Kicking off 2015 in Toronto

Another year and another mini vacation in Toronto to kick off the year and cap off a Christmas holiday journey east as far as Halifax. I don’t foresee any trips to Toronto in the coming year (although I did starkly say that last year, didn’t I), so I took an opportunity to savour some sights I won’t see for a while.

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu – Willowdale [Yelp]

I wanted to take Mum to Kinton Ramen (of the Guu group) which has expanded around Toronto and has a new location in North York’s Koreatown area. The Urbanspoon reviews were not promising and, honestly, I wasn’t keen after two flights to get to Toronto to wait in line in the cold and pay twice as much for ramen as I would for Korean food given price and quantity.

So we ended up at our old stand-by Korean and got one bibimbap in a hot stone bowl and soybean tofu soup. I practically OD’ed on tofu with that meal because I had blocks of it the night before for dinner!

Lucullus Bakery – Richmond Hill [Yelp]

After Korean lunch, Mum really wanted something to wash the food down and to shop for bakery items even though she’s in Toronto for a few more days yet. We could accomplish that by visiting Lucullus which carries her favourite egg tarts and strong milk tea. We also shared a slice of creme brulee cheesecake which was rapidly being sold by the slice. Compared to a western recipe, this Asian cheesecake recipe has egg as well and it’s less sugary and creamy and a little more jelly. Mum bought 11 egg tarts and what we don’t snack on, she’ll bring back to Halifax!

Red Lobster – Thornhill

After Mum asked about Red Lobster, it kind of got stuck on my mind. There’s one in Thornhill. There are several locaitons in Ontario, as it turns out (and none in BC so we have to go to Lynnwood to feed our craving). Just by posting a picture of the biscuits to a friends Whats App chat, one of my friends knew where we were. It was only a 30 minute wait at 8:30 on New Year’s Eve to get in.

We ordered their currently special: fire-grilled salmon, lobster and shrimp and – in order to try it – a rock lobster tail. Our server had warned us it wasn’t as sweet and chewier. Indeed. The rock lobster tail was a larger portion but not overly chewy and it tasted … like freezer-burned Maritime lobster – hah! It wasn’t horrid but we understood why the rock lobster was served with melted butter. I think it was a good spot for a relatively more special New Year’s Eve dinner.

On New Year’s Day, we did have somewhere we could go (Chinese shopping malls) but after a breakfast of Chinese pastries and fruit, I took us on a drive. We head to the water as I searched for Humber Bay Arch Bridge first by going to Humber Bay Park West then realizing it is closer to Humber Bay Park East. I tried to imagine it on a clear day or in the evening and lit up.

I also took us to the Scarborough Bluffs, first Scarborough Bluffs Park then viewing it from below from Bluffer’s Park. Again, I had to imagine a brilliantly sunny day that lights up the cliffs and the water is a tropical blue like I’ve seen in photographs. Also, if it wasn’t cold and windy, we could walk along the beach to get a wider angle of the set of bluffs.

Colourful Yunnan Cuisine [Yelp]

Good thing I knew where to have lunch and the Bluffs weren’t that far south of Markham. I read about Colourful Yunnan and wanted to show Mum Cross Bridge noodle. She hadn’t heard much about Yunnan before and was kind of dismissive of the “outside provinces” that are pushing their cuisine to the forefront dominated by Cantonese food.

We ordered the Cross Bridge noodles, of course and Mum was perplexed to see it was to be prepared in front of us and thin slices of raw pork would get cooked in the broth. The taste of it wasn’t overly spectacular and I thought the rice noodles were a touch too soft for my liking. Because Mum enjoys it so, we ordered a grilled eggplant that was weighed with with garlic and was so tart and had a slow spicy burn. She hated it! We also ordered dumplings and finishing all 15 of them did contribute to feeling satiated until the late evening! The corn pancake that Mum ordered was a highlight – slightly sweet and really satisfying.

One’s Better Living – Market Village

Every time I go to Market Village, some kind of fiasco happens when trying to park, as if it’s not traumatic enough trying to find a spot. Twice, there were near fights over parking spots. This time, because where were so many cars queued and waiting, I took a turn too tightly and drove over some sidewalk!

One’s Better Living, however, is my happy place and I picked up another stick umbrella and a cute set of rice bowls.

