Maple Yip Seafood Restaurant 陸羽海鮮酒家 (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 4227 Sheppard Avenue East
Type of Meal: Dinner



Some of the best ethnic restaurants are tucked away in a non-descript plaza in the suburbs. Maple Yip is no different and has been a family favourite for years. It’s not a fancy, but perfect for casual family dinners with prices to match.

They are known for some of dishes that require 48 hours advanced notice. Their winter melon soup ($48 for the large) is great for the winter as the soup stays hot within its vessel throughout dinner. For smaller tables they also have a tinier version, simply tell them your table size and they’ll make one accordingly. However, large tables can always opt for a medium one as there is just so much soup! With ten of us and the large version we each had two bowls and still had plenty leftover.


Winter melon soup is essentially a fragrant broth made with chicken, Chinese cured ham, dried and fresh scallop, shrimp, crab, Chinese mushroom and other dried herbs. It’s all placed into the hollowed out squash and steamed for hours to infuse the melon’s sweet juices into the rich soup.


As it’s eaten, you scrape off the melon’s sides to enjoy with the soup, which is pretty bland by itself but lightens the flavourful broth.


Another dish I highly recommend is the deep fried glutinous rice stuffed chicken ($38). An entire deboned chicken (except the legs and wings) has its cavity filled with a sticky rice mixed with Chinese cured sausage (lap cheung) and mushrooms. After cooking they deep fry it so that the skin is golden red, light and crispy.


On the inside, the chicken meat remains juicy and tender. The sticky rice was the highlight mixed with all the chicken’s juices – it’s fragrant and flavourful.


If you don’t want a full chicken, another dish I’ve enjoyed is their crispy chicken topped with ginger and scallions ($9.95). Unfortunately, it’s not on their regular menus (it’s on one of those papers tacked along the wall). So, be mindful not order the steamed version on their regular menu; this is the crispy one called “yow lum giy” in Cantonese.


The chicken is essentially like the deep fried chicken with rice crackers you’d find at most Chinese restaurants. Then they douse is in a sweet diluted hot soy sauce (similar to what accompanies steamed fish) and top it with tons of green onions, ginger and deseeded chilies. That combination of crispy skin, juicy meat, sweet/salty sauce and fragrant herbs is simply delicious.

Maple Yip’s stir fried double lobsters with green onion and ginger ($34.95) was admittedly not the best. The lobsters, perhaps were smaller than normal, ended up looking shrunken due to the tinier pieces. But, there was a good flavour to the dish.


A special for the night was an old fashioned steamed grouper tail ($27). A meatier fish, the grouper was cooked well and topped with slivers of onion, orange peel and other items which added great flavours against the neutral fish. Its larger bones are also perfect for those who aren’t use to eating bone-in steamed fish and are squeamish about swallowing them in the process.


The stir fried clams ($9.95) had a decent fragrant black bean sauce but the seafood itself was rather small and there wasn’t much to eat.


Maple Yip’s chili shrimp and eggplant ($9.95) certainly has some heat to it. Served in a clay pot it’s piping hot (be careful) and allows it to be left out for a while retaining its temperature. Although timing is not an issue here as they whip out dishes in quick succession. In fact, most of the time, this is the problem with their service: you will have gotten the winter melon soup and before you even finish the first bowl other dishes will start arriving.


The deep fried pork chop with spicy salt and pepper ($7.95) was crispy and satisfying. If you like it spicier, wait for a piece in the middle or bottom that’s covered with the chili and salt mixture.


Meanwhile, the sweet and sour pork ($7.95), although having a great sauce, could have been cut into larger pieces. I found it a tad doughy and lacked the juicy pieces of meat I enjoy.


Most dishes are enjoyed best with steamed rice. But, if you’re already ordering the rice stuffed chicken and would like another starchy dish, the stir fried e fu noodles with mushrooms ($8.95) is reasonably priced and tasty. Just be aware of the spongy texture of the noodles – some may find its softer springy texture strange.


Despite most dishes being under $10, their vegetable dishes are pricier, but the portions are substantial. Below is the stir fried prince mushroom with bean shoots, although $16.95 is a satisfying dish.


Maple Yip is hidden in the corner at the back of the plaza whose entrance can easily be missed. But, it’s worth the search and plenty of people have found it. So, do yourself a favour and make a reservation to avoid disappointment. And be sure to order the winter melon soup or deep fried glutinous rice stuffed chicken if you’re visiting with a crowd.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Maple Yip Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Barrio Coreano (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 642 Bloor Street West
Website: http://www.playacabana.ca/locations/5/barrio-coreano
Type of Meal: Dinner




It’s surprising … I’ve never been to Playa Cabana. Me, a person who loves a good taco! But, after a less than ideal visit to Grand Electric, hyped up Mexican restaurants leave a bad taste in my mouth. So, when my friend introduced me to Barrio Coreano, I was surprised to find out it was fourth restaurant from the Playa Cabana family of restaurants.

