Omega 3 – Fabulously Fragrant Fish Broth with Vermicelli & no MSG (review + pics)
Always in search for lighter fare around the city, I stumbled upon this little gem while browsing a flickr friend’s photostream. I am always in the mood for a good noodle soup, but most places either add too much MSG, oil, or sodium into the broth. The only place I used to go for a great noodle soup was Ruby Chinese Restaurant. They had a fantastic noodle soup (laifun, hawfun, wonton noodle, etc.) that came with BBQ’d meats for a steal at $3.75 on weekdays, and $4.50 on weekends. They have a touch of MSG in their broths, but nothing to put me into shock like some other places.
Along came Omega 3 and out went my devotion to Ruby for my sole supplier of lip-smacking broths. I still enjoy a nice chicken based broth at Ruby’s, but Omega 3 has a fantastic fish-based broth that is sweet and so out of this world. The salt is kept in check, and they explicitly state that no MSG is used. I believe them because I do not get the tell-tale symptoms of the ‘dry mouth’ or racing heart that I usually get when I frequent the typical Chinese restaurant. Their specialty is their vermicelli noodle, which are the Chap Chae Korean noodles. This is such a better noodle to use because of the texture of the noodles. They don’t become bloated from over-absorption of the liquids, nor do they get soggy over time in the broth. The noodles can be topped with a selection of seafood-based goodies, from tilapia filets, to fresh homemade fish balls. They also offer the option of having laifun (as featured in a number of my photos) if you feel like something a bit more substantial. Taste-wise, the vermicelli is the way to go. All noodles come with a few chunks of tofu for extra protein.
Laifun with fish balls, dumplings and tofu: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213873586
The homemade dumplings were nicely flavoured, but the filling was a bit lacking in volume. They also became rather flaccid in the boiling process. When they were ordered pan-fried as part of the combo meal, the same dumplings’ taste were heightened by the browning process.
Soup dumpling inside: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213027733
We started the meal with a fresh glass of sugar cane juice ($1.99); tasty and sweet.
Sugar Cane Juice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213026385
A great deal they offer is a combo that allows you to sample all of their finest dishes for the great price of $6.95. It is truly a steal. Included, you get their noodle soup with fresh, lightly marinated slices of tilapia and homemade fish balls, as well as a choice of steamed or pan-fried dumplings, and a grilled lemongrass pork chop. There are a number of different choices as well, but this is what we decided on and all courses were stellar. To start, you get a nice, hearty and sweet bowl of papaya fish soup. This was a great broth that is a touch sweeter than the regular soup broth because of the fragrant and sweet papaya.
On another occasion, I was served a tongue soup with leen gnow, or lotus root. It was also a winner.
Lotus root soup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3232594600
Their homemade fish balls are some of the most absolutely scrumptious fish balls I have ever consumed in Toronto (not that the bar was set very high). The texture is incredibly bouncy. The flavour is fresh and sweet. There is such a powerful and fresh fish taste, instead of the starchy flavour that plagues so many lower-quality fish balls. These are excellent creations. The pan-seared dumplings are sweet and very pretty. The searing is perfect and there is a thin layer of crust at the bottom of each dumpling that is a golden brown that adds great texture to the otherwise silky-soft dumpling. The filling is a bit meager, but at the price charged, one cannot complain. The boiled dumplings were a bit too soggy and limp for my tastes and the flavour was a bit muddled and lost due to the watering down effect of the cooking method. The broiled pork chop was deftly prepared. It was dry and crisp. The sweet glaze applied and the fragrance of the lemongrass was a subtle offset to the inherent saltiness of the pork chop. I thoroughly enjoyed this pork chop and it was one of the best I have had in a while.
Dumpling inside: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213027471
Fish Soup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213873332
Boiled dumplings: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213027579
Fish Ball and dumpling soup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213873586
Pork Chop: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213873770
Laifun Noodles: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3213027881
Smoked pomphret was also on the menu and I just had to try it at $4.99 (with noodle and soup, it comes in at $7.25 or so). It was nicely fried and warmed just a touch. It was very much like the smoked fish you have at Northern Chinese restaurants. The sauce was a touch too sweet, but it was tasty. It was not one of their best dishes, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Another dish we tried was the papaya dumpling. It was served atop a noodle bed and came with a spicy sauce for dipping and as a topping for the noodles. Nothing too outstanding, but it was a nice dish that packed a powerful punch with the spicy sauce. It was a nice contrast to the sweetish papaya dumpling.
Papaya dumpling noodle: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3232594794
Inside papaya dumpling: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3231744383
They also feature a number of ‘Special items’. I would have to say I am not a fan of any of them, though my dining companions (DC’s) were quite happy with the stuffed conch (labeled as stuffed snail on the menu). It was filled with a creamy chicken stuffing and baked. I inherently despise creamy sauces, so there was very little chance that I would enjoy this dish to begin with.
