Hungry for something authentic? Tang Bistro will hit the spot
'If you've a hankering for deep-fried shrimp or sweet and sour pork, you're going to have to go to the mall'
Ginger beef, sweet and sour pork, pineapple chicken balls — you won't find any of those dishes at Tang Bistro on 109th Street.
The restaurant, owned by University of Alberta grads Tim Yan, Jackie Duan and Kevin Lan, features foods of Shaanxi, a province in northwestern China.
Tang takes its name after the dynasty that ruled for 289 years during the most prolific period of the Silk Road trade route.
Tang Bistro's owners spent a year creating the menu after going back home to take culinary lessons.
What they bring to Edmonton is modernized Shaanxi street food, not the Chinese food that North Americans find in food courts.
If you've a hankering for deep-fried shrimp or sweet and sour pork, you're going to have to go to the mall.
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At Tang Bistro, you can feast on hand-pulled noodles, skewered barbecued meats (and tofu skin); clay bowls of stews and soups, pork dumplings, rice dishes and refreshing salads of bean curd and cucumber.
If you're sensitive to spicy food, you'll need one — or both — of those salads to combat the heat factor from the chili oil that is drizzled over several of the dishes. Most dishes can be made mild, medium, hot and extra hot.
The liang-pi, rated "a Top 3 must-eat food in Shaanxi" according to the menu, is a cold dish with noodles made from the starchy liquid that remains after wheat dough is rinsed and drained.
The noodles, bright white and slightly chewy, are served with bean sprouts and julienned cucumber. The pile is crowned with a silky sesame and chili dressing that contains over 20 spices.
Every possible good thing — texture, flavour and visual interest — is happening in this bowl. The portion isn't huge but at $8.50 and so satisfying, it feels like a bargain.
A heartier noodle dish, perfect for these cold autumn days, is "Big Plate Chicken," a deep dish of bone-in chicken, vegetables and wide noodles.
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The small plate at $24.50 is advertised for one or two people but can realistically feed three or four.
Hunks of chicken, green peppers, onions and potatoes swim in a thick, robust broth. If four people are digging in, I'd recommend adding an extra serving of noodles.
At only two more dollars, why wouldn't you? The add-ons are a value at Tang. Take the 50-cent toppings of jalapeno peppers, red onions or cilantro available on the roujiamo, or "Chinese hamburger."
The extra toppings add a lot of oomph to the slow-roasted pork that comes stuffed into a dense, flat house-made bun.
'The Silk Road'
The influences of the Silk Road trade are obvious in several of these Shaanxi dishes. You'll see it in the cumin and chili powder, the use of lamb as a protein, and in the chunks of pita bread soaking in the yangrou paomo, a hearty soup that contains lamb, mushroom and thin noodles.
When the food is this good, the tables and chairs don't really matter.- Campbell's dining companion
A good dining experience is always about more than just the food, and such were both of my experiences at Tang.
Dining at the bistro transports the customer to another country and a period of history where not only silk and spices were introduced to the rest of the world, but religion, science and philosophies, as well.
What you don't get at Tang Bistro is any semblance of Chinese design or architecture.
What remains are the worn remnants of the Italian bistro that originally occupied the space, followed by Urban Diner up until a few years go.
But, as my companion rightfully noted, "When the food is this good, the tables and chairs don't really matter."
You'll find Tang Bistro at 8715 109th St. Private parking is available behind the restaurant and reservations are recommended during peak hours.