Dineout recap: The week of the soup noodle

While some would point to the overcast weather, threat of constant rain and cold wet chill in the air as the source of my affinity to hot noodle soup, I would respond that I generally love noodle soup. Bring it on! Even in on a hot summer day!

Duotian Fish Soup Noodles Restaurant [Yelp]

Someone asked me what my first meal back in Vancouver would be. No hesitation, soup noodles and the restaurant in my new ‘hood serving it is Duotian on the top level of the plaza at Renfrew and East 1st Avenue. While Cattle Cafe introduced me to Design Your Own (DYO) noodles, Duotian sealed the deal with repeat visits and introduced me to fish broth. It’s not fishy tasting!

I picked the “Chinese rice spaghetti” noodle in a pepper tofu broth and my toppings included pork liver and barbecue pork. Yes, pork laden. I know the selection of the pork liver is directly the result of not being served any pork liver when I was at hot pot with mum a week before. The noodles were a little overcooked and boiled liver is definitely an acquired taste. It was nonetheless a satisfying and light noodle soup.

Deer Garden Signatures [Yelp]

After I checked into Duotian on Foursquare, Su responded, wondering if it was similar to Deer Garden. I wouldn’t know, never been to Deer Garden Signatures. For some reason, I thought Deer Garden Signatures was in Burnaby where Deer Lake is but as we were driving to Ikea in Richmond, I looked up Deer Garden Signatures and we were just about to pass by the new Fraser location!

Although NPY’s mum had a breakfast of leftovers that NPY’s sister brought home from a Deer Garden Signatures dinner, she was game to go again and it solved the question of “where to go eat?” We were in for a late lunch (after 1 p.m.) and there was a queue for a table but it was just 20 minutes at most.

NPY’s mum ordered a spicy Thai tom yum goong broth with beef brisket and fish tofu so I had to order something non-spicy so NPY could share. There are several choices of fish broth (a couple more than Duotian offers) so I selected the watercress fish broth with Korean potato start noodles and toppings were fish fillets and Vietnamese pork, the latter upon NPY’s mum’s suggestion.

NPY noticed immediately the vastly better quality of Deer Garden Signatures and it was a better broth and care with the noodles that made Duotian look like a cafeteria by comparison. We could seriously return there often and there are constant queues for tables as a testiment to the relatively new restaurant’s popularity. I was trying out the Korean potato starch noodles (kind of like a thicker green bean/glass vermicelli) but would usually order the “Chinese rice spaghetti” which I heard is made fresh in-house.

The One Restaurant [Yelp]

After a most disappointing season opener for the Canucks, we finally had appetite for dinner. All you can eat sushi? Too much. Deer Garden again? Possibly. Cattle Cafe? NPY and I didn’t want to so NPY suggested The One.

The place was still hoppin’ with customers younger and far younger than we. One of these years, I’m not going to want to go to a place like that, despite the food. I’m happy the joint is still going and the slush bubble tea drinks got even taller (the price probably went up, too).

Since I wasn’t inclined to share, I ordered the spicy beef flank noodle soup. It was nice and spicy and the  noodles were good but the beef, I thought, was a tad dry.

NPY’s order was a bit like a noodle soup, too. He ordered the slice pork with (sour) cabbage hot pot that came with a bowl of rice but-unadvertised-there is green bean vermicelli in the hot pot. I love the tang the sour cabbage lends the broth.

Yunnan Cross Bridge Rice Noodle (Crystal Mall)

NPY’s mum was raving about the Yunnan noodles at Crystal Mall food court and, lo and behold, we were there shortly after. Compared to other quick serve restaurants, there is a bit a of a wait at Yunnan Cross Bridge Rice Noodle. You wait to order, then you wait for your food to be cooked in the sequence your order was place. The restaurant is super simple just offering noodles and through a small window to the kitchen you can see claypots with chicken broth lined up on a stove and the cook is adding the ingredients (the same per noodle soup) and noodles as the broth is ready.

It’s a super value with my selection of pork ribs sliding in under $7. Default vegetables to each pot included spinach, enoki, bean sprouts and a quail egg. And no cilantro – how happy am I about that? The noodles, to me, were like the “Chinese rice spaghetti” so how did this dish get such a cute name? Here are a couple of origin stories.

Goodness, there is a lot of good stuff-other noodle shops-in Crystall Mall food court and I will certainly urge that we eat there next time we head to Metrotown.

Congee Noodle House [Yelp]

On a Monday night, we had to take care of our own dinner and the entirety of my belongings is still in a U-Haul crate, still somewhere between Toronto and Vancouver. We wanted a casual and cheap and satisfying dinner and not out of the way of the drive from downtown to home so we made a pit stop at our standby favourite, Congee Noodle House.

We got our “standard order” which is all pictured here: HK-style sampan congee with random and unknown-to-me seafood pieces, a savoury rice “tamale” and-my favourite-BBQ duck rice noodle soup. All for under $20, we were perfectly hapy.

Dineout recap: The week of the soup noodle

Dineout recaps: January 2013 bender in Toronto

So much food … and for so many days. This bender started off on New Year’s Eve with a quiet dinner (to contrast the chaos I was missing in Halifax) and quickly escalating as if there was no tomorrow. Fun! But tiresome after five days. I didn’t write about these along the way so I left quite a job for myself!

Raijin Ramen [Yelp]

Kinton, Momofuku, Santouka. That is the order in which I have been hitting the new ramen restaurants in town. While I don’t love the pricing of ramen in this city, it is still relatively an economical option.

After work on New Year’s Eve, I didn’t have plans-just the way I like it-but did give nod to the “occasion” by going out for dinner after work. We tried to go to Sansotei as I was “saving” Raijin to go to with mum and Lil Sis but-what do you know?-for the second time I tried to go, they were closed. Closed for the holidays. So we tried Raijin, a few blocks away. I heard Raijin had a lot of space and we scored a table at a counter and it wasn’t too busy so the atmosphere was peaceful.

Like Kinton, Raijin is a Vancouver export and belongs to the group that includes Kingyo and Suika izakayas.

We ordered a small chicken kaarage to nibble on before our bowls of ramen arrived.

I ordered bamboo charcoal miso ramen which is what I get Motomachi Shokudo and it is “healthier” and I recommended my friend order a pork bone broth shio ramen as an initiation. When the server brought the noodle bowls over, I thought the shio with dark oil patches were mine but my broth, as I should have remembered was full-on black. I had a taste of the shio broth and it was crazy rich and creamy. My broth was lighter in flavour and had a hint of Chinese tonic. I recognized the flavour as “sang day” that mum used to often make as potent broth and tell us it was good for our skin – thus I believe the bamboo charcoal soup is also beneficial! The noodles did not stand out in particular and I forgot to notice. I think Raijin wins it on the broth.

 

Nea Go Hyang Korean Restaurant [Urbanspoon]

 

As I waited for mum and Lil Sis to meet me at Finch Station after they got in from Halifax and swung by home, I froze without a hat and standing in sub-zero temperature at the Passenger Pick-Up area. I hadn’t decided where to eat and it was nearly 3 p.m. on New Year’s Day but in a frozen brain moment of clarity, recalled that Korean restaurants are plentiful just around the corner and that would warm me up quickly. Specifically, my favourite bowl of tofu soup. I pulled up the list of best Korean restaurants in North York on Urbanspoon and easily picked out which one we hadn’t tried and thankfully they were open on a statutory holiday.

Banchan arrived for us to nibble on-a good assortment-and this is one of those places also serving up a scallion pancake that is complimentary. The pancake was nice and oily and crispy. I don’t like glutinous flour pancakes unless they are thin like this. I did not push for tofu soup since it is a little antisocial of me as I tend not to share. Mum spied another table with kimchi fried rice so we ordered that and Lil Sis selected a spicy noodle soup, her kind of dish.

Kimchi fried rice was good, a little oily, with small pieces of nappy and chicken and pork. The spicy noodle soup was not as spicy as looked and as per my usual policy, I didn’t eat the seafood. The noodles were plentiful, springy and cooked perfectly.

 

Elegant Chinese Cuisine [Yelp]

My “research” to compile a list of places to try turned up Elegant when I was looking for Hakka food. Mum had mentioned she had Hakka food when she lived in HK and that is one of those cuisines that I definitely do not get to try. And, boy, is it difficult to find. There are many Hakka restaurants in Toronto, but it’s the Indian-Chinese fusion variety and not what mum is interested in. Hakka are nomadic people and their cuisine reflects the region where they have settled for some time while that includes parts of India, they have spent time in regions of China and created some unique dishes that hide in corners of some Chinese restaurants’ menu. Elegant sounded like it had several Hakka dishes but mum claimed not to know what the major dishes were and she shot down the idea of reserving a salt-baked chicken. Too salty, she said.

We rolled into Elegant anyhow and it is an interest space and decor with the ceilings not lowered and pipes exposed by painted dark and an eclectic mixture of refined traditional Chinese art and plants placed everywhere. I pulled up the Yelp page to keep on hand the reviews that listed the Hakka dishes and Mum asked the server which Hakka dishes they had on the menu. Server shrugged and said it was only a pork jowl and didn’t even mention the salt-baked chicken or the glutinous-rice stuff duck. I was getting worried. The chicken was out of consideration anyhow since we did not pre-order one and I was hopeful we could get the duck but it turns out that was out as well. Mum realized just how eager I was to try Hakka food and relented and we ordered the pork jowl with mustard greens. She hadn’t had jowl before and could stand to try that cut of met as well. The server seemed really concerned that we hadn’t ordered any vegetables but we really would have been too full.

Upon seeing it on the menu, mum ordered the jellyfish. It’s kind of funny and it looked odd when it appeared. A little too … dark. And it merely tasted like soya sauce and was crunchy. Mum ordered the hot & sour soup which counts as “research” as we also serve one and it was neither very hot nor sour.

 

The pork jowl arrived in a non-descript pile and I didn’t mind it so much except it was just not a lot of variety. The light sauce coating the pork was not too salty with sugar added to cut through it and thus I thought it was a little sweet. When we couldn’t order the duck, we freaked out and didn’t know what to replace it with except the tenderloin the hostess recommended, that had been ordered several times that evening. Honey mustard tenderloin, we thought it would be different and Lil Sis would enjoy it. “Tenderloin” was a misnomer. The cut of beef was a loin and it was tender but only artificially with tenderizer. I’m not such a honey mustard fan and the sauce wasn’t so special to blow me away.

 

Ten-Ichi Japanese Restaurant

Mum remarks upon our “loyalty” to Ten-Ichi and … why ever not? The price is right (there is even a senior’s rate that came in handy) and the variety is good. It was mum’s second time at Ten-Ichi and Lil Sis’ and my fourth time and we went for the first time a year ago, this time in January. We made a reservation and I’m not sure the host really was confirming reservations with his book and how on earth do you organize reservations at an all-you-can-eat restaurant where diner takes between 1.5 to 2.5 hours to enjoy their meal? Tables did turn over at 7:30 for a “second seating” and people claiming to have reservations got the first tables to turn over. Walk-ins were out of luck for a while during the busiest time. Suffice it to say, we don’t expect to get a table at the time we made the reservation if we arrive only at the time of the reservation.

