Review:Toronto:Kensington:Seven Lives

Kensington is often a turnstile for what’s trendy.  As a result, it’s not surprising that Seven Lives has opened in an attempt to follow the lead of  tacocentric eateries such as Grand Electric and La Carnita.  Sitting in the middle of this neighbourhood, it’s a small space with great music and seating for no more than a dozen people plus a small patio area in front.  The menu consists primarily of tacos although one could get ceviche or fries as well.

Seven Lives Menu
Seven Lives Menu

In honour of the fact that seven lives has a  logo which strongly resembles internet sensation grumpy cat, I’ve invited him along to assist in the review.

Seven Lives Logo
Seven Lives Logo
Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat

One of the features is three vats of juice (flavours rotate)  sitting on the counter.  You get a pint size serving for only $2. I opted for mango over tamarind and it was quite refreshing, which was a good thing since it killed the significant amount of time I had to wait.  I managed to beat the crest of the the rush, which topped 30 or so people in line, but I still had to wait 20 minutes (or 3/4  of my mango juice) for my 3 tacos.

$2 Mango Juice
$2 Mango Juice

Grumpy Cat?

Grumpy-Cat1
Waiting  Sucks

My definition of a good taco: one with moist, well seasoned fillings and abundant toppings.

I decided on the signature $5 Gobernador (stuffed with smoked marlin, shrimp and cheese).  The taco was stuffed full and its flavour was dominated by plenty of smoky fish, which was slightly dry.  The shrimp, cheese and other ingredients couldn’t compete with the intensity of the marlin in either texture  or taste, so in the end it was quite monotone.

seven marlin
The Gobernador $5

Taco number two was the $5 pulpo en mole verde (octopus with pumpkin seed mole). Unlike the Gobernador, the flavours were much more complex (as a mole should be), complete with a little sweet and a little spice.  The condiments were also more abundant, so the flavours were more rounded. The pumpkin seeds added a nice crunch.  The octopus was a bit chewy however.

Pulpo en Mole Verde $5
Pulpo en Mole Verde $5

The standard $4 carnita (pork) was taco number 3.  It was topped with the standard guacamole, tomato and onion.   I didn’t understand the huge chunks of pork which resulted in a dryer, less flavorful filling.  It lacked much of the pizazz of other pork tacos I have had.

Carnita Taco $4
Carnita Taco $4

The Seven Lives’ salsas were well done.  I tried both medium and hot, both of which were a nice balance of flavour and heat.

Grumpy Cat?

There's more to like than salsa.
There’s more to life than salsa.

My Take

In a taco shop containing all things Mexican, Speedy Gonzalez wasn’t one of them. Even by beating the rush, I still had a 20 minute wait.  Bring your pesos, because Seven Lives is CASH ONLY.  For the most part the tacos are quantity versus quality. relying on copious amounts of overcooked  and underseasoned meats at the expense of  the delicate architecture which normally exists  between shell, fillings and condiments.  In the end, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Grumpy Cat?

If this is Seven Lives, I don't want the other two.
If this is Seven Lives, I don’t want the other two.

Seven Lives on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Kensington Market/Chinatown:Strada 241

Strada 241 is the newest creation of Toronto restauranteurs the Rubino brothers.  Espresso bar by day and Italian restaurant at night, this restaurant is geographically confused, appearing in the middle of Chinatown instead of as another clone along Queen West or College Street.  The front is subtle and easy to miss amongst the loud signs of the surrounding grocery stores and asian eateries. Once inside, you are warped into a rustic decor characterized by brick walls, high ceilings, low hanging light shades and worn hardwood floors. The spacious coffee bar is separated from the back dining area by an open prep area  showcasing a modern pizza oven. After I was seated, I met Tanya who sat down at the table, , explained the menu in-depth and made wine recommendations with a flare and passion missing from other restaurants who assume I should just know. I started with a Pecorino wine at her suggestion and later progressed into a red from the modest and heavily Italian list.Must

If I could eat my dessert first, The Budino (vanilla-poached apricots, saffron custard and olive oil) would be top of the list. Everything about this dish is delicate, from the vanilla poached apricots to the subtle saffron custard, offering a variety of textures and tastes bordering on savory all  placed with perfect balance inside a mason jar. I’m developing quite a taste for the incorporation of olive oil  into dessert and in this case neither the oil nor the saffron was overpowering but subtle and accenting.

Budino

Maybe

Pizza is a competitive word in Toronto and Strada has a bit of work to do to move up the ranks. At this point they may be able to claim the “best pizza” on Spadina (given it’s a stand alone Italian joint in the middle of Chinatown), but some refinement is need to compete with some of the Queen Street or little Italy juggernauts. The Alessandro was topped with a fresh sauce and tasty meatball but it all seemed to pool onto of an average crust, creating an overall texture that was a little disappointing.

Alessandro Pizza

Mundane

The rapini served with a lemon vincotto dressing sounded appealing but fell flat. I envisioned a warm, al dente dish with a nice citrus punch but instead received a chilled, under seasoned clump of overcooked rapini  hidden beneath some crisp bitter greens and some rather tasty pickled red onions. It became boring really quick…in other words, when the onions were gone.

Rapini

I appreciate an effort to accommodate to a meatless clientele, but the squash fritti seemed like a lame attempt to replace traditional calamari. Served impaled on what looked like a bed of random nails in which the lack of practicality trumped the artistic value. The squash was tender and served piping hot, but the accompanying salsa verde added nothing more than colour. I was craving some heat or acid to tear though the fat, sweet and starch flavours which characterized the deep-fried gourd.

Squash Fritti

My Take

Strada 241 is an italian inspired cocoon nestled among a neighborhood more likely to actually offer 241 pizza as opposed to rustic Italian fare. The question is whether it will materialize as a stand alone in an area not far from dozens of similar establishments. The decor and service are above par but the food needs to catch up. I would go back anytime for a morning coffee if the advertised house baked goods even remotely mimic the budino. Other than that, I’ll wait to see if it emerges as a butterfly or remains a chrysalis hidden among the dim sum shops and noodle houses straddling Spadina Avenue.

Strada 241 on Urbanspoon