looked at the menu online and kind of summarily dismissed it as not a serious bbq joint by extension of their a-bit-of-everything-for-everybody menu. I mean really, there’s schnitzel, deep fried calamari and hummus on the menu alongside pulled pork and ribs. Can you blame me? I figured I might end up there one day by chance, but I would not be making a special trip anytime soon.
The air surrounding the relatively new looking building had just the right liltingly sweet wood smoke to tantalize, and though I was ready to be surprised, I was admittedly still skeptical. We were warmly welcomed by co-owners Allan and Jim who explained they are primarily going for a Kansas City experience (i.e. sauced). You can also get sauced off their tight, but excellent craft brew menu which we were delighted to have sampled. I tried the Kelowna Pilsner, Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale, Hophead IPA (my favourite of the lot) and a Black Butte Porter from Deschutz in Oregon. Allan is passionate about bringing a unique and quality beer experience into the place which is nice to see when so many just throw in a few taps of swill.
And ‘swill’ leads to ‘swine’ which leads to ‘pig’ and thusly, pork.
Allan wanted to tell us that they are serious about barbecue and went on to explain that ribs are cooked to a toothsome texture. This is a key quality for ribs in competition, but often at odds with mass consumer expectation and perception that ribs should have meat that just falls off the bone. In BBQ competition that’s a no no, but a challenge when you are running a restaurant and need to educate clientele. While good, I’d have to say that the ribs we had were overcooked somewhat, letting the meat slip too easily from the bone and therefore not quite what they said they were going for. Texture aside, the sauce was on the sweet side and did not offend with a heavy hand on the spice scale. However, I found the sauce was cumin and tomato forward and missing depth. Since I am actually a certified PNWBA barbecue judge why not rate them as I would in competition judging: these get a six out of ten.
Okay, so the ribs weren’t all that, but there were some real winners. The big surprise was, get this, cubed, smoked SPAM. Yes, SPAM. Highly unusual, but actually rather tasty. The other hit was an item reserved for specials only, advertised on Twitter and frequently lined up for: burnt ends. This is the fatty portion of the beef brisket called the “point” (as opposed to the leaner flat part). It’s smoked for upwards of 14 hours, cubed, re-rubbed and smoked again for at least another four. Now this I’d trek out to the far reaches of Richmond for. People do apparently.
No barbecue experience is complete without cornbread and beans. For me, these are accompaniments to the meal, not the main attraction, but both played their supporting roles well here. In fact, the beans could easily stand on their own.
John and Allan’s inventiveness was also on display. They wheeled out their “Flatliner” burger. It’s almost practical joke-like in stature and apparently free if you can down it in under five minutes. Give me a smaller gourmet burger any day, but if it adds to the fun and mythology here then good for them. The aforementioned SPAM dish actually came about from a suggestion by fellow food writer Mijune of followmefoodie so when I suggested maybe adding a little Jack Daniels to the maple syrup for their Pulled Pork Corn Pancake with Maple Bacon Butter (itself a winner), guess what, they gave it whirl as the next day’s special. Impressive.
From the sounds of it, expect the holdover items from the legacy menu of Greek offerings to disappear as Hog Shack comes into its own. Hopefully sooner rather than later as these guys should stand behind their bbq with confidence. I personally can’t wait for some warmer weather to head back down to Steveston for more. Oh, and be sure to stay in the loop and get in on specials like burnt ends and the pulled pork pancake by following them on Twitter @hogshackca.
Next up, a street that didn’t even exist when I first started driving in Richmond, but is now known as “Food Street”, with literally over 200 restaurants lining a few short blocks —Alexandra Road. This is a congested place, and even the limo had some trouble navigating a suitable drop off point. Yes, we were cruising my old home town in a GIANT white stretch SUV limo with dazzling multi-coloured, tesla-like laser lighting inside. I have come so very far from burning the rubber off the rear wheels of my 1973 baby blue Ford Galaxie 500 with “Grad 1987″ spelled out in masking tape on the back window. Yes, Richmond, I have arrived!
Delizia Fusion Cuisine took a recent honour at the Top 100 Chinese Restaurants competition in January so it’s certainly one way to filter through the seemingly endless, and often intimidating, Asian offerings. The room is really red. Lots of it. Very modern, a bit cold feeling and felt like a movie set in some ways. Not bad, not good and certainly different than what I’ve come to expect in standard Chinese food restaurants. What’s the fusion about? Lobster Udon Alfredo, Peking Duck Roti roll…you get the idea. First up, their signature dish, an Ocean Wise Seafood Trio Wok-fry on Vegetable Ribbons. The flavours were clean, and light, which I think was kind of the point since they’ve also won a Top Healthy Menu Award. I suspect this was to let the seafood shine, but overall was not terribly distinctive. Though they are cool, and I actually do like them, I have a hard time imagining vegetable ribbons as anything other than peelings. I really wished they were thinner, narrower, more delicate with some extra knife work on them or something.
As for the Lobster Udon Alfredo, it’s better in concept than execution. I admire their desire to play, but save for the lobster, which was nicely cooked and had good flavour, the rest tasted floury and lacked any connection to a decent alfredo for my taste. The small wedge of tomato and piece of raw kale meant to add colour and interest did nothing for me.
