Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Toronto Dim Sum Crawl--Six Restaurants In Six Hours

In hindsight it was probably a crazy thing, and it wasn't planned in advance. However this past Sunday I ended up going to six different Toronto area dim sum restaurants between 9 am and 3 pm. Originally I was just going to hit two or three places with the intent of judging the quality of Toronto area dim sum as well as to look for innovative items, but it ended up being more like a marathon.

My morning started out at Dragon Dynasty on Brimley Road in Scarborough. Arriving a little after 9 am I ran into the Sunday dim sum dilemma. The good thing about early dim sum is you avoid the crowds. The bad thing though is not all the dim sum is out. I was very surprised to find that Dragon Dynasty was largely cart service, with a few off the menu items. It turned out to be the only cart style of the day. And did the carts come slowly. After a considerable while I had taken only one item, a scallop shrimp dumpling, and ordered another from the menu, the rice noodle roll with scallop and snow pea leaves, which interestingly used the large pea leaves. Both items were fantastic, particularly the wrappers and fun. It was at this point, with the prospect of a long wait for who knows what that I began to launch my dim sum hopping plan.

Next stop was Regal 16 Seafood in Richmond Hill, which was probably a 25 minute surface street drive from Dragon Dynasty. I hadn't realized until then that Toronto's equivalent of the San Gabriel Valley, covering Scarborough, Richmond Hill, Markham and parts of other communities like North York, was similar in size to the SGV, though obviously not as densely Chinese. At 10:30 am, Regal 16 still had plenty of room. I had the beef dumplings with wolfberries, the vegetarian chicken bun with ginger sauce and the garlic chicken pastry rolls, with the latter being the only loser. It was here I decided to only eat some of each order and save the rest in lieu of going out to dinner.

I then drove over to Highway 7 in Richmond Hill to O Mei, another highly rated Chowhound favorite. But something was wrong. While Regal 16 was full when I left, O Mei, which wasn't that big to begin with, was half empty. Furthermore, the dim sum menu was very ordinary. I ended up ordering just the rice noodle rolls with beef and the diced lotus root meat patties. Not to say that these weren't good, but hardly Toronto's finest.

Moving a couple of blocks west on Highway 7, I landed at Rich Land Chinese cuisine. The restaurant was bustling and packed. I ordered one XL item, the garoupa with fruit, as well as the chicken avocado rolls. Actually the garoupa with fruit wasn't as exciting as it sounded--battered garoupa slices with four red grapes on the side. The chicken avocado roll was essentially an egg roll with a chicken and avocado filling, and was very good.

At this point I was starting to get full so I thought I'd drive back to Scarborough and scout around. What I hadn't discovered until the last day of my previous Toronto visit was that a lot of Chinese shopping centers are barely visible from the street, if at all. This trip I discovered a whole bunch of them. Driving down Warden Ave. I spotted another large Chinese shopping center which was actually highly visible, and moreover the signage "Sam Woo." I knew from prior trips to Toronto that L.A.'s Sam Woo chain had set up shop in Toronto, and I had often wondered whether they were able to keep up with the high Chinese food standards in Toronto. So in I went. I wasn't surprised that the choices here were more mundane. The snow pea leaf dumpling once again used the large leaf variety, and the shrimp and avocado roll was pretty good. The real surprise was that Sam Woo's dim sum was the most expensive I had all day.

At this point in time I needed a respite so I drove to another hidden Chinese megamall in Markham and walked around for a while. At about 2:15 I figured it was time for one last selection of dim sum. I chose Casa Victoria in Markham, having previously been to their sister Casa Imperial for dinner, which had been the highlight meal of my previous trip to Toronto. The last dim sum of the day was clearly the best, with a selection of interesting and tasty items--lamb roll with cucumber and avocado in teriyaki sauce; duck with chive dumplings; chicken with black fungus dumplings; and crispy fried mashed potato cake with shrimp.

This trip reinforced my previous conclusion as to Toronto's place in the Chinese food pecking order, which is below Vancouver and above Los Angeles. The difference is that in Vancouver everything is clearly better than the food in Los Angeles. You can walk into any Chinese restaurant in Richmond, B.C. , even in a food court, and get a superior meal. In Toronto you will find food that is just as good as Vancouver, but you will also find food that is comparable to what we have here in Los Angeles. Last time I came back from Vancouver, I had no interest in eating L.A. Chinese food for over a month. Back in L.A. from Toronto last night, I'm going out for Chinese food today.

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