The table to our left was overly fussy about the drafty window and relentlessly pestered the staff and actually sent back food because it wasn’t warm. We think they did not eat for days in advance and tucked away a scary amount of food, ordering more hot noodle soup after they had eaten dessert! The table to our right was a bigger group and practically sat on top of our table. For the first time, we had some problems getting what we ordered and had to remind them twice about our short ribs and sirloin cubes, neither of which was difficult to procure as other tables were receiving these in multiples. As coule be expected, there was no ginger creme brulee available (which we had just the first time) and there was no strawberry creme fraiche (which we’ve never had). We love the place, would return another time when we can stomach another all-you-can-eat sushi meal as the food it solid. Just for kicks, here is what we ordered:

* salmon roses
* roses maki
* white tuna sashimi (6pcs)
* salmon sashimi (9pcs)
* herb salmon
* 2 spicy salmon handrolls
* 2 spicy tuna handrolls
* spicy salmon maki
* soft shell crab maki
* kalbi short ribs
* garlic teppanaki sirloin cubes
* tempura shrimp
* tempura eggplant
* spicy salmon sushi pizza
* teppanaki flounder (2 orders)
* chicken yakitori
* grilled (robata) eggplant
* seafood hot pot (2 orders)
* unagi rice (3 orders)
* spicy beef udon
* beef ramen
* scallop cutlets
* chawanmushi
* deep-fried banana
* green tea ice cream (2 orders)
* mango ice cream
* red bean ice cream
* mango yogurt (3 orders)
* tiramisu (2 orders)
* custard cream (2 orders)
* chocolate mousse (2 orders)
* jello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amaya Express

My lunch suggestion with cousin WC was to visit the food court in First Canadian Place, one of the ones near me but I had never before visited. Amaya Express was on the store listing and I know what I will order … ! Butter chicken bowl and lemon rice because the latter is something different. The butter chicken used white meat (a “flaw” resolved with the presence of curry, haha) and the lemon rice was brilliant yellow, just a little tart and lemony.

Grand Ocean Seafood Restaurant [Yelp]

Lil Sis requested squab for dinner and I did not know of a place downtown to recommend to Big Uncle recommended our old standby at Dragon Centre, currently named Grand Ocean. It was not busy in the big restaurant that evening and we heard that they had to order in, with same night/hour delivery the squab.

We were served bitter melon soup and nibbled on the garlic pea shoots to start. Mum told Big Uncle about my Hakka quest and so it was decided to get the braised pork belly with preserved vegetable and I was glad Big Uncle dug in because I did not want to work on it all alone. Unfortunately we didn’t enjoy it so much because the meat was too lean! Where were the layers of fat?? A steamed fish arrived and to not impede anyone’s work, I only took a photo after it was cut up and somewhat re-assembled.

We waited a really long time for the squab and just sat and talked. The servers were overly optimistic and would tell us several times it was coming soon until it was clear it was not true. The squabs were good and two pieces was the right amount. We were served tofu dessert which I found was not silky enough. Tasted too much like tofu and that’s coming from a tofu-lover like me!

 

 

 

Double Ming Chinese Dessert [Yelp]

I only tasted the tofu dessert at Grand Ocean and ate a mini almond cookie so I wasn’t filled up on dessert and Lil Sis looked up and found Double Ming. The place has no aesthetics except round, Chinese-style mahogany and marble tables with matching round stools. Double boiled milk is the specialty so mum and I got that but I asked for mine to be topped with black glutinous rice. Upon my recommendation, Lil Sis ordered sago in coconut milk, my favourite complimentary dessert after banquet dinners. Mum added at the end a order for a tea egg and I followed suit, regrettably.

Mum thought something was terribly wrong with the tea egg while I merely thought she didn’t like the flavouring they used and that the egg had been hard-boiled too long and was really green. The double boiled milk desserts were delicious and slipped down easily. Lil Sis’ sago dessert was perhaps a little too much of the dessert that at banquets we don’t get served too much and mum remarked how it was a really simple dish to prepare.

 

 

Casa-Imperial Fine Chinese Cuisine [Yelp]

Fondy, the first organizer of the Joy of Eating Meetup.com group, told me about Casa, a dim sum restaurant in a castle! It’s actually just a mansion located on Steeles Avenue East and mum and Lil Sis went once last time mum was visiting and I was at work. I still wanted to try it and they were game to go again.

In the restaurant that is far longer than it is wide, there are three dining areas. The first area you see is like a beautiful parlour, shaped like a square and with crystal chandeliers overhead. We were ushered to the back of the ground level and we were dining in a darker area that feels like a hallway leading to a landing. It felt like an exclusive club and mum kept remarking how you didn’t hear anything but Cantonese spoken and I find that homogeneity intriguing. There is a dining area on the lower level as well, where the washrooms are. The place used to be a steakhouse or something and the wall art was wonderful country English scenery. The servers were mostly female and they wore very prim black dresses with a bit of ruffle that I thought was quite like what Jane Eyre would wear or, as Lil Sis observed, creepy girls in horror flicks.

 

It was good last time so we ordered it again – jelly fish with shredded chicken. Unlike the night before, there was elastic-like springiness to this jellyfish, it was fresh and spicy and the thinly sliced chicken was a nice addition. This was a premium dish at a good restaurant. The meal also started out nicely with a colourful and delicious rice rolls dish. The fried tofu was egg tofu and it was a good combination of all the good stuff in a quality rice roll.

I chose two “fusion” dishes that were fun to eat. I really liked the chayote roll with shimeji mushrooms and veggie ham. The broth-like sauce was light and there were also taro sachets to round out the satisfying vegetarian dish. The other fusion dish was odd, just slices of king mushroom, “shrimp paste” (minced shrimp) and pumpkin and a glob of salted egg yolk sauce. The separate ingredients were nice, not sure however if they worked together.

 

 

I agreed to the beef brisket dish but it was actually tendon and brisket and when I searched for the brisket pieces, all I came up with was very tendony brisket pieces. Trying to get at the brisket meat meant eating far more tendon than I wanted. It seemed that they forgot about our congee so when we reminded them of it, it came quickly. It was a treat of a congee, arriving in a clay pot bowl and the server stirred it up and removed all the clam shells and then ladled out our first helping. The congee contained clams, gai choy (which is slightly bitter), salted egg yolk and preserved egg yolk. It was terribly funny to see Lil Sis’ reaction from tasting the bitter vegetable to briny egg white. I liked all of the ingredients and they lent a lot of flavour to the congee.

Lil Sis selected the shrimp and peach salad roll which was beautiful and crispy and served with Miracle Whip. I liked the perfectly crispy wrap best of it all. Lil Sis also selected the pancake dessert, an aromatic crepe made with glutinous rice flour and coconut milk enclosed around sugar, crushed nuts and more coconut.

 

Desserts just kept getting better with the fried sesame ball with salted egg yolk, the runny, creamy kind. Mum and Lil Sis humoured me and I had two of these beautiful balls.

 

Confucian Restaurant [Yelp]

Mum knew I was looking for different types of Chinese cuisine to try, like Shanxi or Northwestern and it can be awfully fun even when we stick with the “usuals” for the region because it’s all new for us. I was wildly impressed that mum had found, on her smartphone no less, a couple of options. When I learned that she started with Confucian Restaurant from seeing it reviewed on Trendy Zone, I downgrade it to quite impressed. From there, she did find another similar place but given we could confirm the pricing for Confucian, we ended up there. And, Trendy Zone hasn’t really steered us too wrong.

Confucian is a bit of a hole-in-the-wall, lacking in aesthetics but I did not feel uncomfortable there. With a combination of referring to a list mum jotted down from reviews she read and what I also wanted to try, we cobbled together an order that frightfully large for three women!

I ordered the shredded potato salad because that stuff is hard for me to make and so very easy to eat. The dumplings were a splendid deal with a dozen costing just $5. I ordered the regular pork and cabbage variety because we would like it and it turns out there was little bit of soup added to the inside. We had a order at least three skewers but they could be a variety so we ordered lamb, squid and yellow croaker. We were warned the lamb was very spicy but I did not find it so. Squid was okay, flavoured with cumin. And the whole fish was nice and crispy.

 

 

Our noodle dish was Beijing-style ja jiang mein and I had no qualms with it. Mum and Lil sis thought it was spicy but they hadn’t seen anything yet. The enormous bowl of fish in spicy broth arrived. I am nervous to order it because of the level of spice but mum had written it down from reviews and wanted to try it. Seriously, she hadn’t heard of it before? Well, it is a wonderous dish. Lil Sis and mum ladled out the white fish with chilis and munched on their first servings and nearly keeled over from the spicy. I made sure to not bring chili flakes with my fish and found the heat quite pleasant.

We ordered braised pork belly with preserved vegetable (again) in some kind of defiant gesture since it was so incorrectly prepared at the last meal but it was not necessary. I was so full and so pork belly/braised meat out I did not enjoy the pork belly and just found the sauce overwhelming. I was looking forward to getting the millet congee as a bland side to the spicy food and marveled at the yellow broth colour. It is yellow from chicken broth? I took a sip and watched for mum’s reaction and it was gold-we hadn’t expected it at all to be a sweet congee! It’s not as sweet as dessert soup and it ended up being a good accompaniment to the salty and spicy dishes we had.

 

The Bowl Kee Restaurant [Yelp]

We didn’t know what to eat after trying to go to Shiso Tree for Japanese-style pasta and they were closed for the week (how ironic, when mum closed our restaurant for the week to visit Toronto) so we fought through all the reds and arrived at Peachtree just to peruse the selection and pick a dinner spot based on signage and/or business. We would have had to wait for a while for a table at hoppin’ Top Choice so across the plaza, I saw the sign for Bowl Kee and suggested it. I had nothing else go on except the name.

The place specializes in clay pot rice with six choices that you can order in 2-6 person sizes. They also have a big selection of hot pot dishes from which we chose the Buddha’s feast. Mum glanced over at the next table and asked about the chicken and while they had received it with their three-dish dinner, we could also order a half chicken. I love the tender Chinese chicken that came accompanied with a creamy ginger sauce instead of the usual oily scallion-ginger one. The clay pot rice was good but not the best and the vegetables of the Buddha’s Feast were about the most unfabulous variety I have ever seen. I didn’t (quite) mean to rub it in but my favourite Buddha’s Feast is at this place in Vancouver … Still, it was vegetable content and we had a decent dinner.

If we return, now that it is in on mum’s radar, we would order a three-dish dinner and get the complimentary chicken starter and a dessert.

 

Pastel Creperie & Dessert House

Where to go for dessert now … ? That I was getting dropped off at Finch Station to head back downtown suggested that we revisit Pastel. The small shop was busy and we did not get  booth spot but a table by the counter instead. Mum ordered a matcha white hot chocolate to up her calcium intake (we hope) and it was a beautiful green colour.

Then Lil Sis and I ordered opposites in our desserts which we split with each other and mum. She ordered the shortcake waffle that was warm and had strawberry ice cream, shortcake cubes and mixed berries, drizzled with chocolate and with a side of whipped cream. I just had a taste of the waffle and it was good. I ordered the black sesame crepe within which was ground sesame seed in a sugar mixture, more shortcake cubes and a smattering of whipped cream. I would have a bite of black sesame ice cream with a bit of crepe and my plate ended up this ghastly brown and ash colour. But it was so good!

