Showing posts with label markham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label markham. Show all posts

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

Shiso Tree Café (Markham)

Location: Markham, Canada
Address: 3610 Steeles Avenue East (in the J-Town area)
Type of Meal: Dinner



Located in the J-Town complex, from Steeles the structure looks like any other office building. But, once you park you’ll start to discover the little water display, court yard sitting area and the wonderful smells wafting from restaurants in the area. One of these restaurants is Shiso Tree Café with the promises of Japanese style pasta to come.

A selection of pastas are available with typical options such as bolognese, arrabbiata or rosé. But, why would you come to a Japanese restaurant to eat something so quintessentially Italian? At Shiso Tree their claim to fame is the “wafu” (or Japanese style) selection where every dish sounds tempting.  Amongst our table of four, we ordered three to share. To clarify, the noodle is not Japanese, it is in fact spaghetti, but rather the sauces and accompanying ingredients is what gives the pasta Japanese flair.

Shiso clam vongoles ($15) was the one that would be the most “my style” – I love simple olive oil based seafood pasta and this did not disappoint. In this case, along with olive oil, white wine and garlic the sauce also had bacon, tomato and shiso. Sisho is a leafy herb (also known as parilla in Korean cuisine) and tastes like a cross between basil, mint and lime leaves. Of course plenty of fresh Manila clams also accompanied the spaghetti. Light and refreshing, from the shisho, this is a good summer dish. 


Okonomiyaki, at other restaurants, is generally a savoury pancake smothered with various sauces and containing pieces of seafood. At Shiso, the shrimp okonomiyaki ($14) arrives in pasta form with the typical ingredients you’d find in and on the pancake mixed into the spaghetti. The pasta was tossed with fragrant bacon, onions and garlic and then topped with tender sautéed shrimp, bonito flakes, mayonnaise and a tangy steak sauce. Compared to the other dishes I found this a bit bland despite all the sauces; the pasta needs to be cooked a bit more to allow it to soften and really soak up the sauces. But, all in all, still not a bad dish.


Surprisingly, my favourite dish of the night was the sukiyaki ($15). The shoyu broth spiked with beef jus was delightful and flavoured the spaghetti so well. Salty, sweet and aromatic, we even started dipping the garlic bread into the broth to have more of it! Topping the pasta were tender thin beef slices, plump mushrooms, toasted nori slivers, fresh green onions and shiso.  All pasta dishes also came with half a slice of garlic bread and a small salad dressed in a wafu dressing (a salty yet light vinaigrette).


Another dish worth trying is the nori fries ($6) a great start to munch on while waiting for the pasta. A fair amount of freshly made fries is tossed in wafu dressing and topped with slivers of dried crispy nori (seaweed). The result is a crispy fry that’s coated in a glistening salty & sweet sauce and emits an intoxicating seaweed aroma.


Prices are reasonable and the food arrives at a decent pace. Service was satisfactory but surprisingly not as friendly and upbeat as most Japanese establishments.  I appreciate the creativity in their creations and that pastas still arrive al dante. Overall, Shiso Tree Café is worth a return visit as there were so many other wafu pastas (including a daily specials black board) that sounded and could be equally delicious. 

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!


Shiso Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

Blue Ocean Cafe 藍海餐廳 (Markham)

Location: Markham, Canada
Address: 8392 Kennedy Road
Website: http://www.blueoceancafe.ca/
Type of Meal: Dinner


Blue Ocean Café is a popular Hong Kong style tea café (you can read more about these in my Phoenix review) that leaves your stomach and wallet full. Most of their dishes are accompanied with soup (creamy or borscht) and tea or coffee and are big portions (ordering three you could easily feed four people).


We all chose to have borscht with our meals. Cantonese borscht, unlike the Ukrainian version, is tomato and beef based containing no traces of beet. Blue Ocean’s had a fair amount of cabbage, celery and carrots but could have used a few more cubes of meat.


Eating family style is ideal as each main is so large that it could get a bit monotonous having the whole thing. Our first dish, the baked Portuguese seafood rice ($8.99), was a little mild for my taste and could use more coconut milk, curry and even a pinch of salt. But, there was a decent amount of seafood including calamari, shrimp and fish. Just watch out for the hot plates as we weren’t warned and I burnt myself; a week later there’s still a mark on my finger.


The baked Bolognese with mushroom and ham with rice ($8.99; we switched from pasta) was a touch more flavourful from the addition of ham. But, I found it was still too subtle and lacked the rich tomato sauce essence. Perhaps it’s because I ate these after having the more powerful borscht that everything paled in comparison.