Situated in Korean Town, Barrio mixes Mexican and Korean flavours amongst an urban feeling cantina. Bright lights and graffiti-like artwork comingles with wrought-iron and exposed bricks. It has a lively and down-to-earth atmosphere and some beautiful gothic elements in the design as well.


Indeed, it doesn’t feel like you’re in Korean Town, except for the sole Coreano movie poster at the back.


As for the food, the menu is predominantly Mexican. The crowd favourite guacamole ($9) and salsa ($6) didn’t have a banchan (Korean side dish) feel to it. Nonetheless, they were satisfying. The guacamole was thick, creamy and intensely savoury (there didn’t appear to be a drop of lime juice or herb in it).


The salsa tasted fresh but could have benefited from more salt. However, its muted flavour did allow us to add hot sauces into it. At each table were four sauces – a hot spicy green habanero, a slightly milder yellow habanero oil with garlic, a tangy red chili sauce and a chili oil. I highly suggest using the green one sparingly as there’s certainly a kick to it.


This was my first experience having a torta – essentially a fluffy, soft, flat bread stuffed with delicious ingredients. We tried the torta Corean with kalbi (grillied and braised short rib; $10) and the de puerco (a shredded Mexican pulled pork $10). Both were tender, flavourful and filled with ingredients that complimented it well – creamy queso cheese & avocado and a crunchy tart cucumber-radish kimchi.


We over ordered having no clue how big Barrio’s tacos were. For the baha fish tacos (1 for $5 or 3 for $13), we paired it with the “salad” option where it’s wrapped with lettuce rather than tortilla. This is a great take on the Korean bo saam. Given the fish was deep fried, the lettuce helped lighten the taco.  The fish was fairly sized and delicious topped with a napa slaw.


The pulpo al carbon (1 for $6 or 3 for $16) contained a large piece of smoky grilled octopus that was tender but still had some bite to it. To lighten the protein, there was a crunchy cabbage slaw and a thick salsa on top. Personally, I found the tortilla (although soft and fresh) was too heavy with it. I actually enjoyed the octopus solely with the toppings and without the wrap.


Unfortunately, we ended off on a sour note as the fried chihuahua cheese taco (1 for $6 or 3 for $16) was generally detested at the table. Perhaps it’s due to it arriving last and thus suffered from sitting around and becoming soggy. But, the fried cheese was essentially a fritter and insanely heavy with the tortilla shells. But, I sense it wouldn’t be any better with the lettuce as that would make it even soggier.


I’d imagine this would taste better if the cheese was coated with bread crumbs instead so it’d be closer to a mozzarella stick consistency than fritter. Additionally, there was such a liberal portion of habanero sauce on it that it left all our mouths scorching.

Luckily, there was a large ice cube in my no love cocktail ($12) so I resourcefully used it to cool down my tongue. The cocktail was delicious and strong made with gin, Pimm’s, watermelon juice and hibiscus syrup.


Since I was stuffed I opted out of the churros poutine ($9). My friends seemed to be enjoying it but the creamy sauce on the bottom was a miss for some individuals.



Overall, I was pleased with my experience at Barrio Coreano and would be interested in trying another restaurant in the Playa Cabana chain. Their tacos are a tad pricier, but also larger and filled with tons of ingredients. So maybe popular Mexican restaurants are not all made the same – the music isn’t overwhelmingly loud, you’re allowed to make reservations and you’re not expected to pack yourself into a shared table. Olé!  

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!
Barrio Coreano on Urbanspoon



Have you heard about the Harbord Room's social media contest?

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 89 Harbord Street
Website: 
http://www.theharbordroom.com/

In these increasingly competitive times, it's difficult for most restaurants to make a name for themselves. For the Harbord Room, not only are they known, but they have also thrived. In February 2015 they will be celebrating their 7 year anniversary!

To mark this milestone they will be offering a special 7-course menu, featuring their best selling dishes for $77. Their iconic burger will likely be part of their menu, but I hope their freshly made ricotta doughnuts will be as well.


Contest Details

Additionally, they are also running a contest on social media. The prize is something I hope to experience - a private dinner prepared by Cory Vitiello along with six friends! But, if I'm not lucky enough to win, I hope to hear about it from you!

