Alo – Toronto

For my birthday this year, passing the “Mid-Twenties” mark, tfung very sweetly (and excitedly) booked the top restaurant in Toronto currently. We struggled with scheduling but were able to make it work and rushed to get to our reservation on time, for which we were 15 minutes late, and they were extremely nice and understanding about it.

The decor inside is gorgeous. It’s bright, light, with mid-century modern chairs in a soft but gender-neutral blue. The booths were covered in a soft dirty-periwinkle blue, and the cylindrical chrome hanging lights captured my attention from where we were sitting.

Alo provides a tasting menu that is changed fairly frequently, from specific ingredients in each of the dishes being shuffled daily to suit whatever is freshest, to the whole dish being switched out either weekly or bi-weekly. As a result, their menu is completely different if you come back in 2 months, keeping the restaurant running at high capacity for new patrons as well as returning.

Because we were going for drinks later on that evening, we did not opt for any of the cocktails or other alcoholic beverages at Alo. I definitely would go back to try some of their cocktails, as they looked extremely interesting. We had a chance to look at the menu, and it was constructed with 2 appetizers, and 3 mains, from which we could choose one of two options.

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AMUSE BOUCHE

We started off with puff pastry filled with a thick savoury cream, with torched onion powder on the top. The bite-size was more than enough, as we got two each, and the cream had a nice consistency and thickness, but was not too overpowering in flavour that took away from the onion powder or the pastry itself. Beneath that dish, at the base of the pedestal, was a passion fruit meringue sandwiching thin slices of cooked heart of artichoke, topped with coconut cream. This was my preferred amuse bouche, using different and interesting ingredients that we normally would not imagine together, and constructing an interesting piece out of it, again in a form that we would not normally imagine. The heart of artichoke provided the softer texture of a cooked vegetable, with a slight sourness in flavour to offset the fattiness of the coconut cream and the sweetness of the passion fruit meringue.

APPETIZER

The first appetizer was an English Peas dish. There were fava beans, english peas, and snow peas, that were both in its fresh, slightly blanched form, as well as made into the form of a purée.

Following the Peas, were a Hamachi (done 3 ways) and zucchini pairing. The generous portion of hamachi sashimi filet was fresh, still a cool temperature, and presented on a thin smear of light cream sauce. There was also a small portion of hamachi tartare served on top of the filet, which was creamy and had a nice fatty mouth feel. The flavour of the hamachi was not as pronounced in the belly as it was in the sashimi or the cured hamachi, which was surprising. The cured hamachi, was served in a small portion on the side, topped with some chopped up dried cranberries. The dish was served with scattered zucchini, both steamed and grilled, as well as a sensational key-lime sauce.

MAINS

There were three mains to the dinner. The first was a choice between Morel mushrooms and Dungeness crab, the second was a choice between sea bass and scallops, and the third was a decision between lamb and pork.

Morel vs Dungeness Crab

I chose the morel mushrooms as I actually had never had them before. This is tfung’s favourite type of mushroom, and one that he introduced and taught me about. The dish came with a generous serving of large pieces of morels., soaked in an extremely rich and flavourful almost beef bourgingon sauce, as well as a thick cream sauce on the side made with shallots.The dish was topped off with fried chicken skin bits and some green onion and shallots for garnish. This was probably the most disappointing dish of the bunch. It was extremely salty, to the point where it was difficult to taste the true flavours of the dish. I’m unsure if it was caused by the broth, or if it was the morel mushrooms that might have received too much seasoning, which seeped into the broth, but either two was the culprit. Definitely did not expect such a slip from a restaurant like Alo.

Tfung picked the buttery dungeoness crab dish, with bite-sized pieces of crab, mostly submerged in a seafood infused butter sauce, and topped off with a foam, which added a nice contrast in texture as the whole dish was extremely monotonous.

Sea Bass vs Scallops

The seafood portion of the night featured probably the two most popular favourites by the public. I am never that impressed with scallops, so I opted for the Sea Bass. The bass was cooked to the point of being just underdone, which is how I like it and believe fish should be eaten. The skin was crispy with a nice flavour without being too powerful or aggressive. The dish was a little saltier than I typically like, but I tend to cook quite blandly at home which could have attributed to how I perceived the saltiness. My favourite part of the dish was how big the white asparagus looked, and how it kept us intrigued visually. The green asparagus sauce gave it a nice contrast in colour, was lighter in the intensity of flavour, and the herbiness of the undercooked asparagus balanced out the richness of the cream sauce.

The scallops were done very well and featured a cumin mustard sauce. The sauce I felt lacked a kick that I would have expected but was much more interesting than the usual mushroom or truffle sauce that I have seen in the past with scallops. As usual, the presentation was great and inviting, and the magenta of the radishes added a nice contrast in colour.

Duck Breast vs Pork Chop

Of course, I chose the duck, as I’ve always loved duck breast and duck magret. The duck dish was done in 3 ways, again a presentation that is very popular in many tasting menu restaurants, as well as one that I enjoy a lot. A duck sausage presented into a ball with duck prosciutto wrapped around it, with a small amount of foie gras in the center, and the duck breast itself, seared on the skin and cooked to medium rare. The rich duck breast was decorated and contrasted with the deep purple of radicchio. The presentation wasn’t the most exciting compared to the other dishes, but the flavour and juciness of the breast spoke for itself.

The porkchop held for a more fun experience in enjoying the different components of the dish. There was the porkchop itself, with several asparagus stems cooked to perfection. The pork chop that was generously salted and peppered were to be eaten with an array of different sauces that included a lime and bean puree, a sauteed chives and garlic mixture, a relish condiment made with cabbage, and finally an onion and shallot mixture. The pork chop was again cooked to a good tenderness, and was a little more on the medium side but still retained its juices very well.

DESSERTS

Almond cake with rhubarb sorbet

The almond cake made for a nice light flavour after the heavier main dishes. I didn’t enjoy the cake itself as much as I did the cooked rhubarb and rhubarb sorbet that came with it. Although overall I thought there was not much surprise to this dessert dish.

Chocolate Ganache cake with Mint and Basil Icecream

I was quite surprised at a second dessert as this was not outlined in the menu. But after a slightly disappointing previous dessert with the almond cake, I was quite delighted to come across a much more familiar looking cake, with the exception of the green ice cream resting on top of it – that was melting fast. As expected, the chocolate cake was extremely rich and heavy, and was made with a refined dark cacao. It had different textures throughout, including the thick ganache, a lighter mousse, as well as a dense cake base. The crunchy nougat on the top was also pertinent to enjoying all the different textures of such a rich dish. But the cherry on top and what I believe to be the star of the dish had to be the basil and mint ice cream. The flavour was definitely something you would not typically expect from an ice cream, being so fresh and light – which probably was due to it not being too rich in cream. The contrast of this lightness and bright, fresh flavour compared to the deep dark richness of the chocolate was key.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

As with most tasting menus, it is all about the fun in trying different combinations of the dish, and tasting very different flavours within dishes as well as between dishes. I believe Alo definitely achieved that, even though some of their dishes were a little less innovative, which serves as a nice anchor for those of us who wish to feel the sense of familiarity. It is a delicate balance between being new and adventurous, as well as showing that you can do the “plain old boring stuff” well. Further, Alo’s service was impeccable, having great attention to detail and being a little overstaffed which made for handling different requests or celebrations easier.

The openness of the kitchen gave you a distraction between the dishes, and the decor was just absolutely stunning without being too gender-specific. I also love that you can be very casual about the dining experience, as well as perceive it to be very formal. The space and attitude of the restaurant were very versatile and is dependent on how the patrons wish to experience their time and meal here.

I definitely think Alo is a place to visit, especially for a special occasion. If not for a special occasion, their à la carte dining area by the bar is also a great alternative, especially when we don’t want a full-blown tasting menu meal.

Food: 9.2/10
Service: 4.7/5
Ambiance: new age, scandi, modern, gender-neutral, classy but not stuffy
Cost: $250/2 people

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Saturday Dinette

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On the first day of spring of 2016, although it was -4˚C, it as a beautiful sunny Sunday. So naturally, I wanted to take advantage of the natural light and go brunching. I had been eyeing this brunch spot for the past month, but never really found the time and right schedule to check it out.

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I wanted to order everything on the menu, but I opted to at least try two things. And this was the best decision I’d made in a long time. I ordered the mushroom on toast with a fried egg on top, as well as a kid’s serving of buckwheat pancakes. My friend got a coffee, the beans were from Jimmy’s coffee (Kensington). However, the French presses they used were probably all in poor shape because even after they remade the coffee when we pointed out the coffee grinds floating around, the grinds still persisted in the second batch. Definitely will opt for another beverage option the next time I come, or perhaps none at all.

