Café Moroc (in the Sultan's Tent) (Toronto)


While walking through the St. Lawrence Market district, you don’t expect to be transported into a Moroccan café with an ornate interior, gorgeous light fixtures and soothing green palm fronds. Café Moroc, located in the bar area of the Sultan’s Tent, is calming and inviting. During weekday lunches, the hushed environment is completely different from the jovial belly dancing dinners at the adjoining restaurant. It’s relaxing and serene; I get an urge to do yoga, followed by a visit to the café for couscous and mint tea.

Unlike most downtown establishments, Café Moroc doesn’t offer a special lunch menu. Combine that with their pricy a la carte, we practically had the entire dining room to ourselves during a Friday lunch. We had our choice of tables and the gentlemen working that afternoon was so friendly and attentive that I felt like Moroccan royalty. For the price conscious, you can still visit the gorgeous space for less, just order a couple of appetizers.

The hummus and pita ($10) is a fair sized portion – the dip is thick and flavourful, with a splash of olive oil to dilute everything a bit. It would have been preferable to provide patrons a mixture of crispy and soft pitas, as the hard pita is so brittle that eating the hummus cleanly can be a challenge. Don’t worry about the skimpy portion of bread that’s presented; afterwards, our waiter brought out another plate piled high with them so we could dip to our heart’s content.



Having had the starter over a decade ago, I remembered the signature maftoul ($10) being tastier. The phyllo wrapped Moroccan ‘cigars’ are filled with ground beef, raisins and cashews before being fried. If you like spring rolls, these are similar. Perhaps my palette has matured, but the filling seems less spiced and subdued. It’s more like a crispy package of cumin infused ground beef than the ‘exotic’ dish I remembered so fondly. Nonetheless, they’re still enjoyable.



Despite the meagre portion, Café Moroc’s crab cake ($14) is delicious – it incorporates enough crab and the recipe is differentiated from the typical North American coastal creation by the stronger Moroccan spices used in the filling. The crab cake is so flavourful that you don’t even need the citrusy chermoula emulsion or spicy harissa aioli that accompanies it.



Having had a great tagine in Montreal, their short rib version ($29) seemed like an ideal choice. The meat was thankfully left on the bone (the bone provides so much flavour!) and was succulent and nicely flavoured from the thick demi-glace.

In lieu of couscous, I asked the grain to be switched with saffron rice. Despite the vibrant yellow hue of the rice, there wasn’t any saffron essence at all – that lovely almost shellfish like aroma that wafts through – what a disappointment. Overall, it was a decent interpretation of the dish, but not nearly as aromatic as it should be … somehow it seems each element is cooked separately and then re-assembled and presented in the tagine, rather than cooked in the vessel.

Café Moroc also offers a fish tagine, which changes and happened to be cod ($29) that afternoon. Its flavours pales in comparison. The protein, while moist and flakey, lacked any seasoning making the overall dish bland. Perhaps, it’s due to all the strong appetizers and my own hearty short rib, but after such an exciting start for my taste buds, the fish tagine was so boring.



It’s a shame the main dishes at Café Moroc are so tame. Where are the enticing aromas or bursts of flavours to excite your taste buds? While I loved the atmosphere and service at the restaurant, you can’t help but leave feeling you’ve visited a tourist trap. If I ever return, I’ll definitely just stick with the appetizers. After all, nibbling on finger foods and digging into a plate of thick hummus would be more fitting of a Moroccan café any day.  

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 49 Front Street East

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:



The Sultan's Tent & Cafe Moroc Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


The Berlin (Kitchener)


Brunching at the Berlin ensures you’re satisfied right away. You’ve experienced it - the hunger pangs from a delayed breakfast; for a person who eats by 7:00 am during weekdays, waiting until even 11:00 am seems like an eternity. The Berlin gets you – they’ve set-up a harvest table with cold dishes so you can get into the meal quickly after being seated.



Soon after our drink orders were taken (a mimosa for me that’s already included in the meal price), I descended upon the table with a promise to bring back only one plate. After all, I couldn’t fill up and not eat any of the hot dishes.

With a changing menu, depending on what the local producers have in season, there was a nice combination to choose from. Half of the table was dedicated to sweets (black berry muffins, coconut chocolate scones, and an iced citrus loaf, to name a few), in the middle a make-your-own granola section, and on the other end, my kind of end … the savoury affair.



Gorgeous slices of smoked pork neck and lachsschinken (a brined cured pork loin) charcuterie and a pile of Beemster cheese. Placed onto their yeasty crusty bread, it transformed everything into an ultimate ham and cheese sandwich.



