Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Best Chinese Restaurants #1: Mother's Dumplings

Mother's Dumpling is the #1 ranked Chinese restaurant in Toronto, according to BlogTO. Being Chinese, I've been to a countless number of Chinese restaurants in Toronto and it would be unfair to rank Mother's Dumpling the #1 spot simply because the cuisines from different regions of China differs greatly. You have the bold and spicy flavours of the Sichuan; the fresh, savory flavours of the Cantonese, the warm, soft flavours of the North and more. Mother's Dumplings would fall under Northern Chinese cuisine.

Location: 1/5

When I visited Mother's Dumplings, they were still located in their tiny hole in the wall at 79 Huron St. At the time of my visit, they had a sign that says they would be moving to 421 Spadina Ave. which is around Spadina and College. I have yet to visit that location so I can only comment on the old one.

I got there a bit before 1:00 PM and I could see that a lot of people were already busy enjoying their lunch at Mother's Dumplings. This place was tiny and should probably only seat 13 people or so at most but they managed to pack close to 20. It was definitely a fire hazard.

As we waited to be seated, the waitress came by with a couple of menus for us to order from while we stood. That way she could place our orders and we would be able to eat once we sat down. Great idea...except for the fact that she never came back to take our order. When our table was ready, she got us and walked us to the back. Our party of three finally got a table...that was fit for two. Looking around at our surroundings, this place looked exactly like what somebody's house would look like if they tried to turn it into a restaurant. Mother's Dumplings was GHETTO. One could only hope that the new location is a vast improvement from the old basement location.

Taste: 3.5/5

The three of us were starving so we handed her our slip with our selected dishes (too many, I might add) and waited for our food to arrive. If you're not familiar with Northern style Chinese food, you should expect a lot of steamed/boiled dishes, soup-based meals and softer, natural flavours.

The first dish that came were noodles. They had to be Dalu Noodles since that was the only noodle dish we ordered. We mixed the minced meat, cucumbers and noodles together and chowed down. The noodles were boiled and had a slippery texture, the minced meat tasted buttery and the raw cucumber brought a cool contrast to the dish. While I felt that it could have used some more salt, it was a decent first dish. Before we could finish it, the waitress came by and told us it was the wrong order and took it away. Looking at their menu and using the process of elimination, this would have to be their Stewed Beef Noodle because it simply can't be anything else.

Upon taking back the wrong order, our waitress came back with our Da Lu Noodles. I had no idea what to expect from this dish but it was listed as a favourite so it had to be good! From what I can tell, it was a bowl of noodles with minced pork, wood ear mushroom and some vegetables in a thick, creamy broth. To be honest, I was rather disappointed with this dish. I found it very bland and not very memorable at all. Surprising since it received a bunch of rave reviews online. Perhaps this was a one-off incident where the chef forgot an ingredient. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and would try it again just to be sure.

Now for their specialty, their dumplings! Mother's Dumplings have three different methods of preparing dumplings: boiled, steamed and pan-fried. Keep in mind that the types of dumplings available under each method of preparation may not be the same.

The first batch batch of dumplings to reach our table were the boiled pork and dill dumplings. I prefer boiled dumplings to steamed dumplings because the dumplings retain their juices and as a result, they aren't as dry. There is a lot of dill in these dumplings and some may find it overpowering but I'm a big fan of dill so I was fine with the taste. My two friends on the other hand didn't enjoy them as well. Oh well, more for me!

Next up are the steamed juicy pork buns. I could be wrong, but I'm fairly certain they are a Shanghai specialty. They're not truly buns since the wrapping is thin like a dumpling and not doughy like Chinese buns are supposed to be. The insides of the buns packs quite a bit of juice so the ideal way to eat these would be in one bite. The juicy pork buns at Mother's Dumplings were pretty big though so it was easier said than done. These were simply fantastic. I definitely recommend getting these at Mother's Dumplings or trying them at any Shanghai restaurant.

The more traditional basket of steamed dumplings we got were pork and chives flavoured. These came out slightly dry and like the pork and dill, the pork seemed like the secondary ingredient. They were pretty big but there was simply too much chives for my liking.

For the pan-fried option, we opted for the pork and bak choi dumplings. I was disappointed that under the pan-fried menu, there were only two type to choose from (pork & bak choi and pork, shrimp & melon). The dumplings were a bit oily but the wrapping was nice and crispy. Much better than how Dumpling House does theirs. I wasn't a fan of bak choi in a dumpling though.

Lastly, we ordered their popular green-onion pancake. While this just appears to be pan-fried batter with green onions, I can see why it's a favourite amongst diners at Mother's Dumpling. They were crispy on the outside yet the inside was thick and chewy. I highly recommend this and to make your decision easier, it's one of the cheaper items on the menu!

Value: 4/5

If there's one thing I've learned from growing up on Chinese food is that there is no such thing as expensive Chinese food! The dumplings were roughly $0.50 each (they come in orders of 12 or 24) and while it might look like we got a lot of food, the total came up to a little over $50. We also had enough left over food for dinner.

