By Michael Lowe
Following on the Asian theme of my last article about Masaki Sushi, I also paid a visit to the most recent addition to the Niagara-on-the-lake dining scene.
Also operated by Niagara’s Finest Hotels, Chili Jiao took over the fairly large space once occupied by the Red Rooster restaurant on Mary Street. Chili Jiao is offering all-day Dim Sum and authentic Sichuan cuisine. At a recent tasting, I was able to sample a few dishes — dishes good enough to warrant a revisit to get a more complete overview.
At the first visit I am welcomed by manager Julia Yang (photo above) and Chef Beil Wang. My lunch is to be a five-course chef’s tasting menu, paired with wines I had previously chosen. My first taste of Chili Jiao’s cuisine is simple, but tasty, deep fried spring rolls. A dip in the vinegar/soy blend with fresh ginger is enough to add a punch of flavour without overshadowing the freshness of the vegetable filling. Sips of sparkling Inniskillin Cuvee punctuate the saltiness of the condiment and the deep-fried wrapper of the rolls.
The second course is a dish simply named “Mouthwatering Chicken.” Moist, tender pieces of the dark meat of organic chicken sit atop a base of shredded cucumber (photo above). Sprinkled with toasted peanuts, sesame seeds, scallions and sliced chilies, it’s a nice combination of cool, fresh flavours with just the right amount of heat — the heat offset by the slight sweetness of Megalomaniac Home Grown Riesling.
Next is a soup featuring sweet corn and prawns. A core of fresh corn flavour, with its natural sweetness, is balanced by technically correct seasoning. Fresh corn kernels add a nice textural element while the body of the broth is enriched by the addition of beaten egg.
Listed as one of the menu’s signature dishes, is the spicy, cumin-rubbed rack of lamb (photo above). Chef Wang tells me that the lamb is cooked sous vide, which accounts for the supple texture and cumin-infused scent and flavour profile. A robust combination of stir-fried red and green chilies and onions is not for the faint of heart. There is a substantial level of heat and the tell-tale, tongue-tingling of Sichuan peppercorns in the mix too.
For dessert there were a couple of cute little rabbits. Now, I’ve had them at other Chinese restaurants, and, frankly, hated them. But these ones had a pronounced texture and flavour of shredded coconut as well as a rich, egg custard filling (photos above) — I really did enjoy this version.
At the conclusion of lunch, I request a tour of the kitchen and Chef Wang (left, above photo) is happy to oblige. The state-of-the-art facility has a dim sum steaming station (right, above photo), and a wok station which, when the flames are turned on high, sound a bit like the roar of the dragon from Chinese tradition.
Shortly after my lunchtime experience, we revisit to sample some dim sum. There are only five dumplings on the menu, of which we ordered three — all steamed. They were the best I’ve had in the region. Delicate texture, with thin, slightly gelatinous wrappers and beautifully seasoned, good quality fillings. The spinach chicken dumplings (left, above photo) use extracted spinach juice in the wrapper for the lovely color. My favourite is the Siew Mai (right, above photo). Mouthwatering pork and shrimp with just a touch of roe for garnish — I could eat these all day.
Chili Jiao shows promise for a restaurant that is only a couple of months into its foray into the NOTL dining scene. It may take some adjustments to the menu before they can fill the number of seats available with a broader spectrum of diners. But, those who like the top quality Chinese dumplings, and can handle some heat, should be content enjoying spicy Sichuan cuisine right here in Niagara. See link below for menus and hours/contact information.
271 Mary St.,