Restaurant: Terracotta Restaurant
Cuisine: Chinese/Tapas (Modern)
Last visited: September 8, 2010
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown)
Address: 52 Alexander Street
Price Range: $10 or less/item (about $20-30/person)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
- Contemporary Chinese food
- In house dim sum chef
- Traditional Chinese tapas
- Modern presentation
- Moderately priced
- Good for drinks/snacks
- Best with groups of 4
- Attracts younger demographic ages 20-35
- Decor from China, lounge like atmosphere
- Owners of Pure Image Entertainment
- Available for private parties
- Tues-Sun. 5pm-Midnight
My first visit to Terracotta Modern Chinese Restaurant, Lounge and Bar was back in June when they first opened (see my post here). I did back to back dinners writing my post for Terracotta Modern Chinese Versus Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie. This was my second time dining at Terracotta and it was for a media dinner organized by Cassandra from Good Life Vancouver, therefore the food was complimentary. As always there are no expectations for the outcome of my post and I will be as honest as possible. That being said, I cannot comment on the service that we received either.
Since my first visit at Terracotta Modern Chinese the menu has been slightly adjusted as well as the prices. I made a bigger dent in the menu, however my perspective hasn’t changed much from my first experience. I’ll say that besides my age and social life, I’m not the target market for this restaurant. If you’re very familiar with Chinese food, dim sum, and the Vancouver food scene for authentic Chinese places then Terracotta will come across as overpriced contemporary Chinese food. However if you’re looking just to try Chinese dim sum, and authenticity is not a factor, and you want to do it in the context of a trendy place, then this place is suitable.
Dim sum is traditionally a brunch thing and the fact that Terracotta is open 5pm-midnight kind of shows that’s it’s a place where atmosphere comes before food, although the food is more or less decent. The menu is a bit all over the place and it seems like 4 people put it together featuring the best of all Chinese cuisine. Most of the food I’ve tried before so it’s nothing new for me and I could probably find it somewhere else for better and better priced. Simply put, I find it a great place for drinks and socializing, but not really for foodies.
On the table:
- $7.50 (not on the menu, but can be requested)
- Last time I came I tried the Aloe Vodka with Fresh Star Fruit and I thought that was as good as it gets! This time they used Grey Goose L’Orange instead of regular Grey Goose and it was delicious! Seriously one of my favourite cocktails. For guys or girls, this was delicious.
- It sweet, but not too sweet, and there’s pieces of aloe in it and the hint of orange is just awesome. It would be even better with some fresh mint leaves.
- Braised Beef Short Rib Rolled in House made Green Onion Pancake (Made in house) $8
- This is a Taiwanese thing and they’re available at most Taiwanese bubble tea places for half the price. There’s also a Shanghainese version, and they’re famous at Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen.
- The dough is made in house and it was nice and chewy and quite thick. They’re filling, so best to share. It’s a savoury roll that you dip into sweet Hoisin sauce and it’s generally a great tasting dish that is well liked.
- Rather than the traditional beef slices, Terracotta uses chunks of beef brisket in this roll. I think they should shred the beef brisket so it would be more tender because I was gnawing on it a bit since the pancake is already chewy. The brisket has an intense licorice flavour so I think it’s braised with lots of Star Anise. It had too much tendon and chewy fat bits so I wasn’t a fan of the cut. I recognized that it tasted very similar to the beef used in the Terracotta Short Rib Sliders – I was right, but it’s just a different cut (cheaper cut). I like that they’re not wasting… but execution could be better.
**Terracotta Short Rib Sliders – 5/6
- Three Braised Beef Short Rib and Green Onion Sliders served in Golden Mantou Buns $9
- The presentation is not how it’s normally served. I ordered them last time (see here) and it’s the item that excites me most on the menu and when I eat it. It’s their signature dish and you can’t find it anywhere else and I think they’re on the right track if they head in this direction.
- It usually comes with 3 sliders on a plate, but at $9 it’s a bit overpriced and I think $8 would be more reasonable.
- Stuffed with Tuna, Mango, and Red Peppers (Made in house) $7 (It usually comes with 6 pieces)
- Okay, so they tried… but unlike the Terracotta Short Rib Sliders, this one didn’t work. I love ahi tuna and mango too.
