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Mint (Yonge/St Clair)

embee | Mar 20, 2008 07:19 AM

I remember the Yonge/St Clair area as a bustling, busy place, the home of two major cinemas and many restaurants and shops. We went to a concert at an area church last weekend and I was shocked. This is white bread North Toronto with an upper middle class vibe - not the entertainment district - but it was never completely dead in the past. It certainly is now. At 6:30 last Saturday night, few people walked the streets and many of the area's many restaurants were closed!

We were looking for a casual pre-concert dinner. Hero Burgers, Subway, and Swiss Chalet were out of the question and, at the other end of the scale, Didier was out too. Where to go?

We weren't planning on drinking and didn't want a pub. A couple of mid eastern places were closed. The Italian place on Yonge didn't beckon. Okay, then, Senior's (downstairs) deli would be okay. Whoops...steakhouse open, but deli closed. (They have always closed early downstairs, but not THIS early.)

Suddenly time was running out. Mint was open. We went in. There were two occupied tables, but no staff in sight and no sounds from the kitchen. Not a good sign.

Mint is a "pan-Asian" place in the mode of Spring Rolls and its ilk. It looks similar to a Spring Rolls. Maybe it is just another banner for Spring Rolls. Maybe we should eat at Swiss Chalet after all.

We were about to leave when a server emerged from the kitchen, so we took a chance. Can anyone cook Thai, Viet, Korean, Japanese, North & South Chinese, and Malaysian and produce something edible? Fortunately, it seems someone can - at least within the scope of our two meals. The polyglot dinner turned out to be pretty good. Can a lone server and one person in the kitchen get us out in about an hour? They managed that too.

We ordered lemongrass beef from the dinner special card. This included a vegetarian spring roll, a bowl of chicken broth with chicken wontons, the beef, a mango salad, coconut rice, and a dessert, all for $16.95. We also ordered grilled short ribs with a thai shrimp skewer, spicy kimchi, and sticky rice from the regular menu ($15.95).

The spring roll filling was boring, but it was fully packed, freshly cooked, impeccably fried, hot, and greaseless. It was served with the standard Vietnamese nuoc cham dip.

The chicken soup wasn't very chicken-y. However, the clear broth had some pleasant herbal undertones and tasted good. (I don't know whether they use this broth for their chicken-based pho selections, but this broth would not be great for pho.) The chicken wontons tasted like kreplach. They were fine.

The lemongrass beef was very good and we would order this again. A generous portion, it was nicely marinated, well seared, rare, tender, and really quite delicious. It came with more nuoc cham. The coconut rice would have been a delicious dessert, though we found it sweeter than we wanted as a main. That said, it melded nicely with the beef slices and we ate it all. The mango salad was very fresh, though the dressing had an odd herbal undertone that I couldn't identify. The mango wasn't ripe, but it wasn't really green either. It tasted fine.

Dessert was a fried banana with coconut ice cream. We passed on the banana. The ice cream (a large scoop) was good. Jasmine tea was bagged, but okay.

The short ribs came in the Korean galbi style, marinated and grilled thin slices cut across the bone. They lacked the bold spicing I'd expect in this dish, but were delicious anyway. As is often the case with this cut, some pieces were tender and some were very chewy. There was nothing Thai (or Malay) about the shrimp skewer. The small shrimp were slightly overcooked, but still tasty. The sticky rice was good. Instead of "spicy kimchi", they served me the mango salad. I had wanted the kinchi and was disappointed about the substitution. The server said that they made the kimchi in house and it was continually spoiling because it wasn't ordered often enough. Understood, but they should change the menu or advise at ordering time.

Service was good once the server emerged from the kitchen. The special really was a deal, and the short ribs a decent value.

First choice dining spot? Hardly. Worth a journey? No. But by all means try Mint if you are in the area.

BTW, if you are classical music fogies, as we are, I highly recommend that you check out the performers we saw. It's a somewhat baroque trio called I Furiosi (the furies). They are young, hip, and talented, with a naughty edge hinting at S&M. The tickets are $20, which includes a generous wine & cheese reception at intermission. It ain't the best wine or the most interesting cheese, but you can't beat the price. (Donation optional and apparently not expected.) The disparity between the group and their regular venue (a North Toronto Presbyterian church) is ... interesting.

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