 

Yang’s Fine Chinese Cuisine [Yelp]

While I had suggested congee for lunch on mum’s last day in town, mum went ahead and suggested getting dim sum “across from the Maxim on Bayview.” It turns out we were returning to Yang’s. Last time, we had really late dim sum and it seem good and very high end. We were back to pick at more of their selection and dare not make it larger group because our Toronto relatives might be shocked we’d visit such a pricey place.

 

I’m a little wiped out by dim sum lunches and let mum and Lil Sis do much of the ordering and as such I did not know what to expect. As usual, there was a high rice rolls to diners ratio and mum and Lil Sis ordered two types. The plain rice rolls were so utterly plain and we were expected to jazz them up with hoisin sauce, peanut sauce and soya sauce provided. They were not exceptional in flavour to me. I helped mum decide between spinach rice rolls with barbecue pork or scallops rice roll. I always prefer rice roll with barbecue pork and was pleasantly surprised the rice rolls themselves were green. Other than that, they were not hot when they arrived at the table and the cut of pork was so-so, a little fatty and that is a lot coming from me!

Mum ordered “seafood” pancake which was also made with glutinous rice flour and she was disappointed that dried shrimp was one of the seafood items. I helped order the foie gras mango rolls and they were clumsily executed as flat pastries with too much mayo. My bad. And they were very expensive!

 

 

Mum ordered the plain white congee with fried dough sticks and the congee was indeed very plain. The dough sticks were hot and freshly fried but they did not taste very fresh. The typical pork dumplings (siu mai) were okay.

The glutinous rice wrapped in steamed bun was something I can fathom although have not ordered before. The glutinous rice was a little dry and the bun was not fluffy. Beef tenderloin buns were kind of tasty. The cashew pumpkin pastry and – very cute – shaped like miniature pumpkins. The interior filling appeared to be pumpkin custard which was just too much by that point in the meal!

 

Rolling Pot [Yelp]

Before we even got to lunch and while we were waiting for a table, mum was already looking for a spot for dinner! She came up with iCook Buffet, a Taiwanese place, but upon reading further reviews that outlined an unhygienic feature, we decided on Rolling Pot near Pacific Mall that I had seen before and noted as a place to try. Like iCook, at Rolling Pot everyone gets their own hot pot. Unlike iCook with a buffet table from which you get your items to cook, Rolling Pot is just the way I’m used to in that you place an order. At Rolling Pot, you serve yourself drinks from an assortment of cold Chinese drinks from fountain machines and Coke from 2L bottles. You also create your own sauce and mum and MY mixed two sauces each while I made one boring one with soya sauce, garlic and sesame oil.

I ordered the tom yum soup based for $2 extra while mum and Lil sis had basic broths included in the price. My favourite items of the evening included watercress, nappa cabbage, long mangrove noodles, tofu, Spam and lamb. Although you are responsible for all in your pot, you still can’t tell how much you are eating until you feel positively ill … which is the point we reached.

 

Ninki Sushi

A coworker asked me, out of the blue, if I wanted to have lunch. Sure! Later, she only needed to tell me Ninki in Scotia Plaza and I’m game. I’ve passed by the restaurant so many times when walking north or south from my office and Eaton Centre but never went in. We arrived for lunch after 1 p.m. and were seated on a Monday with no problem. If there was a lunch menu, it was over and we selected from two bento box options priced at $13 and $15.  I barely had to check what the items were include – it’s just what you order for lunch. I simply decided between chicken, salmon and beef teriyaki.

The salad was overdressed, but I like it that way. Miso soup and California rolls were okay. In the large box that arrived, everything was present in an impressive amount. The three dumplings were tight nuggets of pork and pepper and vermicelli. There were many more pieces of tempura than I would have expected, amongst them one piece of shrimp. The salmon was not the smoothest fillet but a good amount as well. Most importantly, the service was efficient and the food arrived quickly which is perhaps the largest criteria for a sit-down restaurant in the PATH concourse.

 

Banh Mi Boys

Okay, so I did plan running my errands around checking out Banh Mi Boys – finally. Just one more place to check off on my Toronto list (which was by no means a comprehensive list). The spot is bright and modern, long and narrow with one row of seating in the front and a long ordering and kitchen counter. I ordered the grilled pork banh mi, the first choice listed on the menu and veggie kimchi fries as the carnivore version of the latter was loaded with pulled pork (yech). The banh mi are a decent deal for the location (Queen Street West at Spadina) but twice the price than if you went to a restaurant farther from the city. But at Banh Mi Boys, if you ask for a customization (for me, no cilantro) you can be confident that it will be executed. The kimchi fries were an awesome mixture of picked spiciness, creamy mayo and peppery dried tofu and hand-cut fries.

Dineout recaps: January 2013 bender in Toronto

Trying out Sushi Shop

One day, while cutting through Union Station, Lil Sis pointed out the Sushi Shop and asked me if I would try out their offering. “Never!” was my answer, scoffing at the idea. A sushi joint in grubby Union Station!?

Shortly after, I would laugh to myself as I browsed the beautiful menu that landed in my mailbox and gleefully plotted out a few meals that would take advantage of the coupons along the edge of the menu offering a free roll with a minimum order and the like.

The Sushi Shop has tens of locations in Montreal and throughout the province of Quebec but just a handful in Ontario so far with five of them in Toronto. Besides being one of the closest locations, the Union Station location is the only one open on the weekends. In the case of independent shops, you might not want to get sushi on the weekend because fish market days are Sundays and Mondays so weekend fish is the least fresh. The Telus Tower location is just as close to me as Union Station and stays open until 7:00 p.m. on weekdays.

While waiting for your order at a Sushi Shop location, you will quickly learn they are part of the MTY Rewards program (free to join, it seems) where you earn points each time you dine at 20 participating merchants (at a rate of earning 3.6 points per pre-tax dollar, it would take $1,334 to earn 4,800 points required to redeem $10).  The rewards program also offers free menu item vouchers based on your purchasing patterns and frequency. One can hope those vouchers are easier to come by and coincide with items you would order.

I stopped by the Union Station location on my way home after yoga for my inaugural visit and it was to try their Sirocco Hako sushi that coincidentally is the posterchild for this month’s menu. Because it’s beautiful. Hako is a mold into which rice and the fish and other ingredients are pressed, in other words, “pressed sushi”.

The salmon was chopped and then reconstituted with sesame seeds and crunchy tempura such that it was hard to really get its flavour. I would have wanted more avocado in the avocado-mango mixture and the bed of rice was flatter than I would like. Still, an impressive sushi and I was eager to try more and make my next order.

My next order was half a week later, at the Telus Tower location with some time to spare even after I got work late. My planned order was the Red Tiger roll, seared salmon nigiri, a novel dessert roll and the Inferno roll that was free with a minimum $15 order. Since they did not have a required ingredient for the dessert roll, I ordered the seared tilapia instead. This was one crazy “bento” box.

 

The Red Tiger roll was one that I had identified I wanted to try with a great fusion that introduced smoky steak sauce. It was a meaty roll that was lovely in its smokiness and creaminess. The shrimp was fresh and crunchy.

Since going to Miku in Vancouver, I have been searching for seared sushi that doesn’t cost $4/piece. The principle is the same in that searing the fish brings out some natural flavours otherwise locked into the raw fish and Sushi Shop is the right price at under $4 for two pieces, about how much I would pay for nigiri from a good restaurant. The salmon and tilapia were cut generously and lightly seared. I thought the tilapia tasted entirely cooked and the salmon was well-balanced.

The Inferno roll is from their Crunchy Sushi series and had intrigued me with the use of sun-dried tomato pesto but I will ignore any sushi with cream cheese listed as a component. The roll did a good job of packing in crunch and heat, so much that I didn’t taste a hint of the pesto. Perhaps the cream cheese tempered the heat a little and it was a fun roll.

Despite having my order all planned out, I couldn’t order again because a main reason for my third order was to try their dessert roll but twice within September, contrary to advertised in their September take-out menu, they did not have a component they needed to make the dessert roll.

 

It wasn’t until December when I remembered I could try again to order the dessert roll and it was available! Happily, I put together an order that exceeded $10 so I could get a free California roll.

Trilogie, one of their crispy rolls, was my main roll. Salmon, tuna, and a lot of tilapia made it a meaty roll lightly fragranced with the green onion. Although it was not still hot, the roll exterior was really crunchy and I really liked the combination. The California rolls were also solid with plenty of the three ingredients.

Paradiso, the dessert roll I waited so long to try, was unfortunately my least favourite piece and it wrapped the meal. It is served cold, of course, and even when I tried to dunk it in the chocolate sauce, it did not stick very well. I did not enjoy the cold rice and colder rice paper that was an unpleasant skin. The rolle would have done just as well, I think, without the rice paper. The three fruits–strawberry, mango and clementine–are good on their own but didn’t make the best combination with the rice.

That was truly a fun tour of the Sushi Shop menu!

Trying out Sushi Shop

Dineout recap: The Asian food in Hawaii

Of the 10 meals recapped below at Asian joints that we hit up during seven days in Honolulu, only four of them were planned. We discovered other great restaurants that don’t top the list on Urbanspoon but were well the visit. 10 Asian meals! And there’s a whole other blog post for the food during that week that wasn’t strictly Asian!

Izakaya Tako-No-Ki [Yelp]

After ascertaining that our room was acceptable, we walked around the neighbourhood on a Friday night at 10:00 looking for food. Bars and clubs were certainly open but I was a little confuzzled by the options and we went with Japanese and a izakaya on the second floor on the same street as our hotel.

The ramen was cheap but plainly adorned but the noodles were good. I ordered my first poke of the visit and enjoyed every bit of it down to the sweet onions and branch-like seaweed.

 

Nobu Waikiki

I made an 8 pm reservation at Nobu Waikiki but really just wanted to enjoy some drinks and their “foursome” deal of three appies and a dessert for a fixed price. We never got a chance since they weren’t seating anyone after the tsunami warning as issued and thereafter we found they weren’t conveniently located in a cool area and didn’t return.

Shirokiya Fukumusubi

The idea of a Japanese food court inside a Japanese department store inside a Western mall sounded cool but it was actually quite low key. I picked up pre-packed containers of sushi from the musubi kiosk and paid for them at central cashiers.

It was the only musubi I would have and it was mediocre. The presence of Spam was a novelty and the seasons onigiri was tasty but we aren’t used to so much rice in our sushi.

 

Marukame Udon [Facebook]

Marukame Udon is apparently some chain in Japan with over a hundred stores and a must-do in Honolulu. The line out the door looks long but it moves quickly because its a very casual eatery and I marveled how with out intervention by a host everyone seemed to get seated even though people got food faster than people are their food.

The menu seemed big and the description accompanying pictures were frustrating, like “Noodle in hot broth” or “Noodle in sauce”. Then when you see it being “prepared” you see how simple it all is. The appropriate size portion of mostly cooked noodle is dumped in a bowl and quickly reheat in a basket in hot water. Another server pours in hot broth or sauce and tops it with an egg or beef and green onion and tempura bits. We pick up our own sides from trays just before the cashier who assesses your tray’s value and charges you.

The noodle tasted fresh and had the required chewiness and the broth was light while the sauce was a little sweet. It was dirt cheap with one large noodle, one small noodle and two sides coming to $14. It’s nothing gourmet or astoundingly good but a fun and satisfying dinner.

