Sky Dragon @ 280 Spadina Avenue in Toronto Ontario, call them @ (416) 408-4999
There are few things more frustrating than missed opportunities.
Working indoors on a fine spring day is one. And then there’s a year’s lost development for the great Marcus Stroman currently plagues both Stroman and the city of Toronto. Shitty push-cart dim sum at the heart of Toronto’s downtown chinatown is just the icing on the cake.
From my experience in Hong Kong, push-cart dim sum is something of a dying art. And it makes sense: unlike revenge, most dishes are best served immediately after they are prepared. Delicate dumplings, several of which contain easily-overcooked seafood, fall into this non-revenge category. So imagine how annoying it would be for a chef to prepare such a dish and then watch it paraded around in a steam cart for the next couple of hours.
I only went to one push-cart dim sum in Hong Kong and it was clear why the concept worked there – it was busy as hell. And while it was excellent dim sum, it was dim sum of the people – the standards executed well and at a great value. It was not the elevated fare you’d get at an a la minute joint. Hell, even Tim Ho Wan, the standard-bearer for affordable quality dim sum operates on a made-to-order basis.
Push-cart dim, despite its inherent limitations, is just fun. You get the excitement of not knowing what’s coming around the corner, harrowing interactions with the push-cart ladies, and the retro HK tea house vibe. But it requires volume. Ever been in a push cart dim sum place that’s not doing so well? It’s just depressing. The same sad items being paraded around and eventually microwaved when some unfortunate soul orders them is neither fun nor tasty. It stands to reason, therefore, that a city can only support an extremely number of push-cart dim sums and the popular ones – whose very asset is their crowd – will push-cart out the competition.
Sky Dragon has no problems with crowds as it’s one of the few push-cart dim sums in downtown Toronto. So really, with turnover what it is, there’s really no excuse for it to be so bad. Indeed, I’ve been there on days when diners leave their tables to swarm the carts when they exit the kitchen. The problem here is not freshness, but a kitchen that just doesn’t really care anymore.
Sky Dragon is dim sum that you could easily make at home: go to a Chinese grocery, buy a bunch of frozen dumplings, (over)steam them up, and you’ve got the Sky Dragon experience. Har gao and siu mai are dense and chewy. Spare ribs are slate, gristly and boring. Rice noodle rolls (cheung fun) are gummy.
That said, Sky Dragon does have some nice features. Dragon-perched high above the center of chinatown you really feel like this should be kind of place that houses a dim sum joint. And the push cart ladies are precisely as surly as they should be – a difficult balance to maintain indeed.
Still, until the food catches up you might as well call Sky Dragon “Rhaegal” or “Viserion” – two dragons of immense potential sadly shackled and humbled by a misguided young Khaleesi. Except the Khaleesi in the present scenario is clumsy and overcooked Chinese dumplings. And terrible analogies.