The Noodler

Friday, October 27, 2006


369 Spadina Ave

I chose to go to this restaurant because of the fact that I had heard nothing about it from anyone. The other restaurants reviewed so far I have had some sort of familiarity with through memory or recommendations. The reason that no one recommended E-Pan to me is most likely because it is a very new restaurant, with ‘Grand Opening’ signs still adorning the sandwich board on the sidewalk. The thing that drew me to this place was its décor. On the outside it is completely out of place in Chinatown. Its façade is a modern wood, and it looks like someone transplanted it from a chic area like Yorkville. The inside is also very different from the usual Chinatown restaurant. It has mood lighting with modern lamps, and a wait staff in matching uniforms. On first impression it seems like an excellent place to bring a first date.

My companion and I were quickly seated at one of the empty tables; only three others were occupied. We then gave our drink order and looked at the menu. There were two different menus, one standard and one of chef’s recommendations. The menu in general is a mix of Asian style food, from Peking duck to boneless duck foot with wasabi.

We first ordered the Hunan dumplings with peanut butter sauce and the enoki mushroom and snow pea leaf dumplings. The Hunan dumplings came first and looked wonderful. There were six dumplings sitting on peanut butter sauce and then drizzled with red chili oil. It was clear that someone had put some thought into the plating, which was a welcome change from the usual inattention to presentation normally found in Chinatown. We then tasted the dish and it was delicious. The soft dumplings combined with the sweet salty peanut butter sauce was a wonderfully complimented by the spice of the oil.

Then came the enoki and snow pea leaf dumplings: there were three presented in a bamboo basket. The dumpling wrapper was translucent and the snow pea mixture inside was visible. They were also very hot and fresh. In my first bite I was greeted with the texture of the snow pea leaf greens, which were slightly crunchy but had an almost slimy texture, truly remarkable. I had difficulty isolating the flavour of the enoki mushroom, which was a major draw to the dish.

We then ordered the pan fried pork dumpling and a plate of shredded duck and vermicelli. The pork dumplings were average at best, containing a hint of chive and little else for flavouring. The shredded duck vermicelli arrived and it was even more bland. There was little to no vegetable in the dish, which I thought was just the restaurants style until one of the wait staff rushed out the front door and came back minutes later carrying bags of newly purchased produce. The ducks flavour was good, but there was a lot of soggy fatty skin and small pieces of bone included with it. The dish was mostly composed of bland noodle with what seemed to be some kind of broth for sauce. The dish was a complete disappointment. I looked on the table for the standard bottle of soya sauce to add a little flavour, only to find that there was none on my table, or any of the other tables in the restaurant.

For a restaurant that started very strong, the finished meal turned out to be disenchanting. The wait staff were excellent although a tad overzealous in their service. They spoke good English and were polite and knowledgeable about the food. This restaurant would be a good place to take a first date if you are looking for ambience above food. The price as reasonable at $27 with a tip, but since for me it is food above all else I give E-Pan a C+.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dumpling House Restaurant
328 Spadina Ave

This restaurant caught my eye several weeks ago because a close friend of mine is a big fan of dumplings. The first thing I noticed when I entered the restaurant was the open kitchen at the front where you can see the kitchen staff preparing the dumplings from scratch with what seems like a dozen bowls of different fillings. The next thing that I noticed when I entered the restaurant is that is that the Dumpling House Restaurant may be in need of repair but it is unmistakably clean.

This is not a restaurant that requires you to share a table so my dining companion and I were seated at a table for four. When we got there only two other tables out of perhaps the 15 or 20 were occupied, but by the time we left there were only two or three empty. We then got our menus and the waitress asked for our drink order. I found this nice considering at many restaurants you almost have to plead to even order a drink that you pay for. We just had water and she was polite and even came to refill our glasses without being asked. I found the menu wonderful, with two sections for dumplings, one for fried and one for steamed, with many dumplings I had never heard of. We decided on our order but asked the waitress for a recommendation that turned out to be delicious and out of the ordinary, which I found a real treat. Normally when I ask for a recommendation I get the standard safe answer, like shrimp or chicken dumplings.

