As a freelancer, my work takes me all over this city. The commute can be a pain (thank God for Google-maps), but at least there is always the prospect of discovering great new places to eat. This week I found myself on Lawrence East looking for a meal that didn't involve a drive-through window or a side of 'special' dipping sauce.
Luckily, a colleague spotted the Congee Queen, and within minutes of walking in, we were whisked over to a table for two and presented a pair of glossy bound menus.
Most Chinese favourites (and then some) are available on the menu. It's hard to decide, but drawn in by the colourful photos, we order up the Fried Vermicelli with Homestyle Shrimp & Chicken ($7.25), Fried Bean Curd with Vegetables ($8.75), Stuffed Green Peppers ($3.75) and to try out the namesake dish, some Minced Beef Congee ($4.25).
Two large and two small dishes seemed about right for two people, but when they arrived moments later, we realized that lunch (and perhaps dinner) for the next day was already set. Portions are enormous, and despite the speed of the dishes, nothing looked or tasted like it had been sitting around.
Congee arrives first and starts things off well. I'll admit that I'm not one to order congee. One spoonful is usually the most I'll have, but here I was refilling my bowl for second and third time. Beef and green onions gave it solid flavour and the consistency was far better than any I've tried. Clearly, Congee Queen is working hard to live up to its regal name.
Up next, the delicate fried vermicelli (pictured at the top) are light and fresh, deliciously twirled up and around chicken, shrimp, sprouts and julienne peppers.
Fried bean curd (tofu) is the polar opposite -- in a good way. It looks nothing like the minimalist photo we saw in the menu as a huge steaming portion is served over a big bed of Chinese greens and mushrooms. Each piece is dark on the outside and soft and white on the inside -- really nicely done. If anything, there could have been a few more mushrooms (only 2-3 were uncovered) but with all those greens, I'm hardly complaining.
The stuffed peppers are also larger than standard. The fish-paste stuffing is a little fishier than I'm used to, but that's perhaps a testament to the use of flavourful real ingredients and not pre-packaged goods... or at least that's what it tasted like. My colleague adored them and offers up her share of tofu for the rest of them.
The total came to around $30 and we both had lunch in the bag for the next day.
Between this spot and the flagship location in Thornhill, let's just say I'm hoping to get more work in the area soon.