My Wonton Mein Saga: James Restaurant on Hastings

In my heart, Wonton Mein (a.k.a Wonton Noodle Soup) is number one amongst noodle soups.  When done well it’s a flavourful, light and, if you add veggies, a complete meal.  It also has sentimental value, as it was the only thing my parents were willing to eat out besides banquet dinners. As a result I will travel across the GVRD for a good bowl of Wonton Mein.
For a satisfying Wonton Mein, I’m looking for:
– A wonton with a filling that has a smooth & bouncy texture (gritty is not good)
-I prefer a filling that has some pork mixed with shrimp, but not more than 30% (feel the pork creates a more complex flavour profile that stands up better in a superior soup) but a 100% shrimp filling is cool with me too
– Al dente noodles
– A clear unami broth that is complex in flavour and uses little/no MSG (Renown wonton joint Mak’s Noodle in Hong Kong uses dried flounder, pork bones, dried shrimp roe and some have even speculated that Chinese ham and stewing chicken is also apart of the secret recipe.)
– Traditionally, yellow chives complete a traditional Wonton Mein but I don’t care for chives, so green onions are fine by me.
For the most part, where most restaurants in Vancouver fail is the broth. Most are one tone usually chicken taste and rely on too much MSG to amp up their soup’s flavour.
I don’t tolerate large quantities of MSG well.  I get indigestion, nauseated, headachy and just feel generally unwell after meals that are loaded with MSG.  So I actually don’t judge a wonton mein until 2 hours after the meal, if I feel good – good star!
Now that you know about my wonton parameters for wontons and why I love them so much, I promise I won’t repeat the above in my subsequent wonton mein saga posts.
I decided to try the wonton mein at James Restaurant in east Vancouver (Thanks to fmed of wisemonkey blog/chowhound).
When I arrived, the place was packed and I had to share a table with another person. Normally I don’t prefer to share but I didn’t want to wait.  It was a blessing in disguise as it was the staff table and the Owner joined the table half way thru my meal (more on that later).
I ordered the wontons noodles + veggies (iceberg lettuce) which came with a complimentary herbal soup and a drink.  I was surprised I got a free herbal soup since I ordered soup.
When my wontons arrived, I realized it was not a traditional wonton. The broth was milky and it was topped with finely minced fried garlic and preserved turnip.
What was more concerning was that some of the wontons were discoloured which can mean one of two things:
1) The wontons were boiled ahead of time and dried out OR
2) Freezer burn
Either is not appetizing, in the first scenario wontons prepped this way are typically bland; they lose their flavour as the wrapper often gets damage and wonton juices leek out/water gets in and dilutes the flavours when they are reheated by parboiling.
Surprisingly, most were tasty, retaining their flavour and more importantly no freezer burn taste.  They had a good pork / shrimp ratio and correct texture.  I have a feeling the discolouring occurred as a result of the 1st scenario.
Noodles were al dente and the garlic & turnip toppings got entwined with them giving a flavour pop with each bite.  I liked this twist the chef put on the dish.
The broth was pleasant with a strong chicken and possibly fish flavours.  It was good but not as good as superior broth.  I prefer superior broth.  After the 2 hour mark, I was a little thirsty but generally felt well so if there was MSG is was used sparingly – gold star!
When it comes to Wonton Mein, I’m a traditionalist.  Overall it’s a solid bowl of wonton mein but since it did not employ a superior broth, it doesn’t crack my top 3 (1.Michigan, 2.Tsim Chai & 3. McNoodle).  
Finally, I said the Owner joined the table half way thru my meal and I was glad he did.  He asked we I didn’t touch my free herbal soup. To be honest, it was ink black and had a black lump in the bowl, which I erroneous thought was sea cucumber.

The Owner laughed and said if he served sea cucumber as a freebie, he would be broke (very true).  
The black lump, the Owner said was sum shui tung (at least that what I thought I heard) and it was good for the blood for women. The owner said he drinks it everyday and lump was edible and was great.  I obliged and had a few sips and eat some of the lump, reminded me of tender bamboo shoots or lotus root.  
The Owner reminds of my uncles who show they care by bugging me. I like it when the owners or staff interact with their patrons, make the restaurant experience more personal and often you learn something new.
Based on this experience and the specials I read on the wall, I would definitely like to return to try out their dinner service.  Also does anyone know what sum shui tung is? Is it tumeric tuber?

James on Hastings on Urbanspoon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s