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Jul 7, 2012 06:55 PM

New Sky - Hope the 'lousy' food is not an indication of current China Town's standard and quality??!!

A good friend of mine was paying me a short visit from NYC. Based on time and location consideration, we decided to have Chinese food in China Town. My recollection of New Sky's food was quite positive ( albeit experience was a few years back ) and as such, we picked it as our 'chow-destination'.

Based on recommendation of the manager, the three of us ordered the following dishes:
- Sauteed live Razor Clams with Black bean sauce
- Steamed whole diver scallop on the half-shell with minced garlic and rice vermicelli
- Sauteed beef and Chinese water spinach with salted shrimp paste.
- Steamed free range chicken with Chinese mushrooms, red dates and Chinese 'lap-cheung' sausages in lotus leaf wrap.

At first glance, the aforementioned dishes sounded pretty appealing. Unfortunately, the end products was one huge disappointment!

Both the sauteed/wok-fried beef and Razor clam dishes looked dull, lacking luster and void of the essential smokey 'wok-hay'. Some of the clams even have a faint chemical 'bleach' taste!

The scallops at $5 a piece was IMO a rip off. Not only did they remove the delicious crescent roe, once again, the morsel tasted ' chemical-funny'!

The steamed chicken, presented in a huge bamboo steamer, initially looked pretty impressive. However, a closer look and 'digging' revealed most of the chicken parts comprised of the skinny back and meatless wings and neck! $17 for chicken skin and bones!! I am at a lost for words!

At first, I was doing my usual food photo shots. However, I totally lost interest after I start seeing and tasting how bad the food was!!!

Should have headed up-town to Markham or Richmond Hill instead!! Lesson learned!!!

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  1. Photos of the three deceiving 'sub-par' dishes.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      I have had a Chinese friend take me to Sky Dragon a couple of times. He thinks itgreat and has his boirthday dinner there every year. I find it middle of the road at best. Unfortunately all the Chinese restaurants on Spadina seem to be suffering, maybe old age, but there is just no spark, perhaps except for E-Pan.

      1. re: Danybear

        Totally forgot about E-Pan!! Our list comprised of Rol San, New Sky, Taste of China, Jade Garden and Lai Wah Heen. We dropped LWH because its Summerlicious.. Jade Garden was a bomb when I ate there a few months ago!. Just picked New Sky at random.

        1. re: Charles Yu

          New Sky hasn't been on our roster for a long time. E Pan has also slipped a bit under the new management. We haven't found fault yet with Taste of China.

          1. re: Teep

            When did the management change happen at E-Pan? Like you, New Sky has not been on my list for a long time either.....ever since the "break-up" that resulted in E-Pan.

            1. re: T Long

              E Pan changed management for at least a couple of months now, it used to be run by 2 brothers, now there's a gentlemen with glasses who runs the show.

          2. re: Charles Yu

            Have you tried Xam Yu lately? We've been going there for a long time and we really like it. Steamed spot prawns (in season, of course), hong kong style lobster, small whole japanese scallops stir fried in BB sauce (when they have them), whole steamed fish, etc. etc.

            1. re: acd123

              My wife and I don't eat chinese food often and we don't have the time to drive out to the RH places. When we do eat chinese food, we tend to go to Lee Garden which we always enjoy. However, it never seems to appear on any list for those on this board who discuss the best places downtown. Is the issue that Lee Garden lacks authenticity or is it that the food is substandard compared to the other places? As well, if we wanted to branch out, where should we try next? (we have done LWH for one dinner as well as rol san, dynasty and the pearl for dim sum) - liked them all with the pearl probably being my favourite.


              1. re: glickjor

                Try Bamboo on Danforth near Logan. My Chinese friends tell me that it is as good or better than Rol San with bigger portions for about the same price or in some cases a little more.

