Checking in with Chinatown Sundays at Rose & Sons ahead of Lunar New Year


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Image: Jason Finestone

Few things are more nostalgic for me than the squeak of Styrofoam containers, the snap of cheap wooden chopsticks and the crinkle of plastic chili sauce packets on a Sunday night. The waft of sweet and spicy Cantonese specialties fills the room. It’s more than a personal memory – it’s a shared, visceral indulgence many Canadian families can relate to. 

Memories such as these spurred Anthony Rose and chef de cuisine Jesse Grasso to launch their Chinatown Sundays Menu at Rose and Sons. They put on a family-style service of an assortment of westernized Chinese takeout. The $60 dinner feeds two (hungry) or three (less peckish) stomachs. 


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 

Sesame Pork Spring Rolls are encased in a flaky and delectably crisp wrapper, stuffed with minced pork and woodear mushrooms. General Tso’s Chicken is doused in “that sticky sauce” with soft caramelized peppers that have none of the raw snap that many a Spadina spot slings. 

House Special Chow Mein sees griddle fried fresh noodles procured from Hua Sheng topped with hoisin, red vinegar, brown sugar, soy, cinnamon and garlic marinated pork belly that’s slowly smoked for five hours in the Big Crow smoker out back, as well as tiny Nordic Matane shrimp and bok choi. 

Baby Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli) tips are sautéed with sofrito, garlic, chili and soy, and steamed rice is spiked with a hit of melted butter for good measure. 

Of course, no meal of this type is complete without fortune cookies and orange slices. 

I took the opportunity to indulge in this experience alongside my mother (naturally), and also got a chance to catch up with Grasso to hear about what this menu means to him.


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 

What was the inspiration behind this menu?
It was originally an idea that Anthony brought to me, and I don't think he thought I'd be super into it. 

Because of Anthony's Jewish background, he thought it would be fun to do Westernized Chinese food on Sundays, as an homage to his upbringing. For me, part of my background is in Chinese cooking, first at a place in Vancouver called the Flying Tiger, and later on, when I helped open Bao Bei. 

At Bao Bei we did a much more refined style, so I thought it would be fun to finally have a chance to cook THIS type of Chinese food, just with better ingredients, and with techniques I've learned over the years. Anthony gave his input on the type of dishes he'd like to see but then trusted me to develop the menu as I saw fit.


(IMAGE: JASON FINESTONE)

 

What do you love about this menu and style of dining?
I don't really know any other way of eating, to be completely honest. I grew up sharing, I've almost always cooked that style, and it's still the way I love to eat. With certain things, it's easier to just eat one thing to yourself, but part of the nice part of dining with someone is the interaction, seeing what they thought of the same food, and being able to discuss it. 

The menu itself, we're just trying to make fun and delicious food, nothing more. Something that makes people smile when they eat it, and brings back memories.

What's your earliest memory of eating Chinese food?
Two things stand out. One, getting Ho Lee Chow take-out with my mom when I was growing up in Hamilton, and always wanting the Egg Foo Young and Sweet and Sour Pork. Second one would be when I visited my dad in the summers in Alberta, and getting to eat Crispy Ginger Beef, which STILL is a thing that is pretty much exclusive to Canadian-Chinese restaurants around Alberta. I crave it.

Where is your favourite place to eat in Chinatown?
King's Noodle and Swatow, for noodles and soups, Dumpling House for dumplings, Homemade Ramen for snacks and good Northern Chinese, Taste of China for late night squad dinners.

Are you looking to emulate the flavours of these classics or put a different spin on them? 
It's a little bit of both. Flavour wise, I'm not trying to change that much, because those are the flavours I love and that people are familiar with. But I think the techniques can sometimes be improved, and the ingredients can always be better. There are small changes to the flavour profiles, here and there, but the spirit of the food is still there, I feel.

Will this menu continue to be offered or run for a limited time? 
As of now, we plan to continue doing this for a while, but only on Sunday nights. We will definitely switch items up from time to time, though.

Update: Originally, this article described the dishes as "elevated". That was the wrong choice of words. We apologize and did not mean to offend.

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Jason is a freelance food and travel writer and the Chief Experience Officer at U-Feast, a website to discover unique, off-menu dining experiences. A lover of dumplings, noodle soups and schmaltz, his ethnically inclined palate is constantly searching for the next flavour wave in Toronto and beyond. Find him on Instagram @finest_one and on Twitter @j_finestone.

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