Cha Liu - Do people just not know better?
I had a chance to have a quick lunch here the other day after a friend's recommendation, and I have to ask, do people just not know any better?
The place is expensive, the portions are small, and the chef devotes an incredible amount of ingenuity towards cutting corners. Explain to me exactly why am I supposed to come here, instead of paying similar prices for much better food at Lai Toh Heen six blocks away?
I tend to judge a dim sum place on three things - har gow, siu mai, and cheong fun. The har gow was fine. The skin was softer and thicker than I like, and a bit small. The siu mai was small, and shows the ingenuity of the chef at cost cutting - the scallop on top was sliced wafer thin, about half the thickness you'd find at just about any other place. The cheong fun was small, cut thick, and stuffed with tiny scattered cubes of barbecued pork, which wasn't astoundingly fresh. The shrimp cheong fun was an astounding $6.75 on the menu, which is why I went with the pork. Even the XO sauce shows clever cost-cutting, with tiny, fine strands of dried scallop from the tiny, cheap scallops.
Our average bill at Cha Liu is $35 - $40. Our average bill at Lai Toh Heen (assuming you can even get in when you want, without resos) is $65+
Also, Cha has a more casual feel.
The seating at Lai, for two people, can be awkward. We got stuck at a table for two between two other tables for two once and I could barely hear my husband speaking because of the design of the place and the length of the table between us! Yikes!
Overall, I prefer Lai Toh Heen, but not as a 'drop in and have a bite' kind of place, and sometimes that's just all we need...
Hmm, I went back and looked at the Lai Toh Heen menu, and I see that nearly every single plate of dim sum costs $6. I think it was the astoundingly expensive $6.75 shrimp cheong fun at Cha Liu that made me think the menus were equivalent in price, but obviously, they aren't. It's $4.50-$4.75 for a plate of siu mai vs. $6.
I was there a few months ago. Like you, I had heard good things about the place, and was in the area so my wife and I decided to give it a try. I thought it was pricey for what you got and the items were hit and miss. A place like this would do terrible business in Scarborough/Markham, but perhaps it fills a void in the area as there is not much nearby dim sum competition. It certainly has its loyal clientele as many of the other tables were occupied by repeat customers. I have not tried Lai Toh Heen yet, but if its prices are similar to its sister Lai Wah Heen downtown, then I don't think Cha Liu would be as expensive. However, If in the area next time and in the mood for dim sum, I would definitely skip Cha Liu and try Lai Toh Heen.
re: T Long
It's entirely about location. When I'm shopping @ Yonge & Eg., on a Saturday, I'm not going to drag my butt to Scarborough, I don't care how good the dumplings are! :) So yes, it's about where it is... It's like the pub version of eating dim sum: not superb quality, but it fills you up when you have a craving for not too much coin!