Where Toronto Eats: Yum Cha in Markham

Art by Andrea Vahrusev

How far is too far for good yum cha? Though it may seem like a rhetorical question, there is, at least in the minds of aficionados of any kind of food, a sense that the quality of a restaurant is proportional to its inaccessibility; ask a ramen head where the best ramen is — it won’t be down the block, around the corner. Elegance Chinese Dining and Banquet in Markham is certainly not — it’s a few corners (up to North York Centre station), a few perilous bridges (a generous friend with a driver’s license + car), and a crocodile moat (a congested freeway or two) away from downtown Toronto. Once there, the lines, especially on weekend mornings, are long and tedious despite its 350+ persons capacity, as Elegance’s waiting area is relatively small and it shares its strip mall with one or two other restaurants and dubious-looking health stores extolling the benefits of certain tropical berries. Its staff, as is the case in the best of old school restaurants, are not even half heartedly concerned with making you feel ‘at home’.

So it goes without saying that it also has some of the best dim sum I’ve had in Canada.

Elegance’s excellence is telling from the moment the inevitable pot of oolong arrives. The pot of tea is accompanied by a pot of reserve hot water to dilute — if the tea is too strong — or to steep afresh. (And, unusual in my experience of yum cha, the teacups have small handles that bring to mind a certain British/colonial touch.) The tea itself is freshly brewed and delicate, a familiar and comforting opening that far from being pro-forma.

The menu at Elegance is short and divided into sections to help you find what you want. The ha gow is a must, as it’s often deemed the dish to judge a restaurant by; at Elegance, the seasoned and supple shrimps can be seen through the thin and slightly chewy skin. The chive and seafood dumpling, bbq pork bun, pork spare ribs with black beans, and shumai are all telling of the restaurant’s freshness and quality. Steamed rice rolls with shrimp and rice skins was, as they say, a revelation: The soft and chewy skin, perfectly seasoned shrimp, and the crunch of the mysterious ‘rice skin’ dipped in slightly sweet soy sauce — to borrow the hyperbole of Stephen Chow’s God of Cookery — cured the mind’s ailments born since childhood, namely the absence of said roll. The only steamed thing to avoid here is the xiaolong bao, or soup dumplings — I don’t know what happened at the kitchen, but it just wasn’t, by any standards, a xialong bao. 

Elegance is much better at steamed dishes than at fried ones. The pan-fried turnip cakes were wrapped, for no apparent reason, in nori and served with XO sauce; the deep-fried tofu skin was dry; and, most egregious of all, they do not serve pork and chive dumplings.

However, Elegance‘s simply prepared vegetable dishes more than make up for what it misses in its fried section. The snow pea tips and gai lan (Chinese broccoli ), both blanched then prepared simply with oil and salt, were not only delicious but also palate cleansing. If you get a chance, do ask for the snow pea tips while they are in season and easily available; it’s subtle and flavorful and will make you reconsider charring all your vegetables.

Elegance is, I should mention, slightly pricier than most dim sum joints in the city. Each plate is around $4 and the larger plates or specials of the day cost a little extra. However, it should also be said that a local pub’s mediocre special on burgers is often upwards $15 and nobody complains. Or, on a more positive note, even with each plate costing slightly more, you can yum cha like a king and pay only double-digits.

Elegance Chinese Restaurant & Banquet is located at 20 Gibson Drive in Markham and is open daily from 9am to 10pm. On weekends, get there either as early as possible or slightly later in the afternoon to beat the crowd. 

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Where Toronto Eats — Sunrise House

Koreatown between Chrstie and Bathurst is chock full of options. You can stop in for some bubble tea in one corner, get Korean barbecue on the next, maybe go to Karaoke, get a few drinks at a bar. But no night in Koreatown is really complete without a night-after meal some time around 2 or 3 in the morning with a bottle of soju to round things out. The dictates of notorious Korean drinking culture are many and colorful and, with a little resilience and cash, easily available. There are places for such nights.

Sunrise House is not one of them. It opens late for a Korean restaurant, at 11, and closes early twelve hours later. But, like a good standard no-fuss diner, it is a beacon of comfort, of quiet, a place to remedy your hangover, a place to feel safe. With its green walls that match the green sign outside, few tables, metal chopsticks and spoons in a box on a table, quick service, and a long menu, it’s as though it’s been transplanted on Bloor West straight from a restaurant row in a Korean marketplace. It is home of a sort to all kinds. On a recent visit, I sat between a blond in full mink gear and an old Korean man with a Korean daily. Both ate bibimbap.

