Another Susur experience: Would I thank this Luckee star?

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.

Luckee Condiments (Green onion, mustard/hot sauce and soy with sesame)
Luckee Condiments (Green onion, mustard/hot sauce and soy 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.

Good!

Vegetable Spring Rolls $6
Vegetable Spring Rolls $6 and Curry Shrimp Rolls $7
Har Gow (Shrimp Dumpling) $9
Har Gow (Shrimp Dumpling) $9
Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) $8
Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) $8
Chicken Pot Stickers $8
Chicken Pot Stickers $8

Not So Good

Char Siu Bao (Pork Buns) $9
Char Siu Bao (Pork Buns) $9

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.

Shrimp Cheung Fun $12
Shrimp Cheung Fun $12

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.

Savoury Crispy Rice Donut $6 (came with 2 pieces)
Savoury Crispy Rice Donut $6 (came with 2 pieces)

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.

Mango and Passionfruit Panna Cotta $7 and Sesame Balls $4
Mango and Passionfruit Panna Cotta $7 and Sesame Custard Balls $4

My Take

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.

Luckee on Urbanspoon

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Why Can’t I Speak Easy at Speakeasy 21?

By definition, a speakeasy is an illegal establishment which housed alcohol during prohibition.  Since then, it is often included in the lexicon of terms used to make words like restaurant, drink and  food sound cooler.  Speakeasy 21 has recently opened in Toronto’s financial district and according to the webiste “is a Resto-Bar serving Contemporary Bistro fare with a large selection of custom crafted cocktails and spirits.”  It sounded like an interesting concept so I coaxed a colleague into joining me for dinner.

Any difficulty finding the place among the concrete jungle of Adelaide St. was negated by the loud music which emulated from the smallish confines of the bistro.  The tunes were audible from the sidewalk and got louder as we approached the front door.  After checking in using my reservation, only remnants of the after work business crowd remained along with a spattering of random people including some creepy guy who sat by himself drinking what looked like diet coke while scoping the crowd. We were seated near creepy guy at a small bar table close to the open kitchen.  The waitstaff consisted of a mosiac of men and woman who obviously took various lengths to mimic the retro looks of the 20’s and 30’s.  For example, one waitress was sporting the curly blonde locks and make-up reminiscent of Mae West.  Others wore the same outfit but looked more like they were attending a Jersey Shore prohibition party.

The music continued pounding which even made ordering difficult.  Nonethesless, I started with a libation.  Whether you want a martini, a mason jar or a drink on the rocks, it will run you $15.04. I opted for the Brown Derby and the result was a mediocre attempt at this bourbon based drink.

Brown Derby $15.04
Brown Derby $15.04

From the menu I started with the Bulgogi taco for $6.  My first thought was that this better be a damn good taco, especially if you have the balls to charge me $6 for it.  It didn’t live up to the price.  It was seasoned nicely but was pretty safe.  Although served with house made hot sauce, the small amount of condiments were a bit of a let down.

Bulgogi Taco $6
Bulgogi Taco $6

Next was the foodie mix salad (aka kale and arugula) for $14.  It was James Bond at a  McDonald’s….tasty and nicely but over dressed.  There could have been a few more treasures hidden within the forest of greens although I liked the radish.

Kale and Arugula Salad $14
Kale and Arugula Salad $14

The tuna crudo ($14) was seasoned  nicely with citrus and heat.  It was arguably the best dish of the evening.  The grapefruit, jalapeno and coconut atop the buttery fish created a bit of an orchestra in the mouth.

Albacore Tuna Crudo $14
Albacore Tuna Crudo $14

I was interested in the construction of the shrimp and chorizo sandwich so I ordered it.  It was a $17 filet-o-fish topped with a hot dog.  I don’t know what possessed me to order a sandwich with cheese on top of a  formed shrimp patty  but it really wasn’t appealing.

Shrimp and Chorizo Sandwich $17
Shrimp and Chorizo Sandwich $17

Finally, we ordered the butter chicken balls for $14.  A bowl of  three meatballs arrived swimming in a delicious gravy.  I enjoyed the coriander and mango flavours as well.

Butter Chicken Balls $14
Butter Chicken Balls $14

 

My Take

Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Boardwalk Empire, but my impression of a speakeasy does not consist of overpriced food and blasting music.  Sure the show is set in New Jersey but I don’t think it  means that your waitstaff can look and act like Snooky or Bow-Wow (or whatever her name is).  The $6 taco, $15 cocktail  and $17 dollar sandwich were disappointing.   The butter chicken balls and tuna crudo were decent but still priced in the echelon of Steve Buscemi’s pocketbook.  This place needs to decide what it wants to be; a retro hangout for overpaid suits with classic cocktails  or a loud Moxie’s rip-off with half ass food served by pretty girls .  Right now, it’s the latter.  Perhaps it should be called Speakloud 21 because it’s the only way you can hear a damn thing.

SpeakEasy 21 on Urbanspoon