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Disappointing meal at Asian Legend

We had been to the Asian Legend on Yonge between Sheppard and Finch a few months ago, and enjoyed it, so we thought we would go there again. The whole experience was a considerable disappointment.

The restaurant itself is a far cry from the usual Spadina greasy spoon (or chopstick). Modern, trendy upscale décor, with clientele, and prices, to match.

For dinner, we began with a scallion and shrimp pancake. Very good, but almost impossible to prevent from falling apart (unless grasped firmly with the fingers). This resulted in bits of scallion and shrimp on the small plate, which you were expected to retain for the whole meal.

The wonton soup was also very good although as cool as the decor, but we didn’t have a chance to enjoy it. Almost immediately after serving it, the server reappeared with the first of our main dishes.

These consisted of Dan-Dan noodles, Szechuan spicy beef, and Double-cooked pork with spicy sauce. The Dan-Dan noodles - loads of noodles in a peanut sauce, were enjoyable, but got to be a bit of a drag after a while.

I suppose I am spoiled by the Szechuan spicy beef we usually have at Peter’s Chunking - tender strips of beef, crisp and spicy. What we got was beef strips, some so gristly that they had to be discreetly spit out, in a rather insipid sauce, not even that spicy.

As to the Double cooked pork, I would say do not order this dish unless your idea of dinner is large pieces of underdone pork fat. This was made, I suppose, of the same pork belly one uses for bacon, but, at least when I cook bacon the fat is rendered to the point of crispiness. This was just plain hunks of meat and fat, mainly fat. When my wife complained to the manager, he just shrugged it off, saying “That’s the style”. Maybe it is, but how about warning us, perhaps calling the dish “Double-cooked fatty pork in spicy sauce”?

Also, the table was much too small. It was big enough for a dessert and coffee in a bistro, but Chinese food is usually, as this was, served in large, communal; platters. As a result, the meal required constant passing and rearranging of platters.

As I left, I could not help thinking of the excellent meal I had had a few days ago at the Kenzo Japanese noodle house, for about half the price.

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  1. I have never had a good meal at Asian Legend, but lately it is spoken highly of on the board. That is why I am curious to know exactly what these fabulous dishes are at the downtown location??? I am still in doubt, but tempted to go back.

    1 Reply
    1. re: deelicious

      Asian Legend on north Yonge St. may not be listed among the best Chinese restos in town, but it's still pretty good. Good enough that I tend to get there a lot because I live not too far away, and would rather drive for 10 minutes there than across town for 30-45 minutes to a place that's only marginally better. I've had three of the dishes you mentioned, and have never, been disappointed. The scallion and shrimp pancake appetizer (No. 10 on the menu) is one of my favorites. I've never had any trouble with it falling apart as you had. The wonton soup is also a winner - though I'm surprised you were served it so quickly because I often get it much later in the meal (I guess it usually takes awhile to fashion those wontons by hand). And the Szechuan spicy beef is also a favorite of mine. Very tasty, never full of gristle. I've never had the pork dish you hated, but I've had other pork dishes (No. 101, bean curd with pork, though somewhat light on the pork), is exceptional. And to me, dan-dan noodIes aren't up to much, no matter which resto offers it. I guess you just hit the place on a bad day, though that's no excuse for the place. You've got a legitimate (Szechuan) beef.
      You're right about one thing: the tables for two are rather small there. But the young staff are very quick to clear the table of used dishes (often within seconds), so the tables never seem particularly small. If you go again (doubtful, I guess), try to sit at that long strip of tables for two directly in view when you enter the restaurant. That way, if the table on either side of you is unused, you can put your extra dishes on that table.
      I'm surprised that the manager brushed you off when you complained about the pork dish being so fatty. I've found him to be eminently solicitous, always ready to make things right.
      You're also right about Kenzo. A winner, and two can can eat very well for $30, tax and tip included. Maybe a tad more if, beside those tasty bowls of ramen noodles, you opt for a small starter of dumplings as well.
      I'd give Asian Legend another try, though. I've found it remarkably consistent over the years. And prices are easy to take, too - maybe a bit more than some of those Spadina Ave. dives, but not much. Though prices at Asian Legend have risen incrementally over the past couple of months, so they have also at most other Chinese joints, and much, much more so. I judge Chinese resto prices by the price of a bowl of steamed rice. It's $1.25 at Asian Legend (up from $1.20), but up to $2 at many other places that aren't nearly as good as Asian Legend.

    2. Never been a fan and find it way over rated on this board. There are tons of restaurants in Scarborough, Markham, Richmond Hill and Thornhill that serves more authentic, far better tasting Northern style Chinese cuisine. Its just a matter of knowing where to look.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Charles Yu

        We did, indeed, sit at one of the row of tables for two that Juno mentions. The suggestion that an adjacent table can be used for extra dishes is a good one, so good, in fact, that when we sat down it had already been adopted by a couple two tables away from us. We could not use the table on the other side, either, since it was constantly occupied while we were there.

