416 532 2222 | $5-21 Sharing Plates | 797 College St
A restaurant heavily-inspired by a trip to Spain, France and Italy from two former head chefs at Black Hoof with an ingredient-first approach and an emphasis on simple, delicious sharing plates…how could this not interest you?
Clearly, this place needed to be tried, so I went with five hungry friends to taste as much as we could handle.
Image credit: blogTO
Generally, a menu with this many items and diversity of ingredients would throw up a red flag, but there’s a really solid level of continuity and cohesiveness here. A lot of respectable riffs on traditional Spanish tapas dot the menu, alongside European staples (roasted marrow, arancini, blood sausage), and a healthy dosage of offal (horse, tripe, tongue, pig ears, etc).
Before beginning the meal, a drink from the cocktail menu sounded like a good idea. Grabbed a Pimm’s Cup (above), and they do quite a good one here.
The first dish to hit the table was boquerones (anchovies) with piquillo peppers and pickled jalapeno, served along side some spiced chips as mini vessels. Great start to the meal, nice mix of acid, heat, and brininess.
Next up was the devilled duck egg, salt cod, morcilla (black pudding) and hollandaise. While generally pretty tasty, found nothing really stood out. Thought the mix of salt cod and pudding would be more pronounced, but think the hollandaise may have muted it a bit too much.
We also decided to get the raw horse with hot sauce - you’re not going to find this on many menus, so why not?
I would say the horse was more about texture and less about taste. Very tender, a pleasant level of ‘chew’, almost like tuna. The hot sauce also grew on me and became progressively tastier the more I ate.
Following the horse came the beef tongue on brioche (a Black Hoof menu staple). My two favourite parts of this where the mound of thinly-sliced tongue and a terrific whole-grain mustard served alongside. You’d never know this was tongue, which for a lot of folks is probably a positive.
For vegetable content, we got the romaine with smoked ham and quail egg escabeche. The flavours made sense, but this dish was loaded with fresh dill, which I found a little overwhelming personally. I’d dial it down quite a bit, but some folks in our party liked it so keep that in mind if you’re a dill lover.
This dish was my guilty favourite of the meal. Honey-drizzled crostini topped with chunky slices of sobrassada, not to be confused with the Italian soppressata. This meat was a lot more like the dehyrdrated summer sausage you might find at a Mennonite market - another favourite of mine - but with paprika and other Spanish spices. Just delicious.
On the lighter side, we also ordered mojama (traditional salt-cured tuna loin from Spain) with blood orange, olive oil and marcona almonds. This dish was really nicely balanced and a good contrast to a lot of the richer/fattier dishes.
Speaking of richer and fattier, I present the roasted bone marrow. This dish was very bare bones (no pun intended, but sort of) with no accompaniments. On one hand, this presentation gave you a very good understanding of the distinct taste of marrow, but I think some balance could have been achieved here with fresh herbs or something pickled.
Next up was the salt cod arancini in tomato adobo (above on the left). One hell of a tasty dish, and a much more successful use of salt cod than the first. One of the better and less conventional arancini I’ve had in the city for sure.
The dish on the right was the marinated swiss chard with raisins and anchovies. I wasn’t particularly fond of this one. Thought it would be served hot, and I found the sweetness a little off-putting.
The next vegetable dish - broccoli, turnip, cabbage, yogurt and ginger - was more appetizing than the swiss chard, but again, thought it was out of place on the menu.
The tide quickly changed though when our fried chicken with sticky eggplant arrived. Your just KNOW that this was good. Perfect crispiness, juicy chicken and satisfying eggplant. Really simple, but a good combination I hadn’t seen.
The chicken wings escabeche (above) may have been one of the best dishes as well. While the chicken skin was a little mushy, the homey quality of the dish and subtle acidity of the sauce was hard to forget. We would have ordered more, but clearly had ordered our fill of food.
This whiting dish with brown butter was also stellar. The cripsy skin and perfectly cooked fish were paired nicely with a measured use of brown butter.
Our final savoury dish of the night, was a suitable topper to this part of the meal: stewed tripe, crispy tripe, chorizo, and a gooey egg. This is another case of an obviously tasty dish on paper living up to it’s description. Note: the chorizo in here was especially good.
Our two dessert options were the salted chocolate mousse (above) and the basque cake & boozy cream (below). Of the two, I think we were more satisfied by the firm, spongy texture of the cake. The flavours were pretty mild (booze included), but definitely inspired exaltation around the table.
Service and Ambience
I was a big fan of the inside of this place, mostly because I found it so unpretentious. The trend of awesome food in a comfortable setting continues to make me happy.
