The Noodler

Friday, March 14, 2008

Here's the link to my new blog about an upcoming trip to Asia.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I am going to be traveling too much to keep adding posts to this blog. I do plan to start another blog in the future, and I will post the link here.

Thank you so much for reading.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Simon Sushi
409 Spadina Ave

It is time that I got to one of the new additions to Chinatown, the sushi restaurant. I went to Simon Sushi with a few friends on a Friday night. At first glance the restaurant reminded me of any budget sushi restaurant that you would see on any main street of the city.

The menu at Simon sushi was massive and offered all of what the normal restaurant patron expects in a sushi restaurant. There are many different bento boxes, combos and specialty rolls. If you are looking for life-changing sushi you should not go here. This is not to say that the food is not good, but it is simply the difference between a well-crafted chocolate soufflé and a snickers bar. Both of which have their place in a person’s culinary experience.

When we walked in we were promptly seated at a table. Outside of the four of us there were many others like us—college aged groups of people ranging from couples to tables of six. We ordered hot sake and some edamame. I ordered a dish called chirashi, and my three friends ordered the sushi bento. All of the dishes were served with miso soup and salad, both of which were above average for a sushi restaurant geared at college students.

My dish consisted of many different types of sashimi on a bed of rice; the fish was firm and fresh. The others, however, got what I now consider the best quality low price meal I have ever seen in a sushi restaurant. They all had soup and salad, and then had a full plate of sushi including tuna, salmon and shrimp. The bento came next and had a choice of teriyaki meat (served along) with rice, shrimp tempura and dumplings. All of our meals individually were less than thirteen dollars. I was blown away by the above average quality paired with the huge quantity.

The food was above average for a restaurant of this caliber, and the service was prompt and polite. All things considered, my friends and I had a very good time and ate very well for what we paid. Simon Sushi is a great place to go with a group of people when you’re hungry and on a budget, for that I give it a B.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Golden Leaf Chinese Cuisine
307 Spadina Ave

Golden Leaf is the first really expensive restaurant I have reviewed. The original plan was for my father and I to go to another restaurant, which turned out to be closed for lunch. When we walked into the Golden Leaf what first struck me was the décor. It was very clean, with a modern touch. There was nice art on the walls, along with pictures of the famous people that had eaten there including many Chinese politicians and Bill Cosby. When we first got the attention of the waitress and ordered drinks I was a little surprised to find that when you ordered a Coke it came in the can, not in a glass with ice. When we asked for a glass with ice it took a very long time to get both the glass and the ice, which came separately. This service surprised me in what I thought to be a very high-class restaurant.

The manager seemed very helpful to all of the other patrons so I sought his advice for our order. He knew the food very well, but seemed to rush through our ordering process, and when I said that I did not want one of his recommendations he was very condescending. This ruins a restaurant for me. The Golden Leaf is a very good restaurant yet I do not feel that the menu contains very many dishes that most people would be unfamiliar with. It is also just bad house policy to force your recommendations on your patrons. In all of the cases of servers in Chinatown not being able to speak English, or rushing through a restaurant that is barely holding its capacity I have never had service worse than this server.

The food however is delicious. We ordered four dishes off the Dim Sum menu, steamed shrimp dumplings, enoki mushroom and veggie dumplings, deep fried shrimp balls with mango and stir fired turnip cake Singapore style. The two dumplings were above average but with no real innovation, except that the veggie dumplings contained enoki, which was a nice surprise after E-Pan. The shrimp balls were nice and fresh but the mango seemed like more of an afterthought, the turnip cake was sensational. This dish is usually served in three or four cakes that are square, sometimes with little bits of pork. The turnip cakes resembled gnocchi more then the traditional turnip cake and were tossed with lightly stir-fired veggies and with a lovely yellow curry Singapore flavour. I usually love this dish in its traditional form, but this innovation brought it to a new level. We also ordered hot and sour soup, which was good but the dish we ordered from the menu, honey and black pepper beef tenderloin with pancakes, stood out as much as the turnip cakes. We each got two pieces of tenderloin served on a soft thin pancake topped with a crunchy fried pancake and then topped with another soft pancake. This reminded me slightly of one of the courses in a rainbow chopped and crystal fold Peking duck meal, the skin is served on a pancake with hoi sin and a scallion and then rolled and eaten. For some the tenderloin in this dish may be served on the rare side, so I would recommend telling the server how you like it cooked.

As I have said previously it is food above all else, and the food here is wonderful. I cannot, however excuse, the manager for being totally condescending to a customer. Therefore what would have been my only other A restaurant so far is moved down to a B+.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

So sorry about the lack of updates recently. There are two on there way very soon. I promise.

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.

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