Zunyan Fine Dining & Banquet 樽宴大酒楼 (Toronto)


If you’re in the mood for dim sum on a weekday, consider Zunyan Fine Dining & Banquet where any small, medium, or large dish is only $5 for the entire lunch period. Order before 11:00am on weekends and the price inches up to $5.25.

Their sui mai with fish roe (L) is solid with authentic flavours and the pork not overly pulverized. Just break into it before eating as they were not cooked through on one of my visits.

Oddly, the har gow is considered an XL and therefore not included in the special. But, if you’re a fan of shrimp dumplings, the shrimp and chive dumplings (L) is a close substitute. Moreover, the filling is heavy on the shrimp and skimps on the vegetable anyways. It’s a run-of-the-mill version of the dish with the wrapper slightly to thick and sticky.

It’s a similar story with the BBQ pork and egg rice roll (M), which has big chunks of barbeque pork, but lacks flavour. The rice roll wrapper isn’t consistently prepared: one visit it was too thick and another still thick but at least silkier.

If you prefer a thinner cheung fun, the fish paste with parsley and preserved egg rice roll (L) fits the bill and the filling a combination seldom found elsewhere.

Zunyan’s shrimp balls (L) remind of me of a crab claw without the crab. Hot, crispy, and juicy these are delicious! Just be aware that the crispy vermicelli noodles pieces coating it are not always used.

The shrimp balls are much better than the pan-fried shrimp with corn cake (L), which is really fish paste studded with shrimp pieces. Sadly, it also lacks corn… an ingredient that adds texture to an otherwise overly soft patty.

While there’s a fair amount of mushrooms in the tofu skin roll (M), there isn’t a lot of other vegetables and relies on vermicelli instead. At least they were well toasted to give it that crunch you need.


I prefer the steamed bean curd meat roll with oyster sauce (M) that encapsulates more filling. Big chunks of pork, shrimp, and vegetables are wrapped in the flavourful bean curd sheets. Having ordered this several times, the dish stays consistent and always satisfies.


The shrimp paste and squid with vermicelli (L) is rarely found at dim sum restaurants, even though it was a staple in the past. While the dish isn’t heavy on the shrimp paste, it’s flavourful enough and the vermicelli soaks in all the juices and almost melts into the other ingredients. Sadly, in recent months the squid seems to have been taken off the menu… hopefully, it’ll make a reappearance.  

For a filling dish, the preserved egg with minced pork congee (L) arrives as a huge bowl and has a decent amount of ingredients. While the congee base could be saltier, it is accompanied by green onions and crispy wonton bits for colour and crunch.

Zunyan’s wrapped chicken with egg yolk and cilantro sticky rice (L) are larger arriving two to an order. However, it’s mostly rice with a bit of salty duck egg and meat. Overall, nothing really stood out and it was too dense. Having it with the steamed shiitake and chicken (L) is ideal. At least the chicken is marinated longer and flavourful enough to cut through the big chunks of rice.

If you can get past the overly oily wrapper on the fried chicken dumpling (M), it is crispy and stuffed with chunks of chicken, diced mushrooms, and green onion. For me, I found this was too oil logged and heavy.

In terms of dessert, sharing the golden mango sago (M) is a perfect finish. The sago isn’t overly large and just sweet enough to satisfy. The real mango pieces are also a nice touch.

I find the mango sago more satisfying than the black sesame glutinous rice balls (L), which wasn’t sugary enough. Ultimately, it tastes more like a nutty sticky rice ball than dessert.

Zunyan’s dining room is spacious, but even so, I recommend arriving before 11:00am on weekdays to avoid waiting. Tables of two will need to be okay with dining beside others as the small tables are set very close. There’s no privacy with dim sum.        

In a nutshell... 
  • Must order: fried shrimp balls and bean curd meat roll with oyster sauce
  • Just skip: pan fried shrimp corn cake and fried chicken dumpling

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 648 Silver Star Boulevard
 


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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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!


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Shunoko (Toronto)


Most people visit Shunoko for the $100 omakase and may skip their a la carte menu. Admittedly, it’s not extensive, comprised of appetizers and nigiri by the piece with a few handrolls and maki for good measure. Yet, it’s a great option for those who want a quick and/or lighter meal.

