280 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON M5T 3A5, Canada
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Chinese Dim Sum Swedish Toronto
"It's worthy of an occasional visit, and at the equivalent of US$30 for a three-person lunch, it's a bargain, though we keep on hoping that something better will open closer to home."
Bored of dining in Western New York? No. We've been on hiatus for a bit as our other site, iLounge.com, published our 2009 iPod + iPhone Buyers' Guide. When a friend came in from out of town, we spent half of this Saturday across the border snacking our way through a dim sum lunch in Toronto and a quickie Ikea dinner in nearly Burlington. The details are below.
Sky Dragon Restaurant: As we've noted many times, the dim sum scene in Buffalo and its suburbs is pretty depressing; the two best local places disappeared years ago and haven't been replaced by adequate replacements. So we took the opportunity this weekend to revisit a competent and occasionally impressive Canadian alternative.
Sky Dragon sits atop one of the tallest buildings in Toronto's Chinatown, which despite its proximity to the rest of downtown has no skyscrapers or other major landmarks, and despite its name is now roughly as Chinese as the whole of Southeast Asia. You have as good a chance to find a Vietnamese restaurant here as anything else, but as you walk the streets - primarily Spadina - it's obvious that it is still an excellent Chinatown by any international standard. Barbecued meats and Beijing ducks hang in the occasional window, exotic fruits such as longan and durian sit in grocers' cardboard boxes by the sidewalks, and little stores packed with Chinese, Japanese, and Thai keepsakes are scattered throughout the streets. We always stop in when we're in the area, but rarely see anything worth buying.
When it comes to finding good dim sum here, there are many choices: small restaurants, one or two fancy, well-regarded places, and then venues like Sky Dragon: classic Hong Kong-style parlors where dim sum is served at virtually all hours, wheeled around in carts by waitresses who call out the names of their dishes in Chinese. Sky Dragon happens to be very large, apparently consuming the entire top floor of the building, and its prices are beyond reasonable; each plate is around US$1.80 on the weekends, and though we came in around noon, we could have as easily eaten the same items at night, or earlier in the morning.
Our meal here was, as always, satisfying but not overwhelming. In 45 minutes, we managed to try more than 10 dishes, notably some egg-shaped deep fried pork dumplings, white bag-shaped juicy pork dumplings, fried sesame balls, sausages wrapped in baked honey buns, curry squid, har gow shrimp dumplings, triangular seafood dumplings, black pepper spare ribs, duck feet, and baked egg cream buns. None of these dishes stunned us, but we barely touched the assortment of options that the restaurant had available - waiters and waitresses were passing by the table every minute or two with carts of other common and uncommon dishes.
Why come all this way for dim sum? It's currently impossible to find the curry squid, baked sausage buns, and many of the other items here at a restaurant in Buffalo. To us, these items - except for the duck feet - are comfort food, and Sky Dragon is even closer to the real dim sum experience than we can get by going to Rochester. It's worthy of an occasional visit, and at the equivalent of US$30 for a three-person lunch, it's a bargain, though we keep on hoping that something better will open closer to home.
We didn't eat a ton after our dim sum lunch, but we couldn't help but be excited by the sight of two separate Ikea stores as we took the Lewiston-Queenston route from Buffalo to Toronto and back. Ikea may be known for its furniture, but Buffalo Chow loves it for something else: the Swedish Meatball plates. We've been getting these since our days in California, and were won over to the unusual combination of meatballs, gravy, and lingonberries despite considerable skepticism.
Lingonberries are, from what we understand, completely unlike loganberries in cultivation and composition. But they taste so similar that we found ourselves relying on Ikea's lingonberry drink as a taste substitute for loganberry while away from home; the flavors are virtually identical, save for the less syrupy composition of Ikea's version. Had it not been for Ikea's meatball plates - served as 10, 15, or 20 meatballs with a side of potatoes for roughly $4, $5, or $6 - we would never have considered the concept of loganberry chicken wings to be viable.
But unlike those nauseating wings, which appeared hopefully for the last time at WingFest '08, Ikea's meatballs, gravy, and lingonberries make for a sublime combination; the latter two items are so good together that we find ourselves using them to coat the potatoes on the plate. On this visit to Ikea, we found the restaurant offering french fries as a potato alternative, and literally cleaned every slice and drop of gravy off the plate before we finished.
Is it worth going to Ikea purely for the meatball plates? Some might disagree, but once in a while, we'd say "yes." Despite seeing a few cool items as we walked around, we bought nothing in the store, but we left feeling full and mighty satisfied. Hopefully Ikea will consider a suburban location here if the college crowd grows a bit - it has a much better chance of success with the local population than most of the other furniture stores in Western New York.