Not to be outdone by my anniversary surprise, Wendy planned a veritable feast of Chinese delicacies I had been wanting to try for my birthday. I should insert a disclaimer here that Wendy is originally from Hong Kong while I’m Caucasian. You’ll see why in a moment… Acting on a friend’s recommendation we chose Top Cantonese, a banquet-style restaurant on Kingsway.
After making the reservation we found out that a Chinese couple we know had celebrated the wife’s birthday there just days before so we took that as a good omen. Upon arrival we got off to an awkwardly humorous start that was to set the tone for the evening; while standing in the entranceway waiting for the group ahead of us to be seated, I was leaning with my arm outstretched against the wall. Just as I was lowering my arm a straggler from the group darted underneath and I wacked her full force on the head with my elbow. My immediate reaction was to apologize profusely and pat her softly on the head where I had hit her, but this seemed to cause even more consternation. I felt like I had broken some obscure ancient tradition ie “do not touch the head or you will steal the person’s soul”. Oh well on to the food…
For the main we had picked dungeness crab, so our waiter brought a fair sized live one to the table for our appraisal. Looked good to me but I had Wendy ask if I could hold it just to be sure 😛 The crab was clamping onto my wrist…for some reason this came as a shock to me but felt kinda cool like the crab was trying to cuddle up or something.
We started with a roasted pigeon a.k.a. squab. This was a lot juicier than I expected and the skin was a yummy golden-brown which tasted as good as it looked and was even more delicious when dipped in the side of flavoured vinegary soy sauce. Wendy wasn’t a fan of the sauce and chose to eat hers plain, and we both opted out of the tastebud-curdling salt which Wendy called “MSG salt”. At the time I thought she had said “chemistry salt” which I didn’t doubt for a second, so strong it tasted like a science experiment gone awry. Maybe it’s traditional but still…yuck! It was my first experience with squab so Wendy ever-so-generously offered me the head, beak and all. Similar to the deep-fried spot prawn heads we sampled at Guu Garden recently but less brain-y. Not bad…but not good either haha.
Next came shark fin soup with shredded chicken. I’ve had the night market imitation and decided to try the real thing just once before the inevitable ban comes into place (it’s currently banned in certain GVRD municipalities and on the table – no pun intended – in others). Interesting texture but not much to say otherwise, I guess it’s one of those dishes eaten for prestige due to cost and rarity.
As I think is the case with our next dish: abalone, duck feet and pea shoots in chicken broth which was actually a thick and slightly sweet sauce. Duck’s foot is another dish which Wendy doesn’t much like that I’ve developed a bit of a taste for (she prefers chicken feet but I like the duck since there is more “meat” on it), so once again she was kind enough to give me her portion as well. Mmmm! The abalone itself reminded me of a meaty mushroom like shiitake or portobello or maybe fish maw, in texture at least. I quite enjoyed it but again couldn’t justify the price tag.
We also ordered sides of steamed rice and pea shoots with garlic, the latter we didn’t touch since we had a night of clubbing planned and wanted to save our breath. However we packed it to go and it made for delicious leftovers. There was a group of elderly Chinese women seated adjacent to us who seemed to be stealing glances at our table. At one point Wendy burst out laughing and seeing my puzzled look told me one of them had exclaimed, “Oh look, he’s eating the rice now!” (Wendy edit: I think they were amazed he was eating the rice…WITH CHOPSTICKS nonetheless). Not sure what the big to-do was, but I’d be willing to bet in Japan there exists a game show in which white people eat various common Asian food items while an awe-struck studio audience oohs and aahs 😛
We had the Dungeness crab prepared with onion and ginger which proved to be just as delicious if not better than my suggestion of steamed with butter (which Wendy had scoffed at profusely). We had a lot of fun eating it and took much satisfaction in prying out big chunks of succulent meat. Wendy has told me that a big problem with many Chinese buffet restaurants is the old switcheroo scam where they bring out an impressively big crab to the table and throw a different much smaller one in the wok to fry. However at Top if they switched the crab there didn’t seem to be any noticeable difference; our bill said 2.5 lbs and we’re pretty sure that’s what we got as well. Regardless of size though we both filled up and this was one prestigious food that was definitely worth the time and money spent on eating! We polished off the entire crab between us.
They brought us a red bean, glutinous rice and tapioca soup for dessert which we only managed a couple bites of since we had three cakes to gorge on for later that night. Not to say we didn’t like it though, and it seemed pretty healthy as far as desserts go so it’s something I’d like to revisit.
When we were done another staff (manager?) (Wendy edit: he’s actually what we call the ‘Captain’) came to talk to us. I should take this opportunity to mention that the service was great, the staff were friendly, plates were changed often and I even got called gentleman once or twice! So the guy said to Wendy, “D鬼佬好si-diu-butt o架”. After he left Wendy told me when she had mentioned my desire for crab steamed with butter he had told her, “Yes, they can be so stupid that way!”. Aaaah, see-diu-butt! And after trying it their way, I have to say he’s probably right 🙂
Growing up my Chinese cuisine experience was mainly limited to the chow mein and fortune cookie variety so I love it when Wendy introduces me to places like this one <3 And I have a feeling all the traditional cuisine we consumed will bring me great fortune in my upcoming 25th year so thanks baby! (Wendy edit: You’re such a liar! Geez he’s in his 30’s!!)