Soon Foon Tai for dim sum
Our family is Chinese, and have been getting tired of driving cross-town to Spadina for dim sum. The major choices on Gerrard Street East have been Pearl Court (nicer decor, and the food is good, but there's something missing) and Grand Seafood (whose dinginess was tolerable when the food was great, but isn't, since the last change in ownership).
We decided to try Soon Foon Tai Chinese Restaurant, which is 598 Gerrard Street East (on the north side). The decor is nothing special, but it's bright inside, so we decided to give it a try.
I took my brother-in-law's family there, and found the food to be quite good, with a lot of variety on the weekend. As an example, we always see beef in rice noodle (cheng) and shrimp in rice noodle, but I've never seen scallop in rice noodle before. They serve sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, which is fairly traditional, but is getting harder to find. (The kids always end up waiting for this).
Four of us just went there (today is Monday) for a quick dim sum. The carts still run on weekdays, but appear to shut down at 2 p.m. They have small order sheets if you want to request something. Six small dishes cost us $10 + $1.50 tax. (Cheap, but as two adults and two kids, we probably ate even less than usual).
I think that this may become my new favourite local place. The clientele is totally Chinese (and we function okay with our bad Toisanese). I'd probably give this dim sum a B+, but you need to understand that I've got incredibly high standards for Chinese food, and probably haven't given an A for dim sum anywhere in the last five years!
I have had dim sum up on Highway 7, but you need to understand that I live within walking distance of Gerrard and Broadview, and Highway 7 and Bayview is about a 40 minute drive up the Don Valley Parkway and then west across 7. In my posting, I was complaining about the drive from Broadview to Spadina!
In Spadina Chinatown, the usual places that we go for dim sum are Sky Dragon (southwest corner of Dundas and Spadina, penthouse) and Golden Harvest (north side of Dundas, between Spadina and Huron). These are both good places. But, like Soon Foon Tai, they're more neighbourhood places than a special destination drive. (Again, I'm Chinese, so I probably go for dim sum more often the average Canadian). On some days, certain dishes are really excellent and others are good, but really bad dishes are rare, and it could vary with weather conditions!
I've heard the Lai Wah Heen (in the Metropolitan Hotel on Chestnut Street) is a cut above -- I've never been -- but it's also a lot pricier. It seems that the price of Chinese Food, like sushi, seems to be exponential with the improvement in quality. (I would guess that sushi is usually $20-$30CAD per person, but the best sushi I had in Toronto was at Katsura (in the Prince Hotel, now the Westin Hotel on York Mills) at $60CAD per person over a decade ago, and the best sushi anytime was a mistaken visit to a place in JapanTown (on Geary Street in San Francisco) at $90USD).
All of that being said, I recommend Soon Foon Tai as a place to try when you're in the Gerrard / Broadview neighbourhood. The distance that you're prepared to travel to sample this depends on how often you have dim sum, and whether the quality of dim sum is dependent on the weather (or the mood of the kitchen staff that day). As compared to more expensive cuisines, the risk is rather low. You'll pay somewhere between $5 to $10 per person to find out if you would ever go there again.