- This is totally contemporary Asian. The spring roll wrapper was very crispy and perfectly fried, but the ahi tuna was overcooked and the mango wasn’t ripe so it was very sour and ruined the dish. I had the same problem with their mango pudding last time.
- There was some mustard sauce on the tuna and then a plum sauce for dipping and it was just not jiving well. The plum sauce wasn’t enhancing, but I used it to mask the unripe mango taste. Even with a ripe mango, my hope for it isn’t that high.
**Prawn Rolls – 4/6
- Prawn stuffed Bean Curd Rolls (Made in house) $7
- I ordered these last time (see here), but they used to be $6.50 and now they’re $7.
- They’re generously stuffed with shrimp, cilantro, onion, celery, carrot, cabbage, and water chestnuts in a crispy and flaky bean curd skin. They definitely use more water chestnuts in it now and I think the recipe has improved and I enjoyed them. I didn’t recommend them before, but I would now.
- It’s a contemporary version of a traditional Chinese dish, but they do a good job with it.
- Wok Tossed Green Beans, Mild Heat and Complex Flavour $8 (Normally larger)
- This is a classic favourite for most people. I liked the fact that the beans were crunchy and not wok tossed to a shrivel.
- It’s wok tossed with some bean sprouts, Enoki mushrooms and peanuts. It’s nutty, slightly spicy, sweet and savoury and I think there could be some Oyster sauce in it making it non-vegetarian… but it’s just my guess.
- I like this dish and they did a good job, but the real Chinese way would be to use some spicy XO sauce with dried scallops and shrimp… SO good! The spice here tastes like Sriracha hot sauce so it wasn’t as full flavoured as XO sauce.
- Enoki Mushrooms made using classic Shark’s Fin technique $8 (Not normally the size shown)
- I stopped eating shark’s fin 5-6 years ago for personal reasons. But usually when Chinese restaurants imitate shark’s fin they will always use clear vermicelli noodles, so this is an interesting take I’ve never tried before. It’s definitely tastier than if they were to use vermicelli noodles, but shark’s fin is cartilage and it has no taste. Therefore the texture and flavour is more like vermicelli.
- This was bean sprouts, ginger and Enoki mushrooms sauteed with lots of savoury soy based soupy sauce. This was as good as sauteed Enoki mushrooms in sauce…. which is good, but I wouldn’t normally order it or pay $8 for it.
- Marinated Boneless Pork, made crispy and presented with Lychee and Bell Peppers in Sweet and Sour Sauce $9 (Not normally the size shown)
- Classic “gwai lo” dish, or translation “white man’s” dish. :p
- It’s great sweet and sour sauce, but I’m not a fan of the quality of pork chop they used. It should have been pork loin or even better – tenderloin, but instead it was bone in pork chop. It says “boneless” but there was bone. It’s also fatty and heavily battered and I tasted more batter than meat, but the 2 were hard to separate because the batter was soggy.
- The veggies were tender and crunchy and the sauce was very sweet and a sharp vinegar flavour. The lychee was canned, but it was a nice alternative to the traditional pineapple and that was my favourite part.
- Fresh Prawns seasoned with garlic and peppers $8
- Yes, I’ve had them at Chinese restaurants before and they’re still good here. The prawns are massive tiger prawns and they almost taste like popcorn chicken with the seasoning and batter they used. They’re crispy, salty, aromatic with white pepper and dynamic in flavour because I think there’s also 5 spice powder in the seasoning. It was like the Crispy Chicken Wings they also offer here.
- It’s topped with lots of garlic, shallots and green peppers, but they weren’t crispy which was disappointing. It should be like this – see Deep Fried Black Cod with Special Garlic.
- Egg Tofu topped with Prawn (Made in house) $7
- I was quite surprised to see this on the menu. It’s a traditional dim sum dish and it wasn’t exceptionally good here, but standard.
- It was accompanied with a simple egg white sauce and the prawn was crunchy and juicy on a fluffy deep fried tofu pocket. It’s very good with great texture, but it’s also just good in general. The tofu puff is not supposed to be crunchy, so don’t expect it to be.
- Egg Tofu served in Red Chili Sauce $7 (Not normally the size shown)
- As simple as this dish is, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would order it.
- The egg tofu is something I’ve had before and you can buy it in a tube at T&T Supermarket. It’s cut into slices and lightly battered in breadcrumbs and fried. It’s silky smooth and velvety and almost like a creamy custard with the egg mixed into the tofu.
