Bubble Tea, Chinese Food, and Memories of a Melting Ice Cream Birthday Cake – Destiny Cafe, Part I

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You know a cafe holds a special place in your heart when you’re happy to go back for eats even after a mortifying experience.  On your birthday.  In front of other people.  And by mortifying, I mean having your special circus-themed ice cream birthday cake completely defrost, deflate, collapse, and flood the dinner table with your dinner guests watching, laughing hysterically, and then helping you mop up the goopy mess afterward.  And that, my dear friends, is the fondest memory I have of eating at Destiny Cafe until now.  Which is somewhat unfortunate considering I’m in love with their menu, their decor, and their drinks and food!  Let me start from the beginning though and turn the clocks back to the summer of 2008.  

Enter the reunion of yours truly with a childhood friend through the magic of social media.  Said friend suggests grabbing a bite at Destiny Cafe in Scarborough.  Yours truly, not yet the savvy food adventurer she is now (humour me with that one), has no prior knowledge of what Destiny Cafe is or what food and drink they serve.  However, she is highly intrigued and jumps on the chance to try a new place and to catch up with an old friend.  Yours truly is happy to find out that Destiny Cafe is a lovely place with traditional Chinese rice and noodle meals and snacks, and vows to come back in the future.  

    

When she does so in 2009, she is shocked to see the cafe has undergone a complete makeover in both appearance and in menu, making it one heck of a gorgeous and delicious space to eat in!  Goodbye wooden and bamboo accents and furniture; hello sleek and shiny gunmetal and olive green!  The scrapping of the traditional Chinese food menu made way for the more modern and hip bubble tea and tea drink cafe with fried rice and noodles dishes, dim sum appetizers, and Hong Kong diner style fare.  Yours truly is hooked and vows to eat and drink her way through this luscious Chinese cafe.

And eat and drink she did as she enjoyed afternoon tea time food with her family (scrumptious crispy shrimp and mango dim sum rolls!  Mango peach bubble tea!) and a birthday get-together with friends and boyfriend.  She decided Destiny Cafe would be a lovely place to hold a birthday dinner – large space, large menu.  With circus themed goodie bags and special ice cream cake in hand (or rather, hands), the birthday girl made her way Destiny Cafe for what hoped to be a memorable birthday celebration with great food, drinks, and friends.

Oh, it was memorable alright, as unforseen circumstances took hold.  The food gods must have chosen her as the next target to poke fun at because before anyone could say, “melting cake!!!”, disaster struck as the birthday girl’s entire cake caved in, melted, and spread like evil molten lava.  Mortified and nearly choking on her Portuguese chicken and rice, she lunges for the stack of napkins and tries to salvage what is now a circus freak show mess.  The birthday girl’s friends and boyfriend help to clean up by eating any and all unmelted remnants, shoving the leftover goopy mess into the cake box, and using ice cube water and leftover guava juice to mop up the evidence.  All the while giggling uncontrollably and soothing the birthday girl’s wounded spirit. 

And that, folks, is the last memory I had of Destiny Cafe until now.  Under the circumstances, I actually took the incident fairly well and snorted about it on the way home.  That incident occurred two and a half years ago and I look back it ruefully and fondly.  My last trip to Destiny may have ended on a mortifying note, but I look back and only remember the good because all my food experiences here in the past have given great food and memories.

If not for my old friend, I never would have known about this Chinese cafe and I never would have had the pleasure of tucking away another delicious Chinese food spot into my list of Chinese cafe mainstays.  Destiny played a part in my family’s afternoon tea time meal phase during a difficult time in my life, and it gave my friends and I one of the most ridiculous, hilarious memories ever.  No matter what, food brings us together and it’s what anchors many of fondest memories. 

Aside from the crispy dim sum rolls, what you see up top are photos taken from the Markham location as opposed to the Scarborough one.  I’ve barely made even a tiny dent in the food and drink department since, but I have a yummy post to share with you all tomorrow that’s sure to get you eating and drinking here.  Minus the melting lava cake. 

*****

Destiny Cafe is located at 165 York Blvd. in Richmond Hill, Markham.  The large space is housed within a complex of restaurants and eateries and can be accessed via East Beaver Creek Drive and Highway 7, just off the 404.  Destiny Cafe has two locations in the GTA.  The other location is located in Scarborough off Silver Star Blvd. and Steeles Ave. East.  The markham location is open for business at 11am.

Bring On the Chinese Street Food and Diners – Curry Fish Ball Spaghetti!

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Break out the Chinese street meat because it’s curry fish ball time!  Curry fish balls and I have a long history and we’ve made some wonderful foodie memories together over the years.  In a nutshell, curry fish balls are a popular snack in Chinese street food culture and they are often served on a stick in sets of five or any other number the vendor happens to be selling them at.  They are covered in spicy curry sauce that is absolutely delicious, and depending on the consistency of the sauce, you’ll usually get a little container to hold them while you eat them off the skewer so the sauce doesn’t drip all over the place.  And by that, I mean all over your hands and clothes! 

