Cool Runnings

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cool-runnings

Cool Runnings is a classic-style Jamaican restaurant located just south of Gerrard on the west side of Main Street. It is quite appropriately named after the Jamaican bobsled team of the same title, who’s challenging journey to the Olympics in the face of prejudice and eventual earning of respect was made into a movie. On that note… Hey International Olympic committee, remember when your biggest controversy was Jamaica competing in a winter sport? I’m sure they’ll answer after clearing their diving pool of algae and their landline phone of pleading voice mails left by Ryan Lochte.

ryan-lochte-meme

I imagine it may be somewhat difficult to run a Jamaican restaurant in Toronto, while there’s definitely a strong Caribbean influence in our city, proper sit-down places have a pretty big rival. The Real Jerk–one of my favourite eateries–is such a Toronto icon that it was even featured in the music video for that terrible ear worm Rihanna made that even her biggest fans decided never to speak of again. I first heard about Cool Runnings when–work work work–no, not again!

 

Work Rihanna lyrics

For the uninformed, here are the lyrics. Don’t watch or listen to the video, it’s not worth it.

 

After recalling the cleansing sound of TV static, I can tell you that my mom actually met the head chef of Cool Runnings, who wanted us to try his place for the blog. I can guarantee you my review is completely unbiased when I say that this place blew my mind and absolutely challenges The Real Jerk.

jerk-chicken

The jerk chicken (with a shrimp skewer) from The Real Jerk

It’s surprising, I know, like when I found out upcoming thriller movie Don’t Breathe is not about that one friend who thinks Ax cologne makes them smell better. One of the biggest problems with The Jerk is, ironically, their jerk chicken. Despite being named after the dish and featuring it in their aforementioned music video, I found The Real Jerk Chicken too dry. Keep in mind that this was so long ago that I had it in their old establishment, and I get rotis or other dishes now, so the chicken there may be better.

oxtail

I mention jerk chicken because Cool Runnings’ jerk is some of the best I’ve ever had. I got a meat combo: two choices of meat (I had chicken and oxtail) over rice and peas and coleslaw on the side. Noticeable off the bat is how large the individual dinosaur pieces are, and they were cooked in just the right way. To elaborate, the meat was beautifully juicy and tender the way it should be, falling on the sweet spot between being left pink or being made dry. The skin, which was the right amount of chewy, was rubbed with a powerful blend of spices that was as strong in heat as it was in flavour. Seriously, if you are craving that quintessential jerk taste, this will more than match that.

curry-chicken

My mom’s Curry Chicken

As for the oxtail, I hadn’t eaten a whole bunch of it before, but I loved this. Oxtail is noticeably tougher than other bovine meats, with a texture somewhere between the softness of beef and the thickness of goat or mutton. It has the colour and full-bodied presence of goat as well, but falls off the bone easier and, in this case, was rather creamy with the rich oxtail gravy poured all over it. Another thing I liked was the taste of the meat itself: which felt similar to a cut of meat cooked with the fat left on, but without the unpleasant chewy vein running through it. You can see why they make gravy out of that meat, it’s smooth, meaty, savoury palate works perfectly for such a recipe.

 

Even Cool Runnings’ rice and peas were knocked out of the park. Not only was the serving size generous, but the rice had a lot of flavour impacted into it by the beans and was extremely comforting. The texture was creamy enough to feel soft, yet had enough mass to be chewable too, another perfect balance. For the record, I also found the food stayed warm unusually long during my meal, while it did eventually go cold during the following hour and a half, it kept the temperature longer. Also, the coleslaw was nice.

jamaican-patty

One thing I wouldn’t recommend is the beef patty. It wasn’t bad and actually tasted good, but I’ve honestly found either the same or better while going to the metro station (The bakeries at Kennedy, Warden and Bathurst station are good patty shops). Decor and service is decent, a comfortable atmosphere for this kind of cuisine. My mom said it was odd that we got the bill before it was clear we wanted to leave, since we were considering getting a desert before that point.

