A friendly pub, a casual Italian trattoria, maybe a place with candles and tablecloths for special occasions; these are some of the eating establishments that a neighbourhood needs to make life enjoyable for foodies. While not absolutely essential a local source of old school, westernised Chinese food is also something a neighbourhood can use. Last week Kat and I ordered dinner from Golden House Chinese Food Restauant and hoped it would cross this item off our list.
The decor here is extremely spartan. Starting with the front window pictures of the bottled beer selection that recall post office wanted posters the visitor to Golden House knows not to expect anything fancy. Formica tables and counter stools are standard issue from the eighties (if that recently) but the place looks clean and comfortable. Most customers opt for either delivery or takeout so it makes sense that the proprietors don’t spend much on furnishings. And with ten percent off pickup orders or free delivery in the rather generous “local” area (Christie to Bayview, Glencairn to College) we’re compensated for helping the owners save on wallpaper costs.
The requisite egg rolls ($1.10) that we started with were on the small side but made up for that by being hot, crunchy and offering a subtle hint of toasted sesame oil in the filling. For the main event we split three dishes between the two of us (is there any other way?).
Kat’s favourite, Moo Shoo Pork ($8.50) combines the usual shredded cabbage and barbequed pork with unusually tasty wraps (though five is too few).
While the Crispy Beef with Ginger Sauce ($8.75) was, unfortunately, anything but crispy it did offer an assertively flavourful sauce and tender meat.
Our third selection, Sesame Chicken ($8.75), got high marks from both us–tellingly, it was the first leftover that we finished–for crispiness and flavour. All three of these dishes were granted the little hot pepper on the menu that is supposed to denote spiciness but this was the only one of the three that made me sweat.
When judging a restaurant it is important, I think, to first set expectations to an appropriate level. As a base all meals that we pay someone else to prepare should be safe to eat (obviously), tasty, and significantly better or more convenient than what we could cook ourselves. To receive return business (or a recommendation) an establishment must set itself apart from its peers by offering a combination of value for money; an enjoyable dining experience (service and decor); and food that is particularly creative and/or delicious.
When cultural food is exported to North America it can follow one of two routes to success. Either a restaurant accurately represents the authentic article or it finds a delicious way to serve the toned-down and standardised dishes that were originally conceived to satisfy unaccustomed palates. Red sauce Italian joints serve dishes that could never be found in Rome or Naples the same way that very few places in Hong Kong or Shanghai sell deep-fried chicken balls. In both cases excellence and authenticity are independent variables that can be achieved separately.
Taking these qualifications into account I’d say that Golden House is near the top of the class of Canadian-Chinese joints. It certainly cannot compete with restaurants like Lai Wah Heen or Asian Legend but the point is that they aren’t trying to. Golden House is up against much slicker operations like Ho Lee Chow and wins hands down by offering marginally better food, more of it, and at prices that are about twenty percent lower. Convenient for those who live or work in the Yonge and St. Clair or Rosedale neighbourhoods Golden House is the best local option for westernised Chinese food.
Golden House Chinese Food Restauant: 1280 Yonge St.; 416-961-2710; website