Han Ba Tang- Still Drawing the Short Straw Years after Toughskins and Crooked Haircuts

I had a dismal month of blogging in November, primarily due to the fact that my real job gets in the way when it’s busy.  I hope December is better. Speaking of busy, the every day trails and tribulations of life lead one to fall into rhythms of the present.  Aided by facebook, which has seemingly rewound time and made friends of the past friends of the present, I made a commitment to myself to reconnect with some of these friends and personally I see no better way to do it than over a bowl or plate of something.

I was a small, quiet kid who had a crooked haircut and wore Toughskins, which were corduroy pants with reinforced knees meant to withstand the harsh treatment an 8 year old had to offer.  I didn’t understand why people laughed at “Taxi” and why that old man Edward Woodward was scary as “The Equalizer”.  I liked when my mom brought me to the hotel bar down the road from my grandmother’s house because I could eat all the maraschino cherries I wanted. I went to a tiny school in Sudbury so whether I liked it or not, I had to hang out with a small group of people…in Sudbury. I got the hell out as soon as I could and somewhat lost track of 90% of those in my past life until Facebook. Now, I have reconnected with historical figures in my life ranging from elementary school to university.

It seemed totally logical to meet a friend I haven’t seen in almost 30 years at Han Ba Tang, A Korean joint in North York (I keep thinking it’s called Hang Ten after the company with the big foot slogan that kids cooler than me wore although we lived no where near waves bigger than those made from a 20 HP motor on Lake Ramsey). What drew me to this place was not the easy to remember name ( I forget it every time) but the fact that it scores one of the highest ratings on Zomato. That and the fact that 2015 appears to be the year of Korean food in Toronto and I wanted to compare it to Korean Cowboy and other similar eateries scattered across the GTA.  Plus, we both decided that we should have something that didn’t exist in our Sudbury days where Asian food was limited to sweet and sour chicken balls at the Pagoda.

I arrived, went to the bar and ordered the Caesar on fire. The twist was the addition of jalapeno soju.  I was tempted to ask the bartender for ID since he acted like a teenager.  This perception was aided by the fact that he opened up a recipe book and meticulously measured every ingredient into a Steamwhistle pint glass only to realize after the fact that he had no straws long enough for the glass.   It was good but a full pint of caesar makes for a big drink so the flavours were somewhat diluted even with a short straw.

Caesar on fire with Jalapeno Soju $11
Caesar on fire with Jalapeno Soju $11

Dish one was the Kalbi salad ($10) which highlighted the short ribs in a forest of romaine, onions, bell peppers and an onion dressing. It was topped with some deep fried onion as well.

Kalbi Salad
Kalbi Salad $10

One cannot go to a Korean restaurant withour sampling the tacos so I ordered the spicy pork, kalbi and unagi trio.  The shells were oddly shaped and the fillings was flimsy for $4-6 bucks each.  Flavourwise, they were ok but overall the touted tacos were a bit of a let down.

Spicy Pork, Kalbi and Unagi Tacos
Spicy Pork, Kalbi and Unagi Tacos

The kimchi pancake was fantastic.  Laced with bacon, mushroom and pepper it was browned perfectly which maximized both taste and appearance.  It had great textural contrast as well.

2127

I love rice cakes and Han Ba Tang’s were no exception.  These were filthy good and reminded me of days of warming up a can of Campbell’s mushroom soup after school which was well in line with the evening’s theme of reminiscence.

Creamy Rice Cake $10
Creamy Rice Cake $10

Finally, we ordered the black calamari which was coloured with a roasted seaweed sauce,further seasoned  with baby dried shrimp  and garnished with cucumbers.   The calamari was cooked well but it was little too much fish on fish flavour.

