Meni Midi Meh

I had a business lunch in the Mount Sinai hospital area, so I needed a place close by. I have walked past Midi back numerous times and figured it would a good time to give it a try.  I showed up from my reservation and was handed  the $18 summerlicious menu which offered the standard starter, entree and dessert.  It was the only menu available but I wasn’t super upset since most of the regular items (most of which were French inspired) were also featured.

It has a small interior that is quite modest and rather worn down.  It doesn’t hold a whole lot of people and it was manned by one waiter who also seemed to be responsible for ordering the restaurant’s food supply as well.

I started with the soup of the day which was split pea. It was a decent consistency but was rather starchy and slightly underseasoned.  The fish special was a seared tuna served with a mango salsa and frites.  The tuna was cooked rare as requested but was horribly underseasoned.  The salsa was a mess…overly sweet with no contrast whatsoever. The fries were marginally warm.  Dessert was a vanilla cardamon creme brulee which I was pretty excited about given my love for that spice in a dessert.  The flavour was there but the consistency of the creme brulee was a little clumpy.

My Take

Lunch at Midi was like a trip back in time.  The worn, unwelcoming decor matched the equally outdated food.  All three components of the $18 summerlicious menu were mediocre at best.  In stark contrast to Caesar’s triumphant Veni, Vidi, Vici war cry, foodies flocking here would likely wimper Meni, Midi, Meh.

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McRamyun (or Ramyun?) : There’s a Good Chance Ronald Showed up with a Louisville Slugger

I was on a lunch break recently and decided to check out Baldwin village for lunch.  Although I was still lamenting the closure of Yakitori Bar (i still swear they had some of the best soup going), I was intrigued to try McRamyun, the new ramen bar that occupied the space.

I knew little of the place when I walked in but appreciated the fact that a ramen bar exists which doesn’t involve the hot, tight quarters that exist with similar eateries elsewhere in the city. It has maintained the interior of Yakitori bar complete with a large bar and spacious tables.

At first glance it was clear the menu offers one of the largest variety of ramen (almost 20) in the city. In addition, you can choose your own adventure by adding your choice of toppings unlike other places tend to dictate the condiments of each bowl. Usually I order dumplings and soup as a benchmark in ramen joints, so i killed two birds with one stone and ordered the mandu ramen which offered the dumplings right in the soup. As I was waiting, I went to the washroom located in the old Odd Seoul space next door.  That’s when I made afrightening discovery.  The room was filled with skids of packaged ramen noodles.  I felt like I was in a university dorm room.  When I returned to the table (the washrooms were quite nice by the way) the soup arrived.  The broth was thin and spicy and the noodles originated from one of the packages in the back room.  The mandu were deep fried prior to being thrown in the soup which I found odd from a texture perspective.  They did not have remarkable flavour. The broth lacked the complexity of other places and was seasoned primarily by salt and heat. The egg (available for an additional  $0.50 per half..I got a whole egg) was cooked nicely and was the best part of the dish. They forgot the slices of pork belly I ordered so I can’t comment. It would have been and extra $2.49 which would have made the total price of the ramen bowl a staggering $12.50, a price which would make David Chang shake his head.

Mandu Ramyun $8.95 plus $1.00 for egg (pork belly missing)
Mandu Ramyun $8.95 plus $1.00 for egg (pork belly missing)

My Take

Burgers and ramen are probably the two hottest trends in the Toronto right now.  The burgers range from patties smashed on the flattop to those stuffed with short rib and are price accordingly.  Until now, most ramen has been prepared according to traditional recipes complete with homemade noodles and thick pork broth which has simmered for hours.  Sure, I’ve made all kinds of ramen; from following an old school recipe to cracking open a dried package after a drunken night out in university but I never thought I’d see the latter served in a restaurant.

Then it made sense. I should have clued in that the name McRamyun said it all.  This was fast food…the McDonald’s version of ramen.  What confused me, however, was the fact that prices were not much lower that traditional ramen.  I mean a quarter pounder isn’t $20, right?

I looked at the table tent on the table, saw the following sign and laughed.  How do they get away with this?

Clear copyright infringement
Clear copyright infringement

A Sapporo pitcher and McChicken wings for $24.95?  McChicken? The signage outside, the menu, the packaged food..everything made me think that at any minute Ronald McDonald would show up with a Louisville Slugger ready to kick ass and take names later. Interestingly enough, there was a profile picture update on the restaurant’s webpage two weeks ago which displayed their new logo which simply said  Ramyun.  I wondering if that change was proactive of may have had something to do with a few broken windows and a pissed off clown.
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A Noodle Face in the Crowd not as Pretty as Dirk Benedict or Bradley Cooper

There are a number of references to famous faces (and maybe not so many) I have come across in my travels:

• Two-face is a notorious villain in the Batman franchise.

