Hicks Weekly Dish: May Tang Bistro thrive and inspire BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2017
At long last, a modern, authentic Chinese restaurant has opened its doors in Edmonton.
Don’t get me wrong. At times all of us hanker for old-style take-out North American Chinese food – big, greasy egg rolls, chicken balls with sweet ‘n’ sour sauce, broccoli stir fry, chow mein.
But other Asian eateries in this town have evolved. Dozens of Vietnamese, Thai and Korean eateries are aware of culinary trends and have adapted accordingly.
Chinese food has been frozen in time. The dishes available 30 years ago at the city’s faves – The Lingnan, Pearl River, Blue Willow, Golden Rice Bowl – are still their best sellers.
So the two-month-old Tang Bistro on 109 Street, immediately south of the High Level Bridge, is a breath of fresh air.
These young fellows – owner Tim Yan is still in his 20s, as is his head chef – are overthrowing old-school thinking that Canadian-Chinese food must stand still.
In line with adventurous cuisine is a contemporary approach to design and presentation. Plates, for instance, are bold, modern and custom-made for the restaurant.
Instead of hundreds of items on the menu, Tang cuts it down to a few dozen – all carefully thought through and well-described, with menu notes describing the origins of the dish.
At Tang, paradoxically, old is new. The starting point of the cooking is traditional street food from Xi’an, an ancient yet thriving city in northwest China. Still, as the restaurant clearly points out, the food has been adapted for western tastes, and modernized.
Five or six dishes are designated as Tang’s signature dishes. Alas, on the Saturday evening we visited, the popular cold-noodle tapas dishes were sold out – despite having pre-prepared 200 orders.
The deep-fryer is very sparingly used. There’s an underlying softness and subtlety to the cooking. The restaurant declares itself an ambassador of Xi’an chili oil sauces. But never is the palate overwhelmed by spicy heat. The kitchen uses chilies not to produce heat, but flavour.
In fact, the roujiamo – the “Chinese hamburger” – was overly bland. It’s a BBQ-pork style bun, but flattened out with a layer of pulled pork inside. Texture was everything – the light, just-cooked spongy bread and the soft, paste-like pulled-pork. But flavour was in the back seat.
Lamb paomo is a worthy house specialty – a beautiful light lamb broth soup characterized by the addition of shredded pita bread, right into the broth. This is comfort food of the highest order – similar to a rice congee but more satisfying. If I’d had a cold, it would have made me feel better!
Tofu “skin” doesn’t show up on many menus –the skin being a soft wafer-like tofu byproduct that Tang Bistro runs through with skewers and drizzles with a sesame/chili mixture for flavour. Unusual, yet highly addictive!
If you’re an adventurous eater, try the spicy pig ears. Thinly sliced as not to resemble its origins, the “meat” is slightly gelatinous, with a thread of chewy cartilage running through it. Again, the chef finds his flavours in his sauces, this time a cilantro/chili oil/sesame/green onion mix.
Tang represents a long-overdue overhaul of what Chinese food can be in Edmonton.
Owner Yan bridges the cultural divide, having come to Edmonton from Xi’an as a teenager some 10 years ago. We had to wait 10 minutes for a table on a weekend evening. Being close to the University of Alberta, Tang was full of Chinese foreign students, obviously happy to have found an establishment serving something close to home cooking.
May Tang Bistro thrive — and inspire a host of imitators!
• Roger Sarna sold the Palace Banquet Hall a year or two ago, with plans to leave the hospitality business. But when it’s in your blood … Sarna has purchased the Maharajah and Sultan banquet halls from the legendary Tariq Chaudhry, who in turn says he’s moving from the hospitality industry to construction. The Maharajah will be re-named after renovations as the Aria Banquet Hall.
• With Christmas in November such a roaring success at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, JPL is introducing another food festival in the late winter. Devour The Rockies will combine all things food and cooking with many things cinematic on the Academy Awards’ weekend in early March.
Address: 8715-109 St. (Parking behind the building)
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, Sunday – 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Closed Monday; Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight
Price Dinner for two, excluding tip and beverages: basic, $20; loaded, $40
Food: 4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Service: 3.5 of 5 Suns