Black Calamari $11
Black Calamari $11

My Take

Before fall foraging became cool, Korean was all the rage which saw Han Ba Tang and other snack/bar food joints vault up the charts. Traditional soups, rice cakes, pancakes,  tacos and wings are served with both a taste and an environmental twist. Instead of the flat surroundings of some the College street eateries, most of the new places offer fancy drinks, loud music and a very North American vibe. There’s a fun, thoughtless innocence to these places which is often exemplified by…let’s say naive bartenders who need a manual to make a drink.  One can only imagine what would happen once the Karaoke machine goes full throttle and  “Crystal Chandeliers” by Charlie Pride fills the air.

In the end, Han Ba Tang is a bit quirky, a bit trashy and a little fun.  The tacos were a bit of a mess but otherwise the food was good and not too silly of a price. Although I don’t think it’s a 4.7 on zomato, it sure as hell beats heading to the Pagoda with a crooked haircut.

 

Han Ba Tang Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
 

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I’ll Be Frank..I was Disgracefully Slumming it Up on Bloor West

I recently took a road trip to check out the University of Toronto campus with my son.  Part of the plan was to hit up a brunch spot and introduce him to some of the joints he would likely frequent during his post-secondary experience. We came through Bloor West, past High Park and eventually parked around Ossington in search of a brunch spot.  The initial thought was to walk a few blocks and hit Insomnia to choose from their array of eggs benedict but I called an audible when I walked by Disgraceland and faintly remembered reading something about it having the best something in Toronto. Plus, I could envision my son being more likely to frequent a seedy bar than a place that serves martinis called snowball and diva.

The brunch menu is as no nonsense as the restaurant itself. The tables are dingy and the walls are still sweating booze from the night before.  A picture of the man in black reminds you that they are “cash only” and points you in the direction of a historic ATM which comes with a $1.50 service charge.

The service was prompt and friendly and we quickly ordered the heart attack benny and the hangover helper (both $11) with a couple of refreshingly plain coffees.  It was a standard benny with the addition of cheddar and tomato (the latter I omitted because I don’t think tomatoes belong on most things let alone eggs benedict).  The muffin was a bit chewy and the eggs a few seconds overcooked but the hollandaise did its job unifying everything. The brekkie potatoes were crispy and delicious. All in all, not bad.

Heart Attack Benny $11
Heart Attack Benny $11

My son’s hangover helper was an elixir of nastiness which included eggs, bacon and hollandaise on top of a standard poutine.  With those ingredients, I think it would be harder to screw it up than it would be to nail it and my son certainly had no complaints.

Hangover Helper $11
Hangover Helper $11

After a walk down the street and a pit stop at Long and McQuade  (in which I took the opportunity to explain the importance of a good education as he strummed a $2000 Gibson) we crossed the street to “You Gotta Eat Here” alumni Fancy Franks to grab some lunch for later.  If burgers are Batman, then hot dogs are Robin and a number of tube steak eateries have opened in the past months.  Fancy Franks offers dogs topped with anything from peanut butter to kimchi (most in the $7-9 range) along with other pop culture eats such as poutine ($6-12) and made to order mini donuts for $4-5/dozen. We ordered Franks got Seoul (short rib, kimchi, sesame seeds and scallions) and Franks Coney Island (chili, onions and mustard). The dogs are the snappy type and the toppings are rather abundant. My son (who works at Five Guys burgers and fries) was impressed with condiment bar which even offered a mayo dispenser if one is so inclined.  They were tasty (although they start to get quite greasy when they cool down a bit) but I was left wondering what justified the steep price.  Maybe I’m a bit biased knowing I can head to Detroit and grab the same Coney dog Anthony Bourdain raved about for $1.50 or head to any street vendor and grab some street meat with half a dozen toppings including sauerkraut, fried onions and corn relish for $3.50 but $8 for a hot dog makes a vendor at the Rogers Centre scratch his head. I wish I could report on the donuts but apparently the machine is quite volatile and was misbehaving on this day so I was out of luck.