Overall: 4 China Walls out of 5

Due to a lot of their tame flavours, I'm not the biggest fan of Northern Chinese food but I do enjoy dumplings every now and then. While I won't crown Mother's Dumplings the best Chinese Restaurant in Toronto, they are a very good spot for dumplings and all their loyal customers are proof of that. They do give you good bang for your buck and serve up a home cooked meal away from home. I just hope their new location isn't an actual house like their old one. If your dumpling cravings still aren't satisfied, you can ask for a menu to order some frozen dumplings to make at home!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Best New Cheap Eats 2009 #6: Kenzo Ramen

BlogTO recently put up a new "Best of..." list: The Best New Cheap Eats in Toronto 2009. Now the first thing I do when I see a new list is check out the map to see which ones are convenient for me to get to. Right away I picked out two that were walking distance from work; #14's Oh Boy Burger and #6's Kenzo Ramen. Since Kenzo Ramen was a little closer, we decided to check them out last Friday.

The Poor Man's Best Friend

When I think ramen, the word cheap definitely comes to mind. My grandparents owned a convenience store when I was young and they told me a story of this customer who only had $3 and 3 days until his next paycheque. He ended up buying his meals for those 3 days. $3 worth of instant ramen!

Now there's nothing wrong with instant ramen (except for the fact that it's loaded with sodium and MSG!). It's easy to make, inexpensive and quite frankly, pretty delicious. That said, if I was going to a ramen restaurant, I expected them to blow those $0.50 packages away. Let's see how they fared.

The King of the Kings Ramen

Location: 4/5

Kenzo Ramen is at 138 Dundas St. W which is right by Dundas and Elizabeth. It's about a couple minutes away from the Eaton Centre and you really can't miss the Japanese decor on the outside. They have a big Japanese style wooden sign along with a Japanese banner at the front. I have actually walked past this place a few times and noticed the store front. I never bothered to actually look at it though as I just assumed it was yet another sushi restaurant. Now my friend told me she's been to the one uptown at Yonge and Steeles but after a quick google search, it looks like they just relocated downtown.

As for the actual restaurant; they decorate it with Japanese lanterns, Japanese cloth screens and Japanese art to give it an authentic Japanese feel...or at least that's what I would assume a restaurant in Japan would look like since I've never been to Japan. The kitchen is located at the back and there isn't a wall dividing it so you can see right into it from the dining area.

My only gripe with the restaurant is that it is too small! When we arrived, there was a small line up so in order to fit everybody in, we had to keep the door ajar. The waiter came over and asked if we could close the door. Well, I would if we could all fit! I would estimate that the seating capacity is around 25 people or so.

Taste: 4.5/5

I ordered "The King of the Kings Ramen" which seemed like one of their more popular items on the menu. My order came very quickly and I dove right in. The King of the Kings Ramen features ramen noodles of course, seaweed (dry and wet), bean sprouts, ground pork, slices of pork, green onions, a slice of fish paste cake (the white with the red swirl) and half of a hard boiled egg all in a spicy pork based soup.

The soup is what makes this meal. It had a decent kick to it and is similar to a Korean pork-bone soup. The slices of pork were very tender and flavourful. From where we sat, we could actually see the pork being slow cooked in their oven. The rest of the ingredients pretty much tasted the way you would imagine it tasting. The meal was delicious and I wasn't left dying of thirst like I normally would after a bowl of instant ramen.

Tacoyaki: A teriyaki taco?

As a side, I also split an order of Tacoyaki with my two co-workers. Despite the name, tacoyaki isn't a teriyaki taco. The menu said it was baked octopus. Having never tried octopus, I was curious as to what this would taste like. Upon getting the order, I noticed that they were topped with dried octopus, crushed herbs and mayonnaise. The balls were also very soft (that's what she said). It appears that they are balls of batter with a chunk of octopus inside it (think Chinese sweet and sour chicken balls but baked instead of deep fried). I picked one up with my chop sticks and took a bite. My first bite was all batter (which tasted like the batter from a deep fried banana) but I could see a chunk of octopus as well as melted cheese inside. After my second bite, the morsel of octopus was gone. It was chewy. The texture was very much like calamari but the taste was different. It had a stronger seafood taste. Similar to abalone. I'm not a huge fan of seafood so the next time, I will just stick to the pork dumplings as a side.

Value: 3.5/5

The King of the Kings Ramen was $9.95 before tax and tip. While delicious, it's a far cry from a couple packs of instant ramen which will probably cost a loonie and change. You do get a healthy serving but like most soup-based meals, I was hungry an hour later. There are definitely better lunch time deals to be had but if you are craving noodles then give Kenzo Ramen a try.

Verdict: 4 Yutaka Fukufujis out of 5

Kenzo Ramen specializes in ramen and their menu reflects that. They have a limited selection of no more than 20 items; most of which are noodles in soup. They even have a couple of Japanese beers and sake on the menu. The service is quick but they could work on being a little more friendly. I don't think I've seen a smile from either of the 2 waiters. The food itself is great though. The three of us really enjoyed our meal and would definitely eat there again. Since Kenzo Ramen was recently relocated downtown, I guess it isn't really a new place but it is still a restaurant worthy of paying a visit to.

The Best Burger #2: Apache Burger

Whether it be NHL/NBA allstar games or 2Pac vs Biggie, the East vs West beef will never end. When it comes to Toronto burger joints, there's Johnny's (#4 on the blogto list) repping the East and Apache (#2 on the blogto list) on the West. Both restaurants have a similar old school burger joint feel but in my opinion, the comparison pretty much ends there. Seeing as I just reviewed Johnny's a couple weeks ago, I suppose this right here is the showdown where only one will be victorious.