        The staff is, to be sure, quick (sometimes too quick) to remove empty dishes. But when you have several main dishes, two sets of chopsticks, two spoons, two rice bowls, a teapot, two tea cups, two water glasses, a cruet of soy sauce and a dish of chili sauce on one of their tables at the same time, there's not much that the staff can remove.

        As to Kenzo, ramen with four gyoza on the side (with an excellent spicy dipping sauce) is just what I had. Some of the best gyoza ever.

        1. re: Charles Yu

          To Charles Yu:
          I've little doubt there are better Northern-style Chinese joints in Toronto than Asian Legend, and no one would know that better than you - you've tipped me to some real finds among the various styles of Chinese cuisine. But from my part of town, these finds involve what seems like a safari to the fringes of civilization. I'll do it occasionally, but an hour or so's drive through snarled traffic can take the edge off the thrill of the hunt. Asian Legend, on Yonge St. just north of Empress, is just a short drive from my place, making it a decent neighborhood spot if you know what to order from the voluminous menu. But if you - or anyone else, for that matter - can point me to a better-done Northern Chinese menu no more than 15-20 minutes from Asian Legend, I'll be there in a flash, possibly even tonight. If the tables for two are a little larger than what we get at Asian Legend, so much the better for sprawlers like ekammin and myself. Hell, I'll settle for ANY style Chinese place on offer in the nearby area - it doesn't have to be Northern - because Chinese is just about the last great cuisine available at all price levels in and around Toronto, from the dives on Spadina to the fancy joints on Highway 7. The difficulty is identifying the real good-value ones (which seem to blow hot and cold from one visit to the next) from among the dozens - nay, hundreds - of choices. It can be bewildering to us simple folk, though you've made it a lot easier the past few years with your detailed, perceptive reports from the front. At least Asian Legend is consistent and, occasionally, surprisingly wonderful.

          1. re: juno

            Hello Juno,
            Try driving north for another 5-10 minutes to 5 GlenCameron ( Yonge/north of Steeles ) and try out 'Shanghai Xue Yuan Restaurant'. Much better food and bigger more varied menu. Dumplings, pot stickers, noodles, spring onion pancakes.... more refined. Cooked entree dishes are also excellent. One word of warning! On a real busy night ( weekends ), the owner, not unlike the front manager of Susur, tends to curse and yell at the staff!! Just ignore the commotion and enjoy the food. My favourite dish - surprisingly a vegetarian one - Braised baby bamboo shoot in an oyster sauce based gravy on top of stirred fry pea shoot. Good luck and Bon Appetite!!

            1. re: juno

              In the same mall (5 Glen Cameron) is a decent Cantonese style Chinese Restaurant...my go-to place in your area.

                1. re: T Long

                  To Charles Yu:
                  Well, I got to Shanghai Xue Yuan, which you suggested as a more authentic alternative to Asian Legend for Northern Chinese cuisine, last night, and feel obliged to report. As you know, it's in a rather garish and somewhat rickety plaza off Yonge north of Steeles, devoted mainly to Asian restos and food shops. That means free parking, which is already a plus over Asian Legend, where you have to pay about $3 an hour for street parking till 9 p.m. Score one for Xue Yuan, a smallish joint with mainly round communal tables and a handful of tables for four. (Aside to ekammin, who started this thread complaining about Asian Legend's postage stamp-sized tables. At this place, you'll likely be led to a table for four, so you and your friend can spread out at your leisure, if you can get one on busy weekends.) But this was a Monday, and the joint was sparsely attended with what seemed to be local regulars, middle aged and serious eaters all, who don't look like they'd bother with the comparatively glitzy Asian Legend, where the younger crowd predominates. From a bewildering menu of more than 200 choices, my companion and I called for five items, including one which allowed us to compare with a similar item on Asian Legend's menu, and another suggested by Charles (at least, I THINK it was suggested by Charles, English translations in Chinese restos being notoriously skimpy on detail, so that you never quite know what you're getting till it's presented).
                  The food at Xue Yuan is very, very good. It's a touch more imaginative than Asian Legend, with clean, robust, intense, no-nonsense flavors - I guess that means it qualifies as more authentic, with Asian Legend being less complex, more gussied up and prettified, though still quite tasty. The dish at Xue Yuan that we chose to go head to head with Asian Legend's was just as good, and considerably cheaper (indeed, most dishes at Xue Yuan seem 10-20 per cent less expensive than Asian Legend's version). There are also a lot of dishes at Xue Yuan that you probably won't find at Asian Legend, if the English translations are anything to go on - though both menus are voluminous. Charles' suggestion, braised baby bamboo shoots in oyster sauce was particularly tasty and unusual (for me, anyway), though it's now done with stir-fried spinach rather than pea shoots, as Charles recalls.
                  Though Charles warned me that the proprietor tends to cuss out the staff in public, it didn't happen on this night, thereby robbing us of the floor show and a chance to learn some Asian expletives. Probably because the place wasn't too busy. Still, it's nice to see the boss patrolling the aisles, making sure everything's up the par. At Asian Legend, you get the feeling often that no one's in charge. Though the boss at Xue Yuan doesn't exactly exude charm, at least he's there.
                  Naturally, I'll go back. Hell, there are 196 other menu items to investigate. But that doesn't preclude Asian Legend. I've invested too much time (and money) working my way through its menu to ascertain the items I like. Asian Legend for sleek, stylish twists on straightforward menu items within a 10-minute drive from my place. Xue Yuan, just 10 minutes farther north, for unusual variety, slightly lower prices, authentic down-time cooking - and the possible chance to hear the boss deliver some choice Asian cuss words. There is much to be said for both places.
                  In short, Charles: you can be Chinese resto consultant anytime.

                  1. re: juno

                    That last sentence should read:
                    In short, Charles: you can be MY Chinese resto consultant anytime.

                    1. re: Cimmerian

                      We were reluctantly taken to Asian Legend, once again a couple of weeks ago, by friends who love it.
                      Can't understand the appeal.
                      The food is at best, boring.
                      However, at the next table were a Chinese couple who drive in twice a year, from Detroit, for their Peking Duck.
                      They love it.
                      It did look good,
                      Since this not a Northern Chinese dish, I was surprised.
                      Has anyone else had this dish here?
                      I told them to come to Chowhounds the next time they were coming to T.O. to find out where the best is available.

                      1. re: juno

                        juno- some more Xue Yuan suggestions lower down in this thread (you were a part of the asian legend discussion here as well)...

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/374856

                        i've never seen the owner fly off the handle, unfortunately.

                        1. re: Chester Eleganté

                          To Chester:
                          Thanks for resuscitating that old Xue Yuan post of yours for me. I recall browsing through it at the time and promptly forgetting it, assuming that I'd never drive THAT far north for Chinese. But by a fluke, I did order two of the dishes you recommended: the huge pork balls and the egg with shrimp. Both very tasty and somewhat foreign to my narrow Northern Chinese food experience. You are right, however, to suggest that one should arrive at Xua Yuan with a mob of fellow noshers, the better to sample lots of dishes. That would be lotsa fun.

                      2. re: juno

                        Just finish reading your detailed posting. Phew!!! I'm so glad you liked the food. My pleasure to help! Next time, try rounding up a few friends and order the deluxe ' Antipasto' platter to start. The smoked pomfret fish, Chinese 'headcheese'.jellied ham, sauteed prawns, braised soya beef shank, drunken chicken, shredded jelly fish.... etc that make up the platter will delight your palette. For comparison with Asia Legend, you should also try out Xue Yuan's pot stickers and dumplings. You'll find the skin a bit thinner, the broth inside the morsels a bit more flavourful and the dumpling base a bit crisper. The sign of a more superior product!
                        Lastly, let me know after you finish trying out the remaining 196 dishes. I'll provide you with the name of another good Chinese restaurant and you can start the tasting process all over again! Ha!! Happy Chowing!!

              1. As I live around Spadina and Dundas I took my parents there last night. Everything including the service and the meal was lousy. We had to ask for everything, water any sauces that usually accompany a dish ie Hoisin and where made to feel like we where bothering the staff. It didn't bother us too much because it was packed full (which it usually is at night with a long line up to the door down the stairs). The food was salty as hell. It wasn't just the soy sauce either. Oversalted and boring food. Kung pow shrimps tasted less than fresh with soy sauce peanuts. The noodle dish wasn't good either. Chunks of the base of a cabbage that where burned on the outside and raw. Massive hunks of unidentified bland meat and unnapppealing cheap squid. It is steadily becoming a place for tourists who feel they have discovered "Best Chinese Food Restaurant in Toronto" in some pretentious magazine like Now or Toronto Life. This local is not in a rush to go back. Living in C-Town now for quite some time, I thought that Asian Legend was the best all round restaurant for semi authentic chinese cuisine. I have found that the restaurants in the area have specialties with the rest of food not great.

                1 Reply
                1. re: food face

                  Asian Legend is good for soup dumplings the fish in chili oil hot pot. that's about it.

                2. On a side note, the great Shanghai Xue Yuan Restaurant talked about is no longer there :(

                  The same people have moved behind first makrham place, but I forget the name of the resto. Same food, much nicer atmosphere, still decent price, but not *quite* as good as before. It's jam packed all the time now though!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Wil

                    Are you referring to 'Ala Kitchen'?

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      Yes, A la Kitchen. I agree that it's not *quite* as good as it used to be. I'm attributing part of it to how much busier the new location is, and that they're not able to put as much care into their dishes as they used to. The new restaurant (Xin Tian) at that Yonge & Clark location is pretty good too, though the portion sizes are generally smaller. I noticed that one of the A la waitresses has come back to the Xin Tian location, and she seems way more relaxed now.