Franks Got Seoul $7.50 or so
Franks Got Seoul $7.50 or so

My Take

I think our expedition to Toronto taught my son a few things:

  1. The University of Toronto campus is massive.
  2. Carry cash so you don’t get slapped with ATM service charges from places who actually profit from your inconvenience given the fact they only take cash.
  3. Gravy and hollandaise are like him and his sister..they are good together in moderation but I wouldn’t do it too often.
  4. If his ultimate goal is saving up for a Gibson, then eating at Fancy Franks frequently won’t help.

These eateries reflect two of the biggest culinary trends to hit Toronto streets in the past couple of years: brunch and burgers. As I’ve said before, brunch may be a french word for “overpriced breakfast” and  Disgraceland succeeds in offering choices that moderately fit this theme.  When I say burgers I’m generically referring to trend that has opened the door for establishments which focus on handheld foods which represent “North Amerciana”, I’m sure one can blame the escalating price of beef (Frank’s dogs are 100% beef) for the inflated prices but I’d lean more toward the social phenomenon which suggests that people will pay more for something trendy and an $8 hot dog sounds mighty trendy.  So, unless I’m watching R.A. Dickey throwing knuckleballs I’ll stick to street vendors.  Even better, maybe I’ll drive to Detroit and watch Verlander pitch on television and eat a Coney dog for every strikeout he gets…it would still be cheaper than a couple of dogs at Franks.

Fancy Franks Gourmet Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Disgraceland on Urbanspoon

What About Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu When The Donger Need Food?

When one mentions Korean food in Toronto, Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu is on the top of this list.  Not to be mistaken with Long Duk Dong of Sixteen Candles fame, Buk Chang is a College Street mainstay. It is part of my quest to tackle Korean food this year and having a colleague craving bibimbap in a hot stone bow, it seemed a logical stop.  Luckily, it was just past the lunch hour so we easily secured a table in the back corner and were handed the one page menu.  The decor was rather plain but not uncomfortable. Boasting a menu of 9 items with only 2 of them over $7, I ordered the seafood soon tofu with the hot pot of rice for $8 while she ordered the bibimbap for a little under $10.

One of the things I love about the Korean experience is the banchan, which is an array of side dishes which compliment the main dishes.  These are somewhat open to interpretation but usually include kimchi, steamed vegetables (called namul) and other things like pancakes which can contain any number of ingredients.  In the case of Buk Chang, we were treated to some bean sprouts, kimchi, radish and some Kuromame black beans.  The beans were the best part of the banchan and although the rest of the offerings were good, they were far from mind-blowing.

Banchan
Banchan

 

I’m a little stubborn when I go out and eat in an environment that is somewhat foreign to me.  There have been numerous instances where I have been faced with questions like “Should I eat this hot pepper or is it just garnish?” or “Which sauce goes with which dumpling?”.  Today was no different.  I cautiously spied patrons at other tables for hints on proper conduct although I’m not sure there is a particular science in eating Korean food.  I mean, you don’t have to have a Michelin star to conclude that an shelled egg placed on the table should eventually end up cracked in my soup.  What confused me a little more was the reason why the server poured water in my bowl of purple rice after he scraped most of it into another bowl.  Was it to help out the dishwashers?  To cool the bowl down in case I forget and burn myself?  Was I supposed to do something with it to complete my meal?  In the end, I never got the answer despite watching  an older Korean lady who ordered the same thing as me. She didn’t give the rice bowl a second glance which did nothing to answer my question.

The seafood soon tofu arrived bubbling. I dropped the egg in and watched the protein denature like I  was presenting a grade 8 science project.   The tofu itself was amazing; it’s texture hit that part of my brain that made me fall in love with things like rice pudding and tapioca.  The broth was punchy but delicate. Understanding that this is a restaurant with a significant devotion to tofu, I still found the seafood contribution nothing short of measly.   Two tiny unshelled, head-on shrimp and one mussel were absolutely lost in the big bowl of tofu. I’m not really a fan of rice but I enjoyed a few bites from the bowl of the purple grain that was served with the soup.

