Chinese New Year fishLike any holiday, food is the focus of Chinese New Year. And it’s all about the fortune.

A whole fish or chicken to signal abundance.

Sticky glutinous rice to resemble a treasure of pearls — if you squint maybe.

A fungusy mass of black moss seaweed because its Chinese name sounds like prosperity. Too bad prosperity doesn’t taste like fried chicken.

This year’s traditional New Year’s dinner had a twist since we had it at Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine. The Vancouver Sun named it one of the best new restaurants in 2004.

Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine, Richmond

I wish chef-owner-genius Sam Lau was around when I was growing up in Vancouver, a spoiled kid whining about “boring” Chinese food. Zen is not fusion. Lau cooks zingy, authentic Chinese dishes, presented in a Western style.

Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine, Richmond

Thinly sliced duck breast, consomme with gingko nuts, garlic lobster, smoked Alaskan cod, braised Chinese mushrooms over greens, whole chicken smoked with red bean curd… None of the more than a dozen dishes disappointed.

Dessert was simple dragonfruit, delicately sweet egg white custard — and a hunk of leen goh or “new year’s jelly.”

This is a great place even when it’s not Chinese New Year. There are no chipped teacups, sticky plastic menus or surly waiters here. The dining room is modern and people speak softly.

Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine, RichmondThe only warning is the unique ordering system. You have a choice of a few prix fixe tasting menus, but everyone at the table must order the same one. Depending on what you pick, 6 courses can run from $55 to $188 per person.

Try the stuffed whelk with curried seafood, one of my favourites.

Reservations strongly recommended.

March 2008 UPDATE: Zen finally has a website here.

Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine, 2nd floor, 8580 Alexandra Rd., Richmond, B.C., Canada (604) 233-0077. Dinner 5:30-11 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays.

Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine, Richmond, B.C.