FAST FOOD 2000 (454 Yonge, at College, 416-323-1366) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and a pop. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday 11 am to 11 pm, Saturday noon to 11 pm and Sunday noon to 10 am. Cash only. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Whenever I see a sign advertising a $6.99 all-you-can-eat lunch spread like the one I spot out front of nine month-old Fast Food 2000, the Yonge Street storefront that's replaced Café Asia, I run. In the opposite direction. I call these dirt-cheap buffets "weapons of mass indigestion." We'll dispense with ridiculing the obsolete name and go straight to dismissing its nothing-you'd-want-to-eat lineup.
If it isn't battered like a doughnut and deep-fried to death - breaded chicken balls, scrawny chicken wings, gristly General Tso's chicken, small unidentified fish - it's limp and flavourless like the Cantonese noodles and broccoli spears on the steam table.
The best bargain is the $5.99 takeout deal. As the sign days, "Please pick anything you like, but the lids must be closed on all sides."
And while there's not much to stuff a styrofoam container, it can be done. Egg rolls come minimally filled but crisp from the fryer if you time it right, and the fresh Shanghai noodles have a suggestion of sesame oil offset by crunchy carrot and onion.
If you can stomach MSG and red dye number 2, the house barbecued pork is a guilty if fatty pleasure. And the vegetarian hot 'n' sour soup would be pretty good if there were a decent hotsauce around to give it some bite.
From its auxiliary à la carte card, I order Soyed Tofu and find big cubes of lovely deep-fried tofu garnished with raw scallion in a thin but not unpleasant gravy.
Best of the lot, Garlic Chinese Vegetable (both $5.99) sees halved hearts of barely steamed bok choy swimming in a subtle bath laced with sliced garlic.
And FFMM's Honey Twists offer a delicious two-dollar dessert of egg roll wrappers cut into wide strips tied in knots that then deep-fried and finally dusted with confectioner's sugar and a drizzle of honey.
Back at the lab and dissecting the remains, the Balkan has the last word: "Sometimes you can't read a book by its cover."