Logan Corner has several things going for it: its own parking lot; late hours for night owls (11 a.m. to 3 a.m., midnight on Sundays); and a mammoth menu of 280 items, 80 more on the standard takeout/dine-in menu (plus combo plates), a daily specials sheet, and an all-day dim sum menu. Also, for me at least, the fact that it isn't on Pembina.
That isn't a non-sequitur. Pembina may be the motherlode of Chinese regional cooking, but finding the invisible addresses on buildings set off the street can be a nightmare.
Before Pembina was in full boom, there was Chinatown, where Cantonese cooking predominated and many menus were cookie -cutter versions of each other. So I was excited when I found Logan Corner, with a menu that offered many items I hadn't seen elsewhere. Almost a dozen years later it is still one of the city's longest listings and, more to the point, the kitchen still delivers on most of them. The setting may be nondescript, but it's clean and comfortable, and what it lacks in decor it makes up for in the cooking.
The menu doesn't list appetizers as such, and one superb starter is hidden among the chicken entrees, a cold dish of crunchy, noodle-like jellyfish with generous slices of moist chicken breast and a hint of sesame oil ($10.95). Pan-fried dumplings (listed under snacks) are plump-to-bursting with a gingery chopped pork filling (eight for $7.95). The skin on har gow dumplings (on the dim sum menu) was thick but the shrimp within were good (four for $3.15).
Snow fungus with egg flower soup was new to me -- a delicate broth with shreds of chicken and egg, dark chunks of shiitake and clusters of fabulous snow fungus, with a silky crunch similar to that of jellyfish ($7.75 for the astonishingly generous small size). Perfectly balanced hot sour soup was brimming with the usual cubes of tofu and strips of bamboo shoots, pork and black cloud ear fungi, as well as the less usual tiny shrimp, which were plump for their size, flavourful and juicy (which would describe all the shrimp I had here).
Most of the entrées range from $9.95 to $15.95. There are several of chicken, and I was delighted to find a few made with free-run chicken, and although steamed chicken may not sound exceptional, ours was, with a lovely, delicate flavour, seasoned sparingly with a special salt. Big, beautiful shrimp were lightly dusted with cornstarch, deep fried in their shells with barely a trace of oiliness, and flecked with chili. The dish is also made with shelled shrimp, but I'd stick to those with shells, which are relatively soft, and help preserve the shrimps' juiciness. I also loved the harder-shelled steamed prawns in a surprisingly light and mellow garlic sauce, served on a bed of rice vermicelli.
A savoury hot pot of eggplant with pork in thick brown salted fish sauce was another standout -- yes, there is a faint fish flavour, but in a good way. Our server brought us a dish of deep-fried tofu by mistake, but he left it at no extra charge, and a good thing too, since I might never have ordered it and the tofu was wonderful -- crisp on the outside, and almost creamy within. It was equally good in mapo tofu with ground beef and chili sauce, but note: although it wasn't marked with a red pepper symbol, this dish is always spicy, and in this case it was incendiary.
A Special Vegetable section of the menu does list the inescapable broccoli, but only once. More space is devoted to the far more interesting yu choi, gai lan, snow pea tips and water spinach. The two we tried -- crunchy green beans stir-fried with bits of pork, and gai lan topped by slices of sweet-fleshed basa -- were excellent.
Two homey dishes worth a try are a hot pot of stewed lamb with slices of gluten, meaty black mushrooms and bok choy, and the chopstick-tender braised pork hock, also with bok choy. But I'd skip the deep fried pork chops, with little but crunch to offer, and -- although marked by a red pepper -- so bland and generic they wouldn't have been out of place in any diner.
The list of congees, noodles and fried rice dishes is extraordinarily long (almost 40 items), making choices agonizingly difficult. We finally settled on the thick, chewy Shanghai noodles, stir-fried with shreds of pork and cabbage (mistakenly marked with a pepper, and not in the least spicy), and the chow fan of slippery, flat rice noodles with slightly smoky beef and gai lan.
When it comes to the service, patience may be needed. On my visits -- one on a Saturday night, the other a midweek lunch -- they were doing a brisk takeout business, with only one server to answer the phone, handle the takeout orders and wait on the tables. On both occasions our food came out fairly promptly, but there were few others present and I suspect there might be problems with a full house.
The food was fresh, hot and delicious on both visits, but our male server at dinner couldn't answer many of our questions, and was too harried to be of much help. Lunch was a much more pleasant affair. Despite some problems with communication, the friendly woman who served us was not only able but willing to offer guidance and information. In fact, she was so pleased to do so -- once she realized that we really wanted authentic Chinese food -- she thanked us, twice, once in English, once in Chinese (do jeh, the only Chinese word I know). When you want the best, asking questions is always a good idea -- enthusiasm on your part will often generate enthusiasm on theirs.