There's an entire category of dining out that covers the kinds of meals where you are experiencing - or even doing - the cooking at your very own table. Sizzling pieces of marinated meat on a table-top grill is half the fun of Korean BBQ, while dipping pieces of food in a bubbling pot of oil or broth is the hallmark of hot pot. You can even throw good old fondue in the mix - dunking skewered bites of food into pots of melty chocolate or cheese is a hands-on meal.
In recent years, a new trend in dining has emerged in China and Hong Kong that pairs the interaction of at-your-table cooking with a fresh, healthy mindset, with a little luxury on the line. Steamed seafood, or steam table seafood, is just crossing over in North America, and you can find it in Richmond at Vitality Steam Seafood, where the restaurant has also gone next-level in serving up Ocean Wise-certified sustainable seafood.
What is steamed seafood? Your table contains a steaming pot in the centre with a a base that is filled at the start of your meal with the makings of a seafood congee - so, rice, seafood, and hot water - before being fitted with a vented steam tray and a domed lid. You choose your seafood for steaming from a menu that happens to include several live options; this means that if you are squeamish or on the fence about going vegan, this probably isn't the dinner for you.
The seafood is then placed by servers on the steaming tray, and a timer set. You can head over to the sauce station and put together your ideal concoction from options and ingredients like various soy sauces and vinegars, spices, herbs, oils, and more. When your crab, or abalone, or clams are done (and the juices making their way into the congee cooking below), your server will return to lift the lid, and you are ready to feast.
This is definitely an "ooh and aah" kind of meal, especially if you happen to order up something that is not only live, but also very visually live at that, like B.C. spot prawns for example. If you've enjoyed them before, you may know that spot prawns are jumpy and wiggly, and best enjoyed super fresh.
The steaming method means that a spot prawn, or any of the other seafood on the menu, is prepared in its purest form, allow you to really taste the distinct flavour. Abalone, for example, is done on the half shell, scored with a narrow cross-hatch and cooked to an exceptionally tender texture and tasting both bright and earthy at once. Scallops have a pronounced sweetness, and the crab a lovely delicateness that steaming elicits. You're in charge of how much sauce you're adding, if any.
Meanwhile, the congee simmering below the steam tray picks up a variety of briny seafood flavours, and is ready to dish up into bowls by the end of your meal. Luckily, you've had to pace yourself with steady dispatches of steamed seafood, so there's likely a bit of room in your belly for the soulful, briny-sweet rice porridge.
Vitality recently won the Ocean Wise Sustainable Seafood award in the 2019 Chinese Restaurant Awards. They are very proud to not only be part of the esteemed Vancouver-based restaurant seafood program, but also to be a trailblazer in the arena here in Metro Vancouver, where our Chinese food scene is lauded globally for its marriage of technique and use of local and seasonal B.C. ingredients.
With the integrity of the ingredients at the core of the experience of eating steamed seafood, where there is essentially nothing but the seafood and the steam in the cooking process to interfere with the flavour, Vitality's commitment to sustainable seafood is laudable, indeed.
While seafood is the centrepiece of their menu, they do also offer an array of vegetables and meat, as well as combo packages for groups, and traditional fully cooked dishes. For those looking to try this trendy new style of hotpot and experience the at-your-table steamer set-up, Vitality makes for a fun and interactive dining experience.
Vitality Steam Seafood is located at #140-8500 Alexandra Road in Richmond. They are open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 11 p.m.