12.6.16

Sushi on Bloor

www.sushionbloor.com

There are a lot of Sushi joints around Bloor and Bathurst and Sushi on Bloor is one of the most famous ones. Our friends invited us for a dinner and we did not regret spending an evening there.

APPEARANCE
From the outside there was not much to talk about – many over-the-top large signs visually screaming, white with red letters and some accent black. We found a depiction of Sushi Roll inside one of the letters a bit on the cheesy side. Overall, the typeface used in the logo was of a more transitional style - poor blend of a classy 18th century font with a stencil execution.
There was an obvious lineup and, even though we had a reservation, we had to wait to be seated for about 10 minutes. It is Sushi on Bloor’s new location and still not very accommodating to swarming waiting patrons inevitably blocking the passageway.

SWIRL & NOSE
Walking to our table near to the counter, we noticed that walls were filled with randomly taped notes. General noisiness and greasy marks on the drawers created a marketplace atmosphere further enhanced by the heavy use of wood. A glass Japanese painting was the main artwork piece, but an array of awards lining the walls was focusing our attention. These recognitions were especially noticeable on the bland grey wallpaper behind. We promptly ordered California Roll, Spicy Salmon, Sushi Pizza with Salmon, Philadelphia Roll and their popular Crunchy Roll.

PALETTE
Our waitress was brief, not too interested in talking, but quite efficient. We felt a bit of annoyance coming from her at our additional questions and requests, but nothing to formally complain about. It took only ten minutes to get our rolls, just in time we finished with the complementary Miso Soup - which was actually not cheaply prepared, for a free item. One thing Sushi on Bloor is famous for is the freshness and we were not disappointed. While the fish is fresh in most Sushi restaurants we go to, some of the finer details are usually amiss. In particular, cucumbers are often soggy. Sushi on Bloor was on top of their game here – top notch fish, rice and veggies in perfectly crafted rolls made us salivate even just looking at our plates.
We should note that the Sushi Pizza with Salmon included sticky rice fried in a patty shape and topped with a few smoked salmon slices folded like a flower, and decorated with onion and sesame seeds. There was a bit of mayo to add some interest and flavor as well as a bit of tobiko. The dish was definitely well presented, but it was very rice dominant and heavy. As for the naming "pizza", definitely didn't have to do with dough or tomato sauce or cheese. Note that there are plenty of curious menu items worth trying - University Roll, Rock and Roll, Casa Loma and Sky Zone Rolls. They had fun with their menu.

FINISH
We had an awesome Sushi dinner in downtown at a reasonable price point and fast service. Even though Sushi on Bloor is in a new location for not that long, it felt not well maintained. By the end of our meal, all of our minor grievances seemed a bit less concerning. Food is the king at Sushi on Bloor, not interior nor service, from our experience.


10.6.16

House of Commons (Underground Restaurant)

http://mabelgrey.ca

Mon Cheri likes to do surprises for me once in a while. This one started in a curious way with him telling me 10 minutes before our event that I must come up with a joke. That did throw me off. With both of us being hangry, it took a while to agree on a funny one, but we came to it nonetheless.

APPEARANCE
At an agreed time, we waited around on a small street by a large parking. It was rather desolate there until other couples started arriving. Lastly, a man dressed in black walked out and sat on a piano stool a few feet away from us. He was not picky on the quality of humour as everyone was telling him the “password” joke to get in. There was even a need for air-drums at the punchline in some cases. This process added to my confusion. A few moments later, we were cleared and given instruction on where to go.
After a quick stroll up the stairs, we were soon welcomed by a smiling lady offering us sparkling wine and asking how our day was. The large guest room was filled with abstract art with a massive table taking up a chunk of space. An owl (House of Commons signature bird) painting was overlooking the seating area further adorned with several crafted artifacts. A private dinner in an “underground restaurant” in a company of local folks was on the menu for us. We wandered around while waiting for all the guests to arrive and walked out to the lovely patio with the fired up BBQ. Our socializing part was initially focused on a man with a very familiar voice. Mon Cheri knew who it was, but kept it a secret from me. Then I heard the name Jesse and all started to make sense.

