20.4.16

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.

23.3.16

MTO Cafe

mtocafe.com

We were looking for something healthy, wholesome, but with a tinge of authenticity in Las Vegas and our Uber driver highly recommended MTO Café Las Vegas.
Our plans for the morning included the Mob Museum nearby and we wanted to check out the Smith Center as well as Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health so MTO's location worked out perfectly for us.

APPEARANCE & NOSE
The hip setting reinforced by bright accent colours from the urban art on the walls, as well as the simple, trendy logo and friendly staff kicked our morning off on a great note. So great in fact, that we went against our original idea of having a healthy meal and ordered, as per our driver's recommendation, Chicken in a Waffle (subbing gravy for fruit to limit the damage to our waistlines). Yoga Pants Omelette was the second choice accompanied by their bottomless coffee and an MTO Juice. Waiting for our food, we started noticing other interesting elements about this café. It is situated on a quieter street so the oversized windows do not create awkward moments which would have been inevitable if there were crowds of people passing by. These large windows did make the place bright and lively. Furthermore, the tall ceiling and raw walls finish created acoustic hum which was energizing on its own. Families with kids and young couples occupied all the tables – it was a busy morning.

SWIRL & PALATE
Our food took ten or so minutes to arrive. The two waffles sandwiching a fried chicken with some creamy gravy was a very unique experience for us. Sweet with a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg and almost something a bit spicy like ginger, the dish went wonderfully with a bit of maple syrup and the side of berries. We were pleasantly surprised, chicken and waffle does not normally strike us as something to be done this tastefully. Our Yoga Pants omelette, despite causing some unappetizing associations first (sweaty pants?), turned out to be loaded with diced onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, spinach and cheddar jack cheese. It was fresh and juicy, not oily at all – fitting our definition of a healthy breakfast.
We also had a dark roast coffee served in a bottomless bowl-cup. One last thing was the signature MTO Juice - pineapple, bell pepper, carrot, tomato, ginger lemon apple – there was a smoky taste present for some reason, but well balanced with a zesty flavor and a tad of spice - a great way to kick start your morning

FINISH
Our friendly tattooed waiter and the many pop-culture (graffiti-inspired) artwork everywhere got along very well with pop rock and some slow 90s classics playing in the background. The atmosphere at MTO did not have any non-fitting pieces; we highly recommend this place for great food and an energizing meal.

PS: a special callout to their bottomless coffee which was outstanding by diners’ standards. In our long roads trips across the states, we almost got to the point of avoiding ordering coffee not to be disappointed. MTO restored our faith in that limitless is not necessarily the same as tasteless.

MTO Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

22.3.16

Secret Pizza Las Vegas

https://www.vegas.com/searchagent/restaurant/ViewRestaurant.do?restaurantId=5556

We absolutely had to try their Secret Pizza. Well…first we had to try to find it. Let’s just say it is in the Cosmopolitan, part of the pleasure is finding it, plus there are lots of somewhat conflicting directions online.

APPEARANCE & NOSE
Not sure what we expected, but Secret Pizza surprised us. It was a small entrance and lack of signage made our hunt more challenging. The best part was entering a long hallway of walls filled with old record covers. It was definitively low-key up to the point of appearing intentionally rundown. That shabbiness added a charm component though. After all the glitzy restaurants on The Strip and really dingy options just off it, Secret Pizza was hitting the middle ground. It was hip and filled with young folks marvelling at the currency wall - world money with hand-written notes covering the whole wall. Besides that, there was an arcade machine in the corner further crowding the already limited space. One wall had a printed mural of a black & white photo under which were a few marble slabs - an attempt to bring in some luxury.


SWIRL & PALATE
We lined up along the long glass (cafeteria-like) displays, lined up by pre-sliced pizzas. We ended up with two slices, about $5 each. The price changed based on the amount of toppings on there. One of our slices was a “white” pizza - with mozzarella, a bit of herbs and a white base sauce - it was simple and just right. Our second one choice was with a spicy salami, peppers and a base tomato sauce - we were too impressed by our second choice. Overall, service was prompt and friendly. Despite the hectic environment with constant flow of people, guys at the counter were smiling and uplifting.
Instead of eating inside, we went to sit just by the entrance on the fancily curved chairs. It seemed somewhat odd to eat from paper plates in the luxury surroundings of Cosmopolitan, but we were not the only ones – more people were eating there than inside the pizzeria.