 

Genius Lounge Sake Bar & Grill

NPY turned up this hidden gem and we aimed to visit at 6 pm when happy hour started and would last two hours. It was on the third level of a Hawaiian-style (i.e., stucco) house and did not sound busy so we visited Genius Outfitters on the ground level and freshened up in our room and returned at 7. It was still not busy but we were hungry.

Drinks were half price which meant a glass of housemade sangria was merely $2.50, sake cocktails were $4 and 150 mL of sake was $5.

 

 

I ordered a pokedon so we’d have rice and NPY ordered the pasta vongole to have noodle. We also ordered the rock shrimp tartar to not ignore the happy hour food menu entirely.

NPY really liked the tuna pokedon which was made with Genius’ “secret” miso sauce and the rice was also drizzles with some sauce also umami. We like the pasta that was tapas size in portion. There was no description for the rock shrimp tartar which.I thought meant tartare but misspelled but could have meant tartar, the dipping sauce for fish and chips. Fried shrimp with a fluffy and thin batter? Loved it.

Little Village Noodle House

Well, Chinatown was vastly underwhelming and the most fascinating thing was the closest thing to a wet market which I didn’t dare bring NPY into in Hong Kong but I dragged him through the Mauna Kea Marketplace to get to the museum which I didn’t end up visiting.

For Chinese food in Honolulu, Little Village tops the ranks and I can see why. The menu looks catered to tourists and Westerners but we ordered noodles as did also an Asian woman who was dining by herself.

 

I only tried NPY’s wonton mein broth which I though tasted a little funky and one wonton that was a little spoiled by the shrimp and a little salty. I enjoyed my dan dan mein that had chewy Northern noodle and a slightly thin but appropriately nutty and spicy sauce.

P.F. Chang’s

Good grief, did I go to Hawaii and eat at PF Chang’s?! In our defense, we’ve never been to one before despite our many trips stateside and they had patio tables available when we really wanted a place to sit and watched costumed Halloween revelers walk by. An additional bonus was that the service and food was slow to come and we could longer longer.

The server showed us PF Chang’s special sauce which is mixed from your favourite ratio of soy sauce with wine vinegar, mustard and chili paste. It wasn’t my favourite taste.

Since the time I wanted to try PF Chang’s the item I wanted to have, despite whatever is their best dish, was their mapo tofu. And by sheer happy coincidence, or perhaps similar taste, NPY chose the Buddha’s feast, also vegetarian and containing tofu. I was really excited! The mapo tofu was the oddest one I’ve had yet. Sweet, barely spicy. The nest of broccoli was steamed which was just fine but I used the opportunity to dip into my PF Chang’s sauce. The Buddha’s feast also present more broccoli and the sauce was oddly sweet as well. It was a decent medley of vegetables but I found that some of the pressed and baked tofu tasted off, not very fresh.

 

Matsumoto Shave Ice

Who knew that a morning of driving and hopping in and out of the car to take pictures at scenic points would help us work up an appetite? After a few hours of driving, we had Giovanni’s shrimp and after watching green sea turtles crawl ashore, we were ready for dessert.

There was a friendly crowd around the store standing around and enjoying their shaved ice concoctions. At a counter in the middle of the store, we place our orders which were written in code on the bowl then given to behind the counter for preparation. The most basic shave ice is small size with three flavours. I did that basic creation a few better by ordering it on a bed of vanilla ice cream and azuki beans, selecting three “exotic” flavours in mango, lychee and pineapple, and topping off the whole thing with condensed milk. That was a lot of condensed milk and everything tied together so very well. The price for DIY shave ice was just fabulous.

Mikawon Korean Restaurant [Yelp]

I planned the whole island day trip and had nothing lined up for dinner. Thankfully NPY stepped up and used Yelp to find Mikawon in a passageway not far from the hotel. It is a dive restaurant so I was careful to stay balanced on my toes and not touch too much. That’s why I like to order scorching hot food at Korean dive restaurants.

The banchan we were presented with was really great and we liked all the dishes save for the spicy ones, I because I don’t like the sour pickled spice (kind of odd for me). When we were partway through our meal, we were offered a refill of the banchan we wanted and got more bean sprouts and potato which was potato salad, they having run out of the marinated potato.

I ordered tofu stew which at mild was very spicy. NPY ordered a bibimbap with a great assortment of shredded vegetables and meat and it was just the best way to wrap an action-packed day of touring and eating.

 

 

Ramen Nakamura [Yelp]

The last day was a little difficult. I hadn’t lined up any restaurant in particular and we had hit up pretty much all the big ones I wanted to. Still, I’m always game for ramen so after we decided we weren’t feeling happy hour at a Japanese lounge again, we stopped at Ramen Nakamura on Kalakaua which I read a review rating it to have the best noodles of eight Honolulu ramen shops.

As per usual, we got one ramen combo so NPY can have rice and noodle and I could have a gyoza and we got contrasting broths and, it turns out, contrasting noodles. I dug into the tonkatsu ramen first which has rich broth, a slice of cha siu, plenty of mustard vegetables and chili-marinated bamboo shoots. I should have picked out the ginger but otherwise it was good with chewy noodles. I tried the Tokyo ramen which has a clear and refreshing broth and a soft egg-like noodle. That is what NPY liked so we did not share too much our noodles for once.

 

Dineout recap: The Asian food in Hawaii

DineOut Reviews: Round out 2011 in Toronto

But… does that title say 2011? Yes. I never got around to posting these meals and it’s only less than a year later at this point. And the photos still look delicious. The first four recaps are written recently so my memory about the actual experience is less than perfect. Ja Patty in Islington Station (Toronto, ON) If I recall correctly, it was at the end of November and just a couple of days after I started working that I had occasion to pass through Islington Station. I was headed to Kitchener for the day for training and meeting up with a coworker at Islington. It meant that when the day was over, I was back at Islington and ravenously hungry. The specialty of the shop is obviously their Jamaican patty but I wasn’t feeling it and a spinach pastry looked more appetizing. Indeed, it was the best warm spinach croissant I’ve ever had.

La Grotta on Main (Unionville, ON) Lil Sis and I had wanted to visit Unionville ever since we learned that her beloved Gilmore Girls had filmed their pilot in the town and then modeled their set on the town. We would walk in the square and pose in front of Luke’s Diner … and to give us extra motivation, I found a Groupon or other group couponing offer for one of the local Italian restaurants and we set out over there on a wintery fall day. La Grotta, as the name implies, is housed in a foliage-covered and cozy house. We were the first customers for the evening when we walked in around 5 p.m. and the maitre d’ did not look too revulsed to know we were coupon-wielding. Lil Sis seemed want to make a bit more of an event out of it and we ordered wine and wine spirits. If I recall correctly, the value of the voucher was quite high so we had room to put together a few dishes. We ordered the beef carpaccio and two pasta dishes: Lil Sis got seafood linguine while I ordered the veal marsala. The dishes were all very good, modestly proportioned and tasted nice and authentic.

  

Old Firehall Confectionary (Unionville, ON)

After La Grotto dinner, we wanted to “explore” a little bit Unionville but it was dark and few shops were open. Notably, the Old Firehall Confectionary was a warm beacon in the night and we walked in with me expecting seriously old-school treats.

First, Lil Sis create a sour powered candy tube for a co-worker who is a sugar junkie. Then we thought about getting treats for ourselves. The shop claims having the best drinking chocolate around but it sounded like way too much so I devoured their over-iced cupcakes with my eyes and selected truffles to make a ourselves a box from their glorious selection.

Since the Old Firehall Confectionary, I haven’t seen truffles that have excited me so much, been so pretty or tasty. The truffle flavours we go included balsamic strawberry, white chocolate mango passion, blood orange kalmansi, chocolate pink grapefruit, and green tea. And there were still flavours I wanted to try!

 

Paramount Fine Foods (Toronto and Richmond Hill, ON)

One thing Toronto has in abundance that is pleasant, is Arabic food. After a TIFF evening, the standard big box restaurant fare on Yonge street seemed less than palatable, then we came across Paramount which was familiar to Lil Sis by them having a Richmond Hill location as well.

Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we ordered shawarma chicken and hummus, cheese with zaatar manakeesh and a dessert. We also saw that their were making pita bread that came out of the oven inflated like balloons and we couldn’t wait to have our own balloons and dip the fresh bread into hummus. The hummus dish was really good and good value with a decent amount of hummus and enough (but not too much) chicken. I say that because I am generally not the biggest fan of shawarma.

 

We were back at Paramount a short while later when we didn’t know what to have for dinner and didn’t want to spend much. This time, we were at the Richmond Hill location that was no less casual but seemed a little weird in the sticks. We ordered a shish tawouk that was nice and heart but I find chicken in these circumstances tend to be dry. And, upon my suggestion, we also got one kafta for me to try an Arabic sausage-like.

 

The first time we went to Paramount, I ordered the sh’aibiyat pastry that was recommended to me in that my BFF described the pastry and I ordered what I thought matched her description. But we couldn’t eat it. The pastry that was drenched in syrup was good but the cheese that was part of the filling had a really perfume-y scent I couldn’t stand. The next time we went to Paramount, I made a selection of baklava from trays upon trays of the pastry prepared earlier in the day. The baklava is sold by weight and wasn’t not expensive and each piece was just delightful – fresh, nutty, crispy and all that.

 

Khao San Road (Toronto, ON)

The first I heard of Khao San Road as from Vina as she and hubby went early on. She loved the pad thai and she doesn’t even like pad thai! Then I saw it in the Re:Porter magazine and it kept showing up on Urbanspoon under the “Talk of the Town” section, all touting how very authentic it was. After a Friday movie, Lil Sis and I hiked over to KSR, a little further west than I would have like. The foyer area was packed and I pushed my way through and told him I have a reservation. No you don’t. It’s for the next day. There is a 50% change I made a mistake, automatically asking for a Saturday but I think we got in a little earlier than some other people…? The place is noisy and packed, completely open concept with a mix of bar seating, high counter seating, and traditional tables. It’s a place for young and hip people although the decor is home-y, warm wood tables and all. Lil Sis ordered the Thai Iced Tea that I only wanted one sip. It was made with condensed milk but it tasted to me more like powdered or evaporated milk. Not my cuppa tea. Since we waited for about twenty minutes, we saw a party order the Khao Soi and it looked delicious. Although it seemed inane then we were ordering two noodle dishes as we had to try the Pad Thai, too! I didn’t really understand what the difference between their regular pad thai and “street style” pad thai was although the latter one sounded intriguing. Seems regular pad thai has more ingredients, more flavour so we went with it. The Pad Thai was indeed really delicious–tangy tamarind provided the sour profile and the noodles were chewy but not sticky. I ordered the Khao Soi with chicken and still wondering what I think of it. It was a completely different turn from pad thai or any other kind of Thai curry. It was really spicy and rich and, sadly, oily. It was made with ribbon egg noodles which is nice and different from the pad thai. There was too much sauce so we took most of it home to eat with additional rice.

