Tang Bistro’s intricate take on Northwest Chinese cuisine may lead to an extended stay
Why take my word for the worthiness of Tang Bistro as a dining-out destination when you can go by the implied endorsement of dozens of homesick University of Alberta international students who laid siege to the place in the midst of fall midterms?
The bistro, named for a lengthy and prosperous Chinese dynasty, serves delicacies from the northwest of the sprawling nation, easily making it the most unique restaurant to occupy the former home of Fiore and, more recently, Urban Diner on the south side of the High Level Bridge.
I’ve been to plenty of Chinese restaurants but I’ve never seen a menu boasting yam with blueberry sauce as an appetizer, lamb and pita soup or roujiamo—a “Chinese hamburger” flavoured with 20 spices and seasonings that’s allegedly a well-established street food over there. (Given that it was barely noon, Tang Bistro’s cocktail menu went untested.)
The room was spacious, but now clad in tones of bronze and black, with plenty of booths, well-spaced tables and communal barstool seating. The day we visited, there were only two servers on when the horde of stress-eating students poured in looking for house-made noodles, big hearty bowls of soup or skewered meat served with the regional spicy chili oil, resulting in a backlog of kids staring at their phones just inside the front door.
My co-diners and I had fortunately beat the rush and quickly made the acquaintance of said chili oil alongside a dozen exceptionally succulent pork and chive dumplings ($12.50), the latter ingredient adding considerably to the savour of the garlic and ginger-imbued ground meat. The sauce, red-sheened and teeming with sesame seeds, looked angrier than it tasted, the medium spiciness married to a salty pungency that was a bit like soya, a little like vinegar, but not entirely like either.
Next came a bowl of braised pork on rice ($5.50) with a seasoned hard-boiled egg and some cucumber matchsticks. It was a bit small for sharing, but the shredded pork in tangy barbecue sauce was plenty tasty. There was so much more food to come.
One co-diner insisted on soup and ordered her own vegetarian casserole soup ($13.50) with rice noodles ($2). The rest of us negotiated a shared repast spanning green onion cakes ($3), lamb skewers ($5.50 for three) and a big, honkin’ plate of chicken ($24.50).
The soup came in a beautiful lidded crock—all of Tang Bistro’s flatware was lovely branded pottery, though the side plates sacrificed a bit of their function to fanciness—so piping hot that co-diner had to be patient about digging into the profusion of veggies, tofu ribbons, seaweed, housemade noodles and—surprise—two quail eggs crammed into the crimson broth.
The pottery hubcap full of chicken on the bone, lasagna-sized rice noodles, fried potatoes, green peppers and five-spice gravy commanded much of the table and I momentarily felt like we had over-ordered. The small order was still a lot of food. But it was delicious, if a bit messy, as I just can’t eat chicken on the bone in a remotely civilized manner. Slices of fried potato had absorbed the aromas of star anise, ginger and garlic, and a handful of whole red chilies added a subtle kick, which the tender-crisp chunks of sweet green pepper offset nicely. Scissors were provided to deal with the perfectly cooked, sauce-shellacked sheets of rice noodle. I could have eaten all day and, for a moment, I thought I might.
It was no shock that the lamb skewers were not huge, but lean strips of the eponymous meat had been duly skewered, slathered with a spice blend dominated by cumin, quickly grilled and placed before us still sputtering hot. I could have eaten more than one.
The green onion cake was the only thing typical about the meal but it was just fine, fried and flaky with a side of sweet chili dip.
We finished up with an order of fried mini-buns served with sweetened, condensed milk. They were like super-hot, unsalted pretzels, the glossy gold-crisped exterior giving way to a steamy, fluffy white interior.
The onset of a rush hour deprived us of the extremely attentive service we enjoyed at the beginning of the meal, but our beset server retained his chipper charm, explained the influx of customers and got us on our way with leftovers in tow. Throng aside, it was a nice intro to Tang Bistro, a singular addition to Garneau’s increasingly intriguing foodscape.