Chili peppers fire up regional Chinese fare at the new Chef Tian
Chef Tian Restaurant
720 16 Ave. N.W. 403-719-9888
New Chinese restaurants are a relative rarity in Calgary.
It’s why the arrival in early September of Chef Tian Restaurant, a well-known purveyor in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, was so noticeable.
Its operators have completely gutted the interior of what’s hosted a succession of pubs and lounges, transforming it into a clean, spartan expanse of hardwood floors, white table linens, and white light, perhaps a little too bright.
By 5:15 p.m. on a Sunday, the place was already busy and ours was nearly the only table seating Euro-Canadians.
Sure enough, Chef Tian’s menu is about the most authentic and challenging we’ve seen, dangling all manner of giblets and animal body parts. Pork snout or stir-fried chopped pigtail in dry hot pot anyone?
The last page is entirely in Mandarin script, all its items offering a break from the spiciness of the Hunan and Szechuan fare, said our server who heralds from northeast China.
Though we were nearly the last to be seated in a hopping dining room, we didn’t wait long for our orders to arrive.
First among them was the French (green) beans with pork ($13.99).
French beans with pork
Like the dishes that followed, this one looked spicier than it actually was.
It was riddled with signature red chili peppers and garlic mixed in with crispy a bed of fried pork crumbs and crunchy beans prepared in a tasty chili oil.
Fresh ginger booted up the flavour even more in a dish that Mizue insisted might tempt her to make a return visit.
Served in a huge portion was the cumin lamb on hot plate ($17.99) that was full measure for the main spice whose seeds were sprinkled atop the meat liberally.
This was a simply-adorned yet pungently flavourful dish whose only accompaniment were white and green onions.
Our northern Chinese dumplings (10 for $9.99) had been prepared that same day, said our host, and their freshness was fully evident.
“This is a dish from northeast China, where I’m from,” she said.
These soft potstickers were crammed with shrimp, egg, garlic and chives to deliver a delicious, even fragrant quality.
A foundation for these dishes with which we filled our bowls was Yangzhou rice ($15.99) – a fried rice shot through with onions, egg, tiny shrimp and ham.
Upon summoning our hosts’ signature dish of steamed fish (whose English name our hosts were unable to provide) with chili peppers ($32.99), our guest Wallace couldn’t help but gaze into a nearby aquarium in search of our dinner’s former swim mates.
A halved fish with eyes ogling us lifelessly was presented beneath a carpet of chilis and green onions.
But again, the heat was only middling, its delicately-soft meat falling easily away to be dragged through a savoury broth before landing on our rice.
But after a few of these dishes, my mouth was buzzing with a low intensity, simmering heat dulled by a vague numbness.
We cooled things down with a bowl heaped with big chunks of cucumber heavily steeped in garlic ($8.99).
Served well by friendly staff, our trip to Chef Tian was a spicy and delicious adventure into authenticity.
Four stars (out of five)
Hunan and Szechuan cuisine
PRICE: entrees around $17
HOURS: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
CREDIT CARDS: yes, but not AmEx