                1. re: glickjor

                  I know Lee Garden is "controversial" on this board. Often quoted as being less Chinese than others, etc. I've never shared that viewpoint. I don't eat in that area of town much these days, but Lee Garden always stood out to me for its consistency over the years. Many of the dishes are actually very authentic. What they do have are also some dishes that are more friendly to the non-Chinese palate (thus considered unauthentic). It also gets a silly bad rap because it is frequented by a high percentage of non-Chinese. So, if you know your way around Chinese food, you can have a very authentic Cantonese meal, or you can also mix it up and enjoy some less traditional dishes, but great food nevertheless. Depends on your mindset. A place like Chinese Traditional Buns would meet most people's criteria for authenticity, but I doubt many that like Lee Garden would like it. Lee Garden is not substandard, although it is more pricey than others near Dundas/Spadina, and has a terrible queue system when busy. My personal favorites in that area of town would be E-Pan (although, I have not been there since the management change) and Lee Garden (last visit about 6 months ago). Taste of China looks very promising and would be my current target location, but I've not had that first hand experience as yet. Trust your own taste buds.

                  1. re: T Long

                    The last straw for Lee Garden was when we ordered "Pan fried fish with Soy". It came out with a thick batter like fish and chips, with soy dibbled over. It should have been a whole fish pan fried and served with soy-based sauce. To our minds it is definitely westernized. They do serve traditional dishes, one time before we stopped going we had a fish and tofu soup and the fishy taste was too strong - possibly made with fish past its prime.

                    Would recommend Taste of China.

                    Xam Yu can be chancy - once I ordered mussles with black bean, out came a plate of frozen NZ mussels with a gloppy sauce poured over. Next time I asked if they had fresh mussels; they did and it was fine.

        2. We also don't find alot of restaurants that have wok hay. Given that, New Sky is always a go to place for us but sometimes it's good and sometimes it's not.

          Wok hay is definately good for dishes that we order. We order the braised Grouper in a hot pot (this is the only place that ever has boneless fish, other places use fish heads or have alot of bones). Taro Birds nest with seafood (last time we got it with chicken and it wasn't as spectacular as before). Stir fried lobster with ginger and green onions (good again)

          I have to say though that one of the major things that put me off about here is the customer service. I don't expect spectacular service at a chinese restaurant, but now it's gotten to the point where the people working there don't know us as 'regulars'. There used to be this lady that worked there for a long time, she was mean for a few years and for some reason she became really nice to the point where she hovered over us. While my dad didn't care for that, I liked it. It's nice to have someone come along and change your plates with discarded bones, etc.

          There was another guy that was great but again he doesn't work there. My sister knows the owners son, and from what I gather, the owners really aren't all that endorsing of customer service. Seriously! We have been eating here on a regular basis for many years, yet the owners don't even bother greeting customers unless they know you personally (I guess being a long time customer doesn't account for anything).

          They had this really wierd sketchy guy as a manager there for years, again, no enthusiasm, not a hard worker, stood around and that's about it.

          Current manager is a hard worker, but last time we were there I we got the a whole crispy chicken and there was raw meat on my shrimp chip. When I brought it to his attention he just said oh. Granted it was mother's day but still.

          I find portions at one point were skimped down alot and I guess the customer demand declined (we live in the area and walk by here all the time) so they retained the original portions. I'd be more inclined to come here if the customer service was better. That's what's extremely lacking.

          Don't get me started on E-Pan. When E-Pan opened, a few of the bad servers from New Sky started working there. Gave us enough reason not to bother going.

          New Ho King is a safe bet but our family says all their stuff is too well done and it's saturated in soy sauce. Personally I like it, but again there's this one dopey water that works there and it's enough to make me not want to go.

          We haven't found any restaurants outside of NHK and New Sky that really have wok hay in Markham or Richmond Hill.

          22 Replies
          1. re: flonie

            flonie, I could have written that about New Sky! And right now I think they are on top of their game. Very very good! The old waitress you are speaking about was Peggy and she was awesome. She would just order for us as she got to know us. The new manager who works hard can be nice when you push him to be nice :) like a kid, but I agree that is wrong, but I dont care because we go there for the food. Nancy is the waitress who you should try to get. I think she is the only female waitress. She is really nice too.

