Ala Kitchen in Markham - avoid this new Shanghainese wannabe restaurant
There's a new shopping complex opening up just south of First Markham Place (Hwy 7 and Woodbine) and one of the first shops to open up is yet another Shanghainese style restaurant called Ala Kitchen (Unit 18, 21 Fairburn Drive, 1st Markham Centre). We drove by and noticed that the place was packed, even though it had just recently opened in an otherwise wasteland of vacant store fronts.
We came back another day and decided to give it a try with a few of our friends. Ordered a set menu dinner for 4 for $40, and added a few other dishes to try too. Most of the dishes were smothered in a thick brown and painfully sugary sauce. A sweet and sour deep fried fish had overly hard crusty batter about 2-3 times thicker than the stale fish itself, and the sauce was about as neon glowing red as I've ever seen. The dumpling and bamboo soup tasted like hot water with a touch of salt added. The only dish that was done properly was the drunken chicken and cold fish appetizer.
Waitresses there around 3pm were more interested in refilling the vinegar and soy sauce at the emtpy tables and eating their own lunch (at a table right next to us) rather than serving us.
Overall a terrible experience. It's amazing how all these new Chinese restaurants pop up and people (including myself) will flock to try a place like this, only to be dissappointed. I'm guessing this one probably won't survive too long, given the horrible food they serve. Next time I'll know better, and wait at least 2-3 months after opening before trying yet another new joint like this without a previous recommendation.
The looky-loo phenomenon occurs in all Chinese communities throughout North America. It is the rare newly opened authentic Chinese restaurant (aside from holes-in-the-wall) that is not packed, as everybody wants to be the first one on the block to try the new restaurant. Heck I'm usually at the front of the crowd because I don't want to rely on what other people say, but want to determine for myself if the place is any good. And you're right--today's newly opened packed restaurant may be out of business in months.
We visited Ala's 3 times during our visit based on a Chinese cousin's initial recommendation. We thought the food was very good. Some of the best Shanghaiese food we've had, including in Shanghai.
The waitresses speak various Chinese dialects, Cantonese, Shanghaiese and Mandarin as well as English and were fast and helpful during our visits.
This restaurant was featured on Chinese TV about 6 months ago just after it opened. The lady owner did a great sales job so we gave it a try. Found the food mediocre at best, so never returned. Glad I found a closer and better place to my home in Northern Dumpling Kitchen in Times Square.
We ate at this place once a week ever since it opened, until it quickly went downhill. What a disappointment. We really enjoyed the chunked beef noodle soup with spinach pieces. Set dinners were so so. After while, we noticed a huge change in taste, portions and customer service and haven't been back since.
This place has been open way longer than 2-3 months... with regards to Chinese restaurants, IMO the best time to go is within 4 months, then the downhill effect starts taking place. The few times I went I found the food to be mostly good, though it may depend entirely on what you order (the menu's so large anyways).
Ala Kitchen isn't bad, their food is decent compared to most. My only complaint is that there is quite a bit of MSG and the price is on the expensive side.
There's a real hidden gem at Alton Towers (McCowan, south of Steeles) called "Confucious Restaurant". Their price is cheaper than most Shanghai diners, and all the food I've ordered was superb.
I highly recommend the Beef Tendon cold dish/appetizer as well as the pan fried pastry with meat/veggie stuffing (forgot the name, but they are listed right underneath 生煎包 on their menu). There is also little to no MSG in their dishes, as I am very sensitive to even small amounts of MSG in my food.
I think the only flaw I could find with that restaurant is their name... but give it a try if you're in the area!