R&D: Rebel and Demon, Research and Development, Rad and Deficient

In a previous blog, I outlined my Masterchef tryout in some detail.  Despite my failure to impress the producers, I watched the show and was happy to see Eric Chong win.  I was equally happy to see something tangible come from his win;  a new restaurant in the perilous region of Chinatown.  R&D is a partnership with the mercurial Alvin Leung, who’s blue hair makes old ladies and smurfs alike quite envious.  The restaurant’s concept is one of polarity and contrast. Our bubbly waitress promised flavours which ran the gamut of tastes and flavours with every bite.  The name R and D refers to the Rebel and Demon personas of the owners and is a play on the fact they were both engineers before finding their true vocation.  Adding to the polarity is Eric’s calm demeanor coupled with the mad science antics of his partner.

I asked the enthusiastic waitress for menu recommendations.  She recommended pretty much everything on the menu but in particular raved about he CSB buns. They cook them hourly and getting one might be synonymous with scoring a Black Friday deal.  Once out of the oven, the waitstaff wrestle for them in the hope they can secure them for the patrons at their tables. I drank the Kool-aid and insisted that we secure some of this precious loot. Did we manage to get them?????

STAY TUNED

The drink list comprises of Asian inspired potent potables derived from a collection of traditional cocktails.  The Whisky sour is splashed with  lemongrass, coriander, pepper and yuzu liqueur.  The pina colada is served as boozy bubble tea. The 510 ceasar (which I ended up ordering), was made with garlic and mushroom infused vodka and seasoned with hoison Worcestershire sauce.  Mushroom flavour was prominent and heat from the chili sauce was a little shy. The drink was topped with Nori which added a pleasant element of unami.  All in all, it was a good Caesar but was a little small in volume which probably helped to intensify the aforementioned flavours.

510 Caesar $14
510 Caesar $14

The first dish to arrive was Eric’s Curry.  Beef brisket sat in a pool of curry sauce and mustard greens. It was brilliantly unique.  A little salt and sweet and a lot of sour and heat made this great to eat (that’s poetry for you left brained science types).  At the time, the dish came with no medium to absorb the sauce (a true engineering flaw) which really was shameful considering how good the sauce was. Maybe we can call it an early oversight since  it appears based on the website the dish now comes with coconut rice. Probably the best dish of the night.

Eric's Curry $20
Eric’s Curry $20

Next was the octopus which was served with eggplant and choy sum chimichurri. The presentation was a little sad but the octopus was nicely prepared and finished with a decent char.  The eggpplant was clever as a replacement to the normal routine of potatoes or olives and the chimichurri was  deliciously unorthadox yet had a familiar flavour I couldn’t quite pinpoint but wanted more.

Octopus $14
Octopus $14

Shortly after we received the Tom Yum Little Dragon buns ($6). I imagine that Thai flavours in a Chinese bun may be considered as engineerial as calling a soup dumpling a dragon bun but in the end they hit the mark on flavour and were a pleasant bite.

Tom Yum Dragon Buns $6
Tom Yum Dragon Buns $6

I was a little reluctant to try the lobster chow mein ($25) but my colleague talked me into it. Despite a reasonably sized  portion of lobster, it was horribly predictable and had no wow factor at all.

Lobster Chow Mein $25
Lobster Chow Mein $25

The one platter were ordered was the general saunders’ chicken served with  kung pao sauce, sichuan maple syrup, and HK egg waffles.  The chicken was nicely seasoned and super moist.  The kung pao sauce was delicious and I think the maple syrup is probably an acquired taste but I took the advice of the waitress and mixed the two together which created a mixture which satisfied a number of taste sensations.  The waffle portion was a little skimpy but complemented the chicken well in their spin of this traditional southern dish.

General Sanders' chicken $25
General Sanders’ chicken $25

At this point there a bit of a mad scramble around the kitchen which suggested one thing..the buns were ready.  Although I was getting rather full, I couldn’t resist the urge to indulge and our waitress, like a trooper, emerged with an order.  The pork filling was a bit scant a certainly played second fiddle to the delicious bread.  They were delightfully warm and just a little sweet and filled my need for gimmickry nicely.

CSB Buns $8
CSB Buns $8

At this point I was quite stuffed but another colleague showed up and ordered the beef tartare.  The spin was the son and law egg with the sauce served on top of the beef.  I had mixed feelings about this one, probably beacuse I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to this dish in particular. I think the beef should be the star and thought the sauce, although matching nicely with the egg,  masked the flavour of the beef a little too much.

Steak Tartare $17
Steak Tartare $17

She also ordered the scallop which was served with hot sauce, chinese greens and sichuan hollandaise. It was hard to put my finger on it, but the dish lacked balance.  The heat and bitterness was prominent but it lack sweetness. Maybe the thought was that the scallop would provide enough sweetness to offset the flavours of the hollandaise and Chinese greens. The scallop itself was cooked near perfectly other than lacking a good sear (which affected both its colour and what might have been a necessary caramelization). Personally, I would have kicked up the sweetness of the hollandaise or replaced it all together.

Scallops $23
Scallops $23

My Take

The Asian fusion concept of R&D is certainly a better fit for Spadina than Strata 241 was. It is a well calculated project with all the fixings of a nouveau Toronto eatery; celebrity chefs, old school rap “fusion food”.  I was surprised a bit by Eric’s kitchen demeanor.  He was extremely stoic and methodical, focusing more at the task at hand than shining in the limelight as Canada’s first masterchef winner. It’s like he was in a 2 hour mystery box challenge.  Like the show, there was a combination of great and not so good dishes. The curry was hands down the best dish of the night.  The chicken, octopus, buns and tartare were more than acceptable and the lobster chow mein and scallops were a bit of a train wreck.  Also like the show, there was gimmickry and hype lead by the promise of extreme flavours with every dish that didn’t always come to fruition.  Much like a television show, the success of R&D will depend on loyalists who will continue to go after trying it once for the novelty, Eric’s ongoing commitment and whether or not people will be able to tolerate Alvin Leung for anymore than a season of Masterchef.

R&D Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

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:Queen West:Banh Mi Boys

In many ways, the Toronto lunch melee has become as competitive as the dinner one.  As opposed to the drawn-out, cocktail promoting, upselling strategies of the evening scene, the lunch philosophy is a bit different…quick, fresh and cheap. There are a few main events on the midday fight card; the burger battle, the ramen rivalry, the sushi skirmish  and the burrito brawl.  I plan to tackle each of these battles separately but first there is a  need to discuss Banh Mi Boys, a popular lunch spot that beats by its own drum, offering real fusion  flavours unique to this Queen West take out joint.   I tried a variety of offerings including the Banh Mi (sandwich), tacos, steamed Bao (buns) and even a few fries.

Must

The Banh Mi sandwich threw me into blissful confusion.  A baguette topped with delicious tofu (yes those words can co-exist) and topped with a signature mix of pickled carrots, cukes and cilantro jilted my gustatory system with an offering of French, Mexican and Asian flavors.  The bread was surprisingly delicious, with a texture competitive with other gourmet sandwich offerings spattered throughout town.  It was comforting yet edgy but quite satisfying and at a decent price point of $5.49.

Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich
Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich

Maybe

Kimchi fries….hmmmm.  An interesting concept providing you like kimchi..and fries.  Supplemented with mayo (maybe a bit too much) and green onions, this $5.99 dish (although it is quite a sizable portion) is a definite deviation from standard poutine offered at almost every food truck, gastropub burger joint within a 15 km radius.  Kimchi is one of those “in moderation” type foods I could only take these fries in a small dose.  The mayo offered a creamy texture and rich flavor but the fact that the  meltiness of the cheese and heat of steaming gravy was missing  left me just a little sad.

Kimchi Fries
Kimchi Fries

The $3.99 taco was also unorthodox, moving away from the traditional mexican corn or wheat shell toward a thicker, stretchier chapati-type cortex surrounding, in this case, a southern type pulled pork filling and topped with the right amount of kimchi, crunchy cabbage and those incredible pickled carrots.

Tacos and Steamed Bun with Jicama Salad
Tacos and Steamed Bun with Jicama Salad

Mundane

Even a decent braised beef cheek and the magical carrot elixir couldn’t save the bao (see above) which tasted as if it might have been steamed a while ago. It lacked the melt-in-your-mouth-wonder-bread-dipped-in-a-bit-of-sugar taste I associate with a perfect steamed bun. Sigh.

My Take

I applaud Banh Mi Boys’ understanding of fusion cuisine to mean more than adding salsa to pizza and calling it Mexican-Italian.  This is one of the more unique lunches you can score along the busy Queen street corridor, mixing flavours and concepts together create a tantalizing smorgasbord of pungent, sweet and savory gusto surrounded by world examples of starchy staples at a decent price.  Currently, Banh Mi Boys stands alone but given it’s apparent success and unique concept,  there will no doubt be other contenders throwing their culinary aprons in the ring attempting to attract those not interested in burritos, burgers or one of the other ubiquitous main events peppering every downtown street corner. I can taste the jalapeno, panko-coated bologna calzones already.

Mulling Moment- Please Comment!

 

Banh Mi Boys on Urbanspoon