The Gist: Let’s get one thing straight – Taiwanese food is not Thai. It’s completely different. Spain has pinxtos, Greece has mezes and Taiwan has xiaochi – small bites to be consumed with tasty drinks. This food is sexy, and tantalizes all your taste buds – sweet, sour, salty…
Grub: Chef Ike Huang is from Taiwan and grew up with versions of a lot of the items on the menu. He has been cooking since he was 12. Everything is authentic Taiwanese, save the North American-inspired fried chicken (details below), and inspiration was taken from Shilin, the world-renowned night-market found in Taipei. Most dishes range from $3-$8 with some gluten-free offerings throughout the menu.
Libations: In addition to great beers on tap (Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, Mill Street, Beau’s, Great Lakes Brewery, Muskoka and Sapporo), there will be VQA wines, Izumi Sake from The Distillery, two revolving classic cocktails that will be kegged and pressurized, and six cocktails not on tap. Jameson will be available for $3 a shot every day, and Kanpai is also the first establishment to carry Station Cold Brew on tap.
One of the best drinks is the Punch Pot ($Market Price, serves 4-6) Instead of served in a punch bowl, it’s tipped out of an antique tea pot. And while this brew of Oolong Island Iced Tea tastes just as refined and elegant as any concoction out of a crystal bowl, this stuffis heady – easily drinkable, yet boozy for sure - Absolut vodka, Havana Anejo Blanco rum, Tromba silver tequila, Plymouth gin, house-steeped oolong tea, fresh lemon juice, and basil ginger syrup. The Oolong is made with Stratford Tea, home to one of Canada’s tea sommeliers.
For now, no bubble tea will be served – Co-owner Trevor Lui, "We are the antithesis of bubble tea," but never say never…
Deets: 65 seats can give way to 90-100 for a stand-up reception. Should you need to use the rest room, don’t be intimidated by the Chinese lettering on the door. These gorgeous little rooms (if there was room for a futon, they’d make great bachelor apts) are unisex.
Fixtures & Fittings: The majority of the work was hand done. Reclaimed skids found at shopping malls were gathered by the crew and then cut by hand. Chef Ike and crew fastened them all to the wall themselves. Tables and chairs were custom made by Green Tangerine Design. One of the most extraordinary touches is the draft taps, all topped with an eclectic collection of custom made knives, shipped directly from Taiwan. The other is the mural at the back. The shot of the vibrant Keelung Night Market in Taiwan makes you feel like you’re right there.
Off the Menu:
Bar snack "Oh-ree-ental" Mix ($4) This bar snack is made up of dehydrated peas, nuts and large red chili peppers, all deeply seasoned. It’s not at spicy as it looks, but it is habit-forming.
Edamame Said Knock You Out ($4) Flash fried and then wok-tossed in sweet soy butter, they are the most additive soy snack you’ve ever met. Those sushi joint ones will never pass muster after these beauties.
Heads or Tails – Both ($6) You are encouraged to suck the goodness out of the heads of these beady-eyed shrimp that are blanched, chilled and then tossed in a Taiwanese sauce, topped with a little green onion. They sure are messy, but they’re worth it. And don't worry - wet naps/bowls will follow.
Fu Man Chu ($5) Even tofu-haters will fall for this dish.These little crispy cubes (lightly fried, not battered and deep fried) might look heavy and dense, but they’re impossibly light. The sweet and sour Taiwanese sauce isn’t too sweet or heavy or cloying. Its dishes like this that make you rethink ingredients you may have avoided for years.
OG Bao ($5 ea.) You will no doubt have your favourite bao in the city, but get ready to extend your list with these. The bao buns are made for KSB in Toronto. The filling – pork belly, cilantro, carrots, Taiwanese relish (mustard greens and pickles are tossed and stir-fried, then chilled) – is perfectly balanced with savoury flavours, tang and crunch, all nestled into one soft bun.
TFC ($108 for 6 ppl) This is the Taiwanese Redneck Dinner y’all. A whack of North American-inspired fried chicken comes out on a platter, and is topped with a secret gravy, wok-fried salt and pepper, and fresh cilantro, spring onions, red chili peppers and lemon juice, all garnished tableside. Yes, dinner AND a show! It is then sided with their version of biscuits (bao with teriyaki butter), slaw (Taipei Tater Slaw) as well as sides of the Taiwanese Antipaston (Korean-style banchan 3 varieties, will change weekly). And a special fried rice of choice. And no, they didn’t forget the drinks – the meal is served with a 6 pack of PBR tall boys.
Note: It's recommended that diners order this upon arrival to allow for ample prep time. So have a few drinks and a few dishes and settle in for a dinner you won't soon forget.
And for dessert, Wow Bao ($6/4 pieces) This fried bao is deep-fried until golden and served with Taiwanese pop rock’d condensed milk and housemade spicy nutella dips. Just try and stop at just one.
How Cool is This?! First of all, the whole concept. Second, the food, straight up. Third, the takeout boxes that have balsa wood bottoms and a fun cartoon cover. And lastly, the bill that comes with a bit of Taiwanese newspaper.
At the Stove: Chef Ike Huang and brother Pao Pao Huang (both worked previously at Liberty Noodle, and Calvin’s in Vancouver) .
FOH: Trevor Lui, temporarily
Head Honchos: Ike Huang and Trevor Lui
Visiting Hours: Mon-Sun 11:30am – 2am
Map It: 252 Carlton St., right at Parliament
Phone It In: (416) 968-6888