PASSION GOURMET KITCHEN (567 King West at Portland, 416-596-9651) Nondescript takeout noshery offers huge portions of cheaply priced eats: curried lamb with allspice rice, sesame chicken with fiery Thai noodles. Complete meals for $5 per person, including taxes and tip. Open Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 6 pm. Closed Saturday, Sunday, and holidays. Fully licensed. Cash only. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
a few doors east, passion gour- met is easy to miss. I can't read its smudged street-side sandwich board, so I poke my nose inside. A patron assures me the food is not only good and cheap, but the servings are huge, too. Prices for the "hot box" lunches range from $2.75 for a small container stuffed with one choice to $5.50 for a large carton with three, taxes included!
Each vegetarian or meat main comes with a choice of either rice vermicelli, chow mein noodles, rice or potato. I'll return for the Thai noodles thick with julienned green onion and carrot strips, kicked with fiery chili oil and tossed with crunchy bean sprouts. Top them with honey-sweet sesame chicken (deboned dark meat) or lightly sauced chicken teriyaki legs and thighs. A stir-fry of broccoli, zucchini, carrot, celery and peppers sitting on a steam table stands up well.
So-called fried rice laced with smoky sesame oil makes the perfect foil for curried JA-style lamb punctuated by black peppercorns and bay leaves. With chunks of potato, celery and carrot in savoury gravy, this substantial lunch approaches the roti-esque. Watch out for the bones.
Rice works best with four surprisingly pink-centred ground round meatballs that get ladled with fresh tomato, celery and onion in spice-free sauce. This is a helluva lotta grub!
Considering the price -- four bucks! -- I'm astounded by the quality of Passion's beef stew. Topped with quartered mushrooms and served over thyme-dusted skin-on home fries, this far-from-bourguignon features tender cubes of stewing beef and chunky carrot in not-bad gravy. But chow mein noodles paired with tofu and frozen peas 'n' carrots disappoints, as does a greasy oversized egg roll ($1.25).
OK, El Penco and Passion Gourmet won't lure away the dot-com CEOs living it up at Susur. But with so many start-ups heading for the dumper, maybe some of those captains of industry should keep the names of these budget-restrained restaurants permanently filed on their Palm Pilots. *