CHA LIU (2352 Yonge, at Eglinton, 416-485-1725) Complete meals for $24 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of tea. Average dim sum $4.50. Open Monday 11 am to 10 pm, Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 11 pm, Sunday 10:30 am to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: full flight of stairs at entry. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
We climb the stairs to Cha Liu's second-storey location above the dismal consumer gulch that is Yonge and Eglinton and enter into the calmness of the restaurant's intelligently designed and decorated space.
Cha Liu's English-only menu is definitely geared to the uptown demographic. You won't find any pig's blood here. What you will find is competently executed but unexciting dim sum served by some very pleasant people.
The best dish of the night is the octopus fingers ($3.50). Like a delicately curried and aquatic version of french fries, they merit continuous revisitation throughout the meal.
Another winner is the beef and mushroom dumplings ($3.50), in which all the ingredients, especially the green onions, work in simple harmony. The slightly rubbery mushroom and vegetable dumpling ($3.50) is rescued by flavourful cabbage.
A little taro gies a long way, and a lot of taro goes nowhere which is the fate of the fried taro dumplings with pork ($3). Similarly dull are the pan- seared white radish cakes ($3.50). Not even a generous application of chili oil improves their mouth-monopolizing mush.
Things take a turn for the sweet with smashed salted egg yolk buns ($3.50). Redolent of evaporated milk and sugar with a pleasing gooey egg-yellow centre, they seem more like an Easter treat. Fried eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste ($3.50) gets us back to savoury, but they're bland. More shrimp paste, please!
Chang fun rolls ($4.50), a chopstick-defying rice noodle sheet wrapped around a spring roll, are good. And here's a novelty: a Chinese restaurant that pushes the desserts. The super-sweet golf-ball-sized fried black sesame seed balls ($3.50) are a satisfying conclusion.