The Noodler

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bright Pearl
346 Spadina Ave

Bright Pearl is a huge restaurant that specializes in seafood and dim sum specifically. I remember being a young child, and going to a restaurant in this same location on a regular basis with my parents. I have the fuzzy memory that the original Bright Pearl was shut down sometime later for some illegal activities of some sort, completely unrelated to their food preparation I should add. Dim sum is unique amongst Asian cuisine because it is traditionally served on carts that are pushed throughout the room. This type of cuisine is served as a selection of many small dishes that range from several different types of dumplings to chickens’ feet, and hot and sour seafood soup. I entered the restaurant on the north side of the building and then went up a large staircase. After which I was confronted with a huge dining room and one of the waiters in vests, not to be confused with the servers with carts, directs me to our table.

One thing that struck me when entering the dining room were the two giant gold dragons with glowing red eyes that flanked each side of a stage where a few large tables sat. My initial desire was to go straight to the stage and take a seat, at my rightful place amongst these mythical dumpling warriors. I then thought of my four dining companions, and decided that although the idea of eating like a god, attended by dragons was a serious draw for me it may not be for others. In any case this experience should be savored and not shared with those who I am certain did not feel the same mystical attraction I did to those enticing red eyes. So my dreams were put on the back burner, at least for the time being.

Once seated we waited for the servers to come around to our tables and show us the dishes on their carts. The wonderful thing about dim sum is that if the restaurant is relatively busy then the food is undeniably fresh.

My four dining companions and I then ordered more than our fair share. The steamed beef ribs were wonderfully spiced and the barbeque pork rice flour rolls were very tender if a little bit bland. The pan-fried pork dumplings were delicious with a strong ginger flavor that did great things to this sometimes underwhelming staple. The shrimp balls were good, not too salty which I find can be a problem with this dish. Also the steamed barbequed pork buns were fluffy and stuffed with the rich savory yet sweet filling.

Near the end of our meal the sticky rice in lotus leaf was brought to our table, and we quickly ordered two, knowing that one is never enough. My first bite had a very fishy flavor, which is not something that is normal in this dish. After several more test bites I decided that that was just this restaurants variation on the dish. When one of my companions asked why I hadn’t finished my serving I explained my issue with the fishy taste. They looked at me in a puzzled way and offered me theirs. When I tasted the other side of the tables serving it became clear that it was only mine that had been tainted with fish! Although this mystery is still disturbing I must admit that I did finish my helping of untainted sticky rice, which was an improvement over my initial serving but still not all that this dish can be.

The servers who operated the carts were friendly but spoke very little English, and I think that when it came to serving our table it affected their confidence, which made the service a little awkward. The Bright Pearl did provide us with an illustrated menu that allowed the servers to point to the dishes they were serving. So I suppose that the servers made an honest effort but were at a detriment due to the language barrier.

Taking into consideration all of these things I feel that the Bright Pearl deserves a C. The entire experience was pleasant, yet I don’t think the mystery of the fishy sticky rice can be overlooked. I probably would not go out of my way to go there again if it were not for the incredible prices. All of the dim sum from 9am-11: 30 and from 1:30pm-3: 30 are 1.68$. Which on my piddly student budget pretty much guarantees my return to this venue. Neither my fellow diners nor I became ill from the sticky rice, which leads me to believe that it was most likely an honest mistake like a mislaid ingredient and not a health violation. If I had suspected a health violation and not an honest mistake I would have failed the Bright Pearl without hesitation. It may be the recent Thanksgiving holiday but I am going to raise the Bright Pearls grade to a B- for the incredible price, good service and decent food. I will however be visiting it again, not only to live my dream of sitting with the dragons but also to retry the sticky rice, and of course post my results


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