Yep. The headline is totally meant to entice you to click and open the article again. I guess it worked!
So in our first real date as husband and wife, WW and I visited a little restaurant that is unarguably (that’s right, UNarguably) one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in downtown Toronto: Spadina Garden. This is one of those restaurants that I have passed by when driving (mostly to pick up the in-laws at the Dundas bus terminal) while saying “I ate here once, it was really good, we should really go back”, and yet for some reason never did. WOW THAT WAS BAD SENTENCE STRUCTURE.
I ate here way, way back around 2008 when I was working at the Atrium on Bay. I remembered not succeeding very well at that job (thank goodness it was just a co-op gig) but one of the most memorable parts during my work term was that the farewell dinner to us co-op kids was held at Spadina Garden. I don’t remember much about what specific kinds of food they served there, only that they were: a) spicy b) saucy and c) delicious. So I’m glad to report that, after SIX years of humming and hemming about coming back here, we actually did!
I noticed that the decor has been refreshed, which is very nice to see. It’s not a place you can call fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but it looks quite modern and clean, which definitely has something to do with the fact that the place caters as much to white folk as it does to Asians. Most Chinese restaurants downtown that cater strictly to Chinese people are, I’m sad to say, a little haphazard or chaotic. And yes, I’m Chinese so I can say that #itsthetruth. The restaurant is clean, sleek, and nice-looking, though we did notice that the noise levels were rather high even though it wasn’t that full. I guess the acoustics in the place was bad. Whatever.
We ordered the fried Szechwan fish and the spicy peanut chicken, both Yelp recommendations, along with two bowls of simple white rice. While waiting, I ended up talking to the lady who is related to the owner of the place (a rather big family business), and I discovered that the owners are Chinese Hakka people from India. That explains a lot. From the flavours to the saucyness of the dishes, the foods here really do reflect that style of cooking, and everything sort of came back to me. I suddenly remembered why I liked this place so much.
The food was VERY quick to arrive. At first, we were a little dismayed to see that they looked very similar. But unlike many similar restaurants, it quickly became apparent that the ingredients used were different, which resulted in very distinctive tastes. The Szechwan fish, for example, isn’t very Szechwan AT ALL (I’ve eaten at much, much more authentic Szechwan places) but it’s still very delicious. As you know, I don’t care much about authenticity as long as the food tastes good, and this one certainly fits such a description. The fish was fried in a way reminiscent of old-school fish and chips, but with a dark gravy-like sauce that was a bit spicy with very slight undertones of ginger popping up here and there.
The spicy peanut chicken, on the other hand, wasn’t just good, it was MINDBLOWINGLY delicious. My favourite part is that it had a sweet taste that punctuated its spice (which was mild, tbh) and peanut flavours, complementing them beautifully. I’ve often espoused about how much I love a little sweetness in my spicy foods, and this one fit that requirement perfectly. Interestingly, it’s also very similar to my dad’s homemade chili sauce (a little family secret), something else that I treasure greatly. This one dish is worth coming back for, and we definitely will NOT wait another 6 years before returning here. Mop it up with your plain steamed rice and you’re all set.
Interesting sidebar, one of the servers listened a wee bit on my conversations with WW and quickly asked me if I was Indonesian or Malay. When I asked how he was able to zone in so perfectly on the region where I was born, he said that when I speak English quickly, hints of an Indonesian accent leak out. Fascinating, given that 99% of the people I speak to say that I speak English with no discernible accent. That 1% that disagree is only Beffy, by the way. Love it.
So that was that. A nice little dinner in a very well-known Chinese restaurant that we really should visit more often. The food is very interesting, as it was definitely not authentic Chinese food, not really Indian Chinese (Hakka) style, not really Canadian Chinese, and not really anything in particular. It seems to me that it’s their own take on flavourful fusion Chinese food and that, my friends, is more than good enough for me. Five stars! Zero stars for healthy points but who gives a SH—FIVESTARSFORFLAVOUR!
–Final verdict: Mari Makan!
116 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON M5G 1C3