interior-cool-runnings

For a final recommendation, I absolutely say that Cool Runnings is a great Jamaican cuisine restaurant. It is at least as good as The Real Jerk, better than it at Jerk Chicken, although The Jerk has a bar, dishes I haven’t compared yet, and is one of the focal points for Toronto’s Caribbean culture. Today we learned not to underestimate the underdog: to try out restaurants serving similar food to one of your favourite places, and to let Jamaica compete in any sport they want without being racist about it. Also, if you take the six degrees of separation theory to its logical extreme, I compared a subway station to a music video.

Cool Runnings 146 Main Street

Cool Runnings Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cricket Hot Dog CNE

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bug bistro

A new eatery opened at The Ex this year, the aptly named Bug Bistro, showcasing various types of arthropod-based dishes. Don’t bother using Google Maps to locate it, which will just point you towards the center of the CNE, instead scour the food building for a smaller stand with a white cricket-adorned sign. Most menu items consist of typical American-style concession foods, with either crickets or mealworms mixed in with more western protein sources.

cricket dog

I personally enjoy trying out various types of “bug food” whenever I can, as it is different and the concept doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Insect-based food is also an extremely efficient and cheap protein source for a growing human population, and also helps bypass the global warming and animal cruelty-related problems of the agriculture industry. So why don’t we eat more crickets? “Because they’re gross, ew!”, as some people may say, despite the fact that insects are a traditional food source in parts of East Asia, certain fast food hamburgers are more disgusting than anything given to us by nature, and there’s a small portion of beetle parts in your peanut butter (look it up). And that is why I chose to eat the Bug Dog (hot dog with mustard-roasted crickets) and a smoothie (forget the name, its the only one they have) made out of mango, beetle larva and with spices sprinkled on top.

smoothie

So, how’s it taste? Crickets, I find, often taste very dry and earthy, with a powerful aftertaste. It made sense to use them as garnish on a milder and more familiar hot dog, as the flavours balanced out. The smoothie had a strong secondary taste of mango, and a huge blast of that earthiness I mentioned earlier, along with a second taste intrinsic to meal worms and larva that I can’t easily describe. I could best describe it as an alien sweetness that tastes nice, but is rather exotic and can fill my stomach up very quickly. While the cinnamon/nutmeg helps cut this, I’d recommend getting the smoothie by itself due to its richness. One major complaint I have about Bug Bistro is a rather strange one: they have no lids for their drinks.

mealworm smoothie

When I was first told by the clerk that there were no lids for my full and bendy plastic cup, I wondered how I was supposed to navigate a crowded building to my seat without bumping into someone and spilling all over. While I made it to my seat without having to explain to an angry person that their shirt is now covered in mango pulp and grounded beetle larva, I only had a few bites of my food before the LIDLESS drink spilled into my hot dog. The bun turned an ill, pale orange colour only seen in Donald Trump’s bathroom during a sick day, and the resulting unholy combination of sweet, salty and buggy was something that should probably be copyrighted by McDonald’s. Fortunately, the bun took the bullet and my wiener and crickets were saved, as well as some of the b@st@rd drink that I threw in the garbage out of spite and consoled myself with Korean Tacos from Far East Grill. Seriously, try that place, it’s delicious and better than the deep-fried gym membership-enders that are sold every year.

far east taco

image courtesy on urbancraze.com

To recap, definitely try Bug Bistro if you like feel adventurous or like eating bugs, get the Beetle Juice drink by itself and beware of the sinful lack of coverage, or get one of the savouries for a lunch. Bug Bistro does a good job making insects both tasty and friendly towards those unfamiliar, and I would have had a better experience had the manager not thought they could save a few bucks skimping out on lids. Also, the world would be a better place if I were its leader.

 

Post apocalypse

No new taxes!