Aside from an extremely over salted shaved cabbage and green apple salad, the other options were delicious:

  • Citrusy cubes of the lightly cured rainbow trout with creamy avocado and a hit of mystery spice that gave the dish extra pep (could it be a ginger salt similar to the ginger sugar used on the grapefruit)?   
  • Despite having my fill of beets this season, the liberal sprinkling of green onions mixed into the traditional goat cheese mixture was fantastic and gave the salad a fresh spring-like quality.

Be warned, the harvest table is a test to your self-control - despite knowing I had already ordered a poached egg, I couldn’t stop myself from grabbing a slice of the leek and goat cheese frittata as it came warm from the oven. Just step away from the table and strap yourself into your seat.



Berlin’s brunch ($24 for adults and $10 for children including a beverage) is my kind of buffet. To ensure the hot items are at their peak, these are made-to-order. Order one or many and they will arrive individually plated, perfect for passing around the table so everyone gets a taste.



The medium poached egg already arrives with spiced lentils and a creamy yoghurt. But, you could easily combine it with a slice of jowl bacon and bread or English muffin to make a DIY eggs benedict. As for the bacon, meat lovers have to try it. Don’t let the thick layer of fat scare you; it tastes light in the mouth and simply melts away into deliciousness.



Put together their hot juicy garlic sausage (accompanied by a lovely grainy beer mustard) with a crispy dense potato latke and you’re in for a hearty meal.



Yet, it’s the French toast with the maple syrup that got our table in a tizzy. The thick piece of pumpkin spiced bread with pumpkin seeds (?) must have been soaking for a long time in the egg and milk mixture. Once you cut through the caramelized exterior, the middle in piping hot and has a soft custard consistency. Just take a moment to savour the French toast … it’s … just … so … good.



So delicious that once I went back to the harvest table for “dessert”, the freshly made cinnamon sticky buns and crispy sesame-poppy seed palmier seemed so normal. Forget the sticky bun, I could have had another slice of the French toast any day.



It’s a shame that the Berlin isn’t located closer to home, or perhaps it’s just a saving grace for my waistline. The meal was friendly and fantastic. Oh Chef Jonathan Gushue, how do you make the first meal of the day so satisfying? And now, for a nap.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10
Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Kitchener, Canada
 Address: 45 King Street West
 Website: http://www.theberlinkw.ca/

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:



The Berlin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jackpot Chicken Rice (Toronto)


Although you won’t hit triple 7’s while dining at Jackpot Chicken Rice, it’s a good double 7’s and a bar. The quaint well laid-out dining room surely elicits excitement like a casino – the larger-than-life baby holding a watermelon painted on the wall and the sporadic tables wrapped in bright tropical flower motifs. On a first date? Just look around, there’s something that will get you talking.

A friendly vibe just buzzes throughout the restaurant. It definitely has something to do with the people working there – their smiles are infectious and puts you in a good mood. If you’ve read Gastro World in the past, you’ll likely remember my grips about communal tables. Jackpot put me in such a great mood, that my friend and I actually ended up sharing a table (and meal) with an out-of-town diner and had a great evening meeting someone new. Who said Torontonians are stand offish?

During dinner service sharing is strongly encouraged since most dishes are fairly rich and there’s so many interesting sounding ones to choose from. Their Go All In! menu urges patrons to share and already come with their staples (the schmaltzy rice, crispy chicken skin, soy eggs and winter melon soup). All you need to do is choose from the selection of snacks and large plates – the number varying depending on the amount of guests.

Our table of three settled with the Go All In! for two ($70; all the items listed below were included, the individual prices are listed for informational purposes) and added on an extra bowl of soup ($2.50). With all the food, we left satisfied… wow this would have been a feast for a duo. 

Of course, we did lean towards to the heavier dishes such as the kaffir broccoli tempura ($9) instead of steamed vegetables. The tempura’s batter was light and crispy with drizzles of roasted garlic aioli on top. The kaffir lime leaves helped add some freshness to the broccoli but it was still too heavy. In hindsight, the steamed bok choy with XO sauce would be a better choice to balance out the richness of everything else.


The Jackpot stickers ($10) were delicious, each thumb-sized dumpling containing a simple shrimp paste. It was all the condiments that made the appetizer sing, with the Japanese curry sauce that has a hint of mustard to the beet slivers that add a juicy crunchiness to the dish.


Our meal certainly was a chicken affair. Aside from their famed dish, the meal also featured the fowl’s crispy skin ($7), which had a surprisingly delicate crunch thanks to Jackpot baking the skin so that the oiliness is toned down. As a lover of soft boiled eggs, the soy sauce eggs ($3.50) had that gooey jelly centre I love, but the braising liquid could be stronger as the soy and Shaoxing wine flavours were non-existent.


