The premise of the column is simple; work with restaurants of all kinds to explore what they have to offer and what makes them unique. In a city like Toronto, the choices are sometimes daunting and the food reviews and critics can be snotty and too complicated for their own good. So why not keep this easy? Drinks. Appetizer. Main Course. Dessert. All along with a bit of information about what makes them my choice for Daniel’s Dish and why you should try them right away!
I always knew that I would end up living in Toronto. When I finally was able to relocate myself a few years ago and immerse myself in the city I now call home, food took on a whole new meaning for me. Daniel’s Dish has allowed me to truly get a behind the scenes feeling for some of the best restaurants in the city, and I was lucky enough (pardon the pun) to have the chance to experience one of the latest additions to the city’s food culture. Luckee by Susur Lee has truly made a name for itself since its opening earlier this year, and for good reason.
Located in the stunning SoHo Metropolitan Hotel, Luckee Restaurant and Bar’s menu offers “classic dishes and dim sum from the culinary traditions of Guangzhou, Hunan and Szechuan regions, updated and enhanced by Lee’s delectable signature.” But what does that mean exactly for you when deciding on whether or not this celebrity restaurant is the right fit for you?
Having such an iconic location helps to create quite a unique atmosphere. Major restaurants in the city, located in some of the best hotels in Canada, allow not only the restaurant to flourish, but to align themselves with some pretty big power players in the food & service industry. Luckee’s space immediately stole my heart from the red accents to the classic Chinese touches of decor. No detail was overlooked when creating the space. From the dividing wall which rotates to open and close the private dining room to the art that hangs on the walls, you are immediately entrenched with a sense of finesse and beauty.
So what was Lee’s inspiration for it all in a city where his other establishments are thriving? “My first memories of Chinese food are eating dim sum with my father. … Tasting Cantonese black bean sauce for the first time – that moment has never left me. I hope that Luckee will also create an unforgettable experience for people who love Chinese food.”
Now before I get into some of my personal favourites from our recent visit, I want to touch on something very important as a food lover and supporter of an industry I called home for over a decade. I believe that online food reviews and forums are an important part of the age we live in. Such as with social media, they allow patrons of a restaurant to share their opinions with one another in an open and free flowing discussion. That being said, I do not believe that one should base their own opinion of a restaurant solely upon a review that they read online.
As with anything in this world, we must all remember that people are more apt to write behind the courage of a keyboard about their bad experiences than their good. I will not deny the fact that Luckee and many other restaurants in the city have some pretty tough critics out there, but make sure to not be so quick to judge. Try to remember that when picking your next destination, as with most things in life, to take the opinions of other with a proverbial grain of salt.
Let’s get back to some of the reasons why I would recommend Luckee to you upon your next special occasion with the one you love or a night out with friends. Not only has it truly established itself as a hotspot celebrity restaurant, but it also have created an atmosphere in the city core that I have never experienced before. Though I do love going up and down Spadina with Julio (for those of you who are unaware, this is China Town in Toronto and a hub of culture and cuisine) on a Saturday afternoon for some delicious food, there is something to be said for the quality of service. Yes, we have had some of the best meals of our lives in the neighbourhood and paid next to nothing for them. However, as someone who used to work in the restaurant industry, having to quite literally scream after a server to get their attention never leaves me feeling taken care or happy.
By taking the authentic cuisine of the aforementioned cultures and setting them in Luckee, the marriage of the cuisine and well executed service was born. I will be honest and note that although the space was lovely, I didn’t entirely get the sense of “fine dining” as my evening progressed. I have both worked in and dined in fine dining establishments around the world and this is not a term I throw around easily. The finesse that comes with fine dining in my mind has the servers always anticipating the needs of their guests, aware of their surroundings and not bumping into one another all the time.
