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Long Post: my parent's 2 week whirlwind tour of TO's Chinese resto (from Yau Kee to Lai Wah Heen)

Royaljelly Oct 5, 2009 12:51 PM

I had my Chinese parents visiting us for 2 weeks and I always look forward to it because I usually scour Chowhound to see where I should take them to eat. Being both retired chefs of Western restaurants, they are usually quite critical of their food.

Here's a list of where I took them to, see below for food details:
1) John's BBQ
2) Yangs dim sum
3) Fantasy Eatery (Scarborough)
4) Yau Kee
5) Ala Kitchen
6) Graceful Vegetarian
7) Lai Wah Heen dim sum
8) O-Mei Hwy 7
9) Fantasy Eatery (Richmond Hill)

1) John's BBQ in Richmond Hill - chinese tapas
- went for lunch on a Sat afternoon at 1pm, surprisingly mostly empty. Ordered the special BBQ pork as soon as we sat down (takes 15mins to prepare), and asked them to go easy on the sweet sauce/honey or whatever they use, since my dad is diabetic. While it was good as usual, they didn't ease up on the sweet sauce at all.
- the roast pig was not good at all, very dry and skin wasn't crunchy. Very disappointing, considering my wife and I just had an amazing one at Peaktop just down the street a week ago.
- steamed tofu/pork dish, my dad's choice, not good, flavour was off
- small fish w/ egg, very bland, should've stuck w/ the deep fried fishies
- XO fish fillets w/ green beans was good as usual
- very fresh stir fried veggies
meal came w/ free soup, rice and dessert. Overall a good "value" meal, but my parents weren't crazy about it.

2) Yangs in Richmond Hill for early sunday dim sum
- actually made reservations 30 mins in advance, which was a good idea since the place was totally packed by noon.
- scallop XO sauce rice noodle rolls, very very spicy for typical XO, but I found the scallops and noodle has similar/mushy texture. I still prefer my shrimp rice noodle roll
- shrimp foie gras dumplings, just ok, didn't really notice the foie gras
- sia long bao (steamed soup dumplings), probably one of the worst I've had anywhere, very little soup, dry and flavourless
- gwun tong gao (large dumpling in soup), my mom was hunting for the ones that are filled w/ soup on the inside, rather than floating in a bowl of soup (if anyone knows where they make it, let me know!). Just tasted like regular mushroom soup to her.
- 1000 layer cake, only had 4 layers, no egg yolk, not good
- pumpkin dessert dumpling w/ cashew nut, just looked cute, that's it
again they thought it was just ok, not blown away from it like I was in the past

3) Fantasy Eatery (Scarborough)
my dad had talked about it already right after his meal at John's BBQ, so I knew I had to take him here soon. Came on a early monday evening, 3 dishes that we wanted they didn't have.
- sweet n sour pork in hot pot - a little too sweet for me, but more richer heavier sauce that was kinda different in a good way.
- small white fish in batter deep fried. While the batter was quite light, there was WAY too much of it such that I almost couldn't find the fish
- kidney and chives, which was way overcooked such that the kidney was ultra tough to chew. We complained about it to one of the servers, who replied that the chef was busy and may have "forgotten about it". My dad quickly countered that the place had only 3 tables and not many take out orders, so his explanation didn't make sense. Instead we got some free soup, which was actually quite good and hearty.
- a few other dishes which were just ok, so overall this was the most disappointing of the meals we've had here (and this was the 4 time my parents have come).

4) Yau Kee (Scarborough)
- wonton noodles (wontons very authentic, but soup seemed cloudy and it reminded me of those japanese soups w/ miso)
- leung yuu kow fish balls were amazing! hot and just slightly crunchy on the outside, very moist and tender inside, each a good side too (like an extra large egg)
- tendon and beef, very heavy sauce, but good portions
- lo mean w/ bean sauce was good w/ a touch of spice
- fresh veggies steamed
overall good value and good food, and IMO better than Jim Chai Kee in Richmond Hill

5) Ala Kitchen (Markham)
went on a busy sat afternoon, place was packed as usual.
- pot stickers (actually had decent amount of soup/sauce inside)
- pan fried buns (ordered a second round it was that good)
- pork chop noodle was a bit bland
- spicy wontons were very strange (avoid)
- cold fish
- drunken cold chicken
parents liked it, surprisingly my first meal there that I actually enjoyed as well

6) Graceful Vegetarian (Markham)
haven't been here for awhile, very busy since 1/2 the place was having a wedding banquet (and the place isn't that big).
- mock fried intestines w/ sweet n sour sauce, tasted like the real thing
- wonton soup also very good and light
- taro duck w/ breading was heavy
- birds nest - standard dish
again an enjoyable meal, especially after all the meat we were eating from the last few meals

7) Lai Wah Heen dim sum
I only come here no more than once a year, and it's always w/ family or out of town friends. The A/C was cranked way up (for a mid September lunch?) and the service seemed just as cold. The servers working there are like robots, they do the task properly and efficiently, and then they scatter away.
- tea: told my parents to go nuts and order the fancy tea. The first 2 they wanted they didn't have. Had a monkey picked oolong for $8, just tasted like any other oolong to me. My mom had another which i forget the name, was better but again, not worth $8. The rest of us had $2 iron buddha, which was no better than the stuff we had a Yangs or any other fine chinese places up north
- har gow shrimp dumplings, skin soggy and totally broken
- rice roll w/ shrimp was completely bland
- chicken feet w/ chinese herbs was swimming in soup, skin was soggy
- fish w/ peppers and tofu pocket, one of the few interesting dishes we had
- wagyu beef dumpling in spicy sauce was totally strange, You really couldn't taste that it was wagyu beef. I'm starting to hate the fact that things like foie gras and wagyu beef is being incorporated into staple dim sum dishes, and is just not necessarily done in a good way to enhance the dish
- steamed beef balls very standard
- fried rice w/ egg yolk/dried scallops very dense and overly dry (last time we had one with egg fried rice which was done perfectly).
- pan fried buns, totally brutal, bun was 2x thicken than the meat and lacking any flavour at all
- pork ribs, one piece my mom had was quite bitter, my parents guessed that the chef probably used some sort of baking soda to soften the meat and wasn't rinsed off properly
- 1000 layer cake, done well
After this meal, I don't think I'll be going back here for dim sum anytime soon. I also had a rather ambivalent meal in Lai Toh Heen awhile back, and find that the Lai --- Heen #1 ranking for dim sum in Toronto is quickly being challenged or surpassed by those establishments up north.

8) O-Mei (Richmond Hill)
dinner on a friday night, surprisingly not fully packed.
they had a set menu, 5 dishes for $100, including their famous and delicious stir fried lobster (good size as well), fish belly and crab soup was very good, steamed fish (a bit small, but tasted better than what I had at maple yip last night), sweet n sour pork chops (w/ a hint of lemon), and fried mussels. We added one stir fried veggie dish. We were all packed to the gills and left very satisfied.

9) Fantasy Eatery (Richmond Hill)
On a tip from my parents friends, we decided to try it out despite some negative chowhound reviews. While the place looks somewhat similar to the Scarborough location, the menu is vasty different (for lunch anyways).
- the highlight was the pork liver congee for $4.25. Probably the best one we've had in Canada, ever! I usually detest liver, but this was cooked brilliantly, just enough flavour and thin enough to have a bit of chew to it, without being bloody or overly bitter at all.
- egg noodle w/ beef, lots of beef, and noodles were extra crunchy (just the way I like it)
- duck tongue w/ chives, very salty, was better w/ rice
- cold duck tongue appetizer, bland (yes, my parents ordered 2 duck tongue dishes)

I also managed to take them to Toritos for some tapas which they enjoyed as well.

Before my folks boarded the plane back to Edmonton, they picked up $30 worth of roast pork from Peaktop again in Richmond Hill, my sister in Edmonton was thanking me from emails that same night. We had some that night as well, and after you remove the skin and roast it in the mini oven, it was amazing. Now time to take the dog out for a long walk and burn off all those high calorie meals!

  1. k
    KJeats Oct 6, 2009 08:18 AM

    I don't make it to many of the above restaurants so I have only 2 comments:

    1. The roast pig from the Peak Top is indeed delicious.

    2. I like dim sum, but am more often than not relegated to one of many lesser downtown establishments. I have been to LWH several times and although the dim sum and tea are fantastic, the service is terrible. I don't just mean forgetful or slow. I have found the service staff there to be surely, evasive and disrespectful on almost every visit. It's not cheap either, so I won't be returning. We refer to it as dumpling-heaven-lost.

    1. Charles Yu Oct 6, 2009 06:30 AM

      Wow! More negative than positive remarks on some of our favourite Chinese go-to places.!! They must be getting complacent!
      Most surprising was to read about John's b-b-q. I cannot vouch for their lunch time dine-in experience. However, both skylineR33 and I had great to outstanding dinner there within the past month. He went for the super-exotic like sharksfin and conpoy whilst I had their soya free range chicken and Pai Pa roast duck.
      I've been noticing a slip in quality at Yang's a few weeks back. Both lunch and dinner. For Dim Sum, I prefer going to The Emperor instead.
      Glad to hear you like Torito. Did you have the folk tender 'Tongue and Cheek'?
      O Mei made a big boop-boop on our Giant lobster 4 ways last week-end! They left out the initial 'Steamed claw with garlic and vermicelli' course! At least they manage to compensate by deducting a pound from the cost and gave us a 10% discount!

      5 Replies
      1. re: Charles Yu
        skylineR33 Oct 6, 2009 10:46 AM

        Yes, the Pai Pa roast duck is indeed very good there.

        Royaljelly, if you want to try it next time, call in advance a day to reserve the duck and let them know the time you arrive to the restaurant, and ask them to ensure the duck is fresh !