Location: 4/5

When I say location, I mean the location for the general Torontonian and not for myself. I live on the east end and let me tell you, Apache was a bitch to get to. I went on a Saturday afternoon on a long weekend and the traffic on the 401 was just crawling. It took me a good hour to get there. The trip would have been unbearable if it wasn't for a couple of good friends and Abbey Road!

The restaurant itself is located on Dundas and perhaps a kilometre or two west of Kipling. Kipling station is also very close by which makes it more convenient to get to for you red rocket riders. You really can't miss the place when travelling on Dundas. It looks like an old school diner and has a neon sign.

As soon as you walk in, you'll notice an improvement over Johnny's because there's...wait for it...SEATS! There's a good row of booths along with chairs. I would guess that it could seat 25-30 people but I wouldn't be surprised if it could handle more.

Don't fret if the line up is long because there's a whole shrine for you to look at. They have a display with pictures of local celebrities (David Miller) and NHLers! I notice a bunch of current and former Leafs like Tie Domi, Tom Fitzgerald, Nathan Perrott and Matt Stajan. There were also other NHLers like Brendan Shanahan! Here, take a look for yourself and see who you recognize (click to enlarge).

Where's Wellwood?

So let's get this straight: tables and chairs, NHLers and the Stanley Cup has been here?

Taste: 4.5/5

I got the Apache Burger which is two beef patties with cheese. They also have something on the menu called a twin cheeseburger. I'm not entirely sure what the difference is between the two but I digress. As you wait for your burger to cook, the guy at the counter will ask you to pick your toppings. From what I remember, the choices were lettuce, tomatoes, relish, pickles, onions, hot peppers, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. Nothing over the top but all the standards are there.

Dear Double Beef and Double Cheese, will you marry me?

The burger itself was very good. The patty tasted fresh and was seasoned nicely and didn't taste like a frozen super market patty like Johnny's did. My only complaint was that they used too much sauce. Rather than adding a squirt, they dump a whole blob of ketchup/mustard on your bun and then smooth it out with the spatula. I guess some people may like this but with some bites, I thought it overpowered the taste of the burger and it made eating it a hell of a lot messier.

The. Perfect. Onion. Ring.

Now I know this is supposed to be a best burger review but I wouldn't be doing it any justice if I didn't talk about the onion rings. I'll give props my boy, Leafer1984 for recommending them to me. He told me they are by far the best onion rings he's ever had and boy was he right. Another friend I went with can attest to this as well...but my other friend foolishly decided against getting it because she thought it was too junkie and regretted it all the way home...and probably still regrets it now (Hi Foodtographer!)

Now I know what you're thinking. How can onion rings be THAT great? I don't fuckin know. Just go try them! The batter is a bit thick but surprisingly light so it's not extremely filling. Notice how when you bite into an onion ring sometimes the whole onion comes out leaving you with all batter? Well, the onion on these are cooked to perfection so you won't have to worry about that. Every bite of this gift from god is filled with greasy, battery, oniony goodness.

So a superior burger, the best onion rings known to man and lettuce as a topping?

Value: 2.5/5

My meal, which consisted of an Apache Burger ($6.79), onion rings ($3.89) and a medium Dr. Pepper ($1.79) cost $14.09 after taxes. It certainly doesn't break the bank but it seems rather expensive for a meal at a burger joint. The onion rings were good but at $4, I would have liked to see more than 7-8 of them. $0.50 for one seems a bit expensive but fuck yeah, I would do it again!

I have never had Johnny's onion rings so I don't know how they compare but I've never had to spend over $10 at Johnny's either.

Verdict: 4.5 The Apache, Aldo Raines' out of 5

After visiting both places, I can honestly say Apache has Johnny's beat on everything except price. I suppose you can justify spending the extra few bucks on seats or having the ability to put lettuce on your burger. I only wished I lived a little closer to this place so I could visit it more than once every blue moon. Rejoice the victory and throw up a W. Wesssssssstsiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiideeeee!

Whether you're in the area of not, I highly recommend you give this place a visit if you're into burgers (and more importantly, onion rings). I believe they open late to cater to the clubbing crowds so there really is no excuse not to go. And if you do decide to go, don't be an idiot and get the onion rings! Otherwise your friends will have to listen to you deny about making the right choice then whine about it when they gush about how good it was on the way home.

The Best Burger #4: Johnny's Charbroiled Hamburgers

Funny how my whole blog was started to review restaurants on the blogto list but quickly became overran with Leafs posts. I guess here's finally another post for you foodies out there (okay so there's only one of you but I hope you enjoy it anyhow).

Ah, we finally get to Johnny's Charbroiled Hamburgers, or just Johnny's. If you live on the east side of the city, you've probably eaten here at one point or another. Johnny's is famous for their parking lot dining, their late night service and not having lettuce. Blogto has them ranked 4th on their list. Let's see how they fared with my taste buds.

Location: 3.5/5

Johnny's is located on the south-east side of Sheppard and Victoria Park. It's almost right on the corner and isn't hard to spot at all. Just look for the little orange hut that looks like it hasn't changed since the early 80's. As for convenience, it shouldn't be too difficult to get there by TTC. I assume you would get off at Vic Park then take the Vic Park bus north until you hit Sheppard. Though I would never take the TTC to get there since I have a car so don't blame me if you get lost.

