After a sweaty night in a mosh pit, people crave a late bite at a nosh pit. But other than a few fast-food outlets, where can you eat downtown at 3 am?
Chinatown's always a good bet. Just hit Spadina and join a lineup. Unfortunately, Rol San -- a Cantonese cantina on the avenue -- has no wristband policy. But the wait's never long, and soon you and the gang will be sitting at a round table covered onion-like in layers of white polypropylene.
I believe the best stuff in Chinese restaurants always appears on the untranslated-into-English side of the menu, so I ask the young server if there's a difference between the two. He insists they're the same.
Simply super Over the course of three visits, I find most of the house specialties less than special. Breaded and deep-fried boneless chicken breast ($9.95) comes coated in a cloying lemon-cornstarch sauce. Moo shu pork sees mostly shredded cabbage wrapped in tissue-thin crepes, while seafood-stuffed deep-fried bean curd is simply eight tofu cubes with shrimp stuck on top (both $8.95).
But minced pork with deep-fried long beans ($7.95) is simply super.
If you stay awake all night and come to Rol San at 9 am you'll find the dim sum more interesting. Priced from $1.38 to $2.88, things like sticky rice in lotus leaf, scallop dumplings and crispy shrimp with chive cake are far more adventurous fare.
I especially like the multiple textures of the large crab, shrimp and mushroom dumpling that swims in briny broth.
The restaurant industry knows no age discrimination. It eats its young and old alike.
Wonder why so many go under? Look at this recipe for failure: couple ever-increasing food costs with a scarcity of competent staff, throw in regularly rising rents, mix in the ever-fickle public and the turn-up is usually turkey.
Desperate, floundering restaurateurs figure that since they're paying for the space 24-7, they should maximize its potential. Instead of just serving food, as a last resort they bring in bands, DJs and Internet connections.
The reverse variation on this misguided thinking finds bar owners deciding to serve something other than pub grub. (The Cameron's now-discontinued Sunday brunches, where Rosedale matrons rubbed shoulders with the likes of Bunchofuckingoofs, was a fluke.)
So you can understand my wariness when a dinner menu from Barcode (549 College, 928-9941), a College Street music club that's a NXNE venue, arrives in the mail. The lineup looks promising, if very brief, and includes avocado salad, mussels Provençal, grilled calamari (all $6.95) and steak-frites with peppercorn sauce ($13.95).
The next day, gastro-gossiping with one of my culinary compadres, I mention that Barcode has started doing food. Expecting an incredulous "No way!," I'm surprised when my pal says that not only does she know all about it, but she's eaten there and it's pretty good. Apparently, a French chef has been hired, the room's been redecorated and, best of all, the food's dead cheap.
Shotgun space A week later, the Other Two join me at Barcode just after 7. The long, shotgun space doesn't look very different, though it's hard to tell, since the last time I was here there were 300 people sardined in and it was pitch dark. Tonight we're the only people here, and we grab a rickety table by the front window. Elastica blasts over the PA system. So much for intimacy.
Our server, more familiar with slinging suds then full French fare, hands us the menu but explains that the only items available are steak, sausage and salad, because the chef has left the building. Permanently. Well, that narrows our options.
A Carlsberg ($4) downed, supper's ready. The Two's T-bones (we were charged $9.95 each, though the menu says $13.95) may not be the finest steaks in town, but they're better than average, if a bit thin. With them come a pile of quite good Yukon fries and a huge if ho-hum mess of mesclun greens dressed with the dreaded balsamic vinegar. Sided with the same spuds and salad, my nicely grill-marked single sausage is more than adequate, and a meal deal at $5.95.
If you find yourself at Barcode this weekend for NXNE and feel a tad peckish, check out the grill. No, it's no Cafe Societa or Ellipsis, but it's certainly the equal of many of its smarter College cousins. And half as expensive.
(323 Spadina, 977-1128)
Retro Cantonese cuisine in a pleasant space a notch above the usual for the area. In the rear, past an open kitchen, a second room reminiscent of a cheesy Hong Kong discotheque decked out with posters of Charlie Chaplin and Princess Di handles the overflow for weekend dim sum. Always packed; expect a wait at the door. Complete dinners for $30 ($15 for daily dim sum brunch and lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Chinese beer. Open Monday to Thursday 10 am to 4 am, Friday 10 am to 5 am, Saturday 9 am to 5 am, and Sunday 9 am to 4 am. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN