XAM YU (339 Spadina, at Baldwin, 416-340-8603) Complete meals for $30 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Tsingtao. Average main $12/$8. Open daily 11 am to midnight. Licensed. Delivery. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
WAH SING (47 Baldwin, at Beverley, 416-599-8822) Complete meals for $40 per person ($20 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Tsingtao. Average main $15/$9. Open daily 11:30 am to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNN
It's no secret that Toronto's most celebrated chef, Susur Lee, loves Chinese food. In fact, the only Chinatown restaurant I've never seen him eating in is probably Tim Hortons. So I'm not surprised when the phone rings while I'm dining at Xam Yu, the 10-year-old Spadina spot famous for its fabulously fresh seafood, and our up-till-now silent server answers, "I'm sorry, Susur, Ken can't come to the phone right now. He's cooking."
Is he ever!
Owner-slash-chef Ken Fong is so renowned in these parts for his superlative fish suppers that his entire menu is translated into Vietnamese.
Alongside relative exotica like deer meat with XO sauce ($14.95) and frog legs ($9.95), Fong offers jumbo broiled oysters with gingery scallions or salty black bean garnish ($1.50 each), steamed whole 10-legged Vancouver crab over perfect shrimp fried rice wrapped in an aromatic lotus leaf ($19.95) and two-for-one deep-fried lobster served two ways ($26.95).
And while veggie options are limited - guy choy with whole garlic consists of exactly that: Chinese greens and a single garlic clove - his Seafood Fried Egg Noodle (both $8.95) couldn't be more delicious or generously plated.
Over in Baldwin Village, venerable Wah Sing attracts a conservative Lee Garden crowd, the type who think nothing of paying $15.95 ($10.95 lunch) for sub-par Mixed Seafood Chow Mein, or $1.75 for a thick-skinned and under-stuffed egg roll.
Ying Yang Fried Rice ($13.95) finds a 12-inch Pyrex pie plate brimming with perfunctory plain fried rice topped with good-sized shrimp in egg whites, as well as chicken strips in 50s-style sweet 'n' sour sauce. Nine green-shelled New Zealand mussels in a bland white wine broth padded out with onion and tomato are over-priced for the portion-control payload ($11.95/small).
But all is forgiven if not forgotten with the arrival of Wah Sing's two-for-one lobster deal ($26.95). We willingly pay the two-buck surcharge so that one lightly battered and beautifully presented coral-coloured critter comes dressed with ginger and green onions, t'other tossed with hellaciously hot jalapeños.