The shop itself is a tiny shithole. The kitchen takes up most of the space and as soon as you walk in you're greeted by the counter. There is no seating available with exception of a bench at the back which is for people waiting for their food. If you want to sit down to eat you have two choices; the park benches outside (if the weather is nice and you enjoy being bombarded by seagulls) or your car.

Taste: 3.5/5

I know a few people that swears by Johnny's and I never quite understood why. I remember being underwhelmed the very first time I tried their burgers actually. I'm not sure if they make their own hamburger patties but they could use some more seasoning as I find them rather bland. It almost tastes like the frozen patties you can buy from the grocery store.

As far as toppings are concerned, you can choose from five: cooked onions, raw onions, pickles, relish and tomatoes. Don't bother asking for lettuce because they will tell you to go elsewhere. They also have ketchup, mustard and BBQ sauce as condiments but I'm not sure whether or not they have mayonnaise.

While I'm not crazy about their burgers, they do make a great batch of golden, crispy fries. My only problem is that they serve them in one of those skinny cardboard boxes so unless you carry packets of ketchup with you wherever you go, only the fries at the top will get the catsup treatment.

Now don't get me wrong, Johnny's do make a good burger but I just expected more based on their reputation.

Value: 3.5/5

A cheeseburger, fries and a drink cost me a little under $8. While it's far from the price of a gourmet burger, it isn't as cheap as a fast food cheeseburger combo either. It really is only worth it if you're in the area otherwise I wouldn't drive too far to go to Johnny's if there's a Burger King or Wendy's that was closer by.

Verdict: 3.5 Soup Nazi's out of 5

One thing about Johnny's is that the guy working the counter is a prick more often than not. He's usually grumpy, impatient and pushy. I always feel like I'm ordering from the Soup Nazi whenever I'm there. While their burgers are good, they are far from the best I've ever had. In my opinion, it isn't worth the drive there, especially since the parking outside their shop is a bitch. However, I do have a few friends that absolutely love their burgers so the only way to find out if you'll like them or not would be to hit them up yourself.

The Best Chicken Wings #7: St. Louis Bar & Grill

Here's another entry for all you gluttons out there. This is my second wings entry and it was one I was very excited to try. A few days after I posted my All-Stars Wings & Ribs review, stlouisatrium started following me on Twitter. I don't know how they found me, nor did I care. It just seemed like fate and if fate was going to lead me to their delicious wings then so be it. I've never been to St. Louis Bar & Grill before but I do recall these commercials that The Fan 590 used to air a few years ago where St. Louis claimed that through blind taste tests, they have the best wings in Toronto. Needless to say, the hypetrain was going full speed.

I logged into Twitter, holla'd at stlouisatrium and told them I was coming for lunch that day and he replied.

Sweet, they had a promotion too! Fate is one sexy bitch, my friend.

Location: 5/5

The St. Louis Bar & Grill I went to is located inside The Atrium on Bay (I know there's a few of them). The Atrium is across from Eaton Centre and the actual restaurant is right across from Spring Rolls. The location is great. It is basically right in the middle of downtown Toronto and you're pretty much there once you get off at Dundas station. Sure, there may be a few homeless people in the area, but doesn't that give it an authentic St. Louis feel?

Taste: 2/5

I went to St. Louis with two co-workers and the first thing I noticed was that they served Dos Equis. I've never tried Dos Equis before but I'm a sucker for good advertising so we got a bucket. I thought it would taste like Corona, Sol and other similar Mexican beers but it didn't. It was rather crisp, albeit light and went down easy. It's a satisfying patio beer but nothing I would buy for the house. While we were becoming the most interesting men in the world, we took a look at the menus. St. Louis has a total of 13 flavours on their menu (unlike All-Star wings and their billion flavours) and none of them had names that were double entendres! This would make picking a flavour that much easier. We all decided to get a different flavour to get a good idea where their wings were at. We ordered a serving each of Hot & Honey, Hot and Authentic Buffalo.

Hot - This was the flavour I ordered. It wasn't hot at all. They don't even taste like they are meant to be hot. They were just very salty.

Authentic Buffalo - This tasted slightly like the "hot" wings I ordered but with more of a buffalo flavour. They weren't spicy and again was too salty for my liking.

Hot & Honey - Sticking with their theme, this flavour was more sweet than it was hot. Actually, like the other two, it wasn't hot at all. Though the sweet tanginess is what makes this flavour what it is. I thought it was the best of the ones we got.

As for the wings itself. They were a bit small and were dry; almost as if they were overcooked. I was disappointed to say the least.

The saving grace of the visit is the packet of dill sauce they include with your order! I used it for my fries and it was delicious. If you do make the trip, you may want to ask for extra because you won't be able to get enough of it (though each extra packet costs $0.50).

Value: 1.5/5

As I've previously written, getting wings anywhere will usually put a dent in your wallet but the wings at St. Louis Bar & Grill are small, mediocre tasting and already over $1 per wing before taxes. The 9 piece wings combo is $10.45 and the 18 piece wings combo is $19.95. The combos do come with fries and a packet of dill sauce, but I didn't see anything for just wings on their menu.

But wait, they have deals, don't they? I mean, you just read the tweet earlier on my page that if I mentioned it and got a large drink, I would get a free regular order of wings. Well, when I brought it up with the waitress, she had no idea what I was even talking about. When I asked to talk to Manu (less than a half hour after his tweet asking me to say hi), he wasn't in. Go figure.

