Dinner at Big Chef in Richmond equals big happiness
Big Chef is a place I've wanted to try for ages and the arrival of a Bay Area Hound was a great excuse.
The seven of us had:
Auntie Song's fish soup 10.80 for a small but they gave us enough for seven bowls and still charged us the same, bless 'em -- this is an outstanding soup with a hint of vinegar, a must order (thanks for insisting, fmed!)
crab with salted egg yolks and rice cakes (leen goh) $16.80 per pound plus $10 prep, we had a 2.75 lb beast -- this was very popular at the table, with the soft yet toothsome rice cakes. I found it a bit bland but then I don't think I really "get" crab so just ignore me.
whole soy sauce chicken $32 (pre order -- this dish won a Chinese Restaurant Association award last year) -- other diners in our party said it has been better previously with more soy taste infused but the texture was on point for sure
pan beef tenderloin (actually says tenderlion on the bill, one of my fave typos!) $17.80 which was a miss and I think maybe not even the item we ordered as it had pineapple in it and we ordered something with rhizomes and mushrooms
steam pork with salt fish (ham yu) $15.80 -- the best version I've had yet, lots of salt fish and a lovely broth, was really stunning in combination with the egg custard.
steamed assorted preserved egg with dry scallops $14.80 -- this chawan mushi-like savoury custard was so well prepared, silky smooth and chock full of flavour, I can't wait to get it again.
scallop and chicken with chili and pepper (note that the scallops aren't mentioned on the menu in this dish so they were a nice surprise) $17.80 -- this was an excellent version of what we used to call jade chicken which has deep fried spinach
sole fish and bitter melon with black bean $15.80 -- loved the sole, not so big on the melon but that is a personal preference -- the black bean sauce was light, flavourful and well executed too
pea tips with garlic $16.80 -- these were unfortunately slightly overcooked
The complimentary red bean dessert had a nice hint of tangerine peel and wasn't too sweet. I quite enjoyed the complimentary osmanthus jellies also.
All in this feast was $35 so a fine value. We could have ordered one dish less and still had more than enough.
It was a great meal all around with only a couple of misses (and even the misses were still pretty good). To me, the best dishes were the crab with e.g. yolk, and the savoury egg custard. The soya chicken was not up to their usual standards but it was still far better than the soya chicken you can get at most other restaurants. The one real miss was the beef tenderloin...however, I don't think I have ever had a good tenderloin dish at a Canto restaurant as they are usually overcooked, overtenderized.
The execution of all the dishes was precise without being fussy or refined. Worthy!
That's so true about the tenderloin! It was both tough and weirdly too soft which seems to defy the laws of food physics :-). The only place I've ever had great tenderloin at a Canto resto was a million years ago at a place in Mississauga, where it was a specialty and they had more than a dozen dishes featuring it.
Another thing about Big Chef is the room itself is really bright and kind of pretty, not glarey and fluorescenty. The A/C was even keeping up to one of the hottest days of the summer so far. And the service was good, quite deferential but offering suggestions and very tolerant of our scouring of the menu, questions and changing out items (I didn't see the ham yu till several minutes after we'd ordered another pork dish and that was switched without fuss).
Not to mention the aforementioned generosity re the soup (I am quite sure that you don't normally get 7 bowls of soup in the small portion). Plus I don't recall getting the gratis jellies before, just the red bean dessert, so that was a nice extra touch.