            I have also noticed that past few months that the lines are starting again at New Sky. E-pan seems to be much quiter still.

            We still need to try Taste of China, but always end up craving New Sky.

            1. re: justsayn

              Yes, the old waitress was Peggy and it's interesting that you know of her too. Like I said, for some reason she all of a sudden became really nice, overly friendly. It all started when my mom called for a reservation and said that it was my sister's birthday. After the meal, they turned the lights low, put on a happy birthday CD and she brought out a cake. It was from Dong Dong down the street and we were really touched. I mean, can you imagine? For years we came here and the service was always subpar. I remember there was a tall balding guy that worked there and he was miserable along with some small fellow. One time for my birthday we went there and they were trying to put the six of us at one of the square small tables fit for 4 people in the middle of the restaurant. When I said that's ridiculous, there's no way our dishes could fit on that table, let alone seat all of us comfortably. The little guy who was promoted to a manager at that point said "we've sat 7 people at that table" Ok....Needless to say I demanded that we leave and went to Rol San.

              Irony was that when we went to Rol San, the service was just as bad
              "What do you recommend?"
              Waiter "Well that depends on what you want"
              "What is your popular dish?"
              Waiter "depends on what you want" and sort of walked away...

              We ordered some beef and broccoli dish and I'll always remember this, it had some sort of orange sauce poured over the beef and broccoli. We spent the same amount of money we would have at New Sky, service was just as bad if not worse and it tasted pretty bland. What a lesson I learned that year.

              Anyways, we went from bad service at New Sky to suddenly really great service. Peggy saw my mom walking along the street and suddenly tried to befriend her. It was kinda weird at how she went from being rude (One time she came up to our table, put all our left over food containers into a bag, and then sort of slammed it on the table and left" to being all nice.

              Nancy is the one I find that is really not friendly, fake, and condescending, unhelpful. I find that overall there is no patience when you don't know what to order. It's seldom that I find a server in a chinese restaurant that is really helpful when you contemplate ordering dishes you've never tried.

              Peggy's disappearence is shrouded in mystery. One of the last few times we were there, she got into an argument with Nancy and it was pretty loud. Peggy was the sort of person that was not going to be told off by anything, let alone someone young and arrogent like Nancy. It was lively to see because at the end of their argument, Peggy apologized to a regular patron (she knew the last name) and said "I'm really sorry about that" and the guy's response was memorable "I didn't hear anything"

              Anyways, like I said, when we went back we were told she was either away or went back home to Malaysia (we're assuming to visit). Few more times and they say that she 'quit and went back to live in Malaysia'. I find it kinda odd because she had been living here for so long. We personally feel that maybe it got unbearable for her to work there and she decided to quit. Haven't seen her in years so I don't know if she moved or got work elsewhere.

              I agree that I go there for food, not to make friends, but I also expect to be treated like a customer. I mean, especially if we are regular customers, we've spoken to other people who also say that this place isn't renowned for its service either. If you ask for an extra plate or something, it's a big chore for them.

              Most of the servers there HAVE to be somehow related to the owner. I say this because there is a tall guy there, glasses that is not heavy set, but a bit big. He sort of stands around and doesn't do much, isn't proactive. There's the small guy there too that I can't stand. He exudes alot of arrogence as well.

              I'd like to try Taste of China, a few years ago Susur said that's where all his family gatherings take place, but New Sky is still good. It's good to stick with something you know than risk a chance (like we did with Rol San, yuck)

              1. re: flonie

                My 'Magic Wok' experience a while back, unfortunately trumped your Rol San one!
                " What are your seafood special of the day?"
                Waiter " Can't you read?!!"

                1. re: Charles Yu

                  You have to tell me about the "Magic Wok" experience. Proves that grass isn't always greener on the other side. Worst of all it was my birthday, I left on grounds of principal (I'm not eating with my shoulders pressed up against my family) and made to feel like I'm eating in undeveloped country conditions. That plus the food isn't cheap. I can understand eating a hot dog or whatever on the go, but you can't have a chinese feast in cramped conditions. New Sky already packs people in like sardines, can you imagine being even more squished?