Then there’s the dish everyone comes for… the Jackpot chicken ($16), where the bird is poached Hainanese-style on a slow boil so that it soaks up the flavourful stock and all the meat’s fibers break down. It’s certainly soft - to the point that it’s getting too soft - as the texture is turns towards mushy. I did prefer that the chicken was slightly warm (sometimes it’s dunked in ice water to create a jelly between the meat and skin), which helps coax out the ginger and scallion flavours from the dipping sauce a bit more.  


As the chicken simmers, the fat that’s released floats to the top and is skimmed off to form the base for the schmaltzy rice. Chef Craig Wong demonstrated how to cook the dish on Breakfast Television. The recipe starts off like risotto: chicken fat is infused with ginger and garlic, then rice is added and gets coated with the fragrant oil before chicken stock is poured in and the rice begins to steam. The resulting rice is heavenly, dressed with crispy shallots and scallions, something that could be eaten on its own.


In terms of the large plates, the Hanoi pork jowl ($18) was absolutely delicious, the chewy but soft pieces of meat coated in a blend of turmeric, ginger, and dill. The dish has that salty, sour and spicy combination normally found in Thai dishes; all these refreshing elements helping to balance out the richness of the oily rice. A tip I learnt from our new friend for the evening: add some of the ginger and scallion sauce served with the chicken onto the pork … it just brings the flavour up to another level.


It’d be nice if the winter melon soup ($2.50) was hotter - between bites of the oily rice a piping hot broth would certainly help cleanse the palette. As a warning, it’s nothing like the grand winter melon soups found in Chinese restaurants – steamed in the vegetable with seafood, cured ham and mushrooms throughout. Rather, it’s a bowl of condensed master stock, with simple garnishes of crispy shallots and scallions. The soup’s fine, but not something I’d add onto a meal.


Let’s be honest, if you’re going expecting the typical Hainanese chicken rice plates found in Hong Kong style cafes or food courts across the city, you’ll likely end up complaining about the price and portion sizes. Jackpot Chicken Rice isn’t typical: you’re going for the jovial atmosphere, the ability to make reservations, and getting to have a killer cocktail with the meal (they share a bartender with Cold Tea). It’s cheeky and fun.


And if you see a single diner needing a table, invite them to sit with you. It’d be a shame if they couldn’t get the full experience; there’s certainly enough food in the Go All In! to satisfy everyone.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 318 Spadina Avenue

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


Jackpot Chicken Rice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Cafe Hollywood 荷里活餐廳 (Markham)


Café Hollywood is glitzier than the traditional Hong Kong-style café: the mega wattage signage that makes the restaurant a breeze to spot while driving or the two huge Oscar statutes flanking the doors. Their food, on the other hand, is merely the same with an extensive menu of inexpensive and plentiful options.

If you ever need a cheap date night, Café Hollywood has you covered. For under $20, the dinner combos include a soup, salad, accompanying starch (either rice, spaghetti, or French fries) and coffee or tea.

Sure, the small handful of spring mix with tart soy vinaigrette is a sad excuse for a salad … if you can even classify it as a salad, but the soup as bad – especially since it comes with a hot dinner roll that’s a pillow of sweet doughy goodness. Excuse me while I inhale the best part of the meal.  


To be fair, the “Russian” borscht is a far stretch – there’s no beets, caraway seed or onions in the soup. Rather, the Chinese version is tomato based and has a spicy kick to it, with the only common ingredient being cabbage. At Hollywood, theirs doesn’t even incorporate potatoes so it’s a rather watery affair aside from the oddly oily sheen (perhaps from chili oil) on top. There’s also a simple cream version made with chicken soup and dairy. No hearty soups here.


Yet, no one’s going for the starters. What patrons are waiting for is the main: a humungous plate of food that leaves you wondering if you can finish it and how you’ll feel the next day, if you did. Take the Hollywood mixed grill ($15.95) - it’s a mountain of meat: a pork chop, chicken thigh filet, slice of Korean beef rib, hot dog, and bacon. Having had a bite of my friend’s beef rib, it was good and I could easily have a plate of these on their own. Her only complaint was the uneven temperature of the proteins, some tepid or cool, likely from being mass produced for other dishes.


The same could be said for the Angus sirloin steak ($19.95), which arrived completely rare in the middle. Although I take my steak medium rare, it was still too undercooked for my taste, so a portion was left uneaten. Of course, I could have asked for it to be re-fired, but getting someone’s attention isn’t the easiest and since it was already smothered in gravy, putting it back onto the grill isn’t the easiest affair.

