Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Great sushi in the GTA

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Against all odds, I love sushi. Despite never eating fish or sea creatures of any kind until I was almost 18 (my mother was deathly allergic so we never had any such stuff in the house), I have really taken to pretty much every type of seafood imaginable.
In rounding up my favourite sushi restaurants, I have to note that I'm totally aware there is a sushi strip on Bloor St., but so far I have to say that favourites remain outside of that strip, with two of them still being in the downtown core and one of them being WAY outside that strip - it's technically in Markham.

Here's a quick round-up of three of my very favourite sushi restaurants. (All links below go to a Google Map so you can see where the restaurant is.)

Daily Sushi: (Right beside Carlton Cinemas at Carlton and Yonge Sts.) Mark recommended this place to me, and it's pretty good. Cheap, central, and the sushi tastes fresh. I recommended this place to a colleague and she loved it.

Nagoya: (Kennedy Rd. and 14th Ave.) Okay, so I cheated a little on this one, because it's an all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet so we were ordering up much more than sushi: Breaded scallops, teriyaki dishes, a pretty tasty beef and green onion dish, etc. but the sushi here really is amazing.

The handrolls were not what I envisioned them to be - they came in cones of crispy unsoaked seaweed paper and you could pour your wasabi-laden soy sauce right into the cone. The salmon, avocado and cucumber one was amazing. Their soft-shell crab rolls were good too.

Nijo Sushi: Even though it's a tiny hole-in-the-wall on Huntley St. beneath an apartment, their salmon (my favourite type of fish for sushi) is to die for. It's cheap and fresh and portion sizes are bigger than what you expect from a typical sushi place and it's near my work and not far from my house ANDDDDD (as if this sentence could run on any longer!) they always give me something complimentary with takeout, usually edamame. What more can you ask for from a sushi place?! I think I'm in love!

Yours in food,

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Featured Food: Boy Bawang Cornick

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cornick is the quintessential Filipino junk food. Cornick consists simply of crispy fried corn, loaded with salt and roasted garlic. Other flavours such as Adobo or BBQ are also available, but the plain garlic flavour is the most popular. Cornick is similar to corn nuts, though the corn kernels are harder and smaller than their North American cousin's.The biggest brand in cornicks is "Boy Bawang" (literally, garlic boy), made in Caloocan City, the Philippines. Boy Bawang is readily available in Filipino stores and ethnic groceries in Toronto.

For those who like cornick, it's a very crunchy and addictive snack. If you're not careful, you might find that you've consumed the whole bag in no time. And there lies the downside: like most snack foods, it's packed with sodium!

Sooo, it's bad for your heart and kidneys, but as snack foods go... It's pretty good.

- Mark

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mabuhay Festival: Filipino food, arts & culture

Monday, July 20, 2009
We spent half a Saturday at the annual Mabuhay Festival & Trade Show, held at the Metro Toronto convention centre. Although the festival was mostly a trade show and performing arts festival, Tasting Toronto was there for a taste of authentic Filipino cuisine.

We started off with some Sago, a sweet and refreshing chilled drink of caramelized sugar and vanilla with tapioca pearls (sago). This is the Philippines’ answer to bubble tea, and I could’ve sworn growing up that we invented the stuff. No matter. Although it only comes in 1 flavour, unlike bubble tea, it’s still one of my favourite summer drinks.

Next we had a Pork Siopao. It’s a variant of the Chinese steamed bun, and was filled with a sweet and savory Pork Asado. This was yummy, a meal onto itself.

We then had some colourful Puto. These are sweet rice cakes that can be had as a snack, an appetizer, or as the lady behind the counter was telling us, a perfect complement to the pork-blood stew (Dinuguan) she was serving. I’m noticing everything’s been sweet so far. Filipino’s must have a sweet tooth.

For our main sit-down meals we had the following:

Pancit Palabok – Noodles with fish sauce, garnished with hard boiled eggs, green onions, crushed chicharon (pork-rinds), squid adobo, flaked fish meat, and shrimp.

Tocino – Sweet cured pork.

