Another Easter weekend in Toronto. Last year I went over the same weekend and helped Lil’ Sis move into her apartment. This year, her apartment is all set up in her very natural spa-oasis theme and we went slightly nuts again! More diverse this year, too.
As per my usual custom, I took a red eye flight leaving Vancouver at midnight and arriving in Toronto at 7a.m.; with the three-hour time difference, it meant if I slept continuously I had only four hours of sleep. Then, in Toronto it’s a question of whether to take a nap or not to make it through the day. Lil’ Sis came to pick me up and I dropped her off at work north of Toronto. On my way back, I decided to milk the adrenaline of being back in Toronto and be all writer-like in a café and the Richmond Hill Panera was on my way back.
(Aside: The great American brands hit Toronto first. I also find the disparity in American-Canadian pricing more tolerable at restaurants than retail items. A really good American brand, momofuku, I head is coming next year!!)
The shop was all abuzz that day because they were rolling out their rewards card (free to join) and I wondered if I should get one. The closest one to me is somewhere in Washington state. But the possibility that on your first swipe of winning a free food item pushed me over. I swiped a free pastry and got a cheese pastry which Lil’ Sis ate and enjoyed. I paid for one of their famous egg soufflés with spinach and artichoke and a tea. It was bliss nibbling away at the fluffy egg and chewy yet buttery flakey pastry, curled up in a small booth. The shop woke up as it approached noon and I vacated as the lunch crowd started coming in and I got tired.
Sushi on 7 (4568 Highway 7 East, Markham)
Just a few days before, I had gone for all-you-can-eat (AYCE) sushi in Vancouver to try out a restaurant during its happy hour. They advertised the availability of 38 items and it was fine enough. Since Lil’ Sis doesn’t get to go AYCE, it was a treat for us to go together and she took me to where she’s gone before with mum, Sushi on 7 in Markham. It was a different experience in no small part due to the availability of 190 items and having to name our orders instead of marking on sheets (grrr).
These photos are by no means all we ordered but some of the highlights–okay, it’s all of the photos I took there. The seaweed salad was generously portioned for this was just one order. I was happy to try the salmon sushi piza: salmon sashimi with teriyaki sauce, roe, Kewpie (Japanese) mayonnaise atop grilled/fried a sushi rice cake. I didn’t mind the teriyaki sauce as the mayonnaise is the tastiest ever (!!) and the rice cake was a lovely delivery system of a nice piece of salmon. People don’t seem to like the sushi pizza idea and a regular side order sounds too big, so I love to get a sample size at an AYCE place!
Their sashimi, unlimited although the AYCE was $19/person, was quite nice. The salmon was sliced somewhat inconsistently and veered towards the generous side. The light flesh fish was butter fish and its texture is true to its name.
A unique menu item is their sushi nacho: minced salmon and tuna served on a Pringle chip. Why not a Tostito chip, we wondered? Pringles are very consistent in size and curvature so that’s probably why. I didn’t like it too much. I thought it would be just vegetables udon but tempura is always okay. I was just getting full….
By “deep-fried ice cream” it means they sprinkled these crunchy roasted bits over the scoops of green tea, mango, and red bean ice cream. We split a banana tempura for a little warm side to the ice cream. Actually, that reminds me of the shrimp tempura we ordered that I forgot to photograph. Unlike the banana tempura, it had perfect panko crust. I definitely do not feel like AYCE usually takes that care and consideration.
Inniskillin East West Series
I wanted to introduce LV to Dr. Loosen Riesling that NPY introduced me to but couldn’t find it at the LCBO or Wine Rack. What I did see right away at the Wine Rack was bottles of Inniskillin East West Series reds and whites. The Riesling-Gewurztraminer sounded sweet enough, East West is a name dear to me, and it seemed nice and symbolic with me visiting the east from the west to bring a wine made from varietals from Inniskillin’s east (Niagara-on-the-Lake) and west (Okanagan) vineyards. We polished it off with ease, it was a lovely bottle of wine.
I got a bottle for my sister and plan to get more, probably not at as good a price in Vancouver as at the Wine Rack.
Mei Nung Beef Noodle House (3229 Highway 7 East, Markham)
For all it being an older city and there are more people and greater diversity, a couple of my favourite cuisines are still currently a little lacking. So when I saw Trendy Zone visited Mei Nung in the First Markham Place plaza, I was wary that it was not as nice as it looked and the hosts were playing up how tasty it was. Still, with no other leads, I brought Lil’ Sis who hasn’t tried Taiwanese noodles.
I tried to read Yelp reviews and while no one commented on the cleanliness of the interior, there was a comment about the pungent odour. Oh, but they were right. Lil’ Sis was unimpressed and then bewildered about the constant orders of stinky tofu (臭豆腐) being prepared giving the restaurant that smell. We ordered the cold tofu and century egg appetizer that had nice roasted bonito flakes. Lil’ Sis had the nice and chewy handmade noodes in soup, startled at the preserved vegetables. I had the dry noodles with Taiwanese meat sauce, also very tasty. The price was really right at just $6 for the small noodles which were just the right size for us.
(The same plaza houses Ding Tai Fung, a dumpling restaurant. That is spelled an awful lot like Din Tai Fung, the major dumpling chain from Beijing. I want to try it.)
