Lee, Toronto.

December 2014.

We ate here several years ago, before the owner Susur Lee opened his ill-fated restaurant in New York. As I understand it he’s involved in two or three other restaurants, in Toronto and I think in Washington DC. Without doing a lot of research, I get the sense there is something cavalier and eccentric about this very capable chef.

It was an anniversary dinner accompanied by my sister-in-law, and we were led through the main room into a second room that looked familiar even after many years. At the risk of annoying repetitiveness, I found the noise completely off the scale. We had to lean in to the middle of the small table and shout to be heard.

There was something amiss with the service and we were told our waiter was… (I couldn’t hear exactly). But eventually someone came, and gave some explanation about the food. The menu looked interesting and we had no trouble choosing.

Our first course was a “slaw”, Asian-style, booked as a signature dish. No fan of chopped cabbage, I was not optimistic. But this starter turned out to be a wonderful treat. There were a lot of ingredients, including slightly dry noodles, and many other finely-chopped vegetable items. But the taste experience was an example of what, for me, is Lee’s greatest strength: a real feeling for restrained but distinct Asian flavours.

We moved on to various main dishes, I having two of my favourite foods which were served up with the same kind of originality and sense of texture and taste as the first course. Caramelized black cod was exquisite and accompanied with preserved Asian fruits, and the Peking duck was far off the famous original recipe but absolutely succulent and again subtle but distinct in flavour.

Marvelous food, but also what I suspect is another “signature” of Susur Lee: various unexpected service and atmosphere loose screws. Food 9.0, service 6.2, ambience 5.8, value 7.3.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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