While our experience with the staff was lovely, there seemed to lack those fine touches. The most important thing that I would recommend to the staff of Luckee to help them make their guests feel taken care of would be to please not disappear as the evening progresses. As most Torontonians, we enjoy a little bit of a later meal for a nice night out. Once the dinner rush had ended and the sun had gone done, the one impression that sticks in my mind is that the servers were difficult to find. I by no means was the best waiter in the world, but one of the most important lessons I was ever taught was to not be out of sight for more then a few minutes at a time. The perception of your guests will always be exaggerated, ESPECIALLY if they have not worked in the industry. Five minutes can and will feel like twenty and I would say this was my one main criticism of the night.
Fine tuning of a restaurant comes with time and experience and I believe that as Luckee thrives and grows over the years to come, these little bumps will smooth themselves out. But first and foremost, a restaurant must always remember to have its service live up to the quality and name that they have set for themselves. Fine dining is not the term I would use based on the experience with the service, but we still had an incredible evening at a stunning restaurant with some delicious food. I absolutely would recommend people to join Luckee for a memorable evening despite the hiccups that I experienced.
Now… let’s get to the good stuff! Here are my top items that you absolutely must try upon your next visit to Luckee with your loved one or a group of friends. With both the lounge and dining room spaces, there is a little bit of something for everyone and the following items top my must try list.
The stunning table settings and menus that were set in front of us as we arrived immediately drew my attention. From the iconic art both on the walls and the menus, to the concise and simplistic feeling of it all… I was immediately happy to make a selection from the cocktail menu because I believe that it is always the best way to start a meal. Upon recommendation from our handsome server (btw, the staff of Luckee are beautiful!) I left the decision in his competent hands.
When he presented me with The Aura, I was impressed. Elegantly served in a martini glass, this cocktail combines the flavours of sobieski vodka, lime, mint, cucumber, cordial and lime zest. Think of it as a vodka based mojito or even a twist on a classic grasshoper. The choice was perfect and palette cleansing for its refreshing and smooth flavours. Not overly boozy to the sip, it still packed a punch. I would encourage you to enjoy some appetizers if you plan on having a few of these to avoid a messy night! Simple, balanced and aesthetically appealing, this drink in fact set the tone for the evening and the menu as a whole.
Another fun fact about Luckee that I enjoyed is that they serve Sake on tap. I haven’t had the chance to experience this before but I loved the idea that they took the time to really take the art of Sake to the next level. Though not for the faint of heart, for Sake fans out there, I would highly encourage you to join Luckee for a sip or two after a busy day to see exactly what I mean.
Being that Luckee is both a restaurant and a dim sum house, we couldn’t say we visited without trying some of these famous Chinese items that we had heard so much about. As I mention time and time again, I would always recommend you trust your server to guide your experience when dining out. Being that I do not consider myself a Dim Sum expert, I trusted the staff to guide me through their infamous Dim Sum Menu and I have to say, it was the best decision I could have made. Although I may or may not have eaten my body weight throughout the night (you can’t blame me. The food is so fantastic and playful!), the Dim Sum was a lot of fun to experience.
Although I probably couldn’t pronounce some of the traditional menu items available on the Dim Sum menu, several of them stuck out at the shinning stars of the night. As the perfect way to start the night, I would recommend the Har Gow (a traditional shrimp dumpling), The Scallop, Peashoot & King Mushroom Dumpling and the Chicken Cheung Fun Rice Roll as my top three. Combining the fresh ingredients listed above alongside the delicious sauces truly helps to embody both the playfulness of the menu and the calibre of food available to the patrons of Luckee on any given day.
For those spice lovers out there like myself, the house made spicy soy sauce offers some heat to contrast the rich flavours of any of the Dim Sum options available. I could literally have dipped everything I ate during my visit in this sauce and would encourage you to do the same, but be mindful that when they say spicy, they mean it.