The dining room itself is pretty roomy for 75 seats and there’s a lot of unique features like the convex green walls, mosaic-style floors, red lighting and heavy use of wood. It’s both bare bones and charming in a strange way.
From a service perspective, we quite enjoyed the night. Our servers were friendly, knowledgeable and usually close by, while the multitude of dishes came out in good time.
We initially tried to order pretty much the entire menu save the bar snacks, and a la carte cheese/cured meats. Guy Rawlings came over to us afterwards and recommended we abandon that approach and order fewer dishes with enough for everyone to have a bite. After a bit of discussion, he talked us off the ledge, and I think by the end of the meal our stomachs were better for it.
Bar Isabel is one of the rare restaurants in the city whose slate of dishes can be very eclectic and yet still quite successful; the reason for this is clearly the skill and the creativity in the kitchen. I didn’t like every dish, but I loved at least five of them and that counts for a lot in my book.
blogTO | Urban Craze
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Apr 12, 2013
416 516 8286 | $10-14 Sharing Plates | 5 Brock Ave
(special thanks to kiki’s BFF for the menu shot)
I don’t usually come this far west, but St. Patty’s day seemed like a suitable occasion to venture to Electric Mud. I would have been here sooner or later given my healthy appreciation for its sister restaurant Grand Electric, but some pretty unanimous early praise made this a must visit.
Like Grand Electric, the menu here is pretty succint and split into two parts. The first is a small main board that boasts ribs, pork belly, hot links and duck ham along with some sides, while the second is a paper menu that includes roasted cauliflower, shrimp & grits, and a pork sandwich among other things.
Before diving into the various fatty and/or fried delights, I took a look through the cocktail menu and selected the ‘porch crawler’ (above) with thai basil gin and watermelon lemonade. Not too boozy, big glass, and more refreshing than sweet, which made it the perfect pairing for the onslaught/meal to follow.
Our first order was a side of hushpuppies, which we instinctively ordered after watching our friendly line cook prepare them in front of us. This proved to be a wise choice. Perfectly seasoned and crunchy on the outside, fluffy with whole kernels of corn and mashed potato (we think?) on the inside. The puppies sat on what I’d describe as a semi-tartar sauce with a hint of mustard, which added to the addictive quality of the dish.
Next up, a lightly-dressed creamy salad with soft-boiled egg halves topped with crispy pig ears. In a meal largely devoid of vegetables, it was either this, the coleslaw or the collards, and I think this worked for us. The portion was reasonably large, the pig ears had a just little bit of chew (a good thing), and the dish had good balance overall.
Do you like pig tails? I love pig tails, and these are the best I’ve had. Often treated like you might prepare a chicken wing, these were so tender, and had a great sharp buffalo sauce that made this my favourite plate of the night. Sure, you might creep some people out as you work your way through what are essentially vertebrae, but it’s so worth it.
We almost didn’t order the fried chicken, but our decision to say ‘what the hell’ was rewarded. These drumsticks had the perfect interplay of moist, juicy interior and crunchy, cripsy exterior that you look for with good fried chicken; however, I’ll say it was a little light on flavour for me. I think the crust could have used a generous sprinkle of spice or heat to play off the cup of honey on the side.
Next up, the token fish dish not named shrimp ‘n grits. This fish on a squishy bun came stacked with lettuce, a tart, creamy sauce and some kettle chips for crunch. Definitely a tasty combo, but again, felt it was one ingredient short of perfection. More acid? spice? Not sure.
Last, but certainly not least, the ribs. Tender? Check. Nice bark? Check. Peanuts on top? A smart addition. Clearly, I enjoyed these, but I think it needs to be said that they were a bit on the sweet side. I’d order them again, but I think these too could use some heat.
We ended with soft serve, because you should pay every great meal the compliment of ordering dessert. The twist here, was the mysterious flavour of bay leaf. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what bay leaf tastes like, but I’d call this a variation on green tea ice cream, but less tea and more depth (not a good description, but it’s my best).
Service and Ambience
We first strolled by around 4:30pm to see if we needed to join a line for the 5pm opening, but with no one around, decided it’d be safe to have a pint nearby. We returned about 10 minutes after 5, and luckily snared some of the few remaining bar stools. Moral of the story: get here early.
As is usually the case, sitting at the bar is better. A portion of the kitchen operates right behind the bar, and you get to chat up the cooks and watch service. We felt right at home, got every dish pretty quickly, and really enjoyed ourselves overall.
