Monday, May 28, 2012

Lai Wah Heen: Elegant Dim Sum on Chestnut

Lai Wah Heen, which translates as 'luxurious meeting place,' lives up to its name, serving an upscale dim sum menu that's lauded as being the best in Toronto. Located in the Metropolitan Hotel on Chestnut Street in the city's original 'Chinatown', the bi-level restaurant is simple, stylish and elegant, with 12-foot ceilings, black granite stairs, and beige walls hung with lovely black-and-white Chinese calligraphy paintings.

Beautiful original Chinese calligraphic pieces adorn the walls at Lai Wah Heen

The mastermind behind Lai Wah Heen's perfect little Dim Sum treasures, is Dim sum chef Terence Chan. Terrence Chan is a Hong Kong native who got his start at Luk Yu in 1978, worked at the Peninsula Hotel, and won a prestigious dim sum contest before moving to Canada in the mid-eighties. He's been at Lai Wah Heen since its opening in 1995 and says his success lies in using the finest local ingredients and taking enormous care with presentation. 

Dim sum chef Terence Chan

Chan has studied with Western chefs to enhance his ability to make creations that are pleasing to the eye, and has learned to bring his unique panache to his innovative dumplings through a witty use of color and form to celebrate, say, his Steamed Lobster Dumpling autumn by forming orange-tinted rice noodle into the shape of a tiny little lobster complete with eyes and whiskers and filled with lobster, shrimp and finely diced vegetables flavoured with garlic and butter. And to accompany Lai Wah Heen's sumptuous Dim Sum are a selection of eight loose-leaf teas such as Dragon Well Longjin Green Tea, Monkey Picked Oolong Tea, Lychee Scented Red Tea and Jasmin Scented Silver Needles from Fujian, which is the tea we enjoyed as we looked over Chef Chan's menu.

A selection of eight Chinese loose leaf teas 

An elegant table setting

Lai Wah Heen Dim Sum menu

We started with the Peking Duck which is served in two courses. The whole duckling is fried until it's glistening, crisp and golden brown then carved and served with finely shredded scallion and cucumber on steamed rice crepes with sweet hoisin sauce. The second course is Crystal Fold, which is the wok-fried minced duckling meat served with assorted vegetables, fried noodles and wrapped in crispy fresh lettuce leaves.

The Belle of the Ball - shaved Peking Duck on pancakes

Crystal Fold with minced duck and noodles on a crisp lettuce leaf

We followed with a selection of Chef Chan's innovative Dim Sum, including his famous Steamed Lobster Dumpling, Crystal Shrimp Dumpling, Steamed Crabmeat Dumpling, Deep Fried Shrimp and Vegetable Spring Rolls and Siu Mai made with pork, shrimp and scallop topped with tobiko.

Steamed Lobster Dumpling

Crystal Shrimp Dumpling

Steamed Crabmeat Dumpling 

Siu Mai with Pork, Shrimp and Scallop with Tobiko

"Dim sum is getting better everywhere," Chan says. "This started in Hong Kong in the sixties and seventies and as people grew wealthier, they demanded higher quality. That's still going on today. As China gets richer, Chinese food grows and becomes more innovative. Dim sum is still going through an evolution, it's always changing and its high end is aiming higher and higher". 

Lai Wah Heen's Chinese New Year E-Fu Noodles

Serves 4

Eating long noodles for longevity is a must during Chinese New Year. At Lai Wah Heen in the Metropolitan Hotel, chef Ronny Lam offers these e-fu noodles with Chinese black mushrooms.

7-oz package e-fu noodles (fried and dried egg noodles)
3 Chinese black or shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps very thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled, cut in matchsticks
10 snow peas, trimmed, cut in matchsticks
3 tbsp canola oil
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp oyster sauce or vegetarian stir-fry sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp mushroom-flavoured dark soy sauce
1 tsp granulated sugar

In large wok or saucepan half-filled with boiling water on high heat, cook noodles, stirring and pushing under water, until they soften and thicken slightly about 60 to 90 seconds. Drain in colander. Let stand to dry well. Add several cups water to wok or saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat. Add mushrooms, carrots and snow peas. Cook 1 minute. Drain. Add oil to wok or large non-stick skillet. Heat over high. Add noodles in one clump. Cook, undisturbed 1 minute to brown bottom. Using spatula, carefully flip. Cook 1 minute. Transfer to plate. Add mushroom mixture to wok or skillet. Cook 30 seconds. Add stock, oyster sauce or vegetarian stir-fry sauce, soy sauce, mushroom soy sauce and sugar. It will quickly come to a boil. Add noodles. Cook, stirring and tossing with tongs or chopsticks, until noodles absorb most of the sauce, about 3 minutes. To serve, transfer noodle mixture to platter and drizzle with remaining sauce.