Lumpiang Shanghai – Shanghai style mini eggrolls (lumpia), stuffed with salted pork, served with a sweet and sour sauce.

Chicken Afritada – A chicken stew.

Menudo – A stew or pork & liver with chick peas, pickles, raisins, and Vienna sausages.

Chicken BBQ – The skin on this thing was soooo good because that’s where all the marinade was. I justified eating this on the grounds that the subcutaneous fat had already rendered away. The marinade was sweet and tangy, with hits of lime, soy sauce, fish sauce, and honey.

And of course, there’s white rice at every meal!

We had some prawn crackers after the meal, which I downed with a can of Sarsi, a sarsaparilla-based soft drink that kind’a tastes like a mix of root beer and Pepsi.

For dessert we had a frozen coconut. The freezer friendly packaging is a really good idea for tropical cravings. It was a reasonably good dessert, but we were definitely wowed by the elegant presentation in a coconut shell bowl.

Dessert #2 was a Filipino classic, Halo-halo. It’s shaved ice with ice cream, evaporated milk, sugar, and all sorts of preserved fruits and beans.

There were a lot of food options, including myriad desserts that we had no room left to try. Other foods there were: Bopis, a pork lung stew; Balut, fertilized duck egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside; Adobo, chicken or pork cooked in soy sauce and vinegar; various types of Pancit (noodles); Bibingka, a sweet rice cake with salted egg, on a banana leaf … and many more.

On our way out we grabbed a Buko Pandan pie (buko means coconut, and pandan is a leaf used in cooking). It was bright green, and really good!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

World Routes: Mexican Festival @ Harbourfront Centre

Sunday, July 19, 2009

As part of the World Routes festivals that Harbourfront Centre is putting on this summer, we celebrated the 200th Anniversary of Mexican independence and the 100th Anniversary of the Mexican revolution with some really damn good food!

We ate:
  • Cactus salad:
  • Tasty, but not the type of thing you can gorge on, so the small portion they gave us was just right.

  • Guacamole and nacho chips:
  • I LOVE guac. When making it at home I usually cut the onions and tomatoes in bigger pieces but, that aside, it tasted almost exactly the way I like my guac and the nacho chips were really crispy with just the right amount of salt.

  • Chipotle chicken quesadilla:
  • Simple and delicious, this quesadilla didn't need any frills. It was just cheese and chipotle chicken and, with the complex flavours of the guacamole and cactus salad it came with, that's all it needed to be. Yum!

  • Cactus burrito (el burro):
  • This one was MUCH better than I expected. I was envisioning it to be all cactus and maybe a little sauce, but it actually had rice, beans, cheese, and other veggies in there, and it was very satisfying and filling for being a vegetarian dish. This was actually Mark's sister's dinner but we couldn't help stealing a few bites! Thanks Marie!

  • Churros:
  • "Rico's Churros" is a staple at every major Harbourfront festival, Mexican or not, but at least this time they didn't run out of the awesome milky caramel they fill them with; at Luminato's closing ceremonies they didn't have any filling left so I had a plain one and have been longing eversince to have a filled one. The place is forgiven though, because NOTHING tops how satisfying a filled churro from that booth is. Be careful eating it though or you'll be like me: wiping all the icing sugar off your clothes while your boyfriend and his sister laugh hysterically!

  • Fresh coconut:
  • I believe the guy who runs the fresh coconut booth is also at every major festival. We bought a young coconut - kind of expensive at $5, but less expensive than fully ripened coconuts at $7 - and he hacked it open and we stuck a straw in it and drank the juice. You can go back to him when you're done and ask him to hack it open again so you can get the meat, but you don't get much meat from a young coconut - and it's more like jelly than actual coconut. For the price, I don't think I'd get it again; the juice in the young one was a bit watery and probably less flavourful than what you'd find in a fully-ripened coconut. Next time I'll try the older one for $2 more.

    Unfortunately we missed the lucha libre wrestling show (from what we could tell there was only one show each day of the festival), but the food more than made up for that. There was also a good mix of music, some traditional and some modern, coming from the stages so we weren't without entertainment.