Hi Shanghai Restaurant (4675 Steeles Avenue East, Toronto)
Next time I’m in Toronto, I will remember that my Big Uncle (大舅父) no longer likes Chinese food so much and he’s open to different cuisines; recently he took Lil’ Sis and our cousins out for Hungarian food! Still, he was willing and suggested Hi Shanghai in the China Splendid Tower complex in Toronto, just on the border with Markham. Since I suggested the cuisine, Lil’ Sis and I ended up having to order most of the dishes. One of the winners was the rice cake with shepard’s purse (薺菜) and sliced chicken. I hadn’t had a non-spicy rice cake dish and was worried, but it was a brilliant light dish–I loved the leafy vegetable with the light taste. We also ordered a “house tofu” that was chili-spicy tofu and the spicy mutton which was sour while spicy. Unfortunately, we couldn’t exactly figure out if it was lamb or not. We waited for a really long time for the egg white shrimp casserole to come out and while the egg white was the perfect sauce, the shrimp was sub-par and the use of frozen vegetables was not very satisfying.
Big Uncle also ordered steamed buns with some chives. I’m not usually a fan of the northern steamed bun but when it was laced with chives, it was more moist and the greens infused throughout the pastry. It was hot and divine.
Chili Secret (9021 Leslie Street, Richmond Hill)
Lil’ Sis did not decline my suggestion to go for dim sum but she really should have! We ended up at Chili Secret in Markham, a favourite of her colleague’s. And we went there after running errands for a couple hours and devoured the menu with our eyes. I skipped the entire first column of regular old dumplings and we sampled quite a few from the Shanghai section–Lil’ Sis asked me remarked, “Are we having northern food again??” Yes, because I don’t eat it as much as I’d like in Vancouver!
The sesame buns were intensely dense and we only shared one. The fried squid was nicely spiced with Chinese five spice. The fried buns were beautiful in their contours that caught the weirdly diluted condensed milk dip. The Singapore fried radish cake was a bit of a disappointment–too wet and tangy. We ordered 8 dishes which was about 3 too many, and four of the dishes were fried which was about two too many. We were so full and laughed that we were like college kids ordering all the fried, not at all green dishes!
The very same day of our big dim sum lunch (at 2 p.m. no less), I met up with LV for Ethiopian which I never get in Vancouver. They know where to go and that is La Libela at Bloor and Ossington. I’ve been there a few times now. Less than a month before my trip, LV sent me a link to a Deal Find coupon for La Libela: $19 for $40 of food. LV got three coupons and may have gotten a few more! I took the plunge and got one so I could “treat” more than my share. A nice bonus came when the deal was improved over the day it was good for $45 of food!
I had read about doro wat on Sulin’s blog when she visited an Ethiopian restaurant and it was so well described and photographed I was most pleased that the La Libela platter had doro wat in addition to all the lentil pastes. We also ordered kitfo, a dish of marinated ground beef that LV asked for it to be very well done. I mixed in a little of the cheese with the beef and loved it. On the La Libela platter, LV asked that the salad be replaced and we got the curried cabbage and carrots instead, which I enjoyed. I did not, however, like the doro wat so much–not a fan of sweet sauces. The lamb tibs were not so good as the pastes and vegetables. I loved the sour collard greens and spicy lentils. Years ago, I would not have liked the regular lentils but found this time around they are really nice and creamy. Even the beets were a nice complement to the other vegetable flavours.
Xe Lua Restaurant (254 Spadina Avenue, Toronto)
While taking the streetcar home from La Libela, LV pointed out the restaurants on Spadina that are open late. Little did I know we would end up at one! Given the choice, I suggested Vietnamese over Chinese because I know a bowl of pho is lighter than Chinese noodles.
Xe Lua was packed to the gills at 3 a.m. when we went and when we did get seated, I looked around and got a little nervous. All the partying Asians were out for just a good time and not trouble, right?? I don’t know if they were careless in the kitchen but it was the very first time my beef (which came raw) was so tough it was unpleasant. I squeezed the provided hoisin sauce to get them down.
Lil’ Sis wanted Persian food and I could not argue at all. A colleague just left my company and when we talked about where to eat for his going away ‘do, the idea of Persian was floated around except the best places are in North Vancouver and too far. I had a small taste at the Mr. Greek’s Donair Town on Granville but wanted dilly rice for my own. I found some restaurants downtown, further south than where the cousins live, like Pomegranate and Darvish but Lil’ Sis didn’t want to go that far on a Sunday evening so I found that North York also had a great offering. Zaffron is both Italian and Persian with more Italian items but, a review commented, more of a Persian restaurant–there was a nice mixture of Persian and non customers and I consider it a “gateway” experience to more in the future.
Since Lil’ Sis ordered the baghali polo after I pointed it out, I had to order something else and panicked a little–the fesenjoon was “taken” by my cousin–and ordered the morgh torsh which did not come with dill rice. Lil’ Sis’ lamb was very flavourful and tender but kind of what I’ve tasted before. Her dill rice was really herby! My cousin ordered the fesenjoon and gave me a sample–it looked quite evil (like the overly thick mole sauce I made once) but was really nice, sweet, and nutty. My dish… was very dilly (hence the plain basmati rice), tangy and fresh and I wanted to take some home except I was traveling. I was completely satisfied that I had gotten a really Persian dish.
Dickens Now (328 Highway 7 East, Richmond Hill)
Wow, the thought of Dickens Now in the location of the old Dickens brings back a flood of memories and I was eager to go to Dickens again. I think we were more often at 石板街 (can’t remember the English name) that was down the road and doesn’t seem to exist any longer. Besides, Chinese diner meals, even when they are not at the discounted mini-meal prices, are very reasonably priced. We ordered a beef and enoki 拉麵 which could have ended up being Chinese pulled noodles out of a box but ended up being chewy Japanese ramen out of a box–much appreciated. The broth was also really nice and smokey. It was difficult to pick a second dish and we really did have Lil’ Sis close her eyes and point at the menu and we ended up with the baked chicken and ham cream sauce on rice (originally on spaghetti). The rice was fried beforehand and the dish was really nice and rich.