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chinese new year in chinatown

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My coworkers want to go out for a nice chinese dinner for new year. Any recs in chinatown? Not everyone is chinese but we want to go to a reasonable but good place. (Not Bright Pearl please)

A place with a good set menu would be nice. Thanks!

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  1. I've done New Year's dinner at Lai Wah Heen, and it's excellent. Even though it's pricy, it's worth it for Chinese New Year.

    1. LWH is good but do keep in mind it is high-end and super-pricey. The food is very good but you are also paying a serious premium for top level service, ambiance & presentation. If you like to eat a lot, LWH for some could break the bank and you might still be hungry afterwards. But if you want serious fine dining with ambiance & service to match, it or Lai Toh Heen are the top places to go in downtown Toronto.

      Some great Chinese food at much lower prices can be found at other restaurants, but you may have other things to contend with (e.g. the ubiquitous nasty bathrooms; set menus posted only in Chinese (so you need someone who can read Chinese; etc.) so it depends what you want.

      1. I don't think people are ready to spend that much yet. Would $30ish/person be an unreasonable budget?

        I know the nicer ones can go up to more than $100 per person but I don't know if that will be acceptable to everyone. Remember for some of my coworkers, this will be their first foray into real chinese food. Ambience would be nice but not a must. Good food is more important.

        14 Replies
        1. re: ctl98

          Do you want to eat in a food court or a restaurant? You'll get what you pay for. You really should reconsider your budget.

          aim for more like 40-50 per head and you can enjoy a nice banquet meal somewhere in CT.

          Otherwise, if you can squeeze out a little more money, I'm with the rest and rec LWH.


          1. re: HarryLloyd

            The Eating Garden in Baldwin Village might be what you're looking for. Straightforward Cantonese, linen tablecloths instead of plastic, no fluorescent lighting. Nothing adventurous but reliable. Or Lee Garden — can't stand the place (prices higher than they deserve to be, obnoxious crowds at the door) — but those who don't know any better seem to love it.

            1. re: Dimbulb

              lee garden = manchu walk with [near] LWH prices. AVOID!

              we really have to stop recommending food we would not eat ourselves.


            2. re: HarryLloyd

              Thx for the added info on what you are looking for ctl98.

              First, you *CAN* eat excellent Chinese food at that price point withiout eating in a food court, as long as you are not expecting high-end ambiance/service levels. Also, if anyone in your group speaks and reads Chinese, you may benefit from some of the more casual restaurants that cater to the Chinese community (e.g. they could read the daily special menus posted in Chinese/can communicate with wait staff).

              Based on what you want (moderate prices, good, tasty food, decent ambiance, downtown and suitable for first-timers) I would NOT recommend LWH. I am not saying it is not good, but it is priced at an extreme level for those who are just looking for good food & decent atmosphere, but don't need extravagance. Same goes for dim sum there. The extreme prices can really turn some people off.

              Instead, I'd recommend:

              - King Garden (see below post)
              - Pearl Harbourfront (might still be on the pricey side for you
              but manageable and if open, a great location at Harbourfront)

              These have good food at more manageable prices, ambiance is more business/Western oriented (read: actual table linens, no nasty bathrooms). There is a place on Dundas that would also be good & probably cheaper (organized a great CNY lunch last year there but the name escapes me at the moment), will repost when I remember.

              You can get good food and eat very cheaply at places like Grand (used to be Grand Seafood) and Pearl Court on Gerrard east of Broadview. Grand is very good AND very cheap - but is not for everyone re: ambiance (plastic tablecloths, nasty bathrooms, many of the special group menus are only posted in Chinese on the wall).

              One day, if you ever have a chance to go out of downtown and go northeast, you will get amazing Chinese food at less cost (maybe 20-40% less in some cases) and still with good ambiance too (e.g. Dragon Dynasty and a host of others out there).

              Good luck planning your dinner!

              1. re: balthazar

                It was Asian Legend we went to for CNY lunch last year. I liked it, I know there are other threads on this board with mixed reviews.

