Sweet Lulu (859 Queen West, at Niagara, 416-203-2228). Complete meals for $15, including all taxes, tip and a beverage. Average main $11. Open daily 11:30 am to 10:30 pm. Licensed. Access: tiny step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Sweet Lulu is cute. When my dining companion and I point out how Hello Kitty-esque it is, the owner (a former flight attendant) nearly glows. That was one of the design elements he wanted subtly conveyed in its minimalist beechwood and white interior. Lulu's Tom Yum hot and sour soup ($3.95) is as it should be. We sweat a little by the end of the bowl. Tofu satay ($4) makes up in turmeric what it lacks in salt (not good). The waiter won't reveal what's in the sauce. Keep it a secret, I say. It looks and tastes like bland peanut sauce.
The mains are set up as a choose-your-own food adventure in "five easy steps." 1. Rice or noodles - six options. 2. Flavour - stir fry, soup or sauce - pick from seven Asian favourites. 3. Add herbs. 4. Meat, seafood or veggie - they are priced accordingly. 5. Top with peanuts or cashews for $1 or $1.50 extra respectively.
Jasmine rice and veggies stir-fried with oyster sauce ($7.95) is fresh and glistening. Rice stick noodles with four shrimp and veggies and a Malaysian peanut sauce ($11.95) benefits from the extra herbs and seasoning I order in step three.
There's not enough sauce, but the owner rushes out with more upon hearing of my dissatisfaction.
Service is where Lulu scores. Our chit-chatty waiter warns us of egg in the stir-fries in case my companion is vegan, recommends which herbs go best with which sauces, describes each flavour in detail and brings us a sample of the green curry before we order.