The inside of this place is pretty much wall-to-wall particle board with retro-butch items at every turn - the opposite of pretentious. What a great atmosphere to dine on some unique BBQ eats.
I quite like this spot and you should absolutely drop in and sin a little. A few of our dishes were one element short of the ideal bite, but I’ll admit to being very picky because I feel the need to provide some kind of constructive critique. In summary, it’s delicious. Go before everyone knows it exists.
kiki’s BFF | My Life is Food
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Mar 18, 2013
647 930 9517 | $16-28 Mains | 60 Richmond St E
After having gone to one of Rose & Sons first dinner services, I started to develop a tendency to try out other restaurants making their supper time debut. Hawthorne had been very popular for the lunch crowd over the past few weeks and was just beginning to offer a new menu in the evenings, so I decided to drop in with a bunch of friends to sample their offerings.
Exterior Image Credit: Karolyne Ellacott, Toronto Life
I’m not exaggerating when I say the menu that night was extremely eclectic. The same menu shares edamame, lamb empanada, lemongrass ribs, fish and chips, peking duck phot and steak frites. Usually, this would send me running for the door, but the described elements of each dish seemed to be in harmony so we proceeded to order.
Starting with the ‘russian unorthodox’ above, there was a pattern of over-salting early in the early-going. The flavour combinations of horseradish, apple beet, caraway and dill made sense, but not all them showed up on the plate and I couldn’t help but feel the aioli was really salty.
One of the other starters was a mushroom ‘soup of the moment’ with some decent mushroom flavour, but really lacked depth. Felt very one-note and again probably had more salt than it needed.
The last app was a small beet and beef tartare with pickled mustard seeds, horseradish cream, and coffee oil. I can’t say I really picked up the oil, but for a third time, I’d say the tartare was too salty.
On to mains. My order was the ponzu glazed pork belly with lobster broth, long bean, crispy toast and chili peanut dust. While the broth did have lobster flavour, it was quite bitter almost like a Massaman curry. I was really hoping for some bright flavours or spice somewhere to help balance, but everything else on the plate was rather bland. No hint of heat or peanut, which made me wonder if there was any dust at all.
The crispy skin char with vanilla poached tomato, chestnut gnocchi, charred kale, onion fondue and bee pollen just sounded way too ambitious. I didn’t order it, but I did have a bite of a few elements and I just didn’t get it, especially the tomatoes. Very odd combinations here.
The beef cheek with bok choy, stone crab chow chow and crispy potato cake was another dish that sounded like there may be something there, but flavours didn’t really come together. Again, felt it was a bit bland.
The final dish sort of embodied the ongoing theme of promising description, followed by flat result. This chicken (while huge) was supposed to have east African spice and coffee essence, but really wasn’t as pronounced as it needed to be. Also, the presentation felt like Swiss Chalet take out and the croutons surrounding the bird were not what I’d call a good rendition of panzanella salad.
Service and Ambience
Safe to say the food was disappointing, but I did like the vibe of the place. Tasteful use of stone and wood with lots of jars filled with preserves made for a pleasant atmosphere. I can see how the giant bar facing into the kitchen would be buzzing during lunch.
Interior Image Credit: Karolyne Ellacott, Toronto Life
I also thought our server was very friendly, attentive to our large group, and was also around to answer questions or take any ad hoc orders. I really wish the food had been better so that we could have validated some of his recommendations.
I honestly think the menu stretches this place too thin and has resulted in dishes that seem to over-promise and under-deliver. I continue to hear good things about lunch here, and perhaps this early dinner service is not reflective of the food quality this kitchen puts out, but I can’t recommend this in the slightest based on what I tasted. Sorry guys.
No Dinner Reviews Yet
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Jan 11, 2013
647 748 3287 | $15-25 Mains | 176 Dupont St.
So by now, I think it’s already pretty evident I had an amazing meal at Rose & Sons. This new comfort food restaurant from Anthony Rose, formerly of The Drake, is the first of three new openings he’s planning over the next little while, and if Rose & Sons is any indication of their eventual quality, this city’s in for a real treat.
The restaurant has been running brunch and lunch service for a couple weeks, but only began serving dinner on Dec 6th. I dropped in with a few friends on Dec 7th, only the place’s second dinner service, for a meal I won’t soon forget.
Exterior Image Credit: blogTO
The concept for the restaurant is “comfort food with lots of loving”, and that’s aptly conveyed in the menu. The best way to describe it is a chef thinking of all the food they love to eat and putting it on one concise menu. You’ll find pork fried rice, buckwheat pancakes with whitefish and gravlax, steak frites, chili, and duck confit all just lines apart. Usually, that kind of assortment’s gotta make you apprehensive, but there’s no reason for anxiety here.