 

Regal Palace (Richmond Hill, ON)

Lil Sis took us to Regal Palace for a quick dim sum lunch before a family function in the afternoon. Big Uncle had introduced her to it since he can get a 20% Senior’s discount and thus so could Mum who rounded out our little party of three. We started with dried vegetable and salted pork bone congee and it was served in a dainty bowl with a massive ladle–it looked hilarious. I was disappointed with the pan-fried radish cake. It was utterly forgettable, neither pan-fried well nor filled with enough flavour. The BBQ pork rice rolls were very tasty and Mum ordered more of the plain variety to take back to Halifax. We ordered siu mai for a taste of the regular stuff and it was okay, kind of bland and chockful of unfabulous shrimp. The egg tarts were perfectly shaped which Mum decided came from a factory. They could have been baked a little longer, which is just what we did with the second portion we ordered and brought back home. We also ordered, not shown, spicy beef tendon and another rice roll with scallops and watercress. Under some duress–I was full and already had my egg tart dessert–I was fed some of the rice roll. I noticed the scallop texture was really weird, rough like chicken. When Mum tried a bigger bite, she had to spit it out saying the scallop was entirely rotten. Did I not taste it or did she have a whole rotten scallop?

 

Old Lee’s Beef Noodle Soup a.k.a. Beef Noodle King (Scarborough, ON)

I thought maybe it was a good sign for Old Lee’s that my HK cousin who lived in Toronto for 20 years insisted on visiting Old Lee’s with his Taiwanese wife one last time before they move back to Hong Kong this year. They ordered the lamb noodles which we did. I got my fear of the “so” flavour of lamb from my mother who was wary. For “appetizers”–they arrived throughout the meal–we ordered the Three Cup Chicken that I’ve long been fascinated with and sliced pork pancake. We’ll take their word for it that there was half a chicken in 3-cup chicken and it surely had been marinated with 1 cup of soy sauce and 1 cup of cooking wine. What was the third cup? It was surely oily. The flavour was quite nice but I was quickly bored and we needed to split this between more than four people. There was also basil and we could taste the smoked cilantro taste too. I only kept eating it because I had to eat my share and I looked forward that the next piece I had would be smooth, juicy, dark meat. No such luck. We figured that the chicken had been cooked twice and it was all rough and a bit dry. Big Uncle seemed to like it. The pork pancake came wrapped in foil which we peeled back. The pancake was alright but a little oil-soaked. The cut of pork was nice and fatty. It was inelegant and home-style to serve it wrapped up.  

We ordered some soups as it was in their name. A hot and soup noodle soup and the red-roasted beef noodle soup. Big Uncle was surprised by the concept of hot and sour soup noodle but Mum thought it was a good palate cleanser from some wild eating over the weekend. Fresh tofu, a thinner broth, and chewy Shanghai noodles. It was not bad. Big Uncle had warned us a lot about how the meat was really lean but it wasn’t! The beef noodle soup was a touch spicy and adequately chewy Shanghai noodles were also used. Mum enjoyed Mei Nung in Markham better but Old Lee’s certainly has the full variety of a Taiwanese place. We also ordered Shanghai Pork Dumplings which were just okay, with ample soup.

 

DineOut Reviews: Round out 2011 in Toronto

Wikki Hut lunches, a delicious lunch-time find in Scotia Plaza

One day when I was piecing together a meal from the value menu of Wendy’s in Scotia Plaza and waiting for my order of haphazard items, I glanced over at the steam table of the neighbour establishment to Wendy’s, Wikki Hut. The green signage and theme of course appeal to me (more than the modern orange-theme SenseAsian also in the same food hall) but so did the selection from the steam table.

The first hook was that there were two types of rice both looking so much more palatable than generic soya sauce-brown fried rice. And the names of the other items were less than the typical Black Bean Sauce, General Tso, Sweet & Sour, etc. In short order, I would be back.

The combinations available to you include Medley 1 (rice or noodle, 1 vegetable, 1 meat), Medley 2 (rice or noodle, 2 vegetable, 1 meat) and Medley 3 (rice or noodle, 1 vegetable, 2 meat). There was also a carb-free combination of the mango salad with a chicken dish.

While I decided which items to go with the first time, I was given a sample of Asado chicken which was so tender and flavourful. The friendly staff also asked me if I liked spicy and I lied and said no and was given a sample of a battered meat, now I can’t remember. It may have been mango chicken.

I went with Asado chicken rice, the tofu and eggplant as a vegetable and spicy garlic and chili fish. With few different colours on my plate and two fried items (tofu and fish), I knew I wasn’t being very healthy but you go with what calls you, you know? The tofu was a touch sweet and unfortunately drowning in oil. Conveniently because the tofu is like a sponge, I could squeeze out the excess oil. The cut of fish was also funny, like more so fried fish belly than the pricier meat pieces. The batter was nice and crispy and coated with the spices. The rice was a great take on the usual with a light Asado flavour and refreshing pieces of pineapple.

Asado is a barbecuing technique and considered to be the national dish in Argentina. The flavour is also popular in other South American countries and the Philippines.

Six days later when I wanted to buy lunch so as to not have to bring Tupperware when I was heading out of town immediately after work, of course I hit up Wikki Hut again. The mango salad caught my eye and they happily considered it a vegetable in a Medley 1 I had atop their Ecuadoran bean rice and with a heaping helping of Asado chicken.

The Ecuadoran bean rice pilaf was really good, moist but also with each graining falling away. The mango was a combination of ripe and underripe pieces and easily a whole mango, shredded for easy consumption. Since I finally got as much Asado chicken as my heart desired, I realized it really reminds me of the flavour of cha-siu, Chinese-style barbecued pork, but of chicken. It was easily one of my favourite lunches in a while.

They do have a very green selection of vegetables that I have not yet gotten around to trying since I can’t imagine their flavour is very distinctive but I might get one next time to show you.

For my third visit, I got a Medley 3 to sample more meats and I finally tried their broccoli! The broccoli was crunchier than I would like it but would suit the majority of the customers’ tastes. The cabbage stir-fried with the broccoli was undercooked in that the rib pieces were too hard. It was difficult to choose just two meats from the choice and I ordered Pebre (Chilean) Beef which looked dark and evil and Rio Chicken, which I stuck with. But you can always persuade me to have some seafood since I don’t cook it at home and I got the spicy-salty shrimp instead of beef. The spicy-salty shrimp was nothing new to me; the seasoning was mild and the batter was really soft.  The shrimp was fresh and crunchy so it was fun to eat. The chicken was an adequate amount and each piece was so tender. Rio Chicken meant the barbecue glaze/sauce was smoky and spicy, overpowering the sweet barbecue I would normally dislike. Another really good lunch.

By the time I made my fourth visit, the pickings were slim for items I had not yet tried. I picked the noodle for the carb to try it although I would go for rice over “lo mein” noodles any day. Maybe they would surprise me and impress me. In assembling this Medley 3, I picked green beans, the last of the vegetables to try and my two meats were Pebre Beef and Mango Chicken (spicy). There was a reason why I hadn’t picked these items so far….

The noodles tasted floury and were the right chewiness for a steam table, that is, not mushy but not good at all. There was some orange colour but I don’t know how that came to be but it was not flavourful. The beans were very spartan and soft and later into the pile, I tasted some butter. It almost seemed like they had been frozen, lacking in flavour. Pebre is another Argentinean style but it was just peppery. The beef was tenderized like mad and the dish was very oily. Other than the nice bit of vegetables, the mango chicken was the next tastiest item in the medley. The batter was soaked through and the chicken pieces small but it was sweet and very mildly spicy.

All of the “worst” items in the last of four meals from Wikki Hut is unfortunate for this one lunch but not bad in terms of ratio of good items to not so good. I think Wikki Hut does chicken and their spicy-salty fish and rice really well. Mango salad as a side is a definitely a nice item for their combinations.

The major food hall Chinese restaurants are much more established and ubiquitous Manchu Wok and Szechuan Express, neither of which I would patronize. Wikki Hut brings a different flavour to the table. The flavours are inspired from elsewhere but cooked to Chinese tastes. The staff all seem to be friends and care about and are enthusiastic about the food and are friendly through busy during lunch hour rush.

********

Update (27 September 2012): Some days you just need to get far away from the office and wrap yourself in the comfort of food … you know? While in line, I asked to try Wikki Chicken which is another one of the battered chicken offerings with a slow burn and I felt my lips tingle a little a few minutes later. But I knew I wasn’t going to order it and go with a “sensible” and carb-free “Chicken Salad Medley” where you get a choice of a vegetable and a chicken. I wanted to be truly light and got mango but should have gone with a warm vegetable side like broccoli and it was a no-brainer to get Rio Chicken again because it is to tender and it has a touch of spice.

At $6.99, this combination costs more than a rice with two items (one of them vegetarian) so I think the value on this one was not good at all. This time, there was julienned red and green peppers in the salad but I didn’t eat them and once again the mango was large under-ripe.

Wikki Hut lunches, a delicious lunch-time find in Scotia Plaza

Toronto’s once-a-year night market: T&T Waterfront Night Market

I approach my first visit to the T&T Waterfront Night Market as a compare-and-contrast with the Vancouver night markets of which there are now three this year and running each weekend from late spring to early fall. To be fair, I only just realized that a better comparison would be the also once-per-year Night It Up! night market that just occurred in Markham. But Markham is far….

This is the third year of the night market and takes place at the downtown T&T Supermarket on Cherry Street, a little east of downtown and near/on the port lands. It was a 30 minute walk from my place and a good jaunt to work up our appetites and then walk off the satiated feeling afterwards! There was at least one big parking lot across from the market grounds but it was jam-packed and I heard there was a $5 fee.

Upon entering the market, the first smell is the stench of stinky tofu. Given I love tofu and know the cause of the smell, I don’t mind but it was pervasive. A man spent the who night greeting guests over his megaphone announcing over and over in Cantonese and English the availability of Hong Kong-style stinky tofu. Oh, we can smell it!

After a quick turn around the market grounds that included about 50% food stands, a small midway of rides and games, a small representation of merchandise stands (bags and cellphone cases), some food brands (got a free can of Rooster brand luncheon meat and a Canada Dry tote bag), and other associations promoting themselves, we queued up at the takoyaki (Japanese style oyster balls) stand that would have longest queue in the market. It took 35 minutes to get food with a queue that extended beyond their own stand and more than two neighbouring stands away. At least we could entertain ourselves with watching the “show” that was the group hunched over the grill pans turning the balls over and over. I went to a lamb skewer stand and grabbed 4 non-fabulous and fatty lamb skewers for $5. We were, a swaggart ahead of us in line declared, “leveraging the team” and “multitasking”.

After polishing off the takoyaki that was on the edge of being undercooked, I lined up for Taiwanese-style oyster omelet (another 30 minutes) while Lil Sis got juice straight from and served in the watermelon. We saw other people walking around with similar drinks straight from the pineapple, honeydew and, of course, coconut. If the addition of glutinous rice flour was Taiwanese-style, give me Cantonese oyster omelet all the way! The oysters were small but cooked tender and our stand was adjacent to a raw oyster stand that served 8 Fanny Bay oysters for $10. Long queue for that too. Tackling the omelet (which is very filling from the omelet) and getting the most out of the watermelon drink was a long process and put us over the top for satiation from food.

We walked around and picked up some merchandise and squeezed through the crowds which were often squeezing between two queues for food. People seemed really good natured about the wait while I almost tended not to be when I have been to and seen other night markets. Smartphones are a saviour and I could update NPY with a play-by-play of queueing.

