Tastebuds

A food blog from everywhere!

Toronto: The Ethiopian House

4 Irwin Avenue
http://www.ethiopianhouse.com/

A few nights ago, I tried Ethiopian food for the first time. With four other friends, we headed to the Ethiopian House, one of the more well-known restaurants of its kind in Toronto.

True to its fame, this place did seem pretty popular. The interior was small and dark but almost all the tables, along with those on the patio, were taken. The whole restaurant had only one waitress, though, so service was a bit slow for it was difficult to catch her attention sometimes. However, contrary to many reviews, I found that the food came out within a reasonable amount of time, perhaps 15-20 minutes after we placed our order.

We ordered a vegetarian platter for four. Initially, seeing that other tables with only two people have such large platters, we thought that a platter for two would be enough. However, the waitress insisted that we up it to four so we relented. Well, one would expect that for paying that extra 25 dollars, there should at least be more food in the four-person platter, but it was the exact same size as all the platters seen on other tables with fewer customers than us! Perhaps we got more injeera rolls on the side, I don’t know, but I did feel rather cheated, for there was barely enough food on that so-called 4-person platter for the five of us.

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Vegetarian platter

But that aside, I must say that the food was pretty decent. I enjoyed the lentil stews the most, for they had that wonderful starchiness often found in legumes and ranged from mild to spicy. The kale was quite sour, so I didn’t enjoy that as much for it only added to the sourness of the injeera. There were stir-fried veggies, which included string beans cooked to a degree of softness yet still retaining a bit of mouthfeel. The “Tikil Goman” (“Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, cooked in turmeric sauce”) was mild and rich. All this was served with injeera crepes to scoop up the stews, communal style. Despite the cost versus size discrepancy of our meal, it was definitely a novel and fun eating experience.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | Miscellaneous, Restaurants, Toronto | Leave a comment

Toronto: T&T Nightmarket

From August 6-8, T&T held evening nightmarkets at its downtown branch on Cherry Street, and I and a group of friends went to check out the food on the first day.

I arrived right when the market started and before the crowds innundated the place. Thus, initially the lines were short and the foods were more readily assessible. But unfortunately, we somehow managed to miss out on the nightmarket’s best offerings while the chance allowed.

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Tiramisu disk ingredients

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Tiramisu disk thing

First off, my friend got a tiramisu rice disk from one of the Asian dessert stalls. It was an interesting concept: a sweet rice cake disk topped with some form of tiramisu-ey sauce, fruits, and cream. I didn’t try it but apparently, it was reminiscent of tiramisu.

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Mango salad

Next, we had Thai food from Pi-Tom. They had the typical Thai stuff, including pad Thai, lemongrass something, cashew chicken, etc. We got a 3-item plate ($5) with pad Thai, green curry chicken, and mango salad to share. The pad Thai was quite typical in flavour, but the noodles were mushy. The mango salad wasn’t any good for it lacked an amalgamating component. It was as if they julienned some mangoes, carrots, etc., tossed them all together and called it a salad. There was a fish sauce based marinade, but it was hardly detectable. Also, the absence of chopped peanuts took away any texture contrast that may have uplifted the dish a bit.

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Green curry chicken and pad Thai

The curry chicken, though, was pretty decent. It had a nice creamy flavour, not too spicy but still slightly tingy. However, the chicken used was factory-farmed, making each morsel floury and texture-less…=(

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(Sweet) Curried samosa

After that not-so-great dish, we trekked around for a bit and then decided to get a curry samosa from another Thai food stall. Hmm, the crust of the pastry was pretty crispy, though no longer warm, but the curry inside was strangely sweet. It came sort of as a surprise, the sweetness…and it wasn’t like Japanese curry sweet either. Strange.

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Braised fish cake

Later on more friends arrived and they got various foods, including braised fish cakes, BBQ squid, corn on a cob, and bubble tea.

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Churro

I ended the night with a churro, which was overly greasy.

So overall, the food that we tried was pretty so-so. But I guess part of the problem was that the most popular stalls selling interesting looking foods (fried yams and stinky tofu, for instance) had these MEGA LONG line ups and me, I’m not much a fan of lines. So perhaps we just tried the wrong stuff. Anyways, it was a fun experience nonetheless, and nightmarkets are often about the atmosphere more than anything else.

Random photos from the night =):


People lining up at Asian food stalls
 
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Indian food stall
 
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Spicy hot pot stuff
 
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Toronto skyline

August 13, 2010 Posted by | Events, Toronto | Leave a comment

Toronto: Wanda’s Belgian Waffles

http://www.wandasbelgianwaffles.com/

A new branch of Wanda’s Belgian Waffles recently opened in Pacific Mall, so while I was there with a few friends some weeks ago, we decided to check it out.