Lids and Crickets everywhere!

Signs

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signs restaurant

Signs, as the hearing but ASL-fluent host explained to us, is a unique concept restaurant whose servers and staff are all deaf people, in a meal experience designed to teach the general public about basic sign language and the deaf community. My family got the opportunity to eat here thanks to the Summerlicious event that several eateries across Toronto participate in. Essentially, each restaurant offers a smaller sample menu at a lower price to allow people to try out their take on a three course meal. It obviously works, as my blog has covered numerous restaurants through Summer/Winterlicious that it otherwise wouldn’t have been able to comfortably afford.

Callum & Nana

Me and my grandmother aka Nana

Even though none of us have severe hearing problems, my family does have some prior experience with American Sign Language. My mom had a deaf friend when she was sixteen, and quickly became fascinated with learning and studying the language, it eventually proved to be useful when she became an ER nurse and especially when she had me.

As my other blog (Autism Thinking) has pointed out, I was born severely autistic and non-verbal, so I was taught sign language as a bridge to speaking English. I have seen been re-learning the language I lost, which among other things has helped me communicate with a deaf teammate on my Special Olympic basketball team. However, Signs is very inclusive and encouraging of people who know no signs at all, and menus are provided to quickly teach basic signs so you can order your food and hold basic conversation with your server.

 

Compared to other ‘licious menus, Signs had a surprisingly extensive menu, going beyond the minimum three options for the appetizer and entrée rounds, with four and five options respectively. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, as the menu has signs for each food item and the restaurant owners understandable didn’t want people to copy their idea. As such, I’ll simply cover the dishes that we did try.

spring roll

My Vegetable Spring Rolls

My mother had the carrot ginger soup, my grandma the watermelon gazpacho, and I myself tried the veggie spring rolls with spiced dipping sauce. First off, all of the food came to us at just the right temperature, and this was consistent throughout the meal. That should go without saying, but all too many places let their food sit before serving, making it lose the freshness and warmth that I enjoyed so much here. For instance, my spring rolls remained toasty until the entrée arrived, and packed a fresh vegetable mix with mild wrapped inside a light and flaky pastry. I should also mention that the dipping sauce, while not spicy, was pleasantly sweet in a way not unlike good plum sauce.

carrot ginger soup

My Mom’s Carrot Ginger Soup

On the other hand, the carrot ginger soup had more bite than one would think, having just enough ginger to be prominent without being spicy or overpowering. Combine that with the mild creaminess of the carrot, and you’ve got yourself a classic heart-warming soup.

gazpacho

Nana’s Watermelon Gazpacho

However, the appetizer I would recommend by far would be, surprisingly, the gazpacho. There wasn’t much taste if watermelon in it, not that watermelon has much flavour aside from the noticeably absent sweetness, but there was a hint of tomato. What made this bowl was a plethora of fresh herbs that combined with the cold temperature to make something that could only be properly described as “crisp”.

jumbo ravioli

My Jumbo Ravioli

By the time a truly appetizing appetizer round was over, our entrée arrived with perfect timing. I ordered the jumbo ravioli, three huge cheese-stuffed ravioli (it doesn’t sound like a lot, but I really mean huge) in a spiced cream tomato sauce with what I noticed to be a bit of coriander sauce drizzled over as well.

beef cannelloni

My Mom’s Baked Cannelloni

My mom had a beef cannelloni in a rich and red tomato sauce covered in cheese, while my grandmother had a plate filled with goat cheese agnolotti (her favourite) and a sauce similar to what I had.

cheese ravioli

generous filling

What really struck me was how generous the filling of each ravioli really was. The warm, creamy cheese gelled perfectly with the orange sauce that offered little hints of nuanced spice one could notice building up bite after bite.

agnolotti with goat cheese

Nana’s beloved goat cheese pasta

The goat cheese ravioli were smaller and more numerous, with a powerful, tangy filling that I found to be of high quality but probably too strong for a person like me to eat an entire plate.

chocolate cake

Signs “Chocolate Avalanche”

For the dessert round, my mom and I both had the chocolate cake, while my gran decided to try the cannelloni. As a chocolate fan, I quite liked the cake we were offered, as it focused more on having mild taste of cocoa instead of just being sweet and brown-coloured. The texture worked well too, managing to be both richly filling and gently spongy all at once.

cannoli

Who can say “No” to a second dessert?