We started with the pork fried rice with egg, ginger, peanuts, and broccoli. I’m not sure what the best part was, but I’ll highlight the great little chunks of belly and the crunch of peanuts and crispy rice as my favourites. The dish as whole is addictive, simple, and assuredly comfort food at its best.
Next up: fries and gravy. If we’re eating comfort food, we might as well just go for it. The fries were fries, but the gravy was borderline creamy and had a really nice depth of flavour. The creaminess added thickness and textural contrast that made this a bit unique overall.
Next up, something I’m seeing a lot more: grilled romaine. The romaine had a good amount of char on it to impart bitterness, but the balance in the dish came from a good shaving of toscano cheese, and an assertive punch of garlic and anchovy. There’s nothing particularly complex here, but the trick is being bold without botching the balance. Well done.
Our means began with the pickerel, creamed squash and ‘green sauce’, that I’ll say is a riff on salsa verde. This was one of the more unique flavour combinations on the menu, but even reading it, you get the sense it’ll work. The verde was where it should be, the fish had a great sear and flaked as you’d hope, and the squash provided a good base of flavour and heft to the dish.
The patty melt (above) is one, among many reasons, you need to come here. Essentially it’s a burger and grilled cheese in one and is absolutely fantastic due to (1) the awesome rye dotted with caraway seed and (2) a juicy patty expertly cooked to medium-rare. This wasn’t my main, but I’ll remember my bite of it for a while.
The last main was the duck confit with brussel sprouts, beans, and poached pear - it didn’t disappoint. Tons of very tender duck, brussel sprouts that even the most vehemently non-vegetable eaters would love and some pear for mild sweetness that really compliments the protein. The only miss here I’d say were the beans that I’m quite certain were under-cooked and little chalky as a result.
Given the excellence that preceded it, dessert was a mandatory undertaking. We ordered a bread pudding with blueberries and split it between everyone to keep our hearts beating, even though it’s not actually that huge of a portion. A friend of mine described it as the perfect balance between custard and french toast, topped with some of the purest blueberry flavour I’ve had in some time.
Service and Ambience
I’ll start off by saying you’ll have a tough time reserving a dinner seat here once people know it exists; there just aren’t very many seats in the little space. The diner charm is undeniable and I really like the two-man kitchen in plain sight, helping make the connection between you and the people preparing your food.
On the service side, Anthony himself greeted us when we walked in, was our server for most of the night and seemed to be doing the expediting with the kitchen. You gotta love the advantages a smaller space provides. He was a great host all night, the food came out of the kitchen quickly, and we really got the sense this was his baby. Very cool.
I’ve found that ‘comfort food’ is a delicate line to walk, and can mean anything from really poorly-executed classics to gloriously simple but addictive plates. Rose & Sons is surely the latter. This is only my second four-star rating in nearly 80 tries, so if that isn’t recommendation enough, I don’t know what is. Go now and enjoy!
blogTO | No Dinner Reviews Yet
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Dec 7, 2012
647 748 0222 | $16-55 Sushi, $7-18 Bistro
By all indications, the people behind Guu can do no wrong in this city. The first location (Izakaya) is still ultra-frequented, the second location (Sakabar) appears successful, and their recent foray into ramen (Kinton) is a prime contender for the best and busiest noodle joint in the city. All this said, their most recent opening is easily the riskiest concept. Naturally, I was eager to try. Here are my thoughts.
I’ll open by saying that the restaurant is still in soft opening, but has been serving for about a month now. The soft opening menu is split into two main parts: premium sashimi + sushi and ‘bistro’ fare. You could call one part the ‘ja’ and the other the ‘bistro’. We went for a couple items from either side.
The first two items delivered were our bistro items. The salmon pie with mushroom and oyster sauce and prawn bisque (above) was our first bite. The bisque/sauce combo was flavourful and the pastry had the flaky quality you look for, but the salmon interior fell flat. Not much flavour, the fish was definitely overcooked and came in awkwardly large chunks.
The other dish was nanban battered chicken (above) with tartar sauce, some sort of broth at the bottom and a slaw over top. From a taste perspective, this dish was addictive, provided you like a good tartar sauce. The juicy chicken was smothered in it, and on any given bite you were guaranteed flavourful moisture. My issue is that the best part of fried chicken, the crispy exterior, was unfortunately soggy. Sitting fried chicken in broth and pouring tartar sauce over top is a combination I’d recommend revising.
