February 22, 2014

Restaurant: Atelier (Ottawa)

On any work trip to Ottawa, I usually go out to a nice restaurant with a previous manager. (Hi Sylvie!) This time, I chose Atelier... and Sylvie has a new favorite restaurant. The food here was unapologetically molecular - super reduced sauces, nitrogen, liberal sous vide and so on.

A tasting menu is all that's available and cutesy names (not a fan, but whatever, the staff seem to enjoy them) tell you almost nothing about what you'll be eating. The dishes are described as they come to the table, however. Nothing was less than interesting/beautiful and a lot of it was really tasty. Service was personable and they had a half-portion-wine pairing that Sylvie enjoyed. On the night we went, we were the only guests, but apparently they can get quite busy.

Highly recommended and good value for an admittedly high price ($110 for the tasting menu). Since I'm not often in Ottawa, I'll be sure to return to see what new creations are produced.

Atelier Restaurant
540 Rochester Street
Ottawa ON K1S 4M1

Continued reading for a dish-by-dish picture/description.

After a concentrated shot of broth (freeze-clarified, I'm pretty sure), Atelier's takes on blinis and (siracha) focaccia were fun.

A beef tartare was delicious with nitrogen frozen cream, sauces and a brushstroke of super-reduced beef broth. I really enjoy tartare and this was one of the best that I've had.

Lentil salad with brined and poached fish was really well balanced with acidic and sweet fruit sauces and another highlight of the meal.

Seared bay scallops were slightly pedestrian with fresh pickled veggies that were a bit acidic for my taste. A Clamato gel underneath wasn't entirely successful and maybe a bit too firm.

While the squash soup was a trifle salty, overall I really enjoyed it. Its companions of fried sweetbreads and shortbread croutons and popcorn really elevated it.

A seafood dish of cuttlefish, eel and puckery rolled anchovies was really fun to eat. The cuttlefish was beautifully tender.

Nitrogen frozen cranberry spaghetti was artfully presented and the fried cubes of halloumi cheese beneath it were delicious.

This chicken dish reminds me that I need to try sous vide chicken still at home. It was delicious and had a torched-crisp skin. The charcoal-grilled eggplant was a bit strong (smoked?) but still enjoyable and the super-reduced broth was great.

More sous vide, this time rabbit, was probably the moistest rabbit that I've had. Sylvie really liked the lean rabbit terrine that accompanied it.

A slice of seared duck breast was pretty standard, though some tiny fried cubes of paneer dusted with zataar seasoning (I'll have to try this in a vegetarian dish, mostly thyme and sumac in this mix) were a great and unusual accompaniment.

The first dessert of raspberry sorbet was sweetly acidic and served with shards of reduced beet juice (interesting and pretty, not sure if I cared for them as a dessert) and grapefruit vesicles (pretty sure they separated these by nitrogen freezing). It was delicious, though a crumble of pulverized fruit loops was more creative than tasty (and presented as a challenge from the server, easily identified... still, they had fun so...).

An assortment of chocolate-mushroom sweets (ice cream, shortbread, meringues) was not as successful for me. Though it was interesting as a novelty, I think I prefer my dessert without mushroom-umami flavor.

The meal was rounded out by lollipops made of lychee sorbet coated with a nitro-frozen passionfruit reduction. It was a light-but-intense way to finish a large meal - we were both stuffed.

Posted by JAY at 03:52 PM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2014

Restaurant: Beckta (Ottawa)

I took a solo trip to Beckta, one of Ottawa's most popular fine dining restaurants, and did their eight course menu ($110). The food was all simply and competently prepared, but it was perhaps not the most exciting experience. Atmosphere and service were first-rate. Though I was one of the first to arrive, the restaurant was fairly busy by the time I left with couples on dates and out-of-town diners.

Enjoyable, but perhaps not my thing.
226 Nepean Street
Ottawa, Ontario

Continue reading for dishes and descriptions.

An amuse buche of duck on crostini and sourdough bread with a caramelized butter were followed by a pair of PEI oysters (mild, small, per usual) with sea berries. No complaints, and perhaps I availed myself of too much bread because I really liked the caramelized butter. Maybe I'll try making it at home (milk powder browned in clarified butter, then processed with fresh butter)... though I don't usually eat butter at home.

Beet salad was fine, but nothing special.

I have yet to figure out how Beckta cooks the black 'beluga' lentils while maintaining their color. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night with its textures and flavors, though I didn't care for the raw cauliflower.

The fish was excellently cooked with a crispy skin and tender moist flesh. My mother would've loved this dish - it reminded me of the black cod dish that was her favorite in Italy.

The skin on the pork belly was terrific - crispy and tender at the same time. The rest of the belly, though, was a bit stringy and dry under the layer of fat.

The portion of duck was very generous. It was very good, though I think it wasn't cut across the muscle fiber - it was a bit (just a bit) rubbery.

The first dessert of lemon curd, gelato and bruleed orange slices was light and delicious.

The second dessert was large (I've not pictured it all) and a bit heavy (and I was kind of full). I couldn't actually finish the salted chocolate ganache. I enjoyed the caramel sauce and the oranges, but the figs weren't great (hardly the fault of the restaurant, but...). And sadly, I don't like figs when they're not great.

Posted by JAY at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2013

Restaurant: Richmond Station

Richmond Station is headed by a winner of Top Chef Canada, Carl Heinrich. It's been getting good reviews and I admired what I saw of Carl's cooking on TV, so I couldn't pass up a chance to try it myself. Weekend reservations are a bit scarce, though.

The tasting menu is not listed on the menu, which is a shame. At $65 (we only saw the price afterward), it's very good value and a lot of fun. The couple beside us was gazing longingly as dish after pretty dish appeared at our table.

- A starter of raw oysters was fine with a standard but nicely executed trio of condiments.
- Charcuterie was more fun, with most of the meats prepared on-site.
- A tiny cup of gazpacho was bright and full of flavor

- Lobster roll was somewhat of a revelation. I had been considering trying a McDonald's lobster roll - they aren't usually available outside of the Maritimes - but this completely killed that curiosity. Briny lobster flavor dominated a very light creamy sauce. The toasted house-made milk bread was perfect, both on its own and paired with the lobster. I could have eaten a loaf of that. It was the dish of the night!

- Quinoa salad was about as good as a salad can be. Sweet corn kernels and nutty white beans were a perfect contrast to creamy hummus. House-made hickory sticks were a clever vegan substitute for bacon that worked really well. The ranch dressing was maybe a bit understated.

- Rabbit stew didn't do anything for me. It was too lean overall, I think. The rabbit was wrapped in prosciutto and cooked separately and the sauce was lightly thickened but lacked richness. The veggies were steamed separately and while perfectly cooked to tender-crisp, were kinda reminiscent of frozen peas and carrots. I prefer stew less as a composed dish and more of a savory union. An accompanying perogi, however, was delicious,

- Seared tenderloin with roasted veggies was a perfectly cooked surprise - the server had thought we only had dessert left and had thoughtfully offered a burger if we were still hungry (we weren't, we were just thoroughly enjoying the food). No complaints, except that I forgot to take a picture.

- Dessert was a bit too restrained for me. Rhubarb sorbet was packed with flavor but just a bit tart for me. Crumbled angel cake was a bit cottony and burnt honey is neat, but not very sweet. I'd like some sweet richness to go with all that acidity. However, it seems like the current fashion is for not-too-sweet desserts.

Service was great, with knowledgeable staff explaining every dish. The chef came out to check on things as well, likely aware of his minor-celebrity status. Refolding dirty napkins by hand still irritates me. (no touch! germy!) But overall, no complaints. A bottle of still water left at the table is appreciated, since I'm a guzzler.

Great value and a fun time. It even feels pretty healthy. Depending on how often the menu changes, I'd like to come back for each season. But also the Station Burger looks tempting. Recommended.

Richmond Station
1 Richmond St W
Mailbox 8
Toronto, ON
M5H 3W4

Posted by JAY at 07:53 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2013

Restaurant: Cambodian Noodle King

Chowhound rarely steers me far wrong (offhand, Sage) and this was no exception. CNK is located in Newmarket's industrial park and I would think they get all of the lunch traffic as the food is cheap and very good.

I was surprised at how large the medium soup was. ($6) The broth was delicious with a mellow garlic aroma, on the verge of being a little salty after I added some siracha sauce (didn't make that mistake twice). I ordered the noodle soup with meatballs, rare beef, tripe and tendon. All of it was very good and the tendon was my favorite part. I returned to order the tendon soup and it didn't disappoint.

Pad Thai noodles might be considered slightly oily, but SUPER delicious - it's the non-ketchup savory style. Shrimps ($9.99) were a miss, though, while nicely cooked, they were completely unseasoned and therefore bland. Upon second try, chicken ($8.49) was better but the noodles are definitely the star. Generous crushed peanuts and tender egg are appreciated. The portion is large - with soup, this would serve two.

I also tried the coconut shake ($2.75) which was freshly made and soothing with the spicy food. I might ask for a little less sweet next time, but it was yummy as-is. The real pity is that after soup and half a portion of noodles, I can't get this without being uncomfortably full.

Service was casual and friendly in perfect balance. Obviously family run, there was always someone to chat with if you wanted to (but I was reading comics and they just checked on me in reasonable intervals).

Minor flaws didn't detract from an otherwise delicious meal. I've already returned (both soup and pad thai are addictive) and I'm looking forward to the next time.

Update: The beef pad thai is definitely the best - the meat is tender(ized) and seasoned. Yum. Also, had a spoonful of spicy pineapple fried rice which was also very good.

110 Pony Dr., Unit 15,
Newmarket, Ontario
L3Y 7B6

Posted by JAY at 08:33 PM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2013

Restaurant: Goulash House

The Goulash House is rather charming. Even the heritage-style Main Street buildings through the windows lend an old-world atmosphere that is comfortable and rustic. Jen and I ordered the "Wooden Platter for 2", which was very hearty. It included a very substantial cabbage roll appetizer. I'm not too fond of cabbage rolls, but this was rich and meaty and I enjoyed it.

The meat platter was fun, but a bit heavy. Everything on it tasted good, though! Jen particularly liked the Weiner Schnitzel and I liked the smoked bacon.

The 7-layer cake was slightly dry. It probably wouldn't be traditional, but it would've benefited from some syrup in the cake layers.

By contrast, this nut-cake looked a bit messy but was delicious and moist. I would definitely order it again.

Service was good natured and friendly. The Hungarian proprietress was happy to discuss the various dishes and even the drinks, bemoaning the recent unavailability of pear schnapps for her favorite cocktail. Trevor was pleased with the vegetarian offerings.

I'll definitely go back to try other dishes.

The Goulash House
200 Main St S, Nemwarket, ON L3Y 3Z2
(905) 235-7122

Posted by JAY at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2013

Restaurant: Osso Bucco Ristorante

Got together with some of the the guys at Osso Buco Ristorante. It was good, but there were some major flaws. Bruschetta was forgettable, while an antipasti plate for two was impressive and easily fed four. The included seafood was very tasty. Servers forgot the bread and were hard to flag down - we were mostly done by the time we got it.

Sean's osso buco wasn't sufficiently tender. Maybe it hadn't cooked long enough or maybe it wasn't submerged enough. Either way, clear miss.

On the other hand, my lamb was perfectly medium rare and deliciously charred. We had the choice of pasta or veg with the main - it would be nice to split the difference. The pasta sauce had an interesting smoky flavor but unfortunately was very sweet. Combined, the net effect was that it resembled BBQ sauce. That can't be the intention.

Tiramisu was fine. I thought it could've been moister with a more assertive coffee soak/flavor. Sean liked it though.

Service throughout was friendly but neglectful - we pretty much had to flag them every time. I grabbed some takeout containers to pack leftovers from a shelf rather than ask - portions were quite generous throughout. By the end of the night, the place was bustling and manageably loud (painting the acoustic ceiling tiles probably didn't help).

Worth a try if you're in the area.

Osso Bucco 341 Main St. N.
Brampton, ON

Posted by JAY at 09:29 PM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2013

Restaurant: Bamboo Legend

Sharon came over to Mississauga for some training, so I met her for dinner and chatting at Bamboo Legend - it was pretty good.