Seafood Soon Tofu $7.97
Seafood Soon Tofu (with hot pot rice) $7.97

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge fan of bibimbap mainly due to the fact that it’s mostly rice.  That said, if you crisp up some rice against a hot stone bowl and add a fried egg among other things  you can at least peak my interest. It was a decent $10 bowl of rice.  The egg was nicely done and other condiments were used in good proportion.

Bibimbap $9.74
Bibimbap $9.74

My Take

Most white people will confess that their experience with Korean food has been limited to bulgogi beef and bibimbap, a statement which is possibly as stereotypical as the gong which sounded every time Long Duk Dong entered a scene during  Sixteen Candles more than thirty years ago.   Buk Chang’s  focus on soon (soft) tofu opens another page in the Korean cookbook.  Other than the mystery of the water pitcher, this place offers a straight forward experience in a no frills fashion. That said, when I ponder the scant amount of seafood in the soup,  I need to remember that in the end I’m getting a filling meal for about $8 although I think calling it seafood soon tofu is a tad deceiving.

In many good lunches and dinners you only ultimately  remember every perfect ration eaten,  great nosh and  nectarous thrill. Coming here and nibbling inferior kimchi and bland namul prevents me from calling this the best Korean experience I’ve ever had but based on the tofu soup and the bibimbap, I understand why it’s become a staple for many ethnic food enthusiasts in the GTA.

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu on Urbanspoon

Ap Gu Jung and Its Appreciation of Non-Korean Gluttons

Sometimes when I’m out of town I put a day’s worth of effort into carefully orchestrating a dining schedule. A combination of urbanspoon, yelp, the opinion of other bloggers and sometimes Guy Fieri drive my decisions, especially when time is a factor.  Other times, however, I take a walk and see what meets my fancy.  I was staying at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver and decided to take a walk down Robson with a colleague to see what I could devour on a break between my meeting and the planned rubber chicken dinner later in the evening. This part of Robson is dotted with a number of Asian eateries including Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Japanese.   Based on the cozy decor and gluten-free choices (NB-not me), we sat down at Ap Ju Jung.  Despite the fact it was early in the evening. it was already half full. On top of that, I was the only Caucasian in the house so I was confident in this random pick.

After ordering, we were treated to a bowl of sweet potato soup which had a thin but smooth texture and a nice glisten.   It tasted a bit like baby food (although not unpleasant)  and erred on the side of sweet and was in stark contrast to the spicy dishes to come.

Sweet Potato Soup
Sweet Potato Soup

 

Next, we were both offered a tray of  banchan which consisted of seaweed salad, kimchi and what I believe was a sweet boiled potato. Whether it was our peckish nature or the deliciousness of the dishes, we devoured all three with relative ease  (in fact my dinner date  is well known for destroying a plate calamari on a good day so we can add seaweed salad to the list).  This resulted in a  second round of banchan which I found odd since everybody else around us shared one and didn’t get a second let alone a third.  Perhaps they sensed our grateful gluttony.

Banden- Seaweed Salad, Potatoes and Kimchi
Banden- Seaweed Salad, Potatoes and Kimchi

Shortly after, my homemade dumplings arrived dim su.  The dumpling itself was quite delicate and was stuffed with a tasty pork and chive mixture.  It was a great balance between dough and filling  The coarse filling had a great texture and wasn’t dry or watery.  I had no problem putting the quartet  away.

Homemade Dumplings $7.95
Homemade Dumplings $7.95

I also ordered kimchi stew with tuna.  I can’t complain about the lack of authenticity but it was a humble reminder that kimchi can be overwhelming when it’s the mainstay of the dish. Sour and spicy along with the odd bit of sweet tuna collided on the tongue resulting a pleasant train wreck of flavours. Due to the intensity of the kimchi, it was difficult to finish the whole bowl.

Tuna Kimchi Stew $9.95
Tuna Kimchi Stew $9.95

Not surprisingly, the calamari queen (isn’t that a Billy Ocean song)  ordered spicy squid with rice.  The first bite of squid I had was tough and rubbery but it must have been an anomaly because the rest was spot on.  There was good balance between protein and vegetable (mainly green beans and onions which  both kept their crunch) and the spiciness was aggressive but within the spectrum of a wandering Caucasian.