We rounded out the feast with grilled squid which was heavily seasoned with cumin and spicy and refreshing mango shaved ice topped with mango boba balls.

                        

There are three once-a-year night markets as BlogTo from a few days ago told me. In addition to Night It Up! which sounds like a very worth market to check out, there is also the Taste of Asia at Pacific Mall that turns me off with the generic-sounding name. Haha. But why visit two Markham night markets anyhow?

It’s so strange yet understandable how there are just 3 Asian night markets, 9 nights of the summer. I think Chinatown once had a night market which ran for 8 weekends in the summer. The gap is filled with tons of festivals each weekend and other street food markets, the latter of which turn the whole idea on its head and not in a good way. Events like the Toronto Underground Market and The Stop’s periodic street food fair have high ticket prices and then you still face long line ups and the food can run out while you are waiting and if you don’t divide and conquer. Is this a big city symptom or Torontonians just haven’t figured it out yet, similar to the hot dogs- and ice cream-only approach to food trucks?

This year, a second night market was added in Richmond and they both run all summer while there is also the weekly one in Chinatown. The smaller population but fewer other festival choices support the number of markets and they do the food aspect well. The choices are dizzying and you can get a great meal there, easily. The merchandise stands are also seriously fun and I look forward to seeing in August what the new food stands and merchandise import is this year (like last year’s hydroponic set of colourful balls).

Toronto’s once-a-year night market: T&T Waterfront Night Market

Dineout Reviews: Mum’s epic Toronto trip

Usually my mother only makes a getaway to Toronto for a duration less than 48 hours and she does this several times a year. But with January 1 falling on a Sunday, it created an opportunity for her to step out for a whole five days! We did not cook anything at home and made a good dent in sampling Asian cuisine around town!

Chili Secrets (3rd visit, Markham)

Why are we going back to Chili Secrets, I wondered to myself as I let Lil Sis select a place for us to go for New Year’s Day dim sum the afternoon we got into Toronto on very little sleep. Even if it isn’t the biggest name sounding restaurant–I don’t know its reputation yet–there was a substantial queue to get a table and when we had waited half an hour, mum refused to take a table that was too close to the queue as we were basically waiting on top of those unfortunate tables.

So if I’m going to be back at Chili Secrets for a third time, why not get lots of really cool food? In addition to egg tarts, they have a special house-made custard tart which was the first dish to arrive. Mum and Lil Sis ate theirs as they were hungry but I saved it as a proper dessert. Lil Sis thought it was a little lumpy but I did not notice that and the custard was creamy and the crust was beautifully buttery  and flaky. I also ordered the Dan Dan noodles since the place specializes in northern style cuisine. It looked innocently enough with a bit thin broth and looked like they forgot to put in the sesame paste. We then we all tried it and nearly choked–it was so spicy!! There is some crazy Sichuan peppercorn that is a little bitter on top of being so spicy that numbs your mouth and tongue. I thought it was fun although Mum and Lil Sis thought otherwise.

On Lil Sis drawing my attention to it, I ordered the Chinese hamburger. Why not? It was just $3. It was… cute. The bread was Northern style and great – not too fluffy, chewy, hot. I wasn’t too surprised that the meat was stewed pork belly pieces and the garnish consisted of thinly sliced green onion and cilantro. We had so many other dishes so I did not eat much of the burger.

In addition to the tofu rice roll and fried dough stick rice roll, which look remarkably similar on the plate, Mum also ordered two plates of the plain rice rolls to bring back untouched to Halifax. I don’t know why Mum urged me to order the tofu rice roll. It is not a standard offering and I did not like this incarnation too much except, of course, it has tofu. It’s because Mum went to dim sum with her older brother and they got a great egg tofu rice roll that was so remarkable she wanted it again. Then we must seek out the words “egg tofu” on the menu.

It seems that dumplings were on special so we ordered some pork and bok choy dumplings (8 for $4) and what they labeled as Beijing-style Xiao Long Bao. Since I was fairly certain what they called the Shanghai-style Xiao Long Bao is another order of dumplings, I wanted to try whatever it is they called Beijing. Which turned out to be buns with a minced, marinated pork. I kind of like the chewy bun while Mum and Lil Sis favour the fluffy Cantonese bun.

Chili Secrets on Urbanspoon

Gourmet Vegetarian Restaurant (Markham)

We were so full for so long after that dim sum lunch at Chili Secret so when it came to dinner time, we weren’t so hungry at all. I had been harping about having my Gourmet Vegetarian Groupon ($15 for $30 of food) so to shut me up, Mum and Lil Sis agreed to go. Ever since having good Gardein at Loving Hut and NPY’s mother brought back imitation meat from temple, I’ve been fascinated by good fake meat. As I was considering buying the Groupon, I read the discussion forums and diners’ reviews elsewhere and got quite nervous–everyone was saying the food was so greasy! Well, we would just avoid the deep-fried foods like “sweet & sour” and “battered”, won’t we?

The restaurant was fairly busy when we arrived and as they were setting up our table, I nearly turned on my heel and walked out because their sign at the door suggested they would not accept the Groupon on holidays (like January 1) and Chinese holidays like the upcoming Lunar New Year and the Fifteenth Day of the Lunar New Year. But they were accepting it on the western folks’ New Year so we sat down and it was clear we were there only because I had a Groupon. Oh, and I stopped everyone from eating to take photos with a flourish. I wonder if the food always arrives so quickly or just because I was a bit of a nuissance…? :)

I ordered a small mixed “cold cuts” platter to get a sample of imitation meats and it came right away and it was larger than our appetites were at the moment. In addition, it didn’t look very appetizing. There was thinly sliced firm tofu, marinated tofu puffs, imitation BBQ pork, imitation beef slices, and spongy gluten pieces. I don’t usually eat this stuff but it was easy to tell the quality was not good. Mum urged me to order the jellyfish as we love jellyfish and I was intrigued how it would be rendered. When it arrived, we looked at it in wonder and she confessed that in a lapse of memory, she forgot that jellyfish is meat and we would receive an imitation. And quite a poor imitation at that. The dish is essentially crunchy savoury wild-coloured jello with some seasoning that did not much resemble the delicious spicy and salty marinate that penetrates real jellyfish.

Mum is on this funny bender about having eggplant and she’s rolling out Thai dishes at the restaurant so we ordered the Thai style eggplant. With the name so generic, we had no assumption what the dish would be like. “Sweet & sour eggplant” is an apt description. The first bite of fried eggplant was really nice. The eggplant as fried tender and batter is a nice complement to sweet & sour sauce. But it got to be too much and I don’t really enjoy “Thai style” meaning “sweet & sour”.

Given we weren’t very hungry, Lil Sis requested we order something spicy or curry that would “open” our appetites and I know what she means. I skipped over plain old curried vegetables, vegetarian fare like that, and picked the one that was named Veggie Meat and Tofu Curry Sauce. A big bowl of curry minced “meat” and big bricks of soft tofu appeared and I was happy. The tofu watered so I had to eat it fast and the curry was plain old, delicious Chinese style. The jury is still out whether there was vegetarian meat that appeared like ground meat or, mum’s version, it was just beaten egg as the server did inquire if we could eat eggs.

Gourmet Vegetarian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sukho Thai (Toronto)

Since Mum is introducing Thai cuisine at the restaurant, she was practically demanding that we take her to a Thai restaurant. Lil Sis was game to find one and the one with overwhelmingly positive reviews on Urbanspoon was Sukho Thai. As we walked into the small restaurant with the additional dining room in the basement, she recalled she had been there before. Our chef cousin did say you couldn’t get decent Thai food anywhere but there. So there we were.

From the brief menu, we only ordered what is relevant for Mum’s research trip starting with Thai spring rolls. The spring rolls were small and tightly bound with shredded carrots, vegetables, noodles and-alas-cilantro. We dipped them generously in the spicy plum sauce to try to drown out the cilantro.

When we ordered our dishes, we were asked to specify if we wanted them prepared mild, medium, spicy, or “Thai spicy”. Curious, we asked what “Thai spicy” was but kept our pad Thai at medium and our curry at spicy, or so we thought. The Sukho Pad Thai arrived first and we eagerly dug into it. Omigosh, it was so spicy the heat spreads across your face in just a moment. We got so red we were laughing. There were tons of little chili peppers in addition to a lot of some kind of chili powder mixed in. Okay, if this was medium, Mum flagged down the server to request our curry be prepared mild!!

The Thai fried rice was was a great reprieve from the spiciness of the pad Thai. It was prepared with smooth and fragrant coconut milk and it was a very simple dish with sizable chunks of chicken and we just inhaled this dish.

Of course, the curry was already prepared before we asked to tone it down but the server assured that that the curry will taste mild, especially after having “Thai spicy”. Huh, so he made a mistake ordering it? The red curry beef with squash was indeed mild. Not too memorable but not bad.

Sukho Thai on Urbanspoon

Buk Chang Dong Soon (2nd visit, Toronto)

Like a most eager child, I really wanted Mum to see what I like to eat, show her “my restaurants”. I never got a chance to do it when I was in Vancouver because she never visited but I did manage to show my father some places when he visited in August. I most wanted to show Mum tofu soup at a Korean restaurant!

After running most arduous errands after the first workday back in the new year, Korean food was a no-fuss option. Lil Sis tried to tone us down and have us order just two dishes but I urged for three. I didn’t want to share my tofu soup!

I ordered my vegetable tofu soup which as perfect as usual. Lil Sis ordered the bulgogi beef soup after being disappointed the short menu did not have a noodle dish. Mum ordered the bibimbap which is not pictured. As it turns out, the bulgogi beef soup has potato starch noodles on the bottom so Lil Sis was satisfied. However, the broth was super sweet and she ended up dipping into my mildly spicy broth to pair with her leftover rice. Actually, I don’t mind sharing the broth–it’s the tofu I want all to myself!

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu on Urbanspoon

Ding Tai Fung (2nd visit, Markham)

Lil Sis forwarded me a link to the Urbanspoon list of best Scarborough restaurants and I narrowed it down to Ten-Ichi and Federick’s. Since Mum wouldn’t appreciate Hakka at Federick’s, it meant Ten-Ichi but they were crazy busy and we wouldn’t get a table for an hour and it was already 8. So we took her to Ding Tai Fung in Markham because they are imitating that famous chain out of Taiwan. It’s great to have Mum along because we can order 50% more food and she can explain some dishes. At the same time, she’s been in the boonies so long and we haven’t before directed the dining in Toronto and there’s a lot of stuff we can show her!

First off, we had real jellyfish and that was fine and nice. We kind of treated it like dim sum and ordered one round of food first because we were so hungry, having made the attempt at Ten-Ichi first. We also ordered the beef noodle soup and xiao long bao of course, both not pictured. To have something that really sticks to our ribs, I ordered the snow vegetable shredded pork rice cake. I like rice cake of late and I remember the shepard’s purse rice cake from High Shanghai so fondly. This was just okay and could have used some chili oil if I wasn’t too busy just eating it anyways!

Mum told us she hadn’t had vegetable rice in a while and it sounded non-threatening. It looks like steamed rice except for some glistening which comes from adding stir-fried and savoury vegetables to steaming rice. When I was getting my portion, I observed there was “soup” at the bottom which was actually a big puddle of oil! No wonder it was so tasty! We ordered another Shanghai delicacy, green onion pancake where green onion was really abundant in the middle layer. It was fried through though and the green onion was not raw.