                1. re: balthazar

                  I'd avoid Grand. While they do have some "good days", these have been too infrequent to rely on. Not a good bet.

                  Pearl Court has been wildly inconsistent over time, ranging from extraordinary to pretty bad, sometimes at the same meal.

                  1. re: embee

                    I agree Pearl Court can be inconsistent.

                    I disagree on Grand. I eat there probably at least once a month and the food has always been good. Then again, often I am there with my parents who go somewhat regularly and order in Chinese, so that might help the quality control. Also we don't usually order the deep-fried stuff so it may depend on the dishes. Grand has been through a few ownership changes over the years and there was a period a few years ago when the food was inconsistent.

                    1. re: balthazar

                      I think your last line is one key. It has been Grand, Grands, Super Grand, and Grand once again, and I believe there have even more ownership changes without accompanying name changes. But your parents may also enter into your experience.

                      The service, for the most part, has been lacking. I've sometimes had to walk around to find someone to take an order, to get the check, and then again to pay.

                      Most of the food I've had has been simply mediocre, but some of it has been truly bad. Then one day they surprise and it's pretty good. We've tended to order seafood and to ignore the deep fried stuff. I haven't had dim sum there any time recently, but at least one Chowhound reported that they are nuking it.

                      This is a place I end up at far more often than I want to, and I'm rarely happy there. It's also quite gloomy most evenings (though I realize this is a neighbourhood phenomenon).

                      While this doesn't involve current management, I've been to some major banquets there. It was a special favourite of a past local politician and I recall (though perhaps erroneously) that Jean Chretien and his wife were at one of them. The service was better at these, but the food was always resolutely mediocre.

                      1. re: embee

                        Yeah, they still have the Chretien pictures up... I agree the food is average, but I haven't had anything nasty. I rate it as equivalent on the scale of Chinese food as what you'd expect from a casual family restaurant. Not fine dining, but inexpensive, everyday food. Sorry to your experiences haven't been good there, that was interesting to read. I agree the service there is spotty (the one guy who has been there since the early days is good, the rest not so much), but I don't have high expectations for service in that kind of restaurant. I agree too that it's declined from its early days, though (I think when it was the original Grand it was probably at its peak).

                        1. re: balthazar

                          I remember when Pearl Court filled up two floors and had lineups up the stairs and into the street. But that was very long ago. The reviews in the window are interesting to read; the dates on them even more so.

                          1. re: balthazar


                            Where do you stand on Grand? is it "excellent", "good" or "average"?

                            Please clarify. TIA.


                            1. re: HarryLloyd

                              Good, for quality relative to price point.

                2. re: ctl98


                  is a nice place for people who aren't into the whole chinese-restaurant thing i.e. who haven't yet experienced a bathroom at a chinese restaurant.

                  the food is good and you can go a little exotic without overwhelming. a chinese person would find it okay too.

                  you will need to call to find out pricing / format for CNY though, since it's not on the site

                  1. re: orangewasabi

                    I'm not chinese but every time I've gone to kingsgarden, majority of the patrons have been chinese. A good sign. I would consider this one of my favourite chinese restaurant. Their dimsum is top notch. It is on the pricey side but very civilized (clean washrooms, no dishes clanging and no plastic tablecloths). You get what you pay for. One of my favourite dish is what they call their version of "the hamburger." It consist of Peking duck pancakes with fried tofu and marinated, melt in your mouth spicey beef. Very decadent.It is also kid friendly. My 4 and 2 year old, love the pan fried dumplings. I too recommend LWH, I highly recommend their Peking duck.

                3. I recommend E-Pan on Spadina. They offer an excellent choice of well executed dishes, and generous servings. I am certain if you call ahead they will create a menu for your group that will meet your budget. it is also a nice room and very new.

                  The food is great. IMO You do not have to spend a fortune at LWH to celebrate and experience the Chinese New Year.