Blue Ocean’s Hainanese chicken rice ($8.50) was definitely the best of the three; in fact, one of the better ones I’ve had. The chicken is braised in a rich broth and became tender, warm and had a great salty taste. It had such great flavour that I didn’t even need the ginger oil or sweet Thai chili sauce on the side.


All in all, good portions at even greater prices but a bit too bland for me. However, if you’re eating here regularly, than something with less salt may be the healthier choice. 


Overall mark - 6.5 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!

Blue Ocean Cafe on Urbanspoon


CLOSED: Chinese Dumpling House 真東北餃子館 (Markham)

Location: Markham, Canada
Address: 3636 Steeles Avenue East
Type of Meal: Lunch



Although Chinese Dumpling House specializes in the doughy pockets of joy, they still have a pretty extensive menu of other Northern Chinese favourites. The ordering sheet is written in Chinese (without pictures) and on the side a printed menu with English translations and pictures is provided. Ordering can be somewhat difficult as it requires matching characters from the sheet to the menu and the menu doesn’t seem to encompass everything so certain dishes will remain a mystery if you can’t read Chinese.

With about a dozen varieties of dumplings to choose from I had originally wanted the leek, pork and shrimp version (found in the English menu).  Unfortunately, we could not find it on the order sheet so settled on the pork, chive and egg steamed dumplings ($4.99) instead. Fifteen of them were made to order by two ladies constantly wrapping at the store’s entrance and within 15 minutes arrives at our table steaming hot.





The wrapper was an ideal thickness - thick enough to have some elasticity to it but still thin enough to not overwhelm the filling.  Be careful when biting in as they’re quite juicy and the hot liquid could spray your companion!  The meat mixture was a bit bland so you’ll need to rely on the condiments left on the table to give it flavour (red vinegar, soy sauce, hot sauce, salt and a small bottle of something that smells like wasabi).




Another Northern China dish I love are soy sauce braised brisket noodles ($5.99). Strangely, although the literal translation is “red roasted beef noodle” the dish isn’t red or roasted at all.  Apparently, anything cooked with soy sauce is often labelled as “red roasted”. Chinese Dumpling House’s noodles are also made in house and one of the better ones I’ve had.  There’s a nice bite to it and held up quite well despite having sat in the broth for a while waiting for us to finish up the dumplings - dumplings are best eaten hot or the wrapper starts to get hard.


The brisket itself was pretty dismal - not flavoured enough and extremely fatty so about a third was inedible. Like the dumplings, the soup was pretty bland when it’s supposed to be a fragrant and rich broth. Needless to say, I had to add quite a bit of hot sauce to the noodles to give it some oomph.  Chinese Dumpling House does have other soup based noodles which I’d suggest trying instead; the neighbouring table ordered pickled vegetable with slivers of pork which looked better than ours.  

The order of sautéed snow pea shoots with garlic ($6.99) was a reasonable price.  You may find these look different from the dark green leafy ones found in other restaurants as these are cultivated in a greenhouse (understandably since we visited in the winter). Personally, I find the leafier non-greenhouse variety tastier as they have a stronger pea taste, but if you want to eat this year round this is a good alternative.


We ended off with a pan fried red bean pancake ($2.99) which was brought out near the end of our meal - I was pleasantly surprised as sometimes Chinese restaurants don't bother timing dishes and bring dessert out early to just finish up an order. The dough was rolled thinly and cooked to a lovely golden brown with crispy air pockets throughout.  There was also a fair amount of red bean paste in it - which was thankfully sweet enough - and quite delicious.  For the low price the pancake was surprisingly big and we ended up taking half to go.


For my dumpling cravings I’ll still likely go to Dumpling Restaurant to satisfy myself on account of their easy to understand menus and somewhat improved eating conditions.  Nonetheless, Chinese Dumpling House is still a good alternative offering budget friendly prices and does have better noodle consistency.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10



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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!


Chinese Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

Dayali Beijing Roast Duck 大鴨梨 (Markham)


Location: Markham, Canada
Address: 20 Gibson Drive
Website: http://www.dayalihome.com/cn/index.aspx
Type of Meal: Dinner


I had high hopes for Dayali given the accolades it received from local food critics - #82 on Joanne Kate’s top 100 restaurants of 2013 and the Globe’s 10 best places for Chinese food in Toronto.  So, I dutifully rounded up five individuals so a reservation could be made avoiding their notorious wait times (minimum of six people required). 

Dayali is the Canadian outpost of a popular Beijing based chain. Located in a Markham strip mall, the interior is surprisingly spacious, bright and decorated in a contemporary manner.  With soaring ceilings, the surroundings would have been more comfortable if there was better ventilation and the air conditioning was higher. Surprisingly, their service was efficient and pleasant – quite professional compared to most Chinese restaurants.