However, my grandmother–who has a low tolerance for sweetness–found her dessert too sugary which meant I had more of it than she did. I, on the other hand, quite liked its flavour: the pastry comes off as a high-end waffle cone and the filling had the right combination of density and creaminess to compliment its sweetness. I would say the cake is better for those woke like their desserts rich and mild, whereas the cannelloni is for people who like some creaminess sweetness that is balanced by a crunchy pastry shell.

signs restaurant interior

Before I wrap up, a couple of notes on the service. They are very friendly and non-intrusive, which can be a problem in some other places. Communication isn’t a problem, even if you struggle with the signs given to you on the cards (I, for instance, am still rather slow and difficult to read), the servers still manage to get their message across. Personally, I’ve found that a fair amount of deaf people are very good at using body language, not the stereotypical mime charades, but common motions such as facial expressions and universal hand gestures like the thumbs-up. On a smaller note, Signs’ atmosphere is obviously quiet, but is not unnaturally or audibly so. You can hear the customers next to you to a reasonable degree and the washrooms even had soft music playing.

To summarize, Signs is a unique concept restaurant created to help educate the general population about the deaf community while offering a skillfully prepared meal. It works on both fronts: on a purely technical level, you can come here on a date or with friends/family for a satisfying and interesting meal, while the establishment greatly helps spread awareness about this group of people who have adapted to life without a certain sensory organ that we all take for granted. I highly recommend it to anyone who was already interested in it, or looking for something truly different and unique.

Signs 558 Yonge Street

Signs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu

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buk chang outside

To start off this review, let me just say it has been years since either my mom or I have had proper non-bbq Korean cuisine, so I didn’t have much frame of reference to go off of. Buk Chang Dong Soon, according to the very helpful google translate, means “Buk Chang Dong Soon” in English. Either this is a person’s name, or its g-translate’s second strike for me. The restaurant is located in Toronto’s Korea Town, roughly around Christie subway station.

buk chang interior

I think a running theme of our experience, aside from delicious food, was having no idea what we were doing. The waiters, while very kind, don’t really explain the various ways to properly do things, presumably because it would be extremely tedious to so for every, other, customer. That said, I’m pretty sure the rhythm can be figured out down pat for anyone’s second go-around, and many mistakes don’t really hinder the experience.

korean condiments

After looking around at other patrons to see how our meal played out, I confirmed with the waiter that the various bowls that came before the entrée were side dishes. My mother and I ordered dishes #4 and #7 respectively, the former a signature Korean rice bowl and the latter a dumpling and beef soup dish. My dinner was prefaced with a steaming stone pot of black and sticky rice grains–as the menu said–along with the various side dished I’d mentioned. These were kimchi, pickled veggies, chewy beans marinated in a hoisin-like sauce, very distinctively flavourful bean sprouts and, with zero explanation, a raw egg.

rice bowl

You’re not supposed to slurp the egg from its shell, like Rocky Balboa or a stupid person, it is meant to be cracked into your bowl to cook. I’ll explain later, first: the appetizers. Even though it was mild, I really liked the rice, it was creamy and had a hint of graininess to it that typical white or brown rice lack. It also goes well with the beans and bean sprouts mixed into it. The pickled veggies had a shape and texture roughly similar to noodles, with a spice quality similar to kimchi with added sweetness.

