Michael and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary on August 21st (and 12 years of being together). I was ill for our first wedding anniversary, and our second was a so-so dinner with Miriam after a doctor’s appointment, so we were determined to have a romantic dinner alone this year. We were in British Columbia and our host offered to babysit. We had plans for a lovely seafood meal in downtown Vancouver but fate intervened again and Miriam was ill the night before.
A few days later, all was calm and we opted for something closer to where we were staying. The place we chose turned out to be perfect.
The Xiang Cuisine
aka Alvin Garden
4850 Imperial Street, Burnaby, BC Canada
Credit and debit cards accepted but only if your bill is over a certain amount ($30?).
Reviews at Chowhound, DineHere, EatVancouver (with photos of the menu (old version)), and some lovely pictures (pre and post-renovation but with the newer menu).
Xiang is this hole in the wall just east of Vancouver. They renovated a few months ago (based on the pictures I’ve seen, it’s looking much better) and changed their name to Alvin Garden, though they seem to use both names. We walked in to find a pleasant interior with two rooms of tables and no white faces (a good sign). There were some larger groups as well as couples there, and both fit in well.
I wouldn’t call it particularly romantic, but it had the right feel to it for an anniversary (or even a date) and you could easily carry on a conversation.
Our waitress was nice and knowledgeable about the food. Despite warnings from other reviewers about poor English skills, we had no trouble communicating. She seemed perplexed though when we asked for no meat (in particular, no pork). Other reviewers report similar experiences: they ask for no meat and are told it won’t be as good, but it turns out to be excellent. We had no trouble finding several dishes to try and going egg-free was easy too (she just steered us away from a couple of dishes). Dairy-free is pretty much a given in Chinese restaurants (authentic ones anyway). Forget about gluten-free; we didn’t even try. I can eat gluten once in a while, so I didn’t worry about it (but I avoided the leftovers so I wouldn’t have gluten two days in a row).
Not being familiar with Hunan cuisine, aside from knowing it’s the hottest food in China, we didn’t order correctly. We should have had a raw (or at least cold) salad to balance out the heat. And we got way too much food. Our dishes could have easily fed four. Nor did we eat it right. You’re supposed to put some rice in the little bowl they give you and then put food on top, eating the rice as it gets soaked with sauce. Since our bowls still had soup, we used the plates. If anyone laughed at us, they were discrete.
We started with soup, broiled fish with chili.
At $18.98, this seemed like quite an extravagance, until we saw the pot. We could have served 8, as part of a larger meal, and it had a fair bit of firm white fish. Our waitress warned us this one would be hot, and it was blistering. I had trouble eating it, though I kept doing it since it was so good. Michael wasn’t fond of the style of putting dried chilies on top as he prefers his heat more integrated.
Our other dishes were fried eggplant with black bean sauce (top left of picture, $8.90); Hunan style shrimp (bottom right of picture, $14.90); steamed dried tofu with special chili (bottom left of picture, $9.90); and a pot of rice. We both prefer our food lowcarb, which everything was, but wanted the rice to soak up the amazing sauces and, in my case, reduce the heat level. I can’t recall which of the dishes normally have pork in them, but ours came meat-free.
The eggplant was like silk and melted in our mouths. It was the only dish we managed to finish. It and the shrimp were our favorites. The chili sauce on the shrimp was similar to the soup’s but the heat was more a part of the dish and wasn’t as intense. We loved the crispy edible shells. I ate the tofu without the sliced jalapenos and found it to be a nice contrast to the tomato/chili based dishes. It had some heat but was fairly mild. The chewiness of the tofu was also a good counter to the softness of most of the ingredients in the other dishes.
Xiang passed the girlfriend-cry-test, which is now the wife-cry-test. That’s where if I take a single bite of something and tears start rolling down my face, then it’s hot enough for Michael. Part of my anniversary gift to him was choosing a restaurant where I knew he’d have the heat he craved, and the joy of watching me suffer with delight.
Michael had a Chinese beer ($4.50) and I had a glass of sweetened and chalky soymilk ($1.50), mostly because I needed something to dial down the heat. Dessert was pumpkin cake (egg-free) which turned out to be 4 large glutenous pies, filled with a bit of pumpkin and fried. They had a mild flavor, not as sweet as most Westerners would expect of a dessert, but complemented the meal and had a definite addictive property.
So this turned out to be a fairly pricey meal for us, but worth it due to the special occasion and the massive amount of leftovers we carted home. Although any size group (or solo diner) can get a great meal, Xiang seems best geared for large groups who will share the oversized plates and get the opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of dishes.