All I Need Is Cheese – Red Bean Ice Drinks With Whipped Cream and Cheesy Pasta Hong Style Dishes at The Phoenix

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Okay, so that statement isn’t entirely true.  I need more than cheese to complete my life.  But I do love cheese a whole lot!  And what better way to spread my love for cheese than to show you all some insanely delicious cheesy pasta HK style dishes from Phoenix restaurant!  Phoenix is my favourite Chinese diner to eat at and I’m really lucky that all of their locations are in and around Markham – one of the locations is actually just a 10 minute drive/bus ride away!  I can’t believe it’s already been so long since my first post on Phoenix way back during Ate by Ate’s first week on the internet.  That was the first week of December and here I am enjoying my last month to month and a half of summer and so much has changed since I started the blog.  For one thing, I graduated from grad school with my MA and am no longer a student and for another, I’ve never felt like I’ve learned as much as I have this past year and I have so much to take away with me.  And to think it’s all because I love food as much as I do!

I have always loved pasta, cheese, and numerous kinds of seafood and it’s one of the things I enjoy the most when I eat at HK style diners.  Of course I enjoy my rice dishes, but more often than not, I gravitate toward the spaghetti, the macaroni, the rotini, and any other type of pasta that happens to be on the menu.  Aside from the drinks, it’s one of the things I look forward to the most when I know I’m coming here!  I’ll probably sound like such a simpleton when I say this, but I get SO excited at the thought of spaghetti 😀  And because HK style diners like Phoenix have so many different spaghetti and pasta combinations, I get to pick and choose to my heart’s content!  They have everything from pasta with sausage, pineapple, mushrooms, sauteed veggies, and fish cutlets to dishes with sauces like tomato, black pepper, white cream, garlic, and mushroom.

It just so happens that these two delicious dishes I’m showing you today both have seafood and cheese: 1) a spaghetti dish with baby clams, cream sauce, a little bit of baked, melted cheese on top, and a giant puff pastry to go along with it! and 2) a HK style macaroni and cheese meal with incredibly soft macaroni covered in ooey gooey pull-apart cheese, served with crab meat, squid, and shrimp.  Not only do I adore how fast Phoenix dishes out their meals, but I’ve loved everything I’ve ever eaten here and these meals were no different.

The quality is bang on and they set themselves apart from others with such a large selection of menu items that have both HK and Chinese staples (chow mein, ho fun, tong mein) and unique, unexpected dishes (c’mon when have you EVER been to a place that served puff pastry with clam spaghetti?!).  Everyone has their own version and definition of comfort food, and this is definitely one of mine.  It warms, it satisfies, and it makes me feel wiggly happy all over.  Pasta and cheese – it doesn’t get any better than that!

I may have stuck with what I knew I loved when it came to the food, but I did the unexpected when it came to ordering my drink: I ordered red bean.  Let’s put this another way: DEB DOESN’T LIKE RED BEAN AND NEVER HAS.  So why in the world did I order it?!  Because after all these years of wrinkling my nose and puckering my mouth, I’ve given red bean another shot, the same way I’ve given chocolate mint a whirl and the same way I’ve done a complete 180 when it comes to bell peppers.  Growing up, I would always turn down the red bean dessert that came at the end of the Chinese restaurant dinner (tong sui), I wouldn’t touch the pineapple red bean buns with a ten-foot pole, and I would ignore the red bean drinks on the menu and pretend they weren’t there.  To say the least, I was not a fan.

But I’ve had a change of heart as of late (and by that I mean in the last few months) and it’s been growing on me.  There aren’t a lot of things I don’t like to eat (healthy things, of course!), so I make a conscious effort to give the things I used to dislike a shot and I realize that I rather enjoy them now.  And it feels great opening myself up to it all.  Thus, enter the red bean ice slush drink with the sweet whipped cream on top.  I liked ^_^ 

These photos, and the meals they capture, are special to me.  Not only do these photos depict two different meals that have two very specific things I love in common (seafood and cheese!), but they also tell the story of a girl simaltaneously branching out and staying in her comfort food zone.