kimchi

Kimchi is fascinating and very much its own thing. I could accurately describe it as cabbage mixed with an East Asian spice rub, but that would be like a climatologist saying, “The way our planet’s environment is trending, we’re all going to die in fifty years.”, without elaborating on the details. Kimchi is quite moist and chewy in parts of it, much like normal cabbage, but it’s the seasoning that makes it stand out. The spice really is a hybrid between a rub and a sauce, and tastes fairly spicy without being hot. It uses a combination of mild acidity and chili’s natural flavours without tapping in to the heat center of the palate, giving it a strong and distinctive “spice” without having one reach for a glass of water.

bibimbap

The main rice entrée could best be described as “nutty” although that doesn’t quite do it justice and makes seem too similar to a plate of cashews. Some grains on the bottom are cooked to the point of being crunchy and dry, adding bits of texture to the otherwise soft and toothy bowl. The various meets and veggies bring strangely unique, Unami flavours that grow on you as the meal ensues. It’s delightful at first, then kind of addicting.

 

My soup was the bowl that the raw egg was intended to be cracked into, as the steaming hot broth would’ve cooked it to add some flavour. Because we hadn’t learned this until watching another patron do this later, my mom had already used up the egg in her bibimbap.

dumpling soup

Regardless, the soup was amazing. The broth tasted like the best chicken or beef soup I’d ever had, the bits of meat giving so much richness and body to the spiced hot water. It was also the first meal I’ve had to sell me on tofu, which I’d previously seen as the kind of boring, void nutrient-pack that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a Orwellian dystopia as a cheap foodstuff. Now, while it was still bland, the tofu absorbed some of the broth’s flavour, and brought me great comfort with its creaminess and the fact it stayed hot through the entire meal. As an ex-tofu hater, I’d say it really helped make the dish. Combine this with some juicy strips of beef, two Japanese bistro-quality dumplings and a surprisingly filling amount of weight, you’ll find yourself with something just like Korean style comfort food.

buk chang menu

To wrap things up, I’d whole-heartedly recommend Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu, it’s oddly tiny menu offers a variety of perfectly constructed bowls designed to bring flavours unlike anything from other East Asian cuisines. While it can be mildly confusing to figure out how the meal works (at least to newbies like me), that’s part of the charm and everything makes sense in the end, kind of like the ending to Lost does after reading 20 hours on fan theory sites. If you want a non-bbq Korean meal, give this place a try, you sure won’t regret it.

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu 691 Bloor St W
Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Status Update

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busy

First off, I would like to apologize for not having posted on either blog in a while. It’s not that I’ve given up on them, my mom and I have both been busy and are having some difficulty in keeping up our posts. My mom is responsible for pretty much all of the non-writing technical stuff that I don’t have the skill or time to do, and lately she’s been having trouble both with the computer and finding free time in her schedule. I have been active as of late too, which also hindered my ability to write up frequent blogs. If only it were easier, not to say that thought has ever helped anyone out. Hopefully we’ll get back on track soon, I might even learn how to operate the dreaded computer myself. </span>

Since my blogging speed has been severely delayed by all the events I’ve been going through in my life, it’s only fair to talk about what exactly is happening. As one or two of my previous posts have mentioned, I am on the track to going to the Special Olympic Provincial swim meet. As it is taking place this month, most of this post and the next are going to center around that. Before talking about that, I’ll bring you up to speed on other stuff as well.

There are some posts in the woodworks that are close to completion but need some final edits, and we will be reviewing more restaurants during the summer when we get more free time. My mom got a new laptop, which will help her edit the posts in accordance with our old rickety PC that has been acting good as of late. I am taking online high school equivalency courses  so I can qualify for Ryerson University’s English course, which is in turn a crucial step for me getting a career in writing. The Ontario government passed a law that heavily supplements the secondary education of students whose families have an income below a certain rate, which includes my family under its terms. This has greatly eased my fear that I’ll be wasting my parent’s money by going to university.

