Alvin Garden - Hunan Cuisine Feast



This was a dinner that is part of the Chowtime's 8GTCC (The 8 Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine) . It is the first of eight dinners, each representing one of the tradition of Chinese cuisine. The first cuisine was - Hunan. For more info on Hunan cuisine read Fmed's very well summarized essay on Chowtimes - Hunan Cuisine (fmed). Fmed is a well known and respected in the gastronomic scene. You will find him on the Chowhound forums. He suggested that Alvin Garden was one of the best Chinese restaurant in Vancouver and definitely the best choice for the first 8GTCC dinner.
Alvin Garden in located on Imperial Avenue, in Burnaby. Some members of the current restaurant used to be to be part of Xiang(Hunan) Garden located on Kingsway. The name Alvin Garden certainly doesn't suit the food served at this restaurant. I would associate the name Alvin Garden to a Chinese restaurant more akin to serving bastardised Chinese food, can you say chop suey, egg foo yong and sweet and sour chicken balls. But never would I consider it an authentic Hunan Cuisine Restaurant based on the name. We later learn how the name came about when introduced to the owner's son, Alvin. :-D . Of course it all made sense now. On to the main event, the food report.
Alvin Garden had recently won awards for two of their dishes in the Chinese Restaurant Awards 2010. A gold for the 5 spiced pork heart and a silver for their tea-smoked duck. Both were served at our table this night. In total we sampled 17 items on the menu for this dinner. That's right 17 items, it may have been 18. Yikes! Here is the list of what we had, the item# and cost on the current Alvin Garden menu.
Item# Name Category Price Spicy D
17 Hunan Pickles Appetizer $4.98 Mild
18 Spicy Dried Bean Stick with Celery Appetizer $4.98 Mild
23 Spicy pork ear Appetizer $5.98 Medium
25 Pork heart with five spices Appetizer $5.98 Medium
28 Tea-smoked duck Appetizer $18.98 Mild
29 Free-run chicken with ginger Hot pot $13.98 Medium
36 Country-style fried pork with green chili Stir fried $11.98 Medium
46 Stir fried garlic bolt with hunan smoked pork Stir fried $12.98 Medium
52 Stir fried lamb with cumin Stir fried $12.98 Medium
55 Chicken giblets with Hunan white chili Stir fried $11.98 Medium
5 Donting Boiled fish in chili soup X special $18.98 Medium
2 Hunan braised pork X special $12.98 Mild
1 Steamed Ling cod head X special $18.98 Medium
3 Duck braised in beer X special $16.98 Medium
65 Chicken with Hunan Chili and vinegar Steam $11.98 Medium
76 Spicy and sour potato shreds Vegs $9.98 Mild
72 Braised eggplant with black bean chili sauce Vegs $9.98 Mild

Hunan cuisine is spicy. The heat comes mainly from chili peppers rather than the better know szechuan cuisine which derives its heat from the tongue numbing szechuan peppercorns(BTW did you know that they are not really peppercorns?). Overall I felt that the restaurant dialed down on the heat to cater to the diners for this dinner. Though a simple request to the chefs and I am sure they can accommodate your spiciness tolerance. Besides the tea smoked duck and 5 spiced pork heart(very unique texture not as weird as it may seem), I really enjoyed the Stir fried garlic bolt with Hunan smoked pork and the Hunan braised pork. They also have a version of the Hunan smoked Bacon with bamboo shoots on the menu. Which I will order the next time at Alvin Garden. I love the 'Hunan' bacon. Smoky and crisp. It seemed like everyone at this dinner enjoyed their meal. There was something for everyone to enjoy. I was kinda in a gluttony comatose at some point from all the food, spiciness and flavors. That is a lot to taste and dechiper, between the spicy food and conversation I lost track of what I was eating toward the end of the dinner.
In China, Hunan cuisine can be pricey, depending on the Restaurant you go to. This meal cost $20 per person. I can honestly say that this was cheaper than the Hunan dinners that I'd experienced while I was in China and just as good. Having a group of people helps to spread the cost of the meal. But more importantly, in Chinese culture a communal meal among friends and family gives opportunity to bond and get better acquainted. Everything tasted like a good home cooked meal. Fresh flavors of chili's, cumin, garlic, ginger, blended with smoky, salty and spicy elements that boldly stated this wasn't a bland cuisine. Flavors so far remove from the sweet and sour chicken balls I would expect from a Chinese restaurant called Alvin Garden. And the value of this dinner made it clear why Fmed suggested this was the best Chinese restaurant in the city. The next cuisine on the 8GTCC is Jiangsu. I can't wait....
Note: There was 13 people per table sharing this meal the actual cost if it wasn't part of 8GTCC would have still been under $25 per person.

Pros:
Great place to meet friends and try some new dishes
Very reasonable prices

Cons:
Not all the servers are fluent in English

Ratings:
Food           :   7
Ambiance    :   6
Overall        :   7.5
Value           :  7.5

Alvin Garden on Urbanspoon

24 comments:

Ben and Suanne

Great write-up Keev. Can't wait for the time for you to unleash 8GTCC Guandong!
Ben

Anonymous

excellent points and the details are more precise than somewhere else, thanks.

- Thomas

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Couldnt agree more with that, very attractive article

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