                  "What are your seafood special of the day?"
                  Waiter "Can't you read?!"

                  Us - actually we can't. We were all born here or came when we were really young (mom). Dad reads a bit, if even that...even then he's selective as to what to translate for us.

                  US - "Hey dad, what's the specials?"
                  Dad -"They're all seafood dishes and you guys don't like seafood"

                  They wouldn't have this problem if the menu was also in english.

                2. re: flonie

                  It's so funny because Peggy was gruff to us also and one day became our best friend with the hovering and everything. And she kept asking. "everything ok? everything ok?" and adjusting the tea and the bowls for us. lol She once told us to not order something that was fried because it was "too fat". We are not heavy people but she was very worried about our fat intake. lol Peggy told us before she left that she was moving. I thought she said Singapore but not sure. I know it wasn't malasia. She said she hated working there because the boss didnt care about anything she did. Shortly after that the place started downhill and we stopped going. We tried it again about 6 or 8 months ago when we saw line ups were returning and since then we have had some really good food. Sometimes it is so good we can't stop eating it. : )

                  Nancy is not like Peggy. I agree. But I have gotten her to warm up and actually smile. But as far as food advice or the like, she is not interested for sure. I pre-arranged a dinner for 20 and tried to get her to help me plan the menu but she would have nothing to do with it.

                  Jimmy was the manager who we liked. He always made sure we got a good table.

                  1. re: justsayn

                    It's interesting to hear that we aren't the only ones that experienced the unusual behaviors of Peggy. If Jimmy is the same person you are talking about (he used to be a waiter there and then they promoted him) then that was the one we hated. He tried to seat the six of us at a small table.

                    Are you thinking of Johnny? Johnny was an interesting character as well. He didn't really work, he'd often sort of float around the room without interacting with people.

                    Recently for Mother's day we had reserved our usual table in advance with the owner. But when we showed up on time they told us they gave our table to someone who had made a reservation for 2 hours after us. Our reservation was for 5pm, the other guy had it for 7. He showed up at 4:45 demanded the table and they gave it away. we had to sit close to the front and it wasn't that great I tell you. I don't like the front because when it's busy, people that are waiting are right beside your table. People actually lean on our table or rest their arms, hands on our table. Very rude and I'm not talking about asian people.

                    I was mentioning our discussion today at home and we think that the owner didn't want to fire Peggy but they made it unbearable for her to stay that's why she quit. As I said, Peggy was nice if you were on her good side but she had another side as well (as evidenced when she got into an argument with Nancy). Mind you I don't think Nancy is innocent by any means. Sigh...I really miss Peggy. Wish she'd come back. I find it odd that she was moving to another country entirely, I know she has a son. Wonder if she went back to her birthplace or what.

                    1. re: flonie

                      Yes, you're right! It was Johnny.

                      After all this we tried to go tonight for dinner but the construction made it impossible : (

                      1. re: justsayn

                        Are you coming by car or TTC? It's going to be like this for two weeks and then when it opens one lane restriction.

                        I am glad Johnny is gone, he was indifferent. I mean better than nothing I suppose but I wouldn't say he was great.

                        Did Peggy give you the long life buns? She's the only one that I know gave those to regular customers. We had to get them this year but we paid for them. She comped us.

                        1. re: flonie

                          Peggy would always switch our tea out for a better quality and she brought us a big bowl of soup to share.

                          1. re: justsayn

                            They only have one kind of tea. As for the big bowl of soup, everyone gets the comp soup of the day.

                            1. re: flonie

                              Thats not so. They have [at least] two teas and while more tables get soup now, they rarely served soup before. It sounds like you get that soup but look around, you wont see that going to all tables.

                              Next time you are there - ask about their tea. She told us what type it was but I forget now.

                              1. re: justsayn

                                I'll keep that in mind about tea, because they only give us one kind. Now that I think about it, maybe Peggy gave us a different tea one time towards the end. It has been such a long time since she was there, I've forgotten what service is like. Angie is nice but she floats throughout the restaurant.

