Memories of China House.
Growing up in my family our Sunday night ritual was going out for Chinese food. We rotated among four popular Chinese restaurants in Toronto: House of Chan, China House, Young Lok and Lichee Garden. I have such good memories of those delicious Sunday night dinners. Often my grandparents or some family friends with kids our age would join us and we’d all sit around a big, round table with a lazy Susan and share sweet, spicy, sticky Chinese food. After chowing down, we’d rinse our hands in a bowl of warm water with a slice of lemon and sit around drinking Chinese tea and reading our tea leaves and fortune cookies. My mom tells the story of when my brother and I were really young, before we could read, and she would “read” our fortunes to us: “When you get home you will go straight to bed.” As teenagers we’d laugh our heads off reading our fortunes aloud and ending them with the phrase “in bed” (see below).
I can’t wait!
All of the restaurants had different specialties and I still remember my favourite dishes from each one.
Lichee Garden: It was famous for its puffy, eggy egg rolls but it’s the Mongolian beef on a skewer that I recall most fondly. Like candy on a stick. It was here at “Lichee” that my dad taught me how to use chopsticks. A highlight was the shmaltzy piano player—there’s nothing like slurping lo mein from your chopsticks while listening to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” And the little colourful umbrella that came in the Shirley Temple made me feel all grown up.
Young Lok: This Szechuan restaurant at Village by the Grange was my fave. It had the tastiest food of them all: sticky General Tsao chicken, moo shu chicken (I loved rolling my own) and the famous fried banana dessert. This was the first place I ventured to eat and fall in love with spicy food.
Though “The Chan” is revered for its steak and lobster (and my brother is a diehard fan of the wonton soup), my faves were the chow mein with crunchy house noodles and the BBQ back ribs. This iconic Toronto institution at Bathurst and Eglinton is the only place on this list left standing after more than half a century but, to the dismay of my brother and other Chan regulars, it will be closing its doors in the next year or so.
Up until until two years ago this retro resto was located across the street from House of Chan for a whopping 53 years. This was old-school Chinese food, Westernized Cantonese chow in all its deep-fried, corn-starched glory. For me, China House was all about the kitschy decor (red and gold colour scheme and artificial Bonsai trees) and the bridge, where we would stand and drop pennies into the water below as we made wishes. But let’s not forget the vegetable fried rice. With a dollop of sinus-clearing yellow mustard and neon orange plum sauce, there was nothing like it.
I miss Chinese food. We hadn’t gone out for it since Lily was diagnosed four years ago because of the gluten issue…
…until last fall, when PF Chang’s opened in the Shops at Don Mills. They have a gluten-free menu that took me back to the days of old-school Chinese food. A couple of months ago we had dinner there with some friends whose kids both have celiac. The kids loved their first taste of Chinese food! The highlight was the chicken lettuce wraps. I can’t wait to go back, next time with my parents on a Sunday night.
The veggie fried rice recipe here reminds me of the fried rice from China House. It is so flavourful and a bit greasy and I could eat an entire order. I’m grateful to Gluten Free Consultant JoAnne Bennett-Mirsky for sharing it with me…and I’m sure you will be too! It’s quick and easy and a delicious way to use up leftover rice.
Cobalt was the new black up on the Gusto 101 rooftop patio at Portland and King. This industrial enoteca is the first restaurant in Toronto to have a year-round rooftop patio.
Us press peeps (in my other life, I am an editor and work for KingWest magazine) were there to witness the auto-body-shop-turned-resto’s new retractable glass roof. As it opened up to blue skies in just nine minutes, we were lucky enough to dine al fresco on such a sunny spring day, tasting the gems from Gusto’s Nonna family-style sharing menu. (Photo: Henrieta Hansikova)
Gusto 101 is not a gluten-free restaurant but some of its dishes are naturally gluten free, like the salads, including the much-coveted Cavolo Nero. This insalata is insane. Lacinate kale, zante currants, toasted pine nuts, shaved pecorino and lemon vinaigrette. I could have licked the entire platter clean but people were watching.
Beef tenderloin carpaccio with truffled cannellini beans and pecorino was a hit among the carnivores at the table. The beef tartare, polipo (octopus) and most items prepared on the grill, including the salmon and chicken, are also gluten free.
