What I did on my winter vacation
If you bring your camera to Happy Seven on Spadina between College and Dundas, or to any of the restaurants in Toronto's Chinatown with specials menus written on posterboard on the other side of the restaurant from where you are seated, you can impress your dining companions by taking pictures of the menus and reading the offerings back--or passing the camera around--at the table. It was fun for a second but it didn't help us avoid the worst dish we ordered.
We took our chances on the shrimp in cream coconut sauce and it was dull, bland. If we had ordered crab or lobster in this sauce it would have been really sad. We've had a similar dish in Milwaukee with mayonnaise in the coconut sauce and candied walnuts alongside the broccoli and it's fantastic in an odd sort of way. Other Happy Seven dishes impressed us more, though, such as this chicken in black pepper sauce.
It was exactly as it looks and sounds: chicken, soy sauce, and lots of black pepper. It sizzled like crazy when it appeared on the table but as far as I can tell this is just theater. Perhaps you can set me right if I'm mistaken: does a sizzling dish actually taste any different from a non-sizzling dish?
This outing was part of the traditional Jewish Christmas Eve observance of going to the movies (Brokeback, thumbs way up) and eating Chinese. Our excellent Jewish Christmas celebrants, readers of this blog, were I & S of Ottawa, Ontario. Here's hoping 2006 brings you plenty of tasty treats, kids.
Christmas Day? More Chinese food and more movies. E and I talked my dad into dim sum and when our first choice place, Asian Legend, was mobbed with eager dim-summers (none of them Jewish from the looks of it), we decided we were too hungry to wait and wandered along Dundas and then up Spadina in search of a plan B. The Chinese in Toronto carry on on December 25 as though it were any old day. There were no people on any of the streets of the city except down in Chinatown, where everything was open. We lucked out by happening on Golden Leaf, just up Spadina from Dundas, for lunch.
The fried shrimp dumplings come wrapped in rice noodles. These alone might be worth a trip to Canada.
This appears on the menu as Jelly Fish. It was my idea to order it. I figured either it would be fish in jelly, which would appeal to my aspic-curiosity, or it would be jellyfish, which I figured would be worth a try if only as a future conversation piece. As you can see, it was the latter. It was served cold, dressed in sweetened sesame oil (from the taste of it). The texture was something like chewy noodles and any distinctive jellyfish flavor was totally obscured by the dressing. I would eat it again but I can't say the same for my wife or father.
One revelation was this fried rice in lotus leaf. When I peeled back the wrapping I was surprised to see that the rice was reddish. It had mushrooms, dried and fresh, tiny shrimp, and who knows what else in it. It had an unexpected sweet and savory flavor that at first I couldn't put my finger on, but after a few bites I decided that it must be tomato ketchup. This is now on my long list of things to put in fried rice (which includes suggestions, in the comments on previous entries, including lap cheong and kimchee).
Golden Leaf listed this as vegetable in oyster sauce and I don't know if the vegetable changes by season, but I would be disappointed if we ordered this next time and it wasn't bok choy. We loved this dish.
There were lots more items on the table that I could tell you about: sesame balls (wow), egg custard buns (wow wow wow), Malaysian satay (not so wow), BBQ pork buns (good), steamed dumplings (also good), fried squid fingers (zoinks). We ordered way more than three people should eat which is exactly how it should be. Then that night we saw Munich with Little Sister and I can't speak for her but neither E nor I thought it was "anti-Israel" or "making a case for moral equivalence between terrorists and Israelis" or "bad for the Jews." I don't buy any of these claims that have been made against the film which are, no doubt, a product more of the sensitivity of the Israel-Palestine issue than of the content of the movie. I should add that I really like Spielberg and think he gets a bad rap, so maybe it's just me. I found the film totally absorbing and not at all simplistic. The theater, one of the megaplexes that have been built since I moved away, was packed on the night of the 25th.
Eating out in Toronto is quite a bit better than eating in Milwaukee. This isn't to knock Milwaukee, which has plenty of interesting local things to eat. But Toronto is much bigger and way more cosmopolitan. The suburban shopping malls have bubble tea stands like the one above where they mix flavor shots (I had mandarin orange) with green tea, ice, and big black tapioca balls. (Bubbles? Not really, but the name is cute.)
And on Queen Street near John you can get a Nutella crèpe to tide you over until the next time you're in Paris. Maybe in the future there will be bubble tea and crèpes all over medium-size Midwestern American cities but I doubt it.
The display windows on Bloor Street were decked out for the holiday. You can't help but stare at these girly pink play appliances (I pointed these out to my brother and sister-in-law, also visiting for the week, which produced this post). The little man liked playing with these toys when we were in the store. They also carry a play kitchen in blue but it's not the one in the window. The pink one is called "retro kitchen" and the blue one "metro kitchen." The pink retro includes a sink, ice box--the catalog copy is retro too--and stove (and matches the pink washer/dryer) while the blue metro includes a kitchen island and fridge. None of this comes cheap, of course. At first I was pissed off by the equation of femininity with domestic work and it doesn't help any that they consider this "retro" as though now it's cool for women and girls to pretend like second-wave feminism never happened. But upon further reflection I kind of want one of these kitchens. They're so much nicer than the crap they sell at Toys R Us.
There was more spectacular food during our stay in the big city but some of it is trapped in my camera. I forgot to pack the cable to connect it to the computer, so only the shots I saved to disc before deleting a few days ago are available to me tonight. This means I have to stop now until I have my cable back, or until I break down and run to Radio Shack for a replacement. But before I do, the tastiest thing we ate in Toronto is right here:
This is my mother's Friday night chicken. She roasts it in pieces at 400 with lots of spices on the skin: sweet paprika, garlic and onion powder, black pepper, and salt. It's kosher poultry (and the label says "grain fed") and she always looks for the smallest pieces which, she says, are the tastiest. I cannot believe now that as a child I didn't like chicken skin and let my brother or father have mine every week, year after year. Perhaps they owe me something in return?