I don’t know which website has the most comprehensive Toronto restaurants listings+reviews (like I believe dinehere.ca in Vancouver to be), so I’ve uniformly linked every restaurant to their Urbanspoon page.
We met up with family (two uncles and one married cousin with his wife) and I was sooo relieved that we did not dine at our stand-by regular restaurant, Scarborough Grand, although had we dined at a traditional Cantonese restaurant, we may have had a deluxe king crab dinner…. Our eldest cao-foo (uncle) characterizes Asian Legend as a place that appeals to “younger people” and although he is beyond retirement age, I think he likes the energy of the place. So, Asian Legend restaurants have popped up all over the place and I wanted it to be good despite the uber-slick decor and “chain” business–Toronto’s Chinese diners and my uncle have exacting standards so I really had no need to fear.
I was a bit shy to take pictures, but being a slick chain restaurant, you can see a picture of every dish at their website… and order online, too! We ordered Steamed Soup-Filled Juicy Pork Dumplings, Steamed Chinese Silver Bun (served with dishes of condensed milk for dipping), Sauteed Lamb with Green Onion on Sizzling Hot Plate, Fish Fillet with Wine Essence, Sauteed Snowpea Shoots with Garlic, Braised Eggplant & Tofu in Casserole, Fried Rice Cake with Twice-Cooked Pork, Red Bean Pancake, and Glutinous Rice Ball with Black Sesame Filling!
I really liked the braised fish fillet in a rich wine flavour and the sauteed snowpeas. It was only recently where I was properly introduce to rice cake/sticks cooked the Chinese way (cf. the Korean way) and I’m now a fan and was pleased to see a spicy version with our Asian Legend dinner. It all came to about $80 which is part of the reason why the restaurant was a winner–they have a VIP card and, of course, my uncle is a cardholder.
Oh Geul Boh Geul
My cousin, WC, is the best, and he and his wife, Sarah, are perfect together. They graciously let Lil’ Sis live with them for nearly a month when she didn’t have a place to stay and she reports how they have impeccable taste exemplified in their home decor that includes unique, stylish, and functional Japanese designs. So, we could certainly trust their recommendations for which Korean restaurants to try. Of the three Sarah listed, two were in Koreatown (Bloor & Christie area) and we didn’t want to head further down when it was already 10 p.m. so we went to another hub of Korean businesses in North York, and we were not disappointed.
I have a feeling Lil’ Sis will know her Korean cuisine quite well but for now, it was quite adorable how she read the description of bibimbap stone bowl and thought it sounded quite nice. (Of course! It’s a great dish!) We were first presented with a chewy onion Korean-style pancake and devoured it, especially enjoying the more crispy regions. Then we clapped our hands in delight when we were presented with ten banchan (what I call the complimentary “appetizers” when I forget the Korean word). We hardly get more than five of the most boring varieties at our favourite Vancouver Korean restaurants so I was happy to see zucchini, a herby mashed potato salad, chilled tofu with green onions and chili, and potato noodles!
Since Lil’ Sis does not like tofu, I manoeuvered the tofu banchan close to me to have the chilled dish next to the hot bowl of tofu soup I ordered. I have had tofu soup three times within the past month and never tired of it.
I was so bashful when my restaurant recommendation was a bust (review further below) that I bit my tongue when Mum mentioned a Japanese restaurant she had seen on the dining segment of Trendy Zone, a magazine format show airing on OMNI Ontario, a free multicultural channel. Sometimes I wish Vancouver had a Trendy Zone show, but most times, I am quite ambivalent about not having one. I was worried, of course, the TV spot had been misrepresentative, hyping the style of the restaurant over taste or value.
The restaurant, located in a small high-tech industrial park along the “Chinese stretch” of Highway 7, is very coooool looking in its decor. Fortunately it was a quiet Monday evening so there weren’t youngsters milling around, drinking lots, and music thumping my mother’s eardrums. We could concentrate on the menu that overwhelmed us for a good half an hour before we could figure out what to try. It was our “big dinner” of the weekend so we went all out.
Half the menu shows pictures of every drink available from Chinese/Taiwanese milk teas with the option for adding bubbles/tapioca pearls to the Japanese soda, Calpis, and what I’ll call “cinos”, which seem to me like the fruity Taiwanese milk teas topped with foam… like mangocinos and tarocinos. None of us ordered those hot drinks but I did enjoy one a couple years ago at a different tea restaurant.
I wanted Mum to try an izakaya but we couldn’t figure out which one was good amongst all our choices but we were still able to enjoy izakaya-like atmosphere and dining at dozo. While we mulled over the menu, they gave us complimentary edamame–what my friends here dub the most rip-off dish–and we proceeded to order Kobe beef sushi (Mum wanted to try this Kobe she heard of), grilled squid skewers, roasted uni (sea cucumber) on eggplant, a fancy scallop makimono roll, a deluxe sushi platter with lobster sashimi, a teppanaki sirloin and miso black cod platter, and a pork cutlet and egg rice in stone bowl! We were a little nervous about how much food would arrive….
