Lee Chen Asian Diner
Lee Chen Asian Diner feels like Asia done Western-style and is a convenient spot to grab good-sized portions of Chinese chow near Yonge and Bloor. When we arrive at 8pm, the newly opened restaurant isn't very busy. The space feels shiny and pristine and lacks character. But our waiter is friendly and makes some helpful recommendations from the menu.
Drinks here include a small selection of domestic and imported beer ($4.49 Heineken bottles) and four house wines ($3.99 per glass). Not bad. There's also an extensive selection of smoothies and bubble tea.
We begin with a classic Chinese appetizer - hot and sour soup ($3.99). The soup comes piping hot, and the mushrooms, egg, and tofu all taste delightfully fresh. But the broth could have used a lot more oomph. I like my hot and sour broth to punch me in the face, but all this soup wanted to do was talk about feelings.
Next, we try the shrimp lettuce wraps with sauteed shrimp, green peas, carrots, and pine nuts ($4.59). When the dish arrives, there's no pine nuts. Crispy noodles have been substituted instead making the dish a little dry. The presentation is thoughtful, however, and all the components are crisp.
Next up, the recommended signature soup dumplings ($5.99) and steamed veggie dumplings ($3.99). The soup dumplings are a fun and tasty textural exploration: little sacks of dough contain a gelatinous meaty broth that explode in my mouth when I bite into them. The vegetarian dumplings are uninspired, but a good slathering of nameless red vinegar sauce brings them to life with a pleasant sour zippiness that makes us pucker.
For our entrees, we share the Thai green curry with shrimp and vegetables ($13.99) and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce ($10.99). The Chinese broccoli is a hit. The oyster sauce compliments the greens perfectly which aren't overcooked, as Chinese broccoli often tends to be.
The Thai curry dish is fine but not fantastic. The sauce seriously lacks spice and is a little bland. The shrimp is plump and juicy, but overall this dish is not worth the money.
Lee Chen's Asian Diner knows what it wants to be and nails it: westernized Asian cuisine. In other words, nothing too offensive or adventurous where flavours are concerned. But what Lee Chen thinks we want is what slightly misses the mark here. We covet authenticity and all of its idiosyncrasies - heat, tang, and zest. Now will someone please pass me the hot sauce?
Writing and photos by Carli Vierke