Monday, May 7, 2012

Qing Hua 2.0 - Still like mom makes!

The name 'Qing Hua' is most probably very familiar to a large portion of Montreal's food-savvy population, as well as a sizeable chunk of the 'common folk', as I call them. Most of them probably know Qing Hua as the humble - if dingy - restaurant in 'New Chinatown' with appalling service but scrumptious dumplings. What people don't know yet is that Qing Hua has opened up a second restaurant in the real Chinatown. So just how does the dumpling shop's little brother compare to the original?

Ironically, as a Chinese person, I don't frequent Chinatown that often. The restaurants there don't really appeal to my taste, and most of the Chinese products found in Chinatown can be found elsewhere. The only times I go is when I'm craving Mongolian hot pot or... pho. Again. Ironic.

This time around, I had purchased a coupon from teambuy and wanted to prove to my friend that those translucent dim sum shrimp dumplings were not the end-all-be-all of the dumpling world.

Accessibility - Grade: B+
If you're familiar with Chinatown, then finding this restaurant should be no problem. It's located on St-Laurent, near the cluster of pho restaurants and Swatow tower. So about a five minute walk from Place d'Armes metro?

Service - Grade: B
Well. The waiters do seem to be more courteous than at the other Qing Hua. They still don't smile much, but they aren't brusque and seem to actually respond when you thank them. Mind you, I didn't mind the service at the other place, but this was definitely a step up. Our waiter mumbled a bit, so it was hard to hear him, but otherwise, the service was pretty standard.

Ambiance comments
Can I just take a minute to mention, wow. The ambiance. It's completely different from the other Qing Hua restaurant. For one, you could actually probably take a date to this restaurant and not look like a complete cheapskate. Everything looks clean and classy, from the engravings on the wall to the pretty chandeliers on the ceiling. The restaurant is well-lit with a warm, yellow glow, and the seats are velvet-covered as opposed to a few matchsticks strung together. The tables are actually sturdy, and the floors and kitchen look prim and proper. If the Qing Hua near Concordia is the pauper, then this is definitely the ornate prince. I was very impressed. Let's just hope they can keep it this way for the years to come...

Food - Grade: B+
I think it's worth mentioning that this place also has legit, hard-cover, bound menus with pretty pretty pictures, unlike the grimy laminated sheet at the other Qing Hua. They also seem to have more menu items, especially in terms of appetizers and side dishes.

Jellyfish salad
 We started off with two appetizers, one being the jellyfish salad. Now, most people would probably be skeptical about trying jellyfish, but I personally say: "Their loss. More for me. Yay!" Seriously, guys, this stuff is amazing. The jellyfish is soft and squishy, as expected, but with a stringy toughness to it. Once you bite down, it breaks apart in your teeth with a satisfying crunch, like tiny little jelly crystals shattering on your tongue. Qing Hua's rendition of the salad is simple and passable; they toss packaged jellyfish (it's very hard to get fresh jellyfish. Most are preserved or dried) with julienned cucumbers and sesame oil, and sprinkle the whole thing with toasted sesame. It makes for a light but slightly bland dish. You could always do what we did and toss in spoonfuls of chili oil. I thought it was a big improvement.

Three-colour salad
We figured that since we'd be eating a lot of carbs and meat, we should probably order some veggies as a side. The three-color salad seemed like a good choice. It consists of julienned bok choy, carrots and thin rice noodles all tossed in a light dressing of rice vinegar and salt. This dish would have worked very well as a side, since it's light and refreshing, if it weren't for the fact that the rice noodles weren't fresh. Rice noodles are supposed to be elastic and stringy, but these particular noodles were brittle and chalky. This doesn't necessarily mean that the noodles have been sitting in a refrigerator for days, but it does mean that the dish was pre-prepared and has entered the fridge. While not necessarily wrong, this method of preperation simply does not work for these type of noodles.

Steamed lamb and coriander dumplings
 Aaahhh, back to the classics. You'll be glad to know that despite revamping the decor and the menu, Qing Hua's dumplings still remain as true and tasty as they have always been. The skin is still as doughy and chewy as the other other Qing Hua's, and the filling is still swimming in a juicy stew that likes to surprise the unsuspecting diner by flying out and hitting them in the eye.

As opposed the the boiled dumplings, the steamed dumplings are a little dryer on the outside, but retain much more soup, which make them the most popular choice. I always order the lamb and coriander when I'm at Qing Hua, cuz my mom refuses to make lamb dumplings at home. The gamey taste of the lamb is subtle here, and the fragrant coriander balances it out. If you're wary of lamb, you could always try the coriander and pork version, which is just as tasty.

Boiled pork and dill dumplings
 While the steamed dumplings tend to retain their juices more, I still enjoy the extra dense and chewy dough of boiled dumplings. Now, from what I've noticed, people tend to be split on the dill thing. For example, one of my dining companions enjoys the herby and fragrant taste of dill in their dumplings, while the other finds it a little overwhelming. My parents are equally split on this matter; my mom loves it while my dad can't stand the smell of it. I personally love it, and I'd say if you're adventurous and looking for something with a little more pazzaz, then by all means, try it.

Steamed pork and scallop
We all unanimously agreed that this was the best batch we ordered that evening. The pork and scallop make for a juicy and meaty combination, and the flavours blend together perfectly. We were pleasantly surprised to find that each dumpling contained a whole scallop of decent size. The scallops themselves were fat, tender and juicy. Every time I dug one out of a dumpling, it felt like I had found a pearl in an oyster...

...Or something to that effect.

You can also ordered your dumplings fried, but I find those boring. Plus, steamed and boiled are the healthier choices, right?

Price - $$
The prices don't differ much from the other Qing Hua. The pork and lamb ones were listed as $9.99 each, while the scallop one was a little more expensive. The appetizers are around $5 a plate. I don't remember the exact amount, but it came up to around $20 per person, coupon not withstanding.

Final Grade: B+
My inner Golden Age Robin alter-ego always thought: "Holy dumplingnator, Batman! If only Qing Hua had a nicer, cleaner environment, then it would really be something!" 'Lo and behold, the dumpling gods heard my prayer and brought me a dumpling store with aesthetic improvement that surpassed my expectation. And the best part? The dumplings still remained as delicious as they have always been.

Qing Hua (Chinatown)
1019 St-Laurent Boul., Montreal
(514) 903-9887
Qing Hua on Urbanspoon


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