Then and Now
Then and Now is an eclectic restaurant in the heart of Parkdale that serves elevated Asian-European fusion dishes.
The restaurant occupies a relatively small but deep space, and the environment inside is a cozy cross and casual restaurant with a bar. It feels hip yet family-friendly, perhaps another example of its fusion nature.
Eric Y. Wang, the proprietor, was a high school dropout who started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to restaurant management. Before opening Then and Now, he also completed courses in Culinary Management and Hospitality Management at George Brown College.
Wang purposely and proudly established this restaurant as a no-tipping spot.
He feels that the tipping system in Toronto often creates subconscious racial discrimination where visible minority servers don't stereotypically receive as many tips as their counterparts.
He also feels that servers also tend not to expect visible minority patrons to tip much, which he's seen to result in subpar service. It is a vicious cycle that he looks to break.
He is also acutely aware that even on bad days, servers often get mandatory tips docked from their pay in order to cover the restaurant's other staff including the chefs, bussers, etc.
Having first-hand experience with the unfair and self-defeating nature of the tipping system, he decided to open a restaurant where his servers are paid as salaried workers, which comes with both commission and benefits.
Wang's commitment to creating dishes that blend together the Asian dishes he grew up eating with a contemporary European flair is evident.
The Ricotta Dumplings ($21) that sit on top of a rich lemon butter sauce are magnificent and delicious. They contain a mix of ricotta cheese and prawn inside a traditional handmade dumpling skin.
Another example of his commitment to fusion cuisine comes in the form of the restaurant's Risotto ($26).
Traditionally an Italian dish, Then and Now's version foregoes the usual arborio rice in favour of a combination of barley and sushi rice which results in contrasting textures. It's also garnished with roasted mushrooms and grilled gailan.
Unexpectedly, my favourite was the humble Fried Tofu ($16).
Marinated in the restaurant's secret sauce, the tofu starts off sweet, which then transitions to salty, and back to sweet again. The vegan dish is served alongside fried burdock root and pickled lotus root and is a gustatory triumph for the tastebuds.
The Steak Tartare ($19) is also lovely. Seasoned with shallots, chives, Chinese chili crisp, and some ginger it's slightly sweet with an undercurrent of spice yet is still rich. The dish has more depth than many of the tartares I've had in the past. I'd come back for this dish.
Then and Now also serves an interesting mix of drinks, like the fusion-based Eighth Wonder ($21), which is their take on the classic Old-Fashioned. This version has various Chinese spices such as cloves, star anise, and goji berries in it.
Those who prefer something sans alcohol can enjoy the Rosemary Me ($11) which is a refreshing and colourful drink containing rosemary syrup with lemon and pomegranate juice, and sparkling water. It's possibly one of my favourite mocktails that I've had so far this year.