Stuffed conch: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3231744135
Another set menu they offer is their Special Chicken Wing meal ($8.95). Once again you get a choice of several items. We chose a nice curry seafood, which had a great grainy texture. The seafood was quite sweet and tasty and exceeded my expectations by quite a bit. I very much enjoyed this curry that was loaded with coconut flavour. The next course was a stir-fried fish fillet with king mushrooms and sweet sugar snap peas. Amazingly crisp peas, and the buttery king mushrooms added a touch of earthy saltiness to the otherwise sweet dish of fresh fish and peas. The fish was moist, soft and a touch crisp at the ends from the excellent stir-fry. It was a tiny bit greasy, but overall, better than most other stir-fries that I have had at other Chinese restaurants that are generally all too oily for my tastes. I could eat an entire platter of this dish. The chicken wing itself was stuffed with a minced mixture that had a myriad of ingredients. I found this dish to be a complete failure and sounded strange to begin with. My DC wanted to order it because it was a featured menu item. Everyone was disappointed with it. However, we did find they pan-fried it quite well and thus would apply this good technique to the rest of their dishes. Another course of the set menu was a fabulous fried rice made with red and white rice. This dish was incredible fragrant; herbs, spices and more. A touch oily, but the tastes and aromas were spot on. Lots of fresh herbs and usage of pineapple that was refreshing and sweet. The chicken was tender and very moist. This was such a tasty dish. I think that this set meal is amazing given the skill with which they handle each and every course. Everything is so varied in tastes and cooking style, yet everything is handled with near perfection. Everything is made to order and made in small batches. This was simply astounding for such a small mom-and-pop shop.
Curry seafood: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3231744293
Fish and king mushroom: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3231744333
Chicken Wing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3231744439
Inside Chicken Wing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3232595098
Fried Rice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3232595152
They also offer homemade fresh fish or shrimp noodles ($4). Ground seafood is incorporated into the noodle paste and this produces a very flavourful noodle with fantastic texture from the grains of seafood. It is served alongside some more tasty Chap Chae noodles.
Shrimp Noodles: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3231743959
Closeup (see texture): http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3232594626
And let us not forget dessert. We finished our meal with a slice of mango cheesecake and a bowl of freshly ground almond paste with black sesame glutinous rice balls (around $4 each). I would normally never order Western-style desserts at a Chinese restaurant, but the waitress/owner highly recommended it. When it arrived, it looked just like the photo and was playful and bright. The cheesecake was light and fluffy and was more like a mousse, a similar texture to many other typical Chinese cakes. The mango essence was very strong and I quite enjoyed this dessert. I was happy we decided to give it a try. The ground almond was another highly recommended dish and it definitely exceeded all my expectations. It was the best ground almond dessert I have had in Toronto by far. It was fresh and exceptionally fragrant. The texture was slightly course from the ground almond and felt so nice against my tongue. The tong yoon’s, or glutinous rice dumplings, were quite nice as well and added a nice textural contrast to the dessert soup. I was floored by the freshness of this dessert. It was not overly sweet, and had a slight bitterness from the freshly ground nut. Absolutely a wonderful way to end a stellar home-style meal!
Mango cheesecake: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3231744587
Almond dessert: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3232595232
Black sesame balls: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3231744689
The service is friendly, but a touch slow. I was not in a rush, so I had no complaints. The hostess tries very hard and it seems like a mom and pop shop, so this is likely not her profession and therefore easily overlooked. She is eager to please and checks back frequently to make sure we enjoyed our meal. She was available to answer all my incessant questions about the ingredients and was happy to share information about the homemade items. Very little oil is employed, salt is used sparingly, no MSG, and just healthy ingredients. The portions are a bit on the smaller side for me, but the elements are so good and tasty that I ignore the slight touch of hunger I feel at the end of the meal and remind myself that this is a normal portion and that I just eat way too much regularly. Strangely, I am not as hungry after a few hours as I thought I would be. Healthy eating CAN be satisfying, who knew? Unfortunately for them, but fortunate for me, they are always quite empty each time I visit. I see a few potential customers peer in, see that it is empty, and simply keep walking. Next door, the Keung’s is completely packed. Go figure. The décor is tasteful and the room is very clean. Once again, please keep expectations in check – it is a noodle soup set menu for under $10. However, if you enjoy a good bowl of homemade noodle soup, then I would highly recommend this little gem. Thank goodness for flickr: a great source for finding tasty treats and meeting other foodies (Thanks SR for the rec).
Apologies for the infrequent posts lately. I have not had access to internet lately, but will hopefully be back in a couple of weeks. Looks like I'm missing out on a lot of tasty discussions.
Cheers and Happy Eating!
