PEARL HARBOURFRONT (207 Queens Quay West, at York, 416-203-1233) Complete dim sum meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of green tea. Average dim sum $4. Open for dim sum Monday to Friday 11 am to 3:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:30 am to 3:30 pm; á la carte dinner nightly till 11 pm. Licensed. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Dim sum and fine dining rarely meet .
Other than downtown's Lai Wah Heen and the enormo-dome banquet halls of Scarborough and Markham, going for dim sum means dinner by flickering fluorescent tubing, not candlelight, cheap plastic sheeting, not starched formal table linen. Most hit Chinatown or head up the DVP; how many remember there's an exceptionally swanky dim sum destination right in our own backyard?
Set in Harbourfront's Queens Quay Terminal, Pearl Harbourfront has been around since the 80s, first as Pink Pearl, when it opened in the condo complex's north end, and with its amended handle since it moved to its current digs on the building's south/ lake side. Because of its location, some would dismiss Pearl as a tourist trap. They would be wrong.
Even in the depths of February, the view of the lake is spectacular. Whitecaps sparkle in the sun, ducks make like kamikaze, and across the water the Islands are shrouded in snow, the low winter light at high noon so bright that staff constantly adjust the shades on the multi-level room's floor-to-ceiling windows to avoid blinding the clientele.
Affable servers in crisp white jackets patrol the sumptuous space, pushing trolleys piled with bamboo steamers. First to pass, what Pearl amusingly dubs Pan-Fried Hockey Puck ($4.85) turns out to be a golden quartet of crisply seared rice-paper potstickers stuffed with shrimp and wilted scallion that go nuclear when dipped in garlicky chili oil and hot colonial mustard not something Boom Boom Geoffrion might stickhandle.
Treasure Wontons with ginger sauce ($5.50) look like they exploded by mistake in the deep fryer, a delicious eruption of brittle wrapper, minced seafood stuffing and sweet red syrup. The oddly named Barbecue Pork Pie is nothing of the sort, instead a trio of puff pastries filled with sugary char siu pork and washed with a treacly glaze that sticks to dental work.
Shrimp har gow arrive appropriately plump, four delicately fluted rice-noodle dumplings, while each of another foursome of minced pork siu mai gets topped by a butterflied shrimp and a fresh garden pea.
Dim sum chef Kwok Foon Mak's perfectly executed progression of plates comes to a soothing conclusion with retro comfort-food-style shrimp toasts (think 50s Cheese Dreams, all $4.85) and a trio of flaky custard tarts ($3.20) still warm from the oven.
Pearl Harbourfront may not be the trendiest kitchen in town, but it's certainly a treasure worthy of rediscovery.