How to Enter:

  1. Post a picture of your favourite memory (dish, party or cocktail) from the restaurant or repost the image of the burger above on Twitter or Instagram
  2. Tag it with #theharbordroom7
For me, there are two memories both with their individual merits. My best food experience at the Harbord Room was during the Zomato launch. We were spoilt with a rich five-course meal complete with sides. The meal ranged from a stick-to-your-ribs partridge pot-pie topped with a generous slice of foie gras to a lighter grouper and fruit ceviche. You can read the full experience here.

On the other hand, my best experience with the restaurant's space happened a few years ago (sadly, before I started blogging about my meals). My husband and I had simpler fare consisting of their famous burger, a po-boy and those amazing ricotta doughnuts. They were all delicious and satisfying, but what made this memory stand out was the experience.

It was a beautiful summer day so we definitely wanted to sit on the patio. There was only one table left and we were warned that it was under the air conditioner so it could be loud. Indeed, there was the whirr in the background, but for us it just helped to drown out the crowd. Instead, all we could concentrate on was the shining sun and us enjoying it in the shade cooled by a slight breeze, Sure the delicious food helped. But, being able to enjoy food with someone you love, in beautiful weather and in a tranquil setting makes it that much better.  


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Mei Nung Beef Noodle House (Markham)

Location: Markham, Ontario
Address: 3225 Highway 7 East (at First Markham Place)
Type of Meal: Dinner


It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Mei Nung, but one evening (with the onset of Canadian winter), I craved a bowl of hearty beef noodle soup. Unlike pho and ramen, where the soup often plays star to the dish, the beef and noodles is what counts most here. Sure, the beef broth mixed with spices still matters; but it’s the thick noodles and large chunks of beef that entices me.

Mei Nung is arguably one of the better beef noodle houses in the GTA. At one point, they were so dedicated to it that there was only a handful of items on their menu. Years later, they have branched out to other noodles but most tables still come for their homemade beef noodle soup ($7.99 for large).

The menu provides a choice of rice, glass or homemade noodles. Trust me, go with the homemade as these springy doughy thick noodles is what pairs best with the hearty meat. Their beef is well braised leaving it tender and flavourful. With plenty of pieces in every bowl, it will certainly last you until the end. To counteract the starch and meat it’s served with blanched Shanghai bok choy and tart pieces of preserved vegetables (shun choy).


We also tried the homemade noodle with minced meat sauce in soup ($7.99 for large), which reminded me of ramen but with a lighter beef broth. The noodles are the same thick variety but topped with corn, bean sprouts, bok choy and a star anise spiced ground beef. It’s a lighter dish and worth a try if you’re tired of their star offering.


Both broths were not spicy. So, if you want to add a kick there are two hot sauces on the table to help spice it up. The first, is the typical red chili variety while the second is a secret concoction of chilies mixed into a paste. Yes, the dark brown container that looks deceivingly like sweet hoisin sauce is a hot sauce. It’s rather thick but is meant to be placed into the soup so that it melts throughout.


As a warning, the restaurant doesn’t smell pleasant. That’s because Mei Nung also serves deep fried tofu ($7.50), which the menu fails to mention is the stinky variety.

Luckily, Canada doesn’t allow the traditional brining fermentation method that is used in Asian countries as it can be much worse. My first (and only other experience) with stinky tofu occurred in Hong Kong: I was determined to seek out the elusive street food my parents spoke so fondly about from their childhood. We had no problems locating it as the smell was so strong that it could be smelt from a block away! At that point, little did I know the putrid scent that slightly stung the nostrils was what I was searching for. Sadly, it tasted horrible and with one bite I passed it along to my parents. But, they noted that it wasn’t prepared properly as the piece was much too thick and dense.

Since that time I haven’t tried it again. Even when I learnt Mei Nung offered a version of it, I refrained from ordering it on account of the terrible Hong Kong experience. So, I don’t know what go into me - perhaps it was knowing that I would write this post and wanting to share an experience with you – but I ordered it.


It wasn’t that bad. You could certainly smell it but the offending smell didn’t leech into the taste. Since they were smaller pieces, the sweet hoisin sauce that accompanies it ended up being what I tasted most (try adding a hit of the red chili sauce as well). Even so, I wouldn’t want it again. Due to the soaking process, the tofu gets tough; so, there’s a dense dry texture to it. Personally, I’d much rather order the light fluffy, crispy, non-smelly varieties found at congee restaurants.


Also, the tofu’s portion size is much too big for a table of two (best eaten with a table of four). Since it’s fairly heavy, I only wanted a few pieces. And, in hindsight, we really didn’t need the large sized noodles as there was no way we could finish everything. I guess when you’re craving noodles the stomach sometimes gets the best of you.

