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Restaurants | Critic's Notebook

Sun Sui Wah's Squab and Seafood Are Worth a Border Crossing

November 23, 2000|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

VANCOUVER, Canada — With all the influx of Chinese from Hong Kong in recent years, Vancouver has, arguably, the best Chinese food in North America. Toronto may have just as many Chinese restaurants, but the top chefs tend to gravitate to Vancouver. That certainly seems true at the Cantonese seafood restaurant Sun Sui Wah on Main Street (there's another location in the largely Chinese suburb of Richmond). The dishes are pretty much the same at any Cantonese restaurant, but what a difference not only in the quality of the seafood, but also the execution.

Sun Sui Wah is famous for its roast squab, and it is astonishing--dark and gamy, sweet and juicy, the skin glazed with subtle spices. It's as good or better than any squab I've ever had at a Michelin three-star restaurant and definitely worth a detour. When we order steamed live prawns and a Dungeness crab in ginger and green onions, the waiter whips back to our table with a plastic container holding a hefty crab waving its tentacles and a bucket of wriggling prawns. Yes, we'll take them. Steamed, the prawns are incredibly beautiful, marbled dark coral and white, tasting of the sea. The crab is a mess to eat, but who could resist? We talk, crack crab legs, wrest every morsel of succulent meat from the carcass. The tour de force is a steamed whole rock cod with so many nuances it made every other rock cod I've ever had seem one-dimensional. Every dish illustrates what a skilled Chinese kitchen is capable of.

Given that meal, we had to go back for dim sum the next morning. Though not quite as mobbed as Monterey Park's dim sum palaces, it's a good idea to go earlier rather than later. This was as good as anything I had in Hong Kong. The har gow's wrapper looked like a piece of pearly Fortuny pleated silk. Inside, the shrimp were springy and impressively fresh. We fought over the last of the succulent little spareribs in black bean sauce. Steamed wrapped lotus leaf held a packet of fragrant sticky rice dotted with lop cheong sausage and thousand-year-old egg. Even the spring rolls were marvels, nothing like those greasy cabbage rolls served at most dim sum houses. We ate and ate, and even after we were full, we had to see what the next cart held.

Guess I'll just have to go back to taste everything I missed.

* Sun Siu Wah Restaurant, 3888 Main St., Vancouver, B.C.; (604) 872-8822. Dinner for six, about $120; dim sum $12 to $14 per person. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Lot parking.

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