red belt test

In terms of sport stuff, it’s pretty much just general progress. I’m signed up for a soccer team which has some of my Special Olympic friends on it, and the basketball team I’m on has been improving quite well since even a couple months ago. I recently got my red belt in Tae Kwon Do (the one after blue and before black), and continue to go a mandatory two times a week, although I sometimes get the feeling my master wants me to do competitions as well. All this stuff may or may not have posts about it in the future, but I’ll wrap up with my swimming news.

special olympic coaching

Getting coached at the Pan Am Centre

The Sunday classes have ended, mostly because the Olympic meet they were training us for is almost here. I’ve gotten a new coach of sorts; the provincial athletes are sorted into special teams in preparation for the provincial meet, each of which is lead by a manager coach. The big weekend is a four-day event from Thursday through to Sunday, bookmarked by opening and closing ceremonies, and is being held at the university of Guelph, Ontario (about an hour west of where I live by car). They have travel and lodging for athletes–which we will be getting more information on next week–although parents will have to get there through their own means. My mother is able to go and has booked a hotel room.

swim meet

Apologies again for going off schedule, I hope we can maintain both blogs more frequently once things get under control. I will be too busy to do blow-by-blow updates of the big meet while it takes place, so I’ll write a post once the The Games are over and I’m back home.  I can’t thank you enough for all your patience, here’s hoping to see you again soon.

Chino Locos

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chino locos

Chino Locos—”crazy chinese” in Spanish—is a puportedly Mexican/Chinese fusion restaurant, although it comes off more as a burrito place with Chinese elements. It’s got an interior filled with various interesting pop culture posters, a short, enticing menu with weird names that attempt to be cool or funny.

chino locos inside

This is a trend that I’ve noticed in many home-grown fast food restaurants, especially in burger places. Keep in mind that, at time of writing and of reviewing, I felt more like an overly-critical cynic than a happy young blogger, and this may colour my review against my best efforts. It may not help Chino Locos (a lucrative-enough business to have two establishments—is what I think of as an “acceptable target”), as one negative review won’t harm the company’s revenue or chance at success.

feeling cold

Another justification for my bad mood in the following paragraph: it’s never a good thing when a person walks into your restaurant wearing two thick hoodies and goes through their entire meal without even taking off their hat. It’s Canada, not the Arabian Peninsula, buy a heater.

nachos

We start the meal off with a bowl of nachos, after having come here directly from swimming practice, I’m ravenous and tired. Even that doesn’t keep me from noticing that the 5 dollar appetizer is made with dollar store ingredients and kept marginally above absolute zero with a microwave seemingly so weak I wouldn’t be surprised if it were damaged in a drunken experiment involving half a grape, plasma and an exploded egg.

cheese sauce

More of an “edible oil product” than cheese

Let me paint a dank picture: temperature feels like the bowl’s been sitting around for ten minutes (actually, more like five given the restaurant’s cold interior) bland tortilla chips probably imported from over the border, and that kind of fake Taco Bell “cheese” that wouldn’t taste much different if it regurgitated back up my throat before being re-swallowed. To be succinct, I was disappointed so far and was already thinking of the snarkiest new name for Chino Locos that I could think of in Spanish, something using the word barato (which means “cheap”).

pork burrito filling

My Mom’s pulled pork burrito

Then came the burritos, which were good enough to elevate Chino Locos off my hit list and even give it a mixed review. Sort of. My mom had gotten the pulled pork option, and mine was a fish burrito. Both came to our table hot, as if they’d actually been cooked instead of microwaved, and the tortilla was generously stuffed with meats and filling alike. In terms of generous portion and comfortable heating, they passed the test.

fish burrito filling

My fish burrito

Given the choice of mild, medium or hot, the former was mild, and mine was hot, both choices turned out to be mistakes. Maybe the spicy choice was meant to live up to its name, perhaps I just was not in the mood for heat despite my mom convincing me I’d like the hot sauce, but whatever the reason, I found my burrito too spicy to honestly enjoy. Franky, there wasn’t much else to taste, even the milder pork wrap had little to no seasoning.

