My experience at Hotluck is eerily similar to the one I had at Alvin Garden. Months before my visit to Alvin Garden (the one I posted about), I went there to try the lunch special. I had the beef/cumin dish and complimentary soup. Both were uninspiring…the beef dry and flavoured, it seemed, only with cumin. After a couple of follow-up visits I found out about the good stuff. Months before this visit to Hotluck, I went there to check out the lunch special (as well as a possible Friday lunch). I decided on the Ginger, Green Onion Fried Beef & Rice.

When the plate arrived, I was taken aback by the portion. It was quite large. Quite a bit more than most places offer for a lunch special. This a heckuva lot of food. The only problem was, there wasn’t a heckuva a lot of flavor. The ginger was non-existent. The scallions and green onions over-fried as was the beef. There’s not a whole lot to get excited about. Not a great first impression. That being said, my experience at Alvin Garden taught me to give this place another shot.


Alvin Garden – The Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine – Part I – Hunan

A couple of weeks ago I wrote of a meal at the Lower Mainland’s preeminent Hunan restaurant, Alvin Garden. This venue had been chosen as the kick-off of a series of dinners to discover the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine. Ben from Chowtimes and his team of Chinese food-lovers have set a course to more fully understand regional Chinese fare. On this day, Ben has invited several dozen of his loyal readers to begin a unique journey of culinary discovery.

As was stated in my previous post on Alvin Garden, their presentation of Hunan cuisine is uncompromising and authentic. They offer up their fare the way it was meant to be. That being said, certain elements of this evening’s menu seemed to have had the heat turned down a couple of notches…the fiery intensity I experienced a week prior wasn’t quite there. That is, of course, my personal opinion. I’m sure many fellow diners had as much heat as they could handle!

This is an amazing menu. An excellent variety of flavors, textures and cooking styles.

My main reason for quibbling about the heat was the very first dish. Last week, these Hunan Pickles (above, left) almost knocked me off my chair! Today they were categorized as “mild”. Sigh. The Spicy Dried Bean Stick with Celery (above, right) was about the same heat level but packed a whallop of flavor. This plate was a delicious, cool & crunchy start for the onslaught to come!


Alvin Garden

In the midst of a recent lunch with Ben from Chowtimes, he brought up a new project he was about to launch. He calls it “The Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine” or 8GTCC. Essentially, Ben and three other extremely well-versed Asian food-lovers are undertaking to discover and present all eight Chinese cuisines to his readers. Through a series of dinners at various venues in and around Vancouver, Ben, fmed, Dylan and Keev hope to shed light on the traditions, history and vast scope of Chinese fare. Obviously, this is not an easy task but the team Ben has assembled is more than qualified. I am truly honored to be involved at the outset of this unique quest.

Click here for an in-depth introduction to Hunan cuisine from Chowtimes .

Recently, Ben invited me to take part in a luncheon at Alvin Garden with the crew to discuss and set-up the first dinner. Of the eight cuisines, Hunan was chosen to be the first in the series. In all of the GVRD, Alvin Garden offers, I’m told, the best of Hunan’s fiery cuisine.

If you are a follower of this blog, you know I am a lover of all hot, spicy and chilified foods. I’ve been known to complain about bland, unseasoned dishes and rave about full-on, in-your-face heat. I maintain a larder stocked with a variety of dried chilies, Habañeros included. Yet, with all that bravado, something about Alvin Garden scares the heck outta me! Most of the fear is based in reports from co-workers who had eaten there…tales of dishes with such intense heat that only a rare few will venture back. Fear not, though, good reader! The heat is only one element; a bright backdrop to a delicious and extremely varied cuisine.

Upon my arrival, fmed and Dylan were waiting patiently. They had already ordered Hunan Pickles as an appetizer. The small plate of chili-laden, crunchy vegetables just sat there, almost menacingly. It was nothing like I’d ever seen…practically glowing with an intense heat. Who were these freaks? What was I getting myself into? After the introductions and pleasantries I hesitantly picked up my chopsticks and plucked a pickled carrot. That single morsel burned and burned and burned. Then I had another, and another after that. After a dozen or so bites the heat levels out and awakens the palate for all the flavours to come.