- The red chili sauce is the highlight. It’s sweet, slightly spicy and savoury with a delicious nutty taste of sesame oil. It’s more aromatic than it is spicy. It took me a while to pinpoint what that delicious savoury flavour was and I literally had my tongue on it, but I had to confirm with the chef. I knew there was something else and I was right! It was CHICKEN stock and I could taste it! I think it was homemade chicken stock that made it so delicious!
- This is under VEGETARIAN dishes, but be warned that’s it’s not. (I really hope they change that on the menu).
- Crunchy, Chewy, Marinated Chicken Knees, Salt and Pepper $8
- I’m not a fan of chicken knees though, but if I were to order them I would get them at either a Taiwanese bubble tea place like Pearl Castle, or McKim Wonton Mein Saga in Richmond.
- Chicken knees just have way too much cartilage and crunchy chewy texture for me, and these ones are too battered and the batter wasn’t crunchy enough just like the sweet and sour pork batter. The execution was odd with the chili sauce poured on top. It was just that jarred Sambal chili sauce with the green lid and it overpowered the marinade on the chicken knees.
- House Made Pork Pot Stickers (Please allow 15 minutes to arrive) $7
- I’ve had many pot stickers in my lifetime and these were better than average! I had just tried the famous Japanese version of pot stickers from Gyoza King the night before, and these ones smoked them! Sure they’re different, but these just taste better.
- They were large and very plump house made pot stickers. They were generously stuffed with flavorful and juicy pork mixed with chives, garlic and ginger wrapped in a chewy thin dumpling skin. The marinade for the pork was actually noticeably sweet, but savoury as well. It’s served with a ginger red vinegar sauce for dipping.
- They were fried nice and crispy and had some soup/juice inside that made it almost like a juicy pork dumpling (xiao long bao) from Shanghai restaurants.
- Three barbeque duck, hoisin, green onion, and cucumber wraps $8
- This was a butchered version of Peking Duck Wraps and it really is a dish that should be eaten at formal Chinese restaurants that specialize in this traditional dish.
- It was stuffed with pieces of duck fat, cucumber and green onions. It was almost all fatty and chewy duck skin that wasn’t crispy at all and it was oozing grease.
- The crepe also tasted like raw wonton skin wrappers and I was just not a fan at all.
- Tender and flaky Sable Fish with Black bean Sauce $10
- This was a contemporary twist as it was also topped with a fresh mango salsa with red peppers and onions, but it just didn’t work at all.
- The fish was great, but it has bones, which is unexpected for a restaurant like this catered to more of a “Western” crowd. It’s hard to mess up black cod so the fish was fine. The black bean sauce however was contrasting the mango salsa big time!
- It was pungent fermented black bean sauce meets citrus unripe mangoes and it was a really bad mix that doesn’t even sound good. Go with one or the other, but not both. Mango salsas work with vinaigrettes, but not this.
- Wok Fried Rice with Savory Prawn and Cucumber $10
- The prawns were tender and the cucumbers were a nice non-traditional addition, however it was bland and missing salt and pepper. Not greasy though!
Last time I came I ordered the Mango Pudding and “Coconut Panna Cotta”, which they thankfully changed the name to “Coconut Getaway”. I’m not sure if the recipes have changed though because last time was a bit disappointing. However this time I got to try the dessert I originally wanted to try last time (but they were out of stock), was the Tapioca Happy Ending.
- Baked Tapioca with a thin Pastry crust, served with Green Tea ice cream (Please allow 15 minutes to arrive) $6
- Was it worth the wait? The concept was, but the actual dessert wasn’t as much. It’s easily the best of the 3 they offer, but that doesn’t really say much. It’s a new take on this traditional Cantonese dessert – see Baked Tapioca Pudding, which is actually excellent in it’s traditional form.
- It’s fine to be different, but the baked tapioca was almost solidified and like a pie rather than a creamy custard. It would be better as a creamy custard served piping hot in a pot pie bowl with the crust. The crust was good, it was a traditional pineapple bun crust made with flour, butter and sugar.
- The green tea ice cream was a contemporary twist that totally worked and all Chinese restaurants should serve it like this! (That’s just me though) However the ice cream was served half melted which made for poor presentation. The tapioca pie I’ll call it, seemed only microwaved warm rather than fresh from the oven… it’s a bit of a specialized dessert to serve here.