• Faceman (the Face), played by Dirk Benedict and later Bradley Cooper, was a member of the quartet which made up the A-team.

• My Brave Face was Paul McCartney’s attempt to import and adapt his immense musical talent into the mundane late 80’s pop scene

• Furnace Face was a 90’s Canadian Indy band who put out such songs as “We Love you, Tipper Gore” with an anti-censorship theme and “She Thinks She’s Fat” which addresses the body image image which plagues to this day.

The newest addition to the list is Noodle Face, the recently opened Chinese restaurant in Baldwin Village.  Like many of it’s neighbours, it’s a no frills eatery with relatively inexpensive meal choices served with the ethnic flare of the far east. The hand-drawn sign is almost invisible among the other makeshift ones lining the street. Inside is no different.  Concrete brick walls on one side and a hand drawn mural on the other, plywood counters and a large, messy blackboard highlight the 40 seat interior.  I arrived around lunch and managed to get a seat by the window (in fact probably the only seat by the window). I was offered a tea which was served in an aged enamel cup as a ratty menu was presented containing all sorts of traditional Chinese noodles and soups as opposed to the more common ramen and pho.  There is also a list of signature and specialty dishes ranging from pancakes to perfect chicken legs and secret buns you have to drop in and try.

Noodle Face Subtle Signage
Noodle Face Subtle Signage
Tea at Noodle Face
Tea at Noodle Face

The “Chef Q handmade dumplings” is a broth soup made with seaweed,  scallions, a few glass noodles and the aforementioned dumplings.  It was very different from the ramen and pho  in that the broth was predominately sour versus salty. It was a bit of an acquired taste that got rather pleasant as you ate more of it.  When you ate something else and went back, however, you were caught off guard again because of the sourness.  The soup dumplings were thick and tasty and  filled with flavourful, seasoned pork. The plentiful onions added a nice bite.

Chef Q Dumpling Soup
Chef Q Handmade Dumpling Soup $6

 

The dummy salad came with a choice of green beans or broccoli with no description other than that. I had no idea what a dummy salad was so I ordered it. Basically it was a plate of cold beans dressed lightly and topped with sesame seeds.  The beans were not the freshest I have had but the dressing was subtle and refreshing.  Otherwise, it was rather unremarkable.

Dummy Salad (Green Beans)  $4
Dummy Salad (Green Beans) $4

The menu is in no way modest.  Case and point is the Rou-Jai-Mo, which is described as follows:  “Is mo a bread? Bun? Bao or Nann? Figure it out yourself for our top-rated small food.”  Intrigued, I ordered one. I expected a soft pork bun but instead got something that I would describe as a cross between a crunchy english muffin and a tea biscuit. It was  stuffed with meat which resembled canned flakes of ham seasoned with cilantro in both appearance and taste.  It wasn’t unpleasant but it  a was secret that wasn’t as juicy as anticipated.

Rou-Jai-Mo
Rou-Jai-Mo $3

 

My Take

Noodle face co. is a new joint with a no frills appearance that fits well with the Baldwin Street scene.  Instead of duplicating the numerous ramen and pho houses, it offers unique fare more indicative of China than Korea or Japan. The menu is diverse and cryptic which either offers no description of items or very detailed warnings, precautions and promises.  Although nothing blew my mind, I wasn’t too disappointed.  If anything, the food is unique and the price point reasonable.   Noodle Face isn’t pretty like Templeton Peck.  It doesn’t aim to conform to the popularity of everybody else like at a late eighties Paul McCartney song. If anything, it’s kind of like Furnaceface; refreshingly unpredictable while making  bold statements on a budget…but not for everybody.

 

 

Noodle Face Co on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Baldwin Village:Kekou Gelato House

I stumbled upon this quiet gelato house while on a stroll along Baldwin Street in Toronto.  It’s hard to find anything online about Kekou other than a humble website which appears hidden among the relics of the Little Video Shop reviews during  a google search. Gone are the copies of John Hughes and Die Hard movies but the gelato remains..this time infused with Asian flavours synonymous with  the Baldwin Street experience.   Take, for example, the variety posted on their website:

Ginger Milk
Cashew
Peanut Sesame
Black Sesame
Jasmine Tea
Vanilla Lotus Seed
Green Bean Coconut
Vietnamese Coffee
Red Bean White Chocolate
Jackfruit
Durian
Lemon Chrysanthemum
Guava Plum Salt
Mango
Spicy Mango
Strawberry-Lychee

The last five are dairy free. I’m unsure if all  (dairy or non) are available all the time but the variety was great when I popped in. Sampling is available, so I tasted the durian, intrigued by whether the stinky fruit would translate into an icy treat. It worked.  In the end, I opted for Spicy Mango and Strawberry-Lychee together in a small cup for  $3.75.  The mango  was creamy despite no dairy (I have a friend of mine who swears no dairy will do wonders for my skin).  It had an ever so subtle spicy kick.  The strawberry-lychee was icy good, well balanced and refreshing.