burrito

At least they’re a good size

What I will say is the ingredients of both were pretty good quality: fresh, tender and plentiful. While huge and filling, the burritos lacked a lot in terms of spice, not the fiery kind, but rather marinade, garlic, chives, herbs, decent salsa, friggin store-bought taco seasoning, something. Due to the simplicity of their ingredients, the burritos were two-dimensional in flavour: having many things to bite into and taste, but not much depth. I wish they’d added more sauces and aromatics from both Mexican and especially Chinese cuisines, some guacamole and hosin sauce would’ve killed it, but unfortunately the nuances of both ends of the world were overlooked. Good thing is that I’ve found my snarky re-name, “Gringos Locos”.

pro con

Pros: if you’re in the Broadview area of town and for some reason are stubbornly avoiding anything Chinese in the area, than Chino Locos will, despite its name, offer a non-eastern meal. I’d recommend ordering medium-spiced burritos, they’re too bland by default, and too spicy otherwise. If you want to feel stuffed by a tortilla baby and are likewise in the neighborhood, this will handle the craving. Coming here is really weighing how close you are vs how much you crave something with meat and beans in it.

Cons: were to begin? It’s cold and uncomfortable, for starters, and the nachos were something I could picture my dog nibbling on for a couple seconds before walking away disappointed. I get not every dish can be amazing, some will be bad comparatively to others, but at least try with everything, or else take it off the menu. Laying that to rest, let’s just say a customer should ignore the side dishes. The burritos, ignoring the spice problem that was 100% our own fault, didn’t have much flavour and they really shouldn’t hinge on what degree of heat the customer orders them in. In terms of constructive criticism, experimenting with extra seasoning could really make Chino Loco’s shine. Lastly, in relation to one of the pros above, the streetcars and buses go right by the place, if you’re in the area, just hop on something with wheels and go elsewhere. I’d sooner wait 15 minutes going downtown so I could eat at Chipotle’s.

 

In short, I thoroughly do not recommend Chino Locos, the best thing about their establishment is average, filling but done better elsewhere and complaining about everything they got wrong is like beating a dead horse at this point. 3/10 (Yes, the nachos knocked off a star off my rating)

Chino Locos 368 Broadview Avenue

Chino Locos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dumpling House

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dumpling house

While I may be wrong, it seems like I’ve found out what the Chinese equivalent to a “family diner” is. In a given medium/large city, there are at least three mandatory dives that are always busy, crank out cheap and tasty american style meals and have the title “family diner”. You could argue that those vague “wok take-out” are “asian” dive counterparts, but those are more akin to hotdog stands than actual restaurants. And honestly, those places are empty and freaking terrifying. Dumpling restaurants fill the role of a neighbourhood diner much better: humble yet friendly locations with busy staff and food that keeps drawing in lots and lots happy customers.

dumpling house interior

Interior of Dumpling House @ Gerrard and Broadview

The reason for my little, more than slightly pompous rant was because, surprise surprise, this isn’t the only Toronto wonton restaurant called Dumpling House. There’s another one at Spadina, which is very popular and one of my family’s favourite eateries. Thus ensued an obligatory comparison between the two throughout this post. I wondered if the names of both places were different in Chinese, perhaps a way to differentiate the two names, so I examined pictures from both to see if I could notice any similarities or differences.

Dumpling House

This is the Spadina Dumpling House. Note the J-like character in the middle.

Dumpling House

This is the Gerrard Street Dumpling House. Note the same J-like character and how the left hand letter looks like a different version of the Spadina one.

Well, to my admittedly foreign and clue-less eyes, the words from both restaurants look similar, so my guess is that the Spadina title is in Traditional Chinese and the Gerrard one is in Simplified (because the characters are less intricate) or possibly one is in Cantonese. If anyone reading this knows more about Chinese than I do (which isn’t a lot), please feel free to correct my abysmal language skills in the comments.

