Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial

I recently just returned from a whirlwind work trip that took me through Toronto, Philadelphia area PA, Austin TX, and Santa Clara and Sacramento in CA in one week. It was my first time in Toronto, but because the trip was occuring in December and my co-worker forgot to pack her coat, apparently one of the best things to do (walk around inside the city) wasn’t something that was going to be on the list this time. In fact, most of Toronto wasn’t going to be on the list. It turns out they have a similar experience with lake effect wind as Chicago does. It’s cold… and then the wind blows… and you realize how cold it *really* can be.

However, we did get in a few Toronto experiences. It started with a visit to Real Sports Bar and Grill right before a Maple Leaf Game (they play in the stadium across the street). This particular misadventure was unplanned since we were going for the Ducks vs Beavers game, and this was one place my sister, who had been to Toronto just a month before, had recommended and we were able to call to confirm we could watch the game here on a big TV. It meant driving around in circles trying to find non-price gouging parking, and entering a super packed place where it was a 2 hour wait for tables, but we were rewarded by watching the Ducks victory on a 2 story HD screen- definitely a big TV, and we were lucky to snag bar stools at least. We also got to admire, though not visit (… exactly like my sister’s visit) the CN Tower doing its light show thing at night.

Toronto, CanadaToronto, CanadaToronto, Canada

And, the next day, we returned to the downtownish area to visit the Christmas Market in the Distillery Historic District based on nothing but a concept drawing advertisement in a hotel magazine. It looked like a mix of old world with the outdoor wooden stalls for the various vendors, and pedestrian-only traffic only as we navigated the cobblestone paths within the complex, but mixed in with new world since it was in a district that really reminded me of the Pearl in Portland with its various art galleries and rehab of a factory space. This meant when it got cold for us, we could quickly pop into a gallery or browse a retail boutique to try to warm up.

We had a few beers at the Mill St Brewery– which made us appreciate how great the beer available in Portland is. Despite the enticing list of beer so we tried a lemon tea ale, a raspberry beer, their cobblestone porter, a coffee porter, and a vanilla porter, the flavor profiles just were not as strong as we have become accustomed to in our microbrew capital city hometown. We didn’t eat during our Christmas Market visit though because we had earlier enjoyed dim sum at Casa Imperial, and that kept us quite full despite the many offerings that tempted us at the market.

Christmas Market, Toronto, Canada

Mill St Brewery, Toronto, Canada Mill St Brewery, Toronto, Canada Christmas Market, Toronto, Canada Christmas Market, Toronto, Canada

Casa Imperial is in the northern suburb like area of Toronto, where it seems a large population of Asian immigrants ended up settling. We passed strip mall after strip mall in the Markham area (where our hotel was and we executed multiple U-turns trying to find it and dinner the night before) with all the various signage in a mix of languages. Casa Imperial is different from the many dim sum choices in this area in that it is actually inside a historic estate. The atmosphere of British opulence (including waitresses deliveirng dim sum in polytester black and white maidlike outfits) in a Victorian setting but with rich high endish Chinese food that included a pretty teapot instead of the generic white kind from the restaurant supply depot gave it a bit of high end, Hong Kong feel.

Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada

The dim sum was rich tasting and nothing was greasy, and the service pretty friendly and efficient. Even at 11am, it was only a 30 minute wait for a table for 2 (there were about 20 other people in their foyer also waiting with us- though it seemed a lot were waiting for larger tables to seat their entire family from grandparents to grandkids), and the fact we were totally surrounded by people who none were speaking English made s feel like this was an authentic choice. They don’t push dim sum carts here- instead there is a regular menu to order from, and also a dim sum list that you select what you want almost like a sushi/sashimi list, and it is delivered from the kitchen to your table as they are ready. Given the tight space of this restaurant and how fresh everything was so it seemed like it was made to order rather than just sitting waiting to be picked up from a lot, I didn’t mind this.

I ordered the staples of course. You can’t have dim sum without shrimp and crab shu mai- here they were quite chubby, as were the shrimp har gow (though the skin was a bit too thick for the har gow). The steamed pork ribs here come with pumpkin, which was a nice added touch of sweetness- I ate the whole thing by myself. The pan fried turnip cake was not too dry or oily (but could have had more umami flavor). The rice rolls (I got one stuffed with egg tofu and snowpea leaf- I would recommend getting one of the other 6 rice rolls choices they offer which all have meat or seafood) was ok but I wish I had gotten the one with scallop XO instead. BBQ pork with honey sauce, a sweet though slightly sticky contrast to the rest of the richness, also was a great choice and is one of their specials on their dim sum checklist. We also got baby bok choy after we saw it arriving at a nearby table which was a bit of a clean palate break from the other savory dim sum dishes. The bok choy came from the regular menu, and took up 1/3 of our table, but was worth it, especially when you bit into one that had a garlic clove nestled inside!

Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada

My favorite dim sum dish were these abalone and chicken puff pastries I remembered reading raves about on chowhound- look and think of the rich savory flavor in there with chunks of chicken and abalone in a thick stewlike broth while the puff pastry outside was light and flaky without being oily at all

Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada Dim Sum in Toronto at Casa Imperial, Canada

I would definitely recommend this. I know there are a lot of dim sum places to select from in this area, perhaps some that boast better food (particularly soup dumplings at Ding Tai Fung, and Lai Wah Heen downtown doing contemporary as well as traditional interpretations of dim sum were others I considered) . But the beautiful atmosphere is something which is unique here, and worth a visit. Does it compare to actual Hong Kong dim sum? Well no, though the food overall is pretty good there was a miss (the rice noodle, the thickness of the dough in the har gow) and average (turnip cake). But,  I appreciate saving the long flight overseas, and not having to aggressively fight for my little plates as is typical style during 11am primetime dim sum. I didn’t find anything here pretentious unlike the Yelp reviews (which ironically is what brought this to the top of my dim sum list after building the initial candidate list from Chowhound) but it is a departure from the regular experience. Because of its location in a house, it also doesn’t have the loud, hurried feel most dim sum meals have, and we were able to enjoy our food on tablecloths with chandeliers at a normal speaking volume and while the staff hurried to get our food or check, they never hurried us, attentively refilling our teapot without us ever asking. And I value that, even though it definitely gives a different energy to the dining experience,  just as long as I won’t be completely sacrificing food quality or taste for it.

My last meal in Toronto was at the airport- drinking more Canadian beer, while having a lot of mustard (as I learned from the menu, Canada is one of the worlds largest producers of mustard) while having a “grilled cheese” that had Canadian Cheddar and Canadian bacon. Topped with a Canadian flag. And gravy with the fries. And… that’s my extent of knowledge of Canadian cuisine.


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