Groupon's are a wonderful thing. If you're not familiar with the Groupon system, or one of the many similar systems (such as LivingSocial or DealFind), this is how it works: you sign up to receive a daily deal for restaurants, spas, manis and pedis, car detailing packages and more. When Groupon became first available in Toronto, I immediately signed up and was offered a whole slew of amazing restaurants. I also signed up for LivingSocial shortly thereafter.
Sean and I have been able to eat at some pretty awesome places including Chippy's Fish & Chips (which we enjoyed at a theatre while watching Black Swan, no joke), and Lai Toh Heen, which we've now visisted twice.
A sister restaurant to the very famous Lai Wah Heen, Lai Toh Heen offers the same elegant, upscale dim sum fare, as well as innovative Chinese food that Sean and I were very excited to try out upon our second visit. We perused the menu quite meticulously--a Chef's Tasting Menu? Oh we're coming back for that, when our wallets aren't so thin--but from the appetizer section we knew exactly what we were getting: the pan-seared foie-gras glazed with ice wine plum sauce, on a bed of shredded duckling in sesame and peanut dressing ($18):Now my only other foie-gras experience was from The Hoof Cafe (the French toasted with a slab of foie gras that Sean ordered and I had a bite of) and to be honest, it wasn't a taste I thought I'd let my tongue experience ever again. I kind of thought to myself, this is what we force-feed ducks for? I'm not a vegan, not even a vegetarian, nor do I ever preach about the benefits of eating grass-fed, organic and/or local, but I just didn't really get it. What was there to like about foie gras? Lai Toh Heen made me bite my tongue. This foie gras, however small it was (and believe me, that $26 appetizer really could have been meant for one), was amazing. It melted in my mouth and the combination of ingredients made it really tasty.
Next, we decided to order the oolong tea smoked duck breast slices with pickled turnip and seaweed ($20):I was surprised to see that this dish also came with pickled carrot slices which, along with turnip, are two of my favourite pickled vegetables. If your only experience with duck is the roasted kind you get at those Chinese take-out places--the ones full of grease and fat--I definitely urge you to try the duck from Lai Toh Heen. This duck was not fatty or greasy at all and had the pleasant aroma of the oolong tea. The pickled vegetables gave each bite a nice crunchy texture and the seaweed salad alongside the dish had a wonderful taste as well. Mmm...seaweed.
Our third course was stir-fried french green bean & fresh lily bulbs with Chinese wine and ginger ($16):The beans were not covered in oil as you find in many regular, cheaper Chinese restaurants. The fresh lily bulbs were also very interesting. They had a very mild onion-y taste that lingered for just a second before vanishing.
My date:Me:The reason I look so yellow:
A strip of translucent yellow surrounding the bar where we were seated.
Sean and I don't typically have dessert at restaurants because the options usually include the usual fare, but Sean was delighted at the thought of one particular dessert at Lai Toh Heen. I present to you the double-boiled papaya bowl with snow fungus and almond cream ($12):Our waiter told us that the dessert takes 20 minutes to prepare but Sean was quite excited and I didn't mind waiting. (We're not sure if he told us to warn us or to make us choose something else on the dessert menu, har har har.) The almond cream is actually more like a soup and the taste is very reminiscent of almond jelly. I have no idea what the papaya tasted like after being double-boiled but since papayas usually make me want to "upchuck," I'm going to hazard a guess that Sean really liked it and I would not have. For my dessert, I settled on the chilled mango pudding ($5):Sean eating his dessert reminded me of a person eating a soft-boiled egg in the morning:Served alongside some fragrant white rice, our main dishes were plentiful and delicious. Though they seemed very simple in description, they were complex upon both our palates in taste and texture. Sean said that Lai Toh Heen is probably his favourite upscale Chinese restaurant because though the description of their food might seem simple, the flavours are so complex, you just want to let them marinate in your mouth. Okay, okay so he didn't exactly say that last part but it was something along those lines. I would definitely recommend Lai Toh Heen to anyone seeking out a new innovative Chinese restaurant. It's even worth the price to try out at least once. Sean and I are quite excited to be able to go back someday for their Chef's Tasting Menu. Our dinner was just lovely.