"Kindly note that our style of service is Chinese. This means as soon as servings are ready, we bring them fresh to you. Thus, the dishes seldom all arrive at the same time. May we respectfully encourage you to share and taste your dishes like the Chinese. After all, a shared journey is a more rewarding one."
A journey we were to have indeed:
Our appetites at the ready, we headed into the cold cold night with thoughts of pungently authentic Vietnamese delights. I had read about a place called Au Cyclo that avoided the trite and true Phos, rouleaux and combos, yet I had mistakenly reserved a place at Viet restaurant occupying its previous locale on Parc Avenue. More of that same trio, it was not to be.
Now in an even more serious mood for Asian cuisine, we braced ourselves and headed to St-Laurent via Laurier. I knew I had noticed a place that seemed promising, and lo! there it was: a red sun beckoning us to enter into gently lit and cozy nooks. A warm window-side table and hot sake took the edge off as we selected items to share, which the above warning in the menu (unnecessarily in our case) advised. Here was our selection:
Pan-fried BBQ duck and Thai basil dumplings, ginger Szechwan dip
Won ton raviolis in sesame-peanut sauce
Sauteed mixed vegetables with tofu and Thai basil
Grilled squids with siracha mayo and cucumber ribbons
Spicy Malaysian seafood stew with rice wine and coriander
General Tao's shrimps
Steamed northern Chinese bread
I looove dumplings; pan-fried, deep fried, steamed, bring it. Soy's duck dumplings are possibly the best I have ever eaten, crispy but not at all greasy, savory and generously filled with basil-infused diced duck. Seriously good! Another winner was the won ton appetizer. Toothsome pockets of well seasoned pork rested in a shallow pool of peanut sauce that was rather thin and silky. A refreshingly light twist on a old standby. In fact light versions of favorites are a trend on this menu as the general tao's shrimp proved. The flash fried prawns were barely battered and the sauce we know as a gelatinous and sticky coating was also a thin version of the original, albeit respecting the usual melange of sweetness, spice and citrus.
The grilled squid, however, disappointed. As tasty as it was, the mantel was undercooked and showed no evidence of grilling, and was not cut all the way through, and with the legs still attached (a pain in the ass when using chopsticks). Sadly, not a spider in sight. The spicy mayo was a nice touch, but not exactly a triumph to whip up. I must mention the fabulous cucumber ribbons. Sweet and astringent, I'd order a plateful if I could. Not so good when the garnish upstages the principal element. Grill marks and proper slicing would have made this dish another winner.
Another almost winning dish was the seafood stew. The flavorsome broth was really good and hit all the right lemongrass/coriander notes, with balanced spiciness. There were a few small pieces of salmon and some white fish, 4 shrimp and one slice of squid. However the stew consisted mainly of tomatoes and onions. I know times are tough for restaurants, but if you're selling me fine cuisine, I find that sort of tactic insulting.
Side dishes: The vegetables were pleasant and aromatic, although the sauce unpleasantly "gloppy" in spots. The mantou buns were denser than expected, yet spongy and light nonetheless.
An interesting option is that any a la carte main dish can be made into a table d'hote. I would return, definitely for the dumplings, and to try out other duck and pork dishes.
See you next week when we head out for my birthday treat: fish 'n chips at Comptoir 21!
Until then, Cheers!