Executive chef Daniel Mezzolo—whose motto when it comes to cooking is “simple is best”—dished up a special gluten-free corn fusilli ai funghi for me. (The regular version of this dish, fettuccine ai funghi, is Gusto’s most popular pasta.) I completely inhaled it and I don’t like mushrooms. That’s how good the food is here. Any pasta dish on the menu can be made with gluten-free noodles (with the exception of the ravioli). When the waitress asked me if I had an allergy or sensitivity, it made me feel like they understand that there are varying reasons for eating gluten free, some that require more serious diligence when it comes to food preparation.
Post-lunch, the cafe macchiato looked too pretty to drink but my caffeinated colleague said it tasted even better. I was still happily sipping my Gusto Bianco wine-on-tap, made on the premises, which can be had for $1 an ounce.
Our hosts sent us home with this washable “paper” bread bag made in Lucca, Italy. Seeing as our house is gluten free and fresh bread is scarce around here, I found another use for it. The bread bag can be yours too for $20 at Shop Gusto 101.
We’re feeling giddy because this weekend marked our fourth appearance in The National Post‘s Gastropost! If you haven’t partaken in these “food missions for food lovers” you’re missing out on some tasty fun! Here’s a roundup of our four famous gluten-free Gastroposts (recipes included).
Mission #42: Crank Up the Heat / Wok-fried Chinese long beans with spicy chili sauce and toasted sesame seeds from Supermarket restaurant in Toronto.
Mission #14: Basil vs. Mint (team basil all the way!) / Caprese salad
Guess where we are…
We just got back from a whirlwind trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. These adorable Mickey Mouse waffles were definitely one of the highlights! Many people had told me that Disney World is heaven on earth for people with celiac. Of course, I did my own research. Here are some links so that you can do yours too:
Walt Disney World: Special Dietary Requests
The Disney Food Blog: Disney World Treats for Guests with Special Diets
The Disney Food Blog: Dining With a Special Diet in Disney World and Disneyland
Allergy Free Mouse: Your Allergy-Free Guide to Disney World
The Huffington Post: Disney Dining
AllEars.Net: Menus from Around the World (you can check out menus from Disney restaurants)
When it comes to doing your research, don’t procrastinate! Figure out where you want to eat and then make your reservations for table dining well in advance of your trip. We were a little late to the game and so we weren’t able to get dinner reservations at some of the restaurants we wanted to try, like Kouzzina by Cat Cora (on Disney’s BoardWalk), California Grill (in the Contemporary Hotel) and Teppan Edo (in the Japan pavilion in Epcot). When making your reservation, be sure to tell them about your food restriction. Upon arriving at all of the restaurants we had booked in advance, the host was aware of Lily’s “gluten allergy” (people seemed to get it more when we said she had a gluten allergy as opposed to celiac disease) and the chef came to our table to go over the gluten-free options. I can’t tell you how much we appreciated the attention and concern from the chefs and waitstaff about Lily’s gluten allergy.
Sushi by Chef David Chung of Akasaka Japanese Restaurant. Guest blog post by JoAnne Bennett Mirsky, aka the Gluten Free Consultant.
My most rewarding gluten-free project to date was planning my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah this fall—a completely gluten-free affair for 140 guests. I was lucky to have Chef David Chung of Akasaka Japanese Restaurant working with me for this special occasion. There was an Asian-style hut set up in the foyer of Le Parc where people could help themselves to gluten-free sushi that was being prepared fresh by Chef David. The sushi was served with gluten-free soy sauce (tamari). When it was time for the guests to move into the dining room, Chef David got ready the Asian Station, one of the four stations for dinner. The Asian Station included pad Thai, fried rice and chicken yakatori. Not only was the food prepared gluten free, it was also made without nuts and shrimp. Chef David did an outstanding job of omitting the things that we couldn’t have in the food while maintaining the fantastic taste of all the dishes.
I love working with Chef David because he always figures out a way to make food safe while ensuring that it is delicious. He runs his restaurant like that as well, which is why Akasaka is one of my favourite restaurants in the Greater Toronto Area. Chef David and his staff are so accommodating and willing to make the changes that are necessary for people to feel safe while dining out. I helped Chef David make his restaurant gluten-free friendly over five years ago. Akasaka has a gluten-free menu that is plentiful and includes many great items to choose from and the staff is well trained on how to manage a gluten-free order. While dining at the Teppanyaki tables, you are served a miso soup that is gluten free and a salad with gluten-free dressing, and the chefs prepare the meal with gluten-free soy sauce (tamari) and teriyaki sauce. We always get a delicious meal when we go to Akasaka and I leave feeling like the gluten-free request was taken seriously and that they truly know what they are doing with respect to keeping the food safe.