Of course, we couldn’t visit without ordering their star dish… the gold medal roast duck ($38.88); their menu also offers a Peking style roast duck ($31.88).  Our waiter explained that the gold medal roast duck is a better quality and “specially selected” and more ingredients accompany it. We were sold and opted for the gold medal version with extra wraps (or on their menu called blinis) ($3.99).



The ingredients arrive in a tower with the wrappers held in a warmer in the middle.  At the top, a small dish of crispy duck skin perches meant to be a starter and eaten without wrappers.  Most people dip it in the sugar, sauce or spicy salt included in the tower; it's an opportunity to just enjoy the duck. Without any meat or fat, this skin only piece is crispy with an oily ting, a good start in warming up the palette for things to come.



Afterwards, a second larger dish of duck skin (this time with meat) is brought out for wrapping.  All in all, it wasn’t bad – the duck skin was crispy enough, wrappers nice and thin and loved the different ingredients.  Other than the typical green onions, cucumber and hoisin sauce, there were also sweet red grapes and potato chip sticks (think Hickory Sticks without the smoke).  My husband and I both enjoyed the addition of potato chips; the grapes on the other hand is an acquired taste.  

I was disappointed with the duck meat – it lacked flavor, was a tad dry and crumbled apart from the skin when you tried to pick it up. Unless enough hoisin sauce was placed, the wrap would be pretty bland. Dayali’s duck wasn’t the worse I’ve ever had but still, it doesn't deserve the title as best – in my books Chung King Garden Restaurant provides a competitive offering.

You may find the skin not to be as crispy as other restaurants, this is because Dayali strictly just roasts the duck.  Some other restaurants will flash fry the skin prior to serving making it very crunchy.  Meanwhile, while most restaurants serve their duck two ways, at Dayali you only have the option of adding $2.88 to make the duck bones into soup. If you opt out, the carcass will arrive in a plastic bag at the end of the meal to go.

My husband was excited to see the gold medal sliced boiled fish in chili oil ($19.99) on the menu as he had a great experience with it at another restaurant.  I’ll admit the fish has a delicate smooth texture and despite the amount of chili included, if you don’t actually eat the peppers it’s not overly spicy.  But, it's harder to get past the fact that it was literally sitting in a pot of oil and had to be drained before eating. Plus, it was really annoying to have to pick out all the small pieces of pepper to avoid the sting.


Other items we tried were carb based Shanghai style dishes.  My favourite of the night was the pan fried pancakes with stuffing ($7.99).  Arriving piping hot with a crunchy crust and chewy dough it was lovely.  The “stuffing” is really the same pork mixture used in dumplings, smeared in a thin layer on the pancake, adding a nice juiciness to the roll.


The pot stickers ($6.99) were decent and tasted homemade.  They were very similar in flavor to the pan fried pancakes with stuffing, so really you may just want one.  The pancakes, in this case, were better given its use of seasoning. 
Lastly, were the spicy cold mixed noodles ($4.99) consisting of cold chow mein egg noodles topped with a spicy bean & pork mixture and cucumber slivers.  This offered a welcomed coolness in the hot restaurant. But, as a warning, it’s spicy and I found the dish's entire flavor was masked by the chili oil. Additionally, Dayali should consider serving it in a larger dish given it's difficult to mix up in the small serving plate.     


The prices listed above are regular menu prices. Diners also have the option to purchase a VIP membership card for $20 providing holders with a reduced price (typically about $2 per dish) and is valid for three years.  We opted not to purchase the membership, as although the experience was decent, there are so many other options around Toronto that gives me my duck fix. 

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
  • 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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Dayali Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Phoenix Restaurant 金鳳餐廳 (Toronto)

Location: Markham, Ontario
Address: 7155 Woodbine Avenue
Website: http://phoenixrestaurant.cc/templateEN/
Type of Meal: Dinner



Phoenix Restaurant is a “cha chaan teng” (tea restaurant) chain with two locations in Markham and one in Thornhill.  Cha chaan teng’s are popular in Hong Kong where they opened as an option for the common masses to eat Western style food, which historically was only afforded to those who were rich. The menus are generally large and vary with Asian options (noodles in soup, chicken and rice) and Hong Kong-style western dishes (steak, baked rice & spaghetti).  There are many tea restaurants across the GTA, each offering a la carte and set meals at affordable prices.

