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Sep 2, 2008 05:39 PM

Thoughts on Asian Legend? - New location on Sheppard at Brimley (review + pics)

The golden rule with new Chinese restaurants that are a part of a chain is to go when they first open. This is when the phantom (yet quite legendary) traveling cooking team sweeps into a kitchen and builds a sparkling reputation for the new restaurant. After a couple of months, once the reputation has been built up, and people come in droves from near and far, this traveling team of entrepreneurial chefs move on to the next great assignment. Not that I am saying this is was is employed at Asian Legend specifically, but I am just saying that this has been known to happen at many new Chinese restaurants.

So I decided to go against my rule of never going to chain restaurants. And guess what? The food actually wasn't too bad.

Mind you, it wasn't mind blowing - but the dumplings were solid, and there was not to much fat even though pork was used. The pork was not too heavily seasoned and was actually quite light tasting. They were stuffed alongside dried conpoy as well. Folding was a tad sloppy, but I am just nitpicking.


Here is a photo of fresh dumpling making magic:

Kung Pao chicken was another story. It was a bit too oily for my tastes, as well as too spicy. I am more accustomed to Cantonese fare, so Northern Chinese food is a bit too full of fire for me. But since this was a signature dish from the North, decided I should give it a try.

Kung Pao Chicken:

Next up, a mango fish. If only they hadn't used canned mango pulp/meat, but then again, it wouldn't be $14 if they had used the flesh of several fresh mangos... The fish was expertly fried - nice and light with very little batter. Nice fish, if only the sauce was less sweet and one-noted (needed more seasoning/flavour to the sauce, instead of just mango pulp). Exceptionally large serving of fish for a good price.

Mango Fish:

Softshell crab was a tad of a disappointment. But at 2 for $7, who can really complain? It lacked the flavour and sweetness of a softshell crab I would have from, say, Zen, but it was cheap. So I cannot bash it too much.

Softshell crab:

Desserts were next. Got a free one (green bean) and ordered 1 extra - a black sesame ball in sweet syrup with wine. The wine essence was a bit overpowering for me - a taste sensation I was not accustomed to, so I found it a bit unnerving. Would not say it was the most pleasing taste I have ever tried. Probably many others would recognize it, but I would have to say it was not to my liking necessarily.

Green bean:
Black Sesame:

The strongest dish of the night was our first dish - a double boiled soup with black chicken and herbs. Excellent and very 'tsing'. Light broth that was full of different nuances of flavours. I would order it again for sure ($4.50). The black chicken was sweet and had a lot of flavour, even after the soup had extracted much of the essence out of it during the boiling process.

Black Chicken (Silkie) Herbal Soup:

Be interested to hear what others have to say about this particular location and how it compares to the other, more established Asian Legends. Overall, the food was not bad. They are running a promotion right now and you get 10% off if you buy a 1 year membership (the hook to keep you coming even after the travelling team leaves). Portions are large and the atmosphere is pleasing. Staff are more than competent (even recognized an old face from Keung's working there). I would say it is good value for the money and is a good change up from the norm. Not sure if the quality will hold up though.

Cheers and Happy Eating!

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  1. The original comment has been removed
    1. I posted a review on the new location (can't seem to find it now, it was in response to another topic). We've always had the VIP card, but it went downhill and we didn't go back. We tried the new location and it was quite good, so we've been going ever since.

      I agree, some of the dishes are super greasy, especially the stir fry items on steamed rice, green beans, etc. Last time we went, the sliced beef in an onion pancake was disgusting, the beef was dried up and hard - couldn't believe they would use it. It had large pieces of the chewy white tendon/fat part that was not edible at all. Very disappointing. The rice dishes are over-priced from a year or two ago.

      The new location is very nice and the best looking off all their locations. We're not sure if we'll be renewing our VIP card though. We used to go once a week.

      Our favorite item is the chunked beef noodle soup (for lunch), but it used to be very tender in the past, then it became tough and portion was smaller. Now the portion seems a bit bigger, but the beef can be chewy.

      We had complimentary red bean soup the last time we went (not too sweet). I personally would not recomend the dessert that is made with egg whites. It's too "eggy" tasting, but it seems to be a popular dish. Just not for us.

      6 Replies
      1. re: red dragon

        I haven't been to the new location, but have been many times to the one on north Yonge St., and another in the Finch-Leslie Plaza, both of which are within striking distance of where I live. I've also been once or twice to the downtown Dundas St. location. All the ones I've been to share exactly the same menu. Asian Legend restos are well-run, with alert young staffs. modern settings and the northern Chinese offerings, while not great, are still pretty good. Our Asian hounds who post on this site could probably rhyme off a half dozen joints that do it better than Asian Legend, but this small chain still turns out creditable versions of the same dishes, some of which have better execution than others. The soups are strong. So are the appetizers (my favorite is the No. 10, a shrimp and onion pancake). The dumplings, as has been pointed out, are very good. I'm fond of many of the veggie dishes and most of the bean curd dishes (No. 101 in particular), though the kung pao chicken, as has been noted, isn't up to much. Most of the cooking is consistent. Everything tastes precisely as it did the last time you ordered it, except - as I've found - the hot and sour soup, which is usually quite good, but sometimes not so. And the prices are right - if you choose carefully, two can eat well for about $30. Prices have risen slightly in the past year, but no more than other joints. From what I've read above, it seems that the new location is veering slightly from the standard menu (possibly to accommodate a slightly different clientele). But what's this about a VIP card that you have to buy? I use my Art Gallery of Ontario membership card to get 10% off every time I go,

        1. re: juno

          Hi Juno,
          I've been to all the locations as well, except the Dundas location. We used to frequent the Steeles/Warden location the most. The VIP card is for Asian Legend only. It used to cost only $10, but now it's $15 per year and comes with a gift of some sort, if you buy/renew during this time. I think we'll renew since the Sheppard/Brimley location is closer for us, it's newer and the food has been relatively good (thus far). I've never heard of the Art Gallery of ON membership. Does it give you discounts for other restaurants as well?

          1. re: red dragon

            What is the promotion with the VIP card?

            1. re: neighborguy

              The VIP card is just a membership that lasts 1 year. You purchase it and it is valid immediately (for the current meal) and gives you 10% off. It is transferrable and valid at all locations. I never knew the Art Gallery also offered a promotion. Strange pairing...

              Charles Yu, I cannot speak of the authenticity, as I only tried the 'Chef Specials', and thus expected it to be out of the ordinary. I believe each location has its own special offerings. I am sure you are right, but once again, this is a chain so I did not expect it to be as 'authentic' as perhaps a local mom&pop shop. The only comment I could make was that the food was above par, with well executed dishes (well fried fish, above average dumplings).


            2. re: red dragon

              To Red Dragon:

              If you flash an Art Gallery of Ontario membership card when calling for the bill at Asian Legend - that's ANY Asian Legend branch in town - you'll get a 10% discount. I suspect that the AGO discount started when the Asian Legend downtown on Dundas Street did a co-promotion with the nearby AGO, and that the Asian Legend management figured, what the hell, let's do it for all our locations. So you have the rather entertaining spectacle of Asian Legend outlets far, far north of the AGO offering the discount. If you look carefully, you'll see a small, discreet placard offering the discount near the front entrance of each Asian Legend outlet. Mind, I wouldn't go out and buy an AGO membership just to get the Asian Legend discount, but if you already have an AGO membership, it seems pointless to also get an Asian Legend VIP card. Ten per cent isn't much of a discount anyway, but it helps to fatten the tip of the usually good serving staff at Asian Legend outlets.

              If there are AGO discount tie-ins for other restos, I'm not aware of them. But then, I rarely read the promotional material that comes to me in the mail from the AGO

          2. re: red dragon

            Thanks for the suggestions on the dishes. I will try them out next time I head there, red_dragon. Might as well get some mileage out of the VIP card. If you renew your membership for $17, you get this tea set worth about a dollar that is made in China if that is any consolation... includes cups and a teapot with saucers.

            Tea Set:

            Cheers and Happy Eating!

          3. Nice review. I've been to most of the locations and found their food to be tasty but a tad oily for me.

            The Leslie & Finch location has my favourite "Siew Loong Pau" dumplings in Toronto. But maybe its just my imagination because they should be the same across the locations?

            1. Hello BokChoi,

              I would love to chip in my two cents worth. However, by doing so, I have a hunch that I am going to upset a lot of die-hard AL fans! Anyways, here goes.

              IMO. I think AL is the most over-rated Northern Chinese eatery on this board and in the GTA!! Most of their 'non-dumpling' Chinese dishes resemble some 'Wok with Yan' TV creations, revamped with colourful side ingredients for maximum visual appeal and for the western palete but totally lacking in authenticity! Casing point, the excessive use of onions and green, yellow and red bell peppers in almost all their dishes ranging from Kung Pao chicken to their soft shell crab....etc. Bell peppers are indigenous to Mexico and South America and not China! Their presence in Kung Pao Chicken is a travesty to the original recipe which should contain only bambooshoot, Chinese shitake mushrooms, red chili and peanuts. Imagine putting the same pepper ingredients into an authentic ' Boeuf a la Bourguignonne' recipe and see how French foodies would react to it?! Try the same dish in some really authentic Northern Chinese place like Northern Dumpling Kitchen in Time Square and you'll know what I mean.

              I have tried AL branches at their downtown, Markham and Richmond Hill locations ( abide reluctantly ). Foodwise, they are inferior to a lot of the newly opened Northern Chinese/Dumpling eateries sprouting up in the Markham, Scarborough areas run by genuinely skilled immigrant cooks.

              Lastly, 'Mango Fish' in a Northern Chinese place?! This pseudo western/Chinese fusion dish is more suited for 'The Mandarin' buffet table or some Chop-suey restaurant in Saskatoon!! Since when did Northern China start growing tropical mangos and use them in dishes? Ha! And once again, those onions and bell peppers combo!! Give me a break!

