Whisky Review: Lagavulin 16 (Islay)

January 2, 2010 - Leave a Response

I’m a huge fan of whisky and this is one of my favourites. The colour (achieved by additon of caramel colouring, one of the few things it is legal to add to Scotch whisky) is a beautifully deep and fiery orange. The nose and taste are sweet and smoky; the smoke can be enhanced by exhaling after nosing or tasting and the sweetness is intensified massively by cleansing the mouth with a sip of water in between sips of whisky. The finish is long, smoky and fiery, and warms to the core. A massive, beautiful malt.

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La Palette (256 Augusta Avenue)

December 26, 2009 - Leave a Response

A nice little (and very informal) French place in Kensington Market. We intended to go for a quick brunch but it was getting late and we were hungry so a quick brunch turned into a three course meal. Butternut squash soup with pear for starter was the highlight – the flavour combination worked incredibly well and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Main was a (roast, I think) chicken breast with fries and salad served with some sort of allegedly fruit-based sauce. It was nice but nothing special.

Creme brulee for dessert was tasty but the creme was a bit too runny for my tastes and the brulee was too thin and its cracking left a lot to be desired.

Overall, a nice place with a good atmosphere, and decent food. Worth a visit.

Sushi on Bloor (515 Bloor Street West)

December 9, 2009 - Leave a Response

The undisputed king of Bloor Street sushi now that New Gen is shuttered up following the unfortunate incident (probably arranged by the folks at Sushi on Bloor, having tired of the competition). Naturally I ordered chirashi, and the fish was surprisingly ok. ‘Surprisingly ok’ does not equal great; it was certainly a cut below that at Japango, but it was much better than I would have expected. The rice, however, was hopelessly over-vinegared. Probably the best place to go if you’re in the neighbourhood and craving cheap sushi, and given the size of the queue it would seem that that is a popular opinion.

Debu’s Nouvelle Indian Cuisine (552 Mount Pleasant Road)

December 9, 2009 - Leave a Response

Yes, it’s really called that. The only place in the neighbourhood that seemed to be open for lunch on a Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t know what to expect but I didn’t expect much. The interior is decked out in a pretty standard ‘nice’ restaurant manner – clean lines, white whites, and not much personality. The walls have alternating strips of wallpaper and stone which is an interesting choice, especially the globules of glue visible holding the stonework in place. I expected pleasant but unremarkable food, and that’s exactly what was delivered. We had the prix fixe (I don’t remember if that is what they called it on the menu, but I expect so; nothing adds pretension like an unnecessary dollop of Francais) which was fairly good value: $20 for three courses.

The most interesting part of the meal was the complementary poppadom which, if my memory serves me correctly, was topped with tamarind and pepper jellies. Probably no better than a poppadom with ‘normal’ condiments, but interesting nonetheless.

For starter, a suspiciously yellow lentil and coconut soup was pleasant, very coconutty, not a lot else to be said about it. Goan fish curry was the – again suspiciously yellow – main, and it too was pleasant, but unremarkable. A dish of naan (pre-sliced; God forbid we’d have to break our own bread) placed in the centre of the table, was unbuttered and somewhat lacking in flavour. Pretty much tasted like bread.

Dessert was not good. Gulab jamun, not served as it should be in a bowl of delicious syrup but atop a ridiculous streak of mango and raspberry puree (the latter being so sweet as to taste like it belonged on toast).

Finally, a nice cup of chai.

Overall, this is a pleasant restaurant, and at $20 it’s worth the price for lunch. But at up to $30 for a main I won’t be back for dinner. I applaud effort to experiment, but when a chef is going to depart from the norm he really needs to ask himself why he is doing it, and if it adds anything to the experience. Aside from the swankier (if somewhat sterile) setting, and the poppadom which was quite fun, this was no better than any of the low-end Indian places that Debu is clearly trying so hard to rise above, and in some instances somewhat worse.

And what on earth are those wine glasses for?

Japango (122 Elizabeth Street)

December 7, 2009 - Leave a Response

I love this place. It looks like any old cheapo Japanese joint, but it’s head-and-shoulders above anything else I’ve had in the city, save for Kaji and Hashimoto (which aren’t exactly in the city). When I go for Japanese I tend to order chirashi (sashimi on rice) and the offering at Japango is the best I’ve tried. Butterfish and BC tuna stand out; lightly seared with a slightly garlicky flavour the butterfish is supremely unctuous and melts in the mouth.

Shrimp karaage, my appetiser, requires a stronger stomach, but if the thought of eating whole (whole.) deep-fried shrimp doesn’t repulse you, it’s very much worth it. Behind the bar are wooden holders containing chopsticks that belong to the regulars. One of my life’s goals.

The omakase is excellent too.

Future Bakery & Cafe (483 Bloor Street West)

November 14, 2009 - Leave a Response

Good cakes, not so good food. The one time I came here for real food (I think I had eggs Benedict) I was pretty disappointed. Go to By The Way instead; it’s right over the street.  The reason to come to Future’s is cake. One slice will do for two (or more) people, unless you have a severely sweet tooth. Last night I shared a chunk of ‘Chocolate Explosion’ and it was damn good. I think I’ve tried the majority of their chocolately creations and so far nothing has disappointed. Maybe pecan pie next time, if it’s available. Great value too – $5.30 per slice if I remember correctly.

Nataraj (394 Bloor Street West)

November 14, 2009 - Leave a Response

OK. Honestly I can never tell one Indian restaurant from another. This one is fairly dingy, perhaps dingier than most. The food is as palatable as that anywhere else, but unremarkable. I always feel Indian is a much better deal for lunch when you can take advantage of the buffet than it is for dinner, when you’re presented with a rather meagre dish of spiced grease.

In summary: good for lunch, avoid for dinner. I’d say the same for every Indian restaurant I can think of (unless there’s no buffet, in which case I’d avoid for lunch too).

Fran’s (20 College Street)

November 2, 2009 - Leave a Response

Acceptable. A tradition since 1940, apparently. The same probably goes for McDonald’s. OK, this was alright, not great, but does what you expect. I had a burger, which I’m pretty sure was fresh out of a packet, and a side of distinctly ovenly fries. For $8.99 and at 1 o’clock in the morning, I doubt you’ll do much better.

Grace (503 College Street)

October 24, 2009 - Leave a Response

Excellent. Clam chowder to start; very nice indeed, perhaps a slightly strange aftertaste with some bites but nonetheless a solid start and accompanied by some odd but very pleasant garlic bread-cum-scone type concoctions. Lamb pot pie for main course. Home made pastry, delicious. A nice salad on the side. Milk and cookies for dessert, three types of cookie:

peanut; tasted more like peanut than cookie, excellent

white chocolate and oats; I don’t care for white chocolate but this was good, and had a curiously salty taste which was quite unusual but very pleasant

chocolate chip; there was more chocolate in this than cookie, it was incredible. Fresh from the oven so the chocolate hadn’t fully set and it started to fall apart when I picked it up because it was so chocolately. Wonderful.

The other half’s meal was similarly excellent: seared scallops to start with (three of them, and a good size – next time I’d choose this over the chowder). Then boiled cow face (braised beef cheeks) which were also very nice (I preferred the lamb pie though) and an apple and cranberry pie for dessert which was also extremely good, maybe even better than the milk and cookies.

Total cost for two with three courses each, wine, and tip: $175. Worth it? Yes. One of the best meals I’ve had in Toronto. Or anywhere else. Nice bread too.