HAWKER BAR: More punch and slow down please

647 343 4698   |   $6-$9 Snacks, $9-$12 Plates

 

Fun new concept: Someone tells you there’s a new spot opening up serving Singaporean street food! Sounds really interesting right? We thought so. For a little Dish Duel reunion, Stella, Amy, Jess and I met up at Hawker Bar in hopes of getting through the vast majority of the menu. We succeeded…in record time too. Read on…


Photo Credit: Karolyne Ellacott, Toronto Life

Food

So let’s put it this way, we figured we could take down most of the menu here between the four of us. That ended up not being too tough, but at the lightning pace the dishes were flying out of the kitchen, the whole thing’s a bit of a blur. We were constantly trying to get plates off the table to make room for new ones, so let’s just say this won’t be the most detailed review ever.

We started with the Son in Law Eggs (above), basically soft boiled eggs that are deep fried and glued to a leaf with chili jam. The yolks explode in your mouth - WARNING: if you don’t eat this in one bite it’s going to get all over you - the texture-mix is cool, and the chili jam is yummy.

Next up were pork skewers with peanut sauce. The pork was moist, the peanut sauce was a bit mild in flavour, but I like the larger nut pieces for texture.

These chicken wings were also pretty good, but I wanted them to be punchier. The chicken was moist, but I kept wanting them to be the wings from Foxley. If not saucy, be crispy or spicy. I didn’t find they were either.

I was disappointed by the chicken laksa (above). I’ve never been to Singapore, but I thought it was supposed to be spicy or pack a really nice flavour punch. To me, it was a bit muted and reminiscent of a lot of OK curries I’ve had before.

The chili crab had more of the chili flavour from the son in law eggs and the chicken wings. Even though it was a familiar taste, it was more intense and I’m a sucker for crab so I liked it.

The whole sea bream with lime, ginger and soy was OK. I liked the crispy outside, but I thought the fish might have been a bit over for my taste. The sauce on the plate was pretty tasty though.

This was probably my second favourite. The rendang curry was nice, but the ultra tender oxtail stole the dish. It literally melted. You could complain that it all sort of became mush, but that would be over-analyzing the whole thing.

This was another dish that I just didn’t get. By this point in the meal, there had been a lot of chili, ginger, and soy. This dish is essentially plain rice and plain (albeit juicy) chicken with three sauces: chili, ginger, and soy. It tasted like everything else we’d eaten so far. The puree of ginger needed a different delivery device too: the squeeze bottle doesn’t really work.

Then we moved onto dessert. This one was a shaved ice kacang (above) that had some sort of red bean paste on the top that was pretty much all you could taste. I had no idea what it should have been, but looking at the Wikipedia picture left me wanting more.

The meal did end on a good note though. These banana fritters had great, hot crispy shells, with ooey-gooey banana stuffed inside. Couldn’t place the ice cream flavour (red bean again?), but the cold-to-hot contrast did the job.

Service and Ambience

This place is little. I think I counted roughly 23 seats including those at the bar, so you’ll likely be waiting if you don’t go early. That said, it’s cozy and the big windows typical of these new Ossington spots are always welcome on sunny days. 


Photo Credit: Karolyne Ellacott, Toronto Life

On the service, I’ll say two things: (1) our server was friendly, hospitable, and attentive, and (2) the speed at which the food came out was ridiculous. When a group of four orders ten dishes, there’s no way it’s all going on the table with tea cups, water glasses, and side plates. Add that to the fact that we’re all blatantly taking pictures of the food, and there’s just no way all ten of those dishes should come out that quickly.

I think we all enjoyed the food significantly less because we were very rushed, to the point of it being uncomfortable. We wanted to taste the food at its best, but it’s hard when dishes are sitting out in a culinary traffic jam.

The Reco?

The food’s not bad here at all. And some dishes (crab, eggs, rendang, fritters) were actually quite good. I’d have liked a little more variety in the flavours, since a group of four can eat most of the dishes in one sitting. All said, the dining experience just didn’t work for us and the enjoyment of it all suffered as a result. I can’t recommend it based on that.

