Dinesty: Perfectly Sculpted and Scrumptious Xiao Long Bao
Dinesty Chinese Restaurant
8111 Ackroyd Road, Richmond, BC, Canada
Just like any typical Chinese restaurant, the service at Dinesty is abysmal but the food alone is worth the trip. There’s three things that I love about Shanghainese cuisine: Shanghainese restaurants always feature large picture windows into their kitchens, you can watch the chefs stuff and sculpt dumplings, secondly, steamed Shanghainese dumplings are beautiful to look at, and lastly, the taste of these dumplings and other traditional Shanghainese dishes is pretty incomparable to the rest of Asian cuisine.
As we waited for our dim sum and noodles, little saucers of vinegar with ginger were placed in front of us. This is traditionally used to dip dumplings, enhancing the pork and shrimp fillings. Another interesting thing to note about Dinesty is the shape and length of their chopsticks. They’re shorter than regular chopsticks, thick on the handle side and they also have ridges along the handle side for easy grip. This may sound trivial but trust me, if you’re dining with a chopstick rookie, these chopsticks will make that person look like a pro.
First up on our table were the steamed green vegetables and pork dumplings. I love it when restaurants serve dishes in bamboo steamers, it gives the whole meal a more homey, intimate and authentic feel. The dumplings were gorgeous to look at with their intricately braided tops and perfectly shaped bodies, like little huddled up hedgehogs. This didn’t stop me from gobbling them though because boy, were they ever tasty.
The fillings were salty and well-seasoned, the minced pork meat was delicious and the vegetables added a wonderful moisture to the dumplings. The dumpling skin was delicate but pleasantly chewy.
Next up was the deep fried beef roll, wrapped in a flaky and crispy thin pancake. I love this dish for the texture of the deep fried pancake. The crispy pancake is just a little thicker than roti but just as light and flaky. The slices of beef inside were tender and flavourful, soaked in hoisin sauce with a crispy and crunchy piece of fresh green onion rolled up in the middle.
A must-eat at any Shanghainese restaurant are xiao long bao which literally translate to “little steamer buns.” These little steamed dumplings are a delicacy in Shanghai and like other Shanghai dumplings, making these little morsels of deliciousness is an art form. Everything from rolling out the perfect dough (thick and strong enough not to break under the weight of the filling and broth but thin enough not to outshine the filling), concocting just the right seasoning for the filling that makes it melt in your mouth, and then filling the dumplings and shaping and sculpting the little pockets of goodness with just the right technique with finesse and style: all of this takes years of practice. And to think, these bite-sized dumplings are gone in two seconds as soon as they hit the table.
When I was little I didn’t care for xiao long bao that much, the broth inside each dumpling would always scald my tongue when I bit in too soon, the dumplings would be too big to fit into my little mouth in one bite, and I would always opt to eat shrimp dumplings with the transparent skins over xiao long bao any day. But now that I’m older, and my mouth is big enough to eat one whole xiao long bao per bite, I have a new found love for them. And, I have discovered that there is a certain art to eating xiao long bao (just like the art of making them), you have to wait when they come to the table. You have to wait until the broth inside the dumplings are at just the right temperature, not scalding hot and not ice cold but a happy room temperature so when you bite into the dumpling, the broth seeps out like a warm blanket over your tongue and fills your mouth with salty, rich flavours as you eat the dumpling.
We ordered the shrimp, scallop and pork xiao long bao, which was sort of the “suped up” version of xiao long bao, usually, these dumplings are just filled with pork meat. The dumplings came to our table, hot and fragrant, the salty and rich smell of pork broth steaming up from each xiao long bao. I waited 15 minutes before biting into one. And when I did, the broth spilled froth deliciously, and the dumpling filling was succulent. The xiao long bao was like a juicy little pouch of intense flavour.
Our third dumpling dish were these little tulip shaped shrimp and pork dumplings, their tops delicately cinched with a little steamed shrimp topping each dumpling. The skin of these dumplings was a little bit thicker and chewier than the xiao long bao but they were equally delicious, the pork filling was moist and tasty.
Another traditional Shanghai dish are rice cakes. These rice flour based cakes are more commonly found in oval slices but they’re also tasty in thick, cylindrical noodle form. Plus there’s more bite to them in the noodle form. There’s something that they put in the dough for these rice cakes at Dinesty that make them incredibly springy to the bite. The noodles soaked up all the sweet, rich and salty hoisin sauce but also retained its own firm and chewy texture. The pork chop in this dish was only secondary to the phenomenal rice noodles. The meat was tender and well-cooked.
The fried rice noodle dish we ordered also featured noodles of the same texture as the rice cakes, these noodles were prepared slightly differently. They are known as ‘knife sliced’ noodles in Shanghai. The chef literally takes the ball of noodle dough, holds it over the pot of boiling broth and uses a knife to slice pieces of dough into the broth in a skilled, rapid-paced and free-style manner. That’s why each noodle is unique in length and shape. This vegetable noodle dish had more subtle flavours than our pork and rice noodles dish. The vegetables added some freshness and the sauce was made from a salty chicken broth. Again, the chewiness from the noodles took centre stage, outshining the shredded cabbage and bits of chicken meat throughout the dish.
Next up was my favourite dish, the camphor and tea smoked duck. We could smell the smoky aroma from the duck meat as soon as the dish came to the table, the tea also stained the duck meat into a striking red shade. I loved that the skin on the duck was crispy and smoky to the taste. Camphor refers to the camphor wood chips that the duck was smoked in. The camphor plant is an evergreen tree found in many parts of Asia. The duck meat was tender with some very subtle tinges of bitterness from the tea. I also liked the shell shaped steamed buns served with this dish. I sandwiched some of the duck meat into the buns, if only just to replicate my other favourite duck dish: Peking Duck.
I can never get enough of steamed buns, all different kinds, although I am partial to dessert steamed buns with sweet fillings. We ordered the mashed taro and gingko filled buns and the mashed salted egg and condensed milk buns. The symmetrically flawless, perfect little spheres of buns came to our table marked with stamps to identify their fillings.
The red stamps were the taro and gingko. The taro filling was sticky and sweet. The buns were fluffy and soft.
The orange stamp marked the condensed milk buns and the filling was both salty and sweet. The bright yellow creamy filling was a mix of sweet custard and bits of salted egg yolk. The sweet custard was definitely enhanced by the saltiness in the egg yolk.
Rude service aside, I would definitely go back to Dinesty for the dim sum and tea smoked duck!