Spicy Squid and Rice $9.95
Spicy Squid and Rice $9.95

My Take

With the multitude of restaurants in Vancouver, it is easy to over think  each and every dining possibility. Sometimes I enjoy exploring neighbourhoods just to hit a random place along the way.  This was the case with Ap Gu Jung.  Offering an array of Korean cuisine in a clean and cozy environment, the food and service were quite good.  The gifts of soup and banchan were delicious and most appreciated.  The price points of the other dishes were quite acceptable.  Since we were there early, I can’t comment  on the night scene ( I noticed a set of drums on the second floor overlooking the main area), but at 530 pm you could have a conversation even with the funky music playing in the background. In the end, Ap Gu Jung’s gracious experience was much more Ban Ki-moon than Kim Jong-un.

 

Ap Gu Jung Korean on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago:Day 5: Nana-nana-nana..I was bopping and hopping all night long

Stop 1– Nana’s

Day 5 was a triple hit of triple D.  After a subway up to Wrigley field a few days earlier, I figured I’d venture past US Cellular field to at least lay eyes on the White Sox home field.  That, and it was on the way to another DDD that was a cab ride from the conference centre.  I shyed  away from hitting up Nana’s on Sunday in an effort to avoid the brunch crowd so I figured a late breakfast/early lunch on Monday would be safer.  It’s a clean breakfast and lunch nook with an open kitchen, small tables and a bar to sit at. I had a chance to talk to the owner who told me the restaurant is dedicated to his mom who, after being diagnosed with diabetes, made radical diet and lifestyle changes which got her off of medications and made her diabetes manageable. The premise is fresh and organic foods served with a Mexican flare.

There are two things which definitely draw me to a dish: I’m always intrigued by traditional dishes which are given a twist and anything that is local and in season.  Today was no exception.  Instead of my normal tendency to fill my veins with sausage and pork gravy, I was drawn to the nanadict, an interesting version of classic eggs benny.  The english muffin is replaced with pupusas, the ham with chorizo and the hollandaise with a poblano cream sauce. The pupusa was a bit bricky and the eggs were poached American style (meaning a little too long). I loved the chorizo, especially with the poblano cream, which was rich and had a fresh flavour with a subtle bite.  A little cilantro on top would have been great, The earthy potatoes and acidic greens added a nice balance to the dish.

Nana's Nanadict
Nana’s Nanadict

The local/seasonal draw was the garlic whistles which were served with a sprinkle of fried cheese. They were tender and delicious. The cheese, a  shot of hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon recommended by the owner blended nicely with the garlic flavour. A great side dish!

Garlic Whistles
Garlic Whistles

My Take

Nana’s is a cute nook featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner rooted in family values and giving back.  They sponsor the Benton House, a local agency  dedicated to reducing hunger in Chicago through diner donations.  The owner is present and proud. The menu has lots of choices, many with Mexican/South American influence  and all based on local and in-house ingredients whenever possible. It’s a feel good place although I imagine too much poblano cream or chorizo may not leave you feeling too good the next day.

Verdict: 4 Guyz

Nana on Urbanspoon


Stop 2– bopNgrill

I got out the cab with a couple of colleagues only to avoid a summertime monsoon by seconds.  With wind blowing and stop signs rattling, I was happy to be in the safe confines of bopNgrill, a DDD featuring burgers and bop plates.  When I watched the show, I could almost smell the sizzling mushrooms through the television screen as Will Song meticulously created Americana with Asian influence.  I was drawn to the umami burger that  was featured on DDD and looked absolutely delicious.  The Philly Bulkogi egg rolls featured on the show are only available on weekends, so that wasn’t an option.   We also split the kimchi burger which featured my fave…a fried egg with bacon, cheese and kimchi. My sense of Smellivision was correct. The delicious smell of earthy mushrooms and truffles in the umami burger radiated throught the air. The burgers were cooked a perfect medium and had a dripiness which required a napkin run or two. They were well balanced and extremely flavourful.   As a matter of fact, after one bite the clouds parted and the weather seemed to clear up.  A coincidence??? I think not.

