Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fine Asian Bowl, Toronto Centre

I was spending sometime in downtown Toronto, around Yonge and Dundas, and felt like having a real good dinner – which means a beer or wine, appetizer, main dish and possibly dessert (if there was still room in the stomach) and coffee, so went on a recce one block on each of the four sides from the Yonge and Dundas Square.

There was a Mexican grill and Pumpernickel on Yonge, Spring Roll on Dundas, a micro brewery, an Asian restaurant and a steak-house on Yonge south.

I liked Asian Bowl, because I wanted to have rice. The board said it was a mixture of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, and I thought it might a fusion restaurant, or one of those restaurants that put a milder version of the original dishes from the source to attract a wider crowd, including the second generation.

For appetizers ordered soft shell crab and tom yum kai soup. The soft shell crab was different from what I have eaten usually at Japanese restaurants. Chunks of crab dipped in batter and deep fried but, unlike the Japanese variety, this was not crispy. It was served atop crispy thin sticks – it could have been some sort of deep fried rice sticks. There was no sauce.

I am not a big fan of tom yum kai, but I know it is considered hot and sour. I found an additional dash of sweetness and saw pieces of pineapple. It is good for those who cannot stand too much chillies.

For main, I ordered vegetable fried rice and Bun Bo Xao Xa Ot, which is supposed to be stir fried beef with lemon grass, hot chilli and garlic and onions. This is a variation of my usual preference for Vietnamese dishes – the bowl of broth with rice noodles and meat. I wanted to taste the rice vermicelli noodles without the broth.
The beef was tender and well marinated, while the noodles were just rightly cooked – not soggy and not too hard. It came with a garlic-chilli sauce but I asked for extra chilli sauce.

One of the differences between South Asian and Vietnamese dishes is that in South Asia the chilli is usually ground and added to the curry while in Vietnam the broth is kept neutral and one bites off of a chilli. Because here there were no chillies to be seen, and the sauce was too mild for my taste, I asked for chilli sauce.
The fried rice was very good, with green beans, carrots and broccoli chunks.
For desert, I ordered green tea ice cream. Nothing special about this.

It was a worthwhile experience and as I had imagined, this was a restaurant serving more of watered-down versions of the original, so to attract a wide variety of customers. Most of the diners were young people.

The restaurant does not serve alcohol, nor does it accept MasterCard or Amex.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Milos Greek Restaurant, Pickering

The plan was to go Chef Tommy’s in Ajax, but it was closed (closed on a Sunday evening? may be because of summer lull?)
So, I activated my GPS to find the closest Greek restaurant and it turned out to be a Friendly Greek franchise in Pickering. I was wary of going to a franchise but decided to try anyway.
When I reached the spot, I could not find the Friendly Greek, but there was a restaurant with the name Milos Greek Restaurant. It took the briefest of the moment for me to decide to go in. After all, the idea was to have Greek dinner anyway, and it not being a franchise was even better.
Inside, a whole new world opened up; the walls were white with the upper parts containing paintings, the chairs were of different colours and gave a rustic look, the floor was not of one pattern. And the Mediterranean music wafting through the air just completed the sense this was a real Greek restaurant.
A middle-aged gentleman welcomed me and let to us to a table.
I had never had a Greek beer and I grabbed the opportunity when Milos offered two brands. I went for Mythos. I love European beers but Mythos, I found, to be pretty weak.
For appetizers, ordered Saganaki Opa and Dolmadakia. I have always watched with amazement, and even envy, the ceremony surrounding this flambéing. I did not know what it was, so never ordered, but this time I figured from the menu it was Saganaki Opa.
The waiter brought the dish, poured the brandy (this I figured out from the menu) and then flambeed the kefalograviera cheese. He then squeezed a lemon over it. But I soon realised that him pouring the lemon juice to put out the flame does not complete the ceremony. We had a part too and because we forgot that, some other guests did it to us – the chorus of ‘opa’, which, the waiter explained, means long life.
The Dolmadakia was a little bit different for the Maria’s Dolmadakia I had tasted at Mr Greek a few weeks ago. For starters, this was one had a pleasant coolness to it, as against the warm one served in Mr G. And there was no sauce. Besides, I also tasted an extra dash of sourness, may be vinegar. But it was crisp with the correct amount of spices.
For main, I had seftalia – Greek style pork sausages. It was wide, and cut into half. Unlike some sausages, this did not have the salty taste which made it better. I had heard that the seftalias are juicy but I found the ones at Miles pretty dry. For sides, I could choose two from the following: roast potatoes, lemon potatoes, fries and rice, I went for rice. During my previous Greek restaurant visits, I had been given the choice of potatoes, salad and rice but not two varieties of potatoes. I chose lemon potatoes as I thought that was the one I usually like in Greek restaurants. But I was wrong: the ones I like is roast potatoes, at least according to Milos’ definition, while the lemon potatoes tasted too sour.
While enjoying the dinner, I saw the elderly waiter singing in tune with a song that wafted through the warm air. It was very nice, and completed the feeling of Greekness.