        Regarding the char siu, if I am getting the take-out, I don't even bother getting it from John's BBQ, even the regular version is a few times more expensive than others and many of the times, they do not cut the char siu properly, I found it inconsistent and not too much different from others, and it is not as fresh when it gets home. But if I eat-in, I found the King of char siu always great, but again, I usually call in advance to reserve it with a customized menu.

        1. re: skylineR33
          Royaljelly Oct 6, 2009 07:30 PM

          Hi Charles and Skyline, is the Pai Pa roast duck anything similar to Peking duck? I probably would recognize it once I see it, but my Chinese food terms is getting worse by the day.

          I think a lot of our negative experiences were likely the result of not ordering the better dishes from each respective resto. A lot of these places have such vast menu's that you're bound to hit a few misses along the way.

          BTW, we did try Torito's Tongue, the sauce was a bit light for me, but very tender and great texture.

          1. re: Royaljelly
            Charles Yu Oct 6, 2009 07:54 PM

            The Pai Pa roast duck is the version with the duck spread open into the shape of a flat guitar. No stuffing, just marinade on the underside. Skin is crisper than ordinary roast duck.
            Torito's tongue and cheek sauce might be on the light side but its soooo aromatic!
            Now that Big Joy congee is no more, have to try out Fantasy Eatery's Pig's liver congee. Personally, I love my liver a bit thicker with a touch of pink. Just like how they do it in Hong Kong.

        2. re: Charles Yu
          aser Oct 7, 2009 01:52 AM

          I didn't have anything super exotic at John's recently but the braised oxtail dish was indeed excellent. I enjoyed the leftover sauce with rice the next day to great effect. Top notch.....

          Also another noteworthy dish I had recently was a simple mini bok choy w/ shitake mushrooms at Regal 16. The stock base was far superior to the one I had at John's, such depth of flavour.

          Both of these visits are for dinner.

          As you can see, I'm not living as good a life as Charles or Skyline of late w/ the fancier dishes, haha.

          1. re: aser
            p
            Pincus Oct 7, 2009 01:16 PM

            Give me a good mini bok choy with shiitake mushrooms and a small bowl of rice and I'd be a happy camper.

        3. pinstripeprincess Oct 5, 2009 01:59 PM

          since you brought it up... i'll chime in here, but this past weekend was my first visit to lai wah heen for dim sum and i will definitely not go again. items were either average or bad and so the higher price point just simply wasn't warranted.

          cheung fun with sea bass had nicely cooked fish and good texture but far too thick! har gow were overly spiced in the filling, i could barely taste the shrimp, and very tough thick skins. the special lobster dumpling was 95% garlic and tough though cute dumpling shell. the sturgeon was fine but nothing spectacular. the abalone shrimp paste vermicelli roll was a gigantic fail for me on many levels - shrimp paste too salty to taste abalone, difficult to bite through because of the rubbery texture of the abalone, overcooked gigantic stalk of asparagus, etc etc. the list just keeps going. it was a huge disappointment.

          a lot of tables were getting the chef's innovative tasting, perhaps that is a better way to go.

          i've only had john's special pork once as well and it was late in the day... we seemed to have gotten some severely dried out pieces which really took away from the experience. there was also a really odd range of super lean and really fatty pieces. i've had some homemade bbq pork that i feel slightly tweaked would easily resembled john's pork and likely surpass it. i will have to steal the recipe....

          3 Replies
          1. re: pinstripeprincess
            aser Oct 5, 2009 11:01 PM

            I had some of the John's king bbq pork yesterday and it was good as always. Although I must admit the difference between the reg and king version is minimal It's a big price difference, from $15.99 to $6.99.....

            I tend to get takeout more often as I live close by, so I have the reg version more often.

            I haven't been to LWH in 3-4 yrs so I can't comment on its current quality. I do know the dinner chefs have changed.

            I keep plugging Graceful Vegetarian because I feel it's very neglected compared to other Chinese restaurants in the city. The quality is top notch.

            1. re: aser
              pinstripeprincess Oct 6, 2009 05:50 AM

              i should clarify that we had the "king" version... i really think the timing is what made my experience what it was. i may have gotten ends left out after the lunch period.

              1. re: pinstripeprincess
                aser Oct 7, 2009 01:58 AM

                For the record, on my most recent visit I had the "king" version.

                I find the meat/fat distribution at John's to be uneven at times, it really depends on luck. Their saving grace is their sauce/seasoning, which is always spot on. That is why I visit Kum Hong sometimes as I find their char siu hits the fat/lean sweet spot more consistently (if you ask for fatty that is, since they do have some very lean cuts at times). Plus their pricing is normal compared to John's.

          2. t
            tyatt Oct 5, 2009 01:39 PM

            I'd like to add that, although Yang's has become my favorite dim sum restaurant (also closest to where I live so I don't have to venture too far south), I would not go and order non-typical dim sum items from them coz it's usually disappointing. I also had the siu lone bau and I agree it's the absolute worst!! Total waste of money. They used to do very good chiu chow dumpling too but lately the quality has gone downhill, dunno why... :(

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