About a minute after our bistro dishes came to the table, both sushi items arrived. The tiger shrimp or ebi, was delicious and the most unique thing I tasted during the meal. The shrimp came topped with a sauce that I can only describe as bechamel and reminded me (quite fondly) of a savoury breakfast.
Our other sushi dish was a torched mackerel topped with a jam/chutney of sorts that I couldn’t identify. The fish was fresh, tender, and flavourful (as mackerel usually is) and each bite made me want another.
To finish, we went with the nashi, a warm pear pie with ice cream and some berries. The pie was well-executed, had the perfect level of sweetness, and was pleasant with the pairings on the plate. I’d also say this was probably the most successful bistro-style dish of the night, but also decidedly unambitious.
Service and Ambience
From an interior design perspective, this is a beautiful space. It seems every Guu offshoot has a keen eye for what makes a comfortable yet premium atmosphere and I think the fairly large space, with open-concept sushi bar, accomplishes this with ease.
Image credit: Jabistro Website
From a service perspective, we had a few bumps over the course of the night.
I’m positive you’ll really like this place if you come for sushi and sashimi, but this idea of incorporating a bistro theme is loose at best and definitely the weaker part of the menu today. While ambitious as a concept, the menus feels disjointed and the overall experience a little confused. For these reasons, I can’t say I’ll be back.
blogTO | Post City
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Dec 3, 2012
647 748 4272 | $5-13 Small Plates
I’ve read some polarizing things about Hapa thus far. Before it opened, people lauded it as another hiqh quality izakaya in the mold of Guu, but more recent opinions have labeled it more pedestrian and used the dreaded word: ‘fusion’. I decided to drop-in anyways and give it a shot.
The menu is basically split into three parts: cold tapas, hot tapas and the fresh sheet, an assortment features, rolls and desserts. There’s a ton of variety and you could probably eat all fried things or all sushi if you felt like it. Naturally, I mixed it up for the sake of the review.
Before eating, I began with a Shiso Mojito that sounded like a clever shift from the usual. I’ll say it might be tough to pick it out blindfolded, but I think it’s good value for $9. There’s also a heck of a sake selection (if that’s your thing) and some good beer if you’re a fan of Blanche de Chambly and Amsterdam brews.
Our first dish was the Salmon Yukee (above) topped with a raw quail egg and some nori chips. The tartare was clean, the egg for richness and moisture, and a nori chip that added a unique twist. It’s definitely fusion, but it worked for me.
Next up was the scallop tartare with bacon, mustard mayo, and some wontons. I think the bacon, mustard, scallop flavour combo made sense, but perhaps a bit heavily dressed for something that’s generally a little more delicate.
I think this was my favourite dish of the night. Beef tataki, quickly seared, sliced thin with an addictive sesame-chile topping, crunch, lemon for acid, and a good amount of raw red and green onion. It’s clearly not rocket science, but it’s well executed and hits on all the things I was looking for in a bite.
One of the few hot tapas we ordered was the Ebi Mayo: a very simple preparation of tempura prawns and some ‘spicy mayo’. Outside of the fact I’d call the mayo more ‘zingy’, that was a perfect tempura prawn. Really juicy and tender with a nicely crisp batter made me wish we’d ordered two.
This next plate, the Aburi Saba, is what everyone will tell you order - both for the show and the taste. Your server will bring out a blow torch and give the raw mackerel a quick 5-10 seconds over top. Mackerel is already fairly fishy and the torching brings that out, provides some novel temperature contrast and a slight char flavour. If you like mackerel (I do), you’ll really enjoy this. If not, steer clear.
If you had to nominate one dish you’d find at Joey’s, this halibut taco dish would be it. It’s tempure halibut with bacon bits topped with shoestrings served with a roasted jalapeno tartar sauce. I know it sounds pedestrian, but the sauce packs a good punch,the fish is ruined and the grilled taco is actually tasty. I didn’t want to like it, but I couldn’t help myself.
The last dish we shared was the tuna carpaccio with yuzu dressing. It looks simple, bright, moist and pure, and accomplishes all those things when you drop it in your mouth. Another successful fish preparation.
QUICK NOTE: This is a tapas restaurant, so if you’re not looking to spend big, you’ll likely come away hungry if you entered with an appetite. Luckily, it’s surrounded by super cheap pho places, so keep that in mind.
Service and Ambience
One thing you’ll always get at Guu is an unrivaled ambience. It’s buzzing, borderline too loud, and the kitchen greets you with joy and fervor. Something about the room feels less authentic and more ‘Milestones’ (flat screen TVs will do that), so even a similarly joyous greeting just seems out of place.
