ND SUSHI: Look past the sign

416 551 6362   |   $3-$12 lunch rolls, $9-$19 boxes

 

I’ve eaten a lot on Baldwin Street. Having tried almost every spot of interest, you start wondering about places of no interest at all.

My coworkers and I have consistently walked past ND for one reason: the sign yells everything but “we have excellent Japanese cuisine!”. We’d walk down the street to Etsu for our sushi fix, completely ignorant of the quality that lay right before our eyes. Thankfully, I came across blogTO’s very positive write up and decided to walk in one afternoon for lunch. See how it went…


Photo Credit: blogTO

Food

We just popped in for lunch, so I’ll call this a mini-review since I’m sure their dinner options are more ambitious. 

The lunch menu itself won’t wow you with anything really different; a few apps, udon dishes, bento boxes and rolls are you options. The difference comes in the quality of what arrives at your table.

I know it’s silly, but I’ll start with edamame. Most of us enjoy these absent-mindedly, but I’d swear these were ‘fresher’ than usual. Couldn’t really tell you why or how, but they just were.

After having polished off all the beans, the mains arrived. The first order was a vegetarian box with crispy agedashi tofu, veggie-filled maki, and a great seaweed salad. The presentation was meticulous (shards of nori over the tofu) and all the elements on the plate were beautifully executed. I’m usually not a huge tofu fan, but the textural contrast was dead-on.

Next up was a spicy salmon roll with avocado, crispy tempura bits, and scallion. I’m guessing you’ve had your fare share of of spicy salmon rolls, but here are the little details that shine: the rice falls apart when it hits your mouth, the salmon melts, and you can actually pick out the flavour of the scallions. It’s still just a spicy salmon roll, but I can’t imagine it being done much better.

I decided to go a bit more ambitious for my main and went for the Spicy Rainbow roll. The layering of tuna, salmon, and butter fish with tempura prawn, and avocado running through it called my name on the menu. I put the first one in my mouth with a nice chunk of ginger and it was delicious. 

The heat comes from spicy oil drizzled atop that builds as you make your way through the roll. Without the ginger to contrast, I think it overpowered the fresh fish a bit. That said, the textures are excellent throughout and the portion size was also good for a $12 roll.

Service and Ambience

The room itself is pretty bare bones and is surely not meant to be the focus of the experience here. It’s also pretty evident because there are rarely large groups of people inside. With some more positive reviews and a new sign, I could see this place picking up many more loyal customers.


Photo Credit: blogTO

Our server was very pleasant and ensured our water glasses were filled throughout lunch. Unfortunately, it was necessary because (1) there’s no A/C and (2) it took about 30 minutes for the food to come out of the kitchen in a pretty empty restaurant. You can tell your food is made to order, but I wonder if there’s any more than one chef in the kitchen.

The Reco?

I struggled between 2.5 and 3 stars on this, but I think it’s important to promote excellent food even in the presence of some negatives during the service. I used to call Etsu the best sushi on Baldwin, but I’m comfortable crowning ND as the new champ. I’ll be back.

Other reviews:
 blogTO

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited June 20, 2012

ND Sushi & Grill on Urbanspoon

FRANK: Don’t forget about this place

416-979-6688    |    $16 -$24 lunch mains

 

As far as good restaurants go in Toronto, I feel like people forget this place exists at the AGO. People know about C5 in the ROM, but otherwise the fact it’s in a museum seems to hide it a bit. Been meaning to stop by the Frank Gehry-designed spot, found a good reason to, and off we went.


Photo Credit: Lost at A Minor

Food

The Frank lunch menu is essentially two succinct sets of starters and mains, many of which should dramatically improve what you normally eat for lunch. There’s a wide variety of interesting choices that aren’t too adventurous, but are just right for a ‘fancy’ lunch.

The three of us shared four apps to start:

  • Carrot and ginger soup: Nothing surprising here, a well-made soup that more or less yelled ‘carrot!’
  • Smoked paprika marinated grilled octopus with chickpeas, merguez, pequillo peppers and spinach (below): Really nice Spanish-inspired dish whose flavours were bright and balanced; also a beautifully-plated dish. Only thing was the octopus wasn’t quite as tender as it needed to be to knock this out of the park.
     
  • Seared halloumi on chickpea polenta and caper peperonata (below): Nothing really stood out here, but a pleasant dish. Think the halloumi could have been crispy or something, the sear didn’t change much and the chickpea part of the polenta didn’t add anything. Peperonata was a flavourful touch though.
     
  • Blue crab cakes with herbed ailoi (below): Golden and crispy on outside, soft and warm on the inside, really nice aioli with a bunch of greens. This made for a very tasty series of bites. Enjoyed these a lot.

