Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Head South to Go North

I'm still not sure why a restaurant in the southern quarter of Winnipeg would be named "North Garden", especially since its focus isn't on Northern Chinese cuisine.  Whatever the case may be, it has become my favourite Chinese restaurant in Winnipeg, and so far it is the restaurant I've visited the most whenever I'm in Winnipeg.  It offers a wide selection of authentic Chinese dishes, at times adapting with certain more local ingredients (such as steaming fresh Manitoba pickerel instead of more traditional saltwater fish like tilapia).  On days I've been there, which has either been on weekends or on holidays (my most recent visit being on Louis Riel Day), one has had to show up before 6:00pm to get a table; a line-up for both dining in the restaurant and to complete take-out orders was almost certain by 6:30pm.

Having been here before I've had some other dishes such as Marinated Duck (Lo Sui Ngap/Lu Shui Ya),  Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetables (Mui Choy Kau Yuk/Mei Cai Kou Rou) and Stir-Fried String Beans with Ground Pork and Olives.  I thought I'd try a couple of different dishes, but I also went back for some old standbys that I just couldn't deny myself from having.  Knowing that I would not have much time in the upcoming days to actually cook myself some meals, I ordered a bit more than usual to ensure I had enough leftovers for a couple of dinners at home.
Not surprisingly, since it was one of the simpler dishes I ordered, the first dish to arrive was Gai Lan (Yau Choy) Stir-Fried with Garlic.  It's a wonder that as a child and even a teenager I wasn't that keen on eating vegetables, and even then I'd only tackle the leaves of gai lan while avoiding the stalks.  Taste preferences have changed over the years, as well as my awareness to healthier eating (though the degree to which I eat healthier is probably another matter), so I had no qualms about ordering a vegetable-only dish.  It's simplicity is deceptive though; the vegetables must be fresh and stir-fried properly to maintain such nice colours without either scorching the vegetables or overcooking them.
Next to arrive was Char Kway Teow, a noodle dish originating from the Malay-Indonesian region.  The version presented here is more akin to the Hong Kong version, the key difference between the Hong Kong version and the SE Asian versions is the use of curry as a seasoning, giving the dish a distinctive yellow colour rather than a darker colour normally associated with dark soy sauce.  If there was anything deficient with this dish, it was that it lacked eggs.  Otherwise, flavouring was alright, and there was just a right amount of spicy kick for my liking.
The third dish to arrive was one of my favourites at this place, Eggplant with Yuxiang Sauce Casserole (Yu Heung Ke Tzi Bo/Yu Xiang Qie Zi Bo).  Apparently this was also one of the popular dishes at least that evening as several other nearby tables ordered this dish.  It's no surprise, however, in part due to the cold winter weather.  Chinese casseroles tend to be great to eat in the winter as they retain heat very well well after being served at the table thanks to the hearty ingredients and the use of thick sauces.  In fact, of all the dishes I ordered that evening, all the other dishes had cooled down considerably while the eggplant pieces were still very warm.  This was another delicious spicy dish (Sichuanese in origin) with the eggplant soft and tender to the bite (as well as piping hot at first!) and the sauce, with some ground pork mixed in it, rich and fragrant.
The fourth and last dish was one I decided to experiment, Stir-Fried Lamb with Chili, Cumin and Spices.  This was in my opinion the spiciest of the four dishes I ordered, and I must admit that I thought it was almost too spicy.  Though I could still smell and taste some cumin, other spices may have been lost on my taste buds and I didn't taste other flavours as well, not even the unique flavour of the lamb meat itself.

Hopefully, the next time I return to this place it would be with a few friends, because the more mouths there are to feed at a table, the more dishes are needed, and therefore the more dishes can be sampled.  I'm glad that there is a decent restaurant like North Garden to offer authentic Chinese cuisine whenever I visit Winnipeg, allowing me to satisfy my cravings for dishes I still cannot find back in Brandon nor cannot make myself.

Name: North Garden Chinese Restaurant
Address: 6-33 University Cres., Winnipeg, MB
Cuisine: Chinese
Price Range: $10-$20/dish
Accessible: Yes

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