We first ordered two types of dumplings, the fried pork and chive and, on the waitress’s recommendation, the steamed egg, chive and dried shrimp. The steamed dumplings came first and were so fresh that we had to wait a minute to eat them. The filling was a combination I never would have imagined but was remarkably light with fresh flavour of the chives and a mild yet undeniably salty flavour of the dried shrimp. The thing that actually struck me most about the dish was how tender and supple the dumpling wrapper was. The difference was remarkable compared to other dumplings I have sampled in the area. Next came the fried pork and chive dumpling. I am very rarely surprised by a dumpling but this would be the second time in one meal a dumpling had defied even my imagination. Instead of the standard pan-fried dumpling that is golden brown on one or two sides these dumplings were served attached to one another by a delicate web of what I imagine is fried dough that turns to a golden lattice between the dumplings. The dumplings are not completely sealed off but left slightly open at each end. The pork and chive dumpling had a very subtle ginger flavour which for me is starting to be one of the defining factors in a good pork dumpling.

Still hungry, we then ordered the chicken and vegetables with peanuts over rice. It was also extremely fresh and the crunchiness of the peanuts with the spicy yet slightly sweet flavour of the chicken and vegetables was wonderful. I am biased in not really liking celery in most food I have to say that I didn’t think that the celery in the dish really added anything outside of a slight crunch that was completely out done by the salty roasted peanuts.

The restaurants staff was very helpful and friendly and spoke excellent English. The décor, which is tacky and out of date, is misleading. This restaurant is a true find and an excellent culinary experience. There were many other unusual menu items that we did not sample including boar intestines and jellyfish. It’s not that I truly dislike either of these ingredients but my stomach was a little too sensitive to tackle jellyfish due to a fresh hangover. I do plan on bringing my mother back there to sample those dishes, my mother being one of the most adventuress eaters for a woman who is allergic to everything. For a unique and rewarding experience within a tarnished shell I give the Dumpling House Restaurant an A for giving me a new perspective on the dumpling, a dish that was quickly becoming a slightly dull staple.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Due to midterms this week the nest blog update has been postponed. Don't worry the next post definitely wont be any later then the weekend.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bright Pearl
346 Spadina Ave

Bright Pearl is a huge restaurant that specializes in seafood and dim sum specifically. I remember being a young child, and going to a restaurant in this same location on a regular basis with my parents. I have the fuzzy memory that the original Bright Pearl was shut down sometime later for some illegal activities of some sort, completely unrelated to their food preparation I should add. Dim sum is unique amongst Asian cuisine because it is traditionally served on carts that are pushed throughout the room. This type of cuisine is served as a selection of many small dishes that range from several different types of dumplings to chickens’ feet, and hot and sour seafood soup. I entered the restaurant on the north side of the building and then went up a large staircase. After which I was confronted with a huge dining room and one of the waiters in vests, not to be confused with the servers with carts, directs me to our table.

One thing that struck me when entering the dining room were the two giant gold dragons with glowing red eyes that flanked each side of a stage where a few large tables sat. My initial desire was to go straight to the stage and take a seat, at my rightful place amongst these mythical dumpling warriors. I then thought of my four dining companions, and decided that although the idea of eating like a god, attended by dragons was a serious draw for me it may not be for others. In any case this experience should be savored and not shared with those who I am certain did not feel the same mystical attraction I did to those enticing red eyes. So my dreams were put on the back burner, at least for the time being.

Once seated we waited for the servers to come around to our tables and show us the dishes on their carts. The wonderful thing about dim sum is that if the restaurant is relatively busy then the food is undeniably fresh.

My four dining companions and I then ordered more than our fair share. The steamed beef ribs were wonderfully spiced and the barbeque pork rice flour rolls were very tender if a little bit bland. The pan-fried pork dumplings were delicious with a strong ginger flavor that did great things to this sometimes underwhelming staple. The shrimp balls were good, not too salty which I find can be a problem with this dish. Also the steamed barbequed pork buns were fluffy and stuffed with the rich savory yet sweet filling.

Near the end of our meal the sticky rice in lotus leaf was brought to our table, and we quickly ordered two, knowing that one is never enough. My first bite had a very fishy flavor, which is not something that is normal in this dish. After several more test bites I decided that that was just this restaurants variation on the dish. When one of my companions asked why I hadn’t finished my serving I explained my issue with the fishy taste. They looked at me in a puzzled way and offered me theirs. When I tasted the other side of the tables serving it became clear that it was only mine that had been tainted with fish! Although this mystery is still disturbing I must admit that I did finish my helping of untainted sticky rice, which was an improvement over my initial serving but still not all that this dish can be.

The servers who operated the carts were friendly but spoke very little English, and I think that when it came to serving our table it affected their confidence, which made the service a little awkward. The Bright Pearl did provide us with an illustrated menu that allowed the servers to point to the dishes they were serving. So I suppose that the servers made an honest effort but were at a detriment due to the language barrier.

