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Reviewed January 24, 2004   »   32avenue.com   |   justin-cheung.com     

Monsoon Restaurant & Lounge

100 Simcoe St., Toronto, Canada
Taro Chips served in a Bamboo Wicker Basket | very thin and nicely seasoned. A great break from the standard breads one finds on the table. The chips were quite the way to make an introduction into an ethnically inspired experience.

Pureed Asparagus Soup | the seasonal daily soup, very nice and light, toasty in a sense, as I believe the spears of asparagus were grilled before being pureed into a nice light broth. Still, there were pieces of asparagus (very minor) that one can feel on their tongue as you drank the green goodness, but these were subtle. The soup was decorated with tiny slivers of fried asparagus skins? Overall, this was a very light way to begin the evening bursting with exotic flavours.

Sweet Yam Fries with Soy Chili Sambal | What can I say? Ultimate heaven. Sweet, soft, just perfect, yet stiff enough to still maintain a thick cut fry shape, ever so lightly seasoned and battered...and when you dip it into the light soy with delicate flavours of sambal dynamite! Not to mention that the wedged shaped fries were presented, upright, reaching to the sky, in a bowl lined with...Chinese newsprint! This is tempura yams/french fries at the next level. Note: this was on the house! (refer to conclusion for why)

House Vegetable Tempura | generous portions of fresh and succulent red and yellow sweet bell peppers, fresh shitake, asparagus spears, broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, and zucchini in a very light, crisp batter. Neither greasy, oily, nor heavy. Delectable. Note: this was on the house! (refer to conclusion for why)

Imperial Spiced Breast of Grain Fed Chicken | with autumn chestnut rice in a malaysian rujak sauce, a tender chicken supreme nicely perched upon halves of red peppers and bok choy, sitting on a shallow pool of a delicious rujak mildly spiced and infused with shrimp paste. So yummy! The bonus, the chestnut rice! I love chestnuts. Donâ't know if I've stressed that enough before. The chestnut rice was very much like the Chinese sticky rice, inclusive of the minced dried shitake, chestnuts and chopped yams all wrapped in banana leaf. The sauce was super in this dish. Enjoyable.

Togarashi Salmon on Shanghai Rice Cakes | with asian greens, in a black bean sauce. Very rare salmon lightly seared and seasoned with Japanese chilis. The texture was superior to any of the other salmons I've had in the longest time. Shanghai rice cakes were like Korean rice cakes but not spicy.

Ginger-Infused Creme Brulee | topped with a fresh gooseberry! (Substituted from Monsoon's chocolate heaven a warm chocolate cake with a silky soft centre, with raspberry coulis as I'm allergic to cocoa) Two words: SO GOOD. It was like a sweeter (although I could do with less sweet) version of "geun jup dun dan" aka steamed egg custard with ginger juice but with a thick brulee top! The top needed to be tapped before giving way to the weight of the spoon...only to reveal a very creamy and delightful custard treasure underneath. I couldn't get enough. So good. The colder, thick and rich textured custard was so nice against the crisp shell, however, nothing ended up being heavy. Delightful. The chocolate cake looked really nice...sigh.

Conclusion: I cannot express how well we were taken care of at Monsoon. Attentive servers is almost a description that undermines the true quality we experienced this night. Not only were we given friendly grace and attention, but our every need was addressed. Ironically, our "fries" were supposed to arrive with our entrees, but our server came to apologize for the delay before we even noticed and at the beginning of the meal. The reason? Because Executive Chef Wong was not happy with the first batch and hence was going to make us another. That was fine with us, especially due to the notice and the fact that the EXECUTIVE CHEF was taking such great care to ensure that this "side dish" was taken care of. However, to our surprise, we were told that the restaurant will not charge us for the fries due to the delay. That was fine to my companion and I. Happily consuming our dinners, we were then surprised to see Chef WinLai Wong come to our table carrying a platter of fresh tempura. She then comes to our table, apologizes for the delay in the fries, and offers us the tempura as a gift of apology, free of charge! Less than a minute later, she comes with the supreme fries! Did I mention that these were both on the house? We weren't even halfway into our entrees. Talk about great attention to pleasing the customers.

The restaurant has won the James Beard Award for outstanding restaurant design in North America (Yabu Pushelberg) and is quite a modern sight to see. But the service excels all other praises. By the end of the evening, I had to applaud the chef and thank her for her care and attention to our table (we saw her leave the kitchen lots to take peeks at the general environment and perhaps gauge the satisfaction of the customers). Chef Wong was a delight to speak to (Cantonese too!) and has worked in such places as Bistro 990 (which she had to leave as it's terribly "dirty!" and recommends not to go there - whoops, too late), Canoe, Lai Wah Heen (my fave dim sum!!), etc. Quite the background. She told us where NOT to dine at, and some places she would say are good. In addition, she told us she worked on Saturday evenings (so go then, because quality would be ensured; she also confessed that for the Winterlicious menu she doesn't really do much of the cooking but order a la carte! She will take care of you for sure), her husband's in the kitchen too (take turns as they have a 2 year old), and that the kitchen at Monsoon is the industry example of a perfect kitchen and used as the model in the training of all restaurant inspectors!

Needless to say, I would come back. If not for the food, then the excellent service. I would also go on a Saturday, and be, as Chef Wong said, taken care of by her! Sigh. This was a good evening.

4.2

Renee's out of 5.0

3.8

Justin's out of 5.0

noteworthy
ambience
service
taste


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