Other reviews:
 National Post  |    blogTO

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited May 11, 2012

Hawker Bar on Urbanspoon

THE GROVE: Wows and early kinks

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416 588 2299   |   $20-$26 Entrees 

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It’s been a few weeks now since The Grove opened up in the increasingly competitive Dundas West strip, and I decided it was about time I dropped in for what appeared to be some delicious British delights. The buzz from chefs in the area and some folks who beat me to the punch had been exceedingly positive, so my expectations were high. With a Dark & Stormy in-hand (below), we ordered everything that sounded inviting.

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Food

You’ll notice immediately that the menu is quite succint, which is usually a good sign. If it’s there, there’s a reason. There are five items I’d call starters with options centered around root veggies and seafood, and five meat-centric mains. 

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Our server indicated we’d be missing out if we didn’t order the parsley root soup (above), so that’s where we began. She was bang on: this provided one of the best bites of the night. The parsley root has a rutabaga-parsnip vibe to it, and when combined with fried bread and bacon, you understand why this is a can’t miss. Add some snails for texture and you’ll be re-ordering it.

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Next up was a new dish on the menu (above): dungeness crab pieces, with lots of dill and purees/sauces that tasted like dill with radishes. Presentation wise it’s beautiful and fresh on arrival (apologies for the shadows, it’s dimly lit so needed some light from a phone). I thought this tasted very clean, well-seasoned and straightforward. Appreciated the simplicity of the flavours.

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We also had to order ‘chips’. I find between these guys and Queen & Beaver, fries are just generally out of this world with homemade smokey ketchups and crispy-on-the-outside, soft-inside wedges. If this place were open for lunch, I’d get the parsley root soup with some chips in a heartbeat.

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The last appetizer/starter was the scallop with picked walnuts, stinging nettle sauce, and some beech mushrooms. Stunning presentation here, but I felt like this dish was missing flavour. Stinging nettle evokes an expectation of bold flavour (even though factually it shouldn’t when it’s cooked down), the beech mushrooms were relatively mild, and there weren’t many walnuts. Scallops were cooked perfectly, but had lost their heat as well. I wanted more boldness, for an admittedly non-sense reason.

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On to the mains.

The first was beef two ways (skirt steak and short rib) along with an oyster emulsion and deep-fried oyster. The deep-fried oyster was tasty and the skirt steak had good flavour from whatever the marinade was. Thought the short rib didn’t have much to it in the way of taste and again the proteins were on the lukewarm to cold side.

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We also ordered the lamb (above), that comes in both a filet and sausage form, charred red onion and bread sauce. Again, the food was lukewarm and the plates were cold. Apparently there’s some heating for the hotplate in the kitchen that has yet to arrive, so I’m sure this will be remedied. Here, the sausage was pretty good and the lamb cooked perfectly, but I didn’t find there to be much else on the plate outside of red onion, crisps, and a gravy-like sauce. The actual star was the bread sauce, but there was so little on the plate. I’d be much more liberal with it.

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The last main was the cornish hen (above), accompanied by barley and a swede puree (another root veg). This must have been the last main plated because everything was hot and delicious. The loose hen sausage wrapped in pastry was excellent and moist with a nice punch of grainy mustard. The other meat (think it was breast) was mouth-watering and had some great salty, crispy skin on the outside. Best main by far.

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We also ordered some yorkshire puddings (above) to go along with the mains, again on the recommendation of our server. They were topped with a bit of oxtail and some sauce at the bottom, but were also kind of cold. I didn’t find there to be much to them taste-wise either. I’ll say texturally that I enjoyed how light and fluffy they were though.

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To end the meal, we also took three forks into the gingerbread with marmalade, custard and creme fraiche. The ginger was very forward (excellent) and the rest of the components married quite well. This was a satisfying couple of bites.

Service and Ambience

Inside, the look is exactly what you’d expect from the area. Big windows out front for light, dimly lit otherwise, lots of exposed brick and wood, and a bar up front. The most charming features are the mismatched wooden chairs throughout. Kind of feels like my dining room as a kid.

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Photo credit: Toronto Life

Our server was great throughout the night, offering recommendations (I’d say she went 1 for 2), checking up on the food, explaining elements of our plates clearly, and responding to our questions about the temperature of some of the dishes. 

The Reco?

This is another hit for Dundas West with some really memorable dishes, specifically the soup, chips, and hen. I think having a drafty hotplate for the meticulous plating process is a must-fix-now kind of issue, but outside of that, I really did enjoy both the concept and product. All in all, you should probably add this place to your list of new restos to visit in the area, just give it a couple weeks.

Other posts (no actual reviews to date):
image Foodie Images   |   image Toronto Life

image Posted by: Jacob, Visited Apr 21, 2012

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FOXLEY: First four-star, want it all over again

416-534 8520    |    $5.00 - $22.00 sharing plates

 

If you’re a foodie in Toronto, it’s kind of embarrassing not to have dined at Foxley. All your foodie friends have told you it’s awesome, you’ve heard chefs say it’s awesome, it’s been there for years, but for some reason you STILL haven’t gone. I was just like you, but now I’m not. Consider this your final kind poke to get off your ass and go. 


Photo Credit: blogTO

Food

The menu is 40 sharing plates long, one page, no sections (see the menu link above for a picture). You could call the style ‘Asian-inspired’ or ‘Asian fusion’, but those both have such negative connotations in the dining community. For all intents and purposes, it’s delicious, eclectic, and happens to have a lot of Asian ingredients. 

We started with the ceviche (above) that everyone highly recommends - including Chef Chris McDonald of Cava, @CavaChef. Thinly sliced sea bream lies beneath a topping of yuzu, shiso leaves and crispy shallots. The dish gets its freshness from shiso and clean fish, crispy and salty from the shallots, and a prominent tartness from the yuzu. Wanted a few more servings.

Next we grabbed the spicy crispy shrimp with jalapeno and garlic relish. Seems simple, but when you execute juicy shrimp perfectly, and create a bright, garlicky relish with a kick, you have to marvel at this. We were craving shrimp before we walked in and this made it worse (in the best way possible).

Keeping with the seafood theme, we selected the blue crab salad with avocado. The two flavours just work so well together. The crab comes heaped on top of a large avocado that you then hollow out as you eat. Give me three.

Next up, I had to get meaty. The spicy sticky chicken wings live up to their name. Ask for some extra napkins if you intent to tackle these. Good thing they’re saucy because these tender chicken wings are slathered with an uncommon heat and tang. It’s still bold, but really pleasant. Like everything we ate, I wanted more than one order.

We concluded the meat portion of our meal with the famous side ribs with caramelized shallot glaze. These are the perfect ribs. The meat isn’t literally falling off the bone, but it doesn’t take much for the fibers to slowly unravel and part. The sweet and savoury shallot glaze is great too.

We closed our meal with a fresh mango salad, filled with slices of tender grilled calamari and charred shrimp that were quite tender despite their small, overcooked appearance. This was a palate cleanser of sorts to close the meal.

Service and Ambience

Foxley is a pleasant hole in the wall. Nothing decor-wise really stands out, but the high ceilings, big windows and exposed brick wall give you everything you need to enjoy the space on a basic level. It’s pretty small too, so you’ll need to get here early from Thursday onwards if you want a seat.


Photo Credit: Plato Putas

Our service was pleasant, nothing particularly stood out to us. The kitchen got the food out at a good clip and we were able to get our bill pretty quickly.

The Reco?

This is the first four-star review I’ve ever given out (I believe this is review #52). It’s not the ‘perfect restaurant’. I’ve eaten more ambitious food, in nicer settings, with more personable service; however, this was the first time that I badly wanted to re-order EVERY dish I tasted without exception. I think that says enough. Enjoy!

