Review:Toronto:Downtown:Sansotei Ramen

I dropped into this Ramen house around 11 am on a Tuesday morning, taking advantage of the fact that there wasn’t a crowd huddled around the door like you’d see during a Sylvester Stallone sighting.  The reasons for the mass crowds are threefold:

1.  It’s ramen and it’s Toronto.

2.  The place only holds about 30 people.

3.  The policy is wait outside because there’s no room inside.

The decor is plain.  The tables are bare.  The menu is a small laminated, folded card.  The tiny kitchen is barely visible in the back. No cliffhanger here…I followed my standard routine and ordered shio ramen with a side of gyoza dumplings.

The Ramen

It was quite a simple presentation, including green onion, noodles, a few bamboo shoots, pork belly and a softish boiled egg. It ignored the bells and whistles such as nori, pickled plums and goji berries. The broth was rich and full of pork flavor.  On one hand, it was not oversalted. On the other, it was a bit greasy which wasn’t  helped by the really fatty pork cut submerged in the broth.  The egg was cooked and seasoned well, the amount of onion and shoots were not enough and the noodles (ordered thick) were a bit starchy. In the end, it was a decent bowl and less than $9.

Shio Ramen
Shio Ramen

The Gyoza

The lipophilic  nature of Sansotei was evident again when I ordered the gyoza.  Four pieces  for $4.50 (I ate one before I remembered I didn’t take a picture) arrived Stallone style (slightly tanned and glistening with oil) and served with a tasty dipping sauce.   Despite being a bit greasy, the dough had a great texture (unlike Stallone  post Judge Dredd) in that it was not too chewy nor too crispy.  The filling was well seasoned and not watered down in a fashion similar to the plot of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

Gyoza
Gyoza

My Take

Sansotei is a small, simple eatery with an equally simple menu.  It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other ramens, but despite being a bit greasy,  the rich broth is flavorful enough and is not oversalted.  None of the broths are vegetarian. The gyoza were terrific although a quick wipe with a napkin wouldn’t hurt.  I really need to do a ramen power  ranking but as it stands Sansotei comes in Stallone style again (an underdog who  proves to be a serious contender).  In the end, it may not the be the Rocky of all ramen, but it sure isn’t  the Rhinestone  either.

Sansotei Ramen on Urbanspoon

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Review:Ottawa:Rockcliffe/Beechwood:Farb’s

It was a stormy, cold  night (that narrows it down to one of about 40 nights in the past couple of months) as I made the trek out to Farb’s in Ottawa.  Farb’s is a smallish, gimmick free place that focuses on the elegant presentation of standard bistro fare such as walleye (you think they’d call it pickerel, especially in the nation’s capital), chops, steaks and even Moo Goo Gai Pan for a little ethnic diversity. It’s a meat heavy menu with one vegetarian starter (a ubiquitous beet salad) and one main (risotto with trendy sunchoke and tomato jam).

Must

If this was a short rib, I’d like to see a long rib. It would probably look like that hunk of meat that tips Fred’s car over at the beginning of the Flintstones.  The meat was tasty and tender and abundant.  It sat upon a blissful mess of beans and root veggies and a jovial jus. I’m not sure who Rodney Blake is (I’m assuming it’s not the Aussie rugby player also called Rodzilla) , but his wilted greens are pretty darn good. I would of picked up the bone and savagely tore meat of the bone but….

1. My guest would likely think I was even crazier than I am (after all I do take pictures of everything I eat and interrogate waitstaff like a defense lawyer).

2. There was so much meat I probably couldn’t lift it or get anywhere close to the bone even if Adam Richman was helping me out.

3.  It only looks funny and appropriate on cartoons (how do they clean the bone in one fell swoop?).

Short Rib $30
Short Rib $30

Maybe

With a price just below double digits (restaurant soup prices in the past five years have escalated well above standard inflation rates), Farb’s does a decent one. This one was a carrot soup topped with a bit of salty. melty cheese and flavoured oil to offset the sweetness. The rawness of the carrot was evident and it was seasoned well.  Overall it was a good cure for the wintertime blues.

