In a previous blog, I outlined my Masterchef tryout in some detail. Despite my failure to impress the producers, I watched the show and was happy to see Eric Chong win. I was equally happy to see something tangible come from his win; a new restaurant in the perilous region of Chinatown. R&D is a partnership with the mercurial Alvin Leung, who’s blue hair makes old ladies and smurfs alike quite envious. The restaurant’s concept is one of polarity and contrast. Our bubbly waitress promised flavours which ran the gamut of tastes and flavours with every bite. The name R and D refers to the Rebel and Demon personas of the owners and is a play on the fact they were both engineers before finding their true vocation. Adding to the polarity is Eric’s calm demeanor coupled with the mad science antics of his partner.
I asked the enthusiastic waitress for menu recommendations. She recommended pretty much everything on the menu but in particular raved about he CSB buns. They cook them hourly and getting one might be synonymous with scoring a Black Friday deal. Once out of the oven, the waitstaff wrestle for them in the hope they can secure them for the patrons at their tables. I drank the Kool-aid and insisted that we secure some of this precious loot. Did we manage to get them?????
The drink list comprises of Asian inspired potent potables derived from a collection of traditional cocktails. The Whisky sour is splashed with lemongrass, coriander, pepper and yuzu liqueur. The pina colada is served as boozy bubble tea. The 510 ceasar (which I ended up ordering), was made with garlic and mushroom infused vodka and seasoned with hoison Worcestershire sauce. Mushroom flavour was prominent and heat from the chili sauce was a little shy. The drink was topped with Nori which added a pleasant element of unami. All in all, it was a good Caesar but was a little small in volume which probably helped to intensify the aforementioned flavours.
The first dish to arrive was Eric’s Curry. Beef brisket sat in a pool of curry sauce and mustard greens. It was brilliantly unique. A little salt and sweet and a lot of sour and heat made this great to eat (that’s poetry for you left brained science types). At the time, the dish came with no medium to absorb the sauce (a true engineering flaw) which really was shameful considering how good the sauce was. Maybe we can call it an early oversight since it appears based on the website the dish now comes with coconut rice. Probably the best dish of the night.
Next was the octopus which was served with eggplant and choy sum chimichurri. The presentation was a little sad but the octopus was nicely prepared and finished with a decent char. The eggpplant was clever as a replacement to the normal routine of potatoes or olives and the chimichurri was deliciously unorthadox yet had a familiar flavour I couldn’t quite pinpoint but wanted more.
Shortly after we received the Tom Yum Little Dragon buns ($6). I imagine that Thai flavours in a Chinese bun may be considered as engineerial as calling a soup dumpling a dragon bun but in the end they hit the mark on flavour and were a pleasant bite.
I was a little reluctant to try the lobster chow mein ($25) but my colleague talked me into it. Despite a reasonably sized portion of lobster, it was horribly predictable and had no wow factor at all.
The one platter were ordered was the general saunders’ chicken served with kung pao sauce, sichuan maple syrup, and HK egg waffles. The chicken was nicely seasoned and super moist. The kung pao sauce was delicious and I think the maple syrup is probably an acquired taste but I took the advice of the waitress and mixed the two together which created a mixture which satisfied a number of taste sensations. The waffle portion was a little skimpy but complemented the chicken well in their spin of this traditional southern dish.
At this point there a bit of a mad scramble around the kitchen which suggested one thing..the buns were ready. Although I was getting rather full, I couldn’t resist the urge to indulge and our waitress, like a trooper, emerged with an order. The pork filling was a bit scant a certainly played second fiddle to the delicious bread. They were delightfully warm and just a little sweet and filled my need for gimmickry nicely.
At this point I was quite stuffed but another colleague showed up and ordered the beef tartare. The spin was the son and law egg with the sauce served on top of the beef. I had mixed feelings about this one, probably beacuse I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to this dish in particular. I think the beef should be the star and thought the sauce, although matching nicely with the egg, masked the flavour of the beef a little too much.
She also ordered the scallop which was served with hot sauce, chinese greens and sichuan hollandaise. It was hard to put my finger on it, but the dish lacked balance. The heat and bitterness was prominent but it lack sweetness. Maybe the thought was that the scallop would provide enough sweetness to offset the flavours of the hollandaise and Chinese greens. The scallop itself was cooked near perfectly other than lacking a good sear (which affected both its colour and what might have been a necessary caramelization). Personally, I would have kicked up the sweetness of the hollandaise or replaced it all together.
The Asian fusion concept of R&D is certainly a better fit for Spadina than Strata 241 was. It is a well calculated project with all the fixings of a nouveau Toronto eatery; celebrity chefs, old school rap “fusion food”. I was surprised a bit by Eric’s kitchen demeanor. He was extremely stoic and methodical, focusing more at the task at hand than shining in the limelight as Canada’s first masterchef winner. It’s like he was in a 2 hour mystery box challenge. Like the show, there was a combination of great and not so good dishes. The curry was hands down the best dish of the night. The chicken, octopus, buns and tartare were more than acceptable and the lobster chow mein and scallops were a bit of a train wreck. Also like the show, there was gimmickry and hype lead by the promise of extreme flavours with every dish that didn’t always come to fruition. Much like a television show, the success of R&D will depend on loyalists who will continue to go after trying it once for the novelty, Eric’s ongoing commitment and whether or not people will be able to tolerate Alvin Leung for anymore than a season of Masterchef.