998 Boulevard St. Laurent
Metro: Place d’Armes
Bus: STM 55, 80, 129, 150, 410, 427, 430, 435, 747
Visit: July 30, 2012
I have a real soft spot for Dim Sum and I take any opportunity to go out to sample what Montreal has to offer. Recently, Le Cristal Chinois opened its doors in the Swatow building in Chinatown. While the jury is still out about the success of the building itself, the Cristal Chinois sits atop and for rightful reason, it offers a luxurious take on one of the best facets of Chinese cuisine.
Now, I have to confirm what a lot of people already know about this place, it’s not really for people on a budget. My sole approach today was to try my tried and true favorites at a more high-class Dim Sum place. I’ve been to 3 other Dim Sum places in the last 15 months and I wanted to see if Le Cristal Chinois stacks up. So, the plan was to keep things relatively simple, all the while not burning a hole in the proverbial pocket.
Getting into the actual restaurant itself can be quite a challenge if you’re in a hurry. This being our first time in Swatow, we didn’t notice the elevators on the first floor. So, we actually took the first set of escalators up to the second floor. We were glad to see the amount of signage, which made things all the clearer for the confused. On the second floor, we took the elevator up to the promised land. Once off the elevator, you’re practically inside the actual restaurant.
The first thing that hit me was how impressive this place was. I’ve been in a whole slew of Chinese restaurants in almost 30 years and this one has got to be the most impressive looking one. In a way, you feel completely outclassed right at the start, but that shouldn’t stop you from eating well. As you can see, the tables are nicely decorated and it, in a way, reminds you of a wedding reception. We were offered a table right next to the elevated area. From that spot, there were two huge screens, one showing the Olympics and the other displaying the dishes you can order.
When we entered at 11:00 a.m., the floor was rather empty. But, as time went on, it really filled in. For the first time in my Dim Sum experience, I actually notice, not one, but 4 reserved tables on the elevated area. It seems like some people take their Dim Summing seriously. Most of the tables were larger groups, while there was actually one table with a solo eater.
The one thing that we experienced is how to stick out in a crowd. Being half-Chinese myself, every time I’m in a Chinese crowd, I stick out like a sore thumb. This was the case here as well. This is good to say because the room was mostly filled with Chinese people. You know what they say, if you see Chinese people at a Chinese restaurant, it’s got to be worth it. So, that added another notch to the continuing streak of impressiveness.
There is one main difference with this restaurant compared to all the other Dim Sum places you can find on this island. Ordering is not done in the traditional fashion, where you choose your meal from a passing cart. When you sit at the table, you’re confronted with a menu. There are clear advantages to having carts, since you get to see what you’re about to eat. Though, with the large screens, that advantage is somewhat nullified, if the pictures change fast enough. The advantage of having the menu system is that you won’t get stuck with food that might have been sitting around for some time. That translated well because all the dishes that arrived to our table came in steaming hot, as if they were just prepared.
The choices on the menu are vast. For a first-timer, it can be quite confusing to make-out what you have to choose from and how much you’re going to pay for what you want. If you look at the bottom of the page, you’ll see that there is a legend of prices, which range from $2.50 all the way up to $7.00. At the back of the green menu, there are also a set of dishes that will cost you much more and are only available after 11 a.m. The second menu that’s included lists a whole bunch of other dishes at a more discounted price.
The service was something else. We were quite impressed by how everything worked out. The server who was assigned to us was able to communicate rather well, which is something that can be quite different in other Dim Sum places. The thing that really caught our attention came with the tea. Normally, when you go low on tea, you fill it up yourself.
For the first time in my life, a staff member saw that our tea was running low, picked up the pot and proceeded to fill us back up. Once we saw that, we knew that we were sitting through something special. Mind you, as the room started filling up, it was harder to get someone’s attention, but that’s completely understandable. Even as it was getting real busy, we never felt neglected or forgotten, which is more than we could ask for.
At the table, you’ll see a pretty nice looking set of plates and cutlery. The server actually asked us if we wanted a fork. To that, we boldly exclaimed that the chop sticks would suffice. It’s not a real authentic Chinese restaurant experience unless you’re using the proper tools.
