925 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto, ON

Happy anniversary, happy anniversary, ohhhhhhh! You'd have to have been a Flintstones fan to get that title, but, yes, it was our 4th wedding anniversary and we were off to see a show. Specifically, "The Drowsy Chaperone," but you're not here to listen to tales of the Great White (North) Way, are you? You want to know about China House. China House has been serving up the same fare in the exact same spot with the exact same dining room decor since 1958, which is, obviously, why we're here.

Location, location, location: is the reason China House hasn't changed, which was your next question. Y'see, this is Toronto's 2nd Jewish neighbourhood, and, as the old Jackie Mason joke goes, Jewish wives are afraid of their kitchens and the only appliance they use is the telephone to order takeout. He also asked where Jewish people ate for 2000 years since Jewish culture is 7000 years old and Chinese culture is only 5000 years old. Anyhow, when Toronto Jews moved up in the world--both psychologically and geographically--from Spadina and College (Kensington Market area, you know, "The King of Kensington") and started their slow climb up the Bathurst St. spine, the area between St. Clair and Eglinton was their first stop. Later, they'd march to Lawrence, Wilson, Sheppard and all the way up to Steeles Avenue and beyond the city's border. So, until recently, it was all those Jewish wives supporting the restaurant with their quick dialing fingers or with the traditional Sunday evening in-person visit to the dining room. In other words, if you had a steady, reliable clientele, why would you bother spending the money on renovating your decor?

And what decor! Except, perhaps, for the wallpaper, which is of the 1970s flocked (meaning fuzzy) kind and the carpet, which is of the bad 1980s hotel variety, this place has not changed one iota. After walking in, we cross a little bridge over a pond (with coins on the bottom, of course) and into the magnificent dining room, where everything is Chinese red and black lacquer. Past the bar-cum-cashier area, we're whisked past the beautiful "key hole" door and seated at a small table by the wall. Last time we were here with a party of four and so were seated at one of the bigger tables under the fake, and very large, paper mache tree with lanterns hanging off the branches (this tree, in fact, is what they use for a logo on their literature). These larger tables have a built-in lazy-Susan so all diners can twirl and access the various dishes to their heart's desire. Can you imagine all those little Jewish boys spinning these things around every time their little sisters tried to go for the Moo Goo Guy Pan?

Speaking of food: There's another reason this place has lasted so long and it's got nothing to do with the remaining Bubbies and Zadies of the neighbourhood. The food is fantastic! Yes, it's your same old Pork Fried Rice and Sweet-n-Sour Everything, but it's prepared in such a way that we agree it's unlike most we've had. For one thing, it's not greasy: chicken balls are 90% breast meat and the batter coating is crispy yet light; the fried rice has the pork all cut up so there's a morsel in every bite; the spring rolls have huge pieces of meat, not bean sprout filler. It's one of the best crappy Chinese meals we've ever had.

They know how to make a drink, too: Because this place is old school, waiters wear jackets and bow ties and know when to bother you and when to receed into the background. They don't get orders wrong and the proportions of our libations are correct. We were stuck in traffic on the way over so this is important. Happy anniversary to US!

Thought about: Well, it was our anniversary, so I guess we thought about marriage. But we also discussed how these kinds of restaurants can't live on forever. As the remaining Jews leave the neighbourhood, will the new Bathurst & Eglinton folk love Chinese food as much? There's quite a strong African-Canadian community to the west that will probably expand, so will it be more jerk chicken and less General Tao 10 years from now?

Overheard (the first time we were here about two years ago): A guy in his mid-40s, to his two kids as he paid for his takeout: "I remember eating under that tree when I was your age!"


DagTiki said...

Boy what a great little place! Reminds me of the Yangtze here in MTL(near where the Brown Derby used to be... i.e., same concept, an old jewish neighborhood allowed this restaurant to survive, no chinese there!) where the waiters are still dressed in black tie and vests! Dan & Michelle introduced us to it many years back and were surprised at how good it was for a joint that got phase-shifted (i.e. still phase 1 due to original owners but catering to a clientèle different to that of its own culture.)

John T. said...

This is exactly what I said to Dave when he first told me about China House! Guess it's time for another visit to Yangtze... it certainly deserves a post here at SBE.

Anonymous said...

this is the greatest chinese restaurant in toronto, have not had a single dish which was not better then all the other places i've been too.