Like steaming and stir-frying, barbecuing is fuel-efficient and flavourenhancing, its quick blast of heat searing and sealing whatever's being fired on the grill. Here are some of our favourite finds for an Asian New Year's fix of righteous 'cue.
Koreans eat more garlic per capita than anyone else on the planet. So it's no surprise that the thin barbecued strips of sirloin that make up the beef bulgogi at Ho Su (254 Queen West, at John, 416-322-6860, and others), the fashionable Seoul-food eatery across from MuchMusic, come loaded with the stinky rose. Somewhat less garlicky, a starter of skewered and grilled beef, chicken and button mushrooms barely touches the fire before being slathered in sweet teriyaki
A pit stop for the gang from nearby 52 Division, who park their squad cars on the sidewalk out front with impunity, modest Hong Fatt (443 Dundas West, at Huron, 416-977-3945) dishes up bargain-basement barbecued duck over rice or crispy noodles for under five bucks. Regulars swear by their fabulous five-spiced duck and surprisingly tasty cuttlefish, too.
Over on the east side, Ka Ka Lucky (349 Broadview, at Gerrard East, 416- 461-3811) attracts a loyal following for its lean glazed pork tenderloin, while Sing Sing (351 Broadview, at Gerrard, 416-778-8029) next door pairs its fatty porkers with sharp Chinese mustard.
According to the sandwich board outside Kom Jug Yuen (371 Spadina, at Nassau, 416-977-4079), this extremely modest Cantonese cantina offers "the best BBQ in town!" If you say so, but we find it pricier per pound than most and, though crisply caramelized, a bit dry. However, throw it into a stir-fry alongside some scrambled egg and crunchy sprouts and it becomes the best four-buck fried rice on the avenue.
Down at the Green Onion (112 Dundas West, at Bay, 416-599-8308), the new pan-Asian joint in the core that's obviously been modelled on the Spring Rolls franchise, a boneless (!?) rack of lamb comes to table marvellously marbled and tender pink. It's a shame, then, that these six or so chops are coupled with subpar ketchup-red pad thai. Now that Co Yen has closed, tiny Ginger (695 Yonge, at Charles, 416-966- 2424) has become our source for Saigon subs, especially the version topped with thinly sliced, lemon-grass-scented beef. Don't miss its sensational grilled Viet chicken with lime leaf, either.
Poor Kee Hong (396 Spadina, at Nassau, 416-596-1576) can't seem to make up its mind. Is it a "Bar BQ House," as the sign over the door claims, or is it the home of vegetarian healthy food, as its menu insists? Well, both, actually. Though a pig carcass on a meat hook will likely put off most veg-heads, the split-personality spot's massive bean-curd rolls and vegan baked soy beans might entice some to look the other way.
Not one to mock the mock, I'm still trying to wrap my head around Bo De Duyen's (254 Spadina, at Sullivan, 416- 703-1247) fake barbecued spare ribs, deep-fried tofu nuggets in an alarmingly lurid retrored 50s-style sauce spiked with pineapple. But this ersatz flesh, without the batter, the boiling oil treatment and the gloop, tastes almost - almost - like the real thing, particularly when teamed with straw mushrooms in the house's deluxe fried noodles.