The food is reminiscent of the vivacity of a busy Korean street; it’s boiling hot, usually spicy, plentiful, and without decorations. The last is significant because the qualities of home-cooked Korean food, not of the barbecue variety, is fundamentally based on necessity and frugality derived from a history of poverty and war — stews and soups feed more people, side dishes can be made cheaply and as preserves and they compliment rice, the main filler, etc. Take budae jji gae, the infamous army stew ($18, big enough for three or four people at Sunrise), for instance: a stew originally made after the Korean War to accommodate whatever luncheon meats and sausages the well-fed and rich U.S. Army threw away from their bases. Or the now popular pork-bone soup ($7) — a soup traditionally made almost entirely from left over pork bone and broth with little to no meat.

With over five pages of items on top of specials, not everything at the Sunrise will be a Michelin star experience. It is unlikely that the women in Sunrise’s kitchen are going at the food with discipline and diligence of a ‘craftsman’ à la Jiro or whoever. But neither did your mom or nonna when making your childhood favorites. Some, like the knife cut noodles with bulgogi, are a miss — the flavor of the broth, or dashi, hides behind the sweetness of the bulgogi, and the noodles, on a recent visit, were slightly undercooked. The banchan however, though curated largely for the novice palate, are free, various, and above average.

As with any reliable diner with a ten-page menu, you have to learn as you go. The dolsot bibimbap ($9) is a definite winner, as is the yukgaejang ($9), or spicy soup with shredded brisket, vermicelli noodles, and vegetables with just the right amount of spicy oil floating on top. If it’s your first rodeo with Korean food, I recommend the potato pancake and bulgogi, a sweet and salty gateway drug.

The life of a restaurant is dependent, among other things, on the shelf life of the trend it stocks on. The many poke joints with quirky names and quaint ingredients, much to no one’s heartfelt sorrow, will, sooner or later, disappear and give way to another fleeting trend. But radishes with salt and butter, cheese and baguettes, a medium-rare cheeseburger will still be, as they are today, delicious and available. So I doubt that Sunrise House is going anywhere any time soon. There will always be people in need of boiling hot soup served quickly without fanfare with an afternoon half-bottle of soju, those in need of the comfort of the brusqueness of the space and the people.

Sunrise House is located at 661 Bloor St. West between Euclid and Manning Avenue. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Where Toronto Eats: Loga’s Corner

Eateries abound. But where to eat? In a peculiarly sprawling city like Toronto, where side streets are left to thrive in their residential calm adjacent more often visited avenues, on a single crowded block you can find a mulch of names that do not give in so easily to guesses. Unless you’re the type to read and ruminate on menus on a busy street putting smooth pedestrian mobility, the foundation of urban civilization, in danger — please don’t —, you go where you’ve been before; a place a friend recommended; some place you’ve heard from a coworker; one with a decent Yelp review. It gets boring, tedious, and downright no-good-places-to-eat-around-here ridiculous when it should rightfully be exciting, like Pizza Hut birthday parties were back when you were eight. 

Novella rose to the occasion to bring it back. Welcome to Where Toronto Eats, a new series focused on where we eat and where we should eat more often. We talk about the food and the culture behind the quiet eateries that hold Toronto down as the multicultural food capital of Canada.

I’ve lived in Toronto for six months. The nature of a transplant is such that it feels the need to know its environment in ways a born-and-raised cannot. As a diehard stickler for rules when it comes to all-important matters such as pizza and slurping noodles — the answer is ‘Always Slurp’ —, I’ve done my share of food-adventures here. Jordan D., our arts & culture editor, on the other hand, is steeped in Toronto’s food scene. We hope that our different perspectives on the city will give us fresh insight into its culinary cartography.

Loga’s Corner at 216 Close Ave, Parkdale

Loga’s Corner in Parkdale is a real life brick and mortar place you’ve visited in your flighty dumpling fantasies; a place where perfectly shaped momos — thin doughs packed with delicious beef and vege fillings steamed or fried — are served on unpretentious paper plates for $6; where the bright orange and jubilant homemade hot sauce in unassuming red bottles jolts you out of that dreamy state of dumpling satisfaction into an even more profoundly delicious reality.

