Regular readers of these pages know I'm a glutton for punishment, so they'll understand why I can't resist ordering Find Chicken From A Pile Of Chili Peppers ($8.95) at an oddly named northern Chinese spot just up the street from Pasta Rica. To my gastronomic horror, the chicken in question turns out to be a dozen or so unidentifiable deep-fried pieces of fowl -- rib cage? -- somewhere between General Tso's and the Colonel's, all heaped with 153 Thai bird chilies. HMOG!Since I know any one of these 153 mothers is indigestible, I bypass them completely and nibble a few of the delectable chicken nuggets spiked with raw garlic, watching out for bone shards. Discreet for a change, I'll just say this damned delish dish is worth the subsequent pain and halitosis.
PALS WT has the standard generic Chinatown features: minimal decoration with a poster or two, tables layered in sheet polyethylene, stacking chairs, Country Music Television on a small portable set over the bar. The other day I saw that the joint's name had changed from Fu Zhou to its current curious handle and that, according to the new sign, the restaurant features "Chefs from China." Like all the others don't?
Compared to the number of Cantonese restaurants in town, northern Chinese eateries barely register. The food has little to do with the chow meins and stir-frys associated with Sino cuisine. Instead, think of northern Chinese as a mix of fiery Indian curries and meaty Korean barbecue.
Examples here include fatty sliced lamb scented with cumin ($8.95) or Stewed Beef And Its Delicacy ($6.95), rich soy-soaked cold cuts layered over strips of chili-flecked tender tripe (no, really!). Both pack a wallop of texture, heat and tang. No wonder northerners think Szechuan is for wimps.
But PALS WT isn't all fire and brimstone. Linguine-like bean-curd noodles ($6.95) tossed with sesame oil, green pepper and more Thai chilies detonate medium heat, while room-temperature Shredded Tofu Sheets Salad ($5.95) -- the same thin, variegated tofu strips combined with julienned English cucumber in Chiankiang vinaigrette -- cools things down considerably. As does Tian Jin Green Beans Starch Sheet ($4.95), chilled rubbery lasagna made from bean starch accented by smoky sesame dressing. Try Onion Flavoured Biscuit ($1.95), a crisp quartered pancake stuffed with scallion, for contrast.
Like tapas, this makes great drinking grub, especially with several bottles of Tsingtao ($3.50). But it's really best when ordered en masse by a group so that everyone gets smaller tastes of a wide variety of specialties. Otherwise, dining solo or à deux, two or three selections by themselves might be a bit overwhelming. And potentially damaging.
At a loss for an explanation, I ask how this fab foodie find got its strange name.
"The owners are old friends from China named Wang Qi and Tong Xu," explains our charming and knowledgeable server. email@example.com
PALS WT INTERNATIONAL (376 College, at Borden, 416-929-1212) This minimally decorated storefront -- tables layered in sheet polyethylene, stacking chairs, a poster or two -- delivers northern Chinese specialties that make their Szechuan-fired selections seem tame by comparison. Complete dinners for $20 ($10 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Tsingtao. Open daily 11:30 am to 11:30 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, another to washrooms. Rating: NNN