Friday, December 10, 2010

Chinese Dining Experiences

A few things have changed since my first blog article called "Eating Dim Sum with my White Guy Husband" written back in 2005. Rich now considers himself a pro amongst his coworkers in terms of Chinese dining knowledge and leads them fearlessly to Dim Sum in Mississauga. He can order common dishes by their Cantonese names, abet still mangling the intonations even when he nails the sounds. He even has his favourite restaurants where he is considered a regular, almost to the point of the proprietors calling him by name like in Cheers and pre-cooking his usual dishes as he walks through the door.

One of our regular haunts is D&R Wing's Restaurant which makes what Rich considers the best Curry Chicken and Rice in Toronto. Large chunks of breaded chicken with green peppers, roast potato and onions are covered with a thick rich green curry that has a strong spicy kick to it, and comes with a large heaping of white steamed rice. The restaurant serves Hong Kong style fast food dishes comprised of curries, stir fries and baked dishes that can be eaten as complete individual meals that include meat/seafood, vegetable and starch (usually steamed or fried rice, or spagetti). This contrasts with Cantonese or other Chinese style dinner places where multiple dishes are ordered to share. Other choices include the Portuguese Chicken (chicken and onions baked in a coconut cream sauce, Pork Chop cutlet, Black Pepper Beef and a Baked Seafood dish in a creamy sauce with lightly fried and seasoned rice. At around $7-10 a dish, it makes for a quick cheap meal.

Another favourite restaurant of ours is Chui Chow Boy, which serves cuisine from the south-eastern region of China called Chui Chow or ChaoShan (or many other spellings) within the Guangdong province. The food is slightly spicier than Cantonese cooking, but not as much as Szechuan, so it strikes a nice delicate balance with just enough flavour to keep it interesting. We've been here multiple times now, both because we really like it and also since it is close to where my parents live so we can get them there easily. Rich's favourite dish is the pan-fried turnips and crunchy bean sprouts with XO sauce, which consists of dried shrimps and scallops, chili oil, onion, garlic and dry cured ham. My favourites are the perfectly cooked breaded squid, or any of the dishes made with Chinjew sauce. This could be chicken, beef or shrimp stir-fried in a peppery sauce that comes with crispy fried spinach that provides an interesting texture and is reminiscent of the seaweed snacks that you can get at the Chinese grocery stores. This restaurant was recommended by Globe and Mail food critic Joanne Kates as one of her top 5 "under $50" picks.

Recently we went out as a group of 8 friends to a restaurant called Lee Garden. While in the heart of downtown Chinatown and serving authentic Cantonese style food, this restaurant catered to Caucasian clientele in terms of atmosphere as well as price point. It was brightly lit, clean, with English on the menus (also posted on the web) and English speaking waiters. The night we went, it was populated with as many non Chinese patrons as Chinese ones, which is usually a harbinger of North Americanized food - but not in this case. The prices are higher than other Chinese restaurants ($14-22 for meat/seafood, $11-15 for noodles), which is still relatively inexpensive compared to Continental dining but more than many Chinese deem worth spending.

However the food was delicious, well portioned and included many unique choices that are different than the usual fare. Two highlights of the meal stood out for us. The first was the seared beef tenderloin with avocado, sweet red peppers and cashew nuts which delightfully mixed a variety of tastes and textures.

The second was a described as crispy deep-fried shrimp and tofu balls in a garlic mushroom sauce that were crunchy on the outside with delicious steaming hot minced shrimp and tofu on the inside. The savoury sauce was served on the side so that you could help yourself to as much or as little as your wanted. I personally love sauce on all my food, but these balls were just as good without it.

The best way to experience this type of Chinese communal dining is in a large group of 6 or more, so that you can try a bit of many different types of dishes. Even better is if your group includes seasoned Chinese speaking and reading companions who can steer you towards the chef's specialities. This is especially important in some restaurants where the "good stuff" is only shown on the Chinese version of the menu. In this case, all the choices seemed to be represented in English so that Rich and I can go back and order them ourselves. Just in case though, I took a photo of all the food so that in the worse case, I could have showed my photo and said "I want this again!".

D&R Wing's Restaurant
325 Bamburgh Circle - (416)502-0862

Chui Chow Boy
3261 Kennedy Road - (416)355-0336

Lee Garden
331 Spadina Road - (416) 593-9524

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