*****

Prices for mains range from $6-$9 and many meals include your choice of drink, with an additional charge added for special drinks like slushes, floats, and ices.  Phoenix serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with a selection of appetizers, snacks, desserts, and tea time specials.  Phoenix’s 3 locations are in Markham and Thornhill:

  1. 1 Raymerville Drive, Markham.  Intersection of McCowan and Raymerville Drive south, located north of Hwy.7 and Bullock Drive, south of 16th Ave.
  2. 7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham.  Intersection of Steeles and Woodbine, just north of Steeles.  Off the 404 Steeles highway exit
  3. 8190 Bayview Ave., Thornhill.  North of John St, south of Langstaff Rd.
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On My (Chinese) Kitchen Table: Ground Pork Fried Rice with Green Onions

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Rice has always been a part of my life.  Coming from a Chinese girl like myself, that probably doesn’t sound any alarm bells, but hear me out.  Rice has played a role in some of my funniest memories (according to my uncle, my aunt was enjoying her fried rice so much she flung a few grains into his ear with her rapid fire chopsticks), and in my early stages of socialization in true-blue Chinese culture where my great-grandmother would cook me baby portions of congee as a toddler.  It wasn’t until I finished high school and started university though that I started feeling restless about the consistent rice noshing.  I wanted to experiment, I wanted to try new things.  My dad has never had any qualms about inhaling on an everyday basis, but I knew my mum and I wanted to branch out and eat other kinds of meals.  In short, my mum and I started feeling bored and we could feel ourselves falling into a food rut. 

Mixing things up has pushed us to get more creative and to leave behind the safety net of the traditional Chinese white dinner, all the while reminding us that rice is still very much an integral part of our food culture.  The whole point was to seek a balance and I think we’ve found it: don’t necessarily abandon it, but don’t rely on it too heavily for the sake of tradition and routine.  For this reason, fried rice has functioned as a happy-medium, as a way of breaking up any form of monotony in the kitchen without denying the fact that we are Chinese and hey, we consume a lot of rice!  Even though I don’t consider fried rice in particular to be the defining dish in Chinese and/or Cantonese cuisine (this quick association actually makes me cringe because it’s so awfully misguided and stereotypical), I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love fried rice, or at the very least enjoys one specific kind.  Pineapple and chicken, egg and shrimp, seafood, mixed vegetables – I love them all, especially when I have it at the really nice sit-down Chinese restaurants with the banquet-style set dinner meals and the little dim sum tea cups! 

My mum has always made fried rice every so often as a treat for my brother and I when we were growing up, and my mum’s ground pork fried rice is one of my all-time favourite comfort, home-cooked meals.  Similar to the lemon green onion rice I posted a week and a half ago, it’s a white rice dish comprised of lean ground pork, chopped green onions, lots of minced garlic, sautéed buttom mushrooms on occasion, olive oil, and our special light-hearted touch: red pepper chili flakes!  Normally, I would sprinkle on some Worcestershire sauce (geep-jup, as we call it in Chinese) or sweet chili sauce, but this time around I felt like something cold on top of the hot rice, something with a little bit of tanginess to it: sour cream!  With a plate of pork and green onion fried rice, a dollop of sour cream, and a smattering of chili flakes, I have myself a plate of home-cooked comfort.

A Vegetarian Par-tay! Coming Together With Friends at King’s Café

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“Food is our common ground, a universal experience” – James Beard

King’s Café in Kensington holds some really wonderful memories for me.  I first wrote about this fantabulous Chinese vegetarian restaurant on Christmas eve after spending some quality stuffing-our-face-and-bellies time with my bestie, Melissa.  And I am so happy that I have another amazing memory from here to tuck away in my mental time capsule (and my scrapbook!).  Over a month before the holidays even started, I got the opportunity to meet some of my beloved online friends who were coming in from out of town for a weekend in Toronto, friends that I had known and conversed with for years through my computer screen but had never actually seen or met in person.  So on the first weekend of November, I got together with a great group of friends for some awesome veggie eats and a day out on the town!

This get-together was so, SO much fun!  We ate.  We gabbed.  We laughed.  We snapped a gazillion pictures.  And most importantly, we sat and relaxed and enjoyed a fantastic meal among friends.  I don’t know about you, but as I’ve gotten older, it has become increasingly difficult to hang out with friends in a group, with friends being out of town, in school, working, and just  plain busy with the day-to-day.  People can’t make it, people bail, whatever the reason, it takes a lot of effort to co-ordinate a meet-up.  I mean, sure, times with friends one-on-one and with your significant other mean a lot.  At times it’s even hair-pulling trying to co-ordinate time for that!  But there’s something to be said about getting a group of friends together and enjoying each’s other company; it’s a heart-warming feeling and you realize how much you miss it and cherish it when you’re in it.

