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.

26.3.16

Franklin Barbecue

https://franklinbarbecue.com/

We did a bit of research on Austin food trucks and Franklin's BBQ was a must-go place everyone was raving about.

APPERANCE
It actually did not look like a food truck at all, more resembled a small neighbourhood joint simply finished with the blue and white paint. We only saw a few people in line from the outside which was a pleasant surprise considering the main online complaint about Franklin’s was the wait. Turns out we raised our hopes too early – there were plenty more hungry folks waiting inside.

NOSE
As we entered the main building, we submerged in smoky, stuffy air almost like in a cigar room with a spicy, zesty twist. Under ribbed sheet metal ceiling, surrounded by beige walls and behind a teal door, the interior was not too memorable nor exciting. Red chairs and many wooden tables of various shapes and styles infused the room with a practical, old character. Our favourite elements were full of character and history - numerous menus on old recycled brown paper, casually inscribed with a marker in different hand writings scripts. In case that was too wild for some to read through, a wooden railed menu with sliding letters hung above the main countertop.
As we waited we also passed by a memorabilia/souvenir section with plenty of promo materials for the shop - baby onesies seemed to be a hot item.

SWIRL
When we got by the counter, we realized that the ribs we planned to get were already sold out, however we settled for a pound of their brisket. We went for 50/50 of leaner vs. fatter meat which turned out to be a worthwhile idea. Our favourite part of this experience was receiving a tray with basic waxed rose paper and a pound of meat in the middle of it - there was something raw and real about that. We also took a side of their potatoes salad and slaw. To top it off, there were a lot of side freebies for those not interesting in purchasing sides - hot peppers, pickles, onion, and, of course, the meal always came with just the right amount of white Texan bread. Another big plus was the impressive beer selection on tap.
While in line, we had been eyeing the $5 Texas Pecan pie, but it turns out so had everyone else as it was sold out by the time we asked for it. Key Lime pie was still an option, but we decided we were looking for something more Texan and not in Floridian for sweets.

PALATE
We settled down on their porch, there was a bit of air moving there and we even got to be a bit chilly as we opened our Lone Star beer. The basic long, barbecue tables were shared and so we enjoyed the small talk with our neighbours - parents visiting their son in Austin. They were from the Mid-Western states and had just finished their meal which they claimed was the best BBQ they've had in a long time. Our expectations were very high and for a good reason.
We started with the fatty medium cooked brisket which promptly melted in our mouths – so smooth and tender. The fatty marbling was consistent throughout. It was such a treat, that even Ma Cherie who is very particular with her meat, was impressed. The lean one was also a good choice, but it failed to stand up to its fatty competition. It was tender and a bit more chewy. For all the healthy ones out there, we strongly recommend having the two side by side to compare and not lose out.
We enjoyed the brisket with each of the three BBQ sauces on the table, we just had to... The lightest one was hot, slightly sour and probably the lightest in flavour. The ruby coloured variety had a sweet/sour balance to it with smoky flavours. Last, but definitely not least, was the darkest one - sweet, lightly spicy with hints of bourbon and molasses. We both loved that one the best, seemed very authentic and wholesome. None of the BBQ sauces had labels on them. We later learned that Franklins BBQ has its own in-house brand, so we had the real deal home-made, unique recipe flavours. Lastly, the sides truly completed the meal which was an essential step. Both the slaw and the potato salad were fresh, flavourful choices.

FINISH
This meal instantly awoke the carnivores inside us. When else do you get a pound of meat slapped on paper - not pretentious, just mouth-watering quality. We loved the fact that this place worked as a holistic experience - genuine, with a bit run down interior which gave Franklin's BBQ a sense of exclusivity - only locals and hard-core foodies would probably see the value. For this kind of brisket, a 40 minute wait is something we'd consider daily (our waistlines permitting). Our only regret - not having space to try their other meats.
PS: we saw a frame on the wall showing Franklin's BBQ history - it started off as a food truck with meat sold by the pound. The permanent location seemed to be only thing that changed. Thanks to Austin’s experimental food truck culture, this gem exists and was able to blossom.

23.3.16

Heart Attack Grill

http://www.heartattackgrill.com

This was a must visit place for us. Heart Attack Grill is a landmark around Freemont and an attraction on its own. One can always spot the restaurant by the crowds outside.

APPEARANCE & NOSE
Tons of funny posters on the outside were preparing us for the experience as we approached. A scale to check yourself and see whether you qualify to eat for free (should be over 350 lb) was prominent in the setup with folks jumping on the platform, trying to gage how likely they are to pass. Surprising for us was that we did not have to wait, it was lunch time and we were able to get a spot right away. Well…not right away, every client (or should I say potential patient) needed to slip into gown to make sure there is no time wasted when the ambulance arrives to haul clients away. Patrons were not permitted to take off the awkward garment throughout their meal. We walked past the fake movie posters (gone with the Waistline anyone?) and settled by the window to enjoy the enthusiastic crowd outside.

SWIRL
We pondered upon ordering a full wine bottle in an IV bag on a pole, but settled with a butter milkshake instead. Single Bypass Burger and a ½ Pound Coronary Dog also sounded plentiful for us. Before ordering, we took our time to go through the elaborate menu with tinker-bell sized pinup girls all over, and quirky writing throughout. Note, their only vegetarian option is cigarettes - keeping it healthy!
As we looked around, there were plenty of cheaply created themed props suspended from the ceiling. To be honest, we though that was a bit too carney and overdone. This included a large oversized pill bottle and a stethoscope.

PALATE
The food was quick to come, so we jumped right in. The ½ Pound Coronary Dog came with added bacon, chili, onion and cheese. It was too salty for our tastebuds, with the bacon dark and over-fried. Frankly, we did not enjoy the dish much, not to mention is was very messy to eat. Our Single Bypass Burger on the other hand was more pleasant. It had chili, onion, tomatoes, and cheese with meat full of cartilages and fat. Turned out to be predictably heavy and not over the top enjoyable. We expected a bit more for the amount of calories consumed, maybe a better patty and higher quality cheese could have made a difference here? But then again, this restaurant doesn’t pride itself in quality but in quantity of calories consumed. The Vanilla Milkshake came with a piece of butter on top, which we thought was a joke, but no… In reality it was very buttery, felt like half a pound was used to make the thick drink. It actually tasted quite good, but we could not finish even one between the both of us. The fries were nothing spectacular, could be interesting to try it with deep fried in pure lard for $2 extra maybe.

FINISH
Heart Attack Burger is not without controversy and prides to hold the Guinness Book World Record for highest calorie burger (~10k calories). Waitresses dressed in tight nurse costumes and an occasional doctor were setting up the mood further aided by the corny custom music videos playing on a loop.
It was a fun place to visit, but do not expect the meal of a lifetime. It is an experience more than a meal. Also, make sure to leave your meal unfinished for a chance to get spanked too! Ma cherie had to take advantage of the opportunity to be spanked in the middle of the restaurant with a wooden paddle. Don’t underestimate those waitresses, they probably taking baseball seasons - we saw a great swing. Might have burned a few calories by the burn on our butts plus, there was the public embarrassment part…
In an odd way, Heart Attack Grill epitomized the essence of Vegas for us - glitz and glamour with a touch of shallowness and no shame. We would recommend everyone to visit this place at least once.

PS: one more scale was indoor and much better calibrated – do not think you just gained 20-30 pounds by walking in.
PPS: ma cherie felt quite feverish after, with her heart beating faster. Might have been a good idea to keep those patient robes, after all!

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