Best Takeout

Sunny’s Chinese: A Ticket to Hunan, Hubei, Shanxi – and back

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The Best Takeout experience of 2021 served up exacting regional Chinese menus with a side of storytelling – and an upcoming brick‑and‑mortar location.

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.

November 3, 2021
Mapo tofu; gai lan with chili shrimp oil, oyster sauce and haam choy; beef and chive dumplings in a hot and sour broth.
Mapo tofu; gai lan with chili shrimp oil, oyster sauce and haam choy; beef and chive dumplings in a hot and sour broth.

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.

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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?

From left to right: Braden Chong, Keith Siu, David Schwartz, Mica White, Peter Nguyen, Michael Ovejas and Joseph Ysmael.
From left to right: Braden Chong, Keith Siu, David Schwartz, Mica White, Peter Nguyen, Michael Ovejas and Joseph Ysmael.

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.

Charred cabbage with cumin and Szechuan peppercorn
Charred cabbage with cumin and Szechuan peppercorn.

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.

sunnyschinese.com

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Related: See the full 2021 list

Presented By
OpenTable logo
Gold Sponsor
Destination Canada logo
Digital Sponsor
Heineken logo