Mum ordered some buns to take back with her to Halifax and we waited for quite a bit for our red bean crepe to arrive. Lil Sis observed that it wasn’t pretty looking in the least but the crepe was delicious and the red bean paste was good, especially when I’m not normally a fan.

Ding Tai Fong - Shanghai Dim Sum on Urbanspoon

Ten-Ichi Japanese Cuisine (Toronto)

After not getting into Ten-Ichi the night before, we were sure to make a reservation for the following evening. And confirm the reservation. Afterall, it would be Mum’s last night in Toronto until we see her again for one of here usual short stints in April. She suggested we could wait until the next time but Lil Sis and I couldn’t wait since we had perused the menu and salivated over the all-you-can-eat selection!

The strategy that I’ve learned from NPY is to try to order the fried and carb dishes until last. So in our first round, we ordered sashimi and proteins. We ordered salmon, “white tuna”, and herbed salmon sashimi. Herbed salmon sashimi is pictured here on its own and it was a tasty discovery. A fatty cut of herb-marinated salmon is lightly seared. It was a nice east-west fusion. The salmon sashimi was very good and we thoroughly enjoyed the white tuna sashimi which is much light a butter fish I had. In another round, Lil Sis also ordered red snapper but I save my appetite for salmon and tuna! We ordered one of the house special roles, roses maki which was an avocado-kani (crab) roll drizzled with mango sauce and topped with tobiko… fancy! But I thought the mango sauce tasted artificial and overly sweet.

We were also happy to see beef tataki on the menu–what a delicacy! But did they forget to marinate and lightly sear it? It was like eating completely raw beef and I did not have more than a taste. For the fun of it, we ordered wasabi mussels. They were served cold and drizzled with wasabi mayo. Unfortunately, the mussel was hard and not fresh-tasting. I wanted Mum and Lil Sis to sample some Japanese steamed egg which was very smooth and sweet. Otherwise, it’s something we can easily make at home.

Mum went straight for the teppanaki section and ordered some grilled flounder and grilled shrimp. The shrimp could have tasted more fresh and crunchy but it wasn’t bad. Lil Sis saw that the avocado seafood salad was indicated to require 20 minutes of preparation so we ordered it right away as soon as we saw it. The menu did describe it as guacamole-style avocado and the seafood was there in flavour but otherwise kind of missing. It was odd to eat heated avocado which seemed really creamy and to enhance the flavour strongly. Lil Sis and I perused the temaki (hand roll) section to find an ingredient that balances well with the other items we ordered and we both decided on spicy tuna temaki. It was a good choice. We weren’t as ravenously hungry as when we started but it was still just the most perfect handroll. The seaweed was not damp and chewy but had some crispiness. The tuna was prepared well, sushi rice was good, and I loved the fragrant and crunchy panko bits inside!


We wanted to try another house special and settled upon salmon roses which was salmon sashimi wrapped around chopped ika (squid). The chopped ika was mixed with mayonnaise much like chopped scallop is and this was a delicious and creamy bite, a winner for me compared to the roses maki earlier. Since my positive experience at Sushi on 7, I wanted Ten-ichi spicy salmon pizza as well. It delivered with chopped spicy salmon atop a fried patty formed from sushi rice. Opening ourselves up to more fried food in our second round, I also ordered the unique-sounding Japanese potato hashbrown. As Lil Sis ribbed, I just cannot turn down a hashbrown. It was definitely different with a smooth mash inside the crispy exterior and not bad. Lil Sis and I also ordered spicy been ramen which arrived looking very spicy indeed. The noodles looked like curly instant noodles but were cooked too long and a little too soft.


There were so many tempura options! We went with the tried and true tempura shrimp where the shrimp proved again to be a little less than fabulous and Lil Sis thought there was just a bit too much of the good panko batter. We ordered sirloin rolls which were so good when lovingly made for that dinner in HK and was a little heavy-handed here. And we were getting full. Still on her eggplant bender, Mum ordered grilled eggplant that looked like a dead eel and very unappetizing. Not bad though, she reported. For some real eel, Mum ordered the unagi don which was the tiniest portion ever!


Still dreaming of the cured pressed mackerel sushi at Suika, ordered and specifically emphasized just one piece of saba sushi. I was getting full and the opalescent skin always gets me. It wasn’t bad. Taro tempura was also unique and we were relieved at this point that only three pieces arrived. Lil Sis thought they were too hard and I enjoyed how they almost has a crispness to them. Mum’s unagi don was so very small and she wanted some soup so we took a risk and ordered the seafood hot pot. It sounded wild and extravagant for all-you-can-eat and fortunately it just turned out to be a Chinese broth with nappa cabbage and pieces of seafood. I was so full even the big chunks of tofu failed to appeal to me! Finally, I ordered some scallop cutlet since our meal was absent of scallop and they turned out to be deep-fried breaded scallop served with a refreshing wasabi mayo.

Okay, Ten-ichi’s all-you-can-eat dessert menu is amazing. Despite being full, Lil Sis’ eyes were bigger than her stomach and she wanted to order multiple of each of the six or seven desserts for just herself. Throughout the evening, we would see servers approaching tables with a tray full of shotglasses as everyone would sample widely and multiply.

We tried a different ice cream each: red bean, mango, and green tea. There were at least three other flavours. They are made fancy with a crisp wafer “waffle”. I thought the Jell-O would be those roughly cut cubes of all other all-you-can-eat restaurants but it came in a wider dish with a piece of fruit in it. Lil Sis enjoyed that alone. We each had custard cream which was topped with powdered graham crackers and tasted, as Lil Sis pronounced, like cookies ‘n’ cream. We each had the mango yogurt, one of the signature desserts. “Yogurt” was more like tapioca cream pudding and it was topped with mango puree. We had chocolate mousse. Mum and Lil Sis moaned that the tiramisu was very bitter due to the coffee but I thought it was fine. And the cherry on top was another house signature, the ginger creme brulee. We were beyond stuffed but it still tasted good, maybe a little firm, but the perfect cap to a super duper meal!

Ten-Ichi Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Dineout Reviews: Mum’s epic Toronto trip

Dineout reviews: Toronto Korean edition

I feel so rubbish at figuring out where to go eat despite all my interest and being subscribed to so many food blogs. Apparently it goes in out ear and out the other. But one source of reliable, delicious, and fairly priced fare is Korean food and there is a Korean area (and it’s not even Koreatown) just south of the apartment that we’re keen to explore to find the best bibimbap and tofu soup. Lil Sis’ is all about the bibimbap while I’m all about the tofu.

It seems that 25 restaurants have been categorized as “Korean” and in “North York” and 22 of them are between Steeles and Sheppard, of which 17 of them are between Finch and Sheppard. A quick glance at the names of the top 10 and some or obviously (?) not Korean but I have a feeling that by virtue of being in the area and competition, they might not be so bad.

urbanspoon north york korean restaurants

Kenzo Japanese Noodle House

#1 on Urbanspoon North York list

Although this restaurant topped the list it was the last of these restaurants I went to. Why does a ramen shop from Japan end up on the Korean list? And while there, I only had Japanese food so you can proceed to the next restaurant if you wanted to read about Korean food.

Kenzo is located quite a bit north and off the “Korean strip” on Yonge and as a consequence, they were really quiet on a Friday night near closing time. I also observed a faint mouldy smell. I hate it when I get a whiff of that in a restaurant wondering if there wasn’t a sewage or bathroom leak. It also sets me immediately less comfortable.

I went with a clear shio ramen that was not bad. It was not prepared with thin ramen, not my favourite, but it was reasonably chewy and the broth was good, not overly rich or salty. MY wanted something spicy so she ordered the orochong ramen which in the photo didn’t look as red as the other spicy ramen. It was also listed as a favourite dish of “Japanese youth and Korean” so we were intrigued. It was so spicy! Not being a fan of kimchi, I wouldn’t normally get a kimchi broth in a Korean restaurant and that is actually what orochong was. I only had a taste and it nearly made MY keel over. I think she is happier for the experience but it was crazy spicy.

 

Oh Geul Boh Geul

#3 on Urbanspoon North York Korean list

My cousin, WC, is the best, and he and his wife, Sarah, are perfect together. They graciously let Lil’ Sis live with them for nearly a month when she didn’t have a place to stay and she reports how they have impeccable taste exemplified in their home decor that includes unique, stylish, and functional Japanese designs. So, we could certainly trust their recommendations for which Korean restaurants to try. Of the three Sarah listed, two were in Koreatown (Bloor & Christie area) and we didn’t want to head further down when it was already 10 p.m. so we went to another hub of Korean businesses in North York, and we were not disappointed.

I have a feeling Lil’ Sis will know her Korean cuisine quite well but for now, it was quite adorable how she read the description of bibimbap stone bowl and thought it sounded quite nice. (Of course! It’s a great dish!) We were first presented with a chewy onion Korean-style pancake and devoured it, especially enjoying the more crispy regions. Then we clapped our hands in delight when we were presented with ten banchan(what I call the complimentary “appetizers” when I forget the Korean word). We hardly get more than five of the most boring varieties at our favourite Vancouver Korean restaurants so I was happy to see zucchini, a herby mashed potato salad, chilled tofu with green onions and chili, and potato noodles!

Since Lil’ Sis does not like tofu, I manoeuvered the tofu banchan close to me to have the chilled dish next to the hot bowl of tofu soup I ordered. I have had tofu soup three times within the past month and never tired of it.

Owl of Minerva

#5 on Urbanspoon North York Korean list

Ack, blame BlogTO.com for letting me know about Owl of Minerva. I thought it was the most uniquely named Korean restaurant such that when we were cruising down Yonge Street (yeah, I know), I would not have known it was Korean except for accompanying Korean characters. There are several locations around town and I heard the Bloor location isn’t actually legit but the owner doesn’t have the time/heart to go after them!

Owl of Minerva is famous for being open 24 hours and their pork bone soup so pork bone soup I ordered. What a deal for just $6.99. The banchan did not arrive until the food did so I didn’t have time for it and they were not my favourite ones in the least. The place is busy and untidy and we enjoyed the food with a few flies drifting around, not my favourite either.

But let’s concentrate on the food? As we waited for our dishes to arrive, Lil’ Sis came to realize that everyone was ordering the pork bone soup. I only knew from reviews it was the favourite so she had me choose from a few dishes she narrowed down and I unwisely choose the sweet & sour pork claiming, “It might be Korean style.” The pork bone soup came first and I shared one of the four bones that looked like they came from the spinal region with meat that just melted. The broth was also really tasty from the pork and spices, different from the tofu stew broth I am so familiar with. We devoured the steamed rice in a metal bowl we each were served “flooding” it with soup with each rice bite.

 

A $9.99 plate of sweet & sour pork was massive and completely unlike any of the usual Korean dishes we order and I picked at it a little and was thankful I had my own pork bone soup. The sauce was strong in honey and ginger flavour and the batter was intriguingly chewy, as if there was rice flour in addition to the standard batter ingredients. The pitfall was that it was hard to find the pork in the fried pieces, sometimes it seemed like we were just eating fried chewy batter. Next time we know what we’ll stick to!

