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Dining In Vancouver: A Restaurant Review

by Imogene Lim

Chinese Food in Canada

Summer Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(2) page(s): 9 and 20

CHINATOWN FLOATA SEAFOOD RESTAURANT; Chinatown Plaza; 400-180 Keefer Street; Vancouver, B.C. Canada has been a bustling place for satisfying food desires since its earliest days--even before the city's incorporation in 1886. At that time, most of the Chinese came from Guangdong Province, specifically Toishan. Nowadays, Chinatown is home to the diverse nationalities and ethnicities of Asia. This has had an impact on the kinds of foods to be sampled in this and in other Chinatowns worldwide.

While growing up in Greater Vancouver, most restaurants served Cantonese-style cuisine or Chinese-Canadian. I recall my first introduction to Peking-style cuisine. Regional cuisines of China were rare in the city then, as well as Asian foods other than Japanese. This is no longer true; Asian restaurants abound throughout the city and, of course, there are many to be found in Chinatown.

Cantonese foods are still the mainstay in Vancouver and one of my favorites is 'having tea' known as 'dim sum' or 'yum cha.' My most recent visit to Chinatown was in search of those very delicacies of the heart. In January 1996, the Floata Restaurant Group opened a restaurant in Chinatown Plaza. It is certainly one of the newest in Chinatown and reputedly the largest Chinese restaurant in Canada. In any case, the restaurant seats one thousand diners in a spacious open setting that can be reconfigured for smaller private parties. The Floata Restaurant Group has one other establishment in Greater Vancouver, in Parker Place in Richmond. In Hong Kong, they operate eight restaurants. As well as being the largest in Chinatown, Floata Seafood Restaurant--the restaurant group, claims honor of being a recipient of the Commanderie des Cordons Bleus de France.

By size and number of diners, Chinatown Floata Seafood Restaurant appears to be highly successful, no doubt because the ambiance and service are excellent. On being seated, one's tea preference is asked. Jasmine, oolong, and chrysanthemum are available. The staff is attentive to filling an ever emptying teapot and clearing plates filled with bones from savoring black bean sauce spareribs or spicy hoisin sauce duck feet.

As the restaurant's name suggests, seafood is the emphasis and the chefs are adept. Poorly cooked squid exercises one's jaw more than well-chewed bubble gum, and it gives the digestive system a workout. Chinatown Floata Seafood Restaurant passes with flying colors on its use of fresh squid. A bowl of Seafood Congee (also known as Jook) was ordered for eight dollars, Canadian; it was sufficient for two. The shrimp, scallops, and squid in it are perfectly cooked to delicately flavor the congee. I did note that shrimp and scallops are regular ingredients in a number of items even though my sampling was limited. The dim sum offerings include the standards--Har Gao (shrimp dumpling), Siu Mai (pork dumpling), Wo Tip (gyoza), Lo Bak Go (white turnip cake), etc.

In addition to the above, there are specialty items not found in smaller establishments, such as the Shark's Fin Soup Dumpling (for $4.80, Canadian). A large dumpling of pork, shrimp, black mushroom, and shark's fin fills each individual bowl. The flavors blend smoothly with white pepper to stimulate tastebuds. On a previous occasion, individual bowls of Shredded Snake Meat Soup were available. Besides steamed items, Floata offers a number that are deep-fried or baked. Of the baked goods, the pastry wrappings are extremely flaky and tasty (so those watching calories, look out!) One of the fillings is barbecue pork and another a mixture of lo bak, black mushroom, and scallions.

Dim sum provides an opportunity to sample many dishes, especially with a group of three or more since three is often the number of individual pieces on a plate. This 'experiment' might find a fan amongst the diners. My experiment on a recent trip is something described as Salad Roll. After my first bite, I realize that this is one of those mixing of flavors I do not appreciate. It is a deep-fried roll filled with a seafood salad of shrimp and scallops along with fruit cocktail, all mixed with mayonnaise. Although I note that mayonnaise has become a regular condiment in Hong Kong-styled Chinese cuisine, my tastebuds do not accept the trend. I experience a similar somewhat negative response to two other items, both desserts. This is a matter of taste but I note that the Egg Custard Tarts and the Mango Pudding are too sweet for me. The pastry is excellent (flaky), the coloring a bit bright, and the sweetness reminiscent of butterscotch--not the expected taste of an egg custard tart. For the pudding, the mango flavoring is too subtle and the consistency too gelatin-like for my preference.

Besides dim sum, there are rice and noodle plates available, such as Crab Meat with E-fu Noodle in Soup, or Stir-fried Rice Noodle with Beef and Squid (13.80 to 15.00 in Canadian dollars). The regular dim sum patron is aware that there are generally three plate sizes or prices noted on one's bill. The prices at Floata are somewhat higher than other restaurants (S: $3.00; M: $3.60; L: $4.20, Canadian) and I attribute this to quality service and fine ingredients.

My initial response is 'two thumbs up,' but I later note dryness of mouth that accompanies the consumption of too much MSG. The Floata chefs may know how to prepare their foodstuffs but liberal use of MSG is a detraction. This Chinatown Floata Seafood Restaurant, located at 400-180 Keeler Street, Vancouver, BC is in a building that is part of a park-ade, so parking is not a problem there. As savvy restauranteurs, the Floata Restaurant Group has a website at http://www.floata.com and it is in English and Chinese. You can browse through sample banquet menus for ten ranging from $198 to $398 in Canadian dollars, and check out any discount coupons.

While at the Chinatown Plaza, if dim sum doesn't suit your fancy, there are other foodstuffs on the main floor to delight tastebuds such as the Koaid Taiwanese Restaurant, Kagoshima Japanese Restaurant, and Grand Garden Restaurant. As mentioned earlier, there are multiple cuisine offerings in Chinatown these days and not all are Chinese. There is even a McDonald's Express! When in Chinatown, definitely bring a hearty appetite!
Imogene Lim, an anthropologist, is Executive Director of the Asian American Renaissance in St. Paul MN. On the food front, she has written extensively about the Chow Mein Sandwich, a speciality of Rhode Island that migrated to Massachusetts and New York's Nathan's Restaurant when it was in Coney Island, New York.

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