Dorjee and Loga

This Tibetan eatery is run by Loga and his family who moved to Toronto from Northern India back in 2012. Loga manages the restaurant while his wife, Dolma Yangchen, and his eldest son, Dorjee, work momo magic in the kitchen. When Loga first opened his Tibetan eatery, it was a small take-out place with almost no seatings. Then over the years the business expanded twice to first take over an adjacent room then what was formerly the Fat Lava Vintage Coffee. Now the spacious café offers many seatings, Loga’s generous hospitality, which includes a plate of tangy and spicy pickled daikons sprinkled with sesame seeds, and photos of his holiness the Dalai Lama.

Momos aren’t a staple dish in Tibet. A more typical meal, Loga said, consists of salty butter tea mixed with tsampa, roasted barley or wheat flour, and some beef. Vegetables are scarce as few thrive in high altitudes. Momos are a special-occasion dish, a delicacy. Even in India, Loga said, the necessary ingredients are too pricy to make them regularly. Only once he and his family moved to Canada did making momos as a business venture make financial sense. And it wasn’t such a farfetched idea as Dolma Yangchen is more than proficient in the exquisite art of dumpling making. “My wife,” Loga said, “is very good at understanding what people like.” That we can enjoy the delicacy on a daily basis here in Toronto is a testimony to our unprecedented and relatively unreal prosperity — something to be thankful for while sipping on a cup of mango lassi and waiting for the momos.

Beef momos come in a crescent shape

Though the dough of a momo is light and soft, the contents are hearty. The beef, mixed with just the right amount of onions, has a certain kind of homeliness to it, like being tucked into a duvet after coming in from the cold. The vege momo, on the other hand, filled with potatoes and other goodnesses, is a wonderful union between a dainty dumpling and a perfectly spiced samosa.Then there is the beef noodle soup — a bowl of beefy umami broth and perfectly chewy and soft noodles to be slurped with bite-size pieces of meat. All of them offer simple, clean satisfaction.

Vege momos
The beef noodle is served in a meaty, hearty broth with fresh vegetables on top

Loga’s Corner, though unassuming from the outside, is in fact a beautiful microcosm of multiculturalism. After the 1959 Tibetan Uprising following periods of armed struggle, Tibetans, in steps with the Dalai Lama, left their homeland for Northern India. Loga’s parents were a part of this exodus, which only increased in numbers with time as political and cultural repression worsened under Chinese control. Once in India, many Tibetans, Loga’s family included, were left to adapt to a drastically different environment with little to no means of easing the transition. Though Loga was born in India, he remembers this history as both a personal and communal experience.

Now in Parkdale, Loga and his eatery reflect his mixed cultural heritage. The parathas, flatbreads stuffed with curried potatoes, and the spices and the spiciness of the hot sauce, atypical in Tibetan cuisine, harken back to time spent and meals had in India. The potato balls, deep fried, crispy, and amazingly only $1 each, were included in the menu because Loga saw, with his ever increasing business acumen, that we in North America love our potatoes especially when they’re fried.

There is a reluctance about Loga when he speaks of his family’s success as though it were less of their doing and more of a benefaction bestowed upon him. Indeed when he speaks of his success, he speaks of it in terms of moral responsibilities to be respectful and honest to his customers and community. Sitting on a table where there used to be a wall, Loga spoke about Buddhism, laws of causality, and the need to do good on a daily basis: “I think a Good Samaritan [approach] will work where ever you go.”

There are three doors to Loga’s Corner. The first, closest to Queen W. with a blue staircase, is the main entrance and opens to the original space of 2012. The second is usually locked, though if Loga sees you, he will gladly unlock the door and welcome you in. The third retains signs of having once been a ‘vintage’ coffee place. Once inside, Loga opens your heart with his warmth while Dolma Yangchen’s momos open it through your stomach.

Loga’s Corner Menu:
Beef Noodle Soup – $6
Beef, Vege, and Chicken Momo – $6 (+1 for fried)
Potato Balls – $1
Paratha – $6
Mango Lassi – $3
Butter Tea & Sweet Tea – $1.5
Soda – $1

Loga’s Corner is located at 216 Close Ave. in Parkdale and is open from 11 A.M. to 11 P.M. everyday. If you go with friends, order one of everything and share. If you’re on your own, definitely the beef momos, a potato ball, and a mango lassi. 

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