Service throughout the night was attentive and helpful, with our server recommending sake for the newer drinkers at the table and delivering all the dishes promptly and as ordered. No complaints here.
Like a lot of pretty well-executed ‘Asian fusion’ restaurants, Hapa probably has taken more heat than it deserves. I almost think of it more as upscale comfort food in some ways, and try not to hold it to the standard of other ultra-authentic alternatives. If you walk in with the same mindset, I’m pretty you’ll come away feeling similarly satisfied.
Globe and Mail | Kat Can Rawr
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Oct 28, 2012
647 476 3833 | $9 Bowls + Extras
It’s noon, your office is freezing, you have a ton of noodle options around, but you want THE bowl of noodles. You turn to a coworker, your go-to-foodie, looking for a nugget of wisdom. She tells you, “if it’s ramen you crave, Sansotei’s the place”. Jovial with this surefire recommendation, you race to the elevator, bust out the doors of your building, and make a beeline to 179 Dundas West.
Your problem? You’re already too late. There’s a huge line, it doesn’t move particularly fast, and you’re going to freeze your ass off outside.
Moral of the story: you can’t just show up here. I know you’ve heard it’s awesome, but so has everyone else, so plan ahead, leave early, and you too can enjoy a bowl of warm goodness.
OK, enough with the narrative, let’s talk food. The menu is very focused on a few key variations of ramen. Wikipedia has a great description of all four: shio (salty), shoya (soy sauce), miso, and tonkotsu (pork bone). With each one of these you can add some extra egg, pork belly, veggies if you want to pack your soup with even more goodies. In addition to ramen, Sansotei also offers some sides like seaweed salad, gyoza, and a couple rice dishes.
I’m a big fan of seaweed salads, so we started with the one above. It should be exactly what you’re looking for: fresh, clean, and a tiny bit chewy for texture.
While Sansotei is known for the Tonkotsu ramen more than any other, I figured I might as well order another kind just for variety. Enter Miso (above).
Miso ramen originated in Hokkaido, Japan (see Bourdain video above for more) and has the familiar taste you’ve come to love, just amped up and combined with complimentary flavours like pork, green onion and corn (generally not found in other ramens). I was a big fan of the bowl myself: noodles had great chewy texture, the broth perfectly salty, and the portion was satisfying.
I’m no ramen connoisseur, but I very much enjoyed these.
For the hell of it, I also ordered gyoza, and found them to be steaming hot inside their thin crispy noodle exterior and full of pork flavour.
Service and Ambience
Once you step inside the restaurant space, you realize why there’s a line outside: it’s tiny; my best guess is around 20-25 seats max. While a hole in the wall, the interior’s very unique with an intricate rock wall lit from above and a giant rope that looks to have once been used to secure large ships to shore.
From a service perspective, the first thing to know is that you’ll be given a number when standing in line. Servers will pop out from the restaurant and call you in from the cold when it’s your turn for soup.
Once inside, best to ask your server to help you understand what comes in each ramen, as the menu isn’t very detailed in that regard. Your server may not have an awesome command of the English language, but she’ll do her best with a smile on her face, and you’ll eventually be able to make an informed choice.
I waited in line for about 15 minutes, and thought the meal definitely justified it. The purpose for your visit is straightforward, the menu is good value, and if you’re informed enough to arrive early, I’m certain you’ll have a pleasurable experience. Enjoy!
Where Jess Ate | blogTO
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Nov 1, 2012
647 253 8000 | $12-16 Bowls
Having already reviewed (and enjoyed) Daisho, it was only natural that I stop in to Noodle Bar to sample what continues to draw lines of folks outside the Shangri-La hotel.
We ended up waiting about 20 minutes on a Friday - not bad - and got to sample a few things off the menu. I won’t call this a complete review since we just didn’t try a lot, so consider this a mini-review.
If you do any review reading about this place so far, you’ll start to see a consensus: ‘I came here with exceedingly high expectations, ordered the ramen, wasn’t blown away, and came away disappointed’. I’m not gonna argue with everyone, so I decided to sample some of the other menu elements.
The menu itself is pretty small with some buns (or baos), bowls, and extras. Since I’m a complete sucker for these fluffy steamed buns, that’s where I started.
We went the chicken versions (above), and thankfully they were some of the best I’ve ever had. I’d say they stack up well with Baohaus in NYC and those served at Chang’s Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar NYC. The texture is beautiful and fluffy, the chicken flavourful, and the crackling a special textural contrast. I’d highly recommend these.