Unit A05-8362 Kennedy Rd (SW Corner of Hwy 7 and Kennedy - store facing Kennedy
You're welcome tygrr_lily. The place is quite a gem. I really enjoy their broth - it's a bit cloudy, but it is exceptionally sweet. Not that salty MSG taste that I have found in so many noodle shops that many confuse with 'flavour'. This is home cooking at its best. Do give it a try when you get a chance and let me know how you like it.
I don't want to get sidetracked but msg is just a scientific isolated version of glutamate which occurs naturally in food. They do call it the fifth taste (umami) for a reason. It's a flavour for me, best way I can describe it is it elicits salivation.
Dashi, parm, soy sauce, fish sauce, tomatoes, the list goes on.....
Back on track, I'm looking forward to trying this place out. A noodle replacement for Peachtree plaza would be nice after the death of Kenzo there.
I agree and know that umami is a flavour. But like how saltiness is a flavour, many places think they can 'season' something with one flavour and call it a day, without adding the necessary complexity to the broth to really enhance the ingredients. I also have an adverse reaction to MSG, including a racing heart, throbbing head and dry mouth after ingesting it. Not necessarily the way I would like to spend the afternoon feeling. A touch of it does help some broths along, but many places just add it to mask poor quality ingredients.
Thanks for the comment though! And do give the place a try. Let us know how you like it.
Especially great during the winter months, is it not? Do try the vermicelli version, it is so much better than their laifun. The vermicelli is like Chap Chae, not the typical Chinese Vermicelli. The texture is amazing and goes so well with the broth.
Thanks for the compliment as well, Yum2MyTum
I've been to this place quite a few times, and I absolutely agree with you that the place is a little gem! For some reasons, either people do not like fish soup or the advertisement is not enough, this little noodle place does not receive the attention it deserves.
Besides the noodles, I also like their wild rice with fish soup. Their soy milk with grounded almond is delicious as well.
The place is nearly empty at all hours of the day - I am surprised that they are still open! Let's hope they stay open so that I have a place to go to when I am in need of a hearty bowl of fish soup. The tilapia is so sweet and the texture is amazing - not overdone at all! Just the way I love my fish prepared. They sure do not know to handle it.
I must try those other dishes you mentioned - they sure do sound good. Thanks for the tip.
Actually the thick fish noodles just taste like fish balls, instead in noodles shape, have "bouncier" texture, and a hint of herbs mixed in the fish paste (assuming it's basil added). Same as shrimp noodles, thick vermicelli is added to the soup as well. If you like fish balls, you'll definitely like fish noodles!
Do report back. Enjoy!
I had a chance to go to Markham last weekend and stopped by Omega 3 for lunch.
My pick was lah meen with fish balls- broth was well seasoned and deliciously "fishy" (for lack of better terms). Fish balls as Bok Choi reported were of good quality - light, mostly protein, with very little starch component and light herbs. Lah meen was okay- not as fabulous as the lah meen I've had in HK.
Mr Muffin Top had the thick fish noodles - which tasted pretty much like the fish balls but in noodle form. Mr Muffin Top, having more "caucasian" tastes thought it was a bit eerie but I enjoyed it, I feel like it could have used more herbs in the fish paste overall.
All in all I would return and try the shrimp noodles and other parts of the menu. Next time I'm bringing my mom though cause I can't read Chinese =(
Great report ! I also enjoy the fish or shrimp noodle soup there, but not the vermicelli or Lamin noodle soup.
However, I think you have misunderstand the types of noodles at Omega3.
There are four types of noodle at Omega3 and there is no Laifun :
1. Fish or shrimp noodle which are their home made specialty
4. Korean potato starch noodle
The vermicelli (米線) used at Omega3 is NOT Korean potato starch noodle. It is actually one kind of Yunnan vermicelli (雲南米線) which is not transparent like the Korean noodle. Please note vermicelli is a general term for different types of noodle.
The noodle in your "Laifun Noodles" picture is actually what they called vermicelli in their menu.
The Korean potato starch noodle (Chap Chae) which you recommend only comes with the fish or shrimp noodle soup as in your "Shrimp Noodles" picture.
Their fish ball is not bouncy at all (Omega3 does not actually call them fish ball in chinese as in the menu), especially when it is compared to the HK style fish ball. The taste is good with a hint of lemon leaf strand mixed in there which give a refreshing smell.
You can also have the Yunnan vermicelli noodle soup at Golden Phoenix (Woodine and Steeles), or the Fish noodle soup at Grotta inside Metro Square (Warden and Steeles). The noodle soup (different varieties) at Grotta are also pretty good !
Thanks skylineR33. Thanks also for the correction on the types of noodles. I made a post earlier on Flickr and was educated there about the types of noodles, and thought I would translate them to chowhound. However, I guess I must have misunderstood the lesson there! Thanks for catching the errors. Too much casual typing and I miss a few things I guess.
Thanks for the recs on where to try other noodle soups. I'll add them to the list!