Yu Shan Dumpling Cuisine
771 Dundas Street West
Dinner for two with all taxes, tip and beer (no dessert): $40
I’m always jonesing for the dumplings from that other dumpling place over on Huron Street, but never seem to make it over there. So when I found myself at Bathurst and Dundas recently, and in need of sophonsification, there was Yu Shan Dumpling Cuisine. That wasn’t there before, I thought, as the streetcar rolled past.
That’s because the space was formerly the Side Door Grill, abandoned after a round of Restaurant Makeover and a boiler explosion. The story circulating on local forums is that the landlord, once the previous tenants left, decided to try her hand at running the place herself.
With a fancy renovated front of house that really is more bar than “dumpling house”, all Jenny Tiao needed were some great dishes. And who doesn’t like dumplings?
Steamed dumplings are delightful little pastries full of chicken, beef or pork. The pork and vegetable dumplings ($4.50 for 12) arrive in a large serving bowl, accompanied only by a dish of hot sauce. Cooking water pools in the bottom of the bowl, redolent with flavour and glistening with oil. A gentle bite off the top of each pastry releases savoury steam and reveals a sweet ball of minced pork. No sign of the vegetables in there, but the hungry husband and I don’t care. These are goooood!
Pan-fried vegetarian dumplings ($5.99 for 8) are longer than their steamed counterparts, looking almost like tuilles or small rolled crepes. The filling of chopped tofu, carrots and mushrooms is similar to a store brand I make at home, but it’s the light, almost translucent dough that makes these stand out. Each dumpling bursts as I bite through the delicate wrapper, spilling the finely julienned contents into the accompanying but unnecessary hot sauce.
We opt for a few more appetizers to test the kitchen’s mettle – in places like this, the simple dishes are almost always the most outstanding items on the menu. Spring rolls ($2.45 for 2) are some of the best I’ve ever had, with a light golden pastry that is almost completely lacking in grease, and a bountiful filling of vegetables and sprouts.
The deep fried tofu ($2.45) are tiny perfect little pillows, golden brown and smooth, with a melt in the mouth consistency. Again, we note very little grease. It’s nothing more than fried tofu, yet it’s heavenly.
As a main, we opt to share the Braised Eggplant ($7.45) accompanied by plain steamed rice ($1). The gorgeous Japanese eggplant shines pinkish purple in the glow of the neon sign in the window and we start spooning the dish into smaller bowls when I find… a shrimp? Actually, lots of shrimp. Further investigation unearths slivers of pork as well, reminiscent of a Sunday dinner roast. We are perplexed, but only for a moment. The tender eggplant and sweet and savoury sauce win out and we can’t stop eating every bit of it. Except that this is a hearty portion on top of dumplings and spring rolls and tofu, so the hungry husband finds himself the happy recipient of the next day’s lunch.
When we ask about the eggplant, our server assures us that any dish can be made without meat as they have a lot of vegetarian and vegan customers. This makes me wonder why there aren’t more vegetarian dishes listed on the menu, as all of the entrees, including the eggplant, appear to contain meat, and only a few appetizers, one of the nine types of dumplings, one type of fried rice and a trio of dishes listed under “Greens” (green beans, Chinese broccoli or bok choy – all $6.25) appear to be vegetable-based. Vegetarians and vegans be advised – ask about ingredients!
Desserts do not appear on the printed menu at all, but a table card for Amsterdam beer offers a selection of things like tiramisu that don’t appear to have any cohesion with the restaurant’s menu or be made in the restaurant’s kitchen. After a meal of dumplings, nothing fits the bill for dessert like sesame balls or even some fresh fruit, and this is the only time during the meal when I wished I was at the competition a few blocks east so I could at least run into Kim Moon Bakery for something sweet on the way home.
Overall, Yu Shan was a delightful experience. The dumplings will have me coming back every time I’m in this neighbourhood, and despite the unexpected meat, the eggplant is destined to be a favourite as well. It seems as if Chef and owner Jenny Tiao has found her calling. The world needs landlords, but we need great dumplings even more.