Next up were the ginger scallion noodles (above), topped with shiitakes, cabbage, cucumber and a ton of scallions. A really clean, fresh, flavourful bowl for sure with noodles curled underneath. My friend really enjoyed it, but was hoping for broth of some kind to add another layer of flavour. Thankfully, the squirt bottle of awesome hot sauce was nearby.
My lunch main was the kimchi stew bowl with pork shoulder and rice cakes (above). I really enjoyed this dish with a bunch of hot sauce added to give it some spice. Match that spice with some of the sharpness from the kimchi and piece of tender shredded pork shoulder, and you’ve got a giant bowl of home.
Service and Ambience
I’ve already commented on the design of the three-storey edifice in another review, so I’ll describe the organized chaos you’re likely to walk into during weekday lunch. Almost all seating is communal, so be ready to rub elbows at the long wooden tables and bar. There’s some seating upstairs in Nikai while you’re waiting, but it’s not serving until dinner hour unfortunately.
As for service, I’d call it friendly and mostly efficient. They try to turn the tables quite quickly given the lunch rush, so you’ll get your food easily within 10-15 minutes. Our server did forget the beer we ordered, but small slips like that are likely to occur every now and then given the speed and noise level in the room.
Go to Sansotei or Kinton if killer ramen is your hankering. I know it’s called Noodle Bar, and everyone expects mind-blowing ramen, but I encourage you to check out some of the other options on this menu. I did, and I’ll definitely be back to check out a few more. I hope you do the same. Cheers.
Kiki’s BFF | foodpron
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Oct 19, 2012
647 748 1444 | $21-$26 Mains
Did you watch Top Chef Canada Season 2? If so, you’re pretty familiar with Chef Carl Heinrich’s style: well-executed, comforting, and far-from-convoluted. This rings true at Richmond Station, the newly opened project from Chef Heinrich and partner Ryan Donovan, both former faces of Marben (another favourite of mine).
Opening only about a week ago, I’ve already been twice. The first time for a quick bite with a friend, the second with a huge party of more than 20. My impressions from both visits are below.
Photo Credit: blogTO
Unfortunately, the full menu isn’t yet available online, so I’ll do my best to describe it: the focus is very local and seasonal, with a handful of starters and sharing plates, mains, and desserts. I’d say there’s a good balance to the menu offering a bit of everything for carnivores (in-house charcuterie, rib-stuffed burger, coq-au-vin) and those looking for lighter options (roast beet salad, smoked trout, kohlrabi ravioli).
I’ll run through some of what we sampled on both occasions, but unfortunately don’t have pictures of my own due to lighting and a struggling iPhone. Thankfully, Toronto Life and blogTO have some great shots.
Photo Credit: blogTO
One of the starters for the big group’s fixed menu was a vibrant roasted beet salad with whipped goat cheese, pickled shallots, and candied hazelnuts. I’ll leave the description to my buddy Kevin:
“Probably my favourite dish of the night. Great balance between the goat cheese and sweetness from the (maple) vinaigrette. Beets were just right in terms of softness for me.”
Photo Credit: blogTO
This smoked rainbow trout plate (above) is another stellar dish. I ordered it on my first visit and came away thoroughly impressed. Served with kale, soybean hummus and antipasto that included nice chunks of eggplant, this dish yells Marben to me. A preparation that’s rich without being fatty and understands how to execute pairing hearty eggplant and hummus with a delicate fish preparation. Yum.
Photo Credit: Renee Suen, Toronto Life
The kohlrabi filled ravioli (above) is another good option, especially for the non-meat eaters in our group. I sampled this my first time in and thought it had the perfect level of buttery, earthy flavours without being overpowering on either account - I suppose the collard greens and portabellos helped preserve the right level of freshness as well.
Photo Credit: Renee Suen, Toronto Life
We’re jumping to dessert now, but we’ll come back to other starters and mains in a bit. The ‘Station S’More’ above is the restaurants version of the classic campfire favourite, but the consensus around the table is that it needs work.
The most common gripe I heard was it needed to be HOT, just like a s’more that’s on the edge of burning your tongue. The other issue was the chocolate’s texture - it’s basically pudding. I think the magic of the s’more is the gooeyness of the marshmellow contrasted with the barely melted chocolate bar.
On the plus side, the berry coulis was delicious and hazelnuts elevated the flavour profile.
Photo Credit: Renee Suen, Toronto Life
The other dessert we tasted was a table favourite: butternut squash sponge cake with mascarpone, honey, and toasted pumpkin seeds. It’s a perfect fall dish, that had great sweetness, crunch and creaminess from the quinelle of cheese on top.
I’ll also say these flavours inspired the distinct childhood memories of sugar crisp cereal; I managed to convince a few others around the table that I wasn’t crazy in this assertion.
Dishes With No Pics
Polenta Fries with Spicy Aioli and Cilantro - These were great little crispy bites to compliment a main. I wouldn’t have minded more heat in the aioli though.
Rib-Stuffed Burger - The entire table raved about this burger. Most words didn’t really seem to do it justice, but I thought this comment from my friend Kim came close as she finished hers:
“I don’t want this to end - it’s like reading the last Harry Potter book”
Wild Boar Ragu - I pleasant homey pasta dish with some oxtail as well, but I couldn’t help feeling like it was missing something.
Service and Ambience
For a place that looks like a bit of hole in the wall from a distance, it’s quite large inside with multiple sections seating a total of 80 people. The decor has a casual, neighbourhood vibe to it, helped by the retro transit imagery throughout. That said, the high ceilings also give the room some sophistication and the giant circular window in the front keeps the space somewhat modern.
Photo Credit: blogTO
Perhaps the most impressive part of our visit was the excellent service. We brought in more than 20 people to a restaurant that’s been open for little more than a week and they handled it like pros. Meals came out in good time, our servers were friendly and in constant communication with me to ensure everything was in order, and separated the bill for every single person at the table.
It’s not often you can walk into a restaurant twice so early into it’s life and come away so satisfied and ready for more. With a delicious set of dishes and a team of personable servers, Richmond Station has accomplished this feat and definitely earned my spirited recommendation.
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Oct 19, 2012
647 351 1200 | $12-$17 Pizza & Pasta
Haven’t heard of Strada241? Neither had I ten minutes before I decided to go check it out. The Rubino brothers, of Rain and Ame, opened this spot up in the center of Chinatown last week, and I happened to spot it on Toronto Life. It was close to work and I was in the mood for pizza, so naturally I walked over with a couple coworkers to sample the menu.
Photo Credit: blogTO
Simple tends to be very revealing and the menu here is very straightforward: antipasti, salads, a good pizza selection, a few pastas and some salumi/cheese options. You can’t hide behind a lot of these dishes, either you get them right or you have a super mediocre restaurant on your hands.
First up, selected the zucchini fritti served with fresh parsley salsa verde. Presentation here was awesome, with each slice spiked on it’s own nail coming out of the board. It tasted great too: the light crispy breading with perfectly done cuts of zucchini and that bright, savoury sauce worked well.
Both my friends ordered paninis and really enjoyed them, but oddly, they seem to have been removed from the most recent menu posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. In case they make a return appearance, the pollo cacciatore sandwich (above) is delicious, hearty, and highly recommended.
The other panini we ordered, a mozzarella, tomato, lettuce, and pesto sandwich is clean yet satisfying as well. Just look at that bread. There’s a bakery on site that also serves a number of goods out front, which you might have guessed anyways on the basis of the bread alone.
The final main had to be pizza. I went with the Zia Rita, topped with a beautiful tomato sauce (so delicious when done this well), great spicy salami nduja, roasted onion, rapini, parmigiano, and mint. The crust was pretty tasty as well, and had a good mix of chewy and crispy.
We also ordered a side of cold rapini with a lemon vincotto dressing and some frisee. I’d never had cold rapini, but that lemon kept it real bright and I found myself coming back for more. That said, thought it could have used something else to contrast the level of bitterness just a bit more.
After a great meal, it only made sense to go with dessert. My choice was the ‘Limone’, a cold lemon custard of sorts topped with an almond crumble, ribbons of fennel and a touch of fennel frond on top. The pairing of fennel and perfectly balanced sweet/tart lemon was terrific. Throw in the textural contrast of the biscotti-like almond crumble, and this was one hell of a dessert. Highly recommend it.
Service and Ambience
Insulated from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, you’re more or less transported when you walk in. High ceilings, tons of brick and wood, and a very open concept make this a great space. The front area with coffee and sweets kind of reminds me of Dark Horse just down the street actually.
Our server was also good given the newness of the restaurant and the changing menu. Our waters were always full, she happily offered her recommendations, and was really cheery throughout.
I was so impressed by this place and will definitely be back. There’s a bunch of dishes I’d re-order and I also can’t wait to try the baked goods up front and the ongoing changes to the menu. It’s not the most ambitious food in the world, but it’s hard to find it all executed this well.
blogTO | dine.TO
Posted by: Jacob, Visited Oct 9, 2012