Review/photos by Mike Lowe
After hearing much hype about an exciting new, apparently authentic, Chinese restaurant, we finally succumbed to the pressure to visit. We got more than we expected — in more ways than one
I’ve often said that good reviews write themselves and that the bad ones are hard. The truth is it’s the mixed ones that give me the most grief. On the first of two visits to Ma, I was blown away with the attention of the service staff. Every server or busser that passed our table tended to empty plates and glasses or just stopped to say hello — stark contrast to the negative comments on service I had read online. The best dish during this visit was one called fried calamari with salt and pepper (below photo). Thick pieces of calamari encased with a thin, crisp coating were dressed with sliced fresh bird’s-eye chilies, garlic, green onions and lemongrass. If you can stand some heat, this is a dish for you. Be forewarned — there is plenty to serve two people as an appetizer.
Other dishes on our first experience at Ma included pork with shrimp and black mushrooms, minced beef balls with vegetables and shrimp dumplings (below photo, left to right) all steamed in the traditional way — in bamboo baskets. Expect delicate, subtle flavours, nothing eye-popping, with these offerings.
For main dishes, we dive into lamb with cumin (at right, below photo) and Kung Pao chicken (at left, below photo). The lamb is a bit chewy, but not so much as to be a detriment. The cumin stands out nicely, but I can’t help thinking the dish to be more Moroccan than Chinese. On the menu the chicken shows a hot pepper, indicating some heat, but is only slightly hot. All orders during our stay arrived at the table with remarkable speed.
On our return visit we are greeted by the manager/hostess who welcomes us back. As we are seated she politely asks, “White wine and mango juice?,” recalling our first trip to Ma — we seem to be off to a good start. First orders in — deep fried squid tentacles (below photo), spring rolls, and that calamari from the first visit — which was not as good the second time around.
After the first dishes, we are eager to order the main plates. This is where things get weird. We sit for a full 15 minutes waiting for service — yes, we timed it. It was during this time that we notice the staff gathered at a table by the bar grabbing a bite to eat. When one server seats a group of arriving guests we have to wave her over. Next up will be Fukien, sometimes called Fujian, style rice, mango chicken and beef with Szechuan sauce. The rice (below photo) would easily feed a family of four. Mixed with egg and topped with a slightly thickened sauce of vegetables, chicken, BBQ pork, and shrimp, the dish a bit one-dimensional flavour-wise.
I was disappointed with the beef dish (below photo). Three chilies on the menu — not so much on the palate. A slight hint of Szechuan peppercorn, too many of those practically indigestible dried chilies (no fresh chilies in sight) – that’s about it.
The thing I detest about Chinese restaurants is the technique of ‘velveting’ chicken. Brined in a slurry made with cornstarch, and par-cooked by poaching in oil, it renders the texture spongy and unnatural. Such was the case with the mango chicken. Add to that practically raw vegetables and a sweet mango sauce poured on top, well, I think you get my point.
For some, Ma Chinese Cuisine may be a step up from other local options, but not across the board. If you stick to the Dim Sum offerings you may have better luck. The restaurant is nicely designed and comfortable. You can book eight-seat private dining areas but when I asked about that all I got was a price — approximately $30 per head. The menu is large, and perhaps daunting to the uninitiated. There is plenty of parking and they offer take-out for pick up or delivery online. Ma Chinese Cuisine showed us both sides — good, and bad. Try it if you like and I leave the rest up to you, dear diner.
Ma Chinese Cuisine
123 Geneva St.,