Tom Yum soup was super salty - I don't know if they left the soup evaporating for days or what, but it was definitely over the top salty. Had it been less salty, it would've been really good.

'Authentic' pad thai (as opposed to Fusion, which is also on the menu and has the usual ketchup and spice) was very tasty and not overly sweet Thai fried rice was mild and inoffensive - tasty.

Service was friendly but inattentive.

Tasty enough, but not particularly memorable.

(annoying flash site)

Posted by JAY at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2013

Restaurant: The Black Hoof

How do you get into a popular restaurant at the last minute on a Saturday evening? Well, The Black Hoof doesn't take reservations and we were lucky enough to arrive in time to grab the last table in the early evening. The restaurant specializes in using unusual cuts and it was a memorable meal!

Marrow bones were slightly pedestrian and probably the only thing I wouldn't order again. It was fine. (The marrow at é...)

Oxtail with scallops ($18) was great tasting and interesting - shredded oxtail was breaded and fried and served with seared scallops. Delicate garnishes and sauces balanced the richness with sweet and acid. The texture of the shredded oxtail was slightly disappointing - it lacked the unctuous gelatin of a simple braised bone (but it was much more approachable for people not accustomed to dealing with the flanged bone).

I've no complaints about the pork belly, though ($15). It had the richness and the stickiness of pork fat with seared crispiness. All of that was well balanced with a smooth polenta and fresh tasting shredded greens (brighter tasting than cappuccio probably usually is, I think there was a wisely added acidic dressing).

Foie gras and waffle ($25) was the event of the evening - it was spectacular. This is my favorite foie gras dish ever, including Michelin-starred restaurants like Picasso and Robuchon. It was sweet and savory and rich. Possibly the waffle could be just a bit crisper, but we're talking degrees of perfection here. Squash and pear are perfectly cooked and a perfect pairing. This is a dish I'll get every time and not share again.

Dessert tonight ($9) was an unapologetically sweet, dense almond 'polenta' contrasting with brightly acidic orange curd and sour rhubarb. It was an intense dessert and I really loved it. I'm not sure I'd always order dessert (especially if I didn't share the foie waffle) but we had shared everything else.

Service was attentive, informative and friendly, even though the atmosphere was relaxed. One minor nitpick - when a paper napkin was left unattended, waitstaff folded it into a pretty fan. But they really shouldn't be excessively handling a soiled napkin. Simply replacing it (or even leaving it) is a better option. (High-end restaurants use dedicated staff... with tongs.)

I look forward to returning here repeatedly to try some different dishes... and the foie waffle - which is rich not to share but to hell with it. Eventually I'll return to the pork belly too. Dave and I shared the dishes (staff replaced small appetizer plates) with the exception of dessert and the above selections with a basket of perfectly crusty bread were a perfect amount of food.

Highly recommended.

The Black Hoof
928 Dundas Street West
Toronto ON M6J 1W3
416 551 8854 (no reservations)

Posted by JAY at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2012

Restaurant: La Pergola (Rome)

We were in Rome for a few days prior to going on a 14 night cruise, so I took my mom to Rome's 3-Michelin star Italian restaurant: La Pergola. It's view from the top of the Rome Cavalieri is breathtaking, and everyone was seated out on the terrace. It was slightly warm, but worth it for the view.

Amberjack tartare was a tasty, tiny starter. The peach puree was acidic enough to cut through the richness of avocado and complement the clean fish flavor.

The Italian-sushi dish was one of my favorites of the night. There was nothing Japanese about it. The nori was represented by powdered olive. A perfect slice of tuna (not sure how they grilled it that delicately) was topped with a chopped funnel 'rice' layer and red onion 'ginger' - apparently from an Italian varietal that is red all the way through. It was creative and delicious.

A broth fish soup called "The Sea" was ok but didn't taste overly special - It seemed more about the presentation than anything else. You can see the chef make it here. It was a briney fish soup.

Green tortellini wish clams and squid were delicious, as were tempura shrimp over a squid puree. Interestingly, I didn't really love a black cod dish that we had been advised to skip by someone at Chowhound but it was my mom's favorite dish of the night.

My other favorite dish of the night was the lamb shanks, which were cooked to medium rare sous vide - a preparation that allowed the shanks to cook for a long time and become tender while not cooking past medium rare. The flavors were familiar and savory while being deliciously different.

After an Italian cheese course with some interesting fruit breads, many tiny desserts were presented for our enjoyment. My favorites were a coconut sorbet quenelle in lemongrass light syrup (I could've eaten a lot more of this), some coconut hot chocolate that was not too sweet and some chocolate dipped cones of lemon sorbet. But the other desserts were all good - some surprisingly so. An anise cake was surprisingly delicate and enjoyable (I don't ordinarily like licorice flavor). The rolled gelee lollipop was the only real miss - I still haven't had the equal of a tender gelee in a Quebec restaurant.

Overall, the meal was very satisfying. The focus on seafood meant it was a bit lighter than other tasting menus and let us enjoy the varied desserts at the end of the meal. It was definitely less bombastic than the Vegas fine dining restaurants that I've dined at, but more consistent - fewer hits and only one miss.

Other than a slight snafu with the water (mom was drinking sparkling, mine was still - they got confused a couple times) service was attentive and friendly. I'm not sure if it was because of the water confusion, but they only charged us for the first bottles of water, which was appreciated. At the end of a long meal, the head chef, Heinz Beck, came around for compliments and photos.

La Pergola
Rome Cavalieri
Via Alberto Cadlolo 101,
00136 Rome, Italy

Posted by JAY at 01:50 PM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2012

Restaurant: Lai Wah Heen

Dave accompanied me to this acclaimed Chinese restaurant. Overall, I was slightly disappointed with their tasting menu, but there were some high points. The first course, the suckling pig 'pinwheels' were truly a fine specimen. I'd go back for a larger portion of this.

The cassava soup (not pictured) that followed was uninspiring, though there were some good chunks of crab in there and the ordinarily fibrous cassava was impressively pureed smooth. These scallop mousse pretty, but similarly unimpressive - they were too heavily oyster sauced and somewhat spongy. I would've preferred plain old seared scallops.

This lobster dish was not very Chinese - the heavy cheese sauce overwhelmed the lobster somewhat. Chicken served with mushrooms was a tasty morsel and was accompanied by heavy but yummy fried rice that supposedly had duckling and fois gras (not pictured). Dessert isn't really a Chinese specialty and some ice cream, cake and fruit didn't contradict that.

Service was pleasantly attentive and unintrusive and the surroundings were pleasant, but wine was only available by the bottle (Dave would've liked a copy. An interesting invalid with a buxom 'companion' provided some human interest. Another family got a really great looking peking duck that might be worth returning to try.

But overall, It wasn't quite worth the expense - which is a bit wierd, because given the first class ingredients (suckling pig, crab, lobster, duckling, fois gras), it should have been quite worth the moderately high price. But with the exception of the pork, those ingredients weren't displayed to best effect.

Still, I wouldn't mind trying some of the other things on the menu - like the aforementioned peking duck. Sadly, they don't seem to have the suckling pork on the menu.

Lai Wah Heen at the Metropolitan Hotel
108 Chestnut Street
Toronto, Ontario
Canada, M5G1R3

$120/person, incl tax and tip.

Posted by JAY at 09:36 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2012

Restaurant: Sage (Las Vegas)

Sage was awful. That sounds strong, but I really hated it. AND I had dragged about 10 people there, because they were too frugal to go to é or Robuchon. So THEN I had to pretend to not hate it, because some of them were OK with it and I didn't want to impinge on their enjoyment, while feeling guilty that this had been their fine dining Vegas experience.

The food was somewhat one-dimensional. The bison terrine amuse bouche - salty, like liver pate on a spoon. The artichoke salad was just salty and acidic - there was nothing rich or sweet to cut the acidity. My main course of pan roasted fluke was similarly acidic - doused in lemon and served with super tart apple. The peanut butter and chocolate dessert was fine, very sweet and quite rich, but at least different textures and flavors. A parting shot of caramel hot chocolate was so sickly sweet that I couldn't do more than taste it. It tasted like melted Werthers Originals... with added sugar.

I just... I don't know. I think I enjoyed random burgers more than what I had here. It's had some rave reviews from the folks at Chowhound, so maybe it was just this particular menu. In retrospect, the menu was only $50, so compared to the $100 Gallagher's, maybe it wasn't that bad a value.

Aria, Las Vegas

Posted by JAY at 12:28 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2012

Restaurant Review: Gallagher's Steakhouse

This was a bit of a disappointment - I went with the recommended "21-day dry aged signature sirloin". It was large, but that was about it. It was pretty chewy - I've had better grocery sirloin steaks off of Trevor's bbq. And that seemed to be the universal opinion of everyone who ordered it. People who went for different cuts were happier with their meals (but then, filet mignon will pretty much always be tender). Sides were expensive but comparatively good.

Still, for around $100 bucks, I'd prefer The Keg as better value (and I don't eat at The Keg because it's not great value).

Gallagher's Steakhouse
3790 Las Vegas Blvd S, New York New York Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas
NV 89109

Posted by JAY at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2012

Restaurant: é by Jose Andres Part 5

Ok, entering the home stretch! The desserts! It started with the cheese course, "Orange Pith Puree La Serena" The cheese was served in a parmesan tuille with a spiral of not-bitter pith puree. It was an enjoyable cheese course - very balanced. (I did slightly prefer the Robuchon cheese course, though, with its varied cheeses and lingering... maybe just a style difference.)

This is the best version of flan that many of us at the table have ever had. It's hard to pin down why it was SO good - it had a freshness that flans don't usually have. We asked if we could get it at the more conventional sister restaurant, Jaleo, but the servers told us that the Jaleo flan was more 'traditional'. Rats.

Arroz Con Leche was a cone of perfumed creamy-yet-light rice pudding layered with contrasting sour lemon sorbet. It was disappointingly small, considering how great it tasted. But we were getting full anyway.

Pan Con Chocolate was more interesting than delicious - although it was cool how well the chocolate paired with the olive oil. Apparently this combination is classic in parts of Spain, though not in this form.

I don't know if I was full or what, but this last course didn't do it for me. The fizzy paper was just novelty, and mostly just acidic tasting. "Air Chocolate" was really just aerated chocolate (think Aero but lighter). The Bizcocho was very nice and light tasting - the novelty being that it was cooked for 25 seconds in the microwave.

Overall, this was a fantastic experience. Service and atmosphere was incredible - maybe the best I've experienced. The staff were super knowledgeable and friendly and involved in the preparation - they could answer ANYTHING. The fellow diners contributed to the ambiance - the seating arrangement encourages discussion and the byzantine reservation process ensures that you're surrounded by people who really appreciate food and want to share their delight.

Not all of the dishes were terrific, but none were less than interesting. Having several stunners is enough to make me want to return over and over again: bone marrow, flan, sea urchin (OMG), orange cucumber drink (and the drinks in general!).

Great pix that I didn't take can be found here.

é by José Andrés
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard, South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
T 702 698 7959 F 702 442 7069
Cost: Um, I forget... around $300 bucks, including tax, tips and drinks... more if you're having alcohol.

Posted by JAY at 10:31 PM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2012

Restaurant: é by Jose Andres Part 4

This meal was never-ending - a lot of fun to eat, but a real pain to recap! The diners around the table were having fun dissecting each dish though! Lobster with Citrus and Jasmin was tender and juicy and so flavorful. Interestingly, the citrus was orange pith puree and it was great. When asked, we were told that it was blanched many times in cold and hot water to remove the bitterness.

Turbot with bone marrow. The fish was really really good - it was perfectly cooked with crispy skin and the gelatinous flesh near the fin was also served. But the bone marrow was OMG. I asked how it was made... apparently it was soaked in constantly changing salt water to extract all blood, then cut, coated with flour and cooked in super hot shallow oil. Sigh, that does not sound doable at home. Outrageously, one of my seatmates "did not eat marrow" and didn't try it! I wanted it, but she'd already mucked around in her plate before offering it to me.