Yet, probably the best thing I tasted all night came from this little gem. Call it a gem within the “gem”! The Braised BBQ Duck with Red Curry and Lychee was brilliant. Served with a flame underneath keeping the dish bubbling and warm, and the aromatic steam rising, it reminded me of a similar dish we have a recipe for on Foodists. The sweetness of the curry and lychee flavours, slight hint of salty fish sauce and shrimp paste and mild, even heat of the curry really impressed me. I’d go back for this dish, and I’ll bet there are others on the menu that rival it, so certainly worth some investigation.
Our next and final two gems are part of a three-concept-in-one experience that technically could be considered four if you care to combine a meal with getting some bodywork done on your car next door. To me, somewhat obscure and eccentric locations are actually one of the harbingers of a gem, so it’s a good start. (Hell, Mochika’s Peruvian Cafe is located inside an auto detail shop!). Tri-Pot is a Taiwanese snack-on-the-go type place fashioned after a popular street food style in Taiwan called ‘Luwei”. We stood around for easily 10-15 minutes waiting for a single order. I can’t imagine having to wait like that with more people ahead of you, but if you’re looking for an a la carte situation with chicken hearts, a miscellany of eviscerations of meat and fast noodles, this could be for you. The food you pick is chopped, marinated and quickly cooked, then deposited into a take away container. The napkin rolled around chopsticks, and thoughtfully, some dental floss.
Connected to this is the authentic Taiwanese restaurant Delicious Cuisine. If you had to google it, you’d probably be in trouble, and with a name like that, you are setting yourself up for some high expectations for sure. The menu on the large chalkboards on the wall are not in English, and we were the only caucasians. Typically, that’s the kind of authenticity I like, but can be intimidating for some. They do have English on their take-away menus, so good save there.
Seven little dishes started us off: Five spice squid was gently spiced and tender; Lemon Beef was presented with translucent slices of lemon and the acidity a nice match for the big beef flavour of the thinly sliced flank steak; Sweet bbq sausage could have been considered ordinary, but the slices of raw garlic served alongside it elevated the dish; A “poor man’s caviar” made with fish roe and called wuyutsu was different; Fresh bamboo salad topped with mayo looked bland and uninteresting, but was delightfully sweet because it’s in season and provided a nice break from the mostly savoury offerings; and finally, the Icy Crystal Egg—a marinated and soft boiled halved egg with a translucent and unctuous deep yellow yolk. So far so good!
Apparently we were only getting started. Next came a Three Spice Chicken with soy, sesame, wine and basil. I’ll assume the basil is a throw-in or they’ll have to change the name. This would have been great on some white rice. The chicken was moist if not entirely bursting with flavour all the way through. However, the #20 Deep Fried Shrimp with Salted Egg Yolk and Garlic was not only beautifully presented, but also a real treat. I love being able to eat the shrimp peel and all so you get all the flavour of the coating. Clearly on a roll here, we were each presented with a small dish of Crab Meat stir fried with crab egg (if I got that right) and topped with shrimp. This dish is by special order only and is served with plain white vinegar you add yourself. I tried it without first and thought it was good but not great. I added about a teaspoon of the vinegar and tried it again. That made all the difference, enhancing the sweetness of the crab, richness of the egg and melding the flavours in a Vulcan way (“Vulcan way” – get it, get it? An insider Richmond joke!).
The third part of this conglomerate is Zephyr Tea House Café. Tiny shot glasses of their Fresh Kiwi and Green Tea exploded with fresh fruit flavour and had all of us considering ordering big ones for the Canada Line trip home. Terrific as a palate cleanser and something that if they don’t do normally, I’d highly encourage. Fantastic indeed. The kiwi duped us into thinking that was it, but oh no, we had to try the Steamed Pork Belly Sandwich, Rice Dumpling with Mushroom (basically an unsheathed version of the familiar sticky rice with mushrrom, egg and meat), and finally, the ubiquitous in Taiwan, Beef Noodle Soup. The soup was great, but by this time it was too heavy for the room left in my belly and I was craving a lighter finish. I’d go back and make a meal just of the soup frankly. Before we left, a Mixed Plum Slush was served, also in shot glasses. Oddly, the mix of sour and smoked plum kind of book-ended the whole experience, bringing back to mind the smoky barbecue flavours we started with at Hog Shack though in a less successful way. It left me really needing something a bit sweeter and fresh. Ice cream or sorbet or more bubble tea perhaps.
I have to hand it to the restaurants that participate in these very clever monthly junkets organized by Tourism Richmond. They are putting themselves out there, and offering themselves up to an audience that may not ever find them otherwise, either because they aren’t looking, or are overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. This was a helpful and enlightening start. With my own personal ties to Richmond, there are times I need to uncover a decent place to dine, yet often draw a blank. No more.
They sent us on our way back to Vancouver via Canada Line with a fancy cupcake from Bell’s Bake Shop. It’s like they knew about my sweet tooth and past driving record. (Sorry, no photo of the cupcake due to toddler intervention.)
For more photos, check out the Flickr set.