    I'm looking forward to doing a couple more of these World Routes festivals - they have different ones running right up until September at Harbourfront Centre.

    Yours in food,

    Friday, July 17, 2009

    What's your Toronto food event this weekend? Jul 17-19

    Friday, July 17, 2009

    Sunday, July 12, 2009

    Pizzeria Libretto Review

    Sunday, July 12, 2009

    Restaurant: Pizzeria Libretto

    Neighbourhood: Portuguese Village
    Address: 221 Ossington (just south of Dundas on the east side of Ossington)
    Price: $$ / $$$$$

    ATMOSPHERE: ♥♥ / ♥♥♥♥♥
    Pizzeria Libretto's location saved it from getting only one heart: Being in a cool up-and-coming part of the Portuguese Village made for a good adventure. It's a pretty small restaurant, which is absolutely fine in our books, but there was a wait and no place to actually physically wait (the policy seems to be that they take your name and cell number and phone you when your table is ready. There was a couple in front of us who we heard say "We don't have a cell phone" and they were told to go outside and come back in 20 minutes).

    So we walked around for a bit (which was fine since, as we said earlier, the area is neat and has great up-and-coming character so we explored it both before and after dinner) and were surprised when we got the phone call, as it was much quicker than we thought it would be - it took about 10 minutes to be called when we were told it could be about 20.

    We got seated at a communal table and the place was unbelievably noisy. If you read the "Atmosphere" section on the restaurant's webpage, that's exactly what they want it to be. So kudos for them achieving that but it's not me and Mark's cup of tea. That type of atmosphere is okay once in a while, but we really are the more "private diner" type who appreciate a nicely-set table for two.

    FOOD: ♥♥♥ / ♥♥♥♥♥

    As an appetizer, we ordered the bison carpaccio with shaved piave cheese and olive oil drizzle to start. Being slightly obsessed with bison, I enjoyed it, and the cheese was very delicious. It was a nice way to start the meal.

    Then came the main attraction (pizza, of course!)

    Mark ordered a Margherita pizza, which was pretty good but very sparse with its toppings. I understand Margerita is supposed to be a simple pizza, but it would've been better with more fresh basil and a little more cheese.

    I had the rapini, goat cheese and black olive pizza which was really good. I think my biggest problem with the pizza was the crust - it was thin to a fault in the middle and was almost chewy as Mark described in his earlier post about three pizzas in three days. The outer crust was much tastier than the middle of the pizza. It sort of reminded me of naan.

    A couple pizzas there have the United Nations (correction: European Union's! Whoops!) designation of being an authentic neapolitan pizza - look for them on the menu with the letters D.O.P beside them.

    DECOR: ♥♥♥ / ♥♥♥♥♥
    Cute. More upscale than your typical pizza place. Lots of impromptu lighting. They try to cram in too many tables though. There wasn't much elbow room for cutting your pizza, and I found the communal table we were seated at to be too narrow. But the huge pizza oven at the back was pretty cool. However the pizza flour was stored pretty close to the bathrooms, which kind of gave even me the "icks" even though I'm the furthest thing away from a germophobe. I should mention the bags were unopened so it was certainly not a health concern, but still.

    OVERALL: ♥♥♥ / ♥♥♥♥♥
    For a decent price (they actually have a great prix fixe menu going on until July 19th I believe) you can get your hands on some pretty good pizza. Just be prepared for at least a 10-20 minute wait and for the possibility of being put at a communal table - be sure to mind your elbows if you get seated there, it's tight quarters. Although it's unlikely I'll be back anytime soon, I'd say it's definitely worth going to at least once if you haven't already been.

    Funny food conversations

    This weekend Mark and I somehow got into a conversation about whether or not people eat bear. I personally think it might be tasty, but then again I'm known to be rather obsessed with gamey meats. I also told him about some weird news story I read where a badger was lying in the middle of the road and the driver who found him called the police (wait, why wouldn't you just call Animal Control?). Everyone on the scene had thought he was roadkill but upon closer inspection, and I have NO idea how they investigated the situation enough to conclude this, they found it was drunk off of... wait for it... wait for it... fermented cherries!

