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Toronto

I usually never get around to writing about my trips until weeks (or months) later, by which time I’ve forgotten all the details. But I got home today and I want to get my thoughts down before they leak out of my head. I had some really great meals, although Toronto is extremely pricey for both food and drink and there seems to be a service issue.
Here’s a rundown of my best meals.

Black Hoof

It’s a small restaurant, west of Chinatown, that specializes and all things offal. For the rest of the week, Dr. Marc would dutifully recite what we dined on and looks ranging from confusion (you can eat that?) to disgust (ewww, gross) would follow. We shared 5 small plates:

Duck liver mousse – the light, creamy and velvety texture was unbelievable. It was served with a pear sauce. Dr. Marc thought it was a great “pearing”.
Roasted bone marrow – it’s meat butter and always delicious (however, Lola’s was better)
Pork carnitas tacos - good, but uninteresting
Pork cotechino – I’m not even sure what this was, but I was unimpressed. It tasted like minced pork with skin on top. It came with green strawberries, which I was interested in trying, but also didn’t like.
Tripe and sausage stew w/ poached duck egg – didn’t I learn anything at Coppa? Stew on a hot summer day is not a good plan! I’m sure in January, it would be great. Well, the tripe was a little soggy.
Tongue on brioche – it was like the best sandwich you’ve ever had in a Jewish deli. Marc said he felt like he got “French kissed” by the sandwich (as you can tell, he was on fire with the witticisms).

There were more interesting items like pea, brain raviolis and beef heart tartare, but even I wasn’t feeling like either of those dishes. Our waitress was friendly, but the service was disjointed and super slow.

Kenzo Ramen

It’s a small noodle joint, a few blocks north of the Sheraton Centre, with a line out the door to get a table. I had the Tonkatsu Ramen which the newspaper reviewer described as “drinking liquid pork chop,” I figured I can’t go wrong with that. It was not Ming Tsai Amazing, but it was pretty dang good. It was like a hug from the inside out, exactly what I needed at the time. The noodles were tender yet springy and the broth was filled with porky goodness, as advertised.

Pho Hung

Okay, I needed more than one day of noodle comfort, so Dr. Marc and I hit Pho Hung, a place that was both in my guidebook and recommended to me by someone. We shared a XL bowl of beef pho, a rice dish with bbq beef, pork and egg and fresh shrimp rolls. The restaurant makes you write down the order yourself on the check, which I thought was hysterical. Marc, helpfully, proceeded to also write the prices in, too.

The pho was not amazing, but good and comforting enough to hit the spot. I enjoyed the shrimp rolls and the rice plate, also. The service was horrible, but the meal was inexpensive (for Toronto standards) and filling.

The Gabardine

I had a lovely breakfast here with Director Mike. It’s a great little space behind the Sheraton. I started with an excellent cinnamon roll – with a crispy exterior and a meltingly tender interior. My oatmeal was steel cut oats, and there was enough to feed me and two others, so unfortunately the ratio of fruit (bananas, strawberries and blueberries) to oatmeal was inadequate. Mike had the chicken sausage panini, which looked good and he said he enjoyed, but he picked at it and didn’t finish it, or the mircogreen salad that came with it. I’m still waiting for a blog worthy comment from him.

My problem with the Gabardine? The service was really awful. We needed to flag down our server 5 or 6 times just for water/coffee refills. That’s impressive for a restaurant that had one other table occupied. Plus, they refused to give me more than one packet of Equal at a time. I think I would stop in for the pastries, but go elsewhere for a sit down meal.

Oh, hot off the press. Mike says “horrible service, wonderful food. But overpowered by the company,” I’ll take that as a compliment?

Beer Bistro

I read about this place on Chow.com and then my friend, Kim Eng, told me about a great restaurant she went to twice and was going to a third time, and it turned out it was Beer Bistro. I went with Marc and his friends, Mark and Shona. I’m not a beer drinker, so I’m not really qualified to comment on that aspect of it, but the three of them seemed to enjoy their drinks and our waitress was super friendly and very knowledgeable about the different brews and seemed to make some good recommendations.

She started us off with complimentary fries, which were excellent, really crispy and flavorful. Shona asked why were they so good? I looked at the menu description – they were fried in a combination of beef and duck fat. Best of all, they came with homemade mayo and smoked ketchup.

They specialized in mussel bowls, with 7 or 8 different broth options (with recommended beer pairings. Marc and I shared an order of Brussels Mussels, which had affligem blonde, smoked sausage, tomato, hot chilis, fennel, parsley and garlic in the broth. Marc believes that these may be the best mussels he’s ever had. I thought they were delicious, but maybe not the *best*

Next we had duck confit corn dogs. How brilliantly delicious were they? Exactly as you would imagine deep fat fried, breaded duck confit to be. Yum!

For an entrée, we had the Saturday special – suckling pig with corn fritters and greens. The pork was moist and flavorful, but they missed the mark by not including some crispy pig skin. Come on, Beer bistro, I know you have it back in the kitchen, give me some! The corn fritters were a delightful surprise. Sweet and crispy, they tasted like fresh summer corn, but better. The fry station knows their job.

The excellent service was a nice change of pace. Our server was attentive and really seemed to know her food and beer. Prices were also quite reasonable for the food we were getting.

Rol San

Rol San is an all day dim sum café in Chinatown. There are no carts (you order off a menu). The downside is you don’t get to see all the goodies, the upside is everything is fresh and hot and you can get dim sum at midnight. I went with a group of eaters that ranged in their ability to be adventurous. Luckily, I had Ivanie with me, so I had a partner in crime to eat chicken feet and tripe with. We also got the usual suspects: har gau, shu mai, sticky rice, calamari, stuffed eggplant, other assorted dumplings, and spring rolls. I would say that the dim sum above average. Once you add the reasonable prices and the hours, I would give Rol San a thumbs up.

Congee Wong, Markham

I have no idea where Markham is. I just got in a minivan with Marc, Francis (his bridge partner from Erie), and Francis’s family for a midnight Chinese feast. We drove 25 minutes and pulled up in a strange enough location – a strip mall, adjacent to dozens of big box stores. But I had faith, and that faith was rewarded. Dish after dish appeared including: corn and chicken chowder, fried pork chops, soft shelled crabs, beef noodle dish, a chicken hot pot, two vegetable dishes. Everything was really delicious. The noodles were my favorite – every bite was like a ray of sunlight in to a dreary day, but the chops and hot pot were a close second and third. Anytime the Chang family beckons me from a minvan, I’m getting in.

Caplansky’s

One of my favorite meals in Montreal was at Schwartz’s for their smoked meat, so when I read about Caplansky’s and their “Famous smoked meat” I had to try it. I got a sandwich (7 oz.) and fries for $12 (CAN). The sandwich was fine, but not worthy of being called Famous. I guess I just have to go back to Montreal.


Pearl

Pearl screams tourist trap – it is a very upscale Chinese restaurant on the second floor of a mall, down on the harborside. It has a beautiful view, overlooking Lake Ontario. This usually means the restaurant doesn’t have to bother trying to make the food good, but, I read a really positive review, so I gave it a chance. I got an order or Har gau to go, so that I could sit by the water. It was shockingly expensive (6.50 CAN) but it was some of the best shrimp dumplings I’ve ever had. I think if you have the money to spend, it might be worth check out for a full meal.

Wow, I did a lot of eating... I think that’s the roundup, although it’s 1am, so I may have missed some places. More later, if I did. Anyone I dined with is encouraged to comment with their opinions.

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