                                The soup, I'm telling you everyone gets it. Did you get some kind of special soup? I've seen it served to everyone else. When I go with my non-asian friend they never give it to us unless I ask (I don't drink soup myself so I don't care).

              2. re: flonie

                I have posted several times on other threads about New Ho King. This place attracts a fair number of non-Chinese, usually after the bars and clubs close. At prime dinner hours, especially on the weekends, the clientele is primarily multi-generational Chinese families. While there is an English only menu, the Chines/English menu is full of "authentic" dishes. Much like Lee Garden, there is, to be sure, a selection of dishes that non-Chinese would find less daunting. Chinese families seem to always get what they want, so I'm sure a gentle prodding by non-Chinese would get them the same dishes, many of which aren't listed. One of my favourites there is the Mui Choy (pungent preserved vegetable) Kow Yuk, an incredibly flavourful, tender and rich braised pork belly dish. The dish is of Hakka origin and is rarely seen these days.
                My mother passed away a few weeks ago and when I arranged for the traditional post-funeral meal for family and friends, it was New Ho King. My Uncle ( a retired 88 year old Chinese chef) recommended NHK over all the other Chinatown choices. The service at the meal was first rate and the food was extremely tasty and in plentiful portion. Even my Richmond Hill relatives loved the meal (I think they were plesantly surprised). Each table had crab meat fish maw soup (accompanied by red vinegar), mixed seafood and vegetables in a taro nest (not overcooked), injtensely flavourful snow pea leaves with minced garlic, whole crispy chicken (very juicy), double lobsters with ginger and green onion, steamed whole pickerel (walleye), which was served already opened and filleted, beef tenderloin in chef's sauce on a sizzling platter, Yeung Chow fried rice, and Buddha's Feast (Lo Han Jai) chow mein (Lo Han is traditionally served following Chinese funerals). The restaurant gave us complimentary refreshing oranges and a delicious taro pudding soup for dessert.. As I have said before, NHK has no pretentions to high end dining, but for tasty, authentic cuisine served in huge portions at reasonable prices (the meal cost at least $100 per table less than a comparable meal in Richmond Hill or Markham), New Ho King is number one on my family's list in Chinatown.

                1. re: Big Kahuna 1

                  You are right, at New Ho King it is pretty popular for multi-generational family meals. We used to go there and we stopped because the quality and service was really below subpar. Ever since they renovated things appear ok.

                  I really like the egg rolls from New Ho King, while they aren't 'traditional' in the sense of authentic food, it tastes like the 'authentic canadian fast food chinese' from the 80's. I don't know how to quite describe it. When you go to the mandarin, or even manchu wok, the fast food there doesn't taste old school. I find at New Ho King it's got it right for the egg rolls anyways. I haven't tried their chicken balls, but their plain fried rice is good.

                  I really like their "Jeah Jeah Guy" stir fried chicken with green onions and served in a pot. I prefer to get it boneless but I find that while it tastes good, they really do overdo it with the soy.

                  Is it just me or does almost every chinese restaurant always give Red Bean soup for the comp dessert? We absolutely hate it. It must be quick and cheap to make because nearly everywhere I go that's always served. Seems not many places give sweet tofu or taro with sago for dessert. Everytime I go to Lee Garden it's the same thing, red bean. There's a really nice waiter that will give us the coconut taro sago dessert if I ask a few times.

                  We like the stir fried double lobster but I find that when it's busy sometimes you don't know if they've kept a few pieces of the 'good meat' (best pieces of the meat). We ordered double stir fried lobster one time and they put it into a round foil take out container, definately smaller than what you get at the restaurant but we paid full price, it wasn't part of some combo meal!

                  1. re: Big Kahuna 1

                    Thanks for the intel on New Ho King BK1. Never been so it's next on my list.

                    The feedback here seems to be all over the board regarding the go-to places on Spadina...

                    Years ago when I was at Lee Garden I remember the food to be kinda precious for Chinatown and toward the north end of pricing. Must have been around the time they got written up in Toronto Life.

