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Dec 30, 2007 06:44 PM

Peter's Chun King

Joanne kates, in her newspaper column this past Saturday, singled out Peter's Chun King as one of the worst restaurants in Toronto. She especially criticized the dumplings, which I have always thought to be unusually good. Anybody care to comment on their opinions of this restaurant?

P. S. One of her criticisms, about the toilets being less than salubrious, was quite, IMHO, accurate.

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  1. I've always made it clear that I have no respect for Kates' reviews, though I do read them and have always admired her ability to keep her job.

    I find her awarding a "worst restaurant" trophy to Peter's Chun King amusing, if only because of the unimportance of the place on the Toronto restaurant scene.

    We eat there every couple of months. They make a few dishes that we like. The dry shredded beef is a favourite and is not generally available downtown. We tell them how we want it and our "regular" waiter, who has been there forever, follows through. Other waiters haven't, and we just send it back when this happens. The few other places that serve this dish insist on making it virtually candied, which we don't like. We also like the vegetarian chili garlic eggplant and I usually like the chili chicken with peanuts and cashews. The hot and sour soup varies, and is sometimes great and sometimes pretty blah. Beyond these few dishes, we've always found their food pretty forgettable - especially the seafood dishes. We've never tried the dumplings. The steamed bread, which I used to enjoy, tends to be unavailable or gummy these days.

    Peter's is a tired old restaurant that has been there forever and is coasting to oblivion. It sort of runs itself with little input from the management. It is gloomy, and several redecorations over the years have not relieved the gloom. The washrooms are hardly a high point, though I have certainly seen worse. I've rarely seen a Chinese face there in many, many years, which speaks volumes.

    7 Replies
    1. re: embee

      I partially agree. Peter has been around since about 1976! Certainly the restaurant has seen better days, but the food is still reliable - perhaps not as good as the 'glory' years but still pretty good.
      I think the basic 'problem' is that they've tried to hold prices constant for too long. It was always a bargain (for the quality delivered) but the competition in the downtown Chinatown is so fierce that most owners are reluctant to increase prices. This leads to a combination of smaller portions and/or cheaper ingredients and/or little spending on maintenance. Peter doesn't skimp on portion size so some of the other items are under pressure. The hot & sour soup (formerly a standout) now contains fewer ingredients (e.g. no shredded meat, no dried shrimp) and seems to be vegetarian. Still tasty, but not the same as it once was.
      But I still think they do everything 'well' - I get there about every 3 months and rarely get a bad meal. Agree on the outstanding Szechuan Shredded beef; the brilliant Chicken with Cashews and peanuts and I'll add the Sauteed Green Beans.
      The seafood dishes have suffered because of ingredient cost, although I still like the Orange Shrimp.
      And the Dumplings are excellent (although I haven't had them in about a year).
      It's still my favourite place for a medium/large group though. Something for everyone and reasonably priced.

      As for the Kates thing - she was out to 'get' Chowhound this year! In several of her panning columns she mentioned that 'internet sites' were all abuzz about some places (e.g. Mother's Dumplings - also on her bottom 10 list).
      Let's face it she's only one voice - and we have many voices here. Three of the restaurants I frequent fairly regularly are on her worst 10 list. I've only tried 3 of the top 10 (and one of those was in my top 10 too). But it's VERY heavy on 'transplanted chefs/owners'. I find it problematic that chefs/owners who leave a place (several under cloudy circumstances) then somehow manage to open 'top 10 ' ranked places almost immediately! Examples this year: Claudio Aprile, Greg Couillard, Folks at Amaya, Sam Girgis, Simon Bower/Scot Woods - I guess we residents just don't appreciate all the talented chefs who haven't demonstrated commitment to a restaurant (was going to write successful - but many weren't)!

      1. re: estufarian

        I think I came across as more negative than intended. Seafood aside, most of the food at Peter's is adequate - not overtly bad, but not at all special. The dishes I mentioned are things we like enough to return for regularly. However, unless in a large group, we rarely order anything else anymore.

        It's still a good value spot, but I feel they have less competition than ever. You likely remember the days when many Spadina area restaurants served the exact menu originated by Paul's Deep Sea Shantung. None was as good, but there were decent options. Few places serve this style of food any more. I believe there's another "Chun King" place around the corner, though I haven't been there in many years. Henry's Hunan Palace was another old favourite, but they closed. Henry reopened further west on College, but the spark was never there and they closed again a few years ago.

        I agree with your comments about the chefs, but I look at it from a different angle. Toronto remains a place where people go somewhere because there's buzz and then abandon it. How else to explain the long term success of places like Sassafraz? My hunch is that chefs learn pretty quickly that they don't need to knock themselves out delivering the best they can because their success (or failure) doesn't necessarily follow. I KNOW Susur can cook better food than he serves much of the time. Ditto Pat Riley, Jamie Kennedy, and others. I remember Greg Couillard cooking amazing food at a little dive in the Queen/Jarvis area. But we don't demand the best and don't necessarily reward it. It's true in areas other than food. The Toronto Symphony plays much better on tour than at home. Developers who build stunning condos in Vancouver build similar buildings in Toronto that are blah or worse. It's our municipal psyche.

