Private Chinese dining. It’s different from underground restaurants because businesses run publicly and address and restaurant details are published. The uniqueness of this type of kitchen is that you have to make reservation as they don’t take walk-in, and at a typical private Chinese restaurant you just eat whatever that is served to you – you wouldn’t see the menu ahead of time. The other day I went to Zen Chinese Cuisine, a private dining concept located in Steveston.
At Zen you actually have to order the dishes when you book your table. We pre-ordered the “Dine Out Special”, one of their Crazy Sale prix fixe menus. It’s a 6-course menu regularly at $60 per person but it’s now on sale for $22.35 – that’s even cheaper than the Groupon deal that the restaurant offered a couple of months ago. Everyone at the table has to order the same menu, except for a la carte dishes.
The Soup of the Day was rather ordinary. It’s a bok choy soup with pork, something my mom can easily do. The Baked Stuffed Abalone was the more impressive dish. The abalone was diced and mixed with mushrooms, carrots and other stuff in a curry sauce, then everything was stuffed back to the abalone shell and baked. I only wished the ingredients were diced in bigger chunks; I didn’t get the “bite” I was looking for.
Next, the Lobster with Spaghetti was so-so. It was a good amount of food, as each person got a whole lobster, but the cream sauce was a bit bland, and there’s a subtle fishy taste to the sauce. I suspect it’s because the sauce was made with juice from cooking the lobsters. The Tofu Duo was quite good. I always like tofu dishes, and this is no different. Duo not only means two ways of cooking tofu, but also two types of tofu. The soft tofu was steamed while the egg tofu was deep-fried. Both pieces of tofu were silky, and of course, I prefer the deep-fried egg tofu. I mean seriously, who doesn’t like anything deep-fried?
The next course confused us. Why? When we made the reservation and pre-ordered our food, the menu said we were getting Baked Beef Brisket Rice. Unannounced a bowl of Chicken and Ribs on Rice was served to each of us. Whaaat? The server said the beef brisket turned out too tough so they decided not to serve it and bring out the chicken and ribs rice instead. There’s nothing spectacular about the rice. It’s meat served on rice with flavoured soy sauce. It reminded me of what you get at dim sum lunches. To close, the dessert course was never specified on the menu so we didn’t know what we were getting until it was served. And we got Panna Cotta. It was creamy but there was not enough cranberry sauce, especially when the sauce was poured right on top and it couldn’t reach the bottom of the cup.
I truly think that the service quality is Zen’s downfall. The restaurant is not big, roughly 40-50 seats. On a Friday evening there were only two people running the front of house. Because of the nature of business , they knew exactly how many people were going and what they were having; I couldn’t believe they were confident that they could run everything with only two people. We got there early, so it wasn’t too busy and it was manageable. As the evening went on, the table of 16 arrived, so did a few tables of 4-6. I started to feel that the service slowed down and servers became less attentive. Dishes weren’t getting out as quickly as before.
A couple other things that I didn’t like in terms of service. First, I didn’t like how they changed the menu unannounced. I appreciate the fact that they chose not to serve tough beef brisket, but I believe it’s common courtesy to inform your customers that the menu has been changed and ensure they are OK with the substitution. What if I’m allergic to chicken or pork, or I can’t eat it because of religious reason?
Second, if you have a typo on your menu, fix it. When I ordered my drink, I tried to pronounce according to what’s printed on the menu, Lychee Ludt, and had great difficulty. The server came back with my drink, “here’s your Lychee Lust“. Oh, that’s what it is. Perhaps no one ever paid attention, so I figured I would let him know about the typo. His response was, “oh no it was intentional so it’s up to individual customer to interpret the name”. Excuse, excuse. Its website actually says “Lychee Lust”. They’re just too lazy to reprint the menu. Same thing with its ads/flyers. Apptizer (appetizer), bouble boiled (double boiled), tartarki (tataki), etc. How difficult is it to re-do them?! That’s very unprofessional, in my opinion.
Overall the food was not bad for the price we paid, although I wouldn’t consider all dishes “fine-dining”. And I wouldn’t go back and order anything off the regular menu/at regular price. Having said that, it’s a nice little restaurant to take visitors to. The combo for 4 also seems like a good deal ($66 total after 25% off). But I wouldn’t suggest having a big party there; it gets really expensive if it were a party of 6 or more.
Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine
120-12480 No.1 Road, Richmond (Steveston)