The City's Best Chinese Food
Ring in the Year of the Dragon with T.O.’s top Far East eats
If a city were ever to have reason to be grateful to its immigrants, Toronto owes thanks to our Chinese-Canadian friends for the depth and breadth of their cuisine. The days are long gone when we ate the Chinese-Canadian hybrid that they thought wouldn’t scare us. We’ve come a long way, baby, from egg rolls and chow mein. These days, the GTA chinoiserie reflects China’s vastness and its wealth, its panoply of regions and ingredients, and the complexity and sophistication of its cooking. It’s no coincidence that the Chinese were doing multi-step complicated cooking while the French were still eating with their hands. Today the most interesting and varied cooking in the GTA is Chinese.
Joanne Kates on 5 dishes you need to try now!
There are few places in the GTA where the full glory of Chinese food is on offer. Sure, we’ve come far from chicken chow mein and sweet ’n’ sour shrimps, but not that far. Which makes Brilliant Chinese special: It exposes us to some of China’s complex and sophisticated cooking. The really special stuff you have to order in advance. Like chicken that is deboned and then stuffed with beautifully flavoured sticky rice scented with Chinese sausage, and put back together, wings and all, in the shape of a chicken covered tightly with one piece of crisp chicken skin. As if that were not enough, it’s fabulous chicken, moist and tender. Deboned chicken stuffed with sticky rice: $38.
7220 Kennedy Road, 905-946-1313
Taste of China
My new favourite Chinese restaurant is old Spadina, crowded, draughty and schlocky-feeling. Don’t let them cook beef, but the seafood is the best in town. If you were to offer me a last meal, it would be two dishes from Taste: Dungeness crab (in season right now) fried with great lashings of garlic and minced pork, which turn crisp and fragrant, and bring out the crab’s sweetness like a good foundation garment does for Dolly Parton’s assets. Then there’s the tofu. Actually, egg tofu (the regular bean cake flavoured with egg yolk). It’s barely, delicately deep-fried with salt and pepper and chili, for a creamy, eggy heart of gold, with a flavour bonanza on the outside.
Whole dungeness crab fried with garlic and pork: $25.
338 Spadina Avenue, 416-348-8828
Grand Chinese Cuisine
That my favourite brunch is still dim sum is testament to a stubborn unwillingness to accept reality — which is that most of the dim sum in downtown Toronto sucks. The airport strip would seem an unlikely place to encounter exemplary dim sum, but your taste buds will tell the truth. Grand’s dim sum is just that. It’s all wonderful, but the sine qua non is #114: Steamed juicy chicken and fragrant shiitake mushroom spiked with ginger and sesame, in dough so delicate and thin you could read this review through it.
Steamed chicken and shitake mushroom clear dumpling: $4.80 for three.
Doubletree Hilton Hotel 655 Dixon Road, 416-248-9898
My second favourite thing about King’s Noodle is standing on Spadina watching the cooks in the window, as they chop and braise and boil. Or I can just plain salivate over the barbecue pork and ducks hanging in the window. But the best thing about King’s Noodle is the flavours. For a schleppy joint on Spadina, they do astonishing cooking. The noodle dishes are great, but my #1 favourite dish here is steamed fresh scallop in egg custard, kissin’ cousin to Japan’s chawan mushi. Eggs and chicken stock are whisked together and then baked with bits of scallop and fresh ginger, the solids afloat in the warm, feathery custard. Fresh scallop in egg custard: $14.95.
296 Spadina Avenue, 416-598-1817
Ba Shu Ren Jia
In the Far East, tea (a homegrown crop) is often used in cooking. Infusing food with the fragrance of slightly smoky oolong leaves is a great way to gild the lily. Deep- frying the tea leaves adds snap, crackle and pop to flash-fried shrimps, for the GTA’s best blend of the known and the exotic. They call it tea shrimp. I call it fabulous fun. Tea shrimp: $9.99.
4771 Steeles Avenue East, 416-335-0788