SWIRL
Still unsure about the format of this one-of- a-kind event, we were all called to the table. The seating was smartly organized with people to the right and left of you on the bench being strangers. When Jesse Hirsch introduced himself and the event, I was finally on the same page as everyone else! Sarah, the owner, followed with her story of starting this awesome career of running an underground restaurant three days a week.

NOSE
Now that we had finished our Cava, we moved to white wine. On offer was a local Niagara Sussereserve Riesling from Rosewood Estates with a Market Green Salad - grilled radicchio, pickled roots, and squash, on top of an arugula greens bed, topped with roasted pumpkin seeds. This turned out to be a great complement for the alcohol, but the truly magical part was the fresh chef-made feta cheese and a few marigold leafs. The sheep cheese had a smooth texture and silky skin, it was so fresh and juicy - a real treat.
Brad Kurtenbach, the baker at Marben, introduced each dish with the attention it deserved. He did so, while our professional waiter served the dishes in a delicate manner, with us hardly noticing his presence throughout. Between every dish, Jesse Hersh kept our discussion going with people participating and yet leaving the conversation open-ended for us to carry on with our neighbours as we enjoyed our food.

PALATE
Mon Cheri sat across, which gave me an opportunity to join conversations with strangers on both the left and right side. It wasn't a big crowd, our larger table had ten guests and a smaller one to the side fit another four with Jesse joining. After our salads, three Malpeques PEI, Caraquet Oysters came in. They were served on wooden boards, on top of a bed of white rice with a zesty wild leek and cava mignonette. Mon Cheri is no fan, so I enjoyed this simple and fresh second course with my neighbour. Sarah made sure that folks who did not want shellfish got their own appetizer - slow roasted tomatoes and pickled mushrooms seared in parmesan cheesed balsamic vinegar. These tomatoes are Mon Cheri’s favorite, and they were done just right - slightly sweet with their smokey skins. Soft sour-dough bread accompanied these dishes, and contributed to their excellence.
Our evening advanced as we talked about the place of social capital in our lives, which lead to the topics of micro-transactions and social media. This became a rather close-to- heart issue so we got to hear more insightful replies. At that point, our mains arrived. There was a lot to pick from. Grilled Ontario asparagus and heirloom carrots were on a side for sharing and in front of us was butter poached and roasted Cornish Hen. The bird was perfectly cooked skin and very tender meat, everyone got a half with both wing and leg included. We were warned by the chef in his introduction that a bit of pink meat is just a part of a process and no cause for alarm. The dish was very tender, but unfortunately the conversations around out tables were getting more engaging and folks paid less attention to the food at that point. If that delicious treat was not enough, there was also BBQ Grey County Lake Trout, which was also shared with our immediate neighbours. The fish was cooked to perfection and accompanied with Brussel Sprouts. These mains were paired with a 2014 Pinot Noir from The Grange in PEC.
Lastly our dessert arrived - maple BBQ sprints with chef’s made creamed yoghurt. Served in espresso cups, this light and healthy dessert had unexpected hints of cardamom spice. It was delightful and very low in sugar.

FINISH
While this dinner experience was about the beautiful cuisine playing on the local ingredients, fresh and pure flavours of our rich land, the skilfully steered conversations flowing at the table were equally as important. It was such a great feeling meeting fellow Torontonians some of them turned out to be living in our neighbourhood. Starting off as strangers and leaving as friends, is precisely how this evening felt with both our palates and minds well entertained.

18.4.16

Marlowe

www.themarlowe.ca

Marlowe appeared to be just another restaurant similar to Milestones or Canyon Creek with no particularly distinguishing features. Located in a busy, but non-walkable plaza area, the eatery offered a large patio and since the weather was getting warmer we decided to give it a try. 

