Kalvin’s Szechuan Restaurant

Restaurant: Kalvin’s Szechuan Restaurant
Cuisine: Taiwanese/Chinese/Szechuan
Last visited: April 10, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Kensington)
Address: 5225 Victoria Drive
Price Range: $10-20

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4 (based on what I tried)
Service: 3
Ambiance: 2
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Taiwanese Family run
  • Authentic Taiwanese
  • Authentic Szechuan
  • Some Shanghainese items
  • Extensive menu
  • Popular to Chinese locals
  • Big portions
  • Very affordable
  • Better with groups
  • Limited seating
  • Reservations recommended
  • Chinese & English menu
  • Chinese written specials
  • Frozen products to go
  • Cheap eats/budget friendly
  • Cash only
  • Mon-Fri $6.50 lunch specials
  • Mon-Sun 11-2:30pm, 5:30-9:30pm
  • Closed Wednesdays

**Recommendations: Crispy Salty Peppery Chicken, Prawn & Peanut with Chili Pepper, and Chicken with Three Spice. Apparently the Smoked Duck is a signature item and the Fondue Spicy Pork with Organ Stew is the must try here, but I’m not too keen on offal prepared this way.

My Taiwanese friend from Japan came back home for a visit and she was craving authentic Taiwanese food. After my recent delicious experience at Delicious Cuisine, so was I! Taiwanese food in Metro Vancouver is limited to endless bubble tea cafes, so there’s really not much selection for an actual Taiwanese restaurant. We decided on Kalvin’s Szechuen Restaurant and despite “Szechuan” being in the title, it is also known for traditional home cooked Taiwanese food. It’s funny because I’m supposed to make another trip out here in a couple weeks with a larger group.

Let’s forget about “authenticity” for a moment because Chinese cuisine is shared throughout China let alone Asia in general. Quite often Szechuan, Shanghainese, and Taiwanese food will cross paths and borrow ingredients and cooking methods from each other. Quite often they will offer some similar menu items, but the execution of each will be quite different depending on the chef’s style and area. Kalvin’s Szechuen Restaurant is actually a mixture of all three cuisines, but a predominant focus on Taiwanese and Szechuan. They do offer Shanghainese items, but from what I tried and could gather, it’s not the specialty here.

It’s a small and very casual restaurant and had steady traffic through the entire dinner service. It’s Taiwanese owned and operated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the chef had some Szechuan culinary experience. It’s an obvious local favourite and it’s popular for a restaurant that flies under the radar, especially with the dodgy looking outside. They also have a frozen foods section in the back with dumplings, pancakes and Shanghainese specialties to go.

The daily specials are written only in Chinese, which totally sucks, but the menu has English so it wasn’t too bad. On the other hand it made it seem more authentic which I liked. I must say though English translations for Chinese menus really frustrate me. It makes it difficult to explore a menu when there’s a lack of description and it causes people unfamiliar with the cuisine to keep ordering the things they already know and like.

I mean with over 20 items for beef and names which are also descriptions like “Shredded Beef with Onion”, “Shredded Beef with Green Pepper”, “Shredded Beef with Bamboo Shoots”… how am I supposed to order without winging it?!!? Please. Help. The best I could do was observe the tables and see what everyone else was ordering. Luckily I had my Taiwanese friend with me… but too bad she’s not a foodie and always orders “Pork Chop on Rice”… argh… useless I tell you… j/k!

Nonetheless Kalvin’s Szechuan Restaurant was a great find and I would come back. The food was solid, the portions are very generous and the menu is more than affordable for lunch and dinner. It’s a quick and casual go to if you live in the area with plenty of traditional Taiwanese and Szechuan options. However if you’re looking for traditional Taiwanese that’s a bit more formal I would highly recommend Delicious Cuisine.

On the table:

**Crispy Salty Peppery Chicken - 5/6

  • $6
  • This was very good, but it’s not an item you have to get here, unless you haven’t tried it before. I just like the dish so I like to compare.
  • It’s a good appetizer, but it’s common at a lot of bubble tea places too.
  • My favourite is the one from Pearl Castle because it’s crunchier and crispier see here, although this one has a better flavour and it’s a bit more authentic.
  • It’s Taiwanese street food and it’s not your average salt and pepper chicken or chicken nuggets.
  • It’s very crispy boneless pieces of moist and tender juicy dark meat chicken marinated in garlic, wine and soy sauce and battered in potato flour and deep fried.
  • It’s very well seasoned with salt, white pepper and Chinese 5 spice powder.
  • It’s also tossed with some garlic and crispy fried basil leaves, which makes it more traditional. There should be more, but this is already one of the few places that serve it this way. Beefy Beef Noodle does it as well, but they’re not as good as here.
  • It’s a very aromatic chicken with a wonderfully savoury flavour that is incredibly addicting like popcorn chicken.