And I loved my food SO MUCH!  I drank the most amazingly delicious vanilla milkshake ($4.25)  in my entire life at King’s Café oh my lordy!  It was sweet, creamy, and smooth and quite possibly heaven in liquid form *wiggles with glee*. 

As for solid food, we all ordered lots of different things: Richard had the veggie ginger chicken, Wini had some hot n’ sour soup with her meal, a few friends ordered bento meal sets, my friend Maree ordered the spicy eggplant dish, and I ordered the sweet n’ sour bites ($9.99), yuuuummmm.  The sweet n’ sour bites were made from TVP (textured vegetable protein, made from soy) and were mixed with tons of deliciousness: green and red bell peppers, mushrooms, snow peas, and pineapple chunks in a sweet n’ sour sauce.  To go along with it, a warm bowl of purple rice!  In terms of texture, the bites reminded me of those soft tofu poofs that my mum buys sometimes at the Chinese supermarkets.  The portions are hearty and very satisfying.  And because I eat slow (and talk a lot, haha), I was the last person hacking away at her meal when everyone else was already finished, whoops! 😀

Believe it or not, this was only the 2nd time I had ever been to King’s Café!  Surprising considering how much I love it here, right?  I don’t know why I never got around to coming back more, but I’m happy that the times I have come have all been sweet and memorable.  The very first time I came here was back in the 2007, right around the end of August.  My beloved friend Jen and I were exploring Kensington and stumbled on this eatery and loved it from the get-go.  And you can bet that I’ll be back many times to come 😀 

*****

King’s Café is located at 192 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market (accessible from both Dundas and College St, just west of Spadina) and is open at 11:30am seven days a week until 9:30pm from Monday-Saturday, and until 9pm on Sundays.         

Scrapbooking materials used: moss green, golden rod, and white cardstock (Recollections); patterned paper (DCVW); black and white polka dotted epoxy alphabet stickers (atd); coloured alphabet stickers (K&Company); Asian food stickers (Decole Style, Kamio Japan Inc.; Jolee’s).

A thank you to Wini for allowing me to use her cute photo as the focal point on the first page 😀

Dreaming of a White Christmas – The Quiet Serenity of King’s Café

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Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone! ❤  I am sitting here at my laptop in a blanket burrito at 9pm on the eve of Christmas, technically 3 hours away from Christmas Day, watching my brother play hockey on his PS3, reliving glorious sports moments of the year being shown on tv, and relishing in the wonderful day I spent with my bestie, Melissa, just 2 days ago.  Whatever stresses we may be feeling, whatever bad feelings we may be harbouring, this is the time to put them aside, even if just temporarily.  It’s a time to reminisce and a time to savour.

Aside from The Distillery District, Kensington Market is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Toronto and King’s Café is a wonderful Chinese vegetarian restaurant in the middle of the all the Kensington action on Augusta Ave.  Accessible from both Dundas and College St., it’s a beautiful restaurant with heart-healthy foods and drinks and a delicious bounty of vegetarian options.  It’s open, it’s spacious, and it has this wonderful fresh, quiet, serene quality to it that makes eating a meal here so relaxing and enjoyable.

There is SO much to choose from in the menu: dim sum, rice and noodles dishes, curry, tofu, veggie chicken steak, sushi, the list goes on for miles.  While perusing the menu, I was SUPER ecstatic to find out that they had a special “winter menu” for the season!  And was the little paper insert in the middle ever adorable with the cute picture of a little King’s Café winter house down by the bottom! *cue excited squeals of “it’s so cuuuuuute!” from me*.  I am easy to amuse and easy to please.  Just give me paper.  You know me, I can’t resist seasonal things so with an excited squeal, I happily began scoping out my options.

With giddy anticipation, I chose the veggie chicken steak with orange sauce while my bestie, Melissa, went the dim sum route with the green leaf sticky rice and pan-fried radish pastry squares (law back go in Chinese).  The food was beautiful, fresh, and so yummy-yum-yummy!  My dish came with 4 veggie chicken steak rounds bathed in tangy orange sauce with spears of fresh asparagus and a colourful, fresh green salad with spring mix greens, cucumber, carrots, orange wedges, apple slices (which I actually gave to Melissa because I’m allergic to the fresh flesh of apples), and red grapes. 