So Dumpling House Gerrard Edition is a diner-like restaurant that serves wontons, has a generic name and smells delicious when you walk inside. Mom thought it’d be interesting to compare this restaurant to the other place, which I will now call the Mirror Dumpling in reference to people’s reflections in mirrors (what else?). I could call it “the Spadina place”, but Mirror Dumpling sounds cooler.

chinese menu

 Right off the bat Dumpling House offers a different menu: one with more selection for non-wonton items, and conversely less varieties of dumpling fillings. However, they have three different types of wonton as opposed to the Mirror Dumpling’s two: with the addition of boiled to the list of steamed and fried (although the boiled option was closer to Mirror’s actual steamed option).

steamed dumpling

Pork & chive Boiled Dumpling

First we had boiled pork and chive dumplings, a normal choice for us. Frankly it was a tie with the Mirror Dumpling, the meat was a delicious mix between umami and salty, with flecks of green onion to add some depth.

chicken dumpling

Inside the Pork & Chive Dumpling

I did notice these dumplings to be juicier, my plate was covered in warm meat grease coming from the tender pork ball wrapped inside soft, thin wonton.

Steamed dumpling

Their steamed Egg Dumpling

 

Our next option was more unusual and had no Mirror counterpart that we’re familiar with: steamed egg and herb dumplings. Interestingly, they came in a basket, and were more delicately put together. The wonton itself had more flavour, tasting more like rice dough than greasy wrapping; I believe this was due to it having less moisture. Without as much juice, I found the pastry to be a little bit too tough, although others may prefer a wonton that doesn’t fall apart so easily.

egg dumpling

Inside the Steamed Egg Dumpling

I do think it worked well with the filling, a wonderful blend of green herbs and mild, finely chopped egg. The softer flavours worked well with a steamed wonton, although the first dumpling tasted better than the last one of the batch. Make of that what you will, I liked it more than mom did.

beef dumpling

Fried Beef Dumpling

Third up were the pan fried beef, which came in a disappointingly smaller batch and made up for it with their individually larger size. Again, I liked those more than mom, who preferred the Mirror Dumpling for its crispy dough on top and less juicy meat. These dumplings squirted when you bit into them, while it proved how moist they were, it was actually kind of annoying on the first bite. I quite liked the beef, although it was pretty much flavoured by grease and a touch of garlic and basic seasoning. Oddly this was quite attractive in its own way and reminded me somewhat of beef in wonton soup, but swimming in its own juice instead of broth.

chinese dessert

Kind of like a dessert quesadilla

 

For dessert, we had red bean pancakes, something new that I wanted to try out. They were quite simple and mild, tasting familiar to me in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. The dough was thin and flat, cut into little triangles and wrapped around sweetened bean paste. I’d say it’s best for people who like desserts that aren’t sickeningly sweet or rich, although anyone who’s already full from their meal would like them.

Pros: has a diverse menu, lots of non-dumpling options, and even the wonton choices have variety: the steamed egg and fried beef dumplings were polar opposites. Also has a cozy decorative interior and very low prices. Less busy and crowded with customers than the Spadina place.

Cons: I can’t think of any true cons, other than what may only apply to some people (see below)

Toronto Dumpling House

Pro/Cons: some people may like Gerrard’s dumplings better, or Spadina’s, I can’t really accommodate for personal taste. Also in comparison with Spadina, some people may be closer to one than the other; I live on Gerrard and this place is inbetween my house and Spadina.

Verdict: Dumpling House is quite recommendable for anyone who wants large plates of tasty dumplings for a good price in a local wonton place. As I’ve said, preferences may vary and this isn’t exactly a high-end or fancy restaurant, but it is great for a good meal.

Dumpling House 619 Gerrard Street East

Dumpling House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato