Mini review of Ruby Rouge, a question about 'shark fin' dumplings and other MTL dim sum queries
Hi everyone, just have a few questions and if anyone has answers, I'd love to hear em! Ok, so I'm a huge Dim Sum fan, really, I can't get enough of the stuff. I'm originally from Winnipeg, I don't know if Winnipeg is known for its Dim Sum offerings or not, but I can tell you that I gorged myself on the stuff regularly and was very rarely left unsatisfied after a meal. I'm now living in Montreal and although I've been here a few years already, I've only in the last 6 months or so rediscovered my old obsession.
Anyhow, to make a long and pointless story short, I had read a posting here on Chowhound that recommended the Ruby Rouge Restaurant (1008 Clarke, in Chinatown) and I tried it out. How was it? Well... it was OK. Granted I had really high hopes that it would be as fresh and tasty as the meals I had back in Winnipeg, but when nearly all of the steamed dumplings I tried were cold (including the inside even though they were fully cooked) I can report with conviction that the meal wasn't much more than passable.
Not one to give up too quickly, I've went back again the following week and although the experience was better (for the most part, the food warm and tasted alright), I still found myself wondering if I should bother to come back again. Well I did go back, many times in fact, and I must admit that on occasion I've had some really amazing tasting dishes and dumplings... although some of the old standbys s/a pork dumplings and BBQ beef buns were consistently less than stellar.
Additionally (although some might consider the following trivial) I absolutely can't stand their soy sauce! It's atrocious! I don't mind the typical dark low-grade soy sauce found in most Chinese restaurants, but this stuff is so salty and dark a simple dab ruins the dumpling's flavor! Same story with their hot red chili sauce, it tastes like someone took a kilo of pure salt, added some Tabasco and a bit of water and voila! And believe me, I LOVE salt, just not in that concentration!! I was debating bringing my own soy sauce, but figured that there must be a better way...
So, does anyone have any suggestions for a new place to try? I found a post about Kam Fung (1071 & 1111 St-Urbain), I think I will try that one next but there must be more options. If you got em, post em!
Also, I am wondering about the 'Shark Fin' dumplings on offer in most restaurants: is there any chance that the dumplings contain even a TRACE of real shark fin? I was under the impression that there is NEVER any real shark fin to be found in the standard ~4$ plate of so-called shark fin dumplings, but after my mother recently refused to eat them because she feared there might be REAL shark-fin meat inside (she objects to sharks being 'finned'/slaughtered, nothing to do with taste), I began to wonder. I was told years and years ago by a waiter that genuine shark-fin is very expensive (and tasteless to boot), and as such is never found in your average dumpling that bears the name. That it is expensive and tasteless and that its harvesting is often cruel to sharks has been verified by some internet searching, but is it still true than NO shark fin is EVER used for cheapo shark-fin dumplings? Even if a very small amount was used in a much larger mix of meats and fish (to be used as dumpling stuffing), I would stop buying it. Any ideas?
I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy Maison Kam Fung and be sure to post your review here. You should also try Lotte Furama which is the favourite of some people I know.
Btw, some of my friends always bring their own filtered drinking water to restaurants so there is no shame in bringing your favourite soya sauce. It sounds like a good idea.
I think you're right that there's probably little or no shark fin in a so-called shark fin dumpling. I wouldn't be so sure that the content is zero, though. I also agree that shark fin is largely flavourless and highly questionable environmentally. I've only had it in a wedding banquet setting when refusing would have been impossible; I'd never order it. Ruby Rouge is the only place I've seen shark fin dumplings, BTW.
More generally, on freshness and so on, the quality of the food on your table is going to depend to a large extent on just where you're sitting, i.e. the closer to the kitchen, the better. Since Ruby is huge, many tables are a long, long way from the kitchen, and it can be very hard to get a good one. Kam Fung is similar, but not so extreme because the place is quite a bit smaller.
While I've found Kam Fung pretty reliable, the problem is not likely to be cold dumplings, but ones that have been on the cart a bit too long, over-steamed and starting to fall apart as a result. Don't be afraid to reject the dumplings and wait for the next round if they look long in the tooth to you.
Also, it can't hurt to request fresh ones from the kitchen if you're not seeing what you want on the carts; they will probably oblige for popular items that just aren't making it as far as your table in the far reaches of the room.
Another possibility is to go at a time when it's not busy enough for cart service; at some places you can order a-la-carte from an abbreviated menu. I think Kam Fung does this on weekdays after the lunch rush. In that case, everything will be cooked fresh for you.
As for soy sauce, I wouldn't know about that because I never dip my dumplings in it. I don't remember Ruby's hot sauce being anything other than the usual sriracha-type stuff found at any dim sum place. Most places also have chili oil on request; that might suit you better.
To have the best dim sum experience, it is best to go early when the food is fresh and hasn't had a chance to sit on the carts for too long. A lot of Chinese go at around 10 to 11am for that reason.
I also have had lukewarm experiences at Ruby Rouge. But, I had a wonderful time a month ago with a Chinese family who told me that Ruby Rouge is better on Saturdays and Sundays because there is a special chef that comes in just for that. I tasted great baby clams with black bean sauce and a beef with bitter melon dish. Maybe that's not what people like to eat but this family I went with seemed to know exactly what to order. I think (as with a lot of Chinese restos) that you have to know what to order.
Kam Fung is good too but I would like to see more consistency in the dishes - sometimes it's way too greasy and other times it is just right.
Thanks for the input guys! OK, so Kam Fung is next up! I've not heard of Lotte Furama before, but I will definitely search things out and report back :)
Mr. F, I'm glad to hear a confirmation that I've not been wrong all these years about the 'shark fin' content. I did try to ask one of the servers about it at Ruby Rouge, but unfortunately my Chinese isn't so hot and neither was their English. I will ask around next time I'm there and attempt to do so in a way that doesn't betray my intentions.
You're quite right about the seating and proximity to the kitchen in those big dim sum houses. What I've been doing lately is allowing them to seat me wherever and then when I'm ready to eat, I just walk over to one of the roving carts, take a look, place my order and then carry it back to my table. Works great!
Although I've never rejected dumplings because they've become cold (I'm always much too hungry!), I have tried to place orders directly from the kitchen. Problem there is once again my inability to speak Chinese, as a result I didn't quite get what I was ordering (ex: even after a hefty explanation, instead of getting a pan of seared steamed dumplings, I'd get ones that were fully deep fried or whatever). Perhaps I will start a list with the names of my favorite dishes... either that or enroll in a Chinese language class. You've gotta do what you've gotta do to get those dumplings!
I'm a hot sauce fanatic, so your chili oil suggestion is a good one, I will definitely seek it out if the hot sauce is the same at the next place. I can guarantee that the stuff they've served me at Ruby Rouge is different from the store bought Rooster-branded sriracha I'm used to having, but perhaps the brand they stock is just not to my taste.
Anyhow, cheers to all those who are dizzy for dumplings and bananas for Chinese breakfast! Keep the suggestions coming!
I LOVE Dim Sum and I always manage to enjoy it in whatever city I am traveling in just so I can compare and discover new things.
Montreal being home I have been many times to Ruby Rouge & Kam Fung.
I find Kam Fung's fare far superior to Ruby Rouge.
Also as the place is smaller the food does arrive hotter.
I agree that the secret is to go early 11:00 when things are just gearing up, almost no wait for a table and easier to find parking.
As for sauce for the dumplings I use mustard and have them bring me chilli sauce.