    I've had wild boar and cherry pasta made by Massimo Capra, who is known for his pastas, at his restarant Mistura. It was incredibly tasty. But I have yet to have had the pleasure of discovering what bear and fermented cherry pasta would taste like!

    Yours in food,

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    3 days of Pizza - it's all about crust

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    How did this happen? It seemed convenient. I was at Hot House with some former coworkers on a Friday night so that's pizza #1. Pizza #2 was at Pizzeria Libretto on Saturday coz it was the talk of the town for pizza so Stacey and I decided to make an impromptu trip. Pizza #3 was Pizza Hut, coz we ran out of food and it was just around the corner.

    How could we stomach it? If I had pizza from the same place for 3 days, I'd barf. These pizzas were sufficiently distinct that it was easy and tasty to have pizza 3 days in a row. And the main difference? 'Turns out it was the crust.

    Pizza #1 Hot House "il Diavolo" - blackened chicken, spicy Italian sausage, jalapenos, roasted garlic, mozzarella and fontina

    Hot house serves my favourite pizzas. The toppings are great: juicy, meaty, tasty. The sauce was full of flavour: smooth, complex and hearty.

    Heat source: Fiery roast jalapenos

    Crust verdict - Thin and soft, a vessel to carry the sauce and toppings. Not really noticeable, but maybe that's the point. Completes the yummy package.

    Pizza #2 Pizzeria Libretto "margherita" (the flagship Neapolitan pizza) - tomato, basil, mozarella

    Fresh ingredients: the tomato sauce is noticeably authentic, the mozzarella is mild and really good, the fresh basil was so good but so sparse. Maybe I'm just not cut out for authentic Neapolitan. I found the sauce very acidic, and I found the quantity of other topings lacking.

    Heat source: A bottle of chilli oil on the side, that I found to be all oil and no chilli, despite its hot colour. That first slice just doubled its calories without upping its flavour.

    Crust verdict - Although we saw the sacks of imported Italian pizzeria flour stashed in the basement by the washrooms, I was not too impressed. It's certainly a unique crust cooked in a wood-fired oven at 900 degrees F, and I'd definitely try it once in my lifetime. The crust was reminiscent of naan though a little too bitter at the charred parts, and very tough to cut even with the little steak knives provided. It was very tiring to chew... elastic to the point of being rubbery.

    Pizza #3 Pizza Hut "Supreme Lover's" - pepperoni, mild sausage, hearty beef topping, crisp green peppers, sliced mushrooms, red onions and 100% Pizza Mozzarella

    Good all around pizza. Greasy but tasty. Excellent cheese flavour. The sausage and beef are so-so. The red onions are great and give a lot of flavour and texture.

    Heat source: I douse this baby with Tabasco sauce. Pretty hot.

    Crust verdict - I saw on the Food Network last week that they actually put oil on the pan under the crust.... and I thought it was the cheese leaching out all that grease. Icky, but really good every now and then. Notice that this method gives the crust a churros like bite. Like a Mentos it's crunchy outside, but chewy inside. I like this pizza.

    Though I would've liked to have reviewed more pizzas, for cardio-vascular reasons it's probably not a good idea. Some other notable pizzas we like are Dr. Oetker "funghi," and Domino's with extra cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms and their fabulous fennel infused "italian sausage."

    *Watch out for Stacey's full review of Pizzeria Libretto, coming soon. Please feel free to comment on this post below.

    - Mark

    Sunday, July 5, 2009

    Ribfest report

    Sunday, July 5, 2009
    I was "on assignment," sent to investigate the 2009 Toronto Ribfest. I figured I'd go on a weekday to avoid the crush of people. Good idea except for the pouring rain. Centennial Park in Etobicoke was a muddy mess. I folded up my pants, trudged along, and hoped not to fall on my $%% with a pile of ribs.