For dessert, I had baklava. It was richly soaked in sugar/honey, yet the layers retained their individuality and crunchiness. In between the variety of nuts tasted as if they were fresh.
I would go again.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dragon Dynasty Dim Sum

I love dim-sum. As simple as that.

And even though I am told that a lot of dim-sum restaurants are moving towards a system where you order the dishes from the menu, I like the traditional ones where they bring the food in carts, with circular bamboo containers stacked one over another with the various dumplings and other dishes.

And I had not had been to a dim-sum place since June, when I was in Vancouver. So, it was time to visit one, and this time I went to Dragon Dynasty in Scarborough, Ontario.

Dragon Dynasty is located within the Chartwell Mall, one of the Asian (non-North Americans read: Asian here means East Asia/China)malls with a number of, well, Asian stores and even a food court, all selling Asian food.

It is always a good strategy to reserve if one wants to take a trip to a dim-sum restaurant, for they are always full. But I did not reserve and fortunately, had to wait just about twenty minutes.

One reason I love dim sum is the ambience; with Chinese families sitting together eating and engaging in pep, or even passionate, talks while some reading newspapers.

But one of my weaknesses with dim-sum dishes is that I do not know the significance of most of the dishes. I mean, is there a difference between the dumplings with just shrimp or with shrimp and some other vegetable, other than the content? What is the significance of the envelopes – some with translucent wraps while some of sturdy flour wraps?

I usually barge into the bamboo trays and order whatever I know and I feel I like; so, usually I end up with having eaten different types of dumplings filled with either shrimps or shrimps with something else. Then I go for rice noodle roles, which are longer and wider white roles, often served in small plate in paris with sweet soya sauce.

Then of course is what I call the sticky rice. I don’t know where I got the name, but I think it is the lotus leaf rice – a mixture of glutinous rice together with egg and mushrooms wrapped in a lotus leaf.

If blind ordering is bad enough, I also engage in another, almost sinful, activity; using hot sauce on every dish. For example, at times Chinese greens liked bok choy will come with its own sauce, and some types of dumplings also come with their own sauces. However, I always used the hot sauce.

Fortunately, though, I have to proudly say that I have recognised my folly of destroying a good dish by making it universal through the use of the same sauce for everything. Now, I try to dip the dish in the sauce provided. Alternatively, I also use other sauces provided for the other types of dumplings.

And it has been a good experience so far. But I hope to be able to visit a dim sum restaurant with someone, may be a Chinese, who can explain to me the fine nuances behind each of the dish.

Of course, Chinese tea is so closely connected to dim sum (supposedly, they are also called tea houses, serving, of course, tea and the light dishes), and it is here that Dragon Dynasty fails. May be they use too much tea leaves because after a while the tea turns very bitter.

Otherwise, it is a good restaurant with helpful waiting staff.

A Little About Dumplings

Dumplings are a universal dish – and they are made and enjoyed in different forms in different countries – from Peru to China.

While in Korea and Kazakhstan, they are filled with lamb, pork or beef and can be fried or steamed, in north and South India, they are used as desserts – filled with coconut and sugar or jaggery.

From Russia to Ukraine and Poland, the name can vary from pierogi to perogees, and can be savoury or sweet. In Germany and Austria, they are called by different names, from spaetzle to knoedel and can have different toppings, from ground meat to plums. I always liked the bread dumpling, but then there are also liver dumplings.