Rosemary wild mushrooms in Papillote was pretty straightforward - a mushroom soup with rather strong rosemary foam. Not sure that the papillote added anything - it tasted very "cooked" - not very fresh tasting.

Posted by JAY at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2012

Restaurant: é by Jose Andres Part 3

Secreto of Iberico pork with Squid was delicious - I really enjoyed it. I'm not sure I bought into the whole sotry about how it was a secret cut from the special pig - but it was super savory and the squid was tender with crispy tentacles and full of grilled flavor. While it was definitely some of the best pork I've had, I can't say that it left more than a brief delicious impression. It was served in a reduced jus that was delicious and reminiscent of roast drippings.

Spherified Sangria... spherification again. It was a good palate cleanser but nothing special. I much prefered Robuchon's amuse bouche take on sangria, even though spheres are definitely fun to eat.

Arutichoke puree with vanilla sauce and lemon foam did nothing for me. It was fine. I've noticed that other people got it with shaved truffles, which were absent from my rendition.

Finally a really good example of spherification! It was both inventive and tasty chick pea stew/soup - in reverse. The sauce was pureed chick peas while the peas were spheres of ham broth that burst into saltiness. It was clever, but more importantly, it was delicious.

Posted by JAY at 09:27 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2012

Restaurant: é by Jose Andres Part 2

A bite of chicken on crispy chicken skin was not particularly special, but enjoyable nonetheless. I have to say, this meal was my introduction to foams in a few dishes and I don't think I care for them as a flavour delivery vehicle.

The José Taco of Iberico ham and caviar was a bit one-dimensional - flavorful but salty.

This was my first really dedicated experience with spherification (where a liquid is manipulated into a gel sphere)and it was interesting but not spectacular take on an olive. Interesting, because it had the olive flavor caried by water instead of fat.

Bocata de Calamares - with seared uni (sea urchin) instead of calamares (squid) was the the best sandwich and the best uni that I've ever had (I've only ever had it raw on sushi). It was served on a fried brioche bun with a complementing aoli. I could've eaten ten of these things - it was one of the best things I've eaten, ever. This and the cucumber/orange drink really did it for me.

Posted by JAY at 01:56 PM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2012

Restaurant: é by Jose Andres Part 1

A resounding 21 mini-course intimate dinner with only 8 seats (getting reservations is rather involved), the chefs plated each dish in front of us. With so few diners sharing a table and a non-advertised reservation process, everyone was really friendly and eager to share their foodie impressions of each dish. Dishes were nothing less than interesting and many were amazing! Asking the chefs qustions about the preparations was a unique experience..

One of the things that I apprecited the most was that I could choose a non-alcoholic drink pairing instead of the wine pairings. Even though the non-alcoholic pairing was cheaper, I felt the creativity and care put into the drinks were gratifying. Infused cool ginger fruit tea (also a fave!), tomato flavored waters, cider gold dust shots, berry sparkling waters... all were a lot of fun. But the pictured cucumber orange tonic was one of the best drinks i've ever had! The blend of flavors was indescribably refreshing.

I asked them how the tomato water was made, apparently it was just a pinch of salt, a bit of syrup and crushed roma tomatos strained. It was super umami but very light.

The first course was whimsical in presentation but not mindblowing. Beet jewellery tasted like beet chips, caramelized pork rinds were better versions of the usual pork rinds, the "Clavel" was tasty but unmemorable.

Apple Brazo de Gitano was a super-light apple meringue around a creamy strong cheese. Refreshing and tasty, almost like a palate cleanser.

The Nitro Almond Cup was a liquid-at-room-temperature shell with a caviar filling. An intensely interesting bite that was very balanced in richness, salt, citrus.

To be continued in part 2!

Posted by JAY at 12:36 AM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2012

Restaurant: Robuchon Vegas

One of the things that I really wanted to do was try the only restaurant in Vegas to have earned 3 Michelin stars. The atmosphere of Robuchon was compelling. I was tucked away in a smaller, more intimate room with a living wall of greenery and flowers and sky. Through the window I could see the restaurant proper. Given the added privacy, I could take photographs and linger without feeling out of place. I had my doubts about how much I would enjoy it, especially solo. But in the end, I enjoyed it immensely - ESPECIALLY solo... because I lingered for almost 4 hours with me, my food and my Kindle :)

I did the 6 course prix fixe and it almost defeated me... actually, it kinda did defeat me. Do the 4 course if you're not a big eater (I am!)... though the mains seem to vary in how substantial they are. When you add the amuse bouche, bread and dessert cart... well, it's quite the feat. But I needed to do the 6 course to increase my chances of getting some 'best-ever's'

After a fun and dramatic amuse bouche of gelled sangria (yum!) which was covered with a tangerine foam that was tart, sweet, refreshingly cool, I got a bit concerned because the soup and appetizer were very good but not quite to my taste. The foie gras was served cubed and cold (not my preference) in a creamy cool soup. It was savory and well balanced both texturally and taste-wise. The artichoke soup was very similar, though hot, and I wish the server would've mentioned that (but service was otherwise impeccable). At this point, I was starting to wonder if Robuchon wasn't quite living up to the hype.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first main, though - La Langoustine - spiny lobster in a herb sauce. Strangely, there was a tiny stuffed squid component that went unmentioned in the description that I enjoyed all out of proportion with it's size. I asked for some lean crusty bread to mop up the remains of my herb sauce and to eat with my next dish.

My second course, Le Canard, finally gave me a 'best ever' experience. Rich seared foie and slices of duck were perfectly balanced with tart-but-sweet fruit and crispy rings of shallot. It was also served with the famous Robuchon mashed potatoes - a tad rich for my tastes, but delicious nevertheless and an experience... it's about half butter by weight but perfectly emulsified. It made this dish much more substantial than the previous main.

At this point I was, frankly, full. I warned the attentive server that I'd likely linger over the cheese course (which really, I only ordered to get the 2 mains) and let him select a variety of cheeses for me. I ended up reading and nibbling for a good while and LOVED the cheeses. I was unable to finish them, though, and I asked them to wrap my two favorites for me to take with me (I have no pride and I enjoyed them over the next 2 days). The comté, in particular, I'll be looking for.

Ellen Ost, on Chowhound, suggested requesting Le Sucre for dessert instead of the options listed. It was amazing, possibly the best dessert I've ever had - and definitely the most beautiful. I think the filling varies from what I've read - mine contained the mascarpone lemon cream, but it had a smooth mango ice (nitro? there were no crystals, it was perfectly smooth) studded with spherified passion fruit liquid that burst into tart sweetness. Oh, and pop rocks. I was UTTERLY full to the point where probably things weren't tasting as good, but this actually had me laughing like a maniac (and trying to hide it in a napkin). I licked up every last bit. When I look online, there are many rave reviews of this dessert, but with different fillings. Mine was better. I just can't help but think this, because nothing could be better. I'm actually slightly depressed because I won't get to have this as often as I would like to have it.

At this point, I was sad when the sweets cart came around, because there was no way I could do it justice. I selected an almond tuille (sweet nicely balanced with lemon), a ginger jelly (too firm) and a vanilla macaron (too sweet)... but being stuffed probably jaundiced my tastes - I didn't finish the last two.

Upon leaving, I regretted not selecting some of the chocolates and was delighted/grateful to be presented with a chocolate bar in a gift bag. I savored that chocolate (maybe not as good as Chuao or Porcelana but perfectly and beautifully tempered) for days.

Service was flawless - formal yet friendly, attentive but unobtrusive. When I refilled my own water (a bit pricy charge for Evian, but actually the Vegas tap water is not great, so I appreciated it), the server realized that I prefer not to empty my glass before having it refilled. I wouldn't have minded refilling it myself, but appreciated the attention to detail.

Pricey? Oh yeah. The meal came to about $400. Worth it? Definitely. I'd actually recommend consulting with the server extensively to ensure you get the right choices for you... light vs substantial, cool vs hot.

Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas
MGM Grand

PS. shout out to William, the HILARIOUS trust fund brat at the next table, for entertaining me with Obama bashing, knowing "everything" about restaurants and wines, and calling other people arrogant. I'm sorry for laughing. But it's totally your friends' fault for calling you out on every bit of your schtick!

Posted by JAY at 11:23 PM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2012

Restaurant: Babu

It's a shame I'm not often in the area, because this little Sri Lankan/Indian takeout place is super cheap and really tasty. Unfortunately, there's no sit down restaurant, only takeout. However, everything is laid out cafeteria style, which is great for pointing at dishes that look interesting. I bought a ton and ate this for a week.

Chicken Tikka, breast meat looked dry and was. $1.50/piece
Mutton Masala curry was very tasty but a bit tough.. $3.95
Mutton rolls, deep fried wrapped rolls, similar to spring rolls, were interesting but I'd rather try other stuff next time. $1

Goat Masala curry had the same spiciness as the mutton, but added that yummy goat flavor. $3.95
Basmati rice was enough for 3 generous portions and just $2.45

OMG-will get every time:
Large tandoori chicken quarters were moister than I've had before (cooked in a clay oven, stripped of skin and slashed to let the seasonings penetrate, they're usually somewhat dry). @2.50/quarter
Veggie samosas had a non-traditional wrapper that I liked much better than phyllo but not as much as traditional, but the stuffing was especially savory, even though quite mild. Super cheap at $1/3 pieces
Kadai Chicken curry was SUPER good, tender boneess chicken thighs in a rich mild sauce. $4.45

Taxes were included in the prices, which is welcome though a bit odd. Service was efficient and friendly.

A large meal for three could be had with rice, 6 samosas,2 kadai chicken curries and 3 tandoori chicken quarters for $8 per person. I'll have to try their naan and roti the next time I return. Samosas are dangerously cheap and addictive, it's a good thing I'm not nearby or I'd be eating 3 every time I passed it.

Babu Catering and Takeout
4800 Sheppard Ave East Unit 201-2
Scarborough, ON

Posted by JAY at 03:47 AM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2011

Restaurant: Memphis BBQ and Wicked Wings

Memphis BBQ is a tiny joint in Woodbridge from which wonderful smells emanate. Get there early if you want to eat in - there's not a lot of seating and it filled in fast. The food, however, did not quite meet the promise of the aroma.

Smoked side ribs were the highlight of the meal., large, tender and nicely sauced. Smoked wings, on the other hand, were tough. Honestly, I've never had smoked wings that were good - the long cooking always toughens them and robs them of precious moisture. The spicy sauces on the wings were just ok - they were a bit acidic. The sweet sauces were much better.

The sides were a mixed bag - baked beans and slaw were fine. The corn bread would've been improved by putting the slice briefly on a hot grill - it was cold. The fries, though, were heinous - coated frozen fries. I left them and would recommend trying a different side instead.

Memphis BBQ and Wicked Wings
8074 Islington Ave
Woodbridge, Ontario
L4L 1W5

Posted by JAY at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2011

Restaurant Review: Le Tartuffe (Gatineau)

Delayed post: Ate here in December 2010

I was mildly disappointed by my meal at Le Tartuffe ($65 w/tax and tip, with dessert but no drinks)

On the recommendation of the server, I started with oysters with a raspberry mignonette. It was OK, but nothing particularly special. Next time, I would go with an appetizer off the menu. Tomato pepper cream soup, however, was delicious and well-balanced between acidity and richness.

Unfortunately, the game stuffed quail main was slightly overdone and both tough and dry. The game stuffing could've used some larding or something to add moistness. The berry creme brulee was very good, though.

Service was very friendly and professional. The atmosphere was refined, if a bit dark.

Le Tartuffe (www.letartuffe.com)
133, Notre-Dame-de-l'Île street, Gatineau (Québec) J8X 3T2 CANADA
Telephone : 819-776-6424
Fax : 819-776-5980

Posted by JAY at 12:50 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2011

Restaurant Review: Navarra (Ottawa)

Delayed post: Ate here in January 2011

Navarra was awesome. We made an evening reservation.

I started with a Sunset Gin ($12), a mistake, since I just don't like alcohol. But the Pintxos appetizer plate for 2 ($7) and roasted beet salad ($4) were yummy as was the bread served with apple butter. The best were the mains, though - the meats, especially!

My adobo pig cheek ($34) was amazing, rich and tender. The prawn that it was served with burst with flavor and I was sucking on the shells to extract every last bit. A companion's braised beef was similarly unctious.

Service and atmosphere was intimate and unobtrusive. The bill was expertly split as well.

I cannot wait to return.

93 Murray Street
Ottawa, Ontario

Posted by JAY at 12:47 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2010

Restaurant:Grand Chinese Cuisine

Is high-class dim sum an oxymoron? Not at Grand Chinese Cuisine.

Sean and I trekked out for lunch to try this restaurant that Chowhound recommended. By and large, we weren't disappointed. Everything was quite tasty and there were some real standout dishes. Sean, of course, had to be DRAGGED to the restaurant whining that he 'didn't like dim sum'. I didn't let that disturb me, since he always does that ("I don't like sushi!"... "no food could be worth that!") Sure enough, he tasted the first dish and sheepishly promised, "Ok, I won't doubt you about food again."

I'll be holding him to that.

Details below...

I ordered a lot of dim sum standards in order to compare them to the same dishes elsewhere. Sure enough, Grand tried to add a bit of uniqueness to each dish. Everything was slightly better than usual and some dishes were superb. Dim sum was cooked to order, fried dishes were the least greasy I've ever had. Service was perfection - dishes were brought at a perfect pace, piping hot (in fact, be very careful). All desserts were brought at the end of the order.

The standards:
Har gow, steamed shrimp dumplings, were huge. Flecks of fresh herbs looked pretty but didn't contribute any noticeable flavor. However, the large shrimps in the filling were juicy and not at all greasy.

Siu mai, steamed pork dumplings, encased a whole shrimp and were topped with a slice of scallop and red/black fish roe. I don't really like siu mai... these compared favorably, but didn't really change my opinion.

Char siu bao, steamed bbq pork buns were really well done. The dough was nice and moist, not over-leavened and the filling was tender and juicy. Traditionally not my favorite things, these were good. Sean really liked them and ate 2 out of 3 - whew, too filling for me!

Shrimp chong fan, rolled sheets of rice noodle enrobing large shrimps, was good. Kernels of corn were the 'twist' here, adding a bit of texture, but otherwise the dish tasted pretty standard.

Pan fried turnip cake was presented very attractively and otherwise, less greasy and salty than usual. To me, it didn't taste much different, but Sean really enjoyed it.

Shrimp spring rolls had to be the least oily deep fried food that I've ever had. Ultra crisp and no oil left on the fingers. That's skillful deep frying.

The awesome:
Fried curry calamari was CRAZY good. The curry was not overpowering, the batter was crisp and not greasy and the calamari was as tender as I've ever had it.

Grand scallop dumplings were an interesting variation on har gow that I would definitely order instead of har gow.

Egg tarts were a total crime. These are the smallest, most expensive egg tarts I've had - and they're totally worth it. Seriously, they're SO good. They tasted like they had just come out of the oven and were cooled to the perfect warmth (baking while we were eating?). Filling was perfectly, barely set and shell was crisp and tender. I just wish they would hear my plea: leave out the swallow's nest garnish to make them CHEAPER.

Deep fried miniature custard buns were something I hadn't encountered before. The custard inside was rich but a bit firm, but delicious nevertheless. The dough was super crispy and very well fried. It was strange, when we first tried them, we were both kind of 'eh' (could have something to do with the fact that we were really full) but as we nibbled they started tasting better and better. I ended up liking them. Sean ended up loving them.

Ok, so how much did this all set us back? $40 bucks each, including tea, soda, tax and tip. Not bad, considering that we ordered waaaay too much (and I think I forgot a dish). Probably we could've done with 3 or 4 fewer dishes, reducing the cost by about $10. But I wanted to sample lots of stuff and we had both skipped breakfast. But we still left stuffed.

Atmosphere was less understated than most dim sum places - the room looks like a wedding reception hall. When I return, it'll be on a weekend so that I can try stuff off of the slightly expanded weekend menu (deep fried coconut buns!).

Between the trip to get there and the expense... it's something I won't do as often as I'd like. But whenever I'm in the area, I'll pop in for some good dim sum (which will include calamari and egg tarts)!

Grand Chinese Cuisine

Double Tree
655 Dixon Road
Etobicoke, ON
M9W 1J3
Tel: 416-248-9898

Posted by JAY at 07:08 PM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2009

Restaurant: Akita

Akita is a new all-you-can-eat sushi place in Bradford and it's pretty tasty. In fact, it's my new favorite AYCE sushi place - the sushi tastes slightly better than Ajisai (and a bunch better than Sushi Itto). The sushi selections are a bit more limited and not very creative, but they offer a lot of non-sushi dishes as well. The sushi is a little loosely made, but seems to be freshly made upon order, as the slightly warm rice attests to. Fried items arrive piping hot.

Service is a bit inattentive, but polite and cheerful. Lunch is just 13 bucks and dinner $19-21. A 10% gratuity is added to the bill, which is both obnoxious and a bit low. Personally, I think they would do better not charging the tip, as the standard tip is around 15%.


456 Holland St. W., Unit 1

Posted by JAY at 09:17 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2009

Vegas Restaurant: Cafe Giorgio

We didn't actually eat a meal here - the bar serves really cheap appetizers and drinks in the afternoons and we passed by a couple times to have a quick bite. The prices are heavily discounted, around 5 bucks a dish, 3 bucks for a beer and 4 bucks for well drinks (rum and coke, lemonade and vodka, etc).

We had calamari and arancini. The calamari was pretty standard, but served with a very savory dipping sauce. The arancini were a bit different, the balls of rice were mixed with a brown meat sauce before being breaded and deep fried.

The bartender was friendly, with entertaining stories about how it was living in Vegas and encounters with rude 'celebrities'.

Cafe Giorgio

Posted by JAY at 09:38 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2009

Vegas Restaurant: Lotus of Siam

Lotus of Siam is a Thai restaurant that garners rave reviews from many sources. Entering the restaurant for lunch, we were immediately enveloped by tantalizing aromas. When we ordered, the attentive waitress asked us how hot we would like our dishes, on a scale of one to ten. We generally like spicy things, so we responded "six". Hoo! Most of the dishes at this restaurant come loaded with tiny thai bird chiles. Anything hotter than what we got would've been past the point where we could enjoy it. If I'm ever in the area again, however, I'm thinking a "three" might be the way to go!

That being said, most of the food was pretty tasty. Details are below.

Sean ordered the tempura shrimp, and I should've protested more vigorously... japanese cuisine in a thai restaurant? It was just ok, and a bit overly battered.

Koong Sarang ( Prawn in a blanket ), by contrast, was delicious. How could it not be? It was shrimp and bacon wrapped in spring roll skin and deep fried.

The big disappointment was the VERY highly recommended (online at Chowhound) Nam Kao Tod, rice fried until it's slightly puffed and crispy, with peanuts and sausage. Unfortunately, the lime sourness was pretty overwhelming and ruined what might've been a texturally very interesting and otherwise tasty dish. I think that I have a limited appreciation of sour - but Sean didn't like it at all either.

Spicy fried chicken wings were very good, though not very memorable. Sean really enjoyed them, though.

After all those appetizers, we shared a Drunken Noodle Sea Bass dish. It was very tasty and I enjoyed it a lot - but it could've use some more noodles to eat the tasty sauce with.

I really wanted to try the highly recommended mango and sticky rice, but we were really full by this time and settled for coconut ice cream. The nice thing about it was that there were chunks of fresh coconut throughout the ice cream, which added a lot of extra enjoyment as compared to the coconut ice cream that I've had before. Of course, the frustrating part was that it was all white, so it was impossible to pick out the coconut to divide the coconut with each spoon of ice cream.

Overall, I enjoyed our meal here. If I were local to this restaurant, I would definitely return and try various dishes. The prices, if you're not ordering many different things, like we were, are pretty reasonable too.

953 E. Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89104
Tel. (702)735-3033

Posted by JAY at 02:58 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2009

Restaurant: Picasso

Picasso is (also) a two michelin star french restaurant at base of the Bellagio. It's a perfect place for a french restaurant - it overlooks the famous musical fountains which put on an impressive musical display every half hour. And across the street is the Paris casino with a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower. It makes for quite an impressive view from the tables. The tables are set at an angle to provide an optimum view to both diners. The diners are seated on adjacent sides of the table instead of across from each other, giving a good view to both and also making conversation a lot easier and quieter.

A number of actual Picasso paintings hang on the walls. And since this isn't a museum, they don't mind if you take pictures, since they're not selling prints. I didn't use flash though, since I didn't want to make a spectacle of myself.

Between the paintings and the vaulted brick ceiling, the atmosphere is perfection. So is the service, who managed to be both ever-present and unobtrusive. A couple times, I didn't actually notice them until they did something. When I returned from the bathroom, someone was repositioning my chair while I was sitting back down - but not moving it enough that I was uncomfortably surprised when I didn't notice them. And I didn't realize that they had replaced my napkin until Sean went to the bathroom and they replaced his. Likewise with cutlery replacement.

We had reservations at 7pm but actually showed up at 6 without realizing it. They weren't fazed by it at all, in fact, they didn't say that we were an hour early, so when we left after seeing the fountains 6 times, we were concerned about seeing the show we had booked. We probably did them a favor, and let them get an extra seating at our table. It wasn't busy when we got there (they open at 6) but it was getting full as we left. But I'm glad we got there early - with no one in the restaurant I could wander and look at the Picassos over the tables and we got to see the fountains in daylight and night.

And the food...

Menu Degustation

Amuse Bouche
Corn Chowder, spear of quail egg, caviar, salmon-wrapped mascarpone cheese

Was this EVER good. It doesn't look like much, but the corn chowder was ultra rich and ultra smooth. And SO tasty. The tiny amount was perfect because it was so very rich - but it did leave me wishing that I had more. Sean's eyes totally lit up when he was drinking it and he sheepishly admitted that possibly pricey restaurants COULD be worth the price. The fish and eggs was also very tasty. Mmm.

Maine Lobster Salad
Apple-Champagne Vinaigrette

This lobster salad was even BETTER. It was my second favorite dish of the night. Huge, juicy pieces of lobster with a very light, slightly sweet, not-too-acidic dressing. Even the garnishes were delicious. Sean agreed and really enjoyed the wine that was paired with this dish - he did the wine pairings for an extra $68. I don't really appreciate good wine from bad - so I splurged on something else...

Pan Seared Sea Scallop
Potato Mousseline and Jus de Veau, potato chip

Sean's verdict on this was "I could eat another ten of these!" I'm not sure how special it was, but it WAS a perfectly seared scallop in a delicious reduction of veal juices. And the "potato mousseline" was pretty much a potato puree but it had lovely texture. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but it wasn't memorable to me.

Sauteed "A" Steak of Foie Gras
Honey Muscat Poached Pears with Creme Fraiche Gastrique, Brioche and Crushed Almonds

I forgot to turn my flash off for this picture. Oops! By this time, it was getting dark, so that's why my subsequent pictures really suck. I had never had foie before - but this was really good. It was like a rich, fatty gel that reminded me of bone marrow, if bone marrow could be seared. I really enjoyed this, though partially for the novelty factor. The dish could've used more bread, though. The 'brioche' was really just a thin square underneath the foie. A bit more carbs to go with the fat would have been perfect. Sean wasn't sold on the texture but enjoyed the flavor.

Japanese Kobe Beef Filet (me)
Jus, Potato Mousseline, Vegetables

OH MY GOD. This cost an extra hundred bucks, but it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. This beef was like butter. It was softer than the trumpet mushrooms that accompanied it. It was also full of flavor - probably due to the invisible but tasty fat content that is ordinarily absent in this, the leanest part of the cow. I gave Sean a chunk to try and he was similarly impressed. Ordinarily, I'd have a hard time spending $100 on a piece of meat - but I have to say, I'd have a hard time resisting getting this again.

Sauteed Filet of Halibut (Sean)
Ragout of Corona Beans, Serrano Ham, Vegetables and Mushrooms

Sean's fish, on the other hand, was simply ordinary tasting and really the only disappointment in this meal. I actually preferred the drunken noodle sea bass that we got at a Vegas Thai restaurant to this. The other option was lamb, and Sean wasn't sure that he liked lamb... but in retrospect, he should've had the lamb. In fact, we should've sent this back and asked if he could've had a kobe filet instead!

Chocolate Fondant molten cake, Peanut Butter ice cream (Sean)
Poached Quince, wine sorbet, creme caramel (me)

Sean really enjoyed his dessert of chocolate molten cake and peanut butter ice cream. I had a taste, and it was wonderful, but I wanted to chose something that I hadn't tried before. The poached quinces were certainly interesting, sort of a apple/pear/citrus hybrid, but very dense. Sean didn't like them at all. The wine sorbet was very refreshing tasting and the creme caramel was super rich and just barely solid. I was wishing for more creme caramel, it was pretty tiny and very good.

Sean was full after our meal, so I got to eat all of the little tray of delicacies that followed the meal, an assortment of cookies (including a meringue), chocolates (truffles), tiny pieces of cake (carrot cake) and bars. They were very tasty, but I was pretty full by that point too.

The main triumph of the night was that Sean, who went into the restaurant whining that it was crazy to spend this much on food (total bill: $500 incl tax and tip) admitted that it was worth it - and that he would definitely come back (and even order the kobe). Without the wine pairing and the kobe, the price is only $123/person plus tax and tip.

Definitely a highlight of the trip and recommended.

Posted by JAY at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2008

Restaurant: Sofra Grill

This is my new favorite restaurant. Trev and I came here after looking at his new house's foundation. I always order the same thing: a chicken shawarma pita which is tasty, stuffed with curry spiced chicken and big enough to satisfy amply as a meal. At $6, it's an absolute steal. Ask for pepper sauce on the side - it's very spicy and sometimes the cooks put in a LOT.

Even though the pita would be enough for a meal, we usually get the red potatoes - fried potatoes doused liberally (and I mean LIBERALLY) with garlic. A small portion ($3) is large enough to share if you're having a pita. The large portion ($5) is double that amount. Drinks are a bit on the expensive side at $2 a can, but the servers leave a pitcher of ice water at the table without being asked. Baklava was over the top in sweetness - even for baklava - and lacking in crispness.

So two can dine amply for about 10 bucks each, including tax and tip. Other items on the menu look wonderful too, but it's hard to order anything else when the chicken shawarma pita is so good. On weekdays, the large dining room fills up very quickly, so getting there a bit before noon is best.

Sofra Grill
8707 Dufferin Street, Unit 21
Thornhill, Ontario, L4J 0A2
Delivery Available
Tel: (905) 907-9999

Posted by JAY at 07:46 PM | Comments (0)

June 30, 2008

Restaurant: Myeng Ga

Scott and Heather took me to Myeng Ga, a new Korean restaurant in Richmond Hill (9712 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill, ON). We did the Korean BBQ - the food was tasty and portions were generous, but it wasn't much different from less authentic Korean restaurants that I've been to. Service was friendly, but inattentive - they looked under-staffed. Most of the conversation with the servers was in Korean, though, so who knows, really.

Anyway, the company was a lot of fun, and afterward we went across the street to browse in H-Mart, a Korean grocery. We went back to Scott's house and made ceasars... my first time trying one, but I didn't particularly like it. I'm not a fan of tomato juice in general, though, so that's to be expected. We played Wheel of Fortune on Scott's PS3 while we drank - we were not very skilled at it.

Most importantly, though, I'm going to get to help out at Scott's Mary Brown's on Canada Day!

Posted by JAY at 10:53 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2007

Restaurant: Solo Sushi-ya (by Jen)

[Hee. Jen reports back from Solo Sushi-ya in a comment. Happy Birthday, Jen!]

"We went last night. It was great.

Such a tasty experience. We had the Omakase, which was $50 each, but each thing tasted so good. We didn't ask what each thing was, so I can't really tell you what exactly things were called, but everything tasted great. After the first dish I would have eaten anything the guy put in front of me it was so good. I'll try to summarize what we had.

1. Raw tuna(?) chopped up really finely with spices and assorted fish eggs in a cute little bowl.

2. A plate with assorted things on it:
- A shell with salmon and mushroom(?)/mussels(?) with onion and something that seemed like melted cheese but what my dad thinks maybe was sea urchin on top. This was baked, and tasted SO GOOD.
- grilled mackeral
- Gobo some sort of root vegetable

3. an egg custard type soup with salmon, scallops, salmon, mushroom, green onions (Chawanmushi)

4. Sashimi plate with tuna, seared tuna, salmon, red snapper, shrimp.

5. Sushi - tuna, salmon, white snapper(a guess), 2 spicy tuna rolls.

6. tempura fried fish balls - some sort of white fish, these were so light.

7. Ginger ice cream

It was really really good. We showed up at 5 (when it opened) and didn't leave until 7:30. The place was packed about an hour after it opened. I'd like to go back and just order assorted sushi from the sushi bar. The fish was very good - the best sushi I have eaten for sure."

Posted by JAY at 10:48 PM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2007

Restaurant: Wasabi

Wasabi is a new "Japanese" all-you-can-eat restaurant in the same plaza as the Walker Hill Korean BBQ restaurant. We went there for lunch to sample the all-you-can-eat sushi and other stuff.

I'm told that for dinner you can order all different kinds of sushi and sashimi. However, lunch seemed confined to salmon and shrimp nigiri, fish egg and california maki and some hand rolls. I didn't bother with the shrimp nigiri - the others were pretty good, though, especially the salmon. Items were made in a sushi-bar style display podium.

Other dishes were also available from a buffet - the usual chinese buffet standards. Everything was pretty acceptable, which is actually praise, since it was also pretty inexpensive ($12 or so). The garlic shrimp was very nice, while calamari was chewy. Desserts looked sucky and Sean didn't recommend them, so we just had a bit of ice cream.

The place was nicely appointed in a contemporary style. It was also really, really busy and a bit hard to navigate. Sushi was being taken almost as soon as it was assembled (but there was always enough). One of Sean's favorite dishes, tempura shrimp, didn't show up. Drink glasses were tiny - even for water. Don't they know that they're supposed to try to fill you up with liquids?

Overall a fun, cheap occasional experience. Might be fun to try the dinner sometime.

280 West Beaver Creek Rd, 1-12
Richmond Hill, ON

Posted by JAY at 01:29 AM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2007

Restaurant Review: One Up

Style over substance. Form over function. One Up is a stylish (if overdone) red/white/black restaurant that offers pretty looking food with no discernable theme. Indian curry flavors, Canadian cedar and Italian risottos all appear on a brief menu. We visited One Up today around 7:30pm and had a pretty mediocre all-round experience.

I started with the Fritto Misto ($14), a floured and fried mix of seafood that was attractively presented on a platter with tzatziki and rose dip. There was nothing heinous about it though it was underseasoned (both salt and pepper). The rose dip resembled nothing closer than thousand island dressing. The rings of the squid were cut only partially through, making for an attractive fanned presentation but an inconvenient eating experience. A friend's mussel appetizer ($10) was much tastier, despite being pretty bland for a curry sauce.

My main was a muscovy duck breast ($27) seared and topped with black currant compote. It was served with an attractive mound of weakly grilled vegetables. Unfortunately, the skin wasn't crisp and, despite being cooked to a proper doneness (medium), the flesh wasn't juicy. Possibly the duck had been sliced before resting properly, leaving the juices to boil out. The breast also had a pronounced liver flavor and wasn't thoroughly trimmed, leaving some chewy fibrous bits that were difficult to cut, much less chew.

Service was marginal to unattentive. The restaurant wasn't all that busy - one other table and what appeared to be a speed dating service that was only snacking. Regardless, the wait for each course was on the long side and food wasn't quite to temperature when served. Coffee took forever but was delivered with a belated apology - it was comped, then charged, then comped (all without our request). Despite the fact that there was plenty of staff, we had to signal them whenever we needed something and Stan had to go to the bar to request the bill.

Not recommended.

One Up
130 Dundas St W, 2nd Floor

Posted by JAY at 09:45 PM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2007

Restaurant: Urban

Today Dave and I visited Urban Restaurant on King Street in Toronto. It was the last day that they were offering the Winterlicious prix fixe promotion. There were several options for a starter/main/dessert for the low price of $35 plus tax/tip. Service was polite without being smothering and the decor, which can be seen on their website, is cozy and very comfortable.

I selected:
Confit of Duck Salad
Osso Bucco
Banana Walnut and White Chocolate Baked in Phyllo with a Peppermint Berry Compote

The server started us off with a complementary bowl of rustic bread and hummus. Yummy - but possibly I ate too much of it as I was pretty full by the end of the meal. The server generously offered more but we declined.

The duck confit salad, instead of being served with the expected strips of duck, came with an entire thigh and leg quarter. It included a heirloom cherry tomato (very sweet, orange and no acidity). Arugulat was well dressed and very tasty, and a celeriac slaw was beside it. I enjoyed all of it immensely.

The osso bucco was perfectly cooked, with the meat of a huge shank tenderly falling off the bone into a rich wine sauce. Unadvertised pine nuts, nicely browned were pointed out proudly by the server were used as garnish. The sauted mushrooms and tiny bits of fried potato hash were also delicious.

Dessert was a bit of a disappointment after the first two courses, though it was servicable. Honestly, the bananas and walnuts were a bit heavy in the phyllo wrapping and didn't really go well with the strawberry and chocolate garnishes. The strawberry compote tasted a bit limp and I didn't detect any peppermint. I kind of wished I'd selected the more predictable creme brulee option instead.

Overall, the meal was exceptional and great value (though the a la carte menu is much more expensive). Service was attentive and polite. At this price, I would definitely go again if the opportunity presents itself. We got there early on a Saturday afternoon (5pm) and the restaurant began filling up as we had our meal.

Urban Restaurant
303 King Street W
Toronto ON
M5V 1J5

Posted by JAY at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2006

Restaurant: Oregano North

The best thing about Oregano North is easily the service. Wait staff are attentive and charming and the owner makes the rounds ensuring that everyone is comfortable and satisfied with the food. The decor was pleasant, if a bit dated. The food was flavorful and reasonably priced.

I started with Escargot Oregano ($11), which was escargot and small shrimp served in puff pastry. The whole thing is doused with a lot of cream sauce that was very tasty but made it a bit difficult to eat. On the other hand, crusty bread could be used to wipe up the sauce and so it was very enjoyable. The largish chunks of raw onion in the sauce were a bit harsh (I left them back) and their flavor just missed overpowering the sauce.

As a side note, they might want to consider leaving more than one basket of bread with a large table, as there were as many people as bread slices in the basket - and all of us had appetizers that went with bread, such as mussels and sauteed mushrooms. More bread was cheerfully provided when requested.

My main was risotto with shrimp and a lobster tail ($20). The risotto was creamy and very good and the shrimp were plump and delicious. The lobster, unfortunately, was very over-cooked, making it tough and dry. That said, the dish as a whole was very enjoyable. Portions were very substantial and I abstained from the desserts, which are made by one of the owners.

Overall, the food was enjoyable and the service was excellent. Prices were reasonable given the portion size and upscale-ish atmosphere. I wouldn't eat here often, but wouldn't object to returning occasionally either.

Oregano North Ristorante
13071 Yonge
Richmond Hill, ON L4E 1A5

Posted by JAY at 11:30 PM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2006

Sushi Itto

I went to Sushi Itto, an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, with an old high school friend on his recommendation. It was very good, and reasonably priced as well, at $23/person (tax, no tip). You mark what you wish to order, and the servers bring it to you as it is made.

The rice was not too acidic and any fried items incorporated into the rolls was crisp - never soggy. Most importantly, for all-you-can-eat sushi, the fish was amply proportioned to the amount of rice. There is, however, a $1 charge for uneaten rice rolls - I assume to discourage people from ordering sushi and just eating the fish, or ordering too much. (Perhaps the latter, as you can order fish without any rice at all.)