Verdict: 2 Poo-Holes out of 5

St. Louis...Poo-holes, get it?

I have to say that St. Louis Bar & Grill was rather disappointing considering that they have a reputation for solid wings. I've had better wings at more commercial franchises like Shoeless Joe's and Jack Astors. The fact that their own employees weren't aware of promotion offers via twitter seemed rather dubious. It wasn't all bad though. Their fries and dill sauce were very good and I heard good things about their ribs as well. They are also becoming a Raptors spot (though I've read this on their twitter so who knows if this is true) so they may be a decent place to catch a Raps game at. However, if you're just craving for wings, I would advise going elsewhere to satisfy those cravings.

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros: The Taste of Danforth Edition

For those of you who don't know, The Taste of Danforth is an annual event held in the heart of Toronto's Greek community. For one weekend in August for the past 16 years, a long strip along Danforth is closed to traffic allowing store owners along that strip to strut out their best souvlaki, gyros, spinach pies and other Greek dishes. The website claims it is Canada's largest street festival and welcomes well over a million visitors.

For the past 15 years, I've never been to The Taste of Danforth and frankly I've never had much of an interest to. I finally decided to check it out this year with a couple of friends (including the
foodtographer) and I'm glad I made that decision. Meat on a stick for $3? Wrapped in a pita for $5? Where do I sign up?

Of the 11 restaurants on the best souvlaki & gyros in Toronto list, seven of them were located on Danforth. I knew I wouldn't be able to review all of them but I was going to do the best I can.

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros #2: Messini

Fries can make anything better

Messini was the first stop. They set up a tent and were selling either chicken or pork gyros for $5. I guess everybody else knew of their reputation as well because the line up was pretty long. Thankfully it moved pretty quickly. Once we got to the front of the line and made our order, we were given a ticket based on whether we wanted chicken or pork. We were then moved to the side and workers would instruct you to go to the next available chef. The chef then took a pita, spread tzaziki sauce on it, topped it with tomatos and onions, loaded it with your meat of choice and then crammed some fries in there before wrapping it.

The pita was soft and warm, the chicken was tender and the tzaziki was strong but not overpowering. This was pretty much a full meal and was totally worth the $5 (though I'm not sure how much it is regularly on their menu). Considering the contents and the size of this thing, you definitely will not find it in your weight-watcher's diet but fuck it, you can eat a salad for lunch tomorrow; this gyro is too good to pass up.

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros #1: Astoria

I love this pork souvlaki so much, I want to take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant

Once we were done at Messini, we were off to Astoria. It wasn't hard to spot. Just look for the long ass line. The line started so far back that I couldn't even read what they were offering. Whatever it was, I knew it had to be good and I had to have it. As the line inched forward, I saw what they were selling; Pork Souvlaki for $3. I looked for another sign because there has to be more than this, right? Were they including a pair of Leafs tickets with your purchase or something? There's no way all these people are lining up just for pork souvlaki when every other vendor is selling the same thing. After a good 15-20 minutes in line, we finally got our meat on a stick.

Have you ever had a perfect moment? A moment where all your troubles fade away, a moment that feels so surreal that you question whether it's a fantasy, a moment that you want to live in forever yet if you died right there and then you would be completely content since you have experienced "the moment". For many it could be a first kiss? Their wedding? The birth of their child? Well for me, it was my first bite of this pork souvlaki. The pork was seasoned to perfection and the texture is what meat lovers dream of. It was crunchy on the outside which trapped its juices on the inside. The meat itself was tender and juicy. It was definitely love at first bite! I do regret getting this because how will I ever be content with eating meat again after having this? It's hard to believe that meat can be this good. My only explanation is that they sprinkled their pork with crack before cooking it.

The Biggest Regret: Blackstone

Ever wonder what a kangaroo burger looked like? Exactly like a regular burger!

Now I don't know about you but I love trying weird, exotic meats. I mean if somebody on the other side of the world loves it, then why wouldn't I? This has led to some regretful choices (fox, ostrich and snail to name a few). Well, yesterday I added another mammal to that list; Kangaroo. Blackstone was serving kangaroo burgers for $4 and the curiosity just got the best of me and my friend. We ended up splitting one. Do people really eat kangaroo down under? Because this kangaroo burger was just disgusting. The taste is very hard to describe. The patty was more tender than a beef patty but it had a very strong and bold wild flavour to it if you know what I mean. I guess I would compare it to lamb if I had to pick a meat to compare it to and I hate eating lamb too. I didn't end up finishing my half and if you know me, I rarely ever let food go to waste.

The Dessert: Demetres

R.I.P. Top Cone

I don't even know if I can call this dessert since dessert is always served at the end. This is more like "I'm eating ice cream because I am not going to back track all the way here to get dessert when the day is over". Demetres was selling their homemade style ice cream. You could either get a waffle cone for $3 or a scoop in a cup with strawberries for $3. I opted for a cup of Cookeo (cookie dough flavour) because cones are messy. To prove that, the foodtographer got a cone (pictured). The top cone shattered shortly after the picture was taken and her hair ended up dipping into the ice cream. Nice!

The ice cream was just awesome. It was creamy, not too sweet and had a good amount of cookie crumbs. It had a buttery soft consistency yet I wasn't left with a soup when I reached the bottom. I can't think of many more satisfying ways to cool off on a hot summer day.