The butter on fire roll ($19) would elicit a fire emoji. While it has a delicate and tender consistency, the little pops of crunch and flavour changes gives the maki interest. While it sounds weird, the hint of bacon and nuttiness from sesame gives the typical shrimp, avocado, and cucumber combination an unexpected flavour. The torched salmon was also done well, using a bit of aburi sauce for creaminess but not saturating the sushi.

Similar to the above is the can’t go wrong ($20), which substitutes torched scallop for the salmon. The protein gives off a lighter and slighter sweeter finish.

If you’re in the mood for a unique roll, the coconut spicy tuna ($18) elicits bursts of crunchiness without being deep fried or containing tempura bits. Rather the spicy tuna and avocado maki is rolled in popped rice balls and topped with toasted coconut shavings to give add a lot of crispy textures. It’s a surprising first bite that gradually grows on you.  

For those wanting protein, get a hand roll. The spicy tuna ($12) was stuffed with six slices of tuna, lettuce, and just a small amount of rice. Its spiciness sneaks up on you… the first bite was heavy on the maple soy sauce reduction, but then when the defence system goes down the following filled out the spicy mayo. One of the best hand rolls I’ve had in a while.

While you can order nigiri by the piece, we preferred the nigiri 10 ($70 and $71 from my experiences) that consists of ten pieces of sushi, tamago, and miso soup. It also made ordering easier and was a great option as it already included many of our favourites.

I won’t detail the taste of every piece (for that refer to the omakase experience), but will point out the highlights:

  • Even though it looked plain, the layer of thin sea salt on the red seabream really woke up the fish and started us off to a great tasting.
  • Of course, I love the decadence of a fatty tuna, but find the simplicity of amberjack and striped jack so crucial to give a meal balance and a lovely neutral meatiness.
  • Shunoko continued to impress with the clean tasting horse mackerel. As was the case with the bit of grated turnip topping the bonito that helped mellow the otherwise strong-tasting fish.
  • If you’re hesitant to have raw scallop due to a potential gummy consistency, at Shunoko it’s fresh and flavoured with lemon and truffle oil. 

The tamago recipe changes sometimes with a citrus undertone or on another visit with a spike of ginger, which acts as a refreshing end to the meal. It also has a more delicate consistency, the omelette made with so many thin layers giving the piece an airiness.

Having visited Shunoko three times for dinner, all have been great experiences, and I can taste the tinkering with the sauces and garnishes applied on their nigiri.

The only slip to date was when they ran out of cava (how do you start dinner service without bubbly?), my drink of choice with sushi. An interesting pairing is their French cider, which is mellow in sweetness and has a tasty funk to it that goes well with fish. I’ll forgive the slight disappointment as the reasonably priced quality sushi is what I’m visiting for anyways. 

In a nutshell... 
  • Must order: chef's choice nigiri, spicy tuna hand roll
  • Just skip: nothing!

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3220 Yonge Street


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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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!


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Beef Noodle Restaurant for Lunch 老李牛肉麵 (Toronto)


You visit Beef Noodle House for their beef noodles, or the stew beef with noodles in brown sauce ($14.95) to be exact. With a choice to order them neutral, a little spicy, or very spicy, the little spicy version adds a mild chili taste that is perfect. And after almost a decade, I’m happy to say the dish is just as stellar. The thick wheat noodles slightly al dante so they resist getting soggy, the broth rich and savoury, and the beef served as large tender chunks. If you want a deal, visit during lunch on Tuesday, and pay with cash to get 15% off.

It’s the same Tuesday discount you’re score on the pan-fried dumplings ($5.50), which are a great add-on with the noodles. At Beef Noodle House, they are so crispy you’d think they’re deep fried, if it weren’t for the uneven toasting that indicates they’re pan-fried.  I did find the filling too bland, but made use of the table-side sauces.