Each of us then ordered very different mains. The first was the special of the day, a wild mushroom risotto with cipollini onions done to perfection. Flavours were dead-on (earthy and buttery), the texture was exactly where you’d want it to be and the portion wasn’t too large. 

The second dish was the corn and cheddar souffle on warm cored-apple. Found this one to be bit a bit boring, as the souffle didn’t taste like much - the apple swooped in to save it from blandness.

The last dish (above), a skirt steak on crispy sour dough, triple crunch mustard, caramelized onions and goat’s milk gouda was awesome. The triple crunch mustard caught my eye in the description, but it’s just semi-crunchy grainy mustard. The real crunch is the sour dough along the bottom and the great sear on the meat. The dish reminded me of a deconstructed and elevated steak sandwich - this is a very good thing. It’s a large portion as well, so you get your money’s worth for the priciest of the mains ($24).

We also sampled a few desserts. We found all three to be average, but regrettably cold. The crustless apple tart (above right) I had with spiced whip cream reminded me of a lukewarm Starbucks drink; could be worse I suppose. My friend’s eggnog creme brulee didn’t taste particularly like eggnog, but with a great torching job on the top, it was strangely cold. The chocolate rum lava cake with poached pears was good, but again, not hot. We thought all three were best-served warm. It’s too bad.

Service and Ambience:

I found our server to be very friendly and helpful with the menu, and the supporting staff also were around frequently replacing silverware, water refilling, etc. Food came out at a good pace given the room was busy at lunch.

As for how the place looks, it’s very modern and minimalistic. There’s a great metal sculpture that protrudes out from the cafeteria below that I particularly liked (above). The dining room itself is really big and felt somewhat empty, but that’s minimalism for you. Whether you think that style is suited for a restaurant is your own call, but as a space in a museum, I can understand the design choice.

The Reco?

I liked lunch at Frank. Despite the temperature-challenged desserts and a few small misses, we quite enjoyed the steak, crab cakes, octopus, and risotto. For an area that’s a little short on nicer restaurants, I think it’s a very respectable option. I’d definitely go back to taste more dishes both at lunch and for dinner. 

Other reviews:
 dineTO     |     NOW Toronto

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Dec 22, 2011

FRANK on Urbanspoon

ETSU: Best sushi on Baldwin

416-599-4200    |    45 Baldwin St.

No website that I can find for menu details and haven’t sampled anything other than the sushi here (well, unless sake counts) so I’ll go with a mini review here.

Food

I’ve had a bunch of sushi at this spot before and always come away very happy with the value here. It’s not super cheap, but very reasonable for above average Japanese and Korean. I’ve heard good things about the Korean dishes, but since all I’ve had is the sushi, I’ll focus on the three rolls we sampled today.

The two featured above are the caterpillar (no need to point it out) and Rick’s Roll. These are two favourites on the special roll menu. Each is around $10, quite big, and are delicious. The caterpillar has BBQ eel (unagi) inside with creamy avocado layered on top with some garnish and sauce to make it look like it’s animal relative. Could use more eel given the size.

The Rick’s Roll has - I’m probably gonna mess this up since there’s no website to double check - tempura shrimp, softchell crab, and tobiko with a variety of toppings and a distinct ginger finish. This was the table favourite. Had the spider roll as well, but that fell a little flat.

Of course, topped it off with an 8oz bottle of sake between the three of us for really cheap as well.

Service and Ambience

Warm and pleasant servers with frequent refills of the tea/water always appreciated. Also spoke to the owner as we were heading out and he let us know there’d be a new Taylor roll (his name’s Taylor) with different preparations of prawn. Good to know. 

The inside is long and narrow but the tables are very spacious and the chairs are quite comfortable. Also large prints of Taylor’s unique photography grace the walls and add some quirky character to the joint.

The Reco?

Easily the best place on Baldwin for sushi and probably the best in the general area before you hit Chinatown. Will continue to come back here for sushi lunch and recommend the same to you should you be in the area. Cheers.

Other reviews:
 blogTO  |     Toronto Life    |   Sushi Toronto

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Nov 23, 2011

Etsu Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

ELLE M’A DIT: Déjeuner délicieux

416-531-4447    |    $10-18 entrees

 

Just when you thought you’ve tried all the spots on Baldwin, something else pops up. Kept forgetting about this place until this afternoon. Its clear now that I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.

Food

The lunch menu is a perfect size, offering a variety of tartes flambees (think thin flatbread), sandwiches and a sprinkling of other intriguing options. There’s also some surprisingly refined desserts if you’re having ‘one of those mornings’.