Other reviews:
  Food Junkie Chronicles   |     Where Jess Ate

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Mar 27, 2012

Foxley on Urbanspoon

ENOTECA SOCIALE: Would reco, not rave

416-534-1200    |    $13-21 pasta

 

Along with Buca, a lot of folks would claim this as one of the best and most authentic Italian restaurants in the city. Having had way too many people ask me about my experience here (non-existent), it was time to head over and get a good sampling.

Food

The menu is composed of two main sections: sharing plates and pastas. Food is roman-inspired, very classic flavour combinations, and a few twists to keep it interesting. I was advised before going that pasta portions weren’t very large, so this is the kind of menu you should comfortably order a few appetizers from, a pasta, and a dessert.

We started with three apps:

Arancini filled with mozzarella di bufala and soppressata (above): Nice thin crispy outside, rich dense and melty center, and fresh tomato sauce along the bottom. Only one problem…where’s the soppressata? None of us could find it inside or outside.

Baked kale, thinly sliced persimmon and king oyster mushrooms, farro and pine nuts (above): Really nice salad. Similar flavour profile to the one at Buca, but the crispy bits of the baked kale were excellent, and the level of seasoning, and layered flavours of sweet, salty, bitter, and nutty made this a winner.

Grilled octopus, pepper puree, and potatoes: I’ve heard buzz about this, but thought it was missing something. Grilled octopus was very tender and had a nice charred flavour, potatoes were bland, and the puree along the bottom couldn’t really kick up the taste of it all. I think a crispier potato and more of the sauce drizzled over the top would have done it.

Then came the three pastas:

Rutabaga mezzaluna (half moon pasta), pickled chaterelles, and lemon maple butter (above): Rutabaga with the lemon maple was a great combo, pasta was beautifully al dente and thin, and the chanterelles over top were good for texture and acid. If you don’t like sweet, you may find the butter a little strong admittedly.

Papparadelle, lamb ragu, guanciale and pecorino: I had a bite of this and new instantly it was great. The ragu was less saucy and more about the meat: the way I like it. the lamb was gamy enough to pick out but with a bit of pleasant heat as well. Really nice.

Bucatini alla’amatriciana (tomato, pecorino, and guanciale): From someone who’s been to Rome and had great versions of this, I was told it was comparatively excellent.

And we finished with three desserts:

Ginger & molasses cake, stout toffee sauce, blood orange, rosemary meringue & lovage cress (above right): Cake was moist and gingerbread-y, toffee sauce kinda stuck to the plate, rosemary meringue was barely there and didn’t taste like rosemary, and the blood orange was a dotted puree that reminded me of dried apricots. This had a lot of potential: put actual thin slices of blood orange, would have really elevated it.

Panna cotta bianco, pear mostarda, pine nut & rye flake crumble (above left): Very clean flavours, nice flaky crumble, good dessert.

Chocolate & fig tart, balsamic, rosemary cream, candied walnuts: Really liked the combo of dark chocolate, fig and balsamic. Three very strong flavours working together, and a great light tart crust that was really nice.

Also, I don’t often comment on the wine selection, but it’s very impressive here with some hard-to-find vino if that’s your cup of tea. They’ve got taster sizes as well that let you sample some of the fancier stuff without breaking the bank.

Service and Ambience

I liked the atmosphere inside. For ‘one of the best’, it didn’t feel at all pretentious. Liked the tile work throughout, good lighting, and the long bar area looked really well setup for dining (some bars offer the menu, but aren’t really comfortable spots to eat).

I thought service was friendly and very attentive. A little excessive on menu explanation (particularly with respect to the feed of cow turned bistecca). For a fairly large space, the dishes came out at a good clip and we went through the whole meal comfortably in about two hours.

The Reco?

This is a good Italian restaurant I would happily come back to. My issues came down to some things that disappointed me from an execution perspective, but I think there was a lot here to be happy about. I’ll be back. Cheers.

Other reviews:
Globe and Mail   |    National Post  |   NOW Magazine

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Jan 22, 2012

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PIZZERIA LIBRETTO: Delicious, but best in town?

416-532-8000    |    $10-17 pizzas

 

There’s enough hype about Pizzeria Libretto to generate a line outside its doors before opening at 4pm on a Sunday. Camping out at Fishbar during happy hour worked like a charm. 

Food

This is a pizzeria, so guess where I’m starting. Libretto promises that it’s pizza follows the strictest of Neopolitan guidelines, with the end product being, “soft, elastic, easily folded as would be a pamphlet (aka LIBRETTO)”. Nowhere is the word crispy used. So that’s not part of the promise.


Source: Lucas Richarz

All three of the pizzas we ordered executed on this promise. The crust was soft, elastic, and could be very easily folded. You could definitely taste the flour. But none of our crusts (ironic given the name) had any crispy or crunchy texture.

  • House-made Sausage Pizza (above): Really good sausage with tons of flavour, sweet caramelized onions and chili made this a winner. Tasted great.
  • Ontario Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza - Very traditional combinations so nothing surprising. That said, killer tomato sauce. First thing you notice when you bite into it is the freshness of the sauce. Cuts right through the peppery arugula and salty prosciutto. 
  • Speck, Fig, Gorgonzola, Walnut, and Honey Pizza - If you haven’t had this flavour combo before I’d recommend it, but if you have, there’s nothing that really stands out. Well balanced, a bit more speck and honey would have livened it up a bit in my opinion.

Aside from pizza, we also tried the lamb shoulder and saffron arancini with sun-dried tomato pesto. Crispy outside, gooey inside, and the pesto is the best thing on the plate. If I’m being picky, I prefer the inside to have more al dente risotto texture than melted cheese, and the lamb didn’t come through for me. I thought saffron was a nice touch though.

The Tiramisu I ordered for dessert had great coffee and liquor flavour and was very light. Too much cream/mascarpone for me though; in the cup, it was a little more like pudding, as the lady fingers got really soft and lost their fluffy quality.

Service and Ambience

I’ve heard some people complain about the service, as I’d imagine the bustling atmosphere can overwhelm some servers. Our experience was nothing like that. Staff were on the ball, willing to answer any questions, and the water jug was always kept full. I asked our server how good the Tiramisu was, and she told she’d buy it if I didn’t like it. That answer alone is worth a half star.

The interior of the place is fun, lively, and aesthetically interesting. The hanging individual light bulb thing is getting a little repetitive, but it looks great so I’m not blaming anyone.

The Reco?

In my opinion, this is not the best pizza in town and the reason is the crust. A good pizza to me is thin, crispy, and doughy with well-defined, balanced flavours. Libretto misses on the crispy altogether, but stays in the game because the ingredients keep it authentic-tasting and delicious. The ideal pizza to me: Terroni’s pizza crust with Libretto’s toppings. Maybe that’s Queen Margherita Pizza? Guess we’ll have to test out that contender too.

Other reviews:
Toronto Life   |   dine.TO    |    Singles and Pairs

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Oct 23, 2011

Pizzeria Libretto on Urbanspoon

FISHBAR: Happy hour, try the calamari!

647-340-0227    |    $8-14 sharing plates

 

Checked out Fishbar before heading over to Pizza Libretto, which is literally two doors down. Didn’t have the dinner menu, so don’t take this review as a be all, end all. Will most certainly be coming back for a taste of the full menu.

Food

The happy hour menu is relatively small featuring $1 oysters, fresh seafood choices, some deep fried options and salads. The beer menu features about five beers (shock top and sapporo both make an appearance) and a reasonably large wine menu as you’d expect from a seafood spot. I’ll do a quick breakdown of the four things we tried in order of preference:


Source: blogTO

- Deep Fried Calamari: very impressed by the tenderness of the relatively thick rings inside the breading. Would like to learn the secret. The crispy breading reminded me of the onion ring batter at burger king I remember as a kid (this is a good thing). The sriracha aioli was solid too. I’d re-eat this dish now…for dessert. Some of the best fried calamari I’ve had in a while.