        1. re: embee

          I really enjoy Peter's CK dumplings, the garlic pork, the pork crepes and so forth. Gourmet ? no pretense. Service ? the waiter always remembers what we like - a darned sight better and more friendly, in a reserved chinese restaurant way, than a lot of self-important high-end eateries !

          1. re: Bigtigger

            Embee asks about the success of places like Sassafraz. I'd like to mention that Sassafraz was also on Joanne Kates' list of the worst restaurants.

            1. re: ekammin

              Duly noted, but my point is that they have managed for years to maintain a buzz about the place that attracted all of the "celebrities", the gawkers, and the poseurs despite a profound lack of good food. (I have no idea whether this will resume, but they sure had a good run.) In essence, Toronto is one of those places (undoubtedly not the only one) where great food at value prices doesn't hugely improve one's likelihood of success and crappy food at high prices doesn't portend failure. Ditto for the arts and architecture.

        2. re: estufarian

          Surprisingly enough, estufarian, I had this exact same reaction, with some of my faves in Kates best, and some of my faves in Kates worst. Peter's USED to be fab, now it is merely OKAY..But still worth a visit now and again. According to my calendar, I was last there in 2006. My son loves the place...

          What was Kates thinking about in Mother's Dumplings? You cannot knock a place on a ten best or ten worst -- on the basis of one or even two visits...

          1. re: Dean Tudor

            I did a quick check of Kates reviews over the last year and my impression is that she may have published opinions on 30-40 (I didn't count) establishments in the GTA. From this she compiled her top 10/bottom fair enough, this is her opinion and she knows what she likes/dislikes. Not as familiar with her work as others on this board, but it strikes me that she keeps going back to a place like Sassafraz and keeps knocking it time and time again, but will ignore other places like the Pearl at Harbourfront which she wrote about 20 years ago. I enjoy reading her articles, but now have a better sense of how to use her ratings.... eg. I disagree with her view on E-Pan.

      2. Their Peking Duck is pretty decent and "old school" - unlike most other restaurants downtown which deep fry the ducks and serve huge chunks of meat with the skin, they still roast them and serve skin only as the first course.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Teep

          embee, I've been looking for dry shredded beef for years! About 20 years ago there was a resto at the corner of Bathurst and Eglinton - come to think of it maybe it was called Chun King....could it be the same owner? They had the best dry beef ever and I've not found it since.

          1. re: millygirl

            Yes. That was Chung King Seafood. Same ownership. They moved to the current (College Street) location when the other place closed.

            And, I only order the Szechuan Shredded Beef ( which I think is the same item) when the restaurant is fairly quiet. If it's busy, they may combine orders (if more than one table orders it contemporaneously) and the multiple cooking portion doesn't seem (to me) to have the same texture as when an individual portion is prepared.

            1. re: estufarian

              I think there's a bug in adding links - didn't add on this (and a few other recent posts:
              Peter's Chung King
              281 College Street Toronto

              1. re: estufarian

                Oh good to know, thanks. I had no idea they had opened in another spot but then again, back then I wasn't the foodie I am today :) Danforth Dragon at Donlands and Jones does a dry crispy ginger beef which is pretty good, but it always takes me back to that little restaurant in the plaza at Bathurst and Eg.

        2. Do any of you know where one can get the Szechwan shredded beef north of Lawrence? I've never tried the Peter's Chun King version, but regularly get take out from the "other" Chung King around the corner on Spadina (along with the sauteed green beans -- I guess these places are consistent in doing these couple of dishes well). I'll have to try the Peter's versions of these dishes to compare. But they definitely fill a semi-regular craving for me.

          7 Replies
          1. re: TorontoJo

            Not surprisingly, the Spadina Chung King was also part of the ancestry leading to 'Peter's' version. All are descended (pause to bow head) from the original Paul's Deep Sea - maybe the most influential restaurant in Toronto's history. Not only do the original 'Paul' dishes still survive from the early 70's but they even have the same menu #'s (The dumplings mentioned earlier in the thread were #1 on Paul's original 4-item menu and are still 'Special #1' on many (most?) Szechuan menus today (in Toronto)). Paul was a server at Paul's Deep Sea Shantung (rebirth #1) and part of the breakaway group that opened Chung King on Spadina - which further splintered, one of which is now 'Peter's'. Certainly I've seen identical menu item #'s all over Toronto, but can't help north of Lawrence.
            But another point - I 'never' do this dish as take-out. The crispy outside goes soggy while being transported which, for me, detracts from the texture, hence the enjoyment (same issue as why I don't order it at busy times - the cooking seems to need a very hot wok to crisp up the outside of the beef - if a double portion is cooked the crispiness just doesn't quite make it for me.
            I seem to recall that the small Garlic Pepper chain also featured this dish. The one on Yonge south of Bloor is pretty bad and no shorter than visiting Chung King itself - but IIRC there was another one on Yonge near Sheppard.
            An attempted link only found the Yonge/Bloor location, but a Google search also found a reference to:

            Garlic Pepper Szechuan Cuisine
            3330 Yonge St., Toronto, ON M4N 2M4
            Phone: 416.481.6363
            Don't know if this is still there.