                  1. I think New Sky on Spadina north of Dundas is outstanding. Despite JKs fairly recent and glowing review, it is still turning out great food.


                    1. New Sky is outstanding but i recommend E-Pan as the food is just as good but the ambience is a level up for the same price.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: deelicious

                        Thanks deelicious. I haven't been to E-Pan yet, so I can't make any comments. Do I need to bribe a server to translate the specials on the wall (as I do at New Sky)?


                        1. re: Cereal Killer

                          Now that you mention it....there is a waiter at E-Pan who jumped ship from New Sky. Tell him you recognize him and that you are thinking of switching to E-Pan...if he can bring some great specials your way! I forget his name but on all my visits he has been the only male waiter.

                          I switch between the two and eat there weekly. Peggy at New Sky orders for us now....she always brings something new and different. Amazing.

                          1. re: deelicious

                            Does Peggy ever just sit down at your table? The first time she did that I thought she was going to eat with us (which would have been fine by me). As it was, she was just tired and needed to take a load off!

                            It's nice that she orders for you - it must save her the pain of having to explain things, or at least it seems that way to a Gweilo like me.


                            1. re: Cereal Killer

                              LOL yes she has a very tough time explaining in english. She loves her job though. And she seems to be very proud of what the resto serves. It is nice that she orders. She tries so hard to explain why she selects certain dishes for us and sometimes says it is because of the senses she gets from talking to us. So funny. But we have yet to turn back anything. She knows we dont like fried stuff and never brings the super oily items.

                              Sounds like you will probably reco the guy that left for E-Pan

                      2. I called New Sky and they gave me a range of $170-500/10 pax. What a range, eh? I think I will walk to E-Pan and New Sky and see what's up. Thanks for all the help and if you have any more suggestions, keep them coming!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ctl98

                          :) The range will vary depending upon the dishes included (e.g. Shark Fin or Birds Nest Soup will run the price up, so will seafood esp. sea cucumber). The more expensive stuff is usually more "exotic" so you may not want it anyway.

                          Check out what's on the set menus or work with the restaurant to plan a menu (see eco987's good suggestions below). If ordering Peking Duck, many restaurants need advance notice to prepare it. Second on that & the lettuce wraps, those are popular.

                          For soup, shark fin or bird's nest are both wonderful, but if that's too weird/expensive try egg drop soup.

                          The rule is generally 1 dish per person (so if ten ppl, order 10 different dishes).

                          Chinese lobster (e.g. with ginger, in shell): soooo tasty - but you have to fight with the shelled pieces (advance warning).

                        2. Are you sure a set menu is what you are looking for? Because a CNY one would have sharkfin, whole braised pork leg with that black hair like stuff, maybe goose-web feet, etc. I remembered trying to do a Chinese Set Dinner with non-chinese and all that stuff just went to waste.

                          I really suggest you think up a menu that your co-workers can agree on and go price shopping from there. I find a big hit with non-Chinese to be Peking duck with the 2nd course being the lettuce wraps. You should also consider the "woh choy" set menus that are like $20 for 3 people (and like increments of $5 per extra person/dishes) and you can choose from a list of 30 dishes, the food is always pretty mainstream. Just add a Peking duck to it.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: eco987

                            agree on the peking duck and lettuce or crepe wrap - always a hit!

                          2. If you have a favourite restaurant you should contact them ahead of time and ask them to create a set menu for you based on a budget per table and food preferances. Most chinese resaurants will accomodate such requests.

                            1. Maybe I will make up a menu for my coworkers. I, for one, like the exotic stuff and would rather have shark's fin, abalone, steamed sea bass, etc, etc, but I don't know if some of my coworkers would pay for that kind of food (and pay quite a sum of money too). I mean, one of my coworkers requested crispy chicken, so that indicates the "adventure level" right there. LOL!

                              But I'm hoping for a good mix of safe and tasty but maybe introduce a few new dishes. After all, that's why we're going out...to expand their foodie horizons.