5 Spice Beef in Chinese Pancake - 2/6

  • $5
  • I really like this and it’s another Taiwanese street food staple that’s also found at many Shanghainese restaurants.
  • It’s served hot and made upon order and I usually love this item, but this one wasn’t well executed.
  • It was a crispy and flaky home made green onion pancake or crepe, but it was much too thick and doughy with very little beef in the roll.
  • There was one sweet scallion, a bit of sweet Hoisin sauce, and one slice of beef  that was a bit dry and much too thin that I could barely taste it.

Deep Fried Pork Chop with Rice - 3.5/6

  • $5.50
  • It’s one of the most popular lunch time items in Taiwan.
  • This is classic Taiwanese peasant food, or comfort food.
  • It was a really big portion and enough for two people.
  • It’s a generous bed of rice topped with a typical Taiwanese pork broth/sauce made of light soy sauce and white wine.
  • It’s a large fillet of crispy bone in pork chop, but it was really thin and a too battered for me. It’s executed the same way as the salt and peppery chicken.
  • It was well flavoured and marinated in soy sauce, white wine and garlic before being crusted with a potato starch batter seasoned with 5 spice powder, salt and white pepper.
  • The pork was moist, but the quality wasn’t great and the skin was a bit gelatinous and just too heavily battered that it kept separating from the meat.
  • The sauce over the rice was a bit bland and thin and I like it more thick, savoury and sweet.
  • This was good, but there is better versions of this dish.

**Chicken with Three Spice - 5.5/6

  • Small $10 Large $20
  • It’s actually supposed to be called “Three Cup Chicken” and it’s delicious!
  • This is one of the most popular Taiwanese items and it’s supposed to represent the quality of the overall restaurant. It’s the prawn dumpling or har gow of dim sum.
  • It was another large portion and it’s served in a clay pot. I had it at Delicious Cuisine, but can’t say which was “better”.
  • I wish it was actually cooked in the clay pot though because it should be sizzling.
  • It’s “Three Cup Chicken” because it’s made with 1 cup soy sauce, 1 cup white wine and 1 cup sesame oil.
  • It’s stew like with aromatic bone in pieces of tender chicken generously coated with a thick and rich syrupy sweet and savoury honey like garlic soy sauce gravy.
  • The chicken had a bit of a pan fried crust on them and it seemed slightly shallow fried and a bit oily as expected, but they were excellent.
  • It’s like a sweet Taiwanese BBQ sauce with fresh basil, nutty sesame oil aroma and creamy caramelized cloves of whole garlic and a faint gingery background.
  • It’s sweetened with sugar and it’s lick your fingers good… although eaten with chopsticks.

**Prawn & Peanut with Chili Pepper - 5/6

  • $16
  • Ohhhh! So this is what “kung pao chicken” is, well this was kung pao prawn, but same flavour. Based on the description I didn’t know.
  • The waitress insisted on having it prepared mild instead of my requested medium, and thank god! Holy crap! Mild was so spicy already!
  • This is a very typical Szechuan dish and it was pretty authentic except for the Sichuan peppercorns which were very minimal. It was spicy enough though!
  • It was a huge portion with plenty of saucy prawns, lots of roasted chillies and tons of crunchy peanuts.
  • The prawns were crunchy and coated with a spicy version of a similar sauce used in the “Chicken with Three Spices”.
  • The initial flavour is sweet garlicky soy sauce and sesame oil and then gradually the heat picks up and then it hits you right away. The spice lingers for a long time afterward.
  • It’s quite salty and it’s fragrant spicy, not hot, with the dry chillies and peanuts being flash fried in the oil to prepare the base of the sauce.
  • The spiciness is powerful, bit still flavourful and addicting, but it’s really spicy! It had my nose running after the first three bites and I can handle my spice.
  • The crunch of the nutty peanuts helped tone down the spice, but barely and I would have liked some more scallions. It took a long time to be able to taste the other dishes afterward, but it was really good!

Stir Fried Seasonal Vegetable - 3/6

  • $8.50 or $9.50 depending on vegetable. This “tung choy” was $8.50.
  • Tung Choy or Tong Choi or Water Spinach, is a popular vegetable in Asian cultures. It’s often in the “Morning Glory” dish at Malaysian restaurants.
  • It’s a mustard green and it has a hollow stem and nice crunch.
  • This one was simply sauteed with some minced garlic and it was a bit bland, but simple. It’s how it would be prepared in the home.
  • I prefer the Malaysian version best, or Cantonese version which uses fermented bean curd and it adds so much more flavour.

Red Bean Pastry Pancake - n/a

  • $4.50
  • I hate red bean, so I can’t even rate it. The people that like it thought this one was decent.
  • This is a Shanghainese dessert and it’s made fresh and piping hot and I still tried it.
  • It was flaky, crispy, a bit oily and not that sweet at all with a thin layer of creamy red bean paste sandwiched in between the crepe.
  • The pastry is fresh and made in house and it was nice and thin, but I just don’t like it.
  • If you like this dessert there’s a better one at Northern Delicacy – see Sweet Red Bean Paste Pancakes.

