Monday, June 6, 2011

Woodstone Restaurant (Toronto - Markham)

Update (2/22/14): Woodstone is closed.

My parents live in the northern suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area, so whenever I am in town, I do a fair amount of eating up in the 'burbs.  One of the things I almost always have a hankering for in the Toronto area is Vietnamese pho - or rice noodle soup - if only because I so rarely have it in the US.  Thanks to its substantial Asian population, Toronto certainly has no lack of Vietnamese restaurants.  Woodstone Restaurant, located in the suburb of Markham, is one that I recently discovered thanks to my parents.  Even though the restaurant is Chinese-owned, the cuisine served is a mix of Thai and Vietnamese.

Rare Beef Rice Noodles at Woodstone Restaurant
Rare Beef Rice Noodles ($6.50)
with Sriracha sauce, of course

I ordered the Rare Beef Rice Noodles which came in a light but well-seasoned broth.  Along with the rare sliced beef, the soup also included beef meatballs and sliced cow omasum ("ngau pak yip" in Cantonese), which was a pleasant surprise.  And of course, the pho was accompanied by the must-have condiment, Sriracha sauce.  The serving was quite large, and everything was fresh and tasty.  It is one of the better Vietnamese places in the northern suburbs of Toronto.

As mentioned earlier, despite serving Thai and Vietnamese food, Woodstone Restaurant is Chinese-owned, much like most other restaurants serving any kind of Asian cuisine in the Markham area, which is no surprise considering over 30% of Markham residents identify their ethnic origin as Chinese.  The majority of the Chinese population in Toronto emigrated from Hong Kong just before China took it back from the Brits in 1997.  Due to the patrons being fairly homogeneous, I think many of the Chinese-owned establishments maintained much of their own cultural practices rather than acculturating to the "Canadian way."  Growing up, this was all very normal for me, but it was on this trip that some of the cultural differences in restaurant services suddenly became very salient for me.  Here are some of these cultural differences I've noticed:
  • At a typical sit-down restaurant (and by that I mean most restaurants serving most cuisines), you are assigned one particular server who will assist with all your needs throughout the meal.  At a Chinese-owned restaurant, servers are "free-for-all."  You call out to whomever happens to be closest to you.
  • At a typical restaurant, your server will come to your table at regular intervals (at times interrupting your conversations) to ask how your food is or if there is anything you need.  At a Chinese-owned restaurants, no such interaction happens.  If you need anything, it is your responsibility to get the server's attention.
  • Food is not timed in such a way that everyone's meals will arrive at the same time.  Each dish will come out whenever it is ready.  Of course, Chinese food itself is traditionally enjoyed "family style," so the idea of having all the dishes ready at the same time is moot.
  • In the US, the server presents the check when you are finished with your meal.  In Canada in general, and most certainly at a Chinese-owned restaurant, you have to ask for the check.  In fact, in Canada, it is considered rude for the server to present you with your check before you are ready.  It is as if they are shooing you away.
Come to think of it, I can see how the kind of service I'm describing might seem rude to those unfamiliar with the cultural customs, but it really isn't rudeness at all.  This makes me wonder about my own ignorance of other cultural practices.  What are some other cultural differences in restaurant services out there that I am not aware of?  If any readers out there know of any, I would like to encourage you to chime in in the comments section.  I'm a culture geek and would love to learn more!

Restaurant info:
Woodstone Restaurant
20 Apple Creek Blvd, Unit 2, Markham, ON

Woodstone Restaurant on Urbanspoon