Finding it quite odd that I have not yet covered a Chinese restaurant despite being Chinese myself, I decided to rectify this issue immediately by heading to the popular Northern Chinese Cuisine Restaurant Asian Legend.
Location: 418 Dundas St. W. Toronto
Price: Ordered four things, left with a bill of less than $30
As crazy as this sounds, other than when I was a young child, I’ve honestly never really journeyed to Toronto’s Chinatown of my own volition. As such, finding this place was initially a little bit of a hassle. It’s really close to the AGO, though! Anyhow, upon entering, I noticed that the decor was nice and basic, employing a lot of more naturalistic colors that were reminiscent of the other chains. We were quickly seated, and I just as quickly busted out my Cantonese to communicate with the server. (Keep in mind my Cantonese is attrocious… He did manage to understand me, fortunately.) My girlfriend and I ordered Pan-fried Dumplings (4 for $4.95), Siu Long Bao (6 for $5.50), a small Hot and Sour Soup with shredded chicken (4.95), and Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce ($6.95).
The soup arrived first, and though it was a small portion, there was more than enough for a few portions each between two people. I personally enjoyed the flavor of this simple soup, with a nice bite of spice mixed with a nice sour, tomato-like aftertaste. The carrots seemed to have been added in at the last moment, so they retained a degree of crunchiness. Sadly, they did not seem to include preserved bamboo shoots, which are normally part of this soup.
That’s the literal translation for Siu Long Bao. They won’t grant you any wishes, but I order this as a staple whenever I go to any place that serves them because it is a good way to judge their kitchen. Do they freeze these for too long? Or are they made fresh? Is there juice coming from the meat? Or is it dry and crumbly? Is the wrapping too thick, or is it the right consistency? These are some of the questions that you should ask yourself when eating Siu Long Bao. In my case, I noticed that it was likely that they had frozen these for too long, because the texture of the meat filling was not very juicy (think about eating a really good meat ball as opposed to a sub-par one). Fortunately, the wrapping was done right and there was still meat juice, so remember to eat these with a spoon!
The noodles were nice and springy but the dish felt a little too one-note to me. I’ve had much better spicy peanut sauces at other places, and that is usually what makes or breaks this dish. Sorry Asian Legend. ;(
I am a self-proclaimed master of eating these. There are several ways to tell whether or not they will be good. Oddly enough for example, if they look fat and clumpy (like this: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Mb99ZOgp3IE/SgkH_8gPgsI/AAAAAAAABA4/ww2XtlJZTlU/s1600-h/Dumpling+King+-+Pan+fried+dumplings.jpg) it is likely that they will not taste good. On the other hand, if it is wrapped long, such as is the case with Asian Legend, they are usually better. I could go into additional detail about the procedure of eating and evaluating pan-fried dumplings, but I think it is an interest only of my own, so I’ll refrain and instead give you all a summary: like the siu long bao, the wrapping wasn’t too thick. However, they too seemed to have been frozen for too long, and as such the meat was not as juicy as I would have liked.
Verdict: If you’re in the mood for siu long bao and the like, Asian Legend is a pretty solid place to go. It’s nothing mindblowing, but the cost, flavor, ambiance, and serving size are all acceptable.
PS – By someone’s suggestion, they said I should start assigning actual numerical scores to restaurants. Future guest stars will be able to partake in this joyous experience as well.
GF: 6.5/10 (She claims it’s much better in Vancouver)