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros #9: Louis Authentic Gyros and Souvlaki Take-Out

Don't cross the swords!

Now the Louis stand had a bit of everything. They were selling quails for $3, pork or chicken souvlaki for $3 (or 2 for $5), in a pita for $5 and a lot of other stuff as well. I wanted to see how they would measure up to Astoria so I got the pork souvlaki. While the meat was very good and tender, there really wasn't a comparison. The chunks were a lot smaller, the seasoning was a bit salty for my liking and the meat wasn't nice and charred like the souvlaki from Astoria. Now don't get me wrong, it was still a very good souvlaki, Astoria is just that good!

The Best Souvlaki & Gyros #4: Asteria

Astoria > Asteria

My last stop of the day was at Asteria. They were selling chicken or pork on a stick for $3 or in a pita for $5. The line up was moderately long so I figured this place must be pretty good, afterall it is #4 on the list. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed. While the meat had nice and crunchy grill marks, the seasoning was a bit heavy. I found the meat too salty and it left an aftertaste in my mouth. It was far from horrible but I guess since it was #4, I expected more. The chunks of meat were about the same size as Louis' but I prefer Louis' souvlaki over Asteria's. I can imagine a lot of their customers going there thinking it is Astoria only to be left disappointed.

I think I'm going through some sort of Astoria souvlaki withdrawal already. I may need to go next weekend just to satisfy this hunger. If you're looking to go, hit me up in the comments. I'm paying! (This last paragraph only applies if you're a hot single female - Bow Chicka Wow Wow)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Best Burritos #1: Burrito Boyz

Blogto ranks Burrito Boyz #1 when it comes to the best burrito in Toronto. This also marks my first #1 review in my short blogging life. Now I work five minutes away from this place but never went before. After bringing it up in the PPP CC (come join in the fun if you're not already there) Furcifer and Blindfolded Tank Driver convinced me to check it out. Needless to say, my expectations going in were high. Let's see if they lived up to the hype.

Location: 2.5/5

Burrito Boyz is located at 218 Adelaide St. W which is right off Simcoe. It's downtown Toronto so the location isn't terrible but it's sort of hidden. I don't recall any big flashy signs or anything but it is right under Smoke's Poutinerie. You can't miss it because the line up will be past the door!

This brings us to the score. Now any establishment situated within walking distance of a subway station will usually be at least a 4. The reason why I scored Burrito Boyz low is due to the set up (or lack of) in the restaurant. I went around 1:00 PM which is a bit later than the standard lunch time yet the line was huge. The restaurant itself isn't too big so the line literally went to the door, which is also where the garbage is conveniently placed so people would cut into the line to throw away their trash. After about ten minutes, I finally got to the cashier and ordered my large steak burrito with a Coke. I was given a number and was told to wait on the right.

Well, the right is pretty much a mosh pit. It's a standing area with no lines and you just wait for your number to be called. It took about another 20 minutes for them to call my number. I don't know if line ups would help cut down the waiting time but it would certainly be more orderly. Once they do call your number, you would then give them your receipt, order what you want on your burrito and go back to the mosh pit to wait for them to make it. This roughly took another 10 minutes so in total, it took us 40 minutes to just get our food! Only after did we find out we could order in to pick it up. Fuck.

Taste: 5/5

The line up might have been long but fuck, it was totally worth it. I was in burrito heaven. I got a large steak burrito (you can choose from vegetarian, halibut, shrimp, chicken and steak) with a whole wheat tortillia with everything in it. Now what's everything, you ask? I'll gladly tell. Everything includes a mild salsa, guacomole, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, green onion, shredded cheese, Mexican style rice and refried pinto beans. On top of that, there are three sauces: their special burrito sauce, sour cream and a hot sauce. Once all that is wrapped up with the steak, they grill the burrito on both sides.

Now this isn't the first time I've had a burrito from a burrito joint so I figured I knew what to expect upon ordering it. My problem with burritos I've had in the past is that the cilantro is often overpowering. This isn't a problem with the steak burrito I just ordered though! My mouth just had an orgasm. The guacamole is fresh, the rice ratio is perfect, the cheese is melted and the steak is seasoned to perfection. The only problem with my burrito is that it was fuckin spicier than all the curry in India. Now I can usually handle my spice so I'm surprised that eating this was making me sweat bullets. I've downed suicide wings without even thinking twice before (of course I was drunk as shit and probably ignored the burning sensation) so what's up with the pussification of my tongue all of a sudden? I did manage to finish it but it was a struggle.

Value: 4/5

A large burrito with a coke was roughly $8.50 or so. While that might seem expensive at first glance, this thing was massive. It must have weighed over a pound and can easily be doubled for a weapon in case a hungry homeless guy tries to mug you. Though it's not the cheapest thing you can get downtown, it's very fulfilling in both quality and quantity!

Verdict: 4.5 Luchadores out of 5

Burrito Boyz is some good eatin! They also make quesadillas there, but I'm just going to stick with the burritos. The only thing stopping this from a perfect 5 would be the wait times but since I know that they do pick ups now, I'll be sure to call in to avoid spending my whole lunch hour waiting for my meal. While my first taste seemed extra spicy, I'm almost positive it wasn't meant to set my tongue on fire. There really is only one way to find out and that's to make another trip back. I'll gladly do that...after I call in to place my order.

