6 restaurants to feast at on Chinese New Year in Toronto
Where to celebrate Chinese New Year in Toronto
To say that Chinese New Year (CNY) is a special time for most Chinese people is like saying that cartoon mice have a slight affinity for cheese with holes in it. Even though it already receives quite a bit of hubbub here in Toronto, over in Asian countries the excitement and anticipation of this event is absolutely batshit insane. Even in countries outside of China, many stores and shops are closed for days, to the great bemusement (and slight alarm) of foreign tourists everywhere. But regardless of how big or how small the celebration is, one thing unites the Chinese diaspora is having a great meal during this time with family and friends, usually on the eve of the big day itself.
I've been fortunate to experience a wide variety of CNY mealtimes with friends and family from all over the world, and there are definitely some restaurants here in Toronto that stand out in my mind. These establishments are almost always packed during this time of the year, when old grandmas and little drooling babies all get together over a large round table and enthusiastically stuff their collective gullets with everything from fried chicken to abalone (and Cantonese people, in particular, LOVE their abalones). Many places even have special set menus just to welcome the New Year, and these are always a treat as the items tend to change from one year to the next.
Here is a list of the places that I would personally recommend to ring in the year of the snake (and yes, they're suburban-heavy and Mandarin doesn't make the cut). So from my family to yours, Gong Xi Fa Cai! And may your year be blessed with prosperity, love, and good fortune!
Asian Legend (various - in particular 4452 Sheppard Avenue East, Scarborough)
Asian Legend is your go-to place to have a more posh-like, but still affordable, CNY dining experience. Especially true at the spacious and modern Scarborough location, it's almost like celebrating CNY inside a Moxie's.
Despite the whole place being extremely busy with activity, the service is always friendly and efficient. The food itself needs no introduction, as there have been many posts dedicated to this wonderful chain restaurant. What they do offer during this time is a special set menu, starting at $228 for 8 people containing a whopping 11 courses, ranging from their succulent Peking duck to melt-in-your-mouth tender steamed fish.
Chung King Garden Restaurant (4394 Steeles Avenue East, Scarborough)
For the longest time, I thought that this place's name was Chunky Garden (which would've been infinitely more entertaining, if I do say so myself), but the fact that this place is always packed, especially on CNY means that there's more than enough people who find enjoyment within its four walls even without a silly made-up name.
From old-timers to toddlers, this is hardcore Chinese eating at its best, and is almost like the anti-Asian Legend. They have, without a doubt, one of the most delicate and tasty Peking ducks in town. Along with their wildly popular crispy and spicy-sweet Szechuan beef, these two dishes are absolute staples for many regulars. The only downside is that they don't offer a special CNY menu.
Rol San Restaurant (323 Spadina Avenue, Toronto)
For those who want to experience classic hardcore CNY dining in the heart of Chinatown, then head over to Rol San. This place is the epitome of grungy yet delicious Cantonese family dining, complete with charming and polite old ladies that often address you as "handsome guy" or "pretty girl" as you come in or leave the restaurant. Their English may not be great, but they put in far more effort than many Chinese places I know, and the seafood selection is out of this world.
Sample some of their delicious steamed fish (a sign of prosperity for the coming new year for Chinese people) while gorging yourself silly on a collection of oysters, lobsters and other delicacies such as their steamed tofu with scallop (ridiculously good). They also have special set menus for CNY, though these vary quite a bit from year to year and are only revealed very close to the actual event itself.
Penglai Fairy Land (280 West Beaver Creek Road, Richmond Hill)
Penglai is the new restaurant replacing Markham's legendary Ambassador Restaurant (which was in itself a CNY staple) and provides a semi-upscale dining experience that mixes Chinese and Korean food (the husband is Chinese and the wife is Korean in case you're wondering) While I haven`t had an opportunity to spend the festivities here (the restaurant only opened a few months ago), I can comfortably recommend visiting this place to ring in the new year based on my regular dining experiences along with firsthand information on the scale of their first-ever CNY preparation.
This year's special set has a few highlights, in particular a large set (which can feed 3-4 families) consisting of 11 courses which includes soy sauce chicken with jellyfish, along with a delicious double lobster dish. At $668, it's not exactly the cheapest option, but it's definitely one of the most impressive ones on the list.
Gourmet Malaysia (4466 Sheppard Avenue East, Scarborough)
The Southeast Asian countries of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia alone are home to almost 20 million Chinese people (thank you Wikipedia) and this restaurant represents the best that the region's cuisine has to offer. I've talked about Gourmet Malaysia before in my previous posts, and this is a great place to get a feel of the overseas Chinese community's celebration of CNY.
This is probably also the only place in town where you can order a CNY special set menu for anywhere from 6 to 12 people containing yu sheng, a unique raw fish salad that is only served in overseas Chinese households in Singapore and Malaysia (not even in China) to usher in good fortune, and other Southeast Asian specialties. The service, while friendly, can get pretty haphazard during busy times, but the quality of the food makes it a worthwhile endeavour. They are also planning to have live music on the CNY eve of February 10th.
T&T Supermarkets (various - in particular 9255 Woodbine Avenue, Markham)
I know, I know, this isn't a restaurant. But quite a lot of Chinese people prefer to hold CNY meals at home, and this widespread Asian supermarket chain has a special exotic (and extremely authentic) menu full of unique offerings for such an occasion. For this year`s collection, marvel at the amazingly exotic Fuzhou Buddha Temptations, a collection of Chinese delicacies consisting of abalones, sea cucumbers, and quail eggs to name a few.
Sample a fried rice dish made with sticky rice, mixed with the rich flavour of Chinese bacon, or for the less adventurous, gobble up the barbeque platter, where you can stuff your face with everything from honey bbq pork to roast duck. These items are all refrigerated and all you have to do is heat them up. My personal favourite is the Woodbine location, but these items are available at all T&T locations. They're also priced, charmingly, with the number '88' in all of them, and are generally a much cheaper option than dining out.
Chinese New Year 2013 will run from Sunday February 10th until Sunday February 24th.