Everything was great. Mum characterizes uni as tasting a bit like the green goo you find in the head of lobsters. That made me more inclined to try it for the first time and it fleetingly did taste just as she described. Lil’ Sis’ scallop roll was a great injection of “traditional” sushi and it was tasty with scallop, mayo, tempura shrimp, and avocado. The Kobe sushi was nice… buttery. We really enjoyed the lobster sashimi (squishy, crunchy, just as it should taste) and the citrus-y yellow-hued roe that topped it. Lil’ Sis wouldn’t touch my cod because it is more infamous for having worms in the flesh… but I enjoyed it!
Goodness, but if I’m not writing practically full-blown reviews so far. The afternoon we met up with cousins WC and Sarah, we strolled around the Mount Pleasant (Avenue/Eglinton) area after we had lunch. WC pointed out where his father, our eldest cao-foo, liked to get really old-fashioned desserts like black forest cake. Presumably cao-foo walked around the foot-traffic friendly area after fixing this or that that had broken down in WC’s new old house and found a favourite haunt to get a little something to satisfy his sweet tooth on the sly–he’s quirky that way. Of course Lil’ Sis and I wanted to see the bake shop he likes and we took a peek. A baker in a white lab coat was arranging the display of treats and in addition to old fashioned sweets, as promised, we saw really cute marzipan creations!
Il Gelatiere Artigianale
We were a little embarrassed to pass on the dessert menu at Simple (review below) because Toronto’s best gelato shop was just down the street; fortunately, the waiter was cousin WC’s friend and understood full well that we’d get gelato. The selection was not obnoxiously large but had select flavours and there was not sorbetto. I ordered a spicy chocolate gelato–slow burn ahead–and a safer stracciatella flavour. It was very yummy.
Gui Hua Tang
Lil’ Sis had to work on Monday–haha–which is why I had the extra-long weekend to spend in a city five hours away by flight. Mum and I spent the day together primarily visiting po-po, my grandmother who resides in a nursing home, and running between Walmart and the home to get and then return shoes for po-po. I think it’s been twenty years since Mum and I spent a whole day together like that, so it was a very nice result that she “crashed” my trip to Toronto, originally just me visiting Lil’ Sis.
I was so discouraged to spend most of that Monday in the most trite spots of Markham/Richmond Hill, namely at Market Village. Give me something new and flashy! But nothing really new and flashy seems to have come around in the area that is better than good ole Market Village and Pacific Mall. It was nice to go to some tried-and-true shops like the Chinese dessert shop in Market Village, Gui Hua Tang. We punctuated our morning of running around that mall with boiled egg white with ginger juice/syrup and taro and tapioca dessert. The former (on the left) was much better.
This was the bust of a restaurant recommendation, in Mum’s opinion and, mine too, alas.
The drink menu of fresh fruit shakes looked really good and we watched in wonder and curiosity as the bartender would make a show of pouring a steamy cold blended beverage over and over from elevated heights between two containers. The roti was not as good as I’ve had at my favourite restaurants in Vancouver (not fluffy) and the rendang beef was the strangest and perhaps worse I ever had–not saucy, weird dry crumbly “sauce”, very dry meat. Perhaps it was very authentic.
It was kind of sweet how Lil’ Sis is starting to make recommendations in Toronto; it’s a good thing given I’m outdated regarding what’s new and hot in the city and Mum doesn’t usually visit much beyond Scarborough. Lil’ Sis’ friends took her to Chili Secrets where every dish is just $2.05. We even wanted to wait until 11 to get to order Shanghai dishes but we were stuffed with the 8 dishes we ordered!
We ordered the deep-fried milk sticks (farthest right) that were… interesting. I was reluctant to order the steamed Malay cake but these ones (farthest left) were a little different, more dense than usual, less “rank” or whatever flavour that usually turns me off.
New Choice Restaurant
We were so tired and disgruntled from our second day of putting together IKEA furniture and we finally finished. Then we went seeking the Hong Kong-style cafes that you’d expect to be in abundance where there is a sizeable Chinese population. I read about Silver Carriage on chowhound.com but they are closed early at 9, very unlike Hong Kong-style cafe. Then we head to Highway 7 and we saw Dickens Now, reminding me of how we used to go to Dickens and I wondered what the difference was. We never got to know as they were closing already at 11 so we just settled on the neighbouring restaurant, New Choice.
Wow, that was regrettable. The prices were alright and you can see here the entire meal. There was too much ginger for my liking in the congee (porridge) and the fried yao-tiu (dough sticks) were not fresh. Lil’ Sis said it was to typical that I ordered the beef brisket noodle but the noodle tasted so much of lye water that even she objected.
We took up cousin WC’s suggestion to eat in his neighbourhood at a nearby bistro. It was a great find with a sweet little menu. Lil’ Sis ordered the smoked salmon roulade while cousin Sarah and I ordered the Croque Monsieur sandwiches. I liked my cheesy sandwich although I don’t like ham too much and should have given half my sandwich to Lil’ Sis whose crepe-wrapped smoked salmon was”very light”–I was regretting it all afternoon. The shoestring and seasoned fries were a nice touch but I thought there was a too heavy hand with the dressing/vinaigrette over the mixed greens.