Is it real Chinese food or is it “westernized?” It’s an ongoing but somewhat pointless debate. Neither is right nor wrong, they’re just different, and each caters to a different clientele. Sure, authentic Chinese food can be pretty amazing but, knowing someone who spent the better part of two years in China, authentic doesn’t necessarily translate into delicious. The same goes for “westernized.” The restaurant, and what they do with the food, is what makes it good or bad and gives it personality.
Which brings me to Pearl River Restaurant. I’d heard it described as both “THE place for Chinese food” and “westernized,” the latter in that nasty, superior kind of way. It sounded like a challenge, so I packed up my family and off we went.
It’s in the corner of a nondescript, not-so-little strip mall, just off 99 St and a bit north of the Whitemud. It was a Sunday, 6:30-ish, and we set off without reservations—who makes reservations when they go out for Chinese food? Plenty of people, evidently. The parking lot adjacent to the restaurant was decidedly packed—kind of worrisome considering everything but our target destination was tightly locked up with tidy little “Closed” signs hanging in the windows.
Even more worrisome was the mass of people that greeted us when we ventured through the door. People standing, people leaning, people sitting—people everywhere. My first impulse was to execute a 180 degree turn, return home and indulge in a big vat of popcorn. My husband, not so much in a buttery-crunchy-salty mood, not-so-gently shoved me past the hordes of people and the unsettling tank of live-but-oh-so-sad-looking crabs, to the hostess stand, where I was greeted promptly and told, yes, they had room.
As she led us past the wall-like barrier that did such a stellar job of obscuring our vision of the dining room, I became enlightened. This seemingly small restaurant was not so small. Quite huge might be more accurate, and it was rather adept at packing in masses of people.
We were led to a pretty pink table in the corner of the restaurant, not quite away from the hubbub, but as far removed from it as we were going to get. Pertly folded pink napkins enchanted my two girls, but that’s where the pink theme ended. The rest of the restaurant was encased in more of a neutral beige-y theme, striving for an edge of sophistication that didn’t exactly fail but wasn’t a resounding success either. Waiters, all attired in bright white shirts and spiffy ties, added a touch of class.
Since starvation seemed imminent for some of the smaller stomachs in our group, we wasted no time scanning the large-but-not-massive menu and making some very quick decisions. They were: two orders of Green Onion Cake ($2.50 each) an order of Vegetarian Spring Rolls ($6.95), Beef with Broccoli ($9.75), Chicken with Mixed Greens ($9.75), Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables ($8.75), Basa in a mildly spicy sauce ($15.75), and some steamed rice ($3). Oh, and two Miller Genuine Drafts ($4.25 each) and two orange juices ($1.50 each).
Our two appetizers were deposited on our table in near-record time, both scorching hot and sporting unapologetic sheens. The six plump spring rolls were by far the shiniest, leaving grease on plates, fingers, napkins—anything within striking distance. One bite was one too many for me but my family, somewhat less fat-phobic, deemed them edible.
Just as we were extracting the last of the grease from our appendages, the entrées began appearing. Plate after plate, all heaped with masses of gloriously colourful food. Our little table filled up in no time, making for rather cramped (and grumpy) quarters—a consequence of our overeager ordering.
I loved that all the dishes (except the basa) were loaded with heaps of fresh, crisp and delicious veggies. And not just any veggies—ones that do a stellar job of soaking up scrumptious sauces: broccoli, bean sprouts, bok choy, baby corn, mushrooms … the list goes on. Not one limp and insipid veggie reared its ugly face. Decidedly yummy.
Unfortunately, not everything fared as well as the veggies. The chicken, though meltingly tender, was studded with little fat globules. We decided to look on the bright side—picking out the unappetizing little surprises forced us to eat slower.
The beef fared better. No fat globules and pleasantly tender, but the sauce was different than any beef and broccoli sauce I’ve ever tried before. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was so I solicited my family’s opinion–and they declared it “fishy.”
And the basa—well, it was a surprise. A big plate of battered, deep-fried basa in a very sweet and overpowering sauce. The menu had mentioned moderately spicy fish, nothing about sweet and sour and definitely nothing about deep-fried—not the fresh and healthy fish I was envisioning.
This is one popular restaurant. The prices were definitely reasonable, the décor was pleasant and the veggies were spectacular. And everything else, well, it had personality to spare. V
Mon – Fri (11:30 am – 2:00 pm, 4:30 pm – 10:30 pm)
Sat (4:30 pm-10:30 pm), Sun (4:30 pm-9 pm)
Pearl River Restaurant
4728 – 99 St, 780.435.2015