There was a chill in the air last night- the wind hit me in the face like a cold slap. I blew into my mitted hands to warm them as I waited for my good friend Paul and the pre-determined pick up point. That's me, over there, in the 1989 white Pontiac Sunfire. Paul strode out of the building, approached the car, gripped the handle, and he was in. We were off in a flash- dodging pedestrians, weaving in and out of traffic. Time was of the essence. I was starving.
We were on our way up the highway, to a place few city dwellers venture- north of highway 7. Paul was navigating- right, right, left and we had arrived. "Over there- in the corner- that's where we're going." He was pointing at the neon sign, written in Chinese. "Ding Tai Fung"- probably means Happy dumpling restaurant. I parked. We pulled our jackets up to our ears and ran inside.
The thing I love the most about Toronto is the quality ethnic food. I know where to got to get the best Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean or Middle Eastern food ( the last one is 23 Orangewood Cres. but it's by invitation only!). I know when I am the only white person in the room, that I'm in for an authentic meal. We share a menu, maarking our selections by number on a piece of paper.
The reason we are here is for the pork dumplings. My husband is shaking his head right now. They arrive- six little steaming dumplings in a bamboo basket. We each grab one, dip into sweet vinegar, and pop them whole into our mouths.
The little packet explodes in my mouth, filling it with hot, savory soup. The cilantro makes my head spin. It's salty, tangy sweet and juicy all at the same time. Our next item arrives: Green onion pancakes. Crisp on the outside with a satisfying chewyness. However, I am disappointed with the "Sticky rice dumplings" that arrive next, as they are filling with regular short-grain rice, not the distinct chewy rice native to Thailand which is known as sticky rice. Instead, this is leftover plain white rice, stir-fried to a sticky texture. This is a huge blow to me, as sticky rice is a personal favorite, so I self-medicate with another pork dumpling. Every time one of these sweet little packages explodes in my mouth, I can't stop a smile from creeping up my cheeks.
Our last dish is a soup to share, with stewed beef, vermicelli noodles and tofu. We ordered a crispy Chinese donut to dip in the broth. The stock is thick and dark, with a lingering cinnamon flavour. The beef is tender from just enough cooking and the noodles are perfectly soft without being mushy. However, it just doesn't turn my crank. The promised spicyness is missing, and the garnish of minced pickles does nothing to enhance the soup. I am unimpressed, and order another basket of dumplings.
Finally, after losing count of the baskets that have come and gone from our table, Paul and I lean back and contemplate dessert. After having to eat the whole huge bowl of soup himself, Paul removes himself from the discussion and I order one mango pudding for myself. The dessert consists of a gelatinous milky substance (which I'm sure would bounce if given the opportunity) and a sweet mango sauce. They've got this dessert backward: it should be a firm, mango jelly with a creamy sauce. The milky jelly they served isn't a complement to the mango puree.
I lean back- satisfied for the moment. It was worth the drive to Acton, or whereever I am, just for the succulent pork dumplings. However, this restaurant needs more than one good dish if it expects to make a name for itself. Until then, it can only be "Happy Dumpling Restaurant".