St Patty’s day means a post on Irish cuisine… of course.

I’m a huge fan of Ireland, the country, the people and the beer.  Irish food however has never been one of my favourites.  That being said there are a few dishes that I consider great comfort food.  On Saturday a bunch of us headed out for St Patty’s day celebrations at the Tara Inn on Kingston Road.  I didn’t expect much for food given how crazy the place was but we decided it might be smart to get some food in our stomachs.

I believe they had a special menu for the holiday, but we ordered the Beef & Guinness Pie and the Shepherds Pie.  In general, both were really good, although it’s possible I was swayed by the pool of gravy our food was swimming in.

If you find yourself out in Scarborough and get a little thirsty and maybe a little hungry it’s worth a stop in at the Tara Inn.   The food is pretty decent pub grub and the Guinness is great.  For those of you who know my husband and I – you may already know we are Guinness snobs.  They pour a good pint at the Tara!

Tara Inn, 2365 Kingston Road  (416) 266-6200

Food 3.5/5     Service 4/5     Value 3/5     

Overall Rating 3.5/5

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‘Hanguk’ dining on Bloor

The stretch of Bloor from Christie to Bathurst is generally know as Korea-town.  As you walk down the street there seem like an endless number of choices for food – some of them don’t even have names.  Over the years I have tried several different places but last night we decided to check out the Korean Village Restaurant because it seemed to pop on several of the top lists of Korean food in the city.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Korean food generally comes with a bunch of starter veggie dishes, officially known as Ban Chan.  At Korean Village these dishes are excellent. All of the veggies are very fresh and flavourful – a great accompaniment to the meat of the main course.  My favourites were the kim chee and the sprouts, but also really enjoyed the zucchini dish.  If you’re a kim chee fan, i’d suggest trying it on the grill to … so yummy!

Our waiter was the owners son and he was funny and helpful and always around to refresh our drinks, refill our ban chan dishes and help us cook up all the meat.  Service here was definitely better than most places I have been.  My guess is likely that this place caters to more non-Koreans than some of the other places in the neighbourhood.

We decided to order a variety of meats for the grill.  We chose 2 beef dishes, the Bul Go Ki ($18.99) and the La Kal Bi ($20.99) along with the chicken ($18.99) and pork belly ($18.99).  All the meat arrives on a platter along with a table-top grill so you can cook the food right on the spot.   The quality of the meat was excellent and the marinades were tasty – just sweet and salty enough, but not overpowering.  As a small aside – if you are a fan of Korean BBQ it’s not too difficult to make at home, and www.maangchi.com has some great recipes.  We make Kalbi (beef short ribs) all the time in the summer.  And if you’re looking for ingredients P.A.T. grocery store has everything you need.

As soon as the meat arrived we got started with the cooking.  It’s so easy that even our boys could handle it.  The food is served with lettuce and rice so that you can make up your own wraps, or eat the meat on its own.  The four dishes we ordered were the perfect amount of food.  I think there is a 2 dish minimum for the BBQ so going with friends is a great idea if you want to taste a bit of everything.

Overall we all really enjoyed our meal.  The restaurant is a good size, so even on a Friday night we didn’t need reservations.  The service was great and the food fresh and delicious.  My only word of warning is that the BBQ smell is strong, and while it smells great as you are cooking, it will stick with you well after you leave the restaurant.

Korean Village Restaurant, 628 Bloor St W. (416) 536-0290

Food 5/5     Service 5/5     Value 4/5     Overall Rating 5/5

Greektown or “little ethiopia”?

I have been reading for months that there is a stretch along the Danforth, just east of the Greektown where there are a bunch of African restaurants.  Last I heard a group of Ethiopian restaurants were even building a case to be officially known as “Little Ethiopia”.  On Sunday night we decided to check it out. In the stretch between Donlands and Coxwell, a quick google search will show at least 6 options – we settled on Rendez-vous.  To be honest we based our decision partially on the good reviews we read online but also on the fact that my sister and her boyfriend had already been and would be joining.  We hoped they would be able to give us a little guidance with the menu.

From the outside, the restaurant doesn’t look like much.  The only hint at good food comes from the Toronto Life cover pages plastered in the windows.  My advice – don’t be scared away, once you’re inside the place is somewhat charming.   I don’t really know how to describe the decor, there are some interesting straw hut things hanging over the tables in the back and there is an odd red glow cast over everything by the dim lighting.   When we arrived the place was already pretty busy and it stayed that way all evening.

