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Oct 1, 2007 07:42 PM


We watched a documentry on Susur Lee this evening and was trying to explain to my partner that there is this love-hate thing for Susur in Toronto. I have never been to Susur (or Lee for that matter) and could therefore not explain why some love, and others are not as fond of the man, or his chefmanship.

For those who have been, could you please explain what you love or loathe?

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  1. I've been to Lee but not Susur - yet!

    I don't plan on going back to Lee. I found it way too pretentious for a tapas-style restaurant. I thought the very essence of tapas/share plates-style dining is to have a relaxed and social atmosphere. Maybe it was just the fault of the waiter we had that evening, but his attitude towards my party was very insulting. Perhaps this is why Lee's management is harsh on the employees (as per the recent article on employee treatment at the restos, and the accompanying thread that was deleted from this board) - if you give poor customer service, the customers are not going to return. Not that employees deserve to be treated like $#!@, but neither do customers.

    Much of the food was very good. For this reason, I'm more than willing to try Susur. I've seen him running back and forth between the two restaurants, and talking to diners, so those are also good signs for me to give him a chance.

    4 Replies
    1. re: jinxed

      I had lunch at Lee 2 years ago on my birthday, I though most of the food was great, it did all taste good, and had no problem with the service or their vibe, the only thing I was disappointed by was that it was mostly business types schmoozing clients, thus just there to be going to the current hot spot, so the food was irrelavent to them, and the resulting atmosphere was kinda dead, contrived as if you were supposed top be having the best lunch ever...but maybe that's just lunch, maybe just my impression at the time...

      1. re: Recyclor

        Having eaten at both Lotus, Susur as well as Second Harvest, which he was the 'star of the event', I think I can be in the position to offer my 2 cents worth:

        Food - Most of his cuisine are just 'glorified Chinese food' in flashy plate presentation which he try to pass on as Fusion Haute cuisine. Might fool some, but not all!

        Service - Inconsistent, hurried and pretentious. Very often, wait staff have problem explaining about the food.

        Wine - Susur's 'reversed ' order tasting menu makes any decent and successful food and wine pairing virtually impossible. How can anyone get full enjoyment from starting off with a full bodied red for a meat course and then follow up by a light fruity white for a fish/seafood course. The tannin of the red is going to kill the palette and taste bud

        Person - Based on experience during a Second Harvest charity event a few years back, I find his attitude extremely arrogant. Not only did he walked in, nonchalantly, one hour late. The offering he provided was some cheap tomato water concoction, (whilst his peers, which included Mark McEwan, Jamie Kennedy, David Lee, Chris Macdonald, Keith Folgett.... were all busy presenting dishes using exotic and expensive ingredients such as foie gras, lobsters, Arctic Char and venison.), which at $ 250+ per head, is totally unacceptable.

        1. re: Charles Yu

          I had the same feeling for him during that Second Harvest charity event.
          He was serving gazpacho which was probably the cheapest item there. I don't know if that's consider sneaky.

          1. re: Charles Yu

            Charles has said it all.
            Agree with him 100%

      2. Been to both. For me, it is two different restaurant with much better food at Susur. I really suggest you skip Lee and go directly to Susur if you want to try Susur Lee's food, even though it is much more expensive at Susur. I am not sure why others do not like Susur, maybe they think it is just some bland food in some kind of asian fusion style ?! For me, the food is delicious and the service I had there is great. Maybe he is not a nice guy, but I enjoy my dinner there.

        1. Susur is one of a few great International Chefs. Some of the most innovative food we have ever experienced have come from his kitchen. He's not for everyone.

          1. Have been to Lee, not Susur yet. I don't love or loathe him. He seems to be a good businessman/chef - nothing wrong with being able to be a good businessman in addition to being a good chef. We were about 8 of us there for dinner and we were not rushed, we had a very good waitress, we did share the small plates the way they are meant to be enjoyed. The food was good (I don't remember anything resembling "glorified Chinese food"). I would go to Susur given the opportunity.

            Re the love/loathe, I think people love to hate successful people who are over-publicized. I think their food is also judged differently for having that persona. The persona gets them more recognition and business, but also more scrutiny.

            11 Replies
            1. re: pescatarian

              I've been to Susur, not Lee. I don't have feelings either way for him personally but I hated the restaurant and would not go back. We were in a party of 8 and throughout the entire meal servers were screaming at us - those with square plates have blah, blah, blah, blah with a blah, blah on the side. Those with round plates have.....! Couldn't wait to get out of there. Thought the food was WAY too complicated and over the top. My husband asked for pepper and was told Susur doesn't serve it with pepper. Well Susur was not footing the bill. Give me a break!!! At those prices, I would much prefer a meal at Scaramouche.

              1. re: pescatarian

                The following recounts some of my Susur's ' Glorified Chinese Food ' experience. If one would include inputs provided by friends etc., the list will be far more extensive. However, I do not intend to include ' hearsay' in this forum.

                1) Whilst dining at Lotus over a decade ago, I ordered a rather expensive calamari appertizer course which consisted mainly of ' deep fried squid/cuttlefish pieces in a light batter'. I was amazed to find these morsels resembled and tasted exactly like the Chinese Dim Sum dish - ' Deep fried squid tentacles with spicy pepper salt. This latter dish is readily available in most Chinese restaurants serving Dim Sum lunch in the Markham, Richmond Hill, Scarborough triangle. By adding some mesculan greens and a hyped up dressing/dipping sauce, this dish was passed off as some fine dining creation!! No way!

                2) At Susur, a meat course consisted of 'Foie gras and braised pork belly'. Again, the pork belly looked and tasted exactly like the Northern Chinese dish ' Dung Bor Meat ' ( a slow braised chunk of pork belly or hock in soya sauce, Chinese rice wine, five spice powder, star anise, Szechuen peppercorn, tangarine peel, ginger and spices...etc ).Again, this dish is very popular amongst most Chinese household, due to its ease of preparation, and is also readily available in most Shanghainese/Northern Chinese restaurants such as Shanghai Bund. However, the addition of a piece of seared foie gras by Susur helped to transform this ' Chinese soul food ' to instant 'Haute fusion cuisine'! Sorry! but this won't get pass me!!

                3) Again, a squab course I had at Susur. This time, the familiar smell of five spice powder was in evidence in the bird. A closer look and taste revealed the bird was indeed like the ' Cantonese roasted/fried pigeon ' served in restaurants like Maple Yip in Scarborough or Full House in Richmond Hill. The only difference about the Susur's version was that the bird was prepared a tad more rare ( like the French ) and the breast was sliced up and fan out ( again like the French magret de canard approach ). In Chinese restaurants, this crispy skin bird is usually served, cut up, with spiced salt and Worcestershire sauce. By drizzling some fruit base/wine reduction around the bird and presening it more artfully, this traditional Cantonese dish was ' glorified' into an 'upscale haute fusion creation'!! Again, an approach that I won't buy!!

                Anyways, a meal at 'David Lee's' Splendido is much, much, more enjoyable!! The food, the service, the wine!! Now, this is what real fine dining in TO is all about!!

                1. re: Charles Yu

                  So would you complain about cassoulet at an upscale French restaurant ... because, gosh darnit, it's peasant food? You seem to have missed some of the point ... it's not that everything is an innovation, but that everything is delicious, top quality ingredients, well-prepared, etc.

                  1. re: eoj

                    According to postings of some fellow chowhounds, they reckon Susur is Michelin star standard ( 1 or 2 ). Now, if I go to an upscale Michelin 2 stars in France, order a 'tasting menu' and one of the dish is just a traditional cassoulet, I will be dissappointed and upset. Whether the 'peasant food' taste good is not the point. I would expect an 'upscale Michelin star restaurant' to be more creative and sophisticated and serve dishes that commensurate with its stature and price they are charging. If I'd known an upscale restaurant serves cassoulet or pot au feu or Coq au vin as part of their tasting menu. I would have gone to a good 'bistro' instead!

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      So misguided in my opinion. Most everything is a derivative of something known. And nobody here has agreed that Susur makes just-traditional anything.

                      A taste of Coq au vin made with a great old rooster with champagne or vin jaune and matched with morels or truffles and cooked to perfection would be exciting and welcome in my opinion.

                      Susur elevates known items with expertice. Like I said before, unless he is going to begin serving german sheppard, I can't see how any chef can create a full tasting menu that isn't reminiscent of something else.

                      Doesn't make any sense.

                      Maybe one day you will have a chance to try Robuchon's mashed potatoes!

                      1. re: deelicious

                        Hi deelicious. Your Coq au vin is a great example and sounds exciting! Welcome in my opinion too! May be some of our top chefs should import some free range birds from Bresse, cook it as you suggested and put it on their menu!

                          1. re: deelicious

                            I know for a fact that both David Lee of Splendido and Lorenzo Lazeto of George both read Chowhound postings. May be they'll get your hint and do something?! Hope Marc Thuet, Pascal Ribreau and Didier Leroy also read this too!!

                            1. re: Charles Yu

                              With all due respect Charles, I think any great chef with integrity will choose to accomplish his/her own vision without cow-towing to the masses and/or what people on Chowhound want on menus.

                              That said, I am craving Coq au Vin...

                          2. re: Charles Yu

                            importing Bresse chickens and other exotic wild birds will not happen legally.Bird flu and the Canadian government's ban on wild birds has put an end to that.There probably isn't even such thing as a free rangs Bresse anymore. I remember not too long ago roasting a Bresse chicken from a private order and it was spectacular! If memory serves Matthew Sutherland was getting male birds and doing a true Coq au vin.

                            1. re: phisherking

                              Interesting. The only time have had real *coq* au vin, it was Mathew Sutherland making it, as well. It's a completely different dish.

                2. I've only been to Susur once, 3 yrs ago on my birthday, in a party of 4. We all had tasting menus; one shellfish allergy, one vegetarian, one omnivore and one omnivore with wine. It was a busy weekend evening but teh service was flawless and everyone was very happy with the food. Susur stepped out into the dining room once to look around. I felt despite the price it was good value considering we all had different meals and there weren't any kitchen errors to the respective diets. I'd go back but have not due to price. I haven't been to Lee, but the "vibe" and food comment/reviews from friends who have eaten there have turned me off.