(Chinese article: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/stephanieyuen/?variant=zh-hans)
As a huge fan of Lin Chinese Cuisine and a friend of Chef Zhang and Madam Miao (who looks after the dimsum department and the floor), I’m well aware of Zhang’s desire to dip his hands into ‘modern Chinese cuisine’. I remember him telling me how such a restaurant was lacking in Vancouver and that the availability of bountiful local ingredients and savvy diners who seek for nothing less than original and flavourful would make it very feasible. Though I had my doubts, I was not going to wrack his dream.
Then came the news that they found the location and Lin’s sister restaurant would soon be opened. This was obviously not a bit surprising; instead, we anticipated the official arrival of Zhang’s new born baby patiently.
The soft opening finally took place in the 3rd week of December. When my family went there on a cold, wet night for our pre-Christmas dinner and to check it out, the store front was still austere, and the restaurant sign “Sen森Bistro” above did not really say much at all. “We have to be sure both the kitchen and the floor are ready before we make any big noises.” Chef explained.
Everyone was awed by the contemporarily-toned dining room with gorgeous colour schemes and marble table tops, a 180-degree turn from the shabby dining room of Lin’s for sure. Replacing the dimsum counter is a private room (a karaoke room if you so desire) with two huge tables fit for 50 persons. The interior design indicates this is no neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall joint, but a Chinese eatery with a different concept. By the time we finished dinner, my doubt about another ‘modern Chinese restaurant’ was gone, cool interior design, appropriate service (young bilingual staff) and a new spectrum of Mandarin cuisine, evidently, Sen is in a league of its own!
The cold plates - visually displayed inside the cold case standing in a corner of the dining room - are meant to be like salads and are great for sharing. Mostly refreshing vegetarian choices, they are served in oriental bowls such as pickles and kimchi. Chef used a variety of roots and vegetables and will be changed according to market supplies. Amongst other cold appetizers (listed on the menu) we ordered, we all fell in love with the Broad Bean Mash.
Chef Zhang has definitely shifted into a new gear when he designed the menu items for Sen. Since Chinese restaurant menus never give you any insight or imagination about the dish, too bad Sen fails to avoid falling into the same track. Knowing this particular well enough, we let Zhang took care of the ordering for us.
Entrées came as nicely plated individual servings, but the portions were big enough to be shared, especially when more than one course was ordered. We had quite a few landed on our table: Sable fish with sauté green onion, flambé salmon, w0k-fried prawns with garlic chili sauce, roasted fruity chicken drumsticks, Braised pork with pumpkin in soy-bean paste…some came with noodles, some with rice, some with pan-cakes or steamed buns. Even the stone-hotpot rice was attractive, and the dessert, inviting! I have been back a few times since, with friends and families, with fellow foodies, trying out different menu items. The verdict? Chef Zhang delivered!
However, I refuse to call Sen Bistro a ‘modern Chinese restaurant’. What we saw were handsome presentation of authentically prepared and cooked Mandarin dishes infused smartly with west-coast influences. I like what my dear friend Nathan Fong’s (who I invited to dine at Sen on a later day) description “Renewed Mandarin Cuisine”!
Six weeks later today, there are more signs out front, young able and bilingual staff walking and serving the floor wearing a smile, the wine list will be ready any day. Chef Zhang and Sen Bistro are ready!