The Best Chicken Wings #5: All Star Wings & Ribs

L-R: Wings Gone Wild - My Ranch is on Fire

Another one for the best of series. This time I'm doing wings. Coming in at #5 on the blogto list of best Wings in Toronto is All Star Wings & Ribs. I didn't know the
"& Ribs" were a part of their name since I don't know anybody who has ever had their ribs before but I digress...

Location: 2/5

I believe there are two locations, neither of them are in Toronto. The one I went to is the one in Markham (the only other one I'm aware of is in Richmond Hill). It is located in a plaza at the corner of 16th Ave and Woodbine. Needless to say, you can't get here by TTC. You can probably take the YRT (York Region Transit) or VIVA but since you would probably have to camp out for a bus, I wouldn't bother making the trip unless you have a car. If you do have a car though, their wings are definitely worth the drive.

Taste: Could be anywhere from a 1/5 to a 5/5

Don't get me wrong, All Star has fabulous wings. They're lightly breaded, covered in sauce yet remaining crunchy and very flavourful. The problem is that they have over 150,000 flavours to choose from. That may be an exagerration but they easily have over 100 flavours, most of which have a vague names like American Eruption, Tsunami, Pucker Up Baby and Killer Bee. This wouldn't be a problem if there were little descriptions about each flavour but there isn't. It's just one long list categorized by how spicy they are (their classification system goes from Pacifiers to Baseballs to Flaming Stars to Fire Alarms to Mushroom Clouds and finally to a Radioactive Material Logo). Sure, you could stop a waitress and ask them but this place gets PACKED on Friday and Saturday nights so the waitresses seem rude and rushed. With the help of some friends though, I have compiled a list of some of the flavours we have tried and a little description of it to help you out.

Aaron: Snakebite - A bit tangy and not too spicy (Categorized under 3 Flaming Stars on the menu)

My Ranch is on Fire - Too much ranch. It was disgusting and it made me throw up (Yes Aaron, we're sure it was the wings and not the alcohol lol but I'll take your word for it. 4 Flaming Stars)

Aileen (Note: Aileen and Aaron are fraternal twins): My Ranch is on Fire - Her favourite flavour. Creamy ranch with a little tangy hot sauce with freshly ground black pepper. (I haven't seen a set of twins go in such opposite directions since Victoria Beckham got her boob job. Bada-Bing)

Sweet Tooth Rancher - Creamy and sweet but thick in the mouth (That's what she said. 1 Pacifier)

Nero's Epilogue - Like my ranch is on fire but instead of black pepper, they top it with parmesan cheese. (4 Flaming Stars)

Cheesy Where's The Beef? = Poutine - Fries + Wings. That's basically what it is but instead of using cheese curds, they use shredded cheddar (1 Pacifier)

Christine: Honey Garlic - Standard honey garlic (1 Pacifier)

Honey BBQ - Didn't like it. It was too sweet and there wasn't enough barbeque taste (1 Pacifier)

Shirley: Wings Gone Wild - This flavour is the BEST. Not spicy has a honey mustard taste.

Teresa: Sicillian - Breaded, dry and slightly spicy. (No rating because it's on the dry style side of the menu)

Victoria: Hot Hawaiian Honey - Tangy, Sweet and Hot (3 Flaming Stars)

Myself: Fourplay - This is disgusting. It was spicy and it is a blend of four different sauces (I have no idea which four) The sauces might be great alone but they come together to form the taste of ass (4 Flaming Stars)

Wings Gone Wild - My favourite flavour. It definitely has a honey mustard taste to it. A bit sweet. A bit of kick would make it even better (3 Flaming Stars)

Nero's Epilogue - I didn't think this tasted like My Ranch is on Fire. It wasn't all that flavourful. It was topped with parmesan though. (4 Flaming Stars)

There are still over 100 flavours left to be tried but I'm simply not adventurous to go for them after experiencing the disaster known as Fourplay. If you have tried any flavours that we missed out on, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment with your review!

Value: 3/5

Okay so wings are expensive anywhere you go (I don't know why, it's just chicken wings and sauce) so I doubt we will ever see a 5/5 on value. I got a double order (20 wings) and a coke and it was around $20-22 after tax and tip. I guess it could be worse but that's at least a dollar a wing...

Verdict: 3.5 Peters in your Mouth out of 5

Peters, Buffalo, Wings, get it? Nevermind...

The location is a bit lousy and the price definitely isn't for the budget-minded but the awesome wings (once you find your flavour) certainly makes up for it. However, I find that they're outdoing themselves by listing so many flavours on their menu without a description. While some flavours are certainly worth its weight in gold, the fact that picking a new flavour is such a crapshoot kind of sucks. Who doesn't want to try a Kama Sutra or a Pandora's Box?

The Best Poutine #2: The Blue Chip Truck

Another blog entry for the foodies out there. This is the first entry in the "Best Poutine in Toronto" List. There are twelve in total on blogto. Hopefully I can get through them without having to go for triple bypass surgery. Well, coming in at #2, we have the famous Blue Truck outside Nathan Phillips Square.

