Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Golden Triangle: Iron Chef, Yonge and Bloor Edition

If, as I suspect, Yonge and Bloor is the heart of Toronto, and if the loyalties of that heart can be determined based on the cuisine it chooses to embrace, Toronto’s heart belongs to Asia. (Actually, it may belong to mass chain sub shops, but Asian is a close second, and that’s what I’m going to focus on today.) There are three excellent choices in close proximity to each other all offering variations on the theme with varying degrees of success.

The first, and best known is Spring Rolls. This little Toronto institution has grown up into a full-fledged chain with four locations and two spinoffs, but the 693 Yonge Street location remains busy all day and into the evening. The dining room is lovely to look at but the acoustics are terrible for conversation. Luckily, your mouth will likely be too full to talk anyway. The eponymous spring rolls are tasty, with a zesty sauce. Servings of main courses are large, and almost every flavour of sauce offers a veggie option. One complaint might be that with the heavy sauces, the dishes become a little one-note. Two doors down, there is a fast-food version of the restaurant sharing the same kitchen. Here you can choose smaller portions of several dishes for more variety.

Green Mango, like Spring Rolls, is a chain of four restaurants, and like Spring Rolls, it has a smaller takeout version. In this case, the quality of food in the larger table service restaurant at 730 Yonge is superior. There is a full page of vegetarian menu selections. Green Mango’s food is consistently good but rarely reaches a memorably excellent level. There are exceptions to this. Quality ingredients make the asparagus with roasted cashews and oranges stand out, and an Asian version of the crepe stuffed with tender-crisp vegetables and a subtle lemon sauce impresses with its originality. It’s unfortunate that Green Mango is often overshadowed by its better-known neighbours, but perhaps its reputation is dragged down by the mediocre quality of the food from their take-out shop.

Indochine (4 Collier Street) is several blocks north and in a league of its own. The sleek serenity of its dining room will make you feel immediately both relaxed and trendy. There are more than 20 vegetarian items on the menu, several of which can be ordered in a combo with a spicy Vietnamese hot and sour soup and veggie spring roll. Ironically, their spring rolls, with a thick crispy wrapper closer in texture to an egg roll and flavourful mushroom and sprout filling, put Spring Rolls mushy pretenders to shame. One strange idiosyncrasy of this restaurant is that the combos are different for the in-house and delivery menus. Pledging my complete allegiance to their veggie pad thai and mango salad combo, I now insist on ordering in, which has the added benefit of larger portions. In the end, the only thing better than dinner from Indochine is two dinners from Indochine!

Green Mango 730 Yonge Street

Spring Rolls 693 Yonge Street

Indochine 4 Collier Street


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