Truth be told, this location choice seems quite out of place amidst all the Asian food booths in the food court on P. Mall’s second floor. Those manning the store look like the only non-Asian employees in the whole mall.

Anyways, the waffles. We had an original vanilla waffle dusted with icing sugar and a maple waffle. They grill the waffles to order, thus ensuring maximum freshness. It is interesting to note that unlike typical waffles, the ones from Wanda’s contain yeast in the batter, which is a lot more doughy as well. Thus the resulting product was quite doughy and dense, with the very middle somewhat undercooked, as opposed to light and fluffy. THere was some texture contrast between the crispier outter layer and the innards, but it wasn’t too noticeable due to the denseness of the waffle.

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Original vanilla waffle

Taste-wise, I thought both the original and maple waffles were quite similar. They both had a distinctive yeastiness from the batter and were very sweet. In fact, I thought that a plain plain waffle itself, with neither icing sugar nor a maple crust, would suffice on the sweetness scale. But then again, it may be because my taste buds aren’t used to the copious amounts of sugar found in everything here.

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Maple waffle

Overall, I thought the waffles’s taste trumped their texture. The yeastiness wasn’t bad for it brought an extra dimension to what would otherwise be mundane sugary-ness.

August 12, 2010 Posted by | Desserts, Restaurants, Toronto | 1 Comment

Toronto: Yutopia

Main Floor in Pacific Mall
4300 Steeles Ave, Markham
http://www.yutopia.ca/

Ever since I tried frozen yogurt for the first time at Pinkberry in New York last summer, I’ve been having on-off froyo cravings all year. Unfortunately, I haven’t had many opportunities in China to satisfy such yearnings, but now that I’m back in the West it’s time to tend to my froyo-deprived digestive tract.

I haven’t really tried many frozen yogurt places in Toronto. Partly it is due to the fact that I’ve had a few rather distasteful experiences with bad yogurt in the past…plus, frozen yogurt tends to be pretty expensive around here. So I tend to be cautious when venturing into any froyo place.

Yutopia in Pacific Mall definitely ranks as a noteworthy find. Unlike all other froyo stores in the city, Yutopia’s yogurt is self-serve and priced by weight. Customers simply grab a yogurt cup, pump in as much yogurt and sprinkle on as many toppings as they please, and then pay-by-weight at the cashier. Simple concept, yet I like it because it gives the customer more freedom to adjust the treat to his or her tastes.

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One of our creations

Yutopia has four flavours available at any time. So far I have tried original (strange after taste, not too reminiscent of yogurty-creaminess), taro (has a pretty convincing creamy taro flavour), pomegranate (tangy), mango (my favourite; very refreshing & not too heavy), and ferrero rocher (tasted like chocolate). One thing to note about Yutopia’s yogurt is that it tends to be on the icy side, unlike their creamier counterparts elsewhere, and thus the froyo melts quite fast. I guess that can come across as both a good thing (if you’re not into heavy desserts) or a bad thing (if you’re after an ice-cream-like creaminess).

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Mochi topping!

Topping choices at Yutopia differ from time to time, but they include fruits (berries, mango, bananas, canned peaches, etc.), cheesecake (whose heaviness rather overwhelms the delicate flavours of the yogurt), cookie dough, cereals, chocolates, and MOCHI, a slightly sweet, chewy Asian dessert that works surprisingly well as a froyo accompaniment. Another notable and unusual topping is cucumber, which is supposed to accompany the original flavoured yogurt. I think the cucumber pieces add a crunchy texture contrast more than anything else because their delicate taste is trumped by the yogurty sourness.

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Cucumber topping…hmm…

The ambience of the store is simple and chic, standing in stark contrast to the surrounding Asian stores. The place is rather small and has no seats, so plan to enjoy your yogurt while strolling through the mall.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | Desserts, Toronto | Leave a comment

Toronto: Summerlicious at Pan on the Danforth

516 Danforth Ave
416-466-8158

I’m back in Toronto for the summer! Just a week after getting off the plane I met up with a few friends and got things rolling by heading to Pan on the Danforth for a taste of their Summerlicious menu.

Pan is a medium-sized restaurant on the Danforth, between Pape and Chester. The storefront isn’t too prominent and coupled with the dark design, it can be easy to miss. The ambience inside the restaurant was pretty dim and relaxed, sort of bar-like. We arrived at noon on a weekday, so there weren’t a lot of people.

