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Crown Princess gives those small snacks the royal treatment
CROWN PRINCESS (1033 Bay, at Irwin, 416-923-8784, crownprincessfinedining.com) Complete dim sum meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and tea. Open daily for dim sum 9 am to 4 pm, à la carte menu 11 am to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
To quote the Beverly Hillbillies’ Jethro Bodine, Crown Princess is one fancy eatin’ room.
Why, if Michael Jackson were to stroll through the not quite month-old sibling to Scarborough’s equally over-the-top Crown Prince in full glitter regalia with Bubbles the chimp and Lady Gaga on his arm, they’d go pretty much unnoticed, so luxe is the Versace-does-Versailles decor. We’re talking rococo chandeliers, hallucinogenic deep-pile carpeting and marble walls hung with marble paintings in marble frames. Liberace’s powder room, in other words.
To a 2001 Space Odyssey soundtrack of Strauss waltzes, servers dressed as French maids attend formally dressed tables set with English bone china and Louis XIV chaises. The tasselled à la carte menu is just as overblown, a multi-page wedding banquet lineup of lucky $88 abalone and $20 eel ‘n’ avocado fried rice. But come for dim sum – especially if ordered before 11 am, when everything that’s priced $5.30 or $4.30 goes for an across-the-board $3.10 – and Princess can be done on the cheap.
We’re barely into our first pot of Iron Buddha oolong tea ($1.20 per person) when translucently wrapped dumplings stuffed with roughly chopped scallops ($5.30) arrive, followed by the inevitable siu mai ($6.30), here upgraded with foie-gras-like goose liver mousse and a sprinkling of black caviar.
Shrimp har gow ($5.30) is always a benchmark dish, as is simple pan-fried turnip cake ($4.30). Both of Princess’s takes on the dim sum classics are superb, the former unusually fresh and squirting jus, the latter subtly textured and tweaked with nuggets of Chinese sausage, not the pale, greasy slab found most everywhere else.
Open-faced Zen dumplings explode with tiny toadstool mushrooms, baby asparagus and finely diced carrot under a dome of pickled cucumber, while the not-to-be-missed Chiu Chow versions thick with ground pork and Chinese chives get their crunch from blanched peanuts. And you can’t call yourself a true dim sum devotee if you forgo chicken feet (all $4.30), particularly when they’re deep-fried and soaked in garlicky sweet sauce.
Served on an edible rice-flour doily, a ridiculously tender tangle of fried octopus tentacles shows up dusted with five-spice powder, while gelatinous cubes of beef tendon in Thai-style curry (both $5.30) literally melt in the month. Avoiding them both, a hungover Literary Device slurps a stomach-soothing bowl of chicken and dried scallop congee swirled with pea shoots ($6.30), as a suddenly animated Troubled Balkan, in the grips of a Proustian epiphany, declares his honey-garlic beef ribs in Polish Maggi sauce ($5.30) – ain’t globalization grand? – exactly like the Chinese food he remembers eating as a child in Willowdale in the 70s. A compliment, no doubt.
He also flips for a four-pack of braised beef meatballs ($3.10) kissed with orange peel and bitter mustard greens, and gives his royal approval to a trio of bean curd rolls laced with pricey king mushrooms ($5.30). Those same ‘spensive ‘shrooms show up tied into bundles with strings fashioned from green onion stalks alongside sticks of pasty pumpkin and even pastier taro ($4.30).
We’re all for culinary cross-pollination, but why bother with Golden Fresh Fruit in Salad Dressing dumplings ($5.30) – baseball-sized doughnuts full of Miracle Whip and bits of apple – when there are perfectly flaky milk custard tarts ($8 for four), even if they are indiscernibly tweaked with birds’ nest, aka swallow spit?
Why drive to the burbs when you can now get the same thing downtown?