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Jan 18, 2012 11:47 AM

Where to experience Chinese New Year in Toronto

Looking for some restaurant recomendations for Chinese New Year.

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  1. My adivise to you is to avoid ' the day' if possible, since all restaurants will be packed and menu selection will be restricted to ' production line' festive banquet menus. However, if you do insist eating out on New Year's day, all the top tiered ones ( mostly up north ) will be open. My choice would be the Emperor, Casa Victoria, Casa Imperial, O Mei and Spring Villa. I found Yang's can be very inconsistent ranging from mind blowing good to 'need to complain' bad!!
    BTW, BOOK EARLY!! Might be too late now?!

    7 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      Every year, even if it is a weekday, we take the afternoon off, pick up the kids from school and go for dim sum lunch. Most restaurants will have 'kung fu' lion teams who come in to do the 'lion dance'. Lots of folks like to touch the lion for good luck.
      However, you normally need to be a regular to get a table on New Year's Day. I think they do the same on the New Year weekend as well.
      Like Charles said, I would avoid dinner. Food will be limited to set menus with a jacked up price. Don't know the new name but the place that replaced 'Ruby' at McCowan and Finch has good value dinner sets. Same with the banquet restaurant at Peachtree (Kennedy & 7). Set dinner prices are quite affordable.

      1. re: caitlink

        BTW, going to 'regular' restaurants would mean dishing out tons of 'red pockets' to the staff!!

        1. re: Charles Yu

          Thanks Charles :-) Forgot to mention that. True - going to regular restaurant does indeed mean shelling out tons of red pocket money to staff. But in some cases, well worth it if it means not having to wait for a table, getting comp'd for tea charge or 10% off discount for the rest of the year.

          1. re: caitlink

            Just curious- would gwai lo handing out red pocket money also be likely to end up with comp'd tea, and the yearlong discount? ;-)

            Happy Chinese New Year to everyone who is celebrating! ;-)

            1. re: prima

              No harm trying and report back! However, I think the contents of the red pockets will end up costing more than the tea/condiment charges!

              1. re: Charles Yu

                Ha ha. that is an interesting question. Maybe the 'gwai lo' should try and see what happens. For sure, he/she will be remembered and appreciated by restaurant staff.
                But back to the topic. Maybe contents of red pockets will end up costing more than tea charges for most. But for 'regulars' such as my parents who go for dim sum almost daily plus the weekend dinners, the comp'd tea charges and 10% discount may be substantial.

      2. re: Charles Yu

        Is there anywhere in Chinatown where we can go for a decent Chinese New year's meal on the day?

      3. Would Chinese New Year Eve be extremely busy also?
        I know Sundays are busy any time of the year for dim sum, but a group of friends and I had agreed to go out for dim sum this Sunday, not even realizing it would be Chinese New Year Eve.
        If its going to be insanely busy, we'll just postpone the meal for the next weekend.

        2 Replies
        1. re: LearningHow

          Dim Sum lunch on a Sunday that also coincide with New Year's Eve?!!!!! GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!!!!! Guarantee a looooooong wait!!

          1. re: Charles Yu

            LOL it's a good think I checked. We'll just go in a week or two then :)

        2. I just came back from Brilliant Restaurant where we had an 11 course meal with 22 people. It was good, but not mentioned by anyone else in this thread.

          As I was walking out the door I saw there was a Joanne Kates review posted on the window :-)

          4 Replies
          1. re: foodyDudey

            Did you also noticed a lot of the dishes JK reviewed have to be 'order in advance'!! Wonder where she got the 'insider scoop' from?! Ha!! Us chowhounders??!!

            1. re: Charles Yu

              Hi Charles, What dishes need to be order in advance at Brilliant? I am thinking of going there on Jan 30th. Thanks.

              1. re: smfan

                We advance order the
                - Baked Scallops
                - Seafood ( Guava ) Wrapper pocket
                - Crispy boneless chicken with stuffed glutinous rice
                First two was so-so. The chicken a must.
                If you are into mutton'lamb, their mutton hot-pot is one of the best in town!. As well, try their crisp pan seared scallops with premium top soy! Excellent!
                Enjoy!! and have a happy lunar new year!

              2. re: Charles Yu

                Hi Charles,

                I didn't read her review. Since I went with 20 Chinese people from my wife's work., one had arranged the dinner and ordered the items that need to be ordered in advance. One of those dishes was a boneless chicken sttuffed with rice and deep fried. That was really good and so was everything else we ate.

                The first dish was scallops and brocolli, the scallops seemed to have been cooke sous vide.

            2. I hosted a visiting airline pilot who understands good chinese cuisine (see last paragraph bout him) and his family one week before Chinese New Year. We had dinner at O Mei, Emperor, Rol San and Chiuchow Man restaurants. I ate separately at Judy’s Cuisine.

              Rol San (Spadina): The day before O Mei (Friday) we had a mediocre lunch at Rol San. The dishes included lobster, stir fried snow pea leaves, dim sum and others my visitors wanted that I’ve forgotten. Probably the wrong dishes to order from Rol San as this was my most disappointing experience here. To make matters worse, the roasted duck we bought from King’s Noodles across the street was too salty and oily. My visitors politely insisted on cooking for us that night, so away we went to St Lawrence market and later T&T supermarket in Mississauga. Their cooking put Rol San to shame. Thank goodness O Mei on the following night helped change their perception of Chinese cuisine in GTA.