Market Soup $9
Market Soup $9

My Take

This is my second visit to Farb’s and both have been solid.  It’s a quaint, family run bistro with a focus on well-prepared food.  Starters range from $9-18 with most mains around $30. The wine selection is average and the dessert selection is somewhat minimal.  It’s not a place that will blow your mind with creativity or the use of unmentionable animal products, but you can get a classic dish done well. It comes accompanied with an intangible but important touch of family pride which is often missing from other establishments. In other words, when your with the Farber’s, you’ll have a yabba dabba doo time, a dabba doo time, you’ll have a gay old time.

 

 

Farbs Kitchen & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Review:Parkdale:Porzia

It makes sense…add a little Italian to Parkdale. They already have tacos, lobsters and ssam. Why not some capocolla too?  Even better, make it tapas.  Porzia has recently opened in the proximity of Grand Electric and Chantecler and promises edgy food in a  edgy environment.  Most of the menu focuses on aggressive uses of chicken liver, tripe, sweetbreads and other  delicious body parts served as is or concocted into charcuteries.   There are a few safe items on the menu in the event that one is not fond of animal parts used for things other than running.

Must

The citrus salad ($11) was the easiest dish to understand without waiter interpretation.  However, the thought of  olives and oranges playing together in a salad was a bit odd.  The chilis added a great kick and the abundant parsley added a little green.  I suppose the olive might have been an attempt to add a bit of salt while deviating from the normal addition of some salty cheese  but it was rather unnecessary.   Overall, it had a freshness that offered a refreshing option to many of the other dishes on the menu.

Citrus Salad
Citrus Salad

Maybe

The crostini ($12) were highly recommended by the otherwise preoccupied waiter.  The sausage was the delicious mainstay but was covered with a rapini mixture that was highly oversalted, especially when topped with cheese.  I was left to scrape the roughage off the remaining two pieces and discard it like an overcooked pizza crust so I could just  focus on the meat.

Crostini
Crostini

The eggplant involtini ($14) was one of the few vegetarian dishes on the menu although it was priced like it had some kind of creature in it.  It was served hot and the eggplant was spot on in terms of texture.  From a flavour perspective, it too was a little heavy on the salt and a  little more of the advertised roasted garlic would have been nice.

Eggplant Involtini
Eggplant Involtini

Mundane

Maybe I didn’t have the balls to go for the tripe, so  I went with another set of balls and opted for the classic polpetta ragu ($15).  They were simply presented with crostini and sauce.  Once again, there was an abundance of salt which almost made it unbearable.  It was like taking  tylenol; I only ate two and needed copious amounts of water to wash it down.

Polpetta Ragu
Polpetta Ragu

I’ve come to the conclusion that a $12 cocktail better make my meatballs tingle.  I tried with the grappa sour (grappa, lemon, cardamon and egg white)…no tingling…just another example of me falling for the old put an egg in anything and I’ll order it trick.

Grappa Sour
Grappa Sour

My Take

I’m not sure if the abundant use of salt or the big prices left a worse taste in my mouth.  The staff seemed  a bit unfazed by my woes as there were no inquiries about my half eaten dishes (I was only asked when I got my coat and after I paid the bill)  if there were any issues with the food.  By then it didn’t matter. With an abundance of other small-plated ethnic choices available within a few blocks, I’ll get that tingly feeling elsewhere and leave the overpriced Italian fare to the other parts of town.   Plus, I know a lot of places that serve a mean fruit salad.

Porzia on Urbanspoon

Review:Richmond Station

I was minding my own business when I checked my twitter account and was teased by Richmond Station challenging me to come in and try the venison and wild boar tourtiere for lunch. I responded with a “maybe I will” and next thing I knew they were saving me a seat for after my appointment.  When I arrived, I was greeted by name and sat promptly at the chef’s table.

The $19 prix fixe lunch was an easy choice…french onion soup with that alluring meat pie…..

Must

French onion soup is difficult to perfect.  The tendency with most is to rely on salty broth and an abundance of cheese as the main flavour.  This broth was light and delicate and seasoned with flavours much more robust than just salt. The Gruyere cheese was the perfect  amount of taste and meltiness on top. It was quite easy to finish the modest portion without any ill feeling of consuming too much sodium.

