If there’s one defining quality of being a major metropolis, a “world class city” if you will, it is undoubtedly having a hockey team that despite having tons of money and a psychotically loyal fanbase can never win the championship. CORRECTION! It is undoubtedly having heaps of access to cheap Chinese food, preferably of the all-you-can-eat dinner buffet variety.
Sure, you can go to any old strip mall and there’s even odds there will be a Pick-N-Mix inside it. But going to a Pick-N-Mix is like going to a McDonald’s for a hamburger – there is no adventure to be found! There is never the thrill of eating Shanghai noodles that may or may not have been shoelaces, there is never the occasional thought popping into your head of whether the spicy BBQ pork is, in fact, actually pork, and there is most certainly never the thrill of eating a dish that actually turns out to be tasty and delicious. This is because in addition to being boring, Pick-N-Mix also sucks the bag.
One such establishment I recently tried out is the imaginatively named Yonge Street Chinese Restaurant, located at 1290 Yonge Street (north of Davisville). The YSCR, in addition to being a cheap buffet place, also does freshly made dim sum and makes all their own desserts fresh – but I’m not here for that. I’m here for the buffet, baby.
The only real way to grade a cheap Chinese buffet is to try as many of the dishes served as possible and then go pass/fail on each. If the restaurant serves up more winners than losers – congratulations! You may actually want to eat here again, possibly even when sober!
Black Bean Beef: Solid black bean sauce. Veggies nicely cooked – still firm and crunchy but not too raw. Beef not amazing, but not objectionable either.
General Tso Chicken: Passable chicken. Sauce a bit too sweet, not spicy enough. Vegetables overdone.
Spring Rolls: Unfortunately, like most cheap buffet places, the YSCR alternates daily between egg rolls and spring rolls – and egg rolls hold up a lot better underneath heat-lamps than spring rolls do. Spring rolls get mushy and limp. Like these spring rolls. They’re not bad tasting, implying that originally they probably would have been quite okay before put under the heat lamp for two hours, but…
Spicy BBQ Pork: Absolutely horrible. Bland sauce, gristly, unappetizing pork, vegetables limp and soggy. FAIL.
Chicken Balls: I know, I know – how can you grade chicken balls? But you can – these chicken balls, unlike some, have decent-quality chicken in them. And the batter’s okay.
Steamed Rice: Nice and sticky.
Spicy Eggplant: I hate eggplant, but the sauce is really nice.
PASS, if you like eggplant. I hope you people appreciate that I am SUFFERING FOR JOURNALISM here!
Sweet And Sour Pork: Pleasantly caramelized sauce on the pork, which for some reason is much better than the pork in the spicy BBQ dish. Veggies nicely done too.
Curry Chicken: A mix of unboned chicken and boneless chicken is not something I enjoy discovering on my third bite. Furthermore, the curry sauce is wimpy and does not even make me shed a single tear in spicy pain.
“Golden Fried Potatoes”: Alternately known as “hash browns fried in sesame oil.” Which actually is just as good as it sounds. Delicious, cooked just right, and the sesame flavouring is fantastic with the potato. Probably very bad for me though.
Shanghai Noodles: Rubbery and overcooked. Lots of onions, though. I like onions. But those noodles – man.
Steamed Vegetable Medley: It’s a steamed vegetable dish. What do you want me to say? They put vegetables in a steamer and steam them. There is literally no skill involved in making steamed vegetables.
Lemon Chicken: Excellent chicken, nice breading, good sweet lemon sauce that isn’t overpowering, and the vegetables are just right.
My free fortune cookie: “A friend is a soul shared with another body.” First off, that’s mangling the popular cliche, and second, it did not tell me my future even slightly! What a gyp!
So, by my count that’s 8 good and 5 bad, so the Yonge Street Chinese Restaurant wins! I celebrate their win with a package of their homemade sesame cookies, which are excellent (they also make butter and peanut cookies, as well as a very sweet mango pudding). And I am alive, for I have tasted adventure. Admittedly, adventure in the form of cheap Chinese food. But adventure nonetheless.
Other stuff you should know: Open seven days a week. Small buffet dinner $4.99, large $5.99, all-you-can-eat $7.99. Dim sum meals range from $8-12. Licensed.