To start, we shared pike quenelle dumplings in a mushroom bisque. This was awesome. I’m still craving another serving. Quenelle is a mixture of creamed fish (in this case) with some breadcrumbs and egg to bind everything in the dumpling. The mushroom bisque was hearty and savoury like a stew, and balanced by the white fish in a way I haven’t tasted before. It wasn’t at all strange, the flavours just made sense.

We each followed the app with a tarte given that it appeared to be the lunch specialty. I’d say the best part was the execution on the crispy thin crust. It’s the kind of texture I’d love to see more on pizza. Each one was tasty in its own way, with my friend using the phrase ‘yum, yum, yum’ on more than one occasion. 


Grilled portobello (top) and Sauerkraute (bottom) tartes flambées

  • The duck confit with potato, onion and gruyere was pleasant with duck flavour front and centre. 
  • Grilled portobello, sun-dried tomatoes, gruyere and pesto topped a balanced and flavourful veggie option. 
  • The last we sampled was the house-made smoked sausage, sauerkraut, and gruyere. Mild flavours overall, but again it was enjoyable.

With success up to that point, it was clear dessert was worth a shot. As I said, unusually complex desserts were available for lunch so we took the plunge and went for two options.

  • Blueberry cornbread, lemon curd, mixed berry frozen yogurt and candied ginger was great. Tart, sweet, warm, cold, chewy, soft. It had it all. Cornbread in composed desserts is a good call.
  • Chocolate terrine, salted caramel ice cream, cherries, dried apricot, and almonds. Definitely the more decadent of the two with the chocolate and ice cream (so good), but the variety of textures and forms of sweetness made it work. A more prominent darker/bitter chocolate probably would have rounded it out for me.

(apologies for not grabbing pics here, dishes were begging to be eaten)

You know it was a good meal when your friend comments ‘I feel so good’ on the stroll back to the office. Very satisfying overall.

Service and Ambience

It’s a pretty small dining area downstairs, with more room upstairs. Pretty sparsely decorated, but in a charming way. I don’t usually comment on the music choice, but it really helped add to the french bistro ambience. A nice touch.

The Reco?

You should go for lunch, dinner, or just dessert. I have faith the dinner menu holds similarly pleasant options. I will definitely be stopping by again.

Other reviews:
Globe and Mail    |    National Post    |    Toronto Star

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Nov 8, 2011

Elle M'a Dit on Urbanspoon

MARGARITAS: Aptly named, but simple eats



416-423-7555   |   $10-17 Entress, $7-10 Margaritas

Been here two times before, decided to walk over for a lunch out of the office.

Food

Your first question should be, “how are the margaritas?”. Answer: great. I had Pamelita’s Pick of the Day (mixed berry and chiles today) and it tasted like a berry smoothie with a hint of chile that lingers in your throat. Friend of mine had The Original and also endorsed it. Not super expensive either with the value in the 14 oz cup with 2oz of tequila ($10.95).


The sangria pitcher we ordered was decent, not overly sweet, but a lot of ice diluted the flavor a bit.

The menu is straightforward Mexican cuisine and well priced. Tacos, quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, and some traditional dishes like chiles rellenos.

We shared Totopo (nachos with the usual fixings). Lots of goat cheese on top which added richness but the excess liquid from the tomato on the bottom of the plate turned most of the surrounding chips to mush.

I ordered mole on chicken enchiladas for my main. It’s rich with a prominent chocolate taste, not much heat or other distinct flavor, but I still enjoyed it. Sides were bland rice and salad.

Friends around me ordered quesadillas and fajitas and didn’t have much to say about them. The fish of the day was tilapia and came battered (surprise to us, waiter didn’t let us know).

Quick notes on what I’ve had there before: chicken con pollo (again mole was chocolaty good, sides were basic), guac (fresh, served in stone mortar for effect), tortilla chips (look like they’re made in-house, enjoyed them).

Service and Ambience

Took at least 30 minutes for mains to come to the four of us which was too long given the number of the patrons in the place. Our plates weren’t cleared very frequently so we used the table beside us as an unloading dock. Lots of wasps out on the patio appreciated it.

Patio itself is quaint but nice. Theres another on the roof of the place as well that gets busy when the after work crowd descends on Baldwin St.

The Reco?

If you’re in the area and want to grab drinks and snacks on the patio it’s definitely a good spot. It can probably satisfy a craving for Mexican food, but don’t expect a ton variety, any real depth of flavour, or stellar service.

Other reviews:
Toronto Life     |      BlogTO

Posted by: Jacob, Visited September 22, 2011

Margarita's Fiesta Room on Urbanspoon