    There was no way I was gonna get to try everything since the smallest order was 1/3 rack of ribs. I figured I'd start with last year's winner, Kentucky Smokehouse. I was biased to try the southern US ribbers as the consensus is that the southern states make them best. I had a 3-meat combo of 1/4 chicken, pulled pork and 1/3 rack of ribs. The ribs were good but not spectacular. The chicken was yummy and finger licking good. However I must say that a really good 1/4 chicken from Swiss Chalet is so much juicier. Given a choice, the recycled fat from rotisseries would win by me. The pulled pork was perfectly cooked with a delicious BBQ sauce and a hint of baked bean flavour. I digress to the thought of Ecuadorian pulled pork usually served at Taste of the Danforth. Pulled pork swimming in pork fat and salt is still tops with me.

    Next on the list were ribs from Bad Wolf Barbecue of Kansas City. I had 1/3 rack of ribs with a side of sweet cornbread and beans. These ribs were very good. The sauce was dark and thick and infused with Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon. The cornbread was a little too crumbly, but a good companion to the ribs. As for the beans... nothing special. The bean taste in the pulled pork I had earlier was much tastier.

    I rounded things out with a Birch Beer from Pappy's Old Fasion (sic) Soda Pop. It tasted more like Pepsi than rootbeer, though serving it in a stainless steel mug was a nice touch.

    Other treats that I didn't get to try were Bob's Bloomin Onions (a battered, deep fried onion), funnel cake, butterfly potato chips (chips that came in flower like clusters), and roast corn on the cob.

    The ribfest was definitely a place to fill up on food. Although I must say, I prefer ribs that have been boiled in a dark beer first till the meat almost falls off the bone, before BBQing. I know it's not the traditional way, but doing it at home with Keith's Red and President's Choice Beer & Chipotle BBQ sauce is still my favourite way of having ribs.

    - Mark

    A smorgasbord of random: Ribfest, Pizzeria Libretto, restaurants we want to go to, restaurants we've been to, and general website updates

    Add this to our old post outlining "upcoming posts:" Mark was "on assignment" (haha love saying that, makes us feel like real writers!) at Ribfest in Etobicoke recently, so we'll have photos and a post on that soon.

    You may also have noticed we added a few restaurants yesterday on the right-hand side we want to go to sooner rather than later. We're doing a good job of crossing them off, because last night we took an impromptu streetcar ride to Ossington/Dundas to eat dinner at Pizzeria Libretto (we made a correction to this post as we kept calling it Pizza Libretto on here by accident) so a review of that restaurant will be coming soon.

    We'll also soon add a rolling text list of all the restaurants we've been to: On our first edit of the list (I think we still have quite a few more to add) we've already hit the 60 restaurant mark! It's times like these where I'm reminded I like to eat too much...!

    I've also added links on the very bottom of the page - a must-read is The Globe and Mail article on how the French just aren't doing French cuisine like they used to given they've made "economic refugees" of most of their chefs who have taken off for better opportunities elsewhere (after you read it I'd love to hear your thoughts by commenting on the blog here - does the rest of the world, especially Japan, really do French cuisine better as the writer contends?)

    Enjoy your Sundays (mmmm sundaes...) everyone!

    Wednesday, July 1, 2009

    Ingredient Alert: Black Garlic

    Wednesday, July 1, 2009
    I'm dying to try making a black garlic tapenade but, as far as I know, black garlic is not yet available here.

    However, as The Globe and Mail points out, Canadians can buy it online from for $23 per pound plus shipping, but I'm holding out hope and holding back my wallet because they also say it will soon be available at Whole Foods... I never ever shop there for my weekly groceries (recession, people - No Frills and I have gotten tight) but for specialty ingredients like this one I will make the trip over there.

    Black garlic is supposed to be sweeter, richer and "less harsh" than raw white garlic, and its texture is apparently more like a soft fruit than anything else.

    It's also said to have different health properties from its lighter cousin: It’s loaded with nearly twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic and contains Allycysteine, a compound that may help prevent cancer.

    Can't wait to get my hands on some of this stuff... for more recipes and info on how black garlic is made, click here.

    Yours in food,