Replacing a legend

New restaurant’s kitchen shines, service needs a rethink

THE SIZABLE SHOES left by the closing of long-time dining mecca Boba are tough to fill. Wisely, Zin makes no effort to reproduce the modern continental cuisine of its predecessor.

Instead, the newcomer offers a sophisticated Chinese menu. And although the food is a hit, the service has kinks aplenty.

We opt for the famous patio facing Avenue Road, as we are not about to miss one of the rare lovely evenings in this pitiful summer, but the dining room shows little change from its previous incarnation.

The list of starters is a grab bag: eight of the most familiar dim sum dishes begin the carte, each priced at $4, but we haven’t acquired the habit of eating har gow post sunset. Soups, again, touch the well-worn bases. Hot and sour soup is served with shrimp toast, which we devour as the soup has not arrived and our appetites are primed. However, not only has the soup not appeared, one of our entrees arrives without ceremony or explanation. It is soon removed.

The soup ($7) is excellent and genuinely spicy with only a modicum of cornstarch. Had it not arrived tepid the first time, the joy would have been complete.

One of the many servers to appear tableside recommends the stuffed baked avocado. It is a common luncheon dish, and I am curious as to how the application of heat will affect it. It has been stuffed with a mound of shrimp and crab and gratinéd. Pretty and tasty. I am about to give royal assent to this dish but am distracted by a nagging sweetness. This is not the sugar from a ripe mango but a taste that is artificial. The waiter seeks guidance in locating the offending element and finally informs us that it is the mayonnaise that has bound the fish.

One of the major joys of this evening is the fact that Peking duck is listed as a standard item on the menu.  As a rule, it is a dish that must be ordered 24 hours in advance, and, let’s face it, who is that organized? At Zin, it is a two- course production rather than the usual three and is available as a half duck ($28) or whole ($48), allowing even greater flexibility.


“CHEQUE PLEASE”

ZIN
90 Avenue Rd.
416-923-1515
Dinner for two excluding tax, tip and alcohol:
$75


The third time it arrives (there had been two unscheduled deliveries), we are ready. The mahogany half duck sits pristinely on a platter, soon to be accompanied by a steamer basket of delicate rice pancakes. Two side dishes appear — one with batons of cantaloupe and honeydew and the other with shards of green onions and slender carrot sticks. And, of course, hoisin sauce.

The bird is delicately carved, and the server assembles a stuffed pancake for each of us and I swoon. The skin of the bird is so crispy and the roasting is so superb that there is zero fat attached to the crackling.

For the second course, I am obliged to choose to have the remaining duck meat served with fried rice or in noodle soup and I opt for the former. This proves to be a wonderful side dish.

Shrimps in Thai red curry sauce ($22) works well after the duck. Six giant shrimp are swimming in a succulent ocher pool glistening with rivulets of chili oil. Perfect.

Ah, the service. Aside from dishes arriving at the wrong time and temperature, these guys need to relax. When I decide I want another stuffed pancake, the waiter leaps to my side and takes the fork from my hand. Just try to grab another scoop of rice without attracting attention. We have been trained in the free-for- all atmosphere of Chinatown and this formality is cumbersome.

Zin has the potential of being a top-notch restaurant. The kitchen has the skills, but the servers need to match that standard.

Article exclusive to TRNTO