In addition to fish balls, there are beef, pork, crab, and lobster balls and they’re all available to buy in Chinese supermarkets.  I’ve enjoyed them in their traditional Chinese street meat form on a skewer (and we all know how gaga many of us are over food served on a stick!), I’ve ordered these on a whim in Chinese malls as my afternoon snack (and loved every minute of it), and have even witnessed some high school friends selling homemade ones at school for a business project!

Even though I’ve never experienced Chinese street food culture in Hong Kong or China firsthand, I have had the pleasure of enjoying many of the foods in the comfort of my own home since I was a little girl.  I would eat them whenever my family and I would do Chinese hotpot, and my mum would go grocery shopping at some of the Chinese supermarkets and pick up fresh fish paste and fish balls.  She would either make them into crispy fish cakes or put them in soup broth to hang out with my soup noodles.  One of my favourite Chinese comfort foods growing up was a warm bowl of ramen noodles in soup with green onions, and dumplings, wontons, or fish, beef, or pork balls with a little red vinegar drizzled over top.  This meals still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy till this day.    

Even though I’m no stranger to the Chinese fish paste and fish ball market, I don’t eat curry fish balls very often and I almost always take advantage of the opportunity to have them when I can.  Enter my beloved Chinese and HK style diners, specifically the one my family and I have grown to be quite fond of over the past couple of months: Ho Garden Chinese Restaurant located in the plaza at Woodbine and 16th Ave. in Markham.  From the outside, Ho Garden looks completely unassuming.  I can say for a fact that unless you went right up to the front window and saw the large poster advertising some of their HK style dishes, you wouldn’t know what was inside.  Often times, diners will have big front windows so that those from the outside can easily see how busy it is inside with customers eating, dishes of food on the tables, tall glasses of drinks, the whole bit.    Ho Garden is a little different because their front window is much higher up which doesn’t allow you to see customers inside enjoying their food, and for another, the restaurant signage up in thr front isn’t flashy and could easily be missed.

Hainanese Chicken Rice (Ho Nam Gai Fan)

Baked Seafood Spaghetti

Ho Garden is often very busy though and one of the draws is its location.  Being a part of the large plaza with a number of dining options, at a busy intersection (it’s literally seconds away from the highway exit), and surrounded by a huuuge residential neighbourhood, has attracted a local neighbourhood which just continues to grow.  You would think that the other dining establishments would pose some stiff competition but the beauty of it is that the plaza’s offerings are so different and multi-faceted that they really don’t step on each other’s toes.  You have a Greek restaurant, an AYCE sushi restaurant, a wings and ribs sports bar, an ice cream shop, a pizza shop, a Chinese congee, rice, and noodle restaurant, and a coffee shop, literally all inhabiting the same space.  Which works perfectly for me because this foodie paradise isn’t too far from home! 

Another one of the enticing draws is the price range of food.  Now, Chinese and HK style diners aren’t all that expensive to begin with (ordering a dinner meal and a drink that comes up to less than or around $10 is awesomesauce in my book), but Ho Garden does one better by offering plenty of meals for $4-$6 and combo meal sets that come with a main, a drink, and a soup for around $7-$8.  Granted, of course there are more expensive menu items, but those cater to the large family crowd with dishes such as multiple course dinners, whole steamed fish, and several others.

I saw curry fish ball rice/spaghetti on the menu and for the first time in goodness knows how long, I didn’t need to pull my hair out over deciding what I wanted to order.  Done and done.  Finally I wasn’t the last one to decide what she wanted to eat!  I love spaghetti to pieces and this meal didn’t disappoint at all.  It was so delicious and satisfying and I am so happy I had it.

The curry sauce was savoury and spicy (not tears-streaming-down-my-face spicy, but definitely “Ooo, my tastebuds just got punched and my cheeks feel a bit warm now” spicy), the fish balls were super soft and moist with great flavour (they can have a tendency to taste rubbery), and the chunks of potato mingling with the fish balls were fantastic.  Many Chinese curry dishes include potatoes (such as my classic favourite Chinese Portuguese chicken dish, and my dad’s classic favourite, curry beef brisket) and I absolutely LOVE it when they use nice starchy potatoes because they hold up really well in sauce.  They were yummy and they absorbed and sopped up the curry sauce real good!

Even though Phoenix will always hold the number 1 spot in my foodie heart, the food at Ho Garden is great and I have yet to be disappointed with anything that I’ve eaten here.  The portions and prices are terrific, there’s a good selection of HK style and Cantonese dishes, and it’s a great local place to have a wholesome good meal.