Now, like I stated earlier, we ordered things that you could find at most other Dim Sum places. For me, I wanted to see how they stacked up to the competition. As for the descriptions, I’m mostly going to make observations of anything that stood out, mostly because there weren’t any real major differences.
The first thing that arrived to the table were a set of 3 chicken dumplings. This was the first time I’ve ever had chicken in a dumpling. I was dreading this because I didn’t know how it would turn out. The thing that really made me happy was the fact that the dumpling itself was too oily. The sauce was a perfect accompaniment as well.
Here is a rare inside peek at the chicken dumplings.
Shrimp Rice Noodle Rolls (Cheong Fun)
Whenever I go to Dim Sum, this is a must order plate for me. There wasn’t too much difference here. The shrimp were cooked rather well and the rolls were thick. The only thing that I would’ve like was more sauce over the rolls. I found myself trying to soak up whatever was left on my plate. Other than that, it’s still an awesome Dim Sum plate to take.
What can I really say about the shrimp dumplings? These are the second offerings that I make sure to get a hold of during any Dim Sum visit. I was relieved when 4 of them showed up, that way it could be divided up evenly.
Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf (Lo Mai Gai)
Now, this would be personal history for me as it would be the first time I would ever try this dish in my life. Growing up with a Chinese half, I would see this in my house and wouldn’t go near it because I didn’t know what was inside. I never had the nerve to ask what it was because I didn’t really want to be shocked or anything. When it comes to eating with the Chinese half of the family, I have a “don’t ask because I don’t want to know” policy.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this dish, you get a steaming hot lotus leaf wrapping. Inside that wrapping is a small quantity of glutinous rice. The rice can be mixed with various ingredients. This was the more simpler kind of lotus leaf wrap. To be honest, I’m regretting not trying this sooner, as I was quite satisfied with what I had.
These are your normal beef meatballs that can be found at most Dim Sum restaurants. We actually ordered this off of the lunch special menu. The only thing of note here is that it came with a sauce where the taste reminded me a lot of ketchup. When I eat, I tend to shy away from sauces because I prefer whatever it is without any. On this day, the meatballs didn’t need any sauce whatsoever.
This was the Cadillac selection off of the menu during this visit. This plate will cost you 7 dollars. Before I go any further, I’m going to tell you that it was well worth every penny you will spend on it. BBQ pork is not my favorite dish on the planet. In a way, I think it’s my upbringing that made me detest BBQ pork. It wasn’t until a few years back where I got a chance to have freshly made pork right from a Chinese grocery store. That’s the moment where I knew that this was worth having.
Having freshly made BBQ pork, in my opinion, is key to the enjoyment of this dish. If it sits out for a while, it will obviously dry out, leaving it a shadow of its former self. The pieces on the top were the better ones and we were actually picking the remains once the pork was gone. This was one of the real stars of the visit.
This is a shortrib congee. For many years, I knew this as a rice soup. In the making of a congee, rice is cooked to such a point where it becomes much like a porridge. There are many different things you can put in a congee, like various meats and mushrooms. The thing you’ll note is that there isn’t much of a taste to it.
The congee was brought out in this huge bowl by the server. Once it was put down on the table, two portions were doled out and we were ready to go. This was delivered near the end of the meal. This is normal in Chinese custom, as the soup is meant to help you digest all the food you just put down. The only thing to note is that the bowl is just too large for 2 people. In retrospect, we probably could’ve ordered something else in its place. However, that’s not to say that it wasn’t good, it was actually some of the best congee I’ve ever had.
Now, this is an interesting document. Throughout the meal, as dishes were delivered to your table, the servers would cross out what they just put down. What’s really good about this system is that you get to keep track of what you ordered in case you forgot.
When it comes to Dim Sum, everyone has their favorites and it’s very hard to move away from that. Le Cristal Chinois is another contender that will try to sway the hearts of Montrealers. Seeing the Chinese community fill up the floor on a Monday morning is a telling sign how just how well it’s doing. The food is just about on par with anything that is offered anywhere else. If you’re willing to invest some money on your experience here, you won’t be sorry. The service here is top notch and you really feel at ease with what you’re doing.