Buk Chang Dung Soon Tofu

#6 on Urbanspoon North York Korean list

We drove down Yonge with the purpose of finding a Korean restaurant and were almost sure not to go wrong. Since Lil Sis’ was driving, I just had to say when when I spotted a restaurant to try. This restaurant had particularly big and bright signage and there were a couple of groups of people waiting by the door so it was my pick.

The menu was delightfully simple with about five tofu soups, a bibimbap and two other dishes. Everything was priced the same ($7.53) except for the two other dishes and the place was packed the entire time we were there. It was a bit like eating in a casual cafeteria but it was clean and the service was good and fast.

The banchan dishes that came were fair: spicy daikon, kimchee, bean sprouts, and beans. I don’t really like the fermented spice used so I stuck to the beans and bean sprouts, but oh were those little beans really tough! Lil Sis’ ordered the bibimbap which I forgot to take a picture and she would say that it has been her favourite as of after the next meal. I ordered the kimchee dong soon tofu (medium spicy) because I wanted the traditional Korean flavour and it did not disappoint–smooth, fresh extra soft tofu, rich broth, and great purple rice to accompany it.

 

Bi Bim Bap Korean Stone Bowl Riceteria (Eglinton West area, not North York)

This week, we did a little more preparation, browsing on Urbanspoon for our next Friday night adventure. Would it be Indian in Brampton (Lil Sis’ doesn’t understand my desire, and I haven’t been to Brampton before), Caribbean, Hakka? Or plain old Japanese or Korean? Lil Sis found Bi Bim Bap, a “Riceteria”, off the usual path (Yonge and Finch) and I was stuck on the name.

They were full when we first arrived so we walked around West Eglinton for half an hour. That stretch of Eglinton was very commercial and the few Chinese restaurants we saw were stuck in the past (House of Chan, now-defunct China House, and Tasty Szechuan). Just north is more “old Toronto”, cute houses with manor style but city-size.

 

Without question we each ordered a bibimbap dish. Each dinner comes with miso soup (with very fresh spring onions), banchan, and soo jung ga (cinnamon-ginger). We were floored that all we got, for the two of us, was one kimchee banchan. It was not an auspicious start to the meal.

In short order, my gourmet mushroom bibimbap and Lil Sis’ Korean BBQ (beef) bibimbap arrived. They are very visually appealing and presented nicely just as the whole restaurant is very modern to suit the area. We followed the instructions listed in the menu and stirred in the sauces we received earlier in shot glasses with our chopsticks. Then we pressed the rice to the side of the bowl with our spoons and proceeded to eat with our spoons. The list of default vegetables is impressive with 11 items–I’ll take their word on it–causing a jumble of flavours. I defied their recommendation and went with sour hot sauce instead of the boring-sounding soy garlic. Did I make the wrong choice?? I enjoyed the heat of my sauce and working my way through the mushrooms from cheapest to most “exotic”. But we both noticed the dishes were really greasy and none of the rice stuck to the bowls to make a nice crunchy layer of crispy rice. I also noted that there were some additional innovative flavours that I missed the traditional Korean flavour.

 

Dineout reviews: Toronto Korean edition

DineOut Reviews: Toronto Two-Month Round-Up

Since it is quite a bit into November, this post is a little late in coming but photos of food are timeless, aren’t then? This is where we went in September and October 2011!

Fish Noodles Soup House (Richmond Hill)

Only earlier this year, I discovered the joy of DIY noodle soup at Cattle Cafe and then Duotian opened in such a convenient location in east Vancouver near NPY’s place that I went there several times in a month. So at the hint of a DIY noodle soup place near Lil Sis’ in Toronto, I wanted to try it as soon as possible.

Oh, but things in Toronto are different. As soon as we opened the door, we were hit with the pungent smell of fish broth and it was a bit of a dive place–spacious but not really clean-feeling, despite the cheerful bubble letter signage.

We ordered tea-marinated chicken wings which upon my first impression tasted like beef jerky. Lil Sis ordered the Malaysian broth which tasted like watered down curry with squid and beef topping and rice spaghetti. Freebies for her soup included fried tofu, shrimp, and imitation crab. I ordered the fish broth because the choices seemed limited with marinated egg, sausage, and rice spaghetti. They messed up and gave me pork skin and I didn’t have the heart to send it back. Free toppings included daikon, mushroom, bean curd sheet, and imitation crab. The broth was very fishy and I should not have been so surprised.

 

Din Tai Fung (Markham)

This summer, I finally made it to the newest Din Tai Fung, located in Bellevue. It was fun but we had a largely dim sum meal and I wanted to try some of their other food and there is a location in First Markham Place. Or is there? It is not a location listed on their worldwide locations page so we’ll continue to wonder….

Fortunately, when we ordered the famous Shanghai pork dumplings, we did not have to have 10. When we bit into them, we were alarmed that the pork was pink and we were raised not to eat pink pork. We flagged down the server who was quick to explain that the pork had been marinated (“yeep”) and that kind of pork won’t change from pink even when well done.

We ordered the red-roasted beef noodle soup and ja jiang mian. I didn’t find the cut of beef brisket to be very good but the noodles were good if not plentiful. The broth was highly flavoured with 5-spice which means the cinnamon came through quite strongly. In the ja jiang mian, the noodle shone again and the sauce was nice and spicy. I didn’t like the bean sprouts.

 

Richmond Court (Richmond Hill)

When my mother was visiting in October, it was a good opportunity for us to have a Chinese breakfast. We drove over to First Markham Place but nothing was open on a Wednesday at 10:30 so we head back to Times Square and the old standby, Richmond Court. I can’t say I have been there in many years, or ever.

I don’t think Mum knew about Chinese breakfasts so it was fortunate that only one rice roll arrived that she packed most of to take to Grandmother and we could share the breakfast which has two parts, for just $5.49! We started with macaroni and ham in a light broth. I slurped up the macaroni and left the ham slivers. Then came the fried hot dog weiners and creamy scrambled eggs. The butter bun was Chinese-style and fresh and warm.

 

Chiu Chow Boy (Toronto)

When Mum came to visit in October she mentioned wanting Chiu Chow food, that it’s good in Hong Kong (I looked it up, it is). Is it good in Toronto? Big Uncle wasn’t so sure at first but then suggested Chiu Chow Boy on Kennedy that we’ve passed so many times before given where my grandparents lived before entering a nursing home. We browsed and browsed the menu and decided to get a set dinner for four (there were five of us) adding on the famous oyster omelet and a claypot rice.

 

We started with a spicy sour cabbage soup that was a good start for me. Clear and sour. With the omelet we were taking a risk not asking them to hold the cilantro (had a bad experience the only other time I ordered it, at #9 in Richmond) and the omlet was laced in green! Green onions, fortunately. There weren’t that many oysters so the omlet was a bit bland by creamy.

 

Part of the dinner included the Chiu Chow style marinated duck which was okay. I don’t know the Chiu Chow-ness of the ginger onion chicken. The winter melon clam dish was a nice bit of vegetables.

 

Another vegetable dish was gai lan with a twist–the broth was sour and tasted of wine. I was munching on it because of the green content! Some white-flesh fish was fried crisp and salty black bean sauce poured over it. I wasn’t a huge fan.

Then came the claypot rice with olive and shredded pork. Sad, I didn’t get a photo of the pot as it was placed far from me. Mum and Big Uncle shook their head at my naivete since I never had olives with my rice. I don’t even like olives so much but it was the most unique topping I had seen. It was not so salty and the toppings were nice and equally crumbly.

Congee Queen (Markham)

Lil Sis is on a quest to find the best congee in the city. We tried Congee Time at Yonge and Finch but the surroundings was not so great. Immediately upon seeing Congee Queen in Markham, I had a lot of hope.

We were in a dining mood, especially after having to wait a little bit. The place was hopping. We ordered dried oyster, lean pork, preserved vegetable congee and house Cantonese chow mein, the latter by Lil Sis’ request. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we also ordered the chili salt fried squid.

The congee was very good but I think with that combination of ingredients and with them finely chopped and throughout the congee, it is bound to be a flavourful congee. The noodles were good, fried crunchy at the edge and chockful of ingredients tossed in to make it “house-style”. The squid was good when we were having it at the restaurant, not so great as leftovers.

 

Mi Ne Sushi (Richmond Hill)

Where to bring our mother who is visiting and it’s been a long day and we just picked up my sister who works far up on Yonge Street? Well, to the Urbanspoon-rated best Japanese restaurant, also on Yonge Street? It was not a bad pick at all.

We order the A.S. Dragon Roll which meant it was a dragon roll (some kind of Toronto thing?) that was covered with avocado and salmon slices. There was a weird sweet sauce that I’ve learned to scrape off to save on calories and improve the taste. We also ordered the sashimi and tempura box which gave us the excellent combination of hot, fried food and quality cuts of fish. It was all really good.

 

Amaya Express (Toronto)

Vina and I took a walk through the Urban Eatery, Eaton Centre’s newly renovated food hall and she pointed out which places she had tried and she wasn’t impressed with Amaya Express. Well, she would have higher standards but I was craving Indian food so when I was killing some time, I wanted to try it.

Butter chicken poutine kind of had a pull but a rice bowl was more sensible and I ordered the butter chicken rice bowl with biryani basmati and chana masala. It was not too bad at all, just pricey, about $9 for this bowl.

Friendly Thai (Toronto)

My cousin Aline was visiting and we explored the city together for an afternoon, walking on Queen Street West past Spadina, popping into camera stores and cute shops. Our schedule was wonky and we weren’t hungry until about 3:00 and decided on a Thai restaurant.

Aline wanted salad rolls and I liked the idea (as usual) of tofu curry so we ended up ordering the same combo that happened to have both. I didn’t like the salad roll with too sticky rice paper wrapping. The mushroom soup was tangy and spicy but no hint of mushroom. The red curry tofu was good with big pieces of vegetables and a huge portion. Aline and I thought we could have split the combo.

 

VIP Vietnamese (Markham)

Okay, I can’t exactly remember the name of this restaurant and VIP is most likely the wrong one. Trying to be a little different, we ordered a rice in soup and a pho. For the rice in soup, we ordered it with the usual pho toppings of rare beef and beef balls. We specifically asked for no cilantro but it was dropped in in bunches anyhow. It really is white Jasmine rice in soup, just so tainted by cilantro. The beef brisket tomato wine sauce rice noodles was odd. it was a little sweet and the consistency was odd. I wasn’t too happy with my choices.

 

Tracy Desserts (Markham)

While driving around First Markham Place and ending up at the next plaza for “VIP”, I noticed the familiar characters for Hui Lau Shan, the famous mango dessert chain in Hong Kong. Except it wasn’t Hui Lau Shan, was it? The English name was Tracy Dessert. We could see that mango desserts were being served so I saved some room from Vietnamese for some dessert!

There aren’t that many mango desserts after all so we ordered the mango bonanza one: mango and pomelo with tapioca cream and ice cream. It was a good dessert with yummy and fragrant tapioca cream and mango pieces. Lil Sis remarked that they were using the currently in-season mango and not tastier Alfonso ones. We also ordered the double-boiled egg and I had asked for egg white but we got egg yolk instead and the idea of so many eggs in one dessert was a little unpalatable. We had simply ordered too much!

 

 

DineOut Reviews: Toronto Two-Month Round-Up