As mentioned, we ate so much food during our dining experience that it was hard to pick just one item that sticks out as a main course. Of the intricate dinner menu, the one item that truly did impress me and leave me in awe was The Cantonese Style Spicy Black Bean Lobster. This dish arrived to the table and I became that person who started to ooh and aah as the server explained to me what I was about to eat. The presentation of the whole lobster on the plate really does show the skill of the chefs in the open concept kitchen at Luckee. Combining the decadent buttery meat of the lobster with XO Sauce (which I came to learn originally was a seafood sauce once made with Hennessy XO and then evolved over the years to not have any hennessy in it at all while keeping the XO name) creates this harmony of sweet and savoury. As mentioned, the whole menu truly embodies the classic Chinese mentality of balance and layered flavours. There was not one dish that I found to be flat in its flavours or presentation. Everything was perfectly balanced and offered contrast in its simplicity.
Sweet, salty and the perfect amount of savoury.. I quite literally wanted to lick the plate once we have devoured it in its entirety. I would recommend pairing it with some wok friend garlic broccoli and wok fried green beans to balance the decadence of the dish with some hearty greens.
Overall, especially for seafood lovers, I was impressed with the selection on the dinner menu and I can say that not only did every dish that came to the table impress me based upon how it looked, they also stole my heart for how they tasted. A culinary creation with each bite that truly speaks to the creativity and classic cuisine available to you upon your next visit.
Now, you won’t find a dessert menu available for you when you go searching for it, but that is not to say that the staff at Luckee have forgotten about one of the most important meals of the day. Yes, I consider dessert a meal.
Being that I am an indecisive Libra, I always prefer to have options and try a little bit of a lot of different things. Although I was satiated beyond belief by the time this course arrived at the table, I was also pleasantly surprised by what was available. An assortment of desserts were presented to us, and for those of you who are like me and simply cannot choose, I would recommend a sampling plate of sorts like we enjoyed. My dessert must try items on this plate of sumptuous sweets to end the evening would have to be The Chocolate Sponge Roll and The Blood Orange Lemon Tart. Both were bite sized and embodied once again the balance of sweet and tart while maintaining as aesthetic that truly showed the passion for food that Luckee has. And as mentioned, if you simply can’t decide, just order them all and be a bit gluttonous. Trust me when I say that you deserve it.
Secret You Should Know:
When I ask the restaurants I visit for a secret that no one else knows I am never 100% sure what they are going to come up with. Be it something about the space, the staff or the food itself… each restaurant I feature offers something unique and the reason I feature them is to help you decide in a city full of options which places I would personally recommend. When I posed the Do The Daniel secret question to Luckee, I was informed of a behind the scenes culinary secret.
“How do we get our food to taste so delicious? We use custom turbo woks that seal in the flavour! Our tubro woks generate about 440,000 BTU’s. Compare that to your house gas stove which generates 15,000 BTU’s. Just imagine an inverted mini jet engine searing in the natural flavours of your dish the next time you come to Luckee.”
Taking the time, money and effort to use tools of this nature goes to show you the calibre and dedication to their craft that Luckee brings from cocktail to dessert. I am always impressed when a restaurant goes out of their way to stay up to date with the latest cooking techniques and machinery while maintaining something as classic as Dim Sum or authentic Chinese cuisine.
It truly does show the balance of old and new to continue on with the balance found in every sip and every bite. So make sure the next time you’re in the mood for a delicious and memorable meal to make your reservation at Luckee since it WILL be busy when you arrive. And if you’re planning a night on the town, please remember to book your room at The SoHo Metropolitan Hotel so that you can indulge as much as your heart desires.
Overall, we had an incredible evening and one that we won’t soon forget. From the striking decor to the friendly staff, the menu items we did try and the ones we will certainly return for, Luckee by Susur Lee is a Toronto destination that you simply have to see to believe.
Make sure to follow @LuckeeTO on Twitter & Instagram to inspire your next craving for authentic Chinese cuisine and / or Dim Sum with all the right touches. Please join in on the social media conversation during your next visit and tag @DoTheDaniel to bring me along with you!
For more behind the scenes of this and other Daniel’s Dish visits, follow my Instagram!
Please remember to enjoy responsibly and never drink and drive.