The veggie chicken steak rounds were moist and so flavouful and about the size of your palm.  The orange sauce had just the right amount of tang to it and wasn’t overly citrusy and the salad made me smile; how Chinese of them 🙂  My mom and dad tell me all the time how much they love the Chinese style salads with chunks of fruits and vegetables in it like potato, pear, and apple and it’s the little details like those that really scream out to you.  I say this all the time, but you eat with your eyes and when you see something so colourful and pretty on your plate, with the freshness of it just wafting from it, it makes you happy.

One of the sweet waitresses gave us these fried vegetable fritters to try and OH.MY.GOD.  They were crunchy, crispy, and seasoned to the most amazing salty perfection you could ever imagine.  And to end off the meal?  A sweet and rich square of cranberry cheesecake with crumbles on top, sitting prettily on an adorable seashell shaped dish.  This meal was amazing and King’s Café continues to score major brownie points on quality and freshness and judging by how much several of my friends love it too, I know I’m the only one who sings its praises!

I love that it has such Chinese flair to it and I also love that its in Kensington, a neighbourhood with so much character and a passion for market freshness.  King’s Café also has a fantastic selection of teas, not just on the menu, but in the actual restaurant where you can quietly browse and shop.  The restaurant is located at 192 Augusta Ave (accessible from both Dundas and College St, just west of Spadina) and is open at 11:30am seven days a week until 9:30pm from Monday-Saturday, and until 9pm on Sundays.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and best wishes to everyone for a happy, memorable holiday!

*****

King’s Café is located at 192 Augusta Ave (accessible from both Dundas and College St, just west of Spadina) and is open at 11:30am seven days a week until 9:30pm from Monday-Saturday, and until 9pm on Sundays.

Having a “Food Baby” at Spring Rolls

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There is actually a rather funny story behind the title of this post and thinking back to how the phrase “food baby” originated still makes me laugh *chuckles*.  Besides finding my sweetheart, Richard, if grad school has been good for anything, it’s been making friends, meeting new people, and trying new food up the wazoo!  Slurping and eating lentil soup and falafel balls in the cold on a picket line, enjoying Indian food, and losing my pad thai virginity for the first time at the grad conference I organized last year.  And yes, if you’re wondering, it was quite orgasmic.  

For our keynote and conference after-party back in March, our team ordered a ton of delicious food from Spring Rolls, including mango salad, chicken fried rice, vegetable fried rice, vegetarian noodles, and the ever popular vegetarian pad thai.  I had never eaten pad thai before and was absolutely delighted to finally try it and Spring Rolls pad thai did not disappoint in the least.  It was so good my friend ate 3 plates of it and said he was going to have a food baby because of it.  HAHAHA! 😀

Spring Rolls is a lovely restaurant located in Toronto, Mississauga ,and now, Waterloo, that serves a fusion of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai flavours.  The very first time I went was back in September of 2009, so not too long ago, really.  Since then, I’ve been back a number of times just because I love the atmosphere of each distinct location (I’ve been to 4 of the 10 locations thus far) and the food is delicious.  The price range for a typical main dish is around $9-$15 give or take, and there are plenty of vegetarian options throughout the menu with a specific section in the menu dedicated to vegetarian dishes only.  I have yet to try their dim sum brunch menu, but rest assured, I will get around to it.  Especially after seeing their mango sticky rice in the restaurant storefront window.  I’m so there!      

Tango Mango Chicken & Tiger Shrimps with Rice

Now, I’m no ignorant sucker.  Born and raised Chinese-Canadian I have had my fair share of Chinese food and authentic Chinese take-out and I am well-aware that there are plenty of dishes that I can enjoy for half the price (and sometimes for even a third of the price), such as Cantonese Chow Mein (gong-dong chow mein) and my classic favourite, Black Bean Beef Ho Fun (pft, I can’t even begin to figure out how to type the Chinese out in English for this one!  It’s a bit too complicated to try and spell out, sorry peeps!). 

