Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tasting China...


Joey: [to Ross] Forget about Rachel. Go to China, eat Chinese food.
Chandler: Of course there, they'd just call it food.

Honestly, that cracks me up every time. Because it’s true! It’s funny, I remember how strange it seemed the first time I realized that what we ate growing up wasn’t just "food". There I was at lunchtime, with my squat little thermos packed with the trinity of rice, bbq pork and bok choy. I’d peel the straw free from my white and blue Vitasoy tetrapak and sip slowly, distracted by the exotic presence of my seatmate’s bologna and mustard sandwich, followed, tasting course style, by celery sticks and peanut butter, and a little cup of chocolate pudding.

Cue Joy Luck Club theme song.

Well, I’m all over those jealous pangs now (except that time last week with the boy blatantly flaunting his grilled cheese while I inhaled my lonely bran muffin like a starved animal – or maybe that was just greed?). I’m loving that even with years of laborious training (weekly Chinatown runs for soy chicken and pea shoots, short dim sum circuits on weekends, marathon eight-course, extended family meals every few months) under my belt - literally - I am constantly reminded of just how new and exciting going out for a Chinese meal can be.

Even more exciting is being invited out to a late night feast at one of your favorite restaurants. With the series of dishes on offer personally ordered, in advance, by your generous and very particular chef. Oh, and have all the tables reserved for your private party. Which is made up entirely of cooks, ravenous after a night of service. Did I mention the two cases of beer?

Yowza, it’s a celebration!

before mealbefore the meal begins...

Well, the gang’s pretty much all here…time for some serious chow.

winter melon soup bowl...shinyIMG_0323_2

First off, winter melon soup à la Fabergé, with lotus seeds, scallop and tender porky bits. Shiny...

IMG_0294_2garlic stem, fresh sea cucumber

The happy, and hefty, little number on the top: braised scallop and black moss on top of snow pea shoots. It looks intimidating, I know, but just think of it as a much tastier, upside-down version of those crazy KFC bowls. On the bottom, fresh sea cucumber and spicy garlic scapes.

cold teadungeness - after

Bee-ah. And Dungeness crab with ginger and green onion – after the dish had been ravaged by about ten pairs of chopsticks at the same time.

crispy turbot, gai landeep fried fanny bays

On the sea front, we scarfed back turbot, done two ways; the fins and bones were dusted and deep fried til super crunchy and the rest was gently cooked until the bite-sized pieces became silky little wafers. There’s some gai lan for greenage too. On the bottom, looking for all world like strangely boneless chicken wings, are the plumpest Fanny Bay oysters any of us had ever seen. They were deep fried, then braised in a black beany-type sauce. Great “crunch, squish” factor on that one!

cold chickenshrimp chips

Cold chicken, or drunken chicken, as it’s often called. How hungover grumpy does he look? We all took a break and had a Tostitos moment with the loud styrofoam crunch of the shrimp chips. Fun!

chef and domdusty, pete, tsingtao

mid meal 2mid meal 1

Not pictured, but worth mentioning, we cleaned up plates of baby bok choy, sizzle platters of pepper spiced beef, and tried a simple northern style dish, it was explained, of stir fried Chinese celery hearts and dried black olives. And fat juicy orange slices to finish. Gotta have the orange slices.

Noticeably absent as well: any chicken of the general tao or weird doughy ball-shaped variety; the florid grenadine hue of sickly sweet and sour sauce; forks. We were doing the real deal here!


Pardon me while I pat my belly, because this was a sweet coupla hours of lip-smacking, finger-sucking, multiple-plate-clearing goodness. We diligently plowed our way through solid familiar oldies, simple and perfect sides, and some stellar and (so I’ve been told) often forgotten classics.

After making a supreme mess of ourselves (and the tables – we knew we were in for a special treat because the lovely staff swapped the regular plastic tarps for real linens, ay ya) we swaddled ourselves in layers of sweaters and scarves before heading back out into the cold, crisp night.

As the saying goes, it ain’t food til you eat it.

And boy, is Chinese foo-, er, this fine, fine food ever tasty.

Taste of China
338 Spadina Avenue


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