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Oh, my. The pancakes were absolutely scrumptious. It was slightly crunchy on the outer edges, quite fluffy for being made of buckwheat, and the maple syrup was perfection. Even when the center of the pancake soaked up the maple syrup, the texture was maintained (again, thanks to the buckwheat). Furthermore, the syrup wasn’t revoltingly sweet (as it sometimes can get, at least to me), but instead, the perfect amount of sweetness with an extra kick from the icing sugar sprinkled on top.

The mushroom on toast was quite good as well, the mushrooms carried an earthy flavour and a slight rosemary aroma as well. The texture of the mushrooms was also done well, not too overdone, as can often happen with many dishes like this. Being the egg yolk lunatic I am, I let the whole wheat toast – the foundation of the whole dish – soak up all the yellow yolk. The yolk was underdone and spilled out of its casing when popped with a honey viscosity. It’s a little weird for some people, but this is one of the most mesmerizing things to watch for me. The egg was a little too salty, which was seasoned as it’s just about to be plated. So perhaps next time I will try to ask them to be a little lighter on the salt, but I doubt this will be easily adaptable based on the setting of the kitchen.

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My friend ordered the Little Reuben, with again a perfect fried egg, melted cheese and pork belly inside the toasted two pieces of whole wheat bread. Again, he also remarked that the egg was just a little over-seasoned, but did not ruin the dish in any way.

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Overall, I thought Saturday Dinette was a positively amazing brunch spot. They were quick with seating (perhaps we were lucky, and also we were only 2). The pricing was reasonably affordable for students, which is always a plus. The only thing I wish they could have improved is the coffee, but not everyone is obsessed with coffee like I am, and also there is Boxcar Social just a block south of where SD is, so it would be as easy as walking down to get a cup of good cortado. I definitely recommend this brunch spot and will easily become my #1 in Toronto!

Food: 9/10
Service:4.2/5
Atmosphere: diner, fast-paced, busy, hustle
Price: $15/person

Saturday Dinette Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

~ kehwon

Colette Grand Cafe – Fashion District

So for my birthday (which was about a month ago), tfung took me to the buzz of the town for quite some time, Colette Grand Café. He knew I’d love the décor, and that I was missing the french pizazz as I’d been away from Montreal for some time at this point.

Walking in, the visual impact was stunning of course. As we had an early dinner on a weekday (Tuesday), the place was quite empty. Personally, I prefer this, as it is much more romantic and intimate this way.

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Continue reading “Colette Grand Cafe – Fashion District”

Yasu – The Annex

Because we were craving for sushi, we decided to treat ourselves for the Christmas by going to a relatively new omakase restaurant on Harbord St. We had arrived for the 6:00pm seating, and were the first ones to get there, so we could get acquainted with the restaurant. We were greeted by one of the two waitresses (ours was Amy), and saw the two sushi chefs (Yoshi) busying themselves with final preparations.

The set up is extremely similar to the one that Nakazawa displayed. However, due to the fact that there was no restaurant service, the wait between pieces was less and there needed to be less people working, which also decreased the amount of (potential) chaos in the room. There are 3 rounds of 13 seating per evening, and the switchover time in between is quick.

We were impressed with the ginger that was provided, as we are both not fans of ginger. This one had a very faint sourness, with a good amount of sweetness, which balanced the ginger’s spiciness. It provided for an excellent palate cleanser, whilst still being a treat itself.

As I was driving, we did not order any sake or alcohol with the meal, but were lucky enough to try some of the Tatenokawa sake, courtesy of a very kind gentlemen sitting close to us. This sake is, as explained, the highest quality sake, as each grain of rice is polished down to remove any impurities and husk. It was incredibly smooth, and had a slight floral taste.

Some highlights of tonight’s fish were:

Seabass from Greece: the texture was almost like scallop; less chewy than most fish but not as buttery as white tuna.

Marinated Maguro: silky texture, soft

Smoked Spanish Mackerel: the amount of smokey flavour was excellently balanced, which was also able to soften the taste of mackerel that some people may veer on the dislike side.

Ocean Sea Trout: Slightly fatty, good flavour and well balanced. The thickness was perfect and was key to the overall mouthfeel

Hamachi: being tfung’s favourite type of fish for sushi purposes, this took the trophy for best overall nigiri of the night (the ootoro came in a close second). It’s just a perfect balance of everything, perfectly levelled. Not too fatty, not too firm, not too chewy, the flavour was not overpowering or lacking.

OVERALL

The food, the atmosphere, the company were absolutely amazing. I love how quaint the restaurant felt. It was proper, done well, and didn’t have that stuffy prestige that Nakazawa tended to have looming over your head. It was relaxed, easy, and extremely enjoyable. The chefs were not overly chatty, but still maintained that friendly banter from time to time. They were efficient and honoured the art of sushi to the best of their ability. The waitresses were both proficient in pronunciation of the Japanese fish and products, which I personally find affects my perception of the restaurant immensely. I was overall very happy with the meal and the evening, with the price and the service. I highly recommend anyone who is a sushi lover to come here. It is worth the money to experience all types of fish around the world (not just in one area as most omakase may tend to present), and if you’ve never been to omakase, this is definitely one that should be on your list.

Service: 5/5
Food: 9.3/10
Price: $80 (plus tax + tip), any extra pieces will be charged accordingly
Atmosphere: clean, simple, quaint, quiet, not for large groups (max 4)

YASU on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

Bellwoods Brewery – Trinity Bellwoods

Meeting up with new friends is always exciting. Last Saturday, a friend and I decided to hang out and while I narrowed the choices, he ultimately picked this microbrewery. We drove down and I was a little concerned about parking, as Ossington seemed to be where everyone hangs out on a Saturday night. Driving down the street I was immediately drawn to every single one of their restaurants, bars, and late-night shops. It reminded me of Montreal and I really needed it, as I’ve been missing the hipster Montreal for a while now.

After securing a parking space, we walked over and there were (luckily) only a small group ahead of us. We were seated within 10 minutes of arriving and were situated at a cute table on the outside edge of the patio. The temperature and amount of breeze was perfect. The only downside of sitting at this location was the Ossington bus dropping passengers off right in front of us every 10 minutes, emitting putrid amounts of pollution.

The brewpub had the juxtaposition of slightly grungy industrial feel, with the romantic lights overhead and the white picket fencing around the outside. The place was busy but not rowdy, filled with interesting conversations and kept the mood light. It’s an incredible atmosphere that just brightens up your attitude about the harsh realities of the world, giving you positivity that you might have needed.

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Obviously, we ordered beer, as Bellwoods is a microbrewery. I ordered the Gotham beer and he ordered the Wizard Wolf. I normally don’t go for dark beers, but have to admit; I only ordered the Gotham because I’ve been obsessed with the Batman: Arkham City game recently, and I just couldn’t resist. Gotham was described as “Complex, bold aromatics of citrus rind and dark berries, lingering bitterness of orange pith, pine resin and dark cocoa.” The beer was quite bitter, but not very hoppy. There was a prominent but not overpowering flavour of citrus and berries. There was also the slight hint of earthiness from the cocoa. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

For food, we ordered the Meat Board and the Smoked Fishcake. The Meat Board featured a variety of salumi, sausage, terrine, other sauces, and bread. It also came with a large scoop of lard which I did not touch. I thought the pickles and the mustard seeds were an excellent contrast to the saltiness of the meats. My favourite of all the meats was probably the capicola. The smoked fishcake was served with some cream aioli as well as a whole bone with marrow inside. I’m not a huge fan of bone marrow, so I only had a small taste of it. It was as slimy and unpleasant-feeling as usual, but a little saltier than the last time I’d had it. The fish cakes were quite moist on the inside with the smokey fried flavour on the outside. I couldn’t tell what fish it was, but there was not a lot of fish flavour, and in my opinion, there was almost no flavour other than the smokiness and the taste of “some sort of meat”. The cream aioli didn’t do anything for the fish cakes either, so as a whole, this dish was quite disappointing to me.

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Overall, Bellwoods Brewery is an amazing place for some R&R with close friends or loved ones. The beer selection they have is interesting and refreshing. The decor is absolutely at the peak of what I call casual perfection. The food is a little disappointing, but in terms of having some snacks, they are definitely better than the usual fries and wings combination. Definitely hit up Bellwoods for the night, as all along Ossington there are many other exciting restaurants that may peak your interest as well!

Bellwoods Brewery on Urbanspoon

 

Service: 4/5
Food: 7.6/10
Atmosphere: relaxed, romantic, industrial, microbrewery
Price: $30 with food, $15 for beer and snack.

 

Momofuku (Daisho and Nikai) – Entertainment District

As me and tfung are united once more, we ventured out to the very talked about momofuku located right beside the new Shangri-La hotel in Toronto. We had reservations for 7 at Momofuku Daisho, which is on the third floor of Momofuku TO, and serves mainly meats.

We arrived first, which was great since we were able to get some photos before our party arrived. We headed straight up the stairs, as the first floor was packed with patrons there for the ramen. I found that the design was poor, as everyone was already stuffed at the entrance, and it seemed that they didn’t have a wireless card machine, resulting in another crowd of people bunched up at the entrance to pay. They should have either put the machine elsewhere, or invested in some wireless devices. It kind of confused me even more as Daisho had wireless machines.

When we arrived on the third floor, we were informed that the table was not ready. The hostess gestured us down to the second floor (Nikai) to have a drink while we wait. We had originally planned to head to Nikai after dinner with our friends for drinks but headed down there anyway just to have a sit.

Tfung and I both ordered drinks. He had the herbaceous, which he substituted with gin instead of tequila, -lime,  lychee, elderflower, bitters and cucumber. I had the Vosay – vodka, yuzu, orange blossom, and tonic. I didn’t like mine (which I think was due to orange blossom, making it taste like cough syrup), so I took tfung’s. I thought it was absolutely delicious, while he thought it could have gone without the lime. Either way, we agreed that their cocktails were probably hit or miss. They were pretty expensive as well, ringing in at $12 and $13 respectively.

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I really love how the building includes different “pseudo-restaurants”. The lounge in the middle is genius. The decor was very modern and totally my style. On the top floor, it overlooks University Ave, reminding me of Suits and other more personal events.

Slowly our party began arriving, and each time we asked if the table was ready and it wasn’t. We ended up waiting a total of 40 minutes before we were seated. Tfung was highly disappointed, and to be honest, it should have been the hostess’s job to inform the patrons ahead of us that there is a second party waiting on their table as soon as they seemed to be going over time. Otherwise, they shouldn’t have booked us in for that time.

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We had reserved the bo ssäm (pork butt) in advance, which is meant for 6-10 people. 6 of us were in on the deal, as one was a vegetarian. The bo ssäm was $240, and comes with lettuce, dipping sauces and 12 raw oysters. Tonight, we had oysters from Green Gables, PEI. The oysters were quite fresh and sand-free. I thought it was quite well done, even though it wasn’t the star of the night.

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The sauces and the bo ssäm was served in Chinese bowls and plates. Although they were trying to go for the Asian fusion theme, the sauces they chose were very rudimentary to those accustomed with Chinese and Korean cuisine. The top left: ginger and onion sauce (typically served with chicken). To the right: Kimchi Paste. Bottom left: Kimchi. Bottom Right: bo ssäm sauce.

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We ordered 3 sides, the brussel sprouts (with fish sauce, puffed rice and mint). These were perhaps the best brussel sprouts I’ve ever had. They used baby sprouts, eliminating the bitter taste some people dislike. The flavour was bold and buttery with a slightly acidic aftertaste. It was very pungent due to the added fish sauce. The flavour is extremely addicting, and everyone thought this was the best tasting side, holding true to what the server told us; that it’s one of the most popular sides. After a while though, it gets to be too salty and too flavourful for my taste.

The other side we got was cauliflower with egg, anchovies and capers. I didn’t get any of the anchovies or capers in my spoonful, but thought that the egg was an interesting touch. That and the fact that I love egg. This side was not too salty, but still had a nice flavour. I didn’t find anything to extraordinary with this dish as I did with the brussel sprouts.

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Let’s talk about the meat first. When I eat it alone, it was incredibly tender, juicy, and flavourful. The skin was slightly crispy, but not too much so. It was so tender that you could pull the meat apart with just tongs. Amazing!

With condiments, my favourite was definitely the kimchi. The kimchi flavour adds an interesting sour yet spicy twist to the meat, making it more interesting, and the crunchiness of the cabbage contrasted the meat perfectly. Tfung liked the kimchi paste the most. There was also a shallot/green onion/oil mixture (which to chinese people is not very exotic as it is pretty much a staple for whole chicken), which I didn’t enjoy at all. Due to the fact that there was already some oil and grease from the meat platter, mixed with the shallot/oil mixture leaves a pretty disgusting feeling in the mouth. The last condiment was the bo ssäm sauce which is a little on the sour side, and has a medium viscosity. I didn’t think it worked as well as the kimchi did with the meat.

The meat is meant to be eaten like a taco with lettuce leaves and the condiments. You can also choose to put some steamed white rice in it, which tfung did. It added a sweetness to the taco wrap and gave it more filling.

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(We thought we could finish…we were wrong.)

Overall I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and flavour of the food. The service was pretty average, and to be honest, for the price we’re paying, the service should have been better. Thus it was reflected in their tip. The actual waiter wasn’t too bad, but the two hostesses totally ruined it for us. They also had a wine specialist on the floor who recommended us an amazing Riesling to go with the pork. It paired perfectly with the bo ssäm. It was actually a semi-sweet Riesling which helped to bring out the flavours of the pork. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the name of the Riesling, but if you do go to Momofuku, be sure to ask for wine recommendations if they have their wine specialist in house (usually should be okay if you go on the weekend). The bo ssäm and the sides were really great. My only recommendation would be to bring a larger group (~10 people) to be able to enjoy a variety of both the bo ssäm and other dishes that Daisho had to offer.

Service: 3/5
Food: 8.6/10
Atmosphere: Modern, Fusion, Asian, Sophisticated
Price: $50-60 per person

Momofuku Daishō on Urbanspoon

Santouka – Downtown Toronto

Finally, a ramen post!

Combined, me and tfung have tried many ramen places. Some were utter disappointments, and some just didn’t quite satisfy all of our wants. After our trip to Japan last year, we’ve just been spoiled in terms of our Ramen taste-buds. It is so difficult for us to find a ramen joint we enjoy after that memorable ramen stand near Tsukiji Market. I feel almost as if that feeling and that flavour can never be found again…

But, we did happen to find one we do enjoy in Toronto even if it doesn’t match up to the ones in Japan. We both agreed that out of all the ramen places, this was our favourite in terms of having the best score combined for the noodle, broth and meat. Some places the broth was excellent but the noodle was not done to our liking, or the meat was done so carelessly.

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I ordered the Miso Cha-shu Ramen. It was actually on this day that I discovered I actually don’t like Miso broth. However putting that aside, everything was really good, and there was definitely enough noodle to fill us up.

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Tfung got the Toroniku Shio Ramen, which is something that they can run out of and depends on “first come first serve” basis. Toroniku means the pig’s jowl, and was absolutely delicious. It was tender, but still had texture. The flavour of meat was not masked by any marinating, yet still was flavourful. Shio means salt, and this type of broth is actually one of the older ones.

Since we were seated at the bar, it was a little loud and not very intimate. However I love sitting at the bar at ramen joints because it reminds me of Japan. The waitresses that night seemed a little overwhelmed and were a little hard to get a hold of. However they were very nice and I didn’t have any problems with my order.

Again, I highly recommend checking this place out. If time permits, going at lunch time would be best to avoid waiting in line. We arrived at 6pm and had to wait a full hour. This was back in December 2012 though, so I’m not sure whether the lines are that bad still. Either way, it would be advisable to avoid peak hours.

Another thing I love about this place is that it’s pretty much right next to Eaton Center. I had visited Santouka again this summer after shopping at Eatons with my cousin. We just walked right over and had some ramen. It is just so easy and convenient.

Service: 4/5
Food: 8.9/10
Atmosphere: simple, wood, modern Japanese
Price: $12-20

 

Santouka Ramen on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

Shiso Tree Cafe – Japantown

I always love going to Japantown (located on Woodbine, just East of Woodbine). I love their pan (bread) and looking at the cakes. I love the general atmosphere and I’ve never had a bad experience there. There’s always something that reminds me of good times, including the time that I bought two big pieces of sashimi (Salmon and Hamachi) for sushi party at my house, at which we ended up butchering the beautiful sashimi because I did not have a proper knife.

Nonetheless, this time my mom and my cousin finally tried the Shiso Tree Cafe. I’ve seen this name pop up in a lot of my friends’ facebook checkins and I finally went and tried it.

We all just ordered pastas,

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My cousin got the Shoyu Mushroom Pasta. Shoyu in japanese means soy sauce, so I’m guessing this was made with some soy sauce. I didn’t taste much of it but it had a sweet taste to it. Being a mushroom lover (haha) I loved this dish. But the sweetness of it did throw me off at first.

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My mom ordered the Shrimp Okonomiyaki . Okonomiyaki is actually a pancake dish in Japan, and it’s famous for the very unique sauce that is used. I used to love okonomiyaki-flavoured chips (and still do) by Calbee, so I’m a huge fan of this sauce. The shrimp was of good quality and had the perfect texture. However, they had put some cheese in the dish. It didn’t match the Asian flavours at all and being someone who generally doesn’t like cheese unless it works really with the dish, I felt that it had ruined this for me.

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I myself got the Shio Clam Vongole. Shio means “salt” in terms of ramen adn that’s kind of what I took it as in this. There were some basil leaves in the dish and the clams were quite good. It was a little oilier than I would have liked but I did like the taste. I have to say that the mushroom pasta was my favourite though!

I really do love Japantown, even more so after visiting Japan. I love the way that Japanese people have the discipline and will power to excel in everything they do. Each individual isn’t a Jack of all trades, but whatever they specialize in, they will perfect it. They are so efficient and have so much respect for the jobs even if they don’t like it. This is something that I think we all need to learn from.

Anyway, the service was quite good, the waitress knew exactly what we wanted and didn’t need much explanation. I hate the places where I have to explain myself to them. I’m not a patient person and at a restaurant is where I want to relax and enjoy. If I have to over-exert myself just to get the waitress to understand it usually turns me off. And this place did a perfect job of that!

Service: 4.5/5
Food: 8.3/10
Atmosphere: Modern Japanese, with little wooden booths
Price: $15-20

Shiso Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon

Arepa – Fashion District (Queen West)

I had never ventured past Spadina on foot on any street. However I did see on instagram a picture of this cafe and the caption “Guava Cheesecake”. I love guava flavoured drinks and was very interested in trying this cheesecake. This cafe is located on Queen West, in the Fashion District (that I didn’t even know existed). My cousin and I walked here on a really nice day, and we really enjoyed the walk, as we discovered lots of new shops (fabric and bling-bling bead shops) we would never have been able to find. It’s funny how you’ve lived in a city for so long and because you don’t venture out of your comfort zone, there are always places you don’t know about.

Arepa means corn meal bread that’s very prominent in Columbia and Venezuela. This particular cafe is Venezuela-based.

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We arrived and were pretty hungry. I really wanted to eat a salad, and we opted for the Watercress in orange vinagrette, with oranges, sliced almonds and warm fresco cheese. It was really refreshing on this day, and a really fruity tasting salad. I’ve recently started to notice a lot of watercress salads which is interesting and new to me, since I’ve only ever had watercress in the Asian soups that my mom likes to make.

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We also ordered la llanera, which comes with beef tenderloin, avocado, fresco cheese and tomato. We were also given condiments to add, including garlic mayo, pesto and peppercorn. It was pretty good, but the beef was really dry. The condiments made a world of difference in terms of adding some moisture to the dish. The corn meal bread was something that I hadn’t tried before. It was interesting, but I don’t think I’d consider it something I’d pick over other types of bread.

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Finally, we got to the reason I had discovered this restaurant in the first place: the guava cheesecake. The dish was decorated with guava syrup dotted on the side of the plate. I have to be honest, this cheesecake failed to come even close to my expectations. Perhaps I expected too much…Either way, I was just having a regular cheesecake, and there was almost no guava taste. The little guava icing that was on the top was of true guava flavour, and didn’t do much for the cheesecake. The base of the cake was an interesting mix of oats and granola though, which was something I hadn’t seen much of before.

Overall this cafe is cute and is a nice place to go if you want to try something new (or at least it’s new to me, as I’ve never had Venezuelan cuisine before). The food was decent, and came quite quickly. The service was attentive but not annoying which can be hard to achieve in a small cafe. Although I enjoyed my experience, I don’t think I’ll be visiting any time soon, as corn meal bread does not appeal to me, and the guava cheesecake was a disappointment. As for the salad, I am confident I can make something quite similar at home. But if you’ve been wanting to try some new flavours, I do suggest you to check out their arepas!

Service: 4/5
Food: 7.2/10
Atmosphere: cafe, drawings, colourful decor
Price: $10-20

Arepa Cafe on Urbanspoon

~ kehwon