Kimchi and Umami Burgers
Kimchi and Umami Burgers

Verdict: 5 Guyz

bopNgrill on Urbanspoon

Stop 3- Hopleaf Bar

After bopNgrill, I hopped in a cab and faced a dilemma. I had hopleaf, another DDD pegged for a visit, yet it was game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in the city poised to win.  Did I want to venture to a place with a ridiculous choice of beer or did I want to settle for bud light and a crowd of drunkards cheering for the Hawks?  Actually, it wasn’t really a dilemma. The day before, the barkeep at Haymarket raved about this place and hell, there may be a TV at Hopleaf so we could at least keep an eye on things.

The cab dropped us at the front door.  After paying the fare, we were stopped by a gent who demanded ID.  My dad and I have a running joke.  He was asked for ID at 42 and I said I’d beat him.  I’m not 42 yet but that fact I was asked on this occasion says I still have a chance.  That said, it’s pretty standard practice in Illinois to ID everybody.  Hopleaf is considered a tavern so nobody under 21 is even allowed in the place.  We seated ourselves in the bar area and examined the multi-page beer menu. . As for a TV…not a chance.  The bar staff looked like the Grateful Dead and the patrons had anything but hockey on their mind.

The beer selection is extensive, ranging from breweries down to the road to hot spots across the USA.  There is also an extensive selection of Belgian and Belgian style brews as well as a few European stragglers as well.

The Snaggletooth Bandana is a great Illinois IPA from Naperville combining a hoppy punch with strong tropical fruit flavours.  I was fortunate to try a Troublesome Gose from Off Color, a Chicago start-up brewery which had it’s official launch at Hopleaf that night. It was a classic wheat beer with medium spice and a refreshing finish.  One can’t go to Chicago without sucking back a Goose Island offering.  In this regard, I opted for a cumbersome pils which hit the spot. With three of us there, there was lots of sipping and sharing but be assured there is not shortage of choices.  The staff are very helpful as well, quick to offer advice, good or bad, regarding any of the pints.  For example, I ordered a pint of a cucumber beer and, at the advise of the bartender,  was offered a sample first and quickly realized a pint was just not feasible.

As for the food, the menu is a concoction of dishes with most made in-house. Since I was already pretty stuffed with the combination of bopNgrill and beer, we ordered a few things to split and stuck with the signatures; mussels with frites ($13), charcuterie trio  (headlined by house made head cheese) ($14) and the the brisket sandwich ($13). As a result of a camera malfunction I don’t have pictures but I can say that each dish was terrific.  The mussels were classically done.  The charcuterie plate was well executed and well thought out. A minor fight between the four os us almost broke out for the last smear of rilette.  I was a bit reluctant about the brisket.  It’s a tough cut to perfect and the fact it wasn’t a smokehouse left me a little suspicious.  My opinion changed with the first bite.  It was delicate and tender and competitive with some of the best briskets I’ve had.

My Take

Great  beer and great food make this a great place despite the lack on television and a less than cozy atmosphere.  The bar has a bit of staleness but doesn’t translate to the food and drink.  The mussels, brisket and charcuterie were amazing. The service is great from a beer recommendation perspective.  Otherwise, you’re on your own.  The bar area doesn’t doesn’t even have a waitress. Plus, you gotta leave the kids at home and bring you ID because if you don’t have it you might as well be 12 because you’re not getting in.  Despite the lack of a TV, two loud waves of screams a minute apart from a sports bar next door told us everything we needed to know.  The Hawks scored twice in the last two minutes to secure the Stanley cup and the party began….

Verdict- 5 Guyz

Hopleaf on Urbanspoon

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: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!

 

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