FINISH
If we were to try dissecting the success components here to determine what contributes to Secret Pizza’s popularity, the “secret” part will play a significant role. While the pizza was good and reasonably priced (even cheap by The Strip’s standards), we did not find it to be outstanding. For those interested in coming here, just make sure you get sufficiently lost wandering the corridors for a bit prior to finding the restaurant, it will feel like you found an oasis after a long day in the desert.

Secret Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

21.3.16

Holsteins

www.holsteinsburgers.com

We were recommended this place inside the stylish Cosmo Hotel by a few of our co-workers. This turned out to be a solid recommendation

APPEARANCE
A 3D cow sculpture standing on a podium, greeted all by the entrance, while setting the mood. The surprising part is that the cow was spotted in the wild combination of magenta and white colours. The bold, condensed and clean sans serif wordmark was stamped in the middle of the cow. Its' simplicity was letting the various fun colourfull elements speak for themselves while defining the brand's visual language. We did find it curious that the 3D sculpture was of a very realistic cow, unlike the bold cartoon illustrations all around - more teenage cows (teenage in cow years anyway) in bright colours. There was a full wall with portraits of cattle on little glass squares, creating a curios space separation between the lounge and main dining area.

NOSE
The interior consisted of white tiled walls, warm yellow bulkheads, black banquettes, medium-dark wooden floors and chairs. The simple and bold palette was ideal to show off the friendly uplifting cattle illustrations all around. In the main dining room that included plenty of wide posters of various cow characters in different scenes - an overall urbanite tone, all painted in bright colours with a strong black line outline. We thought this is a great combination of theming and branding, creating a universe without overdoing it. Cheri did make a point on the fact that we are looking at cute cows, which we will soon consume - a slightly morbid way to see the concept.

SWIRL
We read through the hardcover leather-feel menu, and settled on one of their bamboozled shakes - a banana froster, to be exact. We also picked the Classic and Captain Hook burgers. As we ordered, our waitress asked us if we would like a few extras. We later on learned these were paid add-ons some what curtailing the standard negative option billing.
As we waited for our order, a little metal bucket of sweet paprika BBQ popcorn landed on our table. We are huge popcorn enthusiasts, so this gesture was heart-warming. After about five minutes, we had to get a refill, not sure how happy our waitress was about that. Either way, she acted very professional in her dressy white collar shirt and scarf worn like an ascot - a stylish uniform.

PALATE
Our bamboozeled shake was indeed bamboozled as it had dark rum in it, in addition to sautéed banana, caramel sauce and hard caramel chunks. It came in a tall glass topped with whipped cream and that sautéed banana chunk. It came with a side of a tall metal glass - 1/3 filled. We liked the fact that the left-over content was not disposed of, but rather was left for us to finish. The glass also came in handy as we tried to remove the heap of whipped cream. Either way, we made quite a mess transferring between cups, but this might have been just our clumsiness.
Our burgers didn't take long to arrive. We had the classic which had a side of fries, while Captain Hook was accompanied by sweet-potato fries (there was an extra charge for that). The Classic burger included lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, ketchup, and pickles originally. We also added on avocado which made the burger very large and hard to bite. It was a Classic indeed - medium cooked, fresh meat patty, simple toppings - simple joy. The Captain Hook was a unique choice - seared salmon with remoulade sauce, smoked salmon, frisée and picked shallots. It was zesty and tender, while leaving us full at the end. The side of sweet potato fries was a worthwhile addition, adding yet another layer to the palate.

FINISH
We really enjoyed the hip vibe here - a trendy burger joint with an entertaining brand. The bright colours and fun illustrations left us feeling joyous, the full bellies the also added to that mood. We overheard a nearby conversation - it was of workers at the Cosmo, all in suits of course. It's always reassuring to see locals in a place. They probably wouldn't be there if prices and quality was not right.

Holsteins Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato