Cuisine chinoise Tian Tian
After reading the review in the Gazette, my friend and I decided to check this place out at lunch today. It seems like we weren't the only ones; there were quite a few groups looking a little lost (most of the signs are in Chinese).
This place is quite the hidden gem. It's not much to look at. The decor is sparse:only a few wooden cafeteria-style tables, a tv, open kitchen with a buffet serving area... similar to other chinese places in the area like Maison du Nord and the old Qing Hua. It's much like a dingy looking-yet clean cafeteria. The food, however, is delicious and quite the bargain at $8 for rice and three choices (portions are extremely generous and could even feed 2 people). We were quite impressed at the variety of dishes on display. There were maybe 10-12 options to choose from. There is also complimentary self-serve tea and water.
I had rice with (1) spicy tofu, (2) green bean and glass noodles, (3) slivers of pork with green peppers and funghi (wood ear). My friend had rice with (1) spicy tofu, (2) zucchini and chicken(?), (3) braised beef with potato. All our choices were good and very flavourful - like real chinese home-cooking - but the real standout for me was the pork and wood ear dish which was tangy and a little sweet. All dishes had great depth of flavour and tasted very fresh. I find that most dishes at "buffet" type places tend to all taste the same but this wasn't the case here.
We also saw people eating various soups, beef noodle soup, some chinese-style meat pancakes, and there are also pork sandwiches on display. I think that beyond the buffet, there may be a wide variety of dishes that you can get made-to-order.
Address is 1622 de Maisonneuve, near Guy metro (2nd floor). I'm almost hesitant to post this as it's no longer going to be a hidden gem!
One correction: It's Tian Tan not Tian Tian.
I've been going there for a while, now. They only have three tables, so I'm guessing that they're not officially a restaurant. It's really good and cheap. All prices include tax and there's no tipping.
Aside from the steam table stuff which is really tasty if a bit salty and greasy, there are a few noteworthy items. The jian bing ($3.50) that was mentioned in the Gazoo article is a Northern Chinese street food normally eaten for breakfast. It's a pancake with egg, green onion, hoisin, some sort of savoury (plum?) sauce and optional hot sauce. I can't compare it to any other jian bing since I've nevereaten one anywhere else, but I quite like it. It's not too heavy and has nice balance of sweet, salty and hot. It makes a great light lunch.
The meat in the pork sandwiches can be gristly. It's a very plain sandwich, just meat in sesame speckled Chinese bread. For $3 it's a good deal.
They have a bunch of noodle dishes. I've sampled the dan dan mian and the niu rou mian (braised beef noodles). Both are more soups than noodle dishes, and both are quite tame heat-wise. The noodles are very good with a firm but yielding texture. Not at the level of Maison du Nord's hand-pulled noodles, but very enjoyable nonetheless. I don't know if they make them in house or even how they're made (knife-cut? machine made?), but they're fresh noodles. Both the noodle dishes I've had were tasty and comforting with big bold flavours, but not quite worth going out of your way. And that's what I'd say about most of the food there. It's cheap, tasty and filling, but it's not worth a drive across town.
Something that is worth walking a few blocks for is the dumplings. They come in either chicken or pork, boiled or pan-fried. I had the pan-fried pork ones, essentially pot-stickers, and they were fantastic. The dumplings are stuffed with a savoury pork and cabbage mixture that's heavy on the cabbage. They're much bigger than the jiaozi you find at Maison du Nord or Lotus Bleu. It's hard to eat them in just one bite. They seem to be a completely different style of dumpling. An order costs $11, but there's enough there for a meal-and-a-half. Don't expect heights of refinement. This is rustic stuff, but it's really good.
The dan dan and niu rou mian use the same fresh wheat noodles. The dan dan mian are more or less a classic dan dan. Meat sauce with pickled vegetable, sesame sauce, not a lot of heat or sichuan pepper, and a lot of broth. I don't remember the prices exactly. They are on the wall next to the cash. I think it's in the $7 to $10 range.
A friend and I ate there several days ago. We left completely stuffed and the total bill for both of us was $14.50.
Those pork dumplings are my new favourite thing. They are so succulent and hearty. I also agree with Snackhappy that the jian bing is definitely a winner. A bit difficult to pick up with chopsticks, but worth the effort.