Location: Markham, Canada
Address: 20 Gibson Drive
Type of Meal: Dinner
I had high hopes for Dayali given the accolades it received from local food critics - #83 on Joanne Kate’s top 100 restaurants of 2013 and the Globe’s 10 best places for Chinese food in Toronto. So, I dutifully rounded up five individuals so that I could make a reservation and avoid waiting in its notorious lines (minimum of six people required).
Dayali is the Canadian outpost of a popular Beijing based chain. Located in a Markham strip mall the interior is surprisingly spacious, bright and contemporarily decorated. With soaring ceilings the surroundings would have been comfortable if they had better ventilation and turned up the air conditioning. The service was efficient and pleasant – quite professional compared to most Chinese restaurants.
Of course, we couldn’t visit without ordering their star dish… the gold medal roast duck ($38.88). On the menu, they also have a Peking style roast duck ($31.88), which I would imagine is the same. Our waiter explained that the gold medal roast duck is a better quality and “specially selected” and there are more ingredients accompanying the duck. Of course we had to try the best so opted for the gold medal version with extra wraps (or on their menu called blinis) ($3.99).
All the ingredients arrive in a tower with the wrappers held in a warmer in the middle. At the top is a small dish of crispy duck skin which is meant to be a starter and eaten without wrappers. Most people dip it in the sugar, sauce or spicy salt that’s included in the tower and offers the opportunity to just enjoy the duck. This cut doesn’t have any meat or fat on it and is entirely skin – crispy with an oily ting to it, it was a good start.
Afterwards, a second larger dish of duck skin (this time with some meat) is brought out for the actual wrappers. All in all, it wasn’t bad – the duck skin was crispy enough, wrappers nice and thin and loved the different ingredients you get. Other than the typical green onions, cucumber and hoisin sauce, there were also sweet red grapes and potato chip sticks (think Hickory Sticks without the smoke). My husband and I both enjoyed the addition of potato chips; the grapes on the other hand were just strange. I was disappointed with the duck meat – it lacked flavor, was a tad dry and crumbled apart from the skin when you tried to pick it up. Unless you put enough hoisin sauce on it, the wrap would be pretty bland. Dayali’s duck wasn’t the worse I’ve ever had but I don’t think it deserves title as best – in my books Chung King Garden Restaurant still holds that.
You may find the skin not to be as crispy as other restaurants, but this is because Dayali strictly just roasts the duck. Some other restaurants will flash fry the skin prior to serving making it very crunchy. Unlike other restaurants, where the duck is usually served two ways, at Dayali you only have the option of adding $2.88 onto make the duck bones into soup. We saw it being served at another table and it didn’t look very appetizing. So, instead, at the end of the meal they just ended giving us the carcass in a plastic bag to go.
My husband was excited to see the gold medal sliced boiled fish in chili oil ($19.99) on the menu as he had a great experience with it at another restaurant. I’ll admit the fish is very tender and a delicate smooth texture. Despite the amount of chili that’s included in the dish, if you don’t actually eat the peppers it’s not overly spicy. But, I couldn’t get past the fact that it was literally sitting in a pot of oil and had to be drained before eating. Plus, it was really annoying to have to pick out all the small pieces of pepper to avoid causing your mouth to burn. This is certainly an acquired taste.
Other items we tried were carb based Shanghai style dishes. My favourite of the night was the pan fried pancakes with stuffing ($7.99). Arriving piping hot with a crunchy crust and chewy dough it was lovely. The “stuffing” is really the same pork mixture that’s used in dumplings, smeared in a thin layer on the pancake, and added a nice juiciness to the roll.
The pot stickers ($6.99) were decent and tasted homemade. They were very similar in flavor to the pan fried pancakes with stuffing, so if you’re going to order these dishes you really only need just one. The pancakes, in this case, were better as it was better seasoned.
Lastly, were the spicy cold mixed noodles ($4.99) consisting of cold chow mein egg noodles topped with a spicy bean & pork mixture and cucumber slivers. This offered a welcomed coolness in the hot restaurant, but as a warning it’s pretty spicy. Really the entire flavor of the dish was masked by the chili oil. Dayali should consider serving it in a larger dish as it was very hard to mix in the small plate it arrived in.
The prices listed above are regular menu prices. You have the option to purchase a VIP membership card for $20 providing holders with a reduced price (typically about $2 per dish) and is valid for three years. We opted not to purchase the membership, given it was unclear whether we’d be come regulars. After this experience, I can say that although it’s was decent, there are better options around Toronto (without the wait and stuffy interior) so I’ll likely not ever require the VIP card.
Overall mark - 6 out of 10
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Gastro World's Grading System
- Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
- 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
- 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
- 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
- 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
- 10 - absolute perfection!