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Happy Veal or no deal 

Park Vic’s new tenant, Happy Veal Hot Pot, stands out from other Chinese restaurants, bringing new, great flavours to the table.

click to enlarge A dumpling bonanza awaits at Happy Veal
  • A dumpling bonanza awaits at Happy Veal

The first time I saw the sandwich board outside of Park Victoria promising fresh noodles and homemade dumplings, I thought I was hallucinating Happy Veal Hot Pot into existence. I'd always pictured the bottom floor of Park Vic as nothing more than a Goodlife bumping up against Le Bistro by Liz, so this new restaurant was a surprise to say the least.

The surprise turned out to be a good one. The menu at Happy Veal is quite different from other Chinese restaurants, with a focus that seems to be on Shaanxi dishes, which is unusual for Halifax. The dishes are simpler, the flavours more subtle. You won't find any of the syrupy American Chinese meals that make up many of Halifax's Sichuan- and Cantonese-inspired menus. Instead you'll find garlic, vinegar and mild spices.

I get the zha jiang noodles ($7.88). It's a simple dish of thick noodles and ground beef coated in a sauce of fermented soybean paste. It's salty, earthy and nutty, with the slightest tang. It's served with a cold cucumber salad that lightens the already mild dish.

After ordering the noodles, a tray of pork burgers ($3.50) floats by looking so incredible that my friends and I have to add some to our order. They are the highlight.

The pork burgers are easily one of my favourite culinary discoveries of the past year. Served in a flatbread bun with a texture that falls between English muffin and pita bread, the sandwich is packed with stewed pork. The subtly sweet and spicy sauce has a hint of standard barbeque to it, but with onion, jalapeno and cilantro mixed in with the spicy sauce, it has a singular flavour profile.

I later return with Allison for lunch. A table of five sits in the middle of the dining room, scattered with tiny dishes–fried tofu, squid, winter melon, lotus root slices, egg noodles–enjoying the hot pot the restaurant specializes in.

The hot pot looks incredible, but like dim sum, seems better suited for a bigger group, so we each get a small soup–seaweed with egg drop ($3.88) and lamb ($5.88)–and then we get some fried chive and egg dumplings ($10.88) and steamed beef buns ($10). We order the pork burgers.

The medium-sized bowls of soup are actually quite large. My lamb soup is nice. I had envisioned something closer to a paomo, with chunks of soup-softened bread, or something with the heft of noodles, but it is just lamb with vivid, springy pops of green onion and cilantro in a mild lamb broth. It's almost authoritatively simple. The seaweed and egg drop soup has that same mild command. Oodles of seaweed make up for a lack of noodle, giving body and texture to the dish. The flavours are incredibly subtle, but it makes for a soothing meal.

The dumplings–pan-fried, crescent-shaped jiaozi; potstickers, if you will–arrive and we push our soups aside. They are fantastic. Each is packed with pungent Chinese chives and egg and perfectly explodes with broth upon bite. Soy sauce and black vinegar are on the table for dipping.

The steamed beef buns are, surprisingly, very similar to the dumplings. When it comes to steamed buns, I'm only really familiar with boazi buns (like cha siu baau with with the thicker, sometimes fluffier, dough) and the half-moon pockets like the pork buns at Momofuku or donair buns at Field Guide. These so-called buns are supersized, super plump dumplings with a fat meatball sitting in the brothy insides. They are good, but it feels like dumpling overload by the time we're done.

We're done before the pork burgers arrive. Because our server has forgotten them. It's a blessing in disguise, though: we're full. I guess we'll just have to go back.


Happy Veal Hot Pot,
1333 South Park Street, 423-2777

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