Monday, April 4, 2011

Congee Royal - Asian fusion, not your typical CFM

Congee Royal
3160 Steeles Ave East
Markham, ON L3R 4G9, Canada

"CFM" is a term that my family coined about to describe a particular type of Chinese fast food that we consider comfort food. It's abbreviated for "cong
ee", "fan" (a type of rice noodle) and "mein" (your typical egg noodle). Rice and noodles are an Asian staple and any time you go to a restaurant featuring these staples is WINNING. I have family up in Toronto and we typically have this type of Chinese cuisine at least twice no matter how short of a stay.

So let's talk about the restaurant. It was suggested by my aunt, Aunt Judy, because the initial restaurant we wanted to go to was packed at 6:30pm on a Saturday night. That is how popular these CFM restaurants are for Asians. And when you have a p
arty of 10 for dinner, the chances are you getting a table are not favorable. The restaurant is a couple of years old, placed near an office building, replacing a Town and Country buffet in Toronto. The restaurant itself was decked out in friendly dim-lighting (almost orange) with a flat screen tv playing a movie. All the furniture and wall decorations were very modern. And don't let the wooden booths fool you, they are quite comfortable and allowed short Asians to be able to sit comfortable with feet flat on the ground. The chandelier itself resembled a large wired dust-ball and the tables and lazy susans were out of marble. Despite the modern furniture, this restaurant was filled with people at all ages. Even my 88-year old grandmother enjoyed the ambiance and the lighting.

Ok, but let's move on to the food. Here are the highlights of the many dishes we ordered family-style.

Dish #1 Chinese-style Pad Thai

This dish was ordered by Aunt Judy. She wanted to try something different, especially at a "Asian fusion" restaurant. Although some may say pad-thai isn't really a fusion dish, to this restaurant it combined Thai and Chinese components. The noodles were your typical flat rice noodles that were cooked al dente, seasoned with green onions, bean sprouts, shrimps, pork slices and extra roasted peanuts. What surprised me was the subtle sauce that was quite tangy. At first I thought it was peculiar because I thought pad-thai only had fish sauce as a base, but this one was citrus-based and a mix of sweet and sour. Like most Chinese sauces, I'm sure this had a lot of corn syrup in it, but it worked for this dish. My grandma didn't care for the al dente noodles or the sourness of the sauce, but it put a twist to your traditional pad-thai.

Dish #2: Shrimp dumplings in broth

This is my favorite type of dumpling. It's actually a wonton but with bamboo shoots and I think black mushrooms. The dumplings were seasoned with white pepper and probably filled with 3 large bits of shrimp - a rarity in the US, because shrimp of that size are quite expensive. In Toronto, you would typically see large pieces of shrimp in dumplings. Because of the bamboo shoots, the dumplings were soft but crunchy which I love. Typically these dumplings are served on top of shrimp noodles (see similarities to Dish #3) but we just wanted the dumplings.
There were about 8 of them, and they were gone by the end of the night.

Dish #3: Shrimp noodles and wontons
This is a dish my dad always orders when we got to a CFM restaurant. It's his traditional appetizer. Yes, he can eat a whole bowl of shrimp noodles and wontons and still eat a 3-4 helpings of other entrees. Despite his love for this dish, he has no standards and no expectations. I, on the other hand, believe this dish should test the cook's skills. Most CFM restaurants make their own shrimp noodles and take pride in that, but these noodles were sub par. They were over-cooked and did not have enough shrimp flavor. And because they were over cooked, the whole dish was too starchy. What saved the dish were the dumplings because they were 2-inches in diameter and greatly seasoned with white pepper. Yum.

Dish #4: Mai-po Tofu

Ok, mai-po tofu is suppose to be spicy but we ordered it without spice due to people's diet restrictions. Without the hotness, it was ruined! I think because we ordered it without the chillies, the cook was pissed at us that they decided to cook it without salt. The tofu was silky which I like, but it didn't matter because there was no seasoning. As we all know, tofu needs to be seasoned because it has no taste whatsoever. My mom makes mai-po tofu without spicy chillies and yet she is able to make the tofu and the accompanying pork/beef to be flavorful with oyster sauce, sugar, and salt. Do not order this unless you want spice, don't rob its traditional flavors.

Dish #5: Hot condensed milk with chestnuts and tiny tapioca.

Um, YUM! This was absolutely delicious. What made this dessert were the chestnuts which were tender and really cut the sugar in the condensed milk. Wait, maybe it was coconut milk? I couldn't tell because the chestnuts added more flavor to the milk. Tapioca itself doesn't have flavor or added sugar but condensed milk is usually thick and very sweet when it's straight out of a can, but Congee Royal made the chestnuts the star of the dessert. I love tapioca and I'm sure all tapioca lovers would like this one too.

Overall, I liked this restaurant a lot because of its space and contemporary furnishings. The food wasn't spectacular and didn't really emphasize the "fusion" portion of the restaurant, but that could be because my family didn't order dishes that from the "fusion" section. However, for the traditional dishes we had, it wasn't that bad. Certainly there were more dishes on the table that night, but I figured I'd highlight some of them for this post. I would suggest this restaurant, especially if you're coming in with a big party.


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