Whispers about an amazing Chinese pop–up near Avenue and Davenport Roads in Toronto were circulating among the restaurant obsessed in early 2021. To wrangle a dinner, you needed to get on the Sunny’s Chinese mailing list, and when a new date dropped, jump on it – pronto. Pickup meant loitering in front of an anonymous red door hidden by a shipping container in a parking lot before being handed a takeout–filled paper bag.
Sunny’s Chinese: A Ticket to Hunan, Hubei, Shanxi – and back
The Best Takeout experience of 2021 served up exacting regional Chinese menus with a side of storytelling – and an upcoming brick–and–mortar location.
Once home, it was like opening a gift: meticulously rendered regional Chinese delicacies accompanied by a whimsically drawn menu and info card. A taste bud– and mind–blowing Szechuan dinner featured “hidden chicken,” slices of crispy fried chicken wings peeking out from under an avalanche of chopped, dried red chilies; perfectly calibrated dan dan noodles; steamed yu choy with “strange–flavoured” sauce (roasted sesame paste, aged Zhenjian vinegar) and a gratifyingly unassimilated dessert of sweet rice cake topped with a brown–sugar caramel and hibiscus powder.
The info cards were the work of a pop–up professor; essays on everything from the “vibrational mouthfeel” associated with the málà Szechuan peppercorn spice blend to a staunch defence of MSG. Who were these artists/Chinese food whisperers?
They turned out to be executive chef David Schwartz, and his kitchen buddies Braden Chong and Keith Siu. Schwartz, formerly of Rasa and DaiLo, writes the menus, and the three of them test and tweak recipes. “We’re not top–down, we all have different roles to play,” says Schwartz.
There’s more good news for Sunny’s fans: The brick–and–mortar restaurant, Mimi, that Schwartz and co. were to open in 2020, just opened in October in the former Mistura site on Davenport, and a new Sunny’s will open for sit–down service in Kensington Market in spring 2022. Regionality will still be on the menu, with the more posh Mimi focusing on China’s southern provinces, especially Guangdong, and with Sunny’s channelling a more Chinese barbecue/natural–wine vibe that skews toward China’s southwestern and northern provinces, like Sichuan, Shanxi, Hunan and Hubei. See you in the parking lot.
3 More Takeout Temptations
Started by necessity after he was laid off, former chef de cuisine Miheer Shete launched a wildly popular weekly tasting menu marrying traditional Indian with Canadian ingredients.
Respect the Technique
Kaede Hirooka’s ghost kitchen lit up Calgary during lockdown with delicious fusion ramen kits, gyoza stuffed chicken wings and more. He has since helped open Hello Sunshine, a new karaoke and sushi bar in Banff, Alberta.
This takeout / grocery spot offers sushi, sashimi, nigiri, chirashi and party trays – all very high–quality – for pre–order, plus a range of Japanese snacks and staples in the shop.
Related: See the full 2021 list