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Perennial favourite as fresh as its name

Cantonese fare, barbecued meats still stand out after 32 years

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/3/2012 (1999 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's a wee, free-standing building and the tiny space within seems even tinier, since it is divided by the entry into two separate areas. It still manages to squeeze 24 seats into the super-simple interior -- not a single frill, but I find it cheerful and cosy, and it's been attracting a fanatical following for 32 years. If anything offers proof that size doesn't matter, it's Evergreen.

It's been almost 15 years since I was last here, and little seems changed. These days, the table tops gleam with blond wood instead of the green and white linoleum-like covers I'd remembered, which are still visible in the pictures that share space with a few hangings on the pale green wall. But apparently, they are still used from time to time, such as whenever Teresa Lau, the friendly and helpful owner, feels like a change. It's a mom-and-pop place, with Teresa out front, husband Loy Lau in the kitchen and, when needed, an offspring to help out.

Evergreen�s Teresa Lau, right, with curry vermicelli and barbecued pork, and her husband, Loy Lau, with barbecued duck.

WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Evergreen�s Teresa Lau, right, with curry vermicelli and barbecued pork, and her husband, Loy Lau, with barbecued duck.

Other spots of colour on the wall are in the photographs of dishes that are on the menu, which is also little changed over the years -- except of course for the prices, which now range from $10.50 to $15.95 for entrees. It's small, as Chinese menus go, under 100 items, with no esoterica to disturb the timid diner. Much of it is devoted to meal-in-one noodle soups and meat-garnished rice platters -- usually intended for single diners, but there's nothing that says they can't be shared.

With a few moderately spicy exceptions, the cooking is traditional Cantonese but with a lighter-than-usual touch that is easy on the oil and the cornstarch. Many of the dishes are also available in vegetarian versions, including the soups, some of the noodle dishes and many of those based on bean curd.

Everything I tried was good, but the standouts were the succulent and spectacular barbecued meats. You won't see them hanging on hooks in a kitchen window (the place is too small for that), but they are among the city's best -- served on platters, singly or in combination. The glistening mahogany-coloured roast duck is moist and superbly flavourful. The pork is also wonderful, whether in thin, salty-sweet slices, or in chunks of rich-flavoured side pork with crunchy crackling still attached and -- miraculously -- stripped of all its fat.

Think steamed chicken sounds boring? Think again. This one is a marvel -- so juicy and flavourful it needs nothing more than its faint hint of ginger, but if more zing is wanted, there's an addictive dip of oil that's alive with the taste of ginger and scallions.

For more crunch, the Crispy Chicken should satisfy -- unbattered, unbreaded, and deep-fried, with just a hint of five-spice powder in the seasoning.

Plump, juicy shrimp come lightly coated in a pungent black bean and garlic sauce -- the slices of onions and peppers seem a little like an afterthought, but the big curls of shrimp are first class. The basa listed on the menu also comes in black bean and garlic sauce only, but a photograph of the fish appears on the wall as a seemingly permanent special, and we had the sweet-fleshed fillets steamed, and simply splashed with light soy sauce enlivened by slivers of ginger and scallions.

I love the soothingly thick, chewy udon noodles, combined with savoury slices of lean beef that were tender, without (bless them!) the pulpy texture of the tenderized beef too often used elsewhere. For a spicier alternative, there's the curry vermicelli (seen on other menus as Singapore vermicelli), with shrimp, barbecued pork, scrambled egg and a just-right degree of bite.

The same couldn't be said of the bean curd with minced pork. It isn't listed as mapo tofu, but that's what it is, and although it tastes good, the few flakes of chili raise barely a flicker of heat, and the silkiness of the bean curd makes it more soothing than stimulating.

I don't remember any dim sum on the menu 15 years ago. Today there are a few, and Loy Lau has a deft hand with the steamed dumplings -- good, sweet shrimp wrapped in velvety soft dough, and the really big and meaty pork dumplings, both with fresh, home-style flavours ($4.50 each for four dumplings). One intriguing item I regret not getting to is the Boiled House Egg in five spices ($1).

One thing that hasn't changed since I was last here was the broth on which the soups are based, which is still a tad thin-bodied. But what also hasn't changed are the excellent ingredients that disguise the lack of body: the impressive amounts of duck and Chinese mushrooms in one soup, for instance, which comes alive with a splash of the red Chinese vinegar; or the wonderful wontons in another (although I don't think the broccoli adds anything to the soup). The hot sour soup could be tangier, but it is loaded with soft cubes of bean curd, bits of barbecued pork, and not just crunchy strips of cloud ear fungi, but also chunks of the meaty and more expensive shiitakis.

Leave a little room for the deep-fried bananas with ice cream.

Service is accommodating and efficient, and despite the full house, we didn't feel rushed. However, given the restaurant's size, reservations are a good idea, especially on the weekend. Closed Tuesday and Sunday.

To see the location of this restaurant and others reviewed in the Free Press, please see the map below or click here.


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Updated on Monday, March 5, 2012 at 9:07 AM CST: Adds fact box, adds map, link

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