*****

Ho Garden Chinese restaurant is located at 9255 Woodbine Ave. at the corner of Woodbine and 16th Ave. in Markham.  They serve and are open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea time, and dinner.

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.

The Keys to My Heart: Spaghetti, Portuguese Chicken (Po Gok Gai), and Warm Mugs of Ovaltine at Goldsor

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I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Hong Style restaurant that I didn’t love.  The baked spaghetti and rice dishes, the crushed ice fruit drinks, the awesome tea time snack menus; every café offers something different and I have so much fun trying out new places.  I’ve been noshing at HK style eateries on a regular basis since I was 15 and thanks to family and friends, all over town!  First Markham Place, Metro Square, Finch & Leslie, Peachtree Plaza, the list goes on. 

Even though The Phoenix holds a ton of high school memories, my first memory of HK style food was actually from the age of 9.  It was a such a special day.  My aunt and uncle were taking me for a night on the town for Christmas to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and they had bought me a cute little dress for our outing, they were taking me out to dinner with them before the show, the whole nine yards.  I remember that fun night so clearly.  After the show, they took me for a late night nibble and we went to place called the Ritz Restaurant back in Scarborough, closer to where I lived at the time.  Sadly, the restaurant is no longer around, but I remember getting my first taste (literally!) of HK style food and loving it: baked spaghetti in cream sauce with shredded ham, cheese, and peas.  OH.MY.GOD.  I was hooked.

My dad is on his A-game when it comes to hunting down HK style cafés.  Him and his Chinese newspapers are best friends.  He snatches so many free newspapers at every Chinese place that offers them that my mum has just become exasperated and tells him to constantly stop bringing back “junk”.  Oh, the parentals, how funny they are, haha.  The newspapers turn into goldmines though when they advertise store and restaurant openings, promos, and great places to eat!  And that is how we found out about Goldsor, located in Richmond Hill and nested within the Times Square plaza on Hwy.7 and Leslie St.  A new HK style restaurant to try?  YAY!

Three of my favourite yummies EVER are spaghetti, Portuguese Chicken, and ovaltine!  And lucky for me, HK style is never without any of these three things.  I love pasta like peanut butter loves jelly and spaghetti makes me all wiggly with happiness.  Like I’ve said on numerous occasions, I always love trying new things and picking out more unique items off a menu that sets the place apart from others.  However, sometimes you just want to eat what you love most and that’s what I did when we went back in Novemer: I ordered spaghetti with Portuguese chicken and a warm mug of ovaltine.  Colour me a happy camper!

You must be wondering, “how the heck does Portuguese anything end up in Chinese eateries and cuisine?”  It’s okay, I wondered that myself.  Especially considering I’ve been having this type of chicken dish since I was little, thanks to mum’s cooking.  “Po Gok Gai” has been one of my long-time favourite comfort foods and I love that HK style places have taken it up and put their own unique spins on the dish.  In a nutshell, Portuguese influence infiltrated Chinese culture and cuisine in Macau as a European colony and many dishes are a fusion of the two cultures.* 

Now, in Chinese Portuguese style chicken dishes, two components are key: curry and coconut.  This is what makes it so amazingly DELICIOUS like you wouldn’t believe.  The sweetness of the coconut is subtle but it hits you in the sauce, mixed in with your rice, spaghetti, or whatever you’re eating it with.  Goldsor’s version has the normal vegetable components: chunks of potato, green bell pepper, and carrots.  It deviants in one special way though.  The chicken is crispy with a light breaded coating and together with the delicious sauce and soft potatoes and vegetables, it is so freakin’ satisfying.  It is such a savoury dish and it is the perfect combination of crispy and soft, and the sweetness of the coconut and savouriness of the chicken and curry rounds everything out.  If there was one way to cook a chicken for life, this would be mine.  Yummy, yummy, and more yummy 😀

I had a great experience at Goldsor my first time there and I’m so looing forward to going back!  The quality of the food was fantastic (my dad ordered a breaded fish dish that looked at though it came out of a gourmet kitchen) and the prices are very reasonable and in keeping with HK style cafés where meals are, on average, around $6-$11.  It’s got that hustle and bustle that I love with the clang clang of dishes and glasses and orders being brought to tables, and I am so glad I get to tuck away another great meal in my mental scrapbook.  HK style, spaghetti, and Portuguese chicken are keys to my heart ❤

*****

Goldsor Restaurant is located at  550 Highway 7 East, at the intersection of Hwy.7 and Leslie St.  It’s not located inside the Times Square mall, but rather within the complex of stores and restaurants behind Times Square in the central parking lot.  Goldsor faces south toward the back entrance of Times Square.

*source: Sunflower Food Galore