Dim Hopes for Dim Sum

18 Apr

One of the best things about living in Toronto is the accessibility to crepes, goat roti, dolmades and freshly shucked oysters. Whatever you crave, we’ve got it.

Except good dim sum.

You can’t walk around Markham or Scarborough without tripping over a dim sum cart of delicious bite-sized treasures but in downtown Toronto proper? The void is a tragedy of epic proportions. And don’t tell me I should check out Chinatown (or Chinatown II) because I although I will admit the dim sum served there is undeniably tasty and gives great bang for your buck, it’s not the fine cuisine I’m looking for. A woman can’t live off burgers alone; she must occasionally get her prime rib and at a reasonable price.

My parents and grandmother live out in the western ‘burbs and because I don’t own a car, meeting in Markham or Scarborough for dim sum is always a challenge. But, our saviour was Lai Wah Heen at the Metropolitan Hotel, right smack in the city core. The parents could drive in and in the same amount of time, I could walk over. It’s a lot pricier than the $1.50 dishes along Spadina but for a fine dining meal, we found it to be very reasonably priced. It frequently appeared on top 10 dim sum restaurant lists for Toronto and area and in my humble opinion, its position was rightfully earned.

And then, we heard the news – Metropolitan Hotel Toronto was sold to Bayview Hospitality Group. We waited with bated breath – will the chefs stay? Will management change? What will happen to our oasis in the city?

Two months after this change, we went back.  The restaurant looked the same; it has a clean modern Chinese restaurant look with neutral colours.  However, on this day, it was quite crowded and the majority of the clientele seemed to be college students and young couples with babies – very different from past visits where it was quieter and the customers were older. This screams to me that a Groupon deal was issued. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but just throwing my speculation out into the winds.

And then it was downhill fast.

At Lai Wah Heen (and most dim sum places where there are no carts), you check off your order on a sheet and then the server picks it up for the kitchen. The sheet printout was different. It wasn’t necessarily a revamped menu, but some key favourites were missing (the sea bass congee!). This, my mother indicated, meant at least one chef who specialized in those dishes, has left.

Dear readers, it was such a letdown. The presentation was sloppy. Serving sizes were smaller. No fireworks, no oomph, no religious experience. The fried oysters were fresh but the batter wasn’t a pillowy crunch. The pork belly had a great crispy skin but it was a smaller portion than before.  The seafood fried noodles went from a contender for a National Geographic photoshoot to something that I probably made in Grade 8 Home Economics.

Quite simply, the food was palatable but unremarkable and therefore not worth the price tag. Also, all I could hear the entire time were crying babies and kids jaw-wagging into cell phones. Now, I respect this is not atypical to a dim sum environment, but I could get the same experience with Spadina prices, not by shelling out hotel restaurant prices.

I sobbed internally as I put a mediocre bon-bon sized pastry into my mouth.

“Well. This is it. You just need to buy a car,” shrugged my mother.

Lai Wah Heen, I hope this is just an awkward phase you’re going through.

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