It is 1051 pm and I realized I have not yet blogged in June. Not doing so would end my streak of writing at least one blog a month since June 2012. So, a few months back I went to Kwan Dim Sum and Chinese cuisine at Yonge and St. Clair for lunch. I was a little worried because I used to work with a guy with a last name Kwan who was rather annoying. I arrived around 1145 to a rather empty restaurant. I looked around and admired the decor which was full of shelves and jugs. I’m sure lucky I booked early because by 1215 it was jam packed. Whew!
We ordered an array of dim sum including steamed dumplings (Har Gow), Sui Mai, deep fried shrimp dumplings, savory crepes and soup for $5-8. Retrospectively, it wasn’t that original of an order but a good representation of a dim sum lunch. The food was well executed and well presented.
Unfortunately, the service was slow and a little rude. Getting a glass of water was hard and getting tea was even harder.
This is the most boring blog I have ever written but the clock is ticking and I need to keep the streak alive. I liked the decor at Kwan. The dim sum was quite good. The service, however, was unenthusiatic. It’s a safe and pretty place for those who enjoy dumplings et al. and don’t want to worry about whether the shady signs and run down decor of other dim sum restaurants in the area translate into either bad or overly “authentic” food. In the end, it’s very CaucASIAN.
Deciding on brunch in the competitive Toronto restaurant scene can be a daunting task. Visions of eggs benedict and chicken and waffles fill my head like sugar plums on Christmas day. However, the recent addition of Luckee, Susur Lee’s latest project, has added Dim Sum to the trendy weekend choices. Located in the Soho hotel, one can indulge on weekend dumplings as well as the wares of circulating trolley carts.
When I arrived, I was able to see Susur Lee quarterbacking his kitchen staff who were busy prepping and steaming the day’s fare. The menu includes both standard menu items and daily specials off the cart which circles around regularly. The set-up of the restaurant was a bit odd for dim sum. The table we were at was not accessible by the cart, meaning we either had to get up or they had to carry things in.
Luckee offers a small number of Lee’s signature cocktails including the Burnt orange manhattan which I had a few weeks before when I went to Susur’s flagship restaurant Lee. Since I was driving home after, I simply grabbed a pot of Jasmine tea. `
The waiter was pleasant and had a good handle on the menu. He nodded happily with each order and emphatically insisted that we were missing out if we didn’t order the Shrimp Cheung Fun. We complied.
The service started with an offering of three condiments; green onion, mustard and hot sauce, soy sauce with sesame.
Instead of going into excruciating detail about each and every dumpling, I will summarize it as above average but expensive dim sum. The offerings were a mix of traditional dumplings and some more innovative creations orchestrated by the flavour-bursting brain of Susur himself. For example, the crispy vegetable spring roll, har gow (shrimp dumpling), xiao long bao (pork soup dumplings), chicken pot sticker were all a good reflection of the classics. The Char Siu Bao…not much so. I found them a bit doughy and uninspired.
Not So Good
Regarding the more innovative dishes, it was well worth trusting the waiter’s recommendation of the Shrimp Cheung Fun $12. The taste and texture of the roll itself accented with the soy juice was yin and yangtastic. It was a multi-dimensional taste experience and the best thing I ate all meal.
The savoury crispy rice donuts ($6) were filled with chicken, choy poh, chinese chives, jicama and shrimp. Once again, flavours like jicama add a twist to traditional dim sum in a successful and sexy manner.
The curry shrimp rolls ($7), pictured above, were another twist on the standard spring roll. They were seasoned nicely and served with another dipping sauce indicative of Susur’s explosive flavour profile.
Dessert was also split into the traditional and not so traditional. The former was a sesame custard ball that was good but not remarkable. The latter was a mango passion fruit panna cotta with a great texture. It was quite polarizing; the super sweet of the mango combined with the sour passion fruit wouldn’t be for everybody. It was a good few bites but wasn’t something that I would say was easy to devour.
The reviews of this place from a service and value perspective are hit and miss. Personally, I found the service to be excellent. The waiter was pleasant, efficient and recommended the best dish I ate. The dishes, from the dumplings to the desserts, were a yin and yang of traditional and contemporary flavours. I really can’t ask for much more. As for the incessant complaining about the price and the fact that five blocks up you can get the better dim sum for a third of the price, it gets tiring:
1. Susur Lee is a internationally recognized chef who has a restaurant in a suave hotel just outside of Toronto’s entertainment district.
2. You can have a good experience in a place with a nice ambiance and a great drink list instead of a hole in the wall serving water and green tea.
3. Toronto is a city where people will pay $16 for a bowl of mushroom soup. In fact, some of the most elevated prices in the GTA are during brunch. Try and find bacon and eggs for less than $12. That said, what’s a few extra bucks for a dumpling?
I don’t want to sound bitter but it’s like complaining about a burger at Harbord room because there’s a McDonald’s up the street. Let’s compare apples to apples. Luckee is another option to the expensive brunch options. The dim sum is above average and the sauces/condiments are explosive, punchy fun. Yes, you will pay more than you will anywhere else along Spadina but it’s competitive among other Saturday and Sunday morning hot spots. For the haters…walk up the street. Better yet, when pondering Beast’s $14 beastwich breakfast sandwich, say hi to Ronald while you order a $3 egg McMuffin.
Dim Sum is always an adventure. In many ways it’s a sitcom at a table, especially when you have a big crowd. It is the perfect time for an alpha personality to take full control of a situation while one or two wheat belly people stare curmudgeonly at all the food they can’t eat. The combination of white starches and deep-fried morsels with the odd taboo food thrown in makes for a true social experiment.
Yank Sing is one of San Francisco’s most recognizable Dim Sum palaces. With two locations (I went to the Stevenson one), it is often quoted as not being the best Dim Sum in town but certainly is among the most popular.
I booked a table of 10 with the following demographics:
2 Asians- only one of which knew what they were doing. The other is essentially whiter than I am.
1 Shameless Glutton (that would be me)
3 Nurses whose conversation about past clinic experiences was far more awkward than anything which came along on the trolley
2 Pseudo Gluttons who fold to peer pressure like a bad suit but look much better than one doing it.
2 “I don’t eat simple starches but don’t want anybody to know and plus I’m only here for business anyway” people
1 “I’ll be there after my other lunch” followed by “Sorry I didn’t make it man..my other lunch went late” colleague (thus the reason I booked a table for 10 and not 11. Plus, I think zeros are luckier than ones in the Chinese culture).
It’s quite simple. The cart comes by and a conversation in Chinese ensues. The three nurses are too busy having a discussion about emergency room wounds or the biggest boil they have ever seen to notice. I sound like Dave Hester yelling “Yeeeeeeep!” every time I’m offered anything from a dumpling to a bun stuffed with some type of protein. The two wheat bellies stare at the vegetables hoping they make the cut while the pseudo gluttons secretly wish the weirdest thing on the tray doesn’t. In the end, there was an array of fare which came to the table. Their famous Shanghai soup dumplings which burst with subtle salt goodness. The potstickers were a tender and classic interpretation of this classic. The deep fried Phoenix tailed shrimp reminded me of why pseudo-Chinese food is permanently ingrained in the grease-loving palates of North Americans. The beans were quickly consumed by token herbivores. There were other tasty morsels passed around the table; some of which seemed to get a bit camera shy during the communal feast.
Another signature was the Peking duck served with a stuffable bun and some hoisin sauce. Once assembled, it was a pleasant few bites and scoring a couple of them was not a huge feat given the dynamics at the table.
Group dinners are usually sitcoms and this one was no exception. I’ll admit that there may be a few exaggerations about the dynamics but it makes for a good story. As for Yank Sing itself, I was a little surprised about how safe the offerings were. I’ve been for Dim Sum in Montreal and Toronto and the choices there are a lot more diverse and even a little risky. This place isn’t cheap either. The bill for the table was $370 which was a little steep for what we got. In the end, Yank Sing is like a tourist attraction; overpriced, a little overrated but fun nonetheless, especially when you go with a cast of characters that’s a cross between the Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.