                    The single meals I've had at Taste of China and Xam Yu were just so-so. ToC was passable and the service was just okay. I'd had high expectations at Xam Yu and was actually quite disappointed and won't be returning.

                    For food alone, my experiences at New Sky have been good and I'd go back, especially after seeing the lineups as I've walked by during the last few months.

                    My meals at E-Pan, over the past few years, with a dining companion and with larger groups, have all been excellent. Perfectly executed food and fantastic service. I will return without hesitation.

                  2. re: flonie

                    Regarding E-Pan, did you ever go? My first and only New Sky experience was quite underwhelming. We had heard very positive things about NS and wondered what happened! Found out that some of the "good" people had just broken away to start their own place up the street, called E- Pan. Subsequently, whenever we've gone, we found E-Pan to be great...certainly no service issues.

                    1. re: T Long

                      Where is New Ho King?

                      I just went to New Sky last week, I had ordered 2lbs of lobster, ham yu gai lup bo, and ....can't rmmbr... but it was all very good. The service was good too. What was that third dish???

                      1. re: Chocaholic

                        New Ho King is on the west side of Spadina, #416, about two short blocks south of College.

                      2. re: T Long

                        When did you go to NS for the first time? As I said, shortly after one of the good servers left several of us have noted the quality went down (the portions got really small).

                        What do you recommend at E-Pan? I'm still hesitant to go to E-Pan because if it's the same people from NS that went over there (I remember the servers that went over there were the ones we despised over at NS).

                        1. re: flonie

                          I've been going to E-Pan for about 5 years, so my sole time at NS would have been a little bit of time before guessing about 5-6 years ago. I think the last couple of times at E-Pan would have been at lunchtime and I ordered from their lunch special menu. However, I've not been to E-Pan since the management change mentioned by Teep.

                          1. re: T Long

                            Are you the one that said taste of china is good? If so what sort of dishes are good?

                            Have you been to Kom Jug Yuen? They recently changed ownership as well but they kept the same staff so regulars are still treated like regular customers.

                          2. re: flonie

                            None of the original servers of E Pan are there anymore.

                      3. New Sky has had some turnover and perhaps some of the more involved dishes have slipped a bit, but the chili oil is still awesome.

                        No excuse for chemical seafood (seafood used to be a highlight at NS), but I think Charles ventured from the standards at NS and this is *partly* to blame for a lackluster meal.

                        I think it is safe to say NS has drifted from very good by Spadina standards to just above average by Spadina standards. As a local, I hope it at least holds!

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: JonasBrand

                          'ventured from the standards at NS' I always thought 'seafood' was and is New Sky's forte??!!

                          I recalled years ago when I had my first meal there, we drove all the way from uptown because NS was the first to introduce ' Whole Dungeness crab on fried rice, wrapped in lotus leaf and steamed in a bamboo steamer'! At that time, that dish was a stunner! Nowadays, almost everyone is doing that! We also had the Razor Clams too but I remembered the 'wok-hay' was more pronounced?!

                          1. re: Charles Yu

                            I still like NS's hot and sour soup, young chow fried rice, and chicken hot pot with ginger and green onions... some years back their best dishes were indeed seafood, don't think it is the case currently... the wok-hay is not what it was across the board.

                            For chinese seafood, the best I've recently had was at fisherman's clubhouse (following your great suggestion)!

                          2. re: JonasBrand

                            While I haven't tried the chili oil (it's not at the tables, do you have to ask for it?) I would have to say that Spadina is lackluster overall. Granted, I find 'wok hay' seems to be lacking everywhere, we haven't found it in Markham or Mississauga.

                            Tonight my mom brought home food from NHK and I'd gotta say that two of the dishes were bland. Chicken fried rice was tasteless, and the chicken wings were also unseasoned. I don't eat salty by any means but there was no flavor.

                            Lee Garden isn't bad by any means, but you are paying for the ambience.

                            1. re: JonasBrand

                              yes, the chili oil is indeed awesome!