The most enjoyable dim sum I have had in B.C. was in a strip mall restaurant in Coquitlam.
The North Shore’s reigning best sushi, dished up nightly at Hamaei, is at Westview Plaza, a stone’s throw from McDonald’s. Last year, the illustrious Michelin guide bestowed one of their coveted Stars on a Singaporean food stall.
The point is that great food need not be situated in lofty digs.
Lonsdale Quay is a case in point. The absolute best fish and chips I have ever had, including abroad in seaside fishing towns that ought to have claimed the title, was at Montgomery’s Fish & Chips in the Quay’s food court. Nearby Cilantro and
Jalapeno serves up some pretty decent Mexican fare and their small grocery operation sells unbelievably great spicy tomatillo salsa and guacamole.
When I read news of a fried chicken joint recently opened in the Quay’s food court, I had mixed feelings about doing a review. I generally steer clear of fast food reviews and the notion of a dedicated fried chicken stall immediately conjured images of that saturated fat purveyor with the secret recipe (does it still count as a secret if no one is asking about it anymore?). But this new place is a self-professed KFC of a different variety, the first letter in the acronym standing for Korean, this time.
And what about the great fast food examples above? What if this was the next Montgomery’s, awaiting discovery? So it was that I decided to roll the dice and consider a couple of fast food outlets at the Quay for this week’s column: the brand new Fried Chicken Works, a stall that shares a wall with the illustrious Montgomery’s, and El Dorado Pie & Treats, never before featured in these pages.
Let’s start with Fried Chicken Works and their signature K.F.C. A chat with the soft-spoken woman at the till revealed that the stall is independently owned and operated, which I always appreciate knowing. I also learned that, perplexingly, the only element that makes the fried chicken here “Korean” is the small ramekin of spicy, sweet, tangy sauce that accompanies one’s order. Beyond that, the chicken is all prepared in the exact same fashion, in a straightforward and, dare I say it, under-seasoned batter, fried to a light golden colour and served with French fries. This is true of the boneless fried chicken (on special on the evening of my visit, six pieces for $10), the bone-in fried chicken (available in multiple configurations, like two drumsticks and a thigh), or the various “chicken ball” dishes, small nuggets of battered chicken to be eaten with skewers, each topped with a subtle drizzle of flavour, including honey and soy sauce.
I tried a dish from most of the major menu categories (I forfeited wings or sandwiches) and had to conclude that while the chicken was piping hot and juicy (every meal is made to order, so expect to wait a few minutes) it was too reserved on the palate to really excite me. Maybe I’m just a Korean fried chicken novice, but I have come to love the bold flavours of other Korean cuisine, with its heady notes of garlic and gochujang (fermented chili paste), and pungent punches of kimchi and jangajji (pickled vegetables).
At Fried Chicken Works the flavour of the chicken itself was so understated that I found myself returning for extra ramekins of the tasty, spicy, slightly sweet sauce described to me as the one Korean element of the dish, in order to invigorate my meal.
I must concede that the quantity of chicken provided is exceptional for the price and the batter is not too thickly applied, permitting the moist chicken within to shine through.
However, I would have loved for it to have been tossed in the signature sauce before serving and to have been more seasoned generally. I also wished the accompanying fries were freshly cut in house instead of frozen; it was hard not to contrast them with the exceptional ones served right next door. The Fried Chicken Works: 604-417-4508. No website.
El Dorado Pie & Treats has been a place I’ve never really considered for savoury fare before. I have, on occasion, picked up a few cookies there, or mince pies (available all year round), but have somehow overlooked the meat and vegetable offerings. That was a mistake, I have concluded, as my recent sampling of savoury goods, especially the hearty, generously filled empanadas are, in my estimation, the shop’s best dishes. Reasonably priced at $4.95 each, the small savoury pies are available as steak and kidney, curried chicken, spinach and feta, and steak and mushroom. I didn’t try this latter but did tuck into the other three over the course of two nights and greatly appreciated the care and attention given to the pie fillings, especially in the steak and kidney version where the offal, which can be a challenging protein to prepare properly (it quickly tends towards the funky if not diligently handled), was tender and mild in flavour. The pies are smallish in size, so I recommend two for a dinnertime meal.
The real stars at El Dorado, however, are the mighty empanadas, prepared here according to Peruvian tradition. I sampled a hefty, nearly bursting pocket of egg-washed golden dough filled with slow-cooked, sliced beef with fragrant cilantro sauce, carrots, peas, garlic and spices. At $4.50, this was a great snack, lovingly made and satisfying. A second empanada, this one with chicken, was similarly well-prepared and featured chicken meat in a Peruvian pepper (aji) sauce with spices and herbs. There was a subtle curry note to it and the texture was softer than the beef version, almost like chicken with mashed potatoes. eldoradopie.com. 604-987-1663.