And some say papas rellenas (stuffed with potatoes or meat) in Peru can also be called dumplings.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Vegetarian, Six Curry Take Out

Decided to have a vegetarian lunch, but at home. So, went to a Sri Lankan take-out.

There are dozens of take-outs specializing on Sri Lankan/Indian (to be specific: northern Sri Lankan) food in and around Toronto.
One take-out I like is the Veerar Take-Out, on Sheppard, near Markham. It is located next to a Tamil convenient store.
One of the first advantages of the Veerar Take-Out is that they give you a choice of having the rice and curry put together in the Styrofoam box, or the dishes separated in tiny Styrofoam cups and the rice in the box. The Sri lankan take-outs specialize in showing off the many number of dishes they have, and I find that the uniqueness of the dishes are lost when they are lumped together in one box.
The extra cups cost a dollar more, but it is worth.
The second, and perhaps the important, advantage is that Veerar is one of the few take-outs that goes beyond the usual, and easy-to-make dishes. For example, some take-outs may boast of eight dishes, but they might have a potato curry, potato with green peas curry and green peas curry.
Veerar’s dishes are different. For example, I had a spicy curry of drumsticks (this is not chicken drumstick. it is a long, stick like vegetable with a thick skin inside which there is flesh and seeds. For more, see this Wikipedia entry), the ubiquitous dhal curry, a dish made out of deep-fried bitter gourd mixed with onions, green chillies and coconut flakes with a dash of lime juice which gave it a distinct sourness, a fry made out of banana blossom, and a yellow cassava curry. Of course, no vegetarian meal is complete without papadam and deep fried curd-chiilies (this is green chillies soaked/boiled in curd, then hot dried and deep fried). Of course, there is also rasam, a kind of a soup made out of coriander, fennel, cumin, black pepper, red chillies and tamarind.
This is usually home-cooking. It is one of those meals that makes me salivate while driving.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mr Greek, Whitby,Ontario

It was one of those days I felt I wanted to eat out, but was not sure where to dine. Eventually, we ended up at the Mr Greek, located within the Entertainment Centrum in Whitby.

As most Canadians know, Mr Greek is a chain, so the menu is pretty standard.

They did not have any Greek beer, so ordered Keith’s Red Amber Ale.

For appetizers, we had Maria’s Dolmades. I love the dishes with grape leaves. The four ‘parcels’ – stuffed with rice, ground beef and herbs – came in a layer of thick egg-lime sauce. The Dolmades were neat without any spills and tasted excellent with the light-sour sauce.

For main, I decided to go for Gyros, instead of my usual pork souvlaki. Whenever I think of gyros, I think of the Doener Kebab. Instead of grilling in an oven, the meat, usually lamb and beef, is slowly grilled in a rotating vertical split. A Turkish acquaintance once told me the meat is welded together with fat. It is crunchy but juicy and crisp.

But the Canadian gyros I have tasted tend to be on the drier side with the meat being too ‘floury’ – it is as if the meat was ground fine and then moulded into a big roll to fit the rotisserie. The Classic Gyro at Mr Greek had just the right amount of salt and spices, but it was still too fine for me. No crunchiness.
I love Greek-style potatoes. I liked the way they bake it for the potatoes to absorb the lime juice, chicken broth and the olive oil. It reminds me of the potato curries I am used to.

And I am also a fan of the Greek-style rice.

As usual with my previous Mr Greek experiences, this was a full, hearty meal.

And I liked the service. Very friendly and accommodating.

At the end of the dinner, the young man who I had assumed was the manager came up to me and asked whether I was from south India. In return for a reply, I wanted to know whether he was from Greece. No, he was half Indian, half Jewish, and owned the place with his brother.

He also briefed me on the global nature of his surname, Choudhry. Once at home, I googled and found out that Wikipedia has no less than 24 different versions of the name, from Choudhry to Cowdrey. The name is shared between Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, and both Hindus and Muslims have it.
But I could not figure out which of the 24 versions is the Jewish one.

The Eating Out Experience

Hello, lovers of food!

I love food. As simple as that.

I love to cook food, but I also love to eat out. And decided to start this blog to talk about my experiences eating out.