When I first glanced at the menu I really wasn’t sure where to start.  I knew enough to stay away from the pasta dishes, but my sister and her boyfriend weren’t quite the experts I thought they might be.  There were some vague comments about how they thought they ordered that last time, and how they got something different from what they ordered that wasn’t on the menu.  The concept is well suited for sharing so we decided to hedge our bets and all order different dishes.  I ordered the Rendezvous Vegetarian Combo ($13) which is a combination of Gomen (collard greens), Tikil gomen (potatoes and cabbage), Yemeser wat (lentils in Berbere spice), yekik wat (yellow split peas) and tomato salad.  We also ordered the Cha Cha ($14) which is pieces of lamb served on a sizzling hot dish – this was my favourite.  I’m not a huge fan of lamb but didn’t find the flavour too strong.  Thankfully our waitress came to the rescue and helped us pick a chicken and a beef dish. I’d tell you what they were if I knew.  I think the chicken was the Doro Wat ($13) which came as one piece – tricky to share, but with an amazing and somewhat spicy sauce.  I’m pretty sure the beef wasn’t on the menu.

And now for the fun part.  Everything shows up at your table at the same time and they pile it all on one big platter.  Then they give you some plates of this giant rubbery crepe-like bread to scoop it all up with – no cutlery.  I now know that this bread is called Injera.  To be honest it was a bit odd tasting and definitely took some getting used to.  The key for me was to get as much meat and veggies and sauce in every bite so you don’t focus on the bread.  Overall I really enjoyed our meal. Sharing food is how I love to eat, and this took it to a whole new level.  The food was good, less “foreign” than I was expecting but full of interesting flavours.  And of course the novelty of eating with your hands is pretty fun.

Rendezvous Cafe, 1408 Danforth Ave. 647-933-0127

Food 4/5     Service 3/5     Value 4/5     Overall Rating 4/5

My first (but not last) “food truck” experience

When i started this blog it was all about Toronto restaurants, and it still is.  But sometimes I like to share my food experiences outside of the city.  This week is one of those times.

I’m in California this week, and a friend at the office was kind enough to offer to take us out for a quick bite on a busy day.  I can’t even tell you how excited I was when she mentioned a “taco truck”!  For those of you outside of Toronto you might not get it, but we have some pretty crazy rules preventing the sale of food from trucks/stands/carts in our lovely city.  You’re basically limited to a hot dog, which somehow snuck past the food safety people – I have no idea how, but that’s another story.

This is me, eagerly waiting for my tacos… 3 beef ones with the works, at $1.50 each it seems too good to be true.  And here are the tacos!!  The picture really doesn’t do the meal justice.  They were soooooooo yummy!  The perfect amount of heat, and just the perfect beef-to-topping ratio.  I will be back.  If i can remember which random street it was on and how to get there.

And in case you are wondering, that is the parking lot pavement in the background of the picture – we ate in the car!

El Taco de Toro, there’s no official website that i could find but the address according to Yelp is 112 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, California.

A daylight meal in Chinatown

As someone who spent most of her twenties living in the heart of downtown I must confess to many late night “dinners” in Chinatown.  This week I was lucky enough to have a meeting with some business partners/friends brave enough to venture over to Spadina mid-day.  Now for some of you this may not seem crazy, but as it turns out there are still some people who are a little intimidated by the duck-in-the-window restaurants and unidentifiable dried _______ in the markets.  Luckily, not this bunch.

We settled on Rol San for dim sim.  Given that 3 of us, from entirely different circles and neighbourhoods mentioned this as a favourite it seemed like a good choice.  I should also say I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Vancouver over the last few years and believe I have tried some of the best dim sum this country has to offer – although I will admit to being influenced by the limited number of white people in the restaurant and the lack of english on the menu!

For anyone who hasn’t tried dim sum before it is, according to the dictionary on my computer, a “Chinese dish of small steamed or fried savory dumplings containing various fillings, served as a snack or main course”, or “chinese tapas” (that’s my definition and in no way official).  We ordered an good assortment of dishes, and plenty of each.  In general I found portion sizes to be pretty good and what the meal may have lacked in classy-ness (yes, those are plastic tablecloths) it certainly made up for in value.  I have had better/fancier/more creative dim sum at places like Lai Wah Heen however you pay so much more than I think is necessary.  Plus, you miss the fun vibe of Chinatown.

And if you’ve got a friend who refuses to go near dim sum there is always the standard menu to order from so they won’t starve.  We order fried rice and cashew chicken… they were both ok, but I’d stick to dim sum.

In the end Rol San did not disappoint when it came down to the dim sum.  You’re sure to get a great no-frills meal.  The dishes come out quickly and are very reasonably priced – I didn’t get a look at the menu but I will check next time and update this post.  One word of warning… this is not a fancy restaurant, so don’t expect fancy service. Go for the food, and make the best of the rest.