At Phoenix I had one of their set dinners, the XO sauce stir fried udon with seafood ($11.99) which came with soup, a mini croissant and drink.  To change the Hong Kong-style milk tea to cold, I added an additional $1.15 which as a percentage of the meal price is actually quite expensive.  But, I find this aromatic, smooth and strong tea is best enjoyed cold.  Made from black tea seeped for a long time and finished with simple syrup and condensed milk the tea is much richer and stronger than the regular orange pekoe. Phoenix did improve on it by serving the tea in a frosted glass and without ice so it stayed concentrated.

For the soup, I chose the non-creamy borscht option.  Unlike the original Ukrainian version which uses beetroot for the broth, the Hong Kong version is tomato and beef based.  Phoenix’s soup is spicier than others and very flavourful.  Rather than have a lot of small chopped up ingredients the chef left them in larger pieces so the soup ends up looking a bit plain and watery. It’s a bit disappointing that the regular cabbage, carrots and potatoes were missing as these vegetables add heartiness to the soup.

The miniature croissants are much like the ones that can be found in grocery stores, but they are toasted with extra butter spread onto it.  Luckily, they aren’t very big as the one small piece of bread must pack a big caloric punch!  Normally, most tea houses offer a sweet Chinese egg bun, which I would have preferred to the oily croissant.  

As soon as the XO sauce stir fried udon was put in front of me I wanted to dig in.  XO sauce is made from dried seafood, garlic and chili oil which gives the dish it’s added to a strong aromatic smell.  A fairly large portion of the udon was mixed with shrimp, scallop and squid that were actually a decent size.  Overall, it was a delicious stir fried noodle dish.

We also got an order of the fried chicken wings ($5.25) to share amongst the table.  There were five to the order and very crispy and hot.  They are your regular run of the mill non-coated and no sauce deep fried Chinese chicken wings.
Cha chaan teng’s like Phoenix have been around for over a century now and are a great option for inexpensive meals with tons of options that can satisfy a wide variety of tastes.  A popular choice with families and large groups, everyone can easily order the set courses and share.  Moreover, food is served at lightening speeds so it’s also good if you’re looking for something quick.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


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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!





Phoenix Restaurant on Urbanspoon

CLOSED: Chung King Garden Restaurant 北來順京川飯店 (Markham)

Location: Markham, Canada
Address: 4394 Steeles Avenue East (at Market Village)
Type of Meal: Dinner 

Having had a lot of Peking duck in my lifetime, I was skeptical when I heard Chung King serves an amazing version of it. But, I stand corrected - it is one of the best the city has to offer. 

We ordered the two course Peking duck dish ($38.96).  The first course is Peking duck skin with wraps.


  • The duck itself is very crispy, it must have been fried after roasting to get it to that texture.  For me, I found the duck a bit dry since the one we were served was very lean.  I prefer there to be a thin sliver of fat under the skin to really bring out the duck flavour and keep the meat moist. On a second visit it was better, albeit still leaner than most, so really depends on the duck being served.  But, with a generous amount of hoisin sauce and adding cucumber to the wrap, the dryness can be masked.
  • The crepes which the duck is wrapped in was the highlight for me.  Too often the wraps are too small (leading to a messy dining experience), too thick (makes you think you're having a duck bun) or too floury (causing the wrapper to break).  At Chung King the wrappers are perfect - paper thin, slightly bigger in size than a side plate and a chewy texture that doesn't break when pulled and wrapped.  The chef who makes the wrap is talented.

For the second course, the duck meat is removed, chopped and stir fried with vegetables and small pieces of deep fried rice noodles.  The mixture is served with pieces of lettuce for the patron to make wraps.  Surprisingly, the duck meat was moist in this dish and all the meat and vegetables chopped into small pieces to provide a taste of everything with each bite.  The vegetables and crispy lettuce were refreshing after having the heavy Peking duck wrap.




Our waitress also suggested we try the Sichuan shredded beef ($10.96) which are lightly coated pieces of deep fried beef stir fried in a spicy sweet sauce.  The dish was a hit with our table and very flavourful; the sauce wasn't overly thick and there was just enough of it to add some heat and sweetness.  



Thankfully, this complemented well with the bland pork fried rice ($7.96), the chef must have forgotten to add salt, which was not memorable and won't be reordered on our next visit. On another visit we tried the house special fried noodles (I believe was $10.96) and the flavour was better but the noodles were much too mushy.




To balance the meat and carbs we had an order of garlic stir fried snow pea shoots ($14.96).  Note, the picture below is actually from Sam Woo BBQ restaurant and not Chung King, but they all basically look the same wherever you go.  If you've never tried snow pea shoots you have should definitely order it next time you're in a Chinese restaurant.  It's generally not found on the menu as historically the vegetable has been seasonal.  But, with greater imports and greenhouse production, you can now find it year round. 

The leaves are delicate and soft while the vines itself add a crispy refreshing texture.  The vegetable has a very subtle pea taste and lends itself to pair well with whatever's added to flavour it.


Garlic fried snow pea shoot (1)

To end, the restaurant offered complementary bowls of sweet red bean soup for dessert, which was unfortunately disappointing - too watery and not sweet enough. 

Overall, compared to most Chinese restaurants the service was polite and helpful.  We will definitely be coming back for the great meat dishes.


Overall mark - 8 out of 10



____________________________
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!


Photo Sources:
  1. Garlic fried snow pea shoots pictured is actually from Sam Woo BBQ - Yelp (http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/sam-woo-barbecue-restaurant-san-gabriel-2?start=100#-o6vVYlU_-RjRxCUUrhNkQ)

Dim sum (Greater Toronto Area)

This is the blog where I impart my SME (subject matter expertise) with you on dim sum. There must be hundreds of restaurants in the GTA that serve dim sum so unfortunately I can’t rate them all. Within my article I'm introducing you to just four restaurants.

What is it?

Dim sum or as the Cantonese call it "yum cha" is a favourite amongst Cantonese Chinese families. You often will see large tables of families gathered on the weekends where three generations dine together. Some like to consider it Chinese brunch; but, it's actually served for much longer periods of time - often from 8am to 3pm at most restaurants. Accordingly, you may think of it as breakfast, brunch or lunch.

Dishes are "tapa" style and come in a wide variety of cooking methods - the most popular being steamed in bamboo baskets. They are generally individual portions of about four to a plate and are shared amongst the table. The ingredients are focused around proteins (seafood, pork, beef) so unfortunately there aren't usually that many vegetarian options.  Also, don’t even think of asking about gluten free options – I don’t know if this even exists!

Each restaurant offer different variety of dishes, although they will usually all have the "staples", a sample of some of the most popular:
  • Har gow - steamed shrimp dumpling
  • Siu mai - steamed pork (and usually also contains shrimp and Chinese mushrooms) dumpling
  • Steamed rice noodle rolls - a thin white soft rice roll that have different fillings (shrimp, bbq pork, beef, vegetables)
  • Steamed buns - white bun filled with various fillings (bbq pork, chicken, egg custard, glutinous rice)
  • Deep fried options - shrimp rolls, spring rolls, octopus tentacles
  • Offal options - tripe, pig stomach, chicken feet 

Cart or Menu?

Dim sum is served two ways:
  1. Employees circle the restaurant with carts holding two - five varieties of dishes and announce the options. Patrons will call out the name of the dish that they want when the employee is near them; or
  2. Ordering off a menu and dishes are brought to the table.

I prefer the carts because I find there are often a larger variety of dishes to choose from. Restaurants don't need to print everything onto a menu so they can just offer one-time items and switch up the menu more often. Additionally, you don't have to gauge how many dishes to order - you simply keep ordering until you're full.

With that said, if you don't know Cantonese, I suggest you go with the menu option. The employees pushing the carts often don't understand much English and therefore you'll need to stop them to look at the dishes and they may not be able to describe the dishes more than the main ingredient (i.e. beef).

Tips and Things to Note

  • Be prepared to wait - as you enter the restaurant look for a host/hostess (behind a podium) and tell them the number of people in your party. They will give a number and you just wait until your number is called. You'll notice the numbers aren't called numerically (i.e. they will skip around). It really depends on how many people you're trying to seat (a small or large table); so don't be shocked when a number that is after you is called before you - it's likely because they have a different table size than you.

  • Reservations - most restaurants will take reservations but they don't work like normal reservations – a table isn’t placed on hold for you. Rather, when you arrive, the restaurant they will move you up the list and give you a table earlier. This also doesn't mean you will get the next available table, but instead one within the next three customers. Therefore, if you make a reservation for noon, don't expect to be seated at noon.

  • My suggestion is to get there early - aim for shortly after 11am if you don't want to wait more than 20 minutes. If you go after 11:30 be prepared to wait about 30+ minutes to get a table.

  • The optimal party size to go with is four people. Most dishes will have four pieces so going with four people makes it easier to share.

  • Tea charges - almost all restaurants will charge each person a "tea charge", regardless of if you actually drink it. The prices can range from $0.50 - $1.75 per person.

  • The general rule of thumb is three dishes per person. Of course, it will differ depending on the size of the dishes you order (i.e. you don't need three large dishes per person) and how hungry everyone is. But, this should give you an idea of how much you should order for "menu" restaurants.
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