Apparently the first 5 drinks are typical of any traditional Taiwanese restaurant. The “Root Beer” isn’t the American Root Beer either. It’s Taiwanese Root Beer made with Sarsaparilla root so it’s supposed to be more aromatic with a hint licorice flavour.

[geotag]

Kalvin's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

9 Comments

  • Linda says:

    mmm there’s the jew yeem again! :) but wow, deep fried basil leaves? i think that’s the first time i’ve seen this dish prepared that way – nice! i like having the jew yeem chicken too because there’s no bones in it – i hate having to pick through spare ribs because there’s always more bone than meat – the jew yeem squid is also a very good choice, granted they don’t overcook the squid so they taste like rubber bands lol

    everytime i get a chance to order those beef rolls, i do it! just like how you like to compare the jew yeem chicken from several places, i like to do that with beef rolls too! lol the deep fried pork chop presentation reminds me of tonkatsu haha i would prefer waaaay more sauce though – only if it was thicker – too bad this one was too thin :(

    the three cup/spice chicken looks interesting – maybe i should try making this at home but 1 cup of sesame oil seems crazy! this recipe sounds like the equivalent of a pound cake recipe being the 1, 1, 1 ratio.. easy peasy!

    wow the prawn + peanut shrimp looks really good – definitely a good choice as the title photo – the sauce looks rich and peanuts in any asian dish is a thumbs up for me.. yummers! haha i know how much you hate red bean.. no soup and no pastries for you! how come you don’t like red bean? do you at least like the red bean milkshake served at vietnamese restaurants? those are pretty darn tasty! :)

    you know what mijune? i think i saw you and sherman at the bake for the quake event last night but i wasn’t sure plus i was too shy and busy selling tickets in the line up! then i tried looking for you guys again but by that time, the entire place was PACKED and i think you guys already left :( o well, another time for sure! :)

  • Anita says:

    I’ve always passed by this restaurant countless times and wondered what kind of food it serves. After seeing some posts here and there, it heightened my curiosity! It is one of those restaurants that fly under the radar until someone recommends it. As someone who isn’t an expert in Taiwanese and Szechuan cuisine, I eat everything including offal. I know, gross right? But other than that, if the food looks good on the other table, I don’t mind asking about it and maybe ordering it. :)

  • Bow says:

    Didn’t want to try the squid w. garlic and chiles, or the cold glass noodles w. sesame sauce, or smoked duck ? Eggplant w. fish flavoured pork is good. Lamb here is good too. However my friends don’t eat spicy food and the food here can be spicy, so haven’t been in a while.

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – WHAT?!?! LINDA!!! You were there?!?!? You should have said hi!!!! I was with Sherman!!! We had dinner plans at 7:15pm so we had to kick it!!! Aw boo!!!! next time!!!

    Yeah red bean is just sweet paste to be andit’s so starchy and the sweetness just doesn’t do it for me. It’s like lotus seed and green bean paste an i think it’s also a texture thing…. but I do really like pastes when they’re savoury or even if it’s like a fruit paste… but just not a beany paste lol

    We have something in common with the beef pancake roll! I always order that too! The jiew yeem isn’t jiew yeem though because there’s no chili and they use 5 spice instead of just salt and garlic. but I do LOVE jiew yeem so I know what you’re referring to :)

    aw poop i’m bummed i missed you :(

    @Anita – yes I totally agree that it flies under the radar! I don’t’ mind some sorts of offal, but when it’s just boiled in spicy soup it doesn’t do anything for me… and i’m not keen on just pieces of offal.. it’s too gelatinous and boring for me… so not Asian huh lol?

    @Bow – I did want to try the cold glass noodles which is one of my favourites, but I missed it. The table next to me ordered it and it was big and it looked good, but with a a smooth creamy sauce so no sesame texture… it seemed very home made, but satisfying. Smoked duck was too big of an order when we had so much food already, but it is poplar here so i did put it on my recommendations. I knew you would have been here!

  • Linda says:

    booo i know! next time for sure! :)

  • LotusRapper says:

    Mijune said: “It’s a large fillet of crispy bone in pork chop, but it was really thin and a too battered for me. ”

    A friend of mine, also from Taiwan, tells me back there they have this competition/trend amongst restos and street vendors to see who can “pound out” and fry the thinnest possible pork chop (presumably boneless, like tonkatsu). Apparently there are some vendors whose pork chops are dinner plate-sized but as thin as cardboard. I wonder if Kalvin’s was thinking along the same line. Since I’ve never been back to Taiwan since leaving there (a long, long time ago), I can’t vouch for this trend there. Wonder if others here might know ?

    Thx.

  • Gloria says:

    ^ in the Taiwan night markets at least, they pound it thin as possible because of its HUGE look and is cheap. It has been popular for years, and I heard has spread to HK too.
    I remember ~5 years ago they had it and it is still around.
    I do not think Kalvins was doing this for the the purpose of doing the “night market style” but to make it look more than there is. They could use some more basil too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>