Mr. Congee – Richmond Hill

We weren’t hungry on account of eating lunch at 3:00 p.m. and it was already 9:30 but some dishes are guaranteed to start to crack open my appetite. Like congee which Mum ordered with fish roe and fresh oyster. Only after the meal, Mum told me that restaurants add cornstarch to congee so it doesn’t separate. I ordered the small dish of vegetables which was still too much. Mum told me after dinner that a restaurant trick to make vegetables so green is to rinse them with lye water … gross! I thought it was strange to order rice rolls for dinner but Mum insisted. The rice roll wrapper was sturdy but not awful. We waited for a bit for the pot rice with free-range chicken and mushrooms. I didn’t think I could have more than one bowl but I did. I was pleasantly surprised that not only was there free dessert soup, but it wasn’t red bean! I dug in but my appetite for it waned quickly and I only ate the taro bits. Mum told me and I put down my spoon that the dessert soup was so thick because of cornstarch added and not melted taro. All of these restaurant tricks I learned during this meal!

Mustafa Pizza [Yelp]

When looking up in her area for dinner spots, I only turned up high end restaurants I wasn’t really up for but good thing Carole had heard about Mustafa Pizza – a Turkish pizza spot. We read the Yelp reviews with a wary eye and it seemed most of the comments were about service and ambience and we aren’t picky about either. It’s a bit further west of Carole’s abode but not a pain to get to at all.

Diners described the establishment as being like a cave and I pictured La Cave in Halifax (not even sure La Cave hasn’t changed since the days of yore) with low cave ceilings and intimate small sections. Not so. The place is bright with high cave ceilings and oddly located in a small strip. The long bench tables were shaped to emulate slabs cut from trees and I wondered if they concocted the decor themselves or simply inherited it.

We were immediately served with a mixed green salad with light vinaigrette and feta cheese. There was no choice for the likes of me but to order the assorted pizza where each of the six slices was a different one of their most popular flavours – I also ordered mine spicy hence the red pepper flakes. I started from the left and worked my way to the right and generally liked the ones I ate first (lamb and cheese and chicken slices) and started to get full. I skipped the parsley and cheese slice altogether because it was too much cheese and the parsley hardly attenuated anything. It was good but a little too much of the same thing and I did go in hungry! A tip would be to save some of the salad to break things up if one orders an entire pide (pizza) for dinner.

My Wonderful Kitchen [Yelp]

I feel like I’m start to limp along now with going to good places and being satisfied with my meals. On my fourth day in Toronto, I skipped lunch and dinner was just some place nearby. It turned out to be another congee place but you wouldn’t know it from the name. We took a great deal of time to order and I felt like my suggestions were being nixed so we got stuff I might not have normally and so I wasn’t so satisfied.

To start, we had the eel fried rice which was not fashioned into a tall pyramid as the menu photograph suggested and there were bonito flakes that waved in the breeze that freaked out my sister and my mother. I spied the chopped pieces of cilantro in the rice but it didn’t affect the taste too much. The eel pieces were lightly fried and there was a slightly sweet sauce. The congee arrived in a casserole and it was my “usual” of fish and pork liver but I thought the fish, whatever it was, wasn’t so tasty. They are at liberty to use any fish they please, I guess. Then the casserole arrived – we had gone for chicken and chestnut but the chicken was lightly fried and the chestnuts were not of great quality. If it had been a dinner of my favourite dishes, my satisfaction with the dinner might be complete different.

Maha’s Fine Egyptian Cuisine [Yelp]

We dropped mum of at Billy Bishop for her 9 a.m. flight and were consequently outside Maha’s before they opened for the day at 8 a.m. I was wavering about going, not feeling really hungry but I’m glad we did check it out. I had, like many, read the favourable BlogTO review and found the place bright and cheerful and, at opening, with our pick of tables.

We each ordered the cardamom honey latte which was delicious and naturally sweet. It felt a little early to order a grilled cheese sandwich but I did anyhow – it had three cheeses (Gouda, Havarti and Swiss) and date and served with lentil soup that was a nice accompaniment for dipping. Lil Sis ordered the Cairo Classic which I passed on on account of the beans. It was tremendously filling and I got a bite of the falafel and enjoyed that.

Four Seasons Noodle Soup and Shabu-Shabu [Yelp]

After all we indulged in for five days in Toronto and ahead of a five-hour flight, I just wanted noodle soup and why not try somewhere other than the old standby Deer Garden (which is so very good). My search for “noodle soup” in Richmond Hill yielded two results: Jim Chai which is so casual (and good, it seems) and Four Seasons. I just didn’t really think of how far north Four Seasons was relative to where we started from, ooops.

The restaurant is currently in transition, it appears. The plaza’s sign states the restaurant is Four Seasons but the sign on the restaurant and the menus still say Shi Ki Sushi. The main menu is entirely Japanese food while there is a one-page insert that is just Korean food. This place needs to ramp up.

With us not being shy to push the button for service, it was pretty prompt and I got a properly soothing if a bit bland noodle soup of rice noodles and big beef and vegetable dumplings. The company, Lil Sis and her boyfriend, were far better and the main point of the excursion.

On this day..