- Smoked Mackerel Salad with apple slivers and a creamy anchovies dressing: like a Caesar salad but with some pronounced fish taste and a bit of apple acidity to cut through it. Despite the fact I found the salad a little overdressed, I liked the flavour and the thin crisp on the side helped add some texture.

- Oysters: we had some New Brunswick oysters served with various dipping sauces: variation on cocktails sauce, ponzu, and an apple jalapeño sauce (apple sauce consistency). The oysters in and of themselves weren’t as good as those I had at Starfish a few days ago, but keep in mind these were the $1 ones. The apple sauce was our favourite.

- Fried Smelt: it tastes like fried smelt is all I can say. Cheap option for snacking on with a beer.

Service and Ambience

Friendly helpful service, but there were a couple instances of ‘do we have that?’ or ‘we’re out of this’ that happened one too many times, especially with a small menu. Doesn’t necessarily mean the service was bad, just wish it’d been there or I’d known before I ordered.


Source: National Post

I really liked the look of the place. Long, skinny room with lots of exposed brick, and a nice size bar; high tables near the window out onto Ossington on a warm day is also a good addition. 

The Reco?

I was wowed by some of the dishes and OK with others, but I can see the potential from this limited sampling. I’d go back again for happy hour and would definitely give this place a shot for dinner. Look for a follow-up sometime in November.

Other reviews:
National Post    |    blogTO    |    PostCity

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Oct 23, 2011

Fishbar on Urbanspoon

L’OUVRIER: Novel resto concept delivers



416-901-9581   |   $16-26 entrees

L’ouvrier is a brand new ‘kitchen-bar’ near Dundas and Bathurst that deserves some attention from the Toronto food-ite community. With its doors just opening this past Wednesday, I expected the experience to come across as slightly unpolished. In the case of this gastronomic tribute to the Canadian working-man from the early part of the 20th century, any roughness about the place actually contributed to the thoughtful ambiance

The space is very airy and the décor has an austere quality to it. Most of the tables were hand-made by the one of the founders using materials salvaged from the remodeling process, and you get the sense that whoever conceived this restaurant had a clear vision for what they wanted to accomplish. It is encouraging to see a new restaurant take on a bold motif and execute on it through every last detail.


(Photo Credit: Simone Olivero, Toronto Life)

To describe the menu, I would have to use a phrase that I previously thought was entirely oxy-moronic when used in reference to food: distinctly Canadian. While Canada doesn’t have a pronounced culinary identity, this chef has borrowed ingredients and flavor profiles from a variety of different cultural pallets and combined them to create a unique and stimulating experience. The prominence of tartare on the menu is a good indication that the chef has designed the menu to fit with the rustic theme of the restaurant. Each dish is as interesting as the last and the pricing is very reasonable given the creative quality that has gone into the menu’s conception.

I started with the oysters alongside cider rye mignonette, horseradish, lime and sriracha served on a chilled slab of rough slate. While this appetizer was enjoyable and the oysters were fresh, the real prized starter for this restaurant is the steak tartare crostini dish. Don’t miss it.

Main course consisted of roast salmon with a host of South-East Asian-influenced flavors – lemongrass, coconut milk, Thai basil, coriander, lime and chili. The fish was cooked to perfection and the flavoring was well balanced and highly complimentary. The portions are small, so make sure you order an appetizer and dessert so as to not leave too hungry.

The dessert menu was small, but the chocolate brownie served with crème fraiche was a superb experience. The strangest aspect of L’ouvrier is the inclusion of a 5-cent candy bag as the third option on the menu. Interesting idea, but I couldn’t imagine anyone following up a fine meal and bottle of wine with children’s candies. I’m interested to see how long this stays on the menu, because it never should have been there to begin with.

The Reco?
In looking for a great restaurant, I tend to favor authentic experiences and L’ouvrier delivers on this aspect. The concept is novel and the ambience is unpretentious yet creative and detail-oriented. The menu has a lot to offer and deserves multiple return trips. Highly recommended for any fine-dining occasion.

Other reviews:

Couldn’t find any, guess we’re first!

Posted by: Eli, Visited September 24, 2011

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