EATING GARDEN (43 Baldwin, at Henry, 416-595-5525) Compared to the chaos of Chinatown, busy Baldwin Village is an oasis of calm. This long-time favourite seafood spot offers the usual 2-for-1 lobster special, but there's much on the menu that makes this pleasant place a foodie find. Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm; for dinner 5 to 11:30 pm; Saturday, Sunday and holidays 11:30 am to 11:30 pm. Fully licensed. Access: seven steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
current culinary consensus has it that the best Chinese food in town can be found after an hour-long schlep to the top of the DVP. There, in the shopping malls of Markham, are reported to be 500-seat banquet halls so deluxe that they make their more modest downtown cousins seem like rundown dives in comparison. So, naturally, this contrary curmudgeon decides to buck the trend and rediscover the old-school Chinese the cognoscenti now shun.
Baldwin Village is home to several Chinese restaurants -- Kowloon, the Sings (Wah and Jung) -- but clearly the most popular is Eating Garden. After climbing the steps and entering the brightly lit, carpeted room hung with plastic plants and Ansell Adams prints, a quick look round explodes another foodie myth, the one that says that the best Far Eastern eateries cater exclusively to Asians. At Eating Garden, I find a racially mixed crowd chowing down on some of the better grub Chinatown has to offer.
Start with crispy shrimp and banana spring roll ($1.20 each), an unusual partnership of fruit and crustacean unlike the garden-variety deep-fried wonton wraps found elsewhere, or bowls of hot-and-sour soup ($2.95 small/$6.25 large) thick with pink tofu, barbecued pork and red pepper that easily outclass Swatow's supposed benchmark.
Although I see food (diced carrot, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, scallions, chewy 'shrooms), any seafood in Rainbow Delight ($10.50) has been chopped so fine that it's hard to see what's actually there. I taste shrimp and scallops.
Still, it's a fun retro combo to wrap in huge iceberg lettuce leaves and dip into sweet hoisin. And they still make vegetable egg foo yong ($8.50), a tasty frittata-like omelette that disappeared from Chinese restaurant menus around the same time as sweet-and-sour chicken balls.
But here's something novel: a great slab of steamed Atlantic salmon in black bean sauce ($12.95) that definitely bows to western tastes.
And it's no surprise to find Thai-style noodles ($9.95) on the lineup, especially now that every eatery in town other than Shopsy's has pad thai on its menu. Expect roughly cut chunks of chicken and a few shrimp mixed with peppers and onion, stirred with a waft of ketchup and rice vermicelli, all topped with crushed peanuts. Just don't count on fireworks -- this is tame Thai.