APPEARANCE & NOSE
Patio was the more prominent feature here, but there was nothing else too memorable to speak about when looking at Marlowe. The simple square building did not raise our expectations too high, but then again, this made it easier to leave a positive impression. What we did not like were two different wordmarks - one as a signage on the building and another at the entrance. A Halloween-inspired font used for one was, in our opinion, a particularly bad choice. The other with pointy, twisted serifs also had a haunted feel but was visually incohesive with caps changing and the baseline breaking. Upon entering we were greeted by a large glass wine display - not done with imagination but rather trophy-like and formal. 
Our plan was to settle on a patio and have a full course dinner there. Jumping ahead – strong winds made us relocate back indoors after the first course. Maybe April 2016 was not meant to be patio-friendly in Ontario. The interior was dark, with funky circular lights and plenty of booth space. It was a weekday and not too busy so we benefited from a more dedicated attention from our waitress. We kicked it off with Santa Carolina Cab Sauvignon/Merlots, 2014 from Chile and Chloe Sauvignon for white. Both were their house options and could be ordered in 2oz or 5oz which was pretty awesome for tasting or to enjoy if you were planning on driving after. We thought both were decent choices for the price, Marlowe didn't let us down with their house wines - a must for a place praising itself as a wine bar. 

SWIRL 
Our starter choice was a standard Cesar's Salad - romaine, house made dressing, garlic croutons, a touch of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and pancetta bacon. It was fresh but nothing special. A more curios starter we endeavored in was an Antioxidant Beet and Micro Greens Salad which came on an elongated square plate, tastefully arranged with a rainbow of different appetizing colors. Even through the dish was tiny; there was some character to it being tangy with zest on the palate. As appetizer, we both enjoyed their House Smoked Brie which came lightly (very lightly) fried for a hint of smokiness. There was also a blackberry and raspberry compote on the side. Our last dish before the mains was Beef Carpaccio crusted with black peppercorn and fresh horseradish aioli and arugula. There was a sprinkle of shaved Parmesan and a bit of olive oil. This light dish of thinly sliced, tender, high-quality beef turned out to be a treat. Overall, the combination of small dishes was perfect to prepare us for the main courses. If anything, we might have had one too many of these, as we started feeling full already. They were all served at a slow, but just right, pace.

The undisputed champion of our dinner was the Australian Lamb Shank. Marinated, slow braised meat with roasted red mashed potatoes, root vegetables in combination with Barista Valley Shiraz Dani and raisin pepper relish were to write a separate post about. The tender meat had only a touch of lamb smell (which Ma Cherie normally detects and resists) there was some unique allspice tones present throughout which took precedence on our palette. It appeared that the meat was properly slow-cooked with tons of effort going into perfecting the falling-off-the-bone outcome. The array of spices and addition to raisins in this dish made us think it was Morocco-inspired.
Our second main dish was not as memorable, especially in comparison to the magnificent lamb. The Wild Forest Mushroom Risotto was dense and heavy with big chunks of mushroom, spring onions in a rich creamy texture. All of that was topped with fresh Parmesan cheese and white truffle oil. We could only finish half the dish, after the appetizers and the lamb – it was just too much for us to handle. 
As for deserts, we were quite stuffed to fully appreciate the sweets, but it had to be done. The New York Cheesecake with Raspberry Coulis and Fresh Chantilly was served with a red X behind the white-creamed cake slice. The Crème Brûlée also had some red syrup dots all around the plate. The Brûlée was decent, with a classic caramel crust, but somewhat of a standard fare. The Cheesecake was a bit more original with a smooth, light Chantilly cream giving it an edge. It was especially enjoyable with a few sips of the Cab Merlot accompanying it. 
  
FINISH
Marlowe is fairly generic from the outside, it does not have the cache of occupying a unique building or being in a cool neighborhood. We would have normally skipped a spot like that, but very happy we did not on this occasion. There were some great dishes we got to enjoy in a relaxed yet somewhat upscale atmosphere. The sprawling suburbs got things going for them and we need to get out of downtown core more often.

30.3.16

Kinton Ramen 5

http://www.kintonramen.com

We were invited by Kinka Family to check out one of their locations for Kinton Ramen on Church. Although it was the day after our long California trip, we decided we must not miss the opportunity and were both pleasantly surprised by our experience.

APPERANCE
Located in the neighbourhood best described by being East Side of Yonge street or Ryerson University area (technically it is Garden District), this restaurant occupied a corner opening to a bare lot. There might be a new condo someday soon right here as it often happens in downtown Toronto. The building had long glass panels framed by worn-looking dark steel with an adorable pig silhouette logo in white. The restaurant’s name was written in white Sans Serif letters - simple, bold and small. We really appreciated subtlety of signage, no need for screaming large signs.

NOSE
The glass door had a decal of their pig logo in neon green, an odd choice we both thought. Upon entering, we were warmly and loudly greeted in Japanese by the staff. The interior had plenty of black, and a neat birch wood accent wall made of logs sticking out. This pattern created squares protruding at different lengths. Occasionally, some of these logs were repurposed as shelves with golden pig sculptures on them. The wall added warmth to the restaurant, while the little gold objects a whimsical effect. There was an atmosphere of sophistication and lightness with staff wearing black t-shirts with large and messy Japanese hieroglyphs. Some even wore bandanas which was not as tasteful as the interior, in our opinion.

SWIRL
For 7:30pm, the place was quite full. We sat on heavy, wooden highchairs at the kitchen bar covered in dark granite, with tones of dark spots. We liked the fact that the counter top also had a small wall piece, giving us a sense of privacy plus a simple backdrop for our photos. We enjoyed the next hour, listening to Spanish-influenced music mixed with rock and some upbeat jazz. Sipping on Calpico (light in colour, flavour and sweetness), we felt submerged in Japanese culture. Also, their homemade lemonade was thirst drenching, with lemon fibre floating, it was a simple yet impressive drink.

PALATE
We first ordered Age Gyoza. These fried, crispy pork dumplings were dressed with original sweet chilli sauce - great to get our appetite going. We also had their Tofu Furai which was similar to the Gyoza as these tofu fillets were fried and came topped with sweet chilli sauce, however they were also sitting on top of a bed of greens. As for our ramen, we ordered two quite different options, to ensure we have the best of both worlds. Miso Pork with thick noodles and some pork shoulder plus belly slices came in a deep bowl with a red line at the rim to help differentiate it. There were bean sprouts, scallions, and corn garlic waiting for us in the bowl. An egg was added and some nori to accentuate the dish, as it was recommended by our waitress. We couldn’t quite make out the pork smell from the broth, however we enjoyed this dish quite a lot. It had a slightly spicy, ginger hint to it. We especially liked the pork shoulder slice, which was a bit fatty yet tender and flavourful.
The Original Chicken Broth with thin noodles and chicken breast was our second choice. It also came in a deep bowl, but this dish was branded with a little rooster icon on the rim. It was hard to confuse the two by the colour of the broths even without the labelling. This dish was salty, with white onions, scallions, nori, and a seasoned egg once again. The egg addition to both dishes was our best decision that day – it was done medium and upon biting, some of it coloured the soup. As per the waitresses’ suggestion, we had a side of cheese. It was graded, Swiss cheese with a slightly bitter undertone which made the dish a bit more wholesome, as the chicken breast was quite lean. The slice of meat was, none-the-less, tender and light.

FINISH
As it was always our experience with Kinka Family restaurants so far, everything was very reasonably priced, healthy and plentiful. Light atmosphere, yet great service and tasty food made us recommend these restaurants for casual lunches and dinners with a twist. We already check out one more of their Kinton Ramen locations, as there are 5 of them in different parts of town. We always look forward to visiting and checking out the new items on the menu.
PS: going to the washroom is always an experience of its own at the Kinka Family restaurant - toothpicks, mouthwash, even Q-tips and pads are at your disposal there anytime.