Tuesday, April 5, 2011

PHOENIX RESTAURANT: 1345 Queen St West - (416) 532-2971

Outside the Phoenix Restaurant
Looking back now, I think it was the Phoenix Restaurant that inspired me to start this blog.  The exterior looked like a lot of other Parkdale restaurants, the sign read Chinese and Canadian Food (a piece of advice here:  any restaurant that advertises itself as "anything + Canadian food" is never a good sign, kinda like a video monitor menu at the door ..beware!) but it also had these charming cartoon drawings of whole fish and whole chicken.  To me this was the kind of restaurant that might be a hidden gem.  Something that looks like shit but tastes like heaven.  So I saved this place for some very special dinner guests.

The dinner guest theme of the evening is "the best people I met in 2010!"  Everyone!  Please meet Shelbie Vermette, Matthew Tammaro, and Andrew B. Myers.  A word about all three in a moment, but first if you've ever wondered what goes on during our Parkdale dinners, here's a bit of a taste...

I actually met Shelbie Vermette in 2009 when she was working as an interim photo editor at Report on Business Magazine and she assigned me the harrowing task of photographing Ron Joyce, the co-founder of Tim Hortons.  However then we only knew each others voice.  We finally met in person at an event I held at my studio in 2010 (I won't mention the event, I'd rather forget about it entirely).  She then did a brief stint as a photographers rep at Westside Studio and is now the photo editor at Eye Magazine.  She is the walking definition of wonderful.

Shelbie, Andrew, and Matt
Speaking of wonderful, our next guest is Matthew Tammaro.  Matt and I met last year when has asked about doing an internship with me during his final year as a photography student at Ryerson University.  At first I was a bit reluctant about taking on another intern but when I saw his work I immediately said yes.  It is, simply put, some of the best work I've seen in years.  Intelligent and beautifully crafted without being hokey, his work really grabs you by the face in the most gentle way possible, but still grabs you.  He also turned out to be the one of the sweetest guy I've ever met.  So that worked out well.

Speaking of some of the best work I've seen in years, meet Andrew B. Myers.  I was first introduced to his work through Heather Morton's much missed blog about a year ago.   His work made me want to kill myself.  Or at least abandon photography altogether and become a farmer.  It was unlike any work I had ever seen.  His work is amazingly mature, hilarious, and features the most beautiful colour palate of any Canadian photographer I've seen in a long time.  Before I met him I was convinced he was some kind of wizard or some horrible turtle-neck and blazer wearing asshole who used to be into The Tallest Man on Earth but now they're just too commercial.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Much like Matt and Shelbie he's an uber-talented humble sweetheart!  The best qualities to have in a friends and colleagues.

Our Won-Ton Soup
So enough about the guests, on to the dinner!  Like I said, The Phoenix Restaurant was actually the place that made me start this blog.  For some reason I found those drawings of whole fish and chickens in the window incredibly compelling.  I thought if any restaurant in Parkdale would be a hidden gem, this would be it.  Much like its name, the Phoenix Restaurant would rise from the ashes of crappy Parkdale food.

Yeah, not so much.

We arrived to a restaurant that was filled with what looked like reject tables from Spadina Avenue restaurants, a loud TV, and buzzing fluorescent light.  Matt arrived first and Shelbie and Andrew shortly after.  The menu was a bit confusing as it featured Chinese, South American, and Canadian food.  So we asked our waiter to recommend a few things.  By the way, our waiter was a 15 year old kid who turned out to be awesome but not particularly helpful.  He said that everything on the menu was good and if we came back on Monday we should try out their famous Oxtail Soup.  Apparently it takes 3 days to make and is only available on Monday and sometimes on Tuesdays.  I plan to return for a follow up lunch review.

Matt trying to eat his soup
in the sexiest way possible.

So in the end we decided to try a mix of foods.  Matt started out with a hot and sour soup.  Shelbie and I each ordered a won ton soup because we're awesome.  Andrew mooched off us all!

For our mains we ordered a plate of sweet and sour chicken balls, some pork spareribs in a garlic sauce, an arroz co pollo which is a chicken fried rice latin style, and a chalet de cerdo which is a breaded beef steak.  

The soups were great!  Hands down the best part of our meal.  Shelbie and I both appreciate a good won-ton soup and its exactly what we got.  Pipping hot and not too salty.  Matt also seemed to really enjoy his hot and sour soup.  So far so good.

sweet and sour chicken balls
The sweet and sour chicken balls were somewhat misleading.  It really should have been called deep fried sweet and sour breading with a pea sized piece of chicken buried somewhere deep within.  They were pretty horrible.  Even the sweet and sour sauce was kinda gross.  Too much sour and not enough sweet.  Normally when I go out for Chinese food, the sweet and sour stuff is always the first to go.  I believe this is the first time we had some sweet and sour leftovers.

I thought the pork spareribs in a garlic sauce was the worst dish of the meal although Andrew seemed to like it.  Maybe he was just hungry or we were tasting different things.  There was barely any meat on the ribs and the sauce just tasted like brown flavoured water, and the flavouring wasn't particularly good.

Chalet de cerdo (breaded steak)
We can skip arroz co pollo (latin style chicken friend rice) since it was basically no different than any other fried rice dish you've ever had at the Eaton Centre food court.  It was kinda dry, without much flavour, and we barely ate any of it.

The surprise of the night was the chalet de cerdo (the breaded steak dish).  When it arrived it looked kinda like a baseball glove sitting on bed of rice and not particularly appetizing.  Matt sprinkled some lemon juice on it and, surprisingly, it wasn't that bad.  Not great, but not bad at all.  It tasted a little bit like schnitzel and the lemon flavour really went well with the, well, meat and breading.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think I would order this again.  In fact I don't think I would go back to the Phoenix altogether (except to try the Oxtail Soup).  But this dish was probably the winner of the night.  However that's not saying much.

Andrew trying to eat
a chicken ball in the sexiest
possible way.

The night ended with some fortune cookies, a reasonable bill, and some drinks over at Mezrows down the street (The Phoenix doesn't have a liquor license...if you go bring a flask).  At the end of the night I asked our guests to rate their meal.  Matt gave it a 2.5, Shelbie the same, Andrew gave it a 3.  I thought they were all being a bit generous.  Perhaps they didn't want to give the impression that they had a bad time, which I know they didn't.  While the company was amazing, the 15 year old waiter was incredibly charming, and we had a great time, the food was very sub par.  It's  a shame too since I had such high hopes for this place.

Rating: 2


  1. Can you please go to the Rustic Cosmo Cafe on brunch and report back?
    (Also, if you haven't done so already, try Om Restaurant.)

  2. Just found your blog! Pretty neat so far. There's this thing happening at gallery 1313 which might interest you: http://g1313.org/?p=1489
    Basically an all-out Parkdale food tasting.

  3. Dear Jess: Yes I will go to both and report back. In fact I might hit Rustic Cosmo Cafe for brunch this weekend. We were supposed to hit Om Restaurant last week but we found out my dinner guest was lactose intolerant so it didn't seem like the best choice.

    Dear Katherine: Holy shit that looks amazing!!! I would love to go but I can't promise anything. It takes place 4 days before my wedding so things might be a lil hectic around our apartment. But I will definitely try to go.

  4. Ha. I've always wanted to go in here & was scared. I'm glad someone else did it. You are a saint among saints in Parkdale.

  5. You should definitely go back for the sancocho - aka oxtail soup! It's considered the best!

  6. This restaurant was my all time favorite for Chinese food I'm so sad it's close down. Do you know if the owner or cooks have open in a new location? I