The point is, everyone dines out at sit-down places for different reasons, whether it’s to try something you wouldn’t normally cook for yourself at home, or because there’s a place out there that makes a classic that damn good.  And when you’re Chinese like I am, it’s all the more reason to eat outside the box when you go to a place that serves Chinese food, enjoying the creative interpretation of a classic dish or staple that is still able to retain some of that traditionality in it.  And so I did!  I don’t know about you, but I have yet to find a Chinese take-out place that will serve me shrimp and pineapple fried rice in half a hollowed out pineapple with a beautful sheet of egg over top, sprinkled with shredded dried pork:

And the pad thai?  REALLY GOOD.  The kind of yummy that makes you want to stick another chopstick-ful in your mouth even before you’ve finished chewing your last.  And yes, the kind of yummy that makes you feel like you’re going to have a food baby after you’ve inhaled it.  Down below is the House famous pad thai tossed with tomato sauce, tamarind, coriander, parsley, lime juice, and roasted crushed peanuts, and served with chicken, shrimp, and tofu.

I love that I get to share these pictures with you guys because they’re fresh and colourful, and that’s what eating is all about to me.  Especially during the holidays, it should fill you up with warmth and happiness and good memories.  I can’t believe Christmas is in a week and I can’t believe I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 3 weeks now.  It’s gone by in a blur and I hope everyone has enjoyed the blog so far because I’ve had the best time writing and posting in it.  Eat what you like and like what you eat.  And be careful of those food babies.

Thank you to my sweetie Richard for this pretty lily pad shot!

*****

Spring Rolls has 10 locations in Toronto, Mississauga, and their newest in Waterloo.  Click here for a listing of all locations.

Hong Kong style at The Phoenix

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Imagine yourself in a diner at lunch hour, or tea time if you will.  Now imagine that this diner is Chinese style, packed to the brim with young teenagers gorging on plates of rice dishes the size of your head; families of young and old ordering baked spaghetti dishes hot out of the oven; and young waiters and waitresses bustling around with ice cold glasses of Ovaltine and hot mugs of milk tea, delivering dishes with every ding of the little bell.  It’s dizzying, it’s exciting, and damn is it ever good.  That is what the Hong Kong style café experience is like.  It’s hip, it’s trendy, and yet it’s a fusion of young and old, traditional and modern, much the same way Hong Kong itself is.  I’ll be blunt: it grates my nerves when Chinese food is viewed as a monolithic entity, comprised of fried rice and egg rolls and little else.  There is SO much to explore and each and every cuisine is regional: Shanghai, Chiu Chow, Hakka, Cantonese, HK style, the list goes on.  It is amazing when you eat your way through it all and you notice the nuances that separate each one from the others.

The Phoenix restaurnt and I go waaaay back.  Before it was the Phoenix, it was a small, quiet Chinese restaurant with a little bit of HK style mixed in, located across the street from my high school in Markham.  I have fond memories of going there for lunch with an old high school friend and several years later, the Phoenix was born and has now evolved into the powerhouse that it is today, serving HK style breakfast, sandwiches, and salads, baked rice and spaghetti dishes, pork chop cutlets, instant noodles, ice cream floats, udon and vermicelli, and enough yummy drinks to rival a bar.  The food is fantastic and it is such good bang for your buck as you could easily get an entire meal (main dish + drink) for under $10, as many main dish menu items come with a coffee or tea, or a cold drink with just a $0.75 upgrade.

Up top: crispy pork chop cutlet with sunny side egg, atop tomato sauce and egg fried rice.  Down below: instant noodles smothered in corn sauce with king prawns, and King’s salad with crab, shrimp, lettuce, seaweed, tobiko, sesame seeds, and parsley (and yes, that’s mum in the very top photo of this post in the scrapbook page!).  These types of dishes are classic fare, where rice dishes have numerous options for sauce and meat, as well as spaghetti, curry dishes, noodles, sandwiches, and many others.  I loooove my spaghetti and rice dishes with the white cream sauce and you will normally see me chugging down either a cold glass of Ovaltine, honey lemon drink, or a mango icecream float.  If you want in on this delishness though, you’ll have to swing by my neck of the woods as Phoenix’s 3 locations are in Markham and Thornhill (among many other HK style restaurants that I’ll be writing about!):

  1. 1 Raymerville Drive, Markham.  Intersection of McCowan and Raymerville Drive south, located north of Hwy.7 and Bullock Drive, south of 16th Ave.
  2. 7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham.  Intersection of Steeles and Woodbine, just north of Steeles.  Off the 404 Steeles highway exit.
  3. 8190 Bayview Ave., Thornhill.  North of John St, south of Langstaff.