Location: 4.5/5

You will find the blue chip truck stationed outside Nathan Phillips Square which is right by Queen and Bay. It's only a couple of minutes from the Queen street end of the Eaton Centre so you won't have trouble getting there by TTC. I didn't give it a 5 out of 5 because there are TWO blue trucks to buy food from! You will know you went to the right one if you see a scrolling display on the top of the truck. The correct one also says Slush-Pop-Water on the front of it. I believe the other one is called Mr. Tasty. Since you're buying food from a truck, it's pretty much to go. You should be able to find seats on the benches outside Nathan Phillips Square (if they're not occupied by sleeping homeless people) but on nice days, it's tough to get a seat in the shade as it just gets too crowded. You may have to eat standing up or sitting on the hot edge of the wading pool. Entertainment won't be a problem though. You're guaranteed to catch a lot of cleavage and skimpy skirts in the summer time and if you're lucky you will catch a total act of randomness. When I was there, I saw two protests going on. One involving the City of Toronto workers and another involving student workers telling CUPE to work things out and get back to work. I also saw a homeless guy running across the wading pool as he was getting chased by security guards. Good times!

Taste: 5/5

Let's face it, one of the many benefits of being Canadian is the ability to get a poutine at almost any hour. Having tried poutines from many different outlets, my critique on poutines have become pretty strict. Even then, blue chip truck simply blows many of them out of the water. Let's break down these three simple ingredients.

Fries - The fries from the blue chip truck as freshly cut and always hot. They don't serve their fries from under a heat lamp; they come straight out of the hot oil and are salted nicely. Their fries have some size so they won't get all soggy and limp when covered in gravy. They are already excellent alone but even better with cheese and gravy!

Gravy - Now the last time I had a poutine prior to this was at Smoke's Poutinerie. My main complaint about their gravy was that it was too bland! Well, this isn't a problem at the blue truck. The gravy is packed with flavour and they really load it onto your fries. And as I said earlier, the gravy has a nice thick texture so you're not left with a soup when you get to the bottom.

Cheese Curds - This is usually the deal breaker for me; this is what separates a good poutine from a bad one. I can't believe some places don't even use cheese curds in their poutine (automatic fail!) rather, they use shredded cheese. Well, the blue truck uses fresh chunks of cheese curds! They're slightly salty and squeek between your teeth when you chew them. They give you a decent amount too.

Value: 3.5/5

A medium poutine and a can of coke was $6.25 ($5 for the poutine, $1.25 for the coke). I wouldn't exactly call that a great deal but it is filling and any time you can get lunch for under $7 in downtown Toronto should be considered a good price.

Verdict: 5 Flailing Habs out of 5

Now when you think of getting good food, very rarely do you picture getting it out of a truck, however the poutine from the blue chip truck has got to be one of the best I've had. It just shows that there's nothing wrong with simplicity.

The Best Pizza Slice #6: The Big Slice

My first entry is from the "best pizza slice in Toronto" list. Coming in at #6, The Big Slice!

Location: 4/5

This pizza shop is located on the east side on Yonge, right before Gerrard (going north). It's roughly a 4 minute walk from both Dundas and College subway stations. While the location is convenient, you do have to pass by a couple of strip clubs and porn shops to get to it which is why I would have to give it a 4. Otherwise, it pretty much is in the heart of downtown Toronto. You really can't miss it because you will remember that uncomfortable feeling as you are praying that you don't get robbed as you are passing by the hoodlums hanging outside of the covenant house that's right next to it.

Taste: 4/5

Now I'm a firm believer that there's no such thing as a bad pizza. Sure, there are better and worse tasting pies, but I can't say I've ever had a bad pizza...except once and that was the very first time I've ever been to The Big Slice. I remember the pizza being cold like it's been sitting there all day and just not very good in general.

This is my second time going to The Big Slice, and to be honest, if it wasn't on the list, I would probably never go to this place again. I'm glad I did because the pizza was pretty good. I got the Canadian slice (pepperoni, bacon, mushrooms) and this thing was huge. The picture definitely doesn't do it any justice. I proceeded to top my pizza with dry chili peppers, hot sauce and bbq sauce. I wasn't sure how to tackle it. My co-worker went the fork and knife route while I decided to fold it in half and shove it into my mouth instead.

The pizza was hot, the mushrooms were fresh and the sauce was flavourful but not overbearing. The crust is rather thin which is a plus for me because I like thin crust pizzas. It was basically the complete opposite from the first slice I had here years ago. As good as it was, my slice could have used some more cheese and there wasn't as much pepperoni as I would have liked but overall it was still a good slice and worth going to again.

Value: 5/5

For a pop and slice (equivalent to 2 slices!), it only cost me $4.75. Working downtown, I'm used to spending close to $10 for lunch. This is definitely a recession proof meal that's well worth the money. I almost feel like I need to pay them a couple dollars more just to even it out.

Verdict: 4 Ninja Turtles out of 5

Despite the ghetto looking interior and the shady surroundings, The Big Slice is worth going to. While I wouldn't make a trek downtown just to grab a bite here, it is still a great spot to grab lunch if you're in the area.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Fresh Start

As you may or may not know, I blog over at Hungry Leafs Fan which is a sports blog with a restaurant review every now and then. I decided to start this new blog to keep things separate. From now on, I'll only be doing my food blogging on this blog and the other one will be 100% dedicated to sports. Over the next week or so I will try to move all my old restaurant reviews on to this blog.

In case you are new and somehow found your way here, I write reviews on the restaurants featured in BlogTO's best of Toronto lists...or the ones I can make my way to anyhow. Perhaps one day I will do restaurants outside of the lists but for now, there are still plenty of places I haven't been to that's on the list. Happy eatin'!