TUYEN (4860 Yonge, at Sheppard, 416-225-3888) Complete dinners for $30 per person (lunches $22), including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Average main $12/$10. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 11 pm, Saturday 3 to 11 pm, Sunday 4 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Now that Jersey Boys has just opened at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (see preview, page 72) up the block, the owners of Tuyen - the stylish pan-Asian eatery in the heart of Melville - might want to ditch the Frank Sinatra CD they have on permanent loop for a copy of the Four Seasons' Greatest Hits. How better to guarantee a full house before and after the show than a little Frankie Valli to go with the house's Typhoon sea bass ($26) showered with Thai bird chilies?
Except for pork-bone soup kitchens like the Owl (5324 Yonge, at Churchill, 416-221-7275) and cheap maki at Sushi Bong (5 Northtown Way, at Yonge, 416-227-0022), Yonge between Sheppard and Finch is a culinary wasteland, a slew of frickin' Firkins and corporate franchises.
It's such a surprise to find a restaurant of such charm as tiny Tuyen cheek-to-cheek with Boston Pizza, Extreme Pita and an adult video store. With its sleek decor (including a light-up bar) and affable service, it's the sort of trendy trat that should be more at home on Church or College than north of the 401.
The card, described as "new authentic Asian cooking," references the Southeast with stops in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, as well as side trips to Korea and Canton.
The dim sum platters ($10) are a good place to start - unusually tasty combos of sausage-stuffed shiu mai, house-made shrimp har gow, minced chicken 'n' chive dumplings, steamed char siu barbecue pork buns and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves thick with ground beef in mushroom gravy.
Listed under signature dishes, Clay Pot chicken, a casserole of stir-fried breast, zucchini and al dente pea pods nipped with red chili sauce and Chardonnay, shows Tuyen at its best. A considerable lamb shank (both $12) also comes braised in wine, an unexpected touch for a resto in this price range.
But don't be suckered into pairing either with what the menu describes as "yam rice" unless you have a hankering for plain steamed rice tossed with a few token cubes of sweet potato. Far better to soak up both with grilled house-baked parathas (both $3) that are so buttery, they taste like a croissant that's been run over by a steamroller.
Not everything's so adventurous. Sweet 'n' sour battered Pork Royale ($10) comes swamped in a retro fluorescent red sauce riddled with bell pepper, tomato, onion and pineapple, while Malaysian beef fried rice ($9) is not only laced with the spiky fruit but is served in a hollowed-out half as well.
Tuyen's pad thai ($12) is so overwhelmingly sweet that a few pineapple chunks would feel right at home. The noodles are also alarmingly ketchup-pink, awash in a sauce so vile it makes me feel sad for the dish's chicken and tofu components.
Nevertheless, there's a lot to love about Tuyen, even if you're not a fan of Frank or Frankie.