Fried items like shrimp and veggie tempura, spring rolls and gyoza were hot and crispy. Eel was tender and flavorful. Avocado was bright and fresh, and nicely ripe. Assembly and presentation was not perfect, but the tastes and textures were spot on. A highlight was the dragon roll - a large tempura shrimp wrapped with nori, rice, avocado and eel.


Sushi Itto
16775 Yonge Street (corner of Mulock and Yonge)
Newmarket ON
some more reviews

Posted by JAY at 09:17 PM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2006

Restaurant: Lola Steak Bistro

We visited Lola's Steak Bistro[warning: annoying Flash] for Trevor's bachelor party. I delayed the review for a bit because I wanted to focus more on the party than the restaurant. (There's a time to critique and a time to enjoy!) I sampled the Lobster Bisque ($5), Filet Mignon ($26) and Maple Cake. The service and company were great and I had a lot of fun. The food, unfortunately, was slightly sub-par.

The lobster bisque was tasty but slightly salty. More offensively, it was barely tepid, which gave it a slightly greasy feel in the mouth. Ordinarily, if something arrives too cold, it's the fault of the server, not the kitchen. But in this case it tasted like the soup had been chilled and insufficiently rewarmed. It did have some nice chunks of lobster in it, though.

The filet mignon was fine, but nothing all that special and very slgihtly overdone and underseared. In fact, I'd cooked one earlier that day that was better. That being said, it was very reasonably priced. It was served with some anemic pretty vegetables (baby carrots, a couple of pieces of squash and zucchini) and a drastically over-salted garlic-truffle mashed potato. Seriously, there had to be a mistake with the potatos - I'd ordered it hoping to taste the truffle oil but nothing, not even the garlic, made it through the brine. It was bad enough that I didn't eat it.

The maple cake, which I only tasted, was very sweet, but very nice.
The wine list was extensive, but I only tasted a couple of wines and champagne, and I'm not an expert. They tasted fine.

Overall, the atmosphere and service would make this a great date spot. To keep things in perspective, the prices are impressively low - cheaper than The Keg, even. But honestly, I've had better food at The Keg, too - and that's just a big franchised steak house! I sort of wanted to try the deluxe burger that was on the menu featuring foie gras ($60) but I'm not sure I'd trust them with the premium ingredients anymore. I'm in no hurry to return.

Lola Steak Bistro[flash]
2070 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON
M4S 2A3
Tel: (416) 932-0290

Posted by JAY at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

Restaurant: Sapphire Restaurant

I've been to my share of Dim Sum restaurants, and this one is my favorite. The food is good - not too salty or greasy - and the prices are really really low. For $10, you can easily feed 2 people. For $20, you'll have a better variety and leftovers (or be really really full). Each dish costs about $2 for about 3 pieces. Service, like Swatow, is pretty brusque but ultra fast.

I tend to only do Dim Sum with people willing to cater to my neuroses about spit swapping - Chinese custom is that everyone just goes into the main dish with their chopsticks. Not something I can handle. Predictably, the only words I can speak in Chinese have to do with food. In the picture are some of my favorite Dim Sum dishes. From top right: wu gok is a taro/pork/shrimp fried dumpling in light pastry, har gow is a steamed shrimp dumpling wrapped in glutinous rice wrapping, cha sui bao is a steamed bun filled with bbq pork, sui mai is steamed pork dumpling in a bean curd wrapper - this one has a shrimp tucked inside the pork and orange fish eggs for garnish, the big pork meatball in bean curd wrapper I have no idea - sui mai is better!, in the bottom left is har cheong and char sui cheong fan - shrimp and bbq pork rolled in a white flat rice noodle and usually topped with sweetened soy sauce.

I do eat with chopsticks in the restaurant, but these are leftovers at home, hence the forks!
Uh, contact details when I remember them.

Posted by JAY at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2006

Restaurant: Spring Rolls

Catching up a bit here... been a while!

I went to Spring Rolls with Dave for some Thai food. Upscale atmosphere with reasonably priced food explains why this restaurant chain is so popular. We started with an order of scorchingly hot shrimp rolls ($6) which were simply medium sized tiger shrimp tightly wrapped in spring roll wrappers, deep fried and served with a pungent fish sauce for dipping.

I ordered a spicy Szechuan style seafood dish with perfectly cooked shrimp, calamari and scallops and a large amount of brocolli. ($10.95) All the seafood was tender and juicy, though the sauce was a tad sweet for my liking and the brocolli was a bit large to eat with chopsticks. It was accompanied by a delicious side order of pad thai ($3.50). Excellent value for a large portion of food.

For dessert I ordered mango creme brulee ($4.99). It was rich and yummy and the torched sugar on top was pleasantly crunchy. The actual custard had curdled slightly (overcooked) and was a bit cold from the fridge.

Recommended, especially for the entrees. I'd like to go back and try some more of them.

Spring Rolls
40 Dundas St. W, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C2
T 416 585-2929
F 416 585-7733

Posted by JAY at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2005

Restaurant: Big Papa's Trattoria

Went to Big Papa's Trattoria on Thursday for the office Christmas party. Most people left after that, but I had some work to do at the office (sigh) so I went back to finish it. Anyway. It's an Italian chain restaurant with an extensive menu. I selected the calamari appetizer ($5) and Linguine Fruitti di Mare ($9).

The calamari was excellent. It was tender, lightly breaded and fried. It was served with a tangy tzatziki to dip it in on a bed of romaine. It was great. The calamari was just barely cooked and very flavorful. The portion size was quite large - perfect for 2, though when my tablemates didn't eat very many, I ate them all.

The seafood pasta, by contrast, was lack-lustre. An immense portion of linguine was only sparsely dotted by seafood, and the advertised crab meat was imitation crab - when you can see the crab, but not taste it - it's imitation and was mushed up throughout the sauce, which was overly thick and gummy. It was also too heavily spiced, and tasted more of spices than tomato.

Atmosphere and service was perfectly accepable. But if I were to return, I'd skip the entree and just get the calamari.

Big Papa's
16655 Yonge St.
(south of Hwy#9 in Weston Produce Plaza)

Posted by JAY at 12:50 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2004

Restaurant: Seoul Garden

This is a Korean BBQ restaurant located in the Pacific Mall in Markham. We weren't in the mood to cook at the table (we were hungry!) so we ordered from the menu. The food was really tasty and relatively inexpensive ($20 including tax and tip). The usual appetizers were served before the meal - an assortment of sweet and pickled dishes. I ordered the BBQed pork and kimchee. It was very spicy - the tofu was a welcome palate soother. The pork had an appealing sweet taste. Portions were generous. With an extra bowl of rice this could easily have fed 2 or 3. I managed by not eating any rice and ignoring the soup.

Decor was impressive - the restaurant is arranged on a raised circular platform with a fountain in the center. Faux stonework and greenery along with a very high tower-like ceiling completed a very sophisticated look.

Staff were prompt and courteous. They were attentive in filling up the (complimentary) Korean tea and asking how the food was. We had to ask for the bill, which was a bit odd, since the tables were filling up. It was nice not to be rushed, though. Overall it was a very pleasant dining experience.

Seoul Garden Korean Restaurant
4350 Steeles E
Markham, ON L3R9V4
(905) 305-0699

Posted by JAY at 11:30 PM | Comments (0)

November 02, 2004

Restaurant: Tandoori House

Today I went down to RHQ at Sheppard and Yonge to meet with some fellow techs. For lunch we went to Tandoori House, an Indian buffet a few doors south. It was very good and relatively cheap - $10 + tax and tip.

Wait staff were a bit slow today, but I'm assured that it's usually better by my co-workers, who are regulars. In the buffet were fresh naan (tandoor cooked flatbread), butter chicken, chicken tikka masala and, of course, tandoori chicken.

Well worth the price. Of course, I stuffed myself and ate a tiny dinner tonight - just an Oktoberfest sausage.

Tandoori House
4862 Yonge St
Toronto, ON M2N 5N2

Posted by JAY at 09:24 PM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2004


Although I'm usually clueless about where I am, my stomach has a very good memory, and it reminded me I was near Swatow - one of my favorite restaurants. A few wrong turns later and I was there! (For future reference: Get off at St. Patrick's, west on Dundas past the AGO and turn right (north) on Spadina. (Or take a Spadina streetcar south from Spadina station.)

Anyway, I had the "Special Soup" (read, organ meats, noodles, fish balls, fish slices, pork balls and shrimp balls in a killer broth) and the Swatow fried duck (135 on the menu). The duck this time was even better than the duck last time, and not just because I had it to myself! It was moister. I packed a few pieces to go home with me.

Posted by JAY at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2004

Restaurant: Mexicanos

After Dave helped me move, we went to wander around Barrie's beaches (Lake Simcoe). We ended up getting dinner at a newly opened Mexican restaurant called Mexicanos. The experience felt very authentic, though I don't really know what constitutes Mexican cooking.

The new venture seems to be an arrangement of friends, who were hanging around in the dining room. The place is decorated in mexican style, with lots of vivid color and mexican tiles. They're not yet serving alcohol and couldn't accept anything but cash. We got a sampler combo for 2 ($23), and while there didn't seem to be much food, it did fill us up. Maybe the spiciness (though fairly mild) had something to do with that.

Quesadillas were fairly ordinary - melted cheese in a flour tortilla. Flautas, a deep fried small corn tortilla rolled around a filling of chicken were tasty and crunchy. Sopecitos, little corn tortillas with salsa, beans and cheese were also good. My favorite were the Enchiladas Verdes - large soft corn tortillas in green salsa with chicken and cheese.

Portions were a tad on the small side, though they seemed to be more satisfying than their size suggests. I was pretty hungry, too, having just moved all my furniture to the new apartment.

Worth checking out if you like Mexican food.

53 Dunlop Street East
Barrie, ON

Posted by JAY at 08:41 PM

July 04, 2004

Restaurant: Cynthia's

Got take-out from Cynthia's Chinese Restaurant, the "higher end" chinese food restaurant in Newmarket. I'm not certain that their food qualifies them as high-end, though their service is. Prices are reasonable, though.

Service is exquisite and ambience is muted oriental when you dine-in at Cynthia's (we didn't today). It goes a long way to giving a high-class feel to an otherwise unspectacular, though pleasant, meal.

The "dim sum" ($2.75 x 2 for 6 pieces) appetizer (rather ungainly pork meatballs in a bean curd wrapper - inelegant shiu mai) was ordinary. The spring rolls (same price) were the same and crispness suffered somewhat from the moisture of transportation in a cardboard box.

Shrimp fried/special fried rice ($7 x 2 orders) was competent and tasty, though nothing special. It could have used more shrimp. Chicken satay ($11) and black pepper beef ($11) were good. Interestingly, you get bigger portions with the takeout than you do dining in.

Dai Dop Voi (Beef-Chicken-Shrimp-Scallops-Veggies, $10) was scant on the advertised seafood and had imitation crab in it (not conducive to high-class dining).

Finally, General Tso's Chicken ($11) was greasy and overly sweet - I couldn't really detect any chicken flavor under the sticky sauce and batter. Rucell liked it, though, and it's Dave's favorite dish.

Overall, though, it was reasonably priced at $75 (incl tax, no tip for takeout) for 6 people with a bit of leftovers. (Hmm, doing the math now, I realize that we all owe Eric/Catherine a couple bucks more... I'll have to buy them lunch some time.) However, as far as food quality goes, I'm not sure that Canaan Chinese Restaurant (a buffet, 404 - 1111 Davis Dr, Newmarket) isn't better value for about the same price (albeit zero atmosphere).

Cynthia's Chinese Restaurant
16715 Yonge St/Mulock

Posted by JAY at 01:44 AM

July 02, 2004

Restaurant: Boston Pizza

Ate lunch yesterday at Boston Pizza, with whom I have a love-hate relationship.

BP definitely has the best pizza out there right now. On the other hand, so many people seem to have bad experiences with it.

