I had heard and read a lot of great things about Kalvin’s from the local Chowhounds. It’s hard for me to find authentic Taiwanese cuisine in Calgary so this was on my list of places to try when I was visiting Vancouver back in May. Kalvin’s is a small eatery on Victoria Drive. It is hugely popular and always packed. One can forget about attempting to go without a reservation. I knew about this beforehand so I asked my foodie friend, Grayelf, to help make reservations. There were five of us in total, including Grayelf and her SO. Grayelf had been there before so she was a great help in choosing the dishes.
We started off with a few appetizers. We ordered the Cold Shredded Seaweeds with Garlic & Herb ($3.00) and the Spicy Pork Ear ($4.00). I really enjoyed the Cold Shredded Seaweed. It was crunchy and flavourful. I liked this dish enough to want to order it again on my next visit. The Spicy Pork Ear had an interesting texture. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of offal but I didn’t mind the texture of the pork ear. The pork ear is more about the crunchy texture. The pork ear itself doesn’t have much flavour so it takes on the flavour of the marinade. This version of Pork Ear at Kalvin’s was spicy and flavourful but not overly spicy.
To me, a visit to a Taiwanese restaurant is not complete without an order of Crispy Salty Peppery Chicken ($6.00). This dish is often known as Deep Fried Chicken Nuggets at other Taiwanese places. I thought this version had a nice balance of flavours although personally, I wish it was a little more peppery. The chicken pieces were coated in a light salt & pepper batter and deep-fried. They were crispy on the outside while juicy and tender on the inside. We also ordered the Deep Fried Pork in Red Fermented Sauce ($5.00). I was really looking forward to try this dish as I had seen the pictures from the other blog posts and it looked delicious. These boneless pork chops were marinated in red fermented tofu (“nam yu”). I was expecting to really taste the distinct flavour of the red fermented tofu, especially since the deep-frying should bring out the flavours more. The pork chops were crispy and juicy. However, I was really surprised that the flavour was really muted and lacked the punch. Also, I found the flavour wasn’t very well-balanced. It was actually a bit on the sweet side without the spice to balance things out. Overall, even though I really enjoyed the crispy texture and the juiciness of the pork, I was disappointed in how it tasted.
We ordered the Pork & Ton Choy in BBQ Sauce ($11.50). This was one of my favourite dishes. I loved the flavour of the BBQ sauce which was actually “Shacha sauce” or sometimes called “sa-te sauce“. This is not to be confused with the peanut-based Satay sauce often used in Malaysian or Singaporean cuisine. This “Shacha sauce” or “sa-te sauce” contains brill fish and dried shrimp along with chili, garlic, and shallots. The ton choy, which is also often known as ong choy, was cooked perfectly and tasted crisp and fresh. For me, I really enjoyed this flavour combination of the ton choy with the “Shacha sauce” as it was something different from what I am normally accustomed to. I typically have ton choy prepared the Cantonese way with fermented tofu and garlic.
Next up was the Chicken with Three Spice ($10.50 for half order, $20 for full), which is often known as “Three Cup Chicken”. The name “Three Cup Chicken” refers to the ratio of ingredients used in the sauce (equal proportions of Shaoxing wine, sesame oil and soy sauce). Along with the three liquid ingredients, garlic, ginger, and basil are added to give this dish the perfect balance of aromatic, salty, and sweet flavours. This dish was definitely the star of the show. It was my favourite dish of the evening. The chicken pieces were succulent, tender, and perfectly cooked. I love the complexity of flavours in the sauce. I’ve had “Three Cup Chicken” before at other places in the past and to me, this version at Kalvin’s is one of the best that I’ve tasted so far.
Grayelf wanted to try the Vermicelli & Minced Pork in Chili Sauce ($8.50). This classic Szechuan dish is sometimes known as “Ants Climbing Up A Tree”, which is the literal translation from the Chinese name. The minced meat clinging on to the bean thread noodles supposedly evoke an image of ants climbing up twigs. There are many interpretations of this dish and I found this version to be quite soupy with the chili sauce. I did like the overall flavour of this dish though.
Grayelf and I had read about this next dish on several blogs as a bunch of foodbloggers had organized a dinner at Kalvin’s awhile back. Interestingly enough, we initially had trouble trying to find this dish on the menu. That was because we were looking under the chicken section and even the pre-order section as a few had mentioned that the dish took a long time to prepare. We asked our server and she helpfully pointed us in the right direction. As it turns out, it was located under the soup section of the menu. I suppose that’s a valid categorization as it does look like a pot of soup but because the English translation didn’t call it a soup, I didn’t think to look there. The Chicken with Sesame Oil & Wine in Hot Pot ($16.00) is a very traditional Taiwanese dish. Initially, our server tried to convince us not to order it as she thought we might not enjoy it since it’s not a dish geared towards Western tastes. As it turns out, we loved this dish. I was impressed at the depth and complexity of the flavours in the soup. I could taste the underlying sweetness of the chicken broth against the infusion of the sesame oil and the Shaoxing wine. The chicken pieces were fall-off-the-bone tender but still succulent and juicy. The chicken pieces did not taste overcooked at all. To me, this would be the perfect soup to warm you up on a cold winter’s day.
Overall, I thought all the dishes at Kalvin’s were very well executed. My favourite three were the Chicken with Three Spice, the Pork & Ton Choy in BBQ Sauce, and Chicken with Wine & Sesame Oil in Hot Pot. Kalvin’s has quite an extensive menu of Taiwanese and Szechuan dishes. I can’t wait to go back again on my next trip to Vancouver.
5225 Victoria Dr