              14 Replies
              1. re: Charles Yu

                Interesting points Charles.

                I was recommened Asian Legend for one thing - their northern Dim Sum dishes (though I do love their General Tao Chicken - I acknowledge I have not tasted the authentic sour style). Do you find those authentic (e.g. onion pancake with beef, green onion pancake, glutinous rice roll)?

                1. re: Apprentice

                  Their Dim Sum dishes are decent. Broth inside dumplings a bit weak. As for green onion pancake. This is a strange beast. Like their distant cousin the Pizza, which comes in all shape, size and form ranging from wood fire thin crust, to thick crust to deep dish and can all be regarded as pizza. The same can be said of the green onion pancake. In the orient, I've eaten thin chewy crepe like style all the way to fluffy, flakey style. Totally different in look and texture but still called green onion pancake. The AL version is kind of in between. And as eluded to by previous posts - Greasy!

                  1. re: Charles Yu


                    As I type I'm eating Northern Dumpling's Kung Pao Chicken and it's filled with onions and green peppers! No sign of bambooshoots or mushrooms. So now the issue is - do Chinese restaurants prepare dishes differently based on customer? How am I to order? Should I ask for "authentic style"?

                    1. re: Apprentice

                      Interesting!! Are we talking about the same dish?! Boneless Chicken cubes stirred fry with a spicy dark brown bean paste sauce?

                      1. re: Charles Yu


                        The dish tasted okay. What makes me want more is that there was a small piece of mushroom, almost accidentally included, and it added a very unique flavour, really tastey. Are the mushrooms marinated or sauteed in anything different or is simply the combination of the bean paste that enhances the mushroom's flavour?

                        I work very close to the restaurant so I will be back. But I'm very interested to know if dishes are prepared differently.

                2. re: Charles Yu

                  The "bell pepper phenomenon" is not just limited to AL but can also be found in other mid-class Asian restos, such as Korean/Japanese and Thai. It's just that they are cheap and bulky, which make the serving size bigger while serving the role of vegetables.

                  1. re: Teep

                    Your 'cheap and bulky' comment is definitely a valid point! My major issue is that the someitimes sharp taste of the pepper tends to ruin the taste of the dish. Inappropriate use of celery can be another culprit!

                    1. re: Teep

                      ...though not to say that bell peppers have no place in Asian cuisine. It's definitely in Indonesian food; I'm actually surprised that it's seen as a flag for "inauthentic" in other Asian cuisines. China's not *that* far away, and Thailand is pretty close.

                      1. re: mogo

                        I'm not saying bell peppers have no place in Asian cuisine. In fact one of my favourite 'Chinese' dish ' Fried beef with garlic, bell peppers and black bean sauce on rice noodle' uses tons of them in the dish. I'm just trying to say that in some 'traditional' Chinese dishes passed down thru generations, the addition of bell peppers to them for the sake of enhancing the look of the dish is wrong!

                        1. re: Charles Yu

                          I am sure they would accommodate your requests if you desire the bell peppers to be removed from your dish. But that was probably not what you were going for with your complaint...

                          I agree that fillers have no place in a dish. However, I believe many of their dishes are created to cater to the masses (which enjoy colour and volume). This goes for many restaurants, especially ones with a low profit margin - such as Chinese restaurants. Just playing devil's advocate - I do agree with you though on your point. I feel the same way and dislike the addition of celery to my dishes. Sometimes I just eat around it, though it does contaminate the dish with its heavy essence (as do the bell peppers).


                          1. re: BokChoi

                            Ah! Welcome to the club BokChoi! I too hate celery in my dish. Only dish that I don;t mind tasting the essence of celery ( and bell peppers) is Russian Borsch.

                            1. re: Charles Yu

                              Peppers aren't really a traditional ingredient in borscht.

                              I can see peppers for colour, but aren't the colourful ones a little more expensive to use as filler ingredients than random other cheap vegetables?

                              I also dislike inauthentic fillers, though I don't mind them in reinvented, contemporary dishes. That being said, I hate bell peppers added randomly to foods and either not cooked properly, or not used properly. The worst culprit is the generic Western "stir-fry," which, when cooked by friends, has nearly turned me off bell-peppers a few times.

                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                I totally share the sentiments of the bell pepper / celery in most "Chinese" dishes! They make the dishes all taste and look the same, and, as if they're not sweet enough already, they are usually also accompanied by some sweet, gooey sauce that makes me want to head to the other direction!

                                One exception where I'd welcome celery in a Chinese dish. The stir-fry that comprises of toasted cashews, chicken and celery cubes. The sweetness and crunch from the celery is indispensable to the dish, and I enjoy it a lot.

                            2. re: Charles Yu

                              I guess so. I was just responding to the comment that they're not indigenous to China. Authenticity is a tricky thing...even words don't mean the same things they used to. Maybe restaurants should just post an ingredient list so you can avoid things you don't like/can't eat more easily.