the new china house
I am shedding a tear for an old favorite
All my life I remember going to China house, with my Aunt and Uncle on Sunday family dinner. The decor comes out of a bad movies, full of stereotypes: the waiters wearing red jackets, a big tree in the middle of the room with Chinese lanterns on it and the entry has a bridge over a wishing pond. Sure, the food was not the most authentic on the planet but for me nothing beat the beef and pea pods. As I grew up we stopped going but in the last few years when going for a family dinner with my mom and siblings, we found our selves again at the door of china house. The food I do not know if changed but our pallets did so the food was not as great as I remember but it was china house, it still looked and felt the same, even including the same waiters i remember.
My sister pointed out an article on blogto about China houses new owners. So, this Sunday with family in tow we decided to check it out.
We walked in and got meet at the door by someone who did not introduce himself ( I could tell it was the new owner), he directed us to a right by the front of the restaurant,in direct line to the front door, even though the place was mostly empty.
the changes: the place was brighter, just looked cleaner but nothing really major had changed. Which made me happy since even if stereotyped and outdated it is what makes china house, china house.
The new menu: is now one deminentional, and is uninteresting. Any north american chincess place can do what they are serving now for cheaper and better taste. One of the joy of china house use to be the odd gem you could not find any place else which now has been eliminated. The new menu according to the blog is an attempt to become 'more healthy' but you can not just remove MSG, without adding flavor to compensate the lack of MSG. Which I found they did not since our food was tasteless. My Mother put it simply,'the sizzling rice does not even sizzle anymore'
The Food: it was room temp, bland and potion size was small.
Our Order: we got the wrong shrimp dish, but the breaded shrimp we got was good, even if the new oil they are using, lacks something and left with a little greasey feel
the pork slices, missed the old flavor and again portion size.
the only dish I really enjoyed was the three kind of mushrooms with tofu, it had flavor and was only thing we got that was hot but that was due to the fact we had to remind our waiter that we had ordered it.
The waiter staff: a lot of them are still the old staff but seem to be running now by a new script. Our waiter seemed to have gotten thrown when I asked him how he was doing. They were understaffed and our waiter was being pulled in so many directions his hand were shaking. The serves was disorganized which is strange since they use to be very attentive.
The new owner: he is who I had an issue with, it reminded me of Anthony Bourdain kitchen confidential book, with what he writes about new restaurant owners who are not experienced. They comp everything to their friends, drinks and discounts. but Bourdain says the problem is when the money starts to run thin and the booze does not run as freely and the things go to regular price those 'friends' disappear.
The owner is trying to push the wines since that had never been a selling point before but forgetting about the food.
As the restaurant filled up with mostly his friends or family (since he knew their names and some called him cousin), flaws became more apparent. The new owner was losing control & when his cousin came up the counter, with a big smile excited that he was the new owner & pushed to be able to do something, he had said she could serve the wine to some table (which was not hers) which made me want to scream,' WHAT the hell? You do not let your family play waitstaff, if they do not know what they are doing. This is a restaurant not a playpen'
The owner would push waiters to go get him things. one case in point was a lemon since some VIP was in the restaurant, but ignore the table right in front of him which was obviously waiting to have their order taken. (this is after he had already ignored the people waiting to be seated to sit some friends of his).
They decided to prop the door open, which when we got cold (since I guess someone else was warm) we asked him if he could close the door. He did but few mins latter the door was open again and at no point in time did he ever come to see how we were.
It is great your cousins came for a visit or some friends want you to have a drink with them ( of the bottle that you comped) but you know what, it would have been nice for him to spend some time stopping at the table of someone he did not know. Asking them how they like the place, etc
I brought our bill up to pay since our waiter was stressed out, and over heard a comment made by him but it did not fully sink in till after I left. He had picked up our bill thinking it was the bill of one of his friends table and when the waiter pointed out that it was our table, even after all the screw ups said,'oh no they pay regular price'
Not to sound pompous but if I had realized he had said that I would have walked up to him and asked,'do you know who I am?" when he said no, I would have pointed out I am a regular customer, the kind of person who is special since when they go into a restaurant they pay their bills, tip and come back just on the quality of the place alone not on what you give them. I am the kind of person this place needs and you are driving us away since who would really want to go to a restaurant and be treated in such manner?
The artical: http://www.blogto.com/eat_drink/2010/...
It sounds as if The China House is a "pet project" of a wealthy guy who truly loved the beauty of the China House. It also sounds like he doesn't truly understand the magic in Hong Kong style North Americanized Chinese Food. It's all about getting fed. Big portions. China House was already skimpy with their portions and charging too much for the food, even with the previous owner. Albeit the chicken balls where the best I've ever had (aside from the Cozy in St. Catherines). I am a huge fan of the China House for better or for worse and and will reluctantly give it a shot. One thing I must support is a business owner who wants to save a local neighborhood landmark and keep it going. For that...thank you Mr. Wise! Even if he has to work out some of the eh-hem unprofessional kinks, I'd rather my beloved China House remain open than shut with forgotten nostalgia.
re: food face
The chicken balls have changed but I hope you have a better experience then I did (please, let me know how it goes)
I am happy china house is still around and is part of my memory, I am hoping if I go back in a few months Wise will get over the novelty of the place and they will get back to what it was.