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Part restaurant, part bar and part event space, SoSo promises modern Chinese food and dance music
SoSo Food Club (1166 Dundas at Ossington, 416 519 6661) is what you get when you mix together modernized mainland Chinese food, dance music, Hong Kong-inspired interiors and LED lights.
A true multi-hyphenate – it’s equal parts restaurant, bar and event space – SoSo is the brainchild of Nancy Chen (Otto’s Bierhalle and Otto’s Berlin Döner) and Daniel Tal. The two know each other from throwing events in Toronto: Chen as a booker for music promoters Mansion and Work In Progress, which she co-founded with Cindy Li and Tal with his party pop-up series, Dudebox and Manifesto.
Along with other partners involved in the food, music and events industries in Toronto, Chen and Tal first came up with the idea for SoSo last December.
“We’re all creative people from different backgrounds,” says Chen. “We thought, what if we can bring our worlds together and create something that doesn’t exist here?”
The space is unrecognizable from its former life as the sports bar, The Contender. Decked out in programmable LED lights and artwork by Toronto illustrator Kendra Yee, the dining area features multiple tables, bar seating and a lounge area. DJs will perform in the back of the space, where a bar-height table transforms into a DJ booth and cool kids can sit on bleacher-style seating. Chen and Tal custom-designed most of the furniture, including the turquoise banquettes and Marcel Breuer-inspired cane chairs. Hong Kong movies inspired the green and pink palette, while the curving ceiling was influenced by North Korean architecture.
“Have you ever looked at North Korean design? That was one of our inspiration points. It has a lot of colours and curves,” says Chen.
The menu, on the other hand, is inspired by food Chen grew up eating. Although raised in Hong Kong, her parents are from mainland China and she also once lived in Shanghai. Jasper Wu (formerly of Miss Thing’s and Bent) is head chef.
“It’s a lot of my favourite dishes from different regions,” says Chen. “Right now, we’re focused on [cuisine from] Xi’an, Sichuan, Shanghai and a little bit of Hunan. We’re not married to doing everything super traditionally, but if you are Chinese, you’ll find a lot of authentic flavours and there are some dishes we kept pretty pure.”
And although Chen and Wu envision the menu to be ever-evolving, it’ll always have plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Right now, it’s about 50 per cent plant-based.
On the drinks side, Lia Said (Bar Raval) created a cocktail menu featuring Asian spirits like sake and baiju, as well as curating an extensive wine and tea program, which includes yerba mate on tap.
“There’s an emerging sober culture who still want to experience nightlife, but feel like there’s a taboo about not drinking. We have no interest in perpetuating that,” says Tal.
For events programming at SoSo, Chen and Tal are following the simple ethos: “anti genre pro dance.” Rather than sticking to one type of music, Chen and Tal are drawing on their diverse backgrounds as bookers to mash up different dance scenes by booking DJs across all genres – whether techno, house, hip-hop or dancehall – that usually wouldn’t perform together.
In addition to throwing parties, Chen and Tal have plans to create a wine club, where they can introduce people to varietals beyond Pinot Noir and Cab Sauv, and special tasting menus featuring guest chefs.
As for the name SoSo, it’s origins are two-fold. It’s based on Chen’s favourite Chinese word “mamahuhu,” which literally translates to “so so,” and riffing on the hyperbolical names of so many Chinese restaurants.
“There’s no humility when it comes to Chinese restaurants. They love to call themselves ‘famous’ or ‘legendary,’” says Chen. “We wanted to be the opposite of that. We want to have fun with this concept and be be playful with everything.”
Here’s a closer look at the menu.
Veggie dumplings at Soso Food Club
Vegetarian dumplings ($7) are filled with snow pea leaves, walnuts and five-spice tofu and served with housemade chili oil.
Buddha basket at Soso Food Club
The “not-really Buddha basket” ($14) is a traditional dish Wu says his family eats it at New Year’s. “We call it ‘not so Buddha basket’, because they don’t eat garlic and ginger and onions,” he says. It comes with fermented preserved tofu for a meaty kick.
Squid salad at Soso Food Club
Squid salad with fennel ($13) is dressed with vinegar and black garlic puree.
Mouthwatering chicken at Soso Food Club
Wu’s interpretation of mouthwatering chicken ($9), a traditional Chinese dish, is formed into a rouladen (instead of chunks) and served with beets.
Lobster mapo tofu at Soso Food Club
Lobster mapo tofu ($36), based on Chen’s own mapo tofu recipe, is made from a sustainably-sourced whole one-pound lobster and homemade tofu. Extra-spicy housemade XO sauce adds kick. “We once wanted to do a whole restaurant around XO sauce,” Chen laughs. (It’s also available in pork or shiitake versions as “Mama Chen’s mapo tofu”.)
Pork belly at Soso Food Club
Dong Po pork belly ($16) comes with daikon and seasoned egg.
Mamahuhu cocktail at Soso Food Club
The Mamahuhu cocktail ($14) is based on baijiu, a vodka-like Chinese spirit that’s the largest-selling spirit category in the world. Rounding things out is hibiscus and berry tea, Guerra Blanco, lemon and orange blossom.
With files from Natalia Manzocco
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