Restaurant Review: Chinese-Caribbean mashups at Patois

The chick behind the bar has a black lace bustier under her floppy grey cotton tank top, lots of eye makeup and an orange toque. She dances to the loud hip hop. It’s that kind of vibe on a Saturday night. AND they take reservations. They gave away our table cause we were 16 minutes late — but sitting at the bar was way more fun.

It’s a long wooden bar with Jamaican Red Stripe beer, Caribbean ginger beer and bottles of rum on the wall above it. There are blow-up pool toys and big fat heating ducts, galvanized metal, paper placemats with Chinese zodiac signs. Both chopsticks and forks. Tropical cocktails in coconuts with paper umbrellas. A little hipster irony here at Patois, home of Caribbean-Chinese cooking?


Chef Craig Wong of Patois.

 

Patois comes to us from chef Craig Wong who was sous at Luma and The Granite Club (ho hum) but before that spent a year on the line at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in France. Wong’s family — Chinese — lived in Jamaica for three generations before emigrating to Toronto in the 1970s. Here, in Scarborough, chef learned the polyglot food of his roots. Hence the magical meeting of jerk spicing with hoisin and five-spice in his clever cooking.

We’re smitten by the kimchi potstickers pierogi style. Mixed metaphors aside, they’re tender little dumplings with beautifully caramelized onions, bacon and kimchi flavoured sour cream with scallions on top. Give me more! Same deal with the miniature Jamaican patties, properly flaky and jazzed with bacon, melted Swiss cheese and sriracha.


Oxtail ramen lo mein from Patois.

 

When chef jerks lobster, we fall upon our knees. The critter is liberally spread with jerk-seasoned butter and then fried hot and fast to seal in the flavour, and sparkled with coriander leaves. Gives new definition to finger-lickin’. Also making my heart sing is Jamaican oxtail ramen lo mein. Superbly tender chunks of braised oxtail keep company with soft-fried noodles and bok choy in deep gingery brown sauce.

By the time we’re done mains the joint is jumpin’ loud and crowded. Everybody here is way less than half my age. They’re getting deep into the bevvies. But we stick to our guns and keep eating. Mango cheesecake stuffed French toast is everything you ever imagined a divinely down-market dessert to be: Sweet and crisp and creamy.

Everything about Patois is what we love about Toronto: An ethnically hybrid cuisine in hipster garb. Wearing a toque!

Patois794 Dundas St. W., $65 Dinner for two