Dineout Reviews: Toronto January 2011 Trip (Part I??)

With Lil’ Sis with an fabulous and cozy little apartment in Toronto, I can easily extend my stopovers in the city and did just that to start off the year, kicking back in Tee-Oh from January 1 to January 4. I named this post as I did because as it currently stands, I don’t know for sure yet if I’m returning at the end of the month for a long weekend to to attend a “grad” ceremony for Lil’ Sis!

Congee Royal
After a characteristically rough New Year’s Eve at the restaurant, Mum and I boarded our Toronto-bound plane in Halifax bleary-eyed and stumbled up to Richmond Hill to Lil’ Sis’ abode. After catching up on a bit of sleep, a congee restaurant was the perfect kick-off “breakfast” for us. I just love how there’s a chain of Congee restaurants in Toronto including Congee Wong, Congee King, Congee Queen, and Congee Time. Due to its location on the way to our grandparents’ assisted living home, we ended up at the location on Steeles near Victoria Park. Is Congee Royal even part of the family?

It was a big restaurant with armchairs memorably resembling paper towel rolls as the chair back. We ordered two congees: fish with pork liver, and three mushroom tofu. We order two dough sticks–neither of which is the traditional kind–a sweet one (牛利酥) and a salty one (咸煎餅). We also ordered two rice rolls: shrimp with chive, and tofu.

The fish/liver congee was alright in my opinion but Mum and Lil Sis found the liver springy. The mushroom/tofu congee was exceptionally bland but not bad. It was in the deep fried dough items where we could taste the freshness (or staleness) of the frying oil. I like the savoury “salty fried pastry” with five-spice seasoning while Mum and Lil Sis liked the “cow tongue pastry”. Their rice rolls were somewhat inferior, really dried out and unsatisfying. Mum was so excited for me to try the tofu rice rolls, having had some yummy ones recently at a different restaurant, but their version using fried pressed tofu was just not as good.

Kim Tao Hot Pot
The darnedest thing is when I hear of a place I want to try in Toronto but forget it by the time I get there. Quite close to our trip, I saw a restaurant segment of Trendy Zone featuring Kim Tao Hot Pot and only needed to confirm two things before settling on it for our hot pot dinner: that it is all-you-can eat, and that you order off a list as opposed to going up to a buffet spread.

Immediately upon entering the restaurant, my heart sunk that the Trendy Zone segment was carefully shot to make the restaurant appear nicer than it was. I wasn’t a fan of the ugly red floor tiles, the bubbling ceiling, the cheap plastic film over the booth seats, or the grime around the table legs and in the cracks of the table-top convection oven. However the price was quite good, $18 for Fatty Beef hot pot and $20 if you wanted seafood as well. They gave us a pitcher of lemon tea and a plum drink and broth was not extra nor very expensive even if it was. We went with the “Cantonese” mix of half chicken broth and half satay. I wanted to try herbal chicken but we didn’t go for it.

I was also a little put off by the presentation of the food. Had we been a larger table, the server may have pulled up a side table but they weren’t opposed to stacking dishes with food on top of other dishes with food. The awful, negligent service also gives you a bad feeling about the restaurants ethics. Good thing we were in charge of cooking our own food and if the cleanliness was questionable, we were boiling the heck out of it anyhow!

Shanghai Dim Sum
It’s a bit of a special occasion when our branch of the family are altogether in Toronto with the bulk of our relatives and it also just being the start of a new year, my Big Uncle (大舅父) arranged a dinner and ten of us attended–what a turnout! Big Uncle has lived in Toronto for decades and has watched the restaurant scene grow and now, as he puts it, fade. Those Cantonese restaurant just aren’t the same anymore!! But perhaps he’s favouring the Outside Province (外省) cuisine as this is the second non-Cantonese restaurant he’s taken us to. (The first one was Asian Legend.)

Since I had plans for later that evening and trying to pick dishes as a group effort is so time-consuming, I was relieved to see that we were served as soon as we were seated. You see, Big Uncle had pre-ordered (and paid a deposit) and we dined from a pre-set menu on a dozen of the most unique Chinese dishes I’ve ever encountered! We ooh-ed and aah-ed at the unusual dishes including the following two. But my favourite dishes were ones I did not manage to photograph: sliced chicken and king oyster in watercress sauce (菜 王子菇 炒鷄肉); scrambled egg white sauce over broccoli (寶螃蟹); and smoked duck with steamed buns (老上海香酥鴨).

Kaori Japanese Restaurant
We’ve passed by this restaurant quite a few times coming and going from Lil Sis’ place and based on its obscure location, away from the rest of the Markham restaurants in plazas, and the blinking and scrolling neon sign, I would not have suggested it. But Lil Sis happened to go once with a visiting cousin and suggested we go on our last night in the city.

Lil Sis had me pick from the list of dragon rolls that are meticulously fashioned into the shape of a dragon–all of them contain tempura shrimp, cucumber, and avocado. The fish wrapped on the exterior determine the colour of the dragon and I selected the one with the most salmon. We also chose a 26-piece sashimi platter and a seafood bibimbap that included avocado! The Golden Dragon roll I selected was well-made and tasty. The salmon sashimi was perfect while the brilliant red tuna was very bland. I got to try a new fish–butterfish–that was a slightly frozen and seemed watery with a smooth and buttery finish.

On this day..