Strawberry-Lychee and Spicy Mango Gelato $3.25
Strawberry-Lychee and Spicy Mango Gelato $3.25

The store itself is as humble as the website. Hand-written tags and an old school ice cream parlour sign hang in contrast within the otherwise pristine and modern decor. I’d like to witness the Effe Vertical mixer in action in their open kitchen but it was dormant during my visit.

My Take

In a city where the gelato juggernauts seem to reside in midtown, the resurrection of the cold treat is a welcome addition to Baldwin street, this time with an Asian flavour twist.  It’s a quiet recluse and although I can’t walk out with a copy of the Accidental Spy (great ice cream scene by the way) , it might end up a quiet little spot I hit during my regular jaunts up and down University Avenue and if the heat happens to make me a little smelly, I’ll just blame the durian.

Kekou Gelato House on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Baldwin Village:Yakitori Bar

A fedora and a pink cardigan.  That’s how owner Sang Kim is depicted on the website and that’s exactly how he appears in person as he stands behind the bar as music fills the air at the boisterous Yakitori bar in Baldwin village. I half expected to see a karaoke machine and wouldn’t have  surprised if Mr. Kim himself were first up with  a stunning rendition of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start the Fire” or “Mr. Roboto” by Styx .

Yakitori is a fusion of the izakaya and pop-up restaurant concepts taking Toronto by storm.  The drink menu includes 10 or so types of sake, some of which are also offered in a number of cocktails. I opted for a jubilee (sake/gin/muddled berries).  It’s nice to see a well conceived and tasty drink for less than $8 which can rival cocktails up to twice the price in other places.   There are a few beer on tap and some wine choices as well.

Jubilee Cocktail ($7.96)
Jubilee Cocktail ($7.96)

As for the food, the menu is presented in the format of a  Bad Boy furniture ad.  Daily specials and notifications of kimchi battles are plastered throughout the one pager.  As for content, the mainstays are bbq meats typical of the yakitori concept with a few korean infusions including bibimbap,  kimchi and mundoo.

Must

I skirted over the fact that the cheeseburger came with soup and salad and was pleasantly surprised to see a bowl of pumpkin carrot soup arrive.  It was presented at “perfect soup temperature”*. Despite the main ingredients, the soup was not over sweet, was seasoned beautifully and managed to keep the integrity of the fresh ingredients through both texture and taste.

*- Perfect soup temperature is defined as not mouth-burning yet hot enough to endure the time it takes to consume the last bite.

Pumpkin soup (served with cheeseburger)
Pumpkin soup (served with cheeseburger)

The  kimchi flight (see picture below) features 3 generations of kimchi (1 day, 2 weeks and 3 months old)  appeared to be a bit of a gimmick until you tried it.  Like a grandfather, father and son, each had similarities yet definite differences in taste.  The elder kimchi’s flavour  was smoky and full.  The middle offering had a modest bite but was still juicy and ripe.  The youngin’  was fresh and crispy yet still intense.  Despite the small quantities, the taste intensity made it next to impossible to finish all three even despite  my attempt to scatter it among my other dishes.

Maybe

In a city where burger shops seem to outnumber Starbucks, this mainstay needs something to stand out. Yakatori’s attempt is bulgogi (Korean beef)  served on a fresh roll and topped with a bit of caramelized kimchi and the more traditional, as far as burger’s go,  lettuce, tomato and cheese.   It wouldn’t rank among the best burgers in Toronto but it’s a solid sandwich.  The accompanying salad was pleasant although the dressing was a little flat.  A little more acid might have helped.

Kimchi Flight ($3.95) and Bulgogi Cheeseburger ($9.95)
Kimchi Flight ($3.95) and Bulgogi Cheeseburger ($9.95)

The BBQ eel off the grill was a nice few bites. It was moist and covered with a sweet sauce that nicely complemented the powerful taste of the eel.  I found it a little pricy at $6.25 but for a solo diner the quantity was sufficient.   Throw this in front of a group however, and the next thing you know singing battles to Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” may settle who gets the last piece.

BBQ Eel ($6.25)
BBQ Eel ($6.25)

My Take

 I like the vibe of Yakitori bar.  It maintains the ethnic flare of Baldwin village but not at the expense of drab and downtrodden decor.  It is fresh and clean and the food is fun. Although I went at down time, I imagine the night crowd can bring some energy without the need for half-naked wasabi fights or singing line cooks.   There is a variety of snacks that will appeal to most palates. There’s even some decent choices for vegetarians and gluten free eaters.  Cheapish cocktails, choices for the peckish and starving alike and kimchi older than Psy’s shelf life makes Yakatori a place with staying power….which may be more than I can say about a pink cardigan. Gun Bae, Mr. Kim!

Yakitori Bar and Seoul Food Co. on Urbanspoon