Dish

Into the Blue

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Downtown’s Blue Willow Restaurant a great place to enjoy some unorthodox
Christmas eats

Blue Willow’s history extends far into downtown Edmonton’s past:
the restaurant has been at its “new” location since before our
laughing young hostess was born. She descended from her precarious perch on a
chair to show us to a table, then returned to stringing garland above
pictures of famous faces enjoying Asian delicacies. The interior was a
raucous collection of Chinese art, restaurant awards, 1970s decor and
Christmas lights. One incredible black and white winter photo showed the Blue
Willow’s original location on Jasper and 100 Street, back in 1958. More
than anything else, the Willow’s staying power attests to the quality
of their cuisine and service.

For the first time, we arrived before our guests and busied ourselves with
the usual arrival routine: flood our daughter with toy options and ice chips
while we peruse the menu. At Chinese food restaurants, my wife generally opts
for a combination and tonight was no different. She suggested that we order
the $72 Deluxe Dinner for Four, as well as two plates of three spring rolls
($2.75 each) and a round of green tea.

Our friends arrived with their unwell daughter in tow, who required one
parent to be away from the table with her at any given time. We engaged
ourselves with the free parent, exchanging gifts and catching up on holiday
chit-chat as course after course of Blue Willow’s famous delicacies
were delivered to our table.

The offerings before us put others to shame: this is how Asian cuisine should
be, and any variation is either a chef’s showboating or an unfortunate
mistake. For example, Blue Willow’s spring rolls were the essence of
spring rolls: hot, crisp and packed with tasty filling; even the packaged
plum sauce couldn’t detract from their perfection.

The rest of our appetizers accompanied the spring rolls to mixed reviews. The
barbecued pork loin was a little tough, but the battered, juicy butterfly
shrimp was so tasty we regretted only receiving one each. “Foil
chicken” was an oddity, but once I peeled back the foil, its luscious
aroma erased any doubts. My daughter and I scraped every oily scrap of
tender, savoury chicken from its foil envelope.

Our friends tagged off midway through the appetizers so both parents could
eat and take turns offering tasty morsels to their unresponsive daughter. Our
plates were quickly cleared to make room for five metal chafing dishes over
paraffin flames. As each cover was swept off, delectable aromas wafted across
the table to combine into an olfactory nirvana.

The Chicken in Nest and Blue Willow beef steak appeared deliciously identical
in their mounds of crisp vegetables, though I preferred the mouthwatering
beef. Our nest was a bit of a misnomer: the interwoven potato strips, deep
fried en masse, were an interesting alternative to fries. Our fried rice was
heavily laced with soy sauce and concealed enough veggie, meat and egg
tidbits to keep us munching.

Two of the dishes, however, were simply outstanding. I am a sucker for a good
sweet and sour dish, but the Cantonese-style sweet and sour pork went above
and beyond. The light, tangy sauce wasn’t the orange treacle I was used
to, and I loved the flavour that suffused the dense pieces of pork. Top
honours went to the Chow Har Loke, which was enormous shrimp cooked with
stewed tomatoes and thick vegetables. I was twice warned to stop bogarting
the chafing dish.

Despite the best efforts of four hungry adults, a voracious toddler and a
little girl whose appetite perked up over the evening, we were defeated by
the amount of food on our table. We asked for the remainder to be thrown into
two boxes for at-home enjoyment. We each enjoyed a bowl of rich ice cream,
then received the final touch: our waiter twirled warm facecloths onto each
of our outstretched fingers, inspiring my daughter to unsuccessfully copy his
technique.

One hundred dollars later, including tax and generous tip, we bundled up our
daughters for a trip through the Legislature grounds. After an evening of
stunning cuisine, impeccable service, twin shrieks of delight at miles of
Christmas lights strung around the Leg, carolers and a stroll past a
collection of demented gingerbread houses, we were truly filled with
Christmas cheer. V

Blue Willow Restaurant
11107-103 Ave • 428-0584

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