In the end, if you can withstand the slightly offending smell of the restaurant, visit Mei Nung for their noodles. It’s hot, comforting and really sticks to the bones – perfect for battling the winter ahead of us.  

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Mei Nung Beef Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Chalau Dim Sum Restaurant (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 476 Yonge Street
Website: http://chalaudimsum.com/

Type of Meal: Lunch


In my lifetime, I’ve had a lot of dim sum. If you have no idea what that is, head over to my all about dim sum post here to learn more. Admittedly, most of my experiences with it have been at traditional locations in downtown Chinatown or in the suburbs. But, I’ve also splurged and tried contemporary locations such as Luckee as well. So, when my cousin suggested we visit another new age location, Cha Lau, I was gamed.


Cha Lau is the Cantonese saying for 'tea house', which is where dim sum is served. Historically, people would go to these places for tea and socializing, but there happened to be food available as well. Presently, individuals generally go for the food and the tea becomes an afterthought. At Cha Lau, their tea was nice and fragrant, served in beautiful dishes that look more at home in an izakaya than a Chinese restaurant.


For most families, you haven’t had dim sum until you’ve ordered har gow (a shrimp dumpling) and siu mai (a pork dumpling). The pork siu mai ($4.25) was the better of the two: plump, juicy and had a nice sweet seafood essence from the shrimp mixed throughout and scallop on top. Meanwhile, the supreme shrimp dumplings ($4.85) were far from “supreme” and pretty ordinary. Nonetheless, the wrapper was a nice thinness and the chef did take the time to remove all the gritty black innards that can be found in shrimp.


For my buck, I’d rather spend it on the shrimp, scallop and asparagus dumplings ($4.85) instead. They had a richer seafood taste to it and the asparagus added a pleasant fresh contrast to the protein.


Another typical dish to order is the steamed rice noodle rolls (cheung fun). We tried the shrimp ($5) and chicken and Chinese mushroom ($4) versions. The rice noodle was daftly made so that it was thin but still had the strength to hold in the fillings. It was also nice that they slit them apart so the soy sauce could get into all the nooks and crannies.  


The BBQ pork buns ($3) and pan seared white radish cake ($3.95) were both forgettable. There was nothing inherently wrong with them but nothing impressive as well.


The saddest dish of the meal was the spare ribs with black bean sauce ($3.85). After pushing them together a bit the photo turned out much better than expected. Cha Lau should consider raising its price and giving more pieces per dish. Somehow scrawny pieces of spare ribs swimming in a pool of clear broth isn’t an appealing sight.


The pan seared shrimp and Chinese chive dumpling ($4.85; 2 orders shown below) had some great flavours but was very over priced for its size. The menu notes their customers call it a “hockey puck”; I’d describe it closer to a flattened golf ball.


If you couldn’t tell already, Cha Lau’s serving sizes are small. Perhaps Chinese restaurants in the suburbs now super-size their dishes, but we were hungry and had to do a second round to satisfy ourselves. Luckily, we loaded up on starchier dishes like the steamed vegetable rice with chicken in a bamboo steamer ($5) and rice noodle in soup with pork chop ($5). Both were decent – I enjoyed the addition of the chopped Shanghainese bok choy in the rice and the rice noodles were silky and not overcooked.


The fried stuffed chicken wings ($6) were interesting and showed some skill. Here, Cha Lau debones a chicken wing and stuffs it with a glutinous sticky rice with small bits of lap cheung (a cured pork sausage). The chicken was hot and crispy but the glutinous rice needed further ingredients to add flavour - more lap cheung, some salt and some green onions to give it freshness. The dish did show some skill, but was a far cry from the stuffed chicken wings I’ve had as a child where the chefs would debone the entire wing (both the drum and middle parts) and serve it whole.

 

As a warning, the desserts are single size portions – these are not meant to be shared. The mango pudding ($3) was smooth but could have benefited from some pieces of real mango in it.


I was excited to see the steamed trio crystal buns ($3.65) as Ginger and Onion use to have a similar dessert where the wrapper is made from tapioca starch (sadly, it’s been displaced from their menu). Cha Lau’s arrives in little balls, filled with egg custard, red bean paste and taro paste. I only tried the taro one but everyone agreed that the fillings needed to be sweeter as the tapioca bun layer had no flavour so really dulls the dish.


Cha Lau is pricier than other locations, despite the smaller portions. But, it’s understandable with the higher rent attached to its Yonge and College location. So, if you have no means to head uptown or over to Broadview, it would be a decent alternative. But, for the mobile, I suggest branching out instead. 

Overall mark - 6 out of 10

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!
Chalau dim sum on Urbanspoon