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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.