            1. re: TorontoJo

              There are a few places in the "far north" that that have this on their menus. I haven't sampled it at any, so can't comment on the prep or quality.

              I know they have it at China Hut on Kennedy at Ellesmere, but I've only had the "Hakka" (Indian fusion style) food there. I have had some difficulty getting past the "white guy" treatment. (The food has been pretty decent in the end, though not great.)

              They also have it on the menu at a couple of places in the mall behind the Pacific Mall on Kennedy north of Steeles. I can't remember the name and there are quite a few restaurants in that mall. The service and food at the one I tried were very good, but I didn't have that dish.

              Do NOT order this at Yen Ching in Bayview Village. You will get deep fried lumps of batter encasing tough beef with string beans in a sauce. They may have it at Peking Man on Sheppard, but I haven't eaten there in a very long time.

              1. re: embee

                Thanks, embee and estufarian! Sadly, I've tried the dish at Yen Ching and it was horrible.

                The take out from Chung King does lose a bit of its crispiness, but enough of it still remains for me to enjoy the texture. I love the crispy/chewy beefiness of the dish. Mixed with some plain steamed rice and the sauteed green beans, and you have the makings of one of my favourite comfort food meals. The atmosphere at Chung King leave so much to be desired that I must admit I have a hard time eating in.

                Actually, the last time I called Chung King for carry out, their voice mailbox was full -- I got the impression that they may have been closed. Does anyone else know?

                1. re: TorontoJo

                  Aah! The sauteed green beans.
                  I shall now stand up and take a bow for that dish.
                  Way back (I think 76 or 77) my top 2 restos in TO were Paul's Deep Sea (on Queen) and Shantung (on Dundas). When I visited Paul's he told me they were moving (to the now bankrupt Shantung location) and he asked me what were my favourite dishes there, because he wanted to entice back as many 'old' Shantung customers as he could. I gave him a list and he expanded his 'Specials' list from its previous 10 to 20 (IIRC) so all the additions came from the former Shantung menu. At his subsequent 1 year anniversary at the new place I was invited to a party there to celebrate, and one of the dishes served was the Green Beans - it was a dish prepared (as was everything) by Paul's wife and I pleaded with Paul to add it to the menu - which he did when the specials went up to 30. Incidentally that was also the occasion where I met Peter, almost straight off the boat with more enthusiastic than competent English. I understand that the green bean dish was one of those 'home-style' dishes that they thought was too simple to put on a restaurant menu.
                  Incidentally, Peter claims to have seen Paul about a year ago - but is still close-lipped about the eventual downfall, around which several rumours still circulate (and have also been deleted from this Board in the past).

                  1. re: TorontoJo

                    No, they are still there. For take out I don't bother to call. I just go there, give them my order, and sit around occupying a chair until it is ready, usually about 15 minutes,.

                    1. re: TorontoJo

                      Chung King has closed on Spadina but rumour has it has moved up near Pacific Mall. There was another thread recently with the address.

                      1. re: crawfish

                        We ate at Chung King Garden tonight. It's as good if not better than I remember Chung King to be. The decor is definitely better. We had the same 3 dishes we always have: Szechuan Shredded Beef, Spices Chicken and Broccoli in Garlic Sauce. The Spices Chicken was excellent, the Beef was great, better than Peter's Chung King which we tried in desperation a few weeks ago. Nice long strips, crunchy, chewy and beefy somehow. It's right across the parking lot from the Pacific Mall near the Korean BBQ place.

                2. Peter's has been a favourite down here for years. I've been going there for 20+ years. Their Spicy Chicken with Peanut sauce is a lunch time hit. They can't get it out of the kitchen fast enough.

                  Reviews are subjective .. and yes not everything on the menu is a hit and some of them can be a real miss . . but if you know what to get . .you won't be disappointed. I mean, come on, they've been around like forever and they're always busy. If it was that bad, they'd have gone out of business years ago especially since they are so close to so many other Chinese restaurants.

                  1. we found it closed a couple of weeks ago (this is July 2009). anybody know what's going on? is it permanent? are they going through renovations? i'm talking about the restaurant at 289 College st.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: adf1962

                      I read on a different thread that they are indeed closed for good.

                      1. re: acd123

                        thanks acd .. can u point me to which thread?


                            1. re: adf1962

                              i walked past there today and they're opening up a Sushi restaurant . . Sushi King i think it's called.

                              1. re: adf1962

                                Yes, we went to College and Spadina this evening to go to Peter's but found a sushi place there instead.

                                Too bad. Not that Toronto doesn't have other good Chinese restaurants, but I have never had dumplings like Peter's, anywhere. Maybe, wherever he is, he can make them available, frozen, at supermarkets.