French Onion Soup
French Onion Soup

I watched the chef struggle a bit with plating the delicate tourtiere, so it was a bit messy.  Despite this,  the meat pie was easily the best thing I’ve eaten so far in 2013.  The crust was flaky and the large chunks of venison with the ground boar was a blissful textural contrast.  The seasonings once against avoided from the tendency to rely heavily on salt and instead promoted the flavours of  fresh herbs reminiscent of my  Grandma’s Christmas pies. The frisse salad tossed with apples and citrus dressing was a great compliment which, coupled with the pickled vegetables,  brought some crunch and tartness to compliment the main.

Venison and Boar Tourtiere
Venison and Boar Tourtiere

Maybe

In a smart move, Richmond Station offers their regular dessert menu for only $5 during lunch.  I couldn’t resist.  At the advise of the very helpful waitstaff, I opted for the lemon posset which was accompanied with a poached pear, blueberry compote, chamomile foam and meringue.  The presentation was a bit odd as it lacked any real colour since the blueberry was hidden beneath the meringue.  The posset itself could of been a bit more intense in its lemon flavour  to offset the sweetness of the other components. The pear was delicious as a stand alone but was a bit confusing with the rest of the dish.   The chamomile foam was magic  with a wonderful mouth feel and subtle tea taste. In the end, it was a pleasant finish.

Lemon Posset
Lemon Posset

My Take

The first time I went to Richmond station the lunch concept was still under construction.  Based on this experience, I’d get off at this stop anytime, especially if the tourtiere sticks around.  The tempting twitter taunt materialized into an experience characterized by the trinity of terrific service (both virtual and in person), a smart location and the reasonable $19 prix fixe lunch menu.  The whole 3 -course lunch  was served in less than 45 minutes despite the fact the restaurant was full and offered  a spectacle highlighted by a kitchen run with impressive efficiency.   Let’s call it a great dinner and a movie for less than $30. I even got to see a great trailer with the delivery of an impressive pig by a proud butcher for later use. I’m sure it made for quite the sequel.

Review:Toronto:Parkdale:Oddseoul

The retro tribute that adorns Parkdale continues with the introduction of Oddseoul, the newish street food joint serving Asian inspired snacks.  Only identified by a red, white and blue barber’s pole, I entered a long, narrow room only lit by a glowing red “prescription” sign and two white signs that looked like they were stolen from an 80s drive-in theatre which display the modest sized food and drink menu. I was seated against the wall and had a  clear view of the kitchen where 3 or 4 cooks were busily buzzing around. It was steady for late on a Monday night, but the service was  like trying to get a haircut the week before school.

In addition to the signs which likely once announced the arrival of “ET” back in 1982, a  printed menu was handed to me on a crinkled sheet that  looked like  a few dozen people had spilled something on it earlier in the night….or week.

Elusive Odd Seoul Menu
Elusive Odd Seoul Menu

Must

The squash poutine ($7) was such a refreshing change from for others which grace most menus.  The cubed squash was the perfect base in both size and texture to complement  the salty, sour and tangy toppings. The subtle sweetness offered a foundation that  rounded off the dish.  The curry gravy added spicy dimensions that just worked.  Lastly, it was served mouth-burning hot, a refreshing change from most poutine which arrive at the table in a semi-congealed state before you take the first bite.

Squash Poutine ($7)
Squash Poutine ($7)

Maybe

Bourbon drinks are the fad right now and I equate a good one to the experience of jumping in a cold pool.  It should hurt a bit at first (I find a first sip of bourbon like a slap in the face) but once you get used to it, you don’t wanna get out. The Bulleit Smash fell a bit short on both fronts and was more like jumping in a luke warm pool. It lacked shock value.  In other words,  I didn’t bond with the drink in a love/hate relationship…it was more like an amicable friendship.

Bulleit Smash ($11)
Bulleit Smash ($11)

The “loosey” ($5) was a saucy, small burger in sandwich form topped with kimchi.  It was a tasty and  messy few bites.  I was hoping for more of a punch with the kimchi but it tasted more like a a Wendy’s quarter pounder in the sense that it had some predominant ketchup and mayo type flavours so I was left buzzing with a fast foodish high.