The restaurant offers a special weekday lunch menu with a selection of items ranging from $8.95 to $11.95 (a different lunch menu is available Tuesday). The stir-fried green beans with pork and water flour and vermicelli ($9.95; not available Tuesday) consists of a mixture of two types of noodles, tossed with chunks of lap cheung (Chinese preserved sausage), ground pork, and eggs. While it’s sauceless, the dish was still flavourful and reminded me of the stir-fried glutenous rice dish (sang chow loa miy fan) that’s found during dim sum. For the price, it’s a surprisingly large portion, but the green beans were too dry, adding colour, but not much flavour to the noodles.

The Shanghai style fried noodles ($10.95 on Tuesday; $9.95 the rest of the week) were better, using the same pasta as the beef noodles. There’s a nice wok hay essence but the dish is a tad scant on vegetables, including a decent amount of pork but only a handful of bean sprouts instead of the crunchier cabbage that’s usually paired in the recipe.

If you’re sharing noodles, a rice dish is a great second option to add on. The deep-fried chicken in Hunan style ($11.95 on Tuesday; $10.95 the rest of the week) was fantastic, the nuggets fried until crispy and tossed in an addicting sweet and savoury sauce. It’s garlicky and well balanced in sweetness so you can’t help but keep reaching for another piece. The dish is ideal for sharing as there’s tons of chicken to go around and it’s all protein with not a bell pepper or onion in sight.

A freshly prepared hot lunch doesn’t need to cost a lot when you visit Beef Noodle House. Bring a $20 bill and you’ll even have change to spare. 

In a nutshell... 
  • Must order: stew beef with noodles in brown sauce and deep-fried chicken in Hunan style
  • Just skip: pan-fried dumplings

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 4271 Sheppard Avenue East


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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!


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156 Cumberland (Toronto)


156 Cumberland elicits a sense of mystery. Not in a murder mystery, speak easy, or blind tasting sense. Rather, you’re not quite sure what to expect. It starts with their name… merely repeating their central Yorkville address, good luck figuring out what this restaurant’s about.

Even their menu left me perplexed, a simple one liner printed at the bottom ‘Hanjan, dujan, sejan, floor’ – 156 Cumberland Team. Google translates this for me as ‘One drink, two drink, three drink, floor’. So, there’s a sense of cheekiness and a Korean inspiration to 156 Cumberland.

The beef tartare ($15) are flavourful bundles of joy – for your mouth that is. Sweet, savoury, and spicy elements combine with the minced beef before being stuffed into fried tofu skin. An egg yolk drizzle adds a thick creamy element while the chives a burst of freshness.

If the avocado mousse wasn’t so over salted the hiramasa ($25) would have been perfect. A generous portion of yellowtail incorporated a hint of heat from white kimchi gel and horseradish along with briny bits of oiji (a Korean pickle). While the avocado helps bind everything together, it was overly seasoned, so I ended up scraping most of it off to allow me to taste the fish. The little toasted seaweed chips were a great choice to scoop this up.

The intensely flavoured appetizers did leave the Korean bouillabaisse ($34) tasting flat. Perhaps it’s why the kitchen chose to serve the bouillabaisse with the white kimchi on the side. Ultimately, it lacked the saffron hit that makes the seafood sing. At least there was a decent number of clams, bay scallops, and haddock and the thin circles of rice cake were an interesting chewy texture against the seafood.  


The #AvecJayden’s white kimchi ($8) supports a fellow chef – the sous chef of Richmond Station who began perfecting his recipe during the pandemic and later starting an enterprise to sell it. Given it doesn’t rely heavily on spicy gochujang, Jayden’s version is light and fresh so didn’t detract from the seafood.

Give me an entire dish of sujebi ($37), the slices of silky Korean pasta swimming in a decadent buttery sauce. Chunks of duck leg, meaty maitake mushrooms, sweet corn, and fried sage made this the highlight of the meal.

There wasn’t an ounce of fruit in the banana milk tiramisu ($13), but I don’t mind. My best guess as to where the banana was incorporated may be the cake. Regardless, the dessert satisfied and aptly fit the menu’s description as being not too sweet.

The kitchen’s efficiency seemed to put a strain on the front-of-the-house. Even though service was friendly, they were so busy running food and drinks that switching plates became an after thought. A new plate would be ideal between the starters and the bouillabaisse, at least we managed to get one for the sujebi after waiting a bit.

Dinner also seemed rushed with little time between dishes. I didn’t feel like I could really settle in and relax without letting the mains go cold. Slow down 156 Cumberland and let the diners converse and drink. After all, how can we fulfill ‘Hanjan, dujan, sejan, floor’ if we’re out after two?

In a nutshell... 
  • Must order: sujebi and beef tartare
  • Just skip: Korean bouillabaisse

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 156 Cumberland Street


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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!


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Koh Lipe Thai Restaurant (Toronto)


In the dead of winter, dining at Koh Lipe Thai Restaurant can change your attitude. Set in the “restaurants” section of China Splendid Mall, the tired mall doesn't feel exciting, but walk into the cheerful restaurant and the exterior environment disappears – goodbye winter, goodbye tired looking mall. Hello, Thailand.

And the attraction is not just from the colourful environment. Koh Lipe serves some seriously delicious food. The goong moun ($13.95) is a can't miss appetizer. A flavourful but light shrimp paste (studded with carrot, chilli, and betel leaf) is wrapped in crispy tofu sheets that's like a spring roll but better. It's tasty on its own or with a splash of the savoury and sour Arjard vinaigrette.

Koh Lipe synthesizes the sour, salty, and umami elements of tom yum into a powder that covers the  chicken wings or peek gai tom yum ($13.95). Given it’s a dry rub, the batter on the wings remains crunchy, a great contrast against the juicy meat.

Their pad Thai with shrimp ($22.95) has the requisite elements needed for success: chewy noodles, enough sauce to cover the noodles without making them soggy, and crispy elements to add texture. I’m glad the chef was restrained in his use of tamarind, so the pad Thai wasn’t too sour, the flavours were perfectly balanced.

My first experience with guey tiew khaek or Islamic noodles ($17.95 for the veggies and tofu version) was not a success. Using the same rice noodles as pad Thai, they’re covered with an overly sweet red curry, which really needed a spicier element to create harmony. If anything, the best part of the dish was the onsen egg, the molten yolk adding a creaminess to the curry noodles.

For something spicy, the prik gaeng moo krob ($23.95) packs a punch and had me downing two glasses of water. A blistering hot curry paste covers fried and then stir-fried pork belly, soaking into the meat. While tasty, given the sauce was already oily, using pork belly as the protein made the dish too heavy, chicken and/or shrimp would be better.

For a flavourful curry, I prefer the khao neow gaeng ($22.95). Slices of chicken and fresh pineapple are covered in a heat-filled yellow curry that's spicy but bearable. The sticky coconut rice sitting in the pineapple gets covered in the sauce but is not saturated and goes wonderfully with the chicken. 

Our table was impressed with the pad gra prao ($18.95), a plate of steamed rice topped with ample amounts of minced chicken flavoured with basil, onion, and chili. All at once spicy, salty, and sweet, it blends into one as the thick yolk oozes out of the fried egg. While the dish has a similar taste to the prik gaeng moo krob, the sweet element helps make this a more palatable dish.

Despite having leftovers, we ordered the khao neow ma muang ($12.95) to share. One bite of the slightly salty mango coconut sticky rice and we were hooked. The sauce was warm and thin, so it coats the sticky rice so well. It’s paired with soft mango slices that adds enough sweetness to remind you it’s a dessert.

The sticky rice was so delicious we added a khao neow tu rian ($12.95) to try the durian version of the dessert. As a child, my first experience with the fruit was terrible - the overpowering aroma and texture made me feel like I was sucking on a moldy gym sock. My second taste at Koh Lipe was much better, the fragrant fruit mellowed by the sauce and rice. Nonetheless, I still prefer the mango version as the fruit is firmer to contrast against the soft rice and adds a tropical taste the durian lacks.

Koh Lipe’s sizeable dining room means there isn’t a long wait for a table even though the restaurant gets busy. Better yet, make a reservation so that you can just breeze into the restaurant, settle in, and dive into one of their flavourful creations. 

In a nutshell... 
  • Must order: goong moun, pad gra prao, mango coconut sticky rice
  • Just skip: Islamic noodles and prik gaeng moo krob

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 4675 Steeles Ave East
 Website: https://kohlipe.ca/


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - 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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this: