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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.

                  1. I have to separate the food from the guy.

                    Personally for me, it's the food & the service I dislike. I just don't like his flavour choices -- some of it is dull to me, some of it is just unpleasant. Serviceswise, there's always some kind of a gimmick and way too many rules that makes it more about the establishment than the customer -- geez, if I wanted a monologue experience, I'd go to the opera. I eat out for the food and the service experience. I've eaten at Susar, Lee and Lotus, and felt the same way at each.

                    That said, I think the guy is focussed, passionate and I respect him as a artiste and businessguy.

                    1. I think Susur Lee gets more than his share of flack for things that occur all over the city, and not enough credit for the things he does better. I've eaten at both his current restaurants and enjoyed both for what they were.
                      Lee is a reasonably priced establishment. The dishes I experienced, while not necessarily 'cutting edge', were delicious and the ingredients were impeccably fresh. I had the 7 course tasting menu at Susur, and I was blown away by the presentation of his dishes, some of the flavour combinations he employed, and just the overall value for money.
                      Whether or not you appreciate his style, I think it's unfair and inaccurate to marginalize him as a manufacturer of "glorified Chinese food." He's someone we should be proud of as Torontonians.

                      1. I've only been to Lee - once - food was o.k. but disproportionally expensive, service was good, but the place gets loud and just doesn't feel welcoming, more like a "scene". I also saw the documentary, and Ithought it was revealing the way he meets with his people in the morning and rattles off this long complex menu of dishes to be conjured up for that evening - if this was supposed to show his genius it didn't work for me - he seemed to be making it up as he went along, and with, what I thought was a cavalier attitude - i.e. if some of these dishes don't actually work, so what. At Susur's prices, I agree with another poster I'd prefer to eat at an accomplished and dependable place like Scaramouche - no scene, just good food, great service, and the feeling that they like having you there.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: KitchenVoodoo

                          I watched that biography on Susur too, last night, LOL.

                          Last week's Macleans (I believe that's where I read the article) reported on Susur and stated that his employees feel that working with him is like working with that guy from Hell's Kitchen. A number have also filed complaints with the labour board regarding unfair work practices and unpaid wages, all of which he disputes of course.

                        2. Wasn't impressed by the food at Lee. Have not returned.

                          1. I have always loved our experiences at Susur.

                            I want to know one restaurant that serves the equivalent "glorified Chinese food' in Toronto at much low prices without presentation? I completely disagree that that is what Susur mostly serves up.

                            I also can't fault his restaurant or him personally because he showed up, what appeared to be late, to some event a few years back. As well, I can't imagine one thing cancelling out all the great things I have experienced at his restaurant and in his company.

                            We have always had excellent service by knowledgable staff. Sure, one time I was told I was served Pomegranate Sorbet when it was actually Pink Grapefruit - but I didnt feel the need to CALL THE POLICE on them. Nobody is perfect in my world....at any price. I can't imagine someone calling his waitstaff snobby when the same someone won't allow for a single mistake. Time to look in the mirror in my opinion.

                            I think he does a great job treating our city and guests to amazing experiences and chow.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: deelicious

                              "I can't imagine someone calling his waitstaff snobby when the same someone won't allow for a single mistake."

                              I'm always at the very least polite to and patient with my servers. I'm aware waitstaff are rushing around trying to juggle orders in their heads, remember that table X wanted a new napkin, or whatnot.
                              But the complaint I made about my experience at Lee is not one of mediocre or error-prone service. When I said pretentious and insulting, I mean he made us feel like we drove up in a beat-up K-car to a BMW dealership to try and buy an M3 (ie. Do you belong here? Can you afford to be here?). He had the audacity to tell us that he could order for us because it would be "easier" that way, and not in a helpful manner. It's not like we were dressed poorly (although should that excuse poor treatment?) nor spending half an hour browsing the menu. It's hard to describe his tone and attitude, but clearly he thought we would not be big tippers and wanted our table turned over quickly. We were taken aback but ordered drinks and 3-4 items per person. We could have ordered more but didn't bother. Looking back I wish we made a complaint at the time, or left instead of handing over hundreds of dollars. However, I granted that it was that single server who made the evening poor, but that is also the memory that I'll keep of that night. No one likes to feel like they are not welcome. I have not faulted Chef Susur for that, which is why I'm still willing to try Susur (the resto).

                              1. re: jinxed

                                Jinxed - how could you possibly stay? I would have ordered a couple of drinks - drank them, ordered some tap water, then paid the exact amount for the bill and said "thanks! but we won't be ordering...."
                                there are a lot of overpriced and overrated restaurants in the city, there are a lot of great, small, non-cache places in the city. Braised pork belly, foie gras, aged beef, much of these items are readily available to people to try and cook these things for themselves at a fraction of the cost.

                                But to hand over hard-earned money - its a shame. And whether Susur did it or not, the fact that his staff did it is as bad as if he did it to you. The staff is the face of the owner.

                            2. It's been awhile since I've been to Susur, (and seldom at that) but I am for the most part a fan. For a tasting menu, I personally think he does an outstanding job of avoiding repetition in flavours, and I think technique as well, over the course of the meal. And you don't get the same plates as your dining companion, which (if you share) gives you a very imaginitive grouping of dishes.

                              If you're looking for "intellectual" dining, it's a great place to appreciate good food. However, I'd say the service tends to be somewhat clinical, and lacking the level of warmth and attentiveness you'd hope for on a romantic night out.

                              I would advise "letting them do their thing" after providing your food allergies/aversions. A LONG time back (maybe 2004?) I had the disappointing experience ordering soup in place of a planned course and it was virtually flavourless (good dumplings though); regardless, waiting to be surprised is half the fun.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: urbnmns

                                Bingo urb! I have never been able to describe the waitstaff to my satisfaction because I don't find them , snooty, snobby or inefficient.

                                They are often "clinical and lacking the level of warmth and attentiveness you'ld hope for on a romantic night out! " BINGO! : )

                              2. Have eaten at Susur once, Lee never. I thought the menu we were served was more than just glorified Chinese. But it was hit and miss, with some courses being very innovative, other far far less so (e.g. foie gras on a plain bed of argula: seemed lazy to me, but the dessert plates we had were among the best we've eaten). But the service was borderline obnoxious, and there was definitely a social line of demarcation: in an almost empty restaurant we were seated RIGHT beside another couple, who we also found obnoxious, and furthermore our "sitting" was EXACTLY 2 hours. We were hustled out quickly before the later longer sitting. I understand there's economics involved, BUT when your paying $200 pp, you expect to be able to linger. I wouldn't return. I'd rather spend my money at a place that at least pretends their happy to have your patronage.

                                1. Wow, after reading all these posts, I realize how lucky I was. Hubby and I went for a birthday dinner and thoroughly enjoyed every minute and every morsel. From start to finish, this is one of my favourite dining experiences. Was it just a good night? I guess I won't know until I go back, something I entirely expect to do based on the last visit.

                                  But I forget that I live in a city and a country that seems to enjoy putting our own on a pedestal only to push them off some time in the future.

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: dinin and dishin

                                      I'm gonna humph this post. When we went to Susur (for my wife's birthday a few years ago) I had been looking forward to the meal for a week, like a kid at Christmas. I would have been more than happy to report a fantastic wonderful innovative experience, and I'm glad you've been lucky dd. But the service we got was just not attentive enough for me to go back. Like I said, I at least want the serving personnel to PRETEND they want me there. Methinks Susur is tipping his own pedestal. The food I had no real complaints with, and I do fall more on your side with respect to CY's issues.

                                    2. Any idea if they will air this documentary again? I'd love to know the title and check the TV listings for it.

                                      I have yet to try one of his expensive restaurants, but I plan to in the not so distant future. ;) Anyway, last Sunday I was making a joke about him with some friends because we've occasionally (2 times) seen him dine at Swatow restaurant on Spadina late at night. I jokingly said to my friends that Susur Lee's "got nothing" on the head chef at Swatow if he dines there himself. LOL

                                      About a half-hour after we joked about this Swatow chef actually being better than Susur Lee, we actually bump into him (en passant) on Yorkville Avenue with his whole family on Sunday afternoon. Don't know if his son was a mind-reader, but he gave me a dirty look because we laughed as we walked by Susur, his wife and sons.

                                      We only laughed because it was a pure coincidence we were talking about him and then we see the man who tied Bobby Flay in the Iron Chef bacon battle half-hour later! :) LOL

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: YummyYummy

                                        I believe it was called "At the Table" and this weeks featured guest was Susur Lee. Sounds to me like this will be weekly show with different 'celebrity' chefs each week on the Food Network.

                                        1. re: millygirl

                                          The show is indeed called "At The Table", the Susur Lee episode will re-air on Sunday, October 7th at 5pm.

                                        2. Never been to Sursur or Lee, but I have had the chance to acquaint few people that worked there over the past few years. All of them agree that Susur is a genius when it comes to cooking. He always seeks new ideas and somehow he can find a way to pair and balance foreign ingredients together. Yes, to some people it might be "glorified chinese food", but his background is chinese, why is it so surprising to eat something that resembles chinese food. Bottom line is, does his food taste better than the ones people have in other chinese restos? If his food is better, then i do not see any problem at all.

                                          However, because of his masterfully skill, I've been told that he can transform something cheap (cheap ingredients) into something totally amazing. Of course, I'm not claiming that ALL of his ingredients are cheap, but if he can satisfy the clients, why not charge the big bucks! In the kitchen, susur is not the nicest guy, but he's the boss, he can do whatever he wants to do. I'm sure all of us have had a crazy boss or some sort. Controversies create attention and attention creates cash, I won't comment on his food since I haven't dined @ his establishments yet, but I have to admit he's a pretty good businessman.

                                          1. Fascinating thread.

                                            I haven't eaten at Lee, but have eaten at Susur and at Lotus, and I preferred Lotus. I still recall, with misty-eyed nostalgia, a lobster bisque with a single, perfect lobster-stuffed dumpling in the middle: a glorious sino-french marriage. Lotus was also a more intimate experience, both for atmosphere and service. The tasting menu at Susur has been, in my experience, interesting, somewhat seminar-like, but ultimately unsatisfying. As I've commented elsewhere on this board, there is a gimicky feel to the experience, with the changing shade of light through the evening. I would hesitate to dismiss the cuisine as "glorified Chinese", but I understand, and mostly agree with Charles Yu's assessment above. I think that Susur Lee is hugely talented, inventive, but creates a meal which makes wine pairing impossible in an atmosphere almost calculated to kill any sense of bonhomie. I don't love him, I don't loathe him. I just can't be bothered anymore.

                                            1. I tried to go to Lee once a few years back and they locked me out because I had arrived 15 minutes early for a 6pm reservation. It was the middle of an ice storm (Dec 23rd, 2004) and the restaurant had called me frantically that afternoon, threatening that if someone wasn't there on time, they wouldn't hold my table (they'd obviously been getting a lot of cancellations because of the weather and figured threatening would get us all in there on time). So because traffic was a mess, I left early - and got there early.

                                              I wasn't even allowed to wait inside by the door, the staff were completely rude. When the rest of my party arrived (at five past six, when they *still* hadn't let us in because Chef was meeting with the staff - even though 20 people stood outside in the pelting ice waiting to be let in for their 6pm reservation), we didn't bother going back inside but took our business elsewhere. Good luck filling a table for six with walk-ins in the middle of a blizzard on Christmas weekend.

                                              Based on that attitude, I refuse to go to either Susur or Lee. If the staff is that obnoxious before I even get to my table, especially after I made a special effort to get there on time to accommodate THEM, I can't expect that the service would be at all professional.

                                              1. We gave Susur a try a couple of months ago and frankly it all depends on your mood and attitude going in.

                                                Mine was: for less than the price of Leafs ticket I can get entertained by a famous chef and his waitstaff if I'm prepared to just put myself in their hands and relax. My companion's attitude was: for these prices, and for how "famous" this guy is, this better be good. Guess who enjoyed it more.

                                                If you just drink it all in, its totally fascinating. The waitstaff are precise and fanatic about utensil placement - that was amusing; the food is inventive and thoughful - that was appreciated; the man himself was a brooding presence - it was like a movie.
                                                That doesn't mean that I can't get much better, much cheaper food at a Sri Lankan strip plaza on Lawrence East. Its just different, and fascinating, and thats part of the food experience in this city.

                                                11 Replies
                                                1. re: romanruin

                                                  I don't think Charles' original complaint was that the food at Susur's is Chinese influenced (ie. glorified).... I believe what he's saying is that he's serving some dishes, which at Susur's prices and fame should be quite original and/or especially tasty, that are instead basically a replating of typical (tho of good quality) chinese food, easily had at much cheaper places around the city.

                                                  I guess the point is that if Susur is going to serve chinese-influenced foods (among his other more European/Western cuisine), they better just that - influenced, and not just the same thing on a nicer plate. And if he's gonna be a purist and serve just the same dish, then it should be close to the level of high-end chinese restaurants around the world, if susur wants to be called a world-class place.

                                                  And to hammer it in, that's like if you went to a so-called upscale restaurant in shanghai offering "western"- influenced cuisine, and their "steak" was no better than a steak at the Keg, but they added some blackbean sauce...

                                                    1. re: Westfalen

                                                      I agree that is what Charles is saying. "he's serving some dishes, which at Susur's prices and fame should be quite original and/or especially tasty, that are instead basically a replating of typical (tho of good quality) chinese food, easily had at much cheaper places around the city."

                                                      But what I am saying is WHO CARES? If you want to isolate one or two elements you can tear anything apart. The idea of Susur is the entire experience. That is why you enjoy a meal over 3 hours. That being said, there is nothing wrong with the pork bellies served with frois gras, except that the pork belly portion is found at other restaurants. As part of your 3 hour excursion, they would be absolutely wonderful.

                                                      I lived in Chicago and ate at Charlie Trotter's many times. I would HATE to hear what people like Charles would say about his expertice. Imagine serving oysters on a shell like so many other restos do. Such nerve! Or beef tongue the way my grandmother made it.


                                                      1. re: deelicious

                                                        I was forced to enjoy my meal in a little less than 2 hours. Their choice, not mine. I would have been glad to enjoy my meal over 3 hours and have many times in the past. Just not allowed to at Susur. Why you and not me? Ida know.

                                                        1. re: bluedog

                                                          Their late seating is longer than the early. You were probably there early.

                                                          1. re: deelicious

                                                            True, true....but I still think that making people line up until the place opens at 6 (if i remember correctly), and then making them leave at 8, and forcing everyone to sit side by side in a near empty restaurant is really arrogant. Its more like a ride at Wonderland (food aside).

                                                            BUT having said that, after goign through vehement postings in this thread, I now want to go back and reform an opinion.

                                                          1. re: deelicious

                                                            There is nothing irrelevant about the critique by "people like Charles". This post is about a restaurant, and we are discussing the quality of its food. And moreover, we are not talking about a raw appetizer like oysters which don't require preparation - and if we were, at a place at Susur's, it better the freshest grade of oyster topped with an interesting, well thought-out sauce (or something).

                                                            Would you pay $50 to eat a multi-course McDonalds meal served up in a Susur-like environment?

                                                            Susur's food is obviously no McD's, but then again, it's suppose to be "world-class". And the dishes being noted by Charles are not simply appetizer-level dishes - we are talking about the defining dishes of the meal and of Susur(arguably).

                                                            The issue is standards. At a place professed to be the best in Toronto and among the best in Canada, the food ought to be something special - and not just something that would only get past people unfamiliar with the cuisine. Above average Chinese food is still just above average Chinese food. Ambience, service, plating, set-menu arrangement are all things that make the eating experience better. But the quality of the food does not change.

                                                            So does this all mean that Susur shouldn't be allowed to serve above average Chinese food in a upscale place? NO. But certainly it shouldn't be considered a world-class restaurant and it's probably overcharging and over-hyped.

                                                            And so what if food critics and some people rave about the food? Unless they have experience with quality Chinese food, the critiques aren't all that meaningful. That doesn't mean the food and the experience are not enjoyable, but let's not fool ourselves about the level of cuisine served there.

                                                            1. re: Westfalen

                                                              Have you eaten at Susur? There might be some use of Chinese ingredients, but I really wouldn't classify the food as upscale Chinese, or Chinese at all, for that matter.

                                                              1. re: eoj

                                                                I agree. Other than a few indicative ingredients, I wouldn't classify any dish I has as "Chinese." It was simply great and creative dishes that looked as good as the tasted and were served well. I think the discussion has veered off the rails a little.

                                                        2. i'm with dee. i find the food at susur to be excellent, and while i appreciate the OPINIONS of several of our more vociferous contributors, i find the tone and approach to be petulant, pedantic, preachy and not so much about food. despite protestations to the contrary, i don't believe the 'susur-detractors' have cited a restaurant that prepares an entire MEAL, not just a few dishes that compare, so put your money where your mouths are and tell us what you honestly think the alternative is. and give the lecturesome tone a rest.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: alisonb

                                                            I made ample comparisons to other restaurants, albeit not in our city. The comparisons are apt because Susur himself is labelling his cuisine as destination worthy. I don't think it's on the level of the 3 star michelin restaurants in N. America.

                                                            Closest Toronto restaurant in that regard is Splendido, again soley my opinion.

                                                            1. re: aser

                                                              I would think that comparing Susur on a global scale is of interest to real foodies wondering how one of their city's [often considered] best stacks up against the world's offering. I don't think there is anyone here suggesting that Susur is a 3 star Michelin candidate.

                                                              But that doesn't mean one can get the same dishes at many chinese restaurants in Toronto for much less money, any day of the week. And given that not all of Susur's plates are asian inspired, it would likely be impossible.

                                                          2. I hadn't anticipated that this thread would deteriorate into something so partisan. It would seem that it boils down to some will "buy" it (in the literal and figurative sense) and some will not. Judging from the contributions, it sounds as though history might be voting with its wallet.

                                                            1. I don't think anyone here is trying to compare Susur to any michelin star restaurant here. Susur's tasting menu is around $120, if you factor in the wine, it may come to $240, but then you have to pay the same in other restaurants for wine.

                                                              Please note that eating at these kind of 'famous' restaurant is expected to pay a higher price, just like LWH, the braised shark fin is $98 but the same thing costs $45 at Regal 16 in Richmond Hill. Whether it worths to eat at Susur for $120, it depends on factors such as whether you appreciate it's setting, his combinations on making the dishes, service, etc. Eventhough some may complain its service, but some do experience great service, so it is more like a personal experience.

                                                              I agree with Charles that some dishes are actually a re-packaging of typical chinese food which is found much cheaper in other chinese restaurants, which is really a turn off sometimes. The squab in Full House tastes even better than the squab course at Susur IMO ! But also, Susur is a talent chef who can make delicious food as most people here agree on, nice presentation, interesting combination.

                                                              Dee is also probably right that there is no other restaurant which can provide all the chinese influenced dishes Susur does in one meal in GTA, so it is some kind of uniqueness to it in GTA.

                                                              1. Oh what fun!
                                                                I was served a potato chip at El Bulli - the air fare alone cost over $1000! How dare he do that at those prices!
                                                                I think Susur is a talented chef who uses his experience and culture to produce meals that reflect his training and experiences.
                                                                I've seen him reject a soft-shelled crab at the 'pass' because it wasn't large enough as a 'regular' course (the small ones were used in the tasting menu) - that meant re-cooking the entire course for that table. That's the quality you can expect from Susur - and it belies the 22% food cost number mentioned above.
                                                                So far I haven't found any 'Chinese' restaurants that do that (although they may exist).
                                                                Additionally, in his tasting menu (I think last year, but may be 2 years ago), the foie gras course we were served (actually 2 - each diner got a different presentation) was astounding. One was 4 separate tastes, all linked by earthy/mushroom flavours/sauces; the other was 5 individual items, each with a fruit compote/accent. Of course, I'd tolerate foie gras almost any style - but tthat was the finest preparation I've experienced (matched perhaps in Gascony, where we were offered a foie gras trolley from which we could choose however many preparations we wanted - and could afford).
                                                                If anyone can direct me to a better place with comparable cuisine at a lesser price - please do, right now (NOTE: I agree with many of the service issues and I hate the backwards menu - I used to order several appetizers when he was still a la carte and specify the order of serving).
                                                                So I still go on 'special occasions' for food that, to me, is unique.
                                                                And his prices are comparable to the other high-end places in Toronto.
                                                                It ain't Michelin starred dining though! It's just Susur, doing his thing. I like it.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: estufarian

                                                                  raise the roof for estufarian!

                                                                  exactly what i was saying, if it's good, it's worth the price, period. If a restaurant (like Susur) is selling upscale burger and charges $120 per head, I'm sure people will be complaining about it as well. I understand the mentality, if you can get it for $10, why pay $50?

                                                                2. i've got to say... i've been loving this thread.