Summerlicious menus across the city consist of an appetizer, an entree, and dessert, all for $15. Compared to other participating restaurants, Pan’s Summerlicious menu actually had quite a lot more choices. There were four different apps, five (or six, I forget) entrees, and two desserts to choose from.

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Fresh pita!

After ordering, they brought out a plate of freshly-made pita breads brushed with olive oil for us. Depending on the thickness of the flatbread, their texture ranged from either crispy and crunchy to soft and pillowy. Apart from the olive oil, they didn’t have much in terms of flavour, but the freshness and interesting textures make up for that.

Our appetizers promptly arrived. There was the “Trilogy of Spreads,” which included taramosalata, Humus, and tirokafteri. One of them, the white dip, was yogurt-based and thus rather sour. My favourite was the pinkish, which contained salmon and had a delicate salmony flavour. All three dips went great with the hot pita.

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Dolmades

The dolmades (“Stuffed grape vine leaves with chopped beef and scented rice”) served with tzatiki were pretty good. The rice was nicely flavoured with herbs and the sour tzatiki complemented it quite well. My only complaint was that the rice was rather dry, but perhaps that was what the sauce was for.

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Kolokithokeftedes

ALthough I don’t usually like fried foods, I did make an exception for Pan’s kolokithokeftedes(“Zucchini croquettes with feta, kefalograviera cheese and fresh herbs, served with tzatziki”). These were served freshly fried, with a crunchy exterior and soft interior. The vegetables were well-seasoned as well. Definitely a winner.

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Mussels

My mussels marinara, however, didn’t turn out too well. The broth was rather weak in flavour and the mussels were small and didn’t taste too fresh either.

Following a reasonable wait after clearing our appetizers, the entrees arrived.

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Exohiko, chicken in phyllo

Exohiko (“Cured chicken with onions, sweet peppers, mushrooms, and cream cheese, slowly cooked to develop meltingly tender flavour, wrapped in phyllo pastry, served with mixed greens”): I only had a bite of the chicken, and the only thing I can say is that it certainly wasn’t free-range chicken. My friend who ordered this dish, however, did enjoy it, complimenting it for its rich flavour (the meat was slathered in a white sauce) and texture contrast between the crispy phyllo at the top and the spongy sauce-saturated phyllo at the bottom of the dish.

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Pork Chop

Syracusae Smoked Pork Chop (“Finished with an orange glaze sauce, topped with Sweet zucchini relish, served over feta scalloped Potatoes”): I don’t like pork much, but this specimen did have pretty good porky-flavour. It wasn’t covered with herbs/spices, allowing the “porkiness” of the meat to shine through. The side veggies were good too.

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Red Snapper Fillet

Red Snapper(“Pan seared in a white wine, and lemon dill sauce, served with vegetables and new mini potatoes”): The white wine sauce was very strong, and the fish didn’t taste all that fresh (in fact, when the table next to us tried to order the same dish, they were informed that the restaurant had ran out of red snapper. No wonder). Maybe it’s just my Asian mineset at work here, but I think white fishes should always be served supper fresh and just cooked so that the flesh is still springy, not soft and floury like factory chicken.

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Moussaka (not super photogenic, unfortunately)

Vegetable Moussaka (“Casserole of zucchini, eggplant, spinach, sweet peppers and potato, topped with béchamel served with baby green”): This vegetable pie had great flavour but not much in terms of contrast. It was rich from the cheesy topping and creamy from the eggplants, but all its components were soft and pliable, making this otherwise exciting dish texturally dull. The salad at the side, however, did have crispy greens tossed in a nice, simple vinagrette.

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Cake!

After our mains we were already super full, as the servings were quite big, but somehow we found room for dessert. I LOVED the ravani (“A traditional Greek cake with honey syrup and sprinkle almonds”), which was rich and somewhat dense but still crumbly. The only part that I didn’t like was that it was drizzled with honey, making it a bit too sweet for my tastes.

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Loukoumades

The loukamades, unfortunately, I found WAAYY too sweet (I actually nearly choked on the honey on my first bite). The texture was slightly chewey and sticky from the honey drizzled atop. I guess if you can take the sweetness, this dessert can be pretty satisfying, but after a year living with mildly-sweet desserts in China it was too much for me. I must thank my awesome friend for trading her almond cake with the loukamades that I’d ordered.

So, $15 for three courses; was it worth it? Definitely. The portions were pretty big and the food was very decent, although there were a few misses (but perhaps some were due to personal preference than anything else). And plus the service was very good as well, so if you’re ever in the area, check this place out.

July 23, 2010 Posted by | Greek, Restaurants, Toronto | Leave a comment