              Peller Estates winery restaurant (Niagara On The Lake): The next day, before dinner at O Mei, we had an excellent lunch here, so it was a good food day. This restaurant has consistently impressed in over six visits (at Niagara, the biggest F&B disappointment was wine-tasting at Stratus wineries, whose standards have dropped even though their prices have increased).

              O Mei (Richmond Hill): Dinner was excellent, and my Singaporean Chinese visitors loved it. The 7.5 lb lobster done four ways (with e-fu noodles instead of fried rice) was phenomenal, just enough for the five of us. In addition, we had stir fried gai lan with preserved meat (excellent); steamed mince pork pate with squid, mushroom, chestnut (very good); and crispy chicken (good). The many free deserts were mostly very good. Service was good, even though the restaurant was full on the Saturday night one week before Chinese New Year. Ringo’s personality adds character to the restaurant. All dishes were recommendations by Charles Yu, so thank you Mr. Yu. In retrospect we should have added the Buddha Jumps Over The Wall soup. O Mei’s Chinese menu does not have English translation (none in my group could fully read their menu, though our waiters could speak English). Would definitely make the 407 trip to O Mei again. [Postscript: A few days later I stopped by for lunch on a weekday to retrieve my wine bottle opener. Had good house special fried noodles, but the dim sum (har gao, siu mai, octopus, fried dumplings) was above average, though the dumplings were good.]

              Chiuchow Man (Mississauga): The next day we had an excellent dinner. I ordered in advance with the owner. The menu: pork stomach with salted vegetable and pepper soup, steamed crab (3.5 lbs), steamed sea bass fish, steamed jumbo oysters with black bean sauce in shell, Chiuchow/Teochew marinated duck with jelly fish, stir friend young snow pea leaves with scallops and king mushroom, rice with tiger shrimp wrapped in lotus leaves, beef rib with spicy honey sauce, two deserts (steamed crystal buns with taro, split mung bean soup). Although the restaurant’s décor and scope can’t compare with the upscale Richmond Hill restaurants, my visitors agreed that the food taste and presentation was comparable with O Mei (e.g., they equally loved CCM’s steamed crab as much as O Mei’s steamed lobster, so it came down to the finer quality of O Mei’s mung bean noodles on which the lobster was laid, lol) as well as the personal service we got from the owner and also the head chef who came out to talk with us. Bottom line, it cost 10% less than O Mei even though we had more dishes. We concluded that the secret to a better chinese restaurant experience is ordering in advance, getting honest menu advice from the owner, and having a good relationship with the owner and with the head chef. I’ve hosted over ten dinners here, even my Chinese friends from the travel, food and hospitality companies have never been disappointed when I do the ordering.

              Emperor (Richmond Hill): We showed up at Emperor’s locked door and rang the doorbell (my feeling is that this is a ploy to create the false perception of exclusivity rather than a robbery prevention measure). A female hostess/AM let us in but then ignored us and proceeded to seat a couple, probably regulars, who came in 10 feet behind us. The restaurant was almost two thirds empty (when we left it was half full), yet we had to wait half a minute before an assistant manager came to seat us. Overall the dinner was below expectation. The Peking Duck two-ways were so so: the carved duck was below expectations (meat is dry and skin is over fatty, the Hoisin-based sauce was good, crepes quite good but too sweet, stingy on green onions and cucumber) though the second course of stir fried diced duck with lettuce wrap was better. They didn’t make a duck broth out of the bones and remaining parts. I’ve eaten at Beijing’s Quan Ju De roast duck restaurant but even Mississauga’s long-defunct Champion House restaurant used to serve better Peking Duck. The duck carving show was disappointing as the male waiter (who had served us from the beginning) carving the duck was engrossed chatting with a female waiter while slicing my duck; otherwise he had a sour look on his face. Thank goodness the remaining dishes were served by different, more pleasant waitresses (the sour faced waiter was able to smile at other tables that appeared to have regulars). The eggplant with enoki mushrooms in conpoy was excellent, the best Chinese vegetable dish I’ve had recently. The honey glazed oysters were quite good, but nothing special (Chiuchow Man restaurant makes better fried lightly-breaded jumbo oysters, an advance order). The house special fried rice was only average, nothing special. The free deserts were not as good as O Mei’s. The tableware and table setting was nice, but Emperor needs a better interior decorator. My impression is this restaurant believes its better than it actually is and possibly gives better service (and better food) to its regulars. Even though the bill (because of the dishes ordered) was half that I paid at O Mei, there is nothing compelling in the food for me to patronize Emperor again.

              Judy’s Cuisine (Richmond Hill): I stopped by for lunch on a weekday. The manager was friendly. In response to my request, he recommended the special chicken with jelly fish as well as house special stir fried sea food. Overall the food was decent, but I had higher expectations. Perhaps it was past lunch hour and the restaurant was empty, so I presume the best chefs were on a break. Nice tableware though.

              The Singaporean Chinese visitor understands food, especially Chinese cuisine. He is a Singapore Airlines captain, has over 30 years mainly international flying experience, has eaten at many great restaurants around the world, and loves to cook and make wine as a hobby. Singapore Airlines has been rated the world’s best international airline for 23 of the past 24 years (first and second link). The cuisine offered is exceptional, e.g., kaiseiki and other cuisine designed by Kyoto’s 3-star Michelin Kikunoi restaurant (third link). Singapore Airlines’ International Culinary Panel includes chefs Yoshihiro Murata, Gordon Ramsay, Sanjeev Kapoor, Georges Blanc, Sam Leong, Alfred Portale, Zhu Jun, Mathew Moran, Suzanne Goin.