The "Loosey" $5
The “Loosey” $5

Mundane

I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of pork buns.  It’s a dish where the bun is as important as the filling.  The Oddseoul’s offering was  anemic and sticky. Inside was a whole lot of filling. It was almost impossible to eat.  The  barbeque sauce was perfectly spiced but overwhelmingly tangy which  took over the rest of the dish. Throw that sauce on a chicken wing and now we’re talking.

Steamed  Bun ($5)
Steamed Bun ($5)

My Take

What’s with Steigl? It’s popping up quicker than a Han brothers restaurant itself.  I missed the memo announcing it was the new foodie beer of 2013 much to the dismay of past foodie bandwagon favorites including  Heineken, Stella, Dos Equis  and of course, Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Oddseoul is another invention by the Han brothers.  It’s prescription is for aggressively flavoured asian inspired street food and modern cocktails in a vibrant  setting.  The ambiance features  loud hip-hop music and equally old school decor in the form of bear heads and drive-in movie signs.  Although the food was tasty, most of the dishes had  a monotonous yet “polar” and unbalanced flavour profile (that’s my witty reference to the barber’s pole).  On that note,  I’m not sure whether I’ll be coming back for a trim every eight weeks or so.

Oddseoul on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Dundas West:The Hogtown Cure

Imagine a place where you can grab a coffee, pop open your computer, enter a clever password (I won’t give it away but it has something to do with a very tasty pork product) and expose yourself to seasons of scents which go from smoked vegetables to pickled onions to freshly baked bread. Welcome to the Hogtown Cure, a newish joint open at the corner of Dufferin and Dundas. Part cafe, part deli and part grab and go, I was keen to sit down and see if it would cure my wintertime blues.

The Hogtown Cure Interior
The Hogtown Cure Interior

Perks

Although the hot beverages are a bit  pricy, Hogtown Cure offers a wide variety of coffee elixirs, notably the red eye and black eye featuring one and two shots of espresso in a cup of drip coffee respectively.  Both the coffee and espresso had a balanced tone and were of good quality and I’m pretty sure that the red eye even gave me wings.

The Hogtown Reuben was a unique spin on the classic sandwich.  It was proportional from an ingredient standpoint. The homemade pastrami  was super tender and reminded me of slow-cooked roast beef  as opposed to the boiled, shriveled balls of meat from Shopsy’s I associated with this type of meat during my youth.  The brine and the seasoning was subtly appropriate.    The sauerkraut and cheese were flavourful.  My only issue was that the bread was toasted and not fried on the grill. Call me picky but I crave the chewy texture of some lightly grilled fresh bread as part of  a hot sandwich vs one made with crunchy of toast.

The mushroom soup was good as well.  It has the earthiness of….well…earth.  Not dirt, earth.  The mushroom was the star and the surrounding broth was neither too flimsy nor too intense.

The Hogtown Reuben with Mushroom Soup
The Hogtown Reuben with Mushroom Soup

Sludge

Although I enjoyed the constant olfactory stimulation, I left smelling a little like a smoker…meaning a food smoker, not a chain smoker.  My wafting scent coupled with my unwavering stare after sucking back a red-eye may have had resulted in a few odd glances my way afterwards, but I really didn’t care. I had a gut full of reuben and was strolling into a strong head wind which aired me out like Grandma’s pantaloons on a brisk summer day.

In most cases, I have an unnatural admiration for slaw and wasn’t fond of Hogtown’s offering.  I found it had the monotone taste of wine vinegar which overwhelmed the harmony of sweet, sour and sulfur present in a great slaw.

The Final Sip

I love the concept of this place.  It’s kind of like hanging out at your mom’s place doing work  all afternoon while she’s slaving away at the stove concocting a plethora of her favorites.  Your attempts at intellectual advancement are challenged  by sultry sensations of savory sundries.  The coffee is decent, the food is pretty good and you can find an electrical outlet here and there. You can even grab a few hundred grams of unique local cheese,  few slabs of duck bacon or a confit leg on the way out. Let’s see mom serve that with her scalloped potatoes.

The Hogtown Cure on Urbanspoon