Some restaurateurs spend years cultivating their business’s reputation in hopes of someday being dubbed “the best,” but there’s one who runs a Chinese restaurant in Downtown Montreal who’d rather not oversell it. The unvarnished commentary of dishes on restaurant Aunt Dai’s menu, written by the owner, who has requested to be referred to by his last name, Fei, has become the subject of a viral tweet that, as of this morning, has garnered 65,500 likes.
The tweet, posted on Sunday evening, shows screenshots of the owner’s attempt to temper diners’ expectations in descriptions of the restaurant’s orange beef (“Comparing to our General Tao Chicken, this one is not THAT good.”), cumin beef (“We used to have the beef pieces on small sticks but several customers cut their lips by it, thinking it was some hard ingredient”), and sweet and spicy pork strips (“Since I have so high exceptions on this dish, I am not a huge fan for our version to be honest.”)
The online menu also cautions readers when a dish doesn’t conform to Fei’s standard of “real authentic Chinese food,” which is his preference, and when a portion is undersized — as in the case with the spicy shrimp or the salt and pepper shrimp. “The cost of shrimp is expensive, and we always put 13 of them, so it’s a small quantity. With the price tag, we can’t give more. So I just want to warn them,” Fei tells Eater.
Fei tells us he was taken aback when he heard about the outpouring of likes and comments his menu was getting online. “I first heard about it when a journalist from a German newspaper reached out to me. They sent me an email with the link. I thought it was a joke at the beginning, or maybe some spam. But then I clicked it. At first, I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but then I checked again, and saw 58,000 likes. I’m not a Twitter guy, but that seems crazy to me.”
While Fei’s honest, at times acerbic take on his own restaurant’s dishes is drawing applause on Twitter, it isn’t new. He started writing the menu blurbs, of which there are 66, four or so years ago, and completed the project sometime last year. “At the beginning, I just wanted to be honest and warn people about how spicy or greasy something might be. It can be tricky to order traditional Chinese dishes in restaurants, so I just didn’t want people ordering the wrong food and paying $12 or $15 dollars for it. If they don’t eat it, then it is a total waste. That’s the intent behind it.”
Before composing the blurbs, Fei had the idea of creating a YouTube channel that could help prospective diners make their selection. It features lessons on how to write and pronounce the names of dishes and an explainer on how to order at the restaurant. The videos were filmed at the restaurant’s Côte-des-Neiges location six years ago, before it was ravaged in flames and moved to its current Saint-Mathieu Street location. “The quality of the videos is so bad, but the idea of giving people more information about the dishes was already there,” Fei says.
Fei says that Monday, the day after the Tweet was posted, was busier than usual. “Normally, Mondays are more quiet, and after the holiday season, usually business goes down a bit, but we saw a little uptick. If it keeps going like this, it would be really great for us,” he says.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Fei suspected that his restaurant might have to close, but a steady stream of takeout orders and delivery through third-party services has helped keep Aunt Dai afloat. “We are extremely lucky to have a lot of orders, but at the end of the day you don’t make that much. UberEats and DoorDash take so much in commission, so profits are really low. You might break even or make a little extra. Given the environment we’re all in right now, I guess that’s pretty good though,” Fei says.
While Fei is pleased to see the boost in sales, he hopes the added publicity won’t translate to higher expectations among diners: “I don’t want people thinking, ‘Oh, a lot of people are talking about this restaurant, so it must be very good,’ and then they come here and think it’s just average. I just don’t want people to be disappointed, and I don’t want to oversell it.”
Aunt Dai is open daily for takeout or delivery at 1448 St-Mathieu Street.