                                                                  susur is so polarizing that i feel many of you have revealed more about your food personalities than i've ever gleaned from previous threads.

                                                                  i will have to set aside some money to try susur for once and all.

                                                                  btw. i realize that perigee didn't come up in this thread... but i thought my meal was ridiculously uninventive there and if it's at all possible that susur can use lower grade ingredients than i received at perigee... well god help the toronto fine dining world.

                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                                    I've been to both Perigee and Splendido (honest, I'm not rich I simply spend a disproportionate amount on food, but not Susur and I found both places lacking in "greatness". The food was competently prepared, but I found neither the combinations nor the seasoning to be executed with great excellence. Just so I can prove that I'm not just bitter against places that charge high prices, I wholly enjoyed my meal at Fleur de Sel in New York at the same price point.

                                                                    1. re: Blueicus

                                                                      i always felt i was going against the grain with my perigee issues...

                                                                      but after besting the most amount of money i've spent on a meal by visiting tru in chicago (which is certainly at a much higher price point... although the exchange rate had a hand in that) and finding the meal worth every single penny and then some.... i can honestly say that perigee just wasn't worth it without any hestitation.

                                                                    2. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                                      Perigee has gone down hill during the past year or so. Its ommission from the latest Wine Access' Top 100 Canadian Restaurants list,.in a way kind of reflected this. FYI, Its closest competitors such as Splendido, George, N44, Canoe, Truffles all made the list. Others include Globe Bistro, Mistura, JKWB, Zucca...etc

                                                                        1. re: pescatarian

                                                                          Sorry! Not intended! Also surprise Rundle not on the list!

                                                                        2. re: Charles Yu

                                                                          i went to perigee in what was likely its prime... it's now been about 2 years if not a bit more.

                                                                          george also did not do it for me (also probably about 2 years ago). the well-received gnocchi at the time seemed pedaestrian in flavour and far too mushy for how expensive it was.

                                                                          a few friends on the same evening did a tasting menu and while i'll commend the seemingly flagrant use of foie.. it was absolutely greasy tasting that more than a tiny bite seemed like overkill. it actually got rather tiresome. how does one make foie tiresome??

                                                                      1. I couldn't resist but to put in my 2 cents worth.
                                                                        Susur was the first place I've ever tried a tasting menu. And after that meal at Susur's I was wowed and amazed. After, I've been to Splendido, George, Perigee, N44, Canoe, Truffles, Rain...you get my point. None of these places wowed me like Susur. I do admit that the service at Susur was a bit colder then other fine establishments but the food really set the bar high, especially for the foie gras.
                                                                        As for the chinese fusion part, have you ever tried RAIN? If your thinking Susr is a rip off, Rain is worse then. They give you beef brisket ( a little piece) and charging you a fortune when you can get a huge bowl for 3.50 at a chinese restaurant.
                                                                        And if you think Susur is expensive, what about harbour 60? over 20 bucks for the foie gras + 60 bucks for the steak + dessert and wine and water...Its the same thing. But you get less variety and a bloated belly ( is that called worth your money ) And how about the almost 50 bucks foie gras burger at bymark! Only a burger and as if their going to put a lot of foie in that meat.
                                                                        So aren't we being a little to hard?

                                                                        1. I'm in the love camp. Yes, it was ridiculously expensive to eat at Susur, but it was the best meal of my life. It was wonderful to eat such intricate, flavourful, beautifully plated food, and I felt very lucky to be doing so. My husband and I were reluctant to eat our next meal afterwards because our palates had been so pleasantly jarred by the experience.

                                                                          He's brought glamour and status to Toronto's food scene, and I am proud that we have a world-class restaurant like his right here.

                                                                          Don't get me wrong, he's not my God or anything, but I have tremendous respect for his creativity and vision. And I say all that even knowing that a good friend that worked there hated every minute of it.

                                                                          1. I just had my second fantastic meal at Susur. There were a number of differences from the first time (2001), but the food was still amazing. I found some of the waitress's delivery a little annoying in the "over friendly" sense, but given how well they took care of a food allergy in the group, I have to rate the service overall as excellent. A tasting menu is often not even an option for someone with a serious food allergy and at Susur, it was merely that there were small modifications to the dish... it was still as beautiful (and apparently as yummy) as what everyone else was served.