The Bad: Service tends to be slow - really slow. A while back, one of my friends found a dead fly in her salad. Not that this kind of thing doesn't happen once in a while, but it was very off putting! Also, the prices for pizza are a bit insane. $24 + tax and tip is pretty expensive for a large pizza. The personal pizzas are too small, though, and still cost $7 per piece. Pizza sizes are inconvenient, too. A large is too much for 2 people, but not enough for 3 hearty eaters.

The Good: The pizza is fantastic. The top is nicely browned and the meat is crispy. The toppings are first class as well. We got the meat-lovers pizza. It's all real meat, no kibble. It had slices of ham and thick slices of hot sausage. Interestingly, it had large quantities of minced beef in the sauce, which was delicious and a nice variation.

Boston Pizza
18195 Yonge Steet, Newmarket ON
L3Y 4V8
Phone: 905-953-0229
Fax: 905-953-4146

Posted by JAY at 07:12 AM

June 25, 2004

Restaurant: Swatow

20040902SwatowSoup.jpgThis is one of my favorite restaurants. (Toronto.com)

There's no ambience, service is perfunctory but very efficient, and you may be asked to share a table if the restaurant is busy (it always is).

But the food is both cheap and great. And that makes up for everything!

I love the Swatow roasted duck with special sauce (item 135 on the menu). It's a boneless 1/2 duck that is lightly fried and served over pineable. Just $10! It's maybe a bit dry, but the sauce remedies that. The duck fat has been rendered out of it, so it's not as greasy as duck usually is.

This time out, we also got the Swatow special soup (item 1 on the menu). For $5 it's a full meal in a bowl. An excellent broth contains abundant noodles with fish and pork balls, a shrimp dumpling and some fish slices. It also has various organ meats that can be eaten or avoided at your preference. Strangely, the includsion of liver doesn't negatively affect the taste of the broth - it is likely added at the end. I could barely finish the large bowl - I left back some broth and mourned that I was too full to drink it.

Only cash is accepted here, no interac, no credit!
Try to get there early, as it fills up quickly.

309 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, ON M5T2E6
Phone: (416) 977-0601

Posted by JAY at 11:52 PM

June 18, 2004

Stir Fried King Redux

We went back to Stir Fried King for dinner after the movie and tried a couple more dishes.

Apparently, 'special' is a euphemism for 'mystery organ meats" because that's what was in the Special Congee ($3.75 for a huge bowl - and it wasn't even the "super bowl" from the menu!). It tasted pretty much like standard congee - a thick rice peasant soup.

I ordered "Shrimp, Scallop and Squid in Bird's Nest" ($15). It was ok, but nothing exceptional. The nest noodles were different - noodles made of some sort of root vegetable rather than rice or wheat flour. I also tried a mixture of chicken scallops and shrimp bound together with milk and egg and steamed.

We preferred what we had the first day, but still enjoyed ourselves. We ended up without any major starches - mostly because we had no idea what we were ordering.

Posted by JAY at 11:31 PM

June 13, 2004

Restaurant: Stir Fry King

After looking at apartments in Newmarket, Dave wanted to look at condos in Toronto. We were around my regional headquarters at lunch, so I suggested a stripped down looking Chinese restaurant that I had noticed being busy with Asians the last time I was there for training.

It was really good.

The smells when entering the restaurant more than made up for its bare-bones (but clean) appearance. In fact, I was tempted to just say "get me whatever it is that's smelling so good!"

Instead, I took a look through their extensive menu and selected "Crab meat withi e-fu noodles" for $8.95. Dave selected a baked curry chicken dish. Now, $8.95 is pretty cheap for crab, so I feared getting fake crab, but I couldn't really ask wtihout being insulting.

Fortunately, it just meant that the crab meat was sparing in the pasta. And it didn't matter, because it was flavoring all the pasta. It tasted good enough that I gave Dave a taste of them and he agreed. Highly recommended.

Dave's curry was more pedestrian, using pre-blended curry powder that lacked any distinctive qualities. It still tasted good, and it had been broiled in the oven until the potatoes had a nice crust on them.

Service was friendly - I was especially impressed when the servers were handling "problem customers" at the next table. Even after the customers were rude and a pain, the servers tried to run after them with a forgotten belonging. The meal included free jasmine tea. Our meal came to $20 + tip, and the portion sizes were very generous. In fact, I would have only eaten 1/2 of my plate - but it tasted too good and I stuffed it all in. I can't wait to go back!

Stir Fry King
Yonge Street, North of Sheppard
on the West side

Posted by JAY at 10:42 AM

May 14, 2004

Restaurant: India House

Picked up dinner at India House, on the north-east corner of Yonge and Mulock in Newmarket. It was a tasty buffet, though things were still being set up - they're not licensed to serve alcohol yet, for example.

The selection at the buffet was pretty small. Butter chicken was a bit odd, as it looked like the chicken in the sauce had been baked in red tandoori seasoning first. It tasted good, though. Curried lamb was very nice. Pureed spinach with paneer was good. Curried vegetables and chick peas rounded out the buffet.

Fresh naan bread dotted with spiced butter was a highlight, though they were still baking it and it didn't come until near the end of the meal. The dessert, a liquid rice pudding, could have been a bit more heavily spiced.

I wonder if the menu changes daily - I'd think it must as one would get bored with the same thing every day and not return. I'll have to check. For $15 + tax and tip, it was a reasonably priced meal and something that Newmarket doesn't already have.

Posted by JAY at 10:00 PM

April 06, 2004

Restaurant Review: Milestones

Went to Milestones on Monday. I got the 1/2 rack of ribs and a 1/2 chicken, with roasted potatoes and a low-fat (no mayo) slaw/salad. ($21+tax) Honestly, I'd have preferred Swiss Chalet for both, though dessert was yummy.

Nothing was really wrong with the chicken, it was tender and juicy, slightly blackened. The ribs were covered in a lot of sticky sauce that interfered with the taste of the meat. The potatoes were bland. The salad/slaw was actually pretty good, though vinegar-laden.

Dessert, on the other hand, was very nice. I had the Ibarra Chocolate Cake with Vanilla ice cream. The cinnamon flavored chocolate cake was richly warm and moist. It was drizzled with sublime caramelized goat milk and a generous dollop of whipped cream. For $5.99, definitely worth it.

So yeah, dessert 1, dinner 0.

Posted by JAY at 09:59 PM

April 04, 2004

Restaurant: Ackee Tree

Before the show, we went walking in the Eaton Center in Toronto, where we picked up dinner at The Ackee Tree, a Jamaican eatery with things like curry, roti, rice and peas and jerk chicken.

I got a roti and goat curry, which was tasty, but very bony. In retrospect, I should've gotten the boneless chicken. Service was pretty sullen, too, not that it really matters at a fast food place. The roti was tender and yummy, though.

Posted by JAY at 03:05 PM

February 28, 2004

Restaurant: Seoul Kal-Bi Kariya

While training, we went to a Korean/Japanese restaurant called Seoul Kal-Bi Kariya within walking distance of the hotel. The restaurant was very atmospheric. Entering involved crossing a miniature stream over a bamboo bridge. The staff were very helpful and friendly, and the food was very good.

Read on below.

The menu was extensive (8 legal pages) and had a wide range of prices. Traditional Korean dishes and Japanese dishes predominated, including the tabletop Korean BBQ. It was so extensive that I asked the waitress for her recommendation.

She suggested a spicy shrimp dish ($20CAN) and helpfully offered to have the chef make it a bit milder. Knowing how spicy Korean food can be, I was glad I agreed - the dish was very spicy even when "mild".

We were also brought lots of extra food, which surprised us. Traditional Korean appetizers like pickled eggplant, kimchee and 2 slaws accompanied the salad starters. Complimentary tea also accompanied the meal. No less than 3 soups were brought for us to taste: a miso soup, a VERY tasty tofu soup and (while we were eating the entree) a clear broth with a mussel in it.

My shrimp entree had prodigous amounts of shrimp (well worth the $20) in a sweet spicy sauce with asian mushrooms (bat ear type) and sweet peppers. It was very tasty, though the shrimp were maybe just a touch over-cooked.

After dinner we were brought a clear sweet rice liquid that the staff said was good for digestion and a small plate of fresh fruit. (All complimentary!)

Service was excellent, both helpful and attentive. The manager also passed by to ensure everything was acceptable. We left in a flurry of goodbyes and
well wishes as the 4 or 5 waitresses and 2 chefs followed us the door. That was a little excessive and maybe a bit unnerving! ... but we certainly felt welcome!

It's really too bad that I left my camera at the hotel. All of the dishes were artfully presented. Strangely, the placemats had advertisements for the Fuji-U japanese restaurant across the street - so maybe they're owned by ths same people.

Highly recommended.

Seoul Kal-Bi Kariya
Tel: 1 905 615-9065
Address: 265 Enfield Place
(off Hurontario Street)

Posted by JAY at 12:56 AM

December 29, 2003

Restaurant: Alice Fazooli's

After seeing Big Fish, we went to Alice Fazooli's for dinner. I had the Spicy Chicken and Seafood (left).

Read on for the rest of the review.

It was pretty bad, overall. They seemed to be short staffed, and service was very slow. Glasses took forever to be re-filled and we waited about 20 minutes for the bill. The server did apologize, though.

The appetizer, shrimp in a lot of spicy sauce, came long after the bread was finished - it would have been better with the bread so that the sauce could be sopped up.

The chicken was very dry (almost hard) and the sauce, though spicy, wasn't particularly flavorful. The shrimp were good but the scallops were pretty much drowned out by the spicy sauce. The wild rice was nothing special, though nothing was actually wrong with it. The mixed vegetables were in a light cream sauce that was actually pretty good.

Looking back on it, I guess I'd have to say that I'd prefer Swiss Chalet, even if Swiss Chalet is less than 1/2 the price! ($30/person, not including drinks)


Alice Fazooli's
20 Colossus Drive

Posted by JAY at 11:32 PM

December 20, 2003

Mr. Greenjeans

At the Eaton's Centre in Toronto, we went to Mr. Greenjeans (www.mr-greenjeans.com is down) for lunch. (I was keeping a friend company as he finished off his Christmas shopping.) I had a Wildcat Burger with their home-fried potato chips.

The atmosphere was pretty neat, the bar/restaurant is on 3 or 4 floors with an entry from outside and inside the mall. There was a great view of the church that is nestled on the Eaton's Centre grounds. Surprisingly, there wasn't any wait for a table, though they were pretty busy with other Christmas shoppers

Though they claim to cook the burger "to your specifications" on the menu, it came well done with no trace of pink, even though I ordered medium. I guess that's understandable from a food safety/regulations point of view. It was still juicy and tasty and the buns were lightly toasted. The tiny tomato slice was kinda silly though - a slice that covered more of the burger would've been nice.

The chips were ok, but they could have been so much better had the kitchen salted them when they were taken out of the hot oil. By the time they reached the table, they were dry and salt from the table shaker just rolled right off them. For 99c more you can get "fresh cut fries", which are hopefully better.

Service was nice and quick. Prices were reasonable ($10 + tax/tip).
With salted chips and a bit more tomato, it would be a perfect lunch.

Mr. Greenjeans
220 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON
(416) 979-1212

Posted by JAY at 12:54 AM

December 13, 2003

Restaurant Review: Funnel Cake! Update

Updated with pictures...
Mmmm, funnel cake!

The best deal at East Side Mario's is the funnel cake dessert. Just $4CAN! This didn't really start out as full fledged restaurant review - it's more in the nature of a public service announcement.

Read on for the full scoop!

You know those funnel cakes that you get at Canada's Wonderland for $8(CAN)? They're awesome, yeah?

Well, at East Side Mario's you can get an even better one for only $4! How are they better? Let me count the ways:

  • $4 cheaper
  • Nice seating so you don't have to balance it on your lap
  • Cutlery that doesn't break when you use it
  • Premium vanilla ice cream instead of soft serve
  • Strawberry sauce that actually has as much strawberries as sauce

I don't think I'll ever go to Wonderland again!

Also of note is the Scallop Carbonara, which has lots of lovely grilled scallops, some wrapped in crispy bacon in fake-but-still-yummy carbonara sauce. (Yes, it's a heart attack and a half.) I actually forgot to take the picture until I had eaten 2 skewered scallops.

