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Mar 29, 2010 06:36 PM

Being Hunan - Lunch at Alvin Garden ("The Xiang")

A number of us were there today working on a secret project ;-). Me, DylanLK, Ben (chowtimes), Karl (the Friday Lunch), Keev (TimeToChow) had a great lunch consisting of:

Hunan Pickles
Pork and Ginger Soup
Spicy Pig Hearts (incredible dish)
Smoked Hunan Bacon with Garlic Bolts (my favourite dish at Alvin Garden)
"Chaiman Mao's" Red-Braised Pork (great deep, flavours, tender pork)
Taro and Chili Pickle

Most of the dishes had a spicyness that hit you immediately...then changed into a more moderate internal heat. Half-way through the meal, I started to feel a pleasant light-headedness from the chilies. This meal proves yet again that Alvin Garden is my favourite Chinese restaurant in town. It is consistent, delicious and uncompromisingly Hunan. It has never let me down.

More photos

The real gluttons of the group (DylanLK, Keev, and I) ended up at Crystal Mall where we sampled some street food from Beijing, TianJin, Guizhou, and Malaysia... http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/695783

Belly full...must nap.

Crystal Mall
4500 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC V5H2A9, CA

Alvin Garden
4850 Imperial St, Burnaby, BC V5J, CA

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  1. Chinese food is my default food. It's what I eat at home everyday and what I usually grab when I go out. I've eaten it in Mainland China, Taiwan, Canada.... I'm not any kind of connoisseur but, of course, I know when I like something. And I like this place.

    For me, but maybe not for everyone here, the thing I was digging was the the familiarity of the flavors, how it reminded me of lots of good meals I've eaten in China, in Canada. The garlic stems and cured pork, so good, and it's just a very simple, perfectly executed dish. The steamed taro, so good. And, man, I've been thinking about that pork heart since I ate it.

    With simple dishes like this, dishes that the chef has eaten since he was a kid, that he's been cooking since he was a kid... the thing that makes it good or impressive doesn't lie in some kind of formal innovation, in reinventing the dish-- the point isn't breaking the rules, but in following the rules, in getting every element in place. The amazing thing is the chef taking simple things, garlic stems and bacon and, following formal constraints, making the dish. As a rule, I'm far more interested in people working within formal constraints, it could be a roast duck or a bowl of ramen. There are formal constraints, somewhat solid lines that you have to keep your crayon inside, and the art lies in respecting those constraints while perfecting the dish. That's why I dig Alvin Garden.

    And that process might not even be something the chef is thinking about. But if you asked the guy, "Why don't you toss some broccoli in with those garlic stems and bacon?" I think I'd be met with mystification. Because he knows what goes into 蒜苗炒腊肉 and so do the people who go to Alvin Garden and order it-- and even if they don't, he'll just keep making it like it's always been made.

    So many people pursue innovation with such depressing results. I mean, they might be screwing around in the kitchen to change the food, to fix it, to appeal to more people. Or it might be to cut costs. And it might be a genuine push-things-forward deal, trying to figure out what the limits are and come up with someone new. But it ain't easy. I respect innovation. But my personal prejudice is for this kind of thing, taking simple dishes and knowing every part of what makes it work (even if it's a subconscious thing) and working on making it perfect.

    Alvin Garden
    4850 Imperial St, Burnaby, BC V5J, CA

    4 Replies
    1. re: DylanLK

      I don't why Dylan ... but the word "Amen" just came to my head as I finish reading it. LOL! Well said.

      1. re: chowtimes

        Make that a double ("Amen".)

        Thanks Dylan for that articulate post. I just wish more chefs from Regional Chinese restaurants have the same ethic. We have work to do.

        1. re: fmed

          Ah, geesh: I wish I didn't miss this.

      2. re: DylanLK

        amen... lol... thanks for the invite. fmed, as usual u amaze me. dylan ur too modest, u do understand chinese food. at least u know that not all chinese people eat rice. :-D . that was fun. the heart and the bacon were amazing. i love wholesome cooked food. cant wait to go back to alvin garden.
        chef's prob thinks that by being 'innovative' that is what the paying public wants. or else why go eat out. 'entertainment value' oppose to just eating well. since mum and wife can cook this at home. well sort off... :-D