Taking into consideration all of these things I feel that the Bright Pearl deserves a C. The entire experience was pleasant, yet I don’t think the mystery of the fishy sticky rice can be overlooked. I probably would not go out of my way to go there again if it were not for the incredible prices. All of the dim sum from 9am-11: 30 and from 1:30pm-3: 30 are 1.68$. Which on my piddly student budget pretty much guarantees my return to this venue. Neither my fellow diners nor I became ill from the sticky rice, which leads me to believe that it was most likely an honest mistake like a mislaid ingredient and not a health violation. If I had suspected a health violation and not an honest mistake I would have failed the Bright Pearl without hesitation. It may be the recent Thanksgiving holiday but I am going to raise the Bright Pearls grade to a B- for the incredible price, good service and decent food. I will however be visiting it again, not only to live my dream of sitting with the dragons but also to retry the sticky rice, and of course post my results

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rol San Restaurant
323 Spadina Ave

My optometrist Bjorn recommended Rol San to me. I was promised food that was good and reasonably priced. The first thing that struck me when I entered the restaurant was that most of the patrons there were white. And yet the specials that were on the wall were either in a combination of Asian characters and English, or solely in Asian characters. My dinner companion and I were greeted by a waiter who directed us to a four-person table. This was perfect for an intimate dinner since in many parts of Chinatown there is a custom of patrons sharing tables. On the table were many layers of plastic the same consistency as grocery bags. Having waited tables before I understand the need for a quick turn around of tables, yet I don’t think that this is a good solution to that problem. Inevitably the table gets wet either with tea or condiments, and then I am forced to remember some experiences of rained out camping trips when everything is soaked including the inside of your rain jacket. There is something about the texture of wet plastic stuck to my skin that I absolutely can’t stand. The tea came next, which was a fairly good jasmine tea. We ordered the standard spring and egg rolls, which were both good. They were not too greasy, which is what I look for in a good quality fried roll of that sort along with the filling. The filling itself was the standard combination of cabbage and other vegetables. The main dish that we ordered was the Singapore style vermicelli noodle. This dish is a combination of shrimp, bean sprouts and BBQ pork with fried egg and a delicious not too spicy curry flavour. Rol San also includes green onion, not finely diced and placed on top like a garnish but cut at a two to three inch length so that it became a real part of this dish. This addition was a real asset to the dish. The dish also had a consistency of flavour spread throughout that showed that the Chef took time and made sure that the dish was well composed.

The food was above what I consider good but just barely, and I suppose the price was reasonable, under 30$ for a large meal for two people including tip. If you have no issues with plastic tablecloths, like I do, and have a love of well-made Singapore style vermicelli then this would be a restaurant worth trying. All things considered I would give it a B.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Kings Noodle House
296 Spadina Avenue

This restaurant is a true Toronto institution. Anyone who has spent anytime in Chinatown whatsoever knows this place well. It is located on the North West corner of Spadina and Dundas just north of the Scotiabank. The first thing one notice's when standing outside the restaurant is on the left side of the entrance in the window there are hanging whole chickens and ducks and sometimes pigs. There are also giant bright orange cuttlefish which make my mouth water. When you enter the restaurant directly to your right is an open kitchen where they prepare the wontons and noodle soups along with the salty fried donut all of which are delicious. Kings is home of possibly the best and most filling meals for under 4$ in the city. A bowl of wonton noodle soup is 3.85$ and is so huge that one person would be hard pressed to finish it unless totally griped by hunger.

Some other dishes that Kings does well are barbeque duck and pork, all done in house and rice flour roll which are also made in house. My favorite rice flour roll is the dried shrimp, which is also a huge serving and under 3$.

I do have to say that it is a very busy restaurant that is normally packed and sometimes you may be asked to share a table with strangers. Do no be out off by this practice; it is a wonderful way to see dishes before you try them. Due to the rushed nature of the restaurant the food is always fresh but sometimes not done to absolute perfection. One’s Singapore style vermicelli noodle may not be properly tossed, which will leave some portions of it with a more overwhelming curry flavor then others. This is one of Kings few faults, but a fault nonetheless.

One dish discovered by a friend of mine is found on the plastic stand up menu on each table and is called simply stir fried beef tenderloin. It is a true find, wonderfully garlicky and served with broccoli. This is a dish that I would never find unless by accident due to the description, a common problem in restaurants all over Chinatown I find.

A I feel that Kings Noodle House deserves it reputation, the food is always fresh and although the service is curt on the best of days I still keep returning simply for the low price and consistently fresh food. This Toronto institution deserves an A-.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I'm having issues posting from my home. The first two reviews will be up very soon.

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