For reference, real carbonara should be made with butter, cream, bacon and egg yolks... basically, the four food groups - fat, fat, fat and fat. Oh, and parmesan reggiano cheese is optional if you don't have enough fat already.

At the Newmarket restaurant, they usually forget to caramelize the spanish onions. The Richmond Hill franchise does caramelize the onions to a sweet golden color, making it even nicer. You can see in the picture that they actually did attempt to caramelize the onions this time! And a good (fattening) starter is the deep fried Extra Large Cheese and Spinach Ravioli. Both the pasta and the ravioli are reasonably priced.

I don't usually order more than one dish (funnel cake, pasta, ravioli) per visit, as any of them are enough for a full meal. I do get some odd looks when I order the funnel cake for dinner, though.

I used to dislike East Side Mario's, but now that I've found my three favorites I'm always available for a visit!

East Side Mario's
Various Locations including:
17175 Yonge Street
Newmarket, ON

10520 Yonge Street
Richmond Hill, ON

Posted by JAY at 10:14 PM

November 14, 2003

Restaurant Review: Mei Ling

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Mei Ling Chinese Food is a small Chinese-Canadian restaurant in Aurora. We went there for a Friday night dinner which included spring rolls, General Tao's Pork, Chicken Satay, Szechuan Chicken Beef and Shrimp, and Chinese Sausage Fried Rice.

The food wasn't exceptional, but it wasn't bad, either ($15 each before tip).

We started with a ginormous spring roll (not pictured). Though huge and fresh, they had rather a lot of cabbage in them and not enough bean sprouts. Likewise, the Chicken Satay and Szechuan Meat was somewhat indistinct tasting with that generic clear cornstarch based sauce.

On the good side, the Tao's Pork was succulent, not too sweet, mildly spicy and boneless. Mmm! The Chinese Sausage Fried Rice was also very good - the grease from the sausage lightly coated the rice with flavor. The sausage was stir-fried to a perfect crispness. At less than $6, it's a steal (it fed 3 people with the other dishes).

Update: The chicken balls are excellent too - big juicy chunks of chicken breast in just enough batter. Sure, it's not authentic chinese food, but who cares?

Not much ambience (who cares...), but service was friendly and prompt.

So yeah: uneven, but inexpensive. Once you find your favorites, you'll be quite happy returning.

Mei Ling Chinese Food
15005 Yonge Street
Aurora, ON
905 727-3101

Posted by JAY at 10:05 PM

November 08, 2003

Restaurant Review: Dhaba (Update)

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Update follows original review... We went back for the lunch buffet.

Dhaba is an Indian restaurant that I went to while waiting for a Second City comedy show (Arma-get-it-on -- very enjoyable, by the way, and they have improv after it if you go to the last show of the night).

We had (clockwise from top right) paratha and naan, Saffron Rice, Aloo Gobhi, Lamb Vindaloo and Chicken Tikka Achari.

The atmosphere and service are the best thing about this restaurant. Dhaba's new loft location on King Street is richly decorated with canopied booths. Check out their website for pictures and a menu listing. The service is exquisite - the staff is friendly and courteous without being oppressively in your face all the time. Regulars are enthusiastically greeted with a hug from the hostess and the servers are graceful and unhurried - though you may wait for food for a while on a busy Saturday night.

Dinner started with the Chicken Tikka which tasted awesome. We had actually ordered tandoori chicken, but the Tikka was what appeared on our bill and our table -- a fortuitious mistake. It was tender, juicy and wonderfully spiced.

The paratha was the best I've ever tasted - flaky and tender, with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. If you come here, don't miss this! The naan was also really good.

The saffron rice wasn't all that memorable - any subtleties were lost in the spices of the other dishes, so I'll probably order the less expensive basmati the next time I'm there -- or even better, more paratha! Likewise, the Aloo Gobhi was simply potato and steamed cauliflower stir fried in some curry. For $9, I'll just make it at home. It was tasty, but nothing special.

I didn't really enjoy the Lamb Vindaloo. Though it was nicely spicy, the chunks of lamb were on the tough and stringy side.

Portions were on the small side (the vindaloo pot is about 3 inches in diameter), but they were inexpensive. The meal above served two people comfortably and came to $45.70 before tax and tip. I was a bit disappointed by potato and lamb dishes, considering they made up slightly less than 1/2 of the cost. The rest was great value, though.

I look forward to sampling more things by trying their buffet lunch at my next earliest opportunity!

Update: The lunch buffet!
The buffet lunch was much better than the dinner. Getting to sample a greater variety of the dishes was awesome. I particularly liked the goat and chicken curry and the red battered fish and eggplant. The butter chicken was also very nice. Strangely, the tandoori chicken was heavily spiced with a flavor that I didn't enjoy - I prefer the tandoori chicken elsewhere. Unfortunately, there wasn't any paratha around. But everything else was superb. And only $9.99! Definitely the best lunch deal around!

309 King St. W. at John Street
Toronto, ON M5V 1J5

Posted by JAY at 11:29 PM

November 04, 2003

Restaurant Review: Golden Bell Thai

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I frequent the Golden Bell Thai restaurant in Newmarket often for both lunch and dinner - it's one of my favorite restaurants. Pictured is my one of my best loved restaurant meals: Chicken Satay Noodles.

The Thai rice noodles are nicely firm, coated with a just-spicy-enough curry sauce and mixed with bean sprouts and chunks of juicy marinated breast meat. The thin, translucent noodles are very different from the heavy thick Chinese rice noodles.

Included in the lunch special ($6.95) is a crunchy carrot spring roll with a small tub of sweet chili spiced syrup that is immensely better than the ubiquitous plum sauce served elsewhere. You can also get soup - but I haven't tried it... I love my deep-fried spring rolls!

For dinner, complimentary shrimp chips (yum!) are served while you wait for your meal and are accompanied by a tasty peanut sauce.

Though the chicken satay noodles are my definite favorite, I've also enjoyed the coconut-creamy red curries. Heaped bowls of white rice are available for just $1.25 and the sweet coconut rice ($2) is great to share either with your meal or as an informal dessert (it's a bit much for one person).

I found the Pad Thai to be a bit sweet for a main course, but that's probably just a personal prejudice against sweet foods - I've tried it elsewhere and it was just as sweet or sweeter. It does have a nice peanut flavor.

As a healthier, better-tasting alternative to a fast food lunch, this restaurant is awesome. If you're going there, be sure to try the Chicken Satay Noodles!

Heh, and you can tell them Jason sent you!

Golden Bell Thai
16925 Yonge St
Unit 17, Quaker Hill Plaza
Delivery/Pick-up: 905 954-0954

Posted by JAY at 01:39 PM

October 26, 2003

Restaurant Review: Aw Shucks

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Aw Shucks is a new seafood restaurant in Aurora. This is the first restaurant review that I've done - it's a lot of fun to embarass my friends with my digital camera in the restaurant!

Anyway, the dish pictured is Smoked Salmon on Fettucine with Vodka Cream Sauce. Read on for the review.

Appropriately, Aw Shucks serves 3 types of oysters at a slightly pricey $2-3 per half shell. The flavor, however, didn't seem to match the oysters I've had in the maritimes, New Orleans or Florida. Is this to be expected? I'm honestly not sure.

The entree was very tasty and very enjoyable. The vodka sauce was nicely herbed, the smoked salmon shredded and tender. The salmon eggs were very pretty and popped into salty fish flavor - that might be disturbing for some, but it lent some excitement to the dish.

My only criticism was that the vodka sauce, though wonderful on its own, was too slightly salty when the smoked salmon was mixed into it. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed it a lot. Certainly, at $17(CAN) the entree was very reasonably priced.

By contrast, at $8 the deserts looked unappealing and I abstained.

Service was efficient, if a bit impersonal.
I like seafood, but it'll probably be a little while before I re-visit Aw Shucks.

Aw Shucks Seafood Bar & Bistro
15474 Yonge Street, Aurora

Posted by JAY at 11:00 PM | Comments (1)

July 17, 2003

Restaurant Review: Boujadi

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Boujadi is a Moroccan restaurant in Toronto. We went there one day out of curiosity, having found a glowing review on toronto.com. The food was quite different from our usual fare and delicious.

We started with harira (inset, $4.25), which was the tastiest bean soup I've ever had. In fact, it tasted so good that I forgot to take a picture of it until it was almost done... It's perfectly spicy and rich with herbs, especially coriander and cumin.

Not knowing anything about Moroccan food, we ordered the Marhaba (welcome) platter ($37.95). Served in a clay tajine (though not cooked in it like other dishes), it was a sampling of veggies, chicken cooked with olives (I hate olives, but the flavor of them in the chicken was actually very good!), phyllo pastries filled with fragrant potatos (triangles) and meat (cigars), Merguez (sausage) and Kafta (meat patties), all served on a bed of couscous.

All of it was really tasty. The meat patties seemed a bit on the dry side (maybe because of the kosher meat?), but the sausages, though porkless, were excellent. The couscous was amazing - whenever I've had it before it's been either dry/hard or soggy/soupy and bland. Here, it was a fluffy, fragrant alternative to potatoes or rice. I know I've never had better.

Portions were almost too generous - this platter for 2 could probably have fed 3 people comfortably, though it would be hard to divide up the various dishes, most of which had 2 pieces provided. Skipping the harira would've been a shame. We were stuffed and couldn't eat all of the couscous.

The service was friendly and the atmosphere established by bazaar-like decor.

I'm not sure when I'll be back, as it's a bit far away from where I live, but I most highly recommend the food.

999 Eglington Ave. W
M5C 2C7

Posted by JAY at 10:21 PM

July 05, 2003

Restaurant Review: Walker Hill Korean BBQ

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Well, again with the restaurants carrying food that I know nothing about. Every now and again, we do the "Hmm, lets have X food today." And today it was Korean.

Yes, that is raw meat on the table.

The first thing that we noticed entering Walker Hill Korean BBQ was that there was a gas range in the middle of every stone table with a cast iron grill. Interesting.

Since we weren't really able to read the menu, we just ordered a meat and seafood combo for two. In fact, we were so clueless that we had to be told that the first 4 little bowls on the table (not pictured) were appetizers and not condiments! Hey, we had always just used the pink pickled ginger as an accompaniment to sushi...

Some feathery light tempura (inset) was a bit bland but provided a lot of variety - eggplant, sweet potato, brocolli, shrimp (mmm!) and mushrooms. The egg pancake was slightly sweet and much tastier than expected (I'm not a fan of Egg Foo Yong). Some chicken broth with veggies and seafood was a bit bland.

The main course was raw meat and seafood that we grilled ourselves after finding the switch for the gas underneath the table. The seafood consisted of squid, shrimp, salmon and some sort of whitefish. The meat was a marinated mix of chicken, beef and pork. The grill in action is the inset picture on the right.

The meat was pretty tasty, but the seafood was pretty bland until we dipped it in the chili oil provided. The oil also prevented things from sticking to the grill. Seeing as we mostly cooked the food ourselves, it's hard to criticize how the food was cooked. A staff member was pacing around the restaurant, presumably making sure that no one was setting the place on fire.

Some of the meat was a bit on the stringy side and benefitted from a longer cooking time, especially compared to the perfect boneless salmon chunks.

This had to be one of the funnest (yes, funnest - it's a word because I say so!) eating out experiences I've had. It took a bit of experimentation, and we burned our mouths a few times - it's funny that when in a restaurant you're not in the habit of waiting for the food to cool. People around us were ordering things that looked even more exotic, like a plate of raw silvery fish whole and slices of raw tongue.

We were lucky to get there literally minutes before the rush - it was empty when we got in and 10 minutes later there were no tables left! The formidable air conditioning system was chilly when we started but just barely keeping up when all the table ranges were going so it was nicely toasty before long. Decor was clean and modern - reassuring when there's so much raw meat around!

Recommended more for the fun than the food - but the food was good. It was a LOT of meat for 2 people.

Korean BBQ Walker Hill
280 West Beaver Creek Rd # 35, Richmond Hill, ON

Posted by JAY at 10:15 PM