Help! Repatriated Torontonian baffled by the Chinese food!
So, I grew up here but lived in 4 different US cities over almost 20 years until returing to Toronto last year. I, along with my wife and kids, have travelled all over the US. In EVERY place we've been, big or small, we could walk into a chinese restaurant and get fresh, tasty chinese food. We assumed as we were planning our return to Toronto that, given the sizeable Asian community, locating a good goto chinese restaurant would be no problem. We have struggled. Thai food? No problem. Japanese, Vietnamese, even Korean? Lots of choices. Chinese food has been a problem. I want to be very specific so you guys can help. For me this has boiled down to 2 main areas.
1. "Authentic" vs. "Good". This is always a challenge when seeking reviews online. Different cultures develop different taste profile expectations, get used to different textures and qualities of ingredients. I am NOT looking for something that is authentic. That is easy to find. I am looking for something good, fresh, tasty. I want crisp, fresh vegetables, quality well prepared proteins, complex flavourful sauces that are neither runny, over corn-starched or sickly sweet. I am not looking for an Andrew Zimmern style food challenge just homey, westernized but not dumbed down chinese food for my wife, my adventurous eating kids and myself. I recognize that purists and sinophiles howl when I say this. That's fine, don't respond. There must be someone out there who has lived in the US, has eaten the kind of good, fresh, tasty chinese food I'm talking about and can direct me.
2. Egg rolls. This is perhaps just a symptom of issue 1 above but it has been the single most disappointing issue related to my move back to my beloved Toronto (along with no US commercials during the superbowl). What the HELL is going on with eggrolls here?! Almost all I can find are these folded envelopes half filled with watery sprouts that taste like nothing. Again, I've had great spring rolls but an eggroll is nowhere to be found. To me, an eggroll has been full of fresh finely shredded crispy cabbage and carrot with shredded pork and/or shrimp and gently seasoned. These are rolled (a la a burrito) and deep fried in appropriately hot (and clean) oil so the outside is cripsy and the filling is almost bursting at the seams, warmed through but never mushy. With a little hot mustard or plum sauce (it's called duck sauce in the US and is a bit less sweet) this is something I would dream about.
I have actually started asking US chinese food restaurant owners when I eat there if they would consider opening a joint partnership resto here in Toronto. I just can't imagine that tastes would vary so differently. Anyway, anyhelp is much appreciated. Anyone who can save me monthly trips to the US will be rewarded with a dozen delicious egg-rolls!
Toronto did that kind of food 30 years ago — anyone remember Ginsberg & Wong? — bud sadly Sai Woo etc have all closed, replaced by Spring Rolls. China House used to be OK for that sort of thing but the new owners are said to have updated the menu.
If you like Toronto Thai, try Spring Roll's Chinese section. Not my cup of tea!
We went to China House tonight and loved everything about it. Excellent food, great service, wonderful decor. Friendly and efficient staff. The place was packed with families. We enjoyed the Sweet and Sour Chicken, Young Chow Fried Rice and Chicken Chow Mein. Greg's chocolate chip ice cream with almond cookies and fortune cookies was the perfect end to the meal. I can't wait to go back again!
I have yet to find that type of egg roll in Toronto, and it is one I enjoy on every trip south. I too, am a fan of the type of chinese you speak and I can offer that for good (but not great ) chinese, the Szechuan, Szechuan chain is pretty solid. They are a relaxed, with nicer decor, American style large restaurant (at least at the Vaughn Mills location) with so so service but pretty good food.
Also, I like Spadina Garden on Dundas near Bay and Szechuan Gourmet on Steeles. Both have service issues and solid food. At Spadina Garden, it can take a while for someone to take your order, especially on weekends.
Be warned of Szechaun Gourmet though, the food is good to great for canadian szechuan but the service is atrocious. They deliver everything to your table at once and all within 2 minutes of arrival. So we tend to order soup and apps first and only order our mains when we are ready to have it brought to our table. They are crazy busy on weekends, so we tend to only go during the week when we feel less rushed.
I know that it is outrageous to put up with that type of service for that type of food, but I need my fix on occasion and am willing to forgive a lot.
116 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON , CA
Szechuan Gourmet Restaurant
1033 Steeles Ave W, Toronto, ON M2R2S9, CA
As an American who moved here a couple years ago, I have some sympathy for your predicament. In my case, I had become accustomed to American Szechuan, and what is mostly available here seems to be some sort of Canadian Cantonese, which I guess I'm not the biggest fan. I have, however, enjoyed a couple meals at Spadina Garden (http://www.spadinagarden.com/).
As for your first specific complaint, I too am bothered Toronto's cult of authenticity. I'm not saying that I am opposed to anything different, it's just that these (and other) boards can get downright racist, particularly when something like sushi is involved. I also agree with you that tastes are a personal thing, and so kudos to you for having the courage to be clear about what you are looking for. I only wish I'd sampled more of the city's Chinese so I could be of more help.
As for egg rolls, I've never had a particularly good egg roll, either here or in the states, so I can't help you with that. It's possible I just don't like egg rolls.
On a final note, if you're interested in dim sum, I was quite happy with my (somewhat pricey) meal at Lai Wah Heen (http://www.laiwahheen.com/).
Lai Wah Heen
108 Chestnut St, Toronto, ON M5G 1R3, CA
116 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON , CA
Spadina Garden Restaurant
116 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5G1C3, CA
The OP is clearly nostalgic for a time when a decent Chinese dinner in Toronto included egg rolls, pork ends, chicken with pineapple and other golden oldies, and you usually had to trudge to Dundas and Elizabeth Streets - the centre of Toronto's original Chinatown - to find such morsels. I have friends who feel the same every now and then, in which case they make their way to Sea Hi, mentioned above, on the east side of Bathurst Street south of Highway 401. There it resides, as it has the past several decades, its menu embalmed in time (except for the prices) and, according to my friends, still surprisingly tasty. I've never been, not having felt the urge for such cuisine since my twenties, when Hop Sam's at 12 1/2 Elizabeth Street was my idea of cutting-edge Chinese. But I feel their nostalgia at times and I'll take my friends' word for it: it's good if you yearn for that kind of nosh. Seems to me there was a short thread recently about Sea Hi, and it wasn't entirely dismissive.