Rol San, 323 Spadina Ave., 416-977-1128

Food 4/5     Service 2/5     Value 5/5     Overall Rating 4/5


 

Margarita fridays!

Last night me and a few girlfriends headed out to check out Toronto’s newest Mexican restaurant addition – Pachuco.   It’s only been open since January and has been getting some good reviews.  According to their website Pachuco is “Old Mexico meets new flavours” and I would say that’s a pretty good description.  It’s run by the same sisters that manage Embrujo Flamenco, one of my favourite Spanish restaurants, and if you’ve been there it has a very similar vibe – maybe slightly more casual, and without the live dancing.  Before I can even start talking about the food I need to address the drink menu, which is extensive and very interesting (unless you want wine, in which case this is not the place for you since there was only 1 option).  I was torn between my standard Mojito order, the Chipotle Bloody Maria or one of their many margarita flavours.  Lucky for me I didn’t have to choose when I opted for the Margarita Tasting ($15) which includes 3 sampler drinks.  I chose the strawberry-mint, spicy mango and blueberry.  I highly recommend trying out the spicy mango, it’s such an interesting and oddly yummy taste experience.  Our waiter told us that when he was recently down in Mexico they offered him fruit either “mexican” or “tourist” style, so I guess this is Pachuco’s spin on Mexican-style.

To start we shared the Goat Cheese Guacamole with chile poblano and sun dried tomatoes ($9).  I’m a big fan a guacamole and goat cheese so I expected to love this and wasn’t disappointed.  All of the flavours were perfectly balanced, there was a hint of each in every bite.  The guac was served with house-made chips which were still warm when they came to the table.  We also tried the Ceviche Tia Mali ($9).  For those of you who haven’t tried it ceviche is a seafood dish made with raw fish, marinated in citrus until it’s “cooked”.  I love ceviche for it’s fresh and clean flavours.  This version had star fruit, avocado, tequila and blue marlin.  Even though it was a bit creamier than most I’ve tried I really enjoyed it.

For mains we all tried something different, I had the Taquitos de Machaca ($15) – coffee and ancho braised beef brisket.  The beef was well cooked and the fresh corn tortillas served with it were warm, soft and tasty.  For me, the highlight of this dish is the side salsas that come with it – spicy guacamole and honey chipotle salsa.  It seems like most of the mains come with really interesting side salsas that boost the standard flavours.

Good mexican food can be hard to come by in this city, but i was impressed with Pachuco’s fresh approach to mexican.  While maybe not as traditional as some may like this is definitely worth checking out.  The atmosphere is cosy and fun and the food is really good.  Service was a little on the slow side, but as long as you’re not in a rush it’s not much of a problem.  I’ll likely be back to check out some of their other flavours – both Taquitos and margaritas!

Pachuco Modern Mexican Cuisine, 99 Danforth Avenue, 416-466-8006

Food 5/5     Service 4/5     Value 4/5     Overall Rating 4/5

Superbowl sunday…. korean pre-game meal

So even though today is all about wings, chill, beer, and of course football, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather to get out and do some shopping.   On our way home we were starving so decided to stop at Mak Kal Chon Korean restaurant (the last minute decision also means i had to rely on my cell phone for photos).  While I’m not sure this ranks as #1 in the city, it does get some good reviews and based on the full house at 3pm it must be popular with locals.  Plus, it’s also the first on my list that is in a strip mall – which while a little scary is where I’m hoping to find some real gems on this adventure.

My favourite part of Korean meals is usually all the sides you get.  These were good, I particularly liked the sweet potato root – something I haven’t tried before.  Although while everything was tasty, I have had better.

Despite the slight disappointment with the sides, my go-to lunch dish Kimchi-jigae, a pork/tofu/cabbage soup that packs some serious heat was fantastic.  I love it when the first bite isn’t too spicy but as the meal progresses you really start to feel the heat.  It’s really quite a simple dish – but despite that, I was very impressed.

Steve ordered the bulgogi and it was really good.  Probably too much food for a pre-game meal, but he managed to make a pretty good dent.  It’s even served with the classic “purple” rice. The bulgogi here comes either one its own, with rice, or in a hot pot with noodles.  I almost didn’t post this photo because it really doesn’t make the food look very good – but trust me, it’s worth it.

All in all, this is a pretty good Korean restaurant.  I may soon venture to the north end of the city to try out another recommendation but this is definitely a good choice if you find yourself hungry and in the east end of the city.  A huge plus – P.A.T., the Korean grocery store is along the same strip so you can pick up the ingredients to try your hand a Korean  food at home.

Mak Kal Chon, 1979 Lawrence Avenue East, Scarborough, 416-757-3945

Food 3/5     Service 3/5     Value 5/5     Overall Rating 3/5