Nonetheless, the outer ring I ate was decent for the price. Obviously, the Angus flavour wasn’t as rich as dry aged versions. However, even undercooked it was relatively tender despite the dull useless steak knives given. In hindsight, my friend made a good point that it’s likely a miscommunication due to how we ordered: generally Chinese customers will request their meat’s doneness based on a percentage – so I should have requested it to be 50% done (rather than medium rare).

Luckily, there were plenty of fries to fill me up – once again, the run-of-the-mill frozen variety – but, warm and crispy enough to be satisfying (especially dipped into gravy). I only wondered how their frozen vegetables could be so dry, when these normally arrive water logged and soggy. Even the gravy couldn’t save these.

Café Hollywood isn’t going to bring home an award for Best Hong Kong-style café in Toronto anytime soon. Yet, there’s aspects of the restaurant that’s commendable: the large dining room that allows them to take reservations and their unhurried attitude (we stayed for almost two hours on a Friday – an unheard of time compared to competitors). Next time I’d stay with the traditional dishes – the baked rice looked delicious and baskets of fried wings seem popular. When it comes to a Hong Kong-style café, the glitzy offerings may be a poor choice.

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Markham, Canada
 Address: 7240 Kennedy Road

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


Cafe Hollywood Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

29 Février's Don't Forget the Date Event


Thoughts of maple syrup, for me, always revolved around its taste (a rich complex sweetness), how it’s made (collecting the sap of maple trees during cold months and painstakingly boiling it until it reduces many times over), or its tie-in to Canadian cuisine.

Then, in February, 29 Février held an event to launch their Don’t Forget the Date campaign - the occasion now adds fighting Alzheimer’s to the mix. Although studies researching the prevention benefits of the sweetener is still beginning (in 2016 two studies found maple syrup extract prevented damages to certain proteins found in brain cells), purchasing maple syrup from 29 Février will benefit the cause: 5% of Maple-in-a-Tree product sales will be donated to the Canadian Alzheimer Societies.

François Décarie, 29 Février’s President, was inspired to support the cause after his mother was affected by the disease. He recognized the toll it has on their loved ones, leaving him wanting to do something to give back. My own grandmother has recently been touched by Alzheimer’s, although, thankfully, it’s still in its infancy and she’s still able to live an independent and fruitful life. Nonetheless, hearing the diagnosis was scary and my mother and her siblings have definitely re-arranged their lives to ensure their mother has additional support. I get it, I’ve experienced it, and I’m glad Décarie’s doing something to help.


Having the launch event at DISH Cooking Studio was the ideal venue to make us think outside the pail. Sure, maple syrup tastes so good with desserts, but just like any other sweetener, it can be incorporated into a plethora of recipes. Even before we began eating, the lightest golden maple syrup made its way into the cocktails: topped with Prosecco and squeeze of lemon or added to whiskey to temper down a Manhattan.       


For hors d'oeuvres, it was used to caramelize pineapples and brushed onto roasted golden beets to further enhance the ingredient’s natural sweetness. Adding savoury elements like gorgonzola and pistachio dust helped to keep the bites from getting overly sugary.


To end, Head Chef Gabriela Neda, whipped up a popular maple main: seared salmon glazed with the syrup (in this case combined with grainy mustard) and topped with a caper aioli to keep it savoury. The sweetness of the syrup just goes so well with the oily fish.


As luck would have it, the event was held on Pancake Tuesday so we also experienced the four varieties with its favourite companion. For desserts, François suggests using the amber variety that has a deeper taste, but is still light enough as to not overpower the dessert. Indeed, this is also my typical go-to syrup to have around the house.   


As you switch to the darker grades, the molasses taste starts to shine through followed with a lasting after taste. These are generally used to marinade meats or as a glaze on seafood but would also make a fantastic rich caramel sauce for some desserts. Having tasted the ‘very dark’ – the newest grade that was previously only sold to restaurants given the small quantities made – it has such an intense and almost earthy flavour that it’d be perfect for brisket and other heavy meats.

Before the event, I assumed that darker syrups were simply boiled longer causing the sugars to caramelize further. Although the dark ones are cooked a little longer, François explains that it’s really tied to when they harvest the sap: the earliest batches create the golden syrup while the last taps makes the very dark. Live and learn, who would have known that not only the terroir of the tree matters, but the timing as well?

I must admit, now that a can of the amber Maple-in-a-Tree sits on my counter, I’m more inclined to trigger the tap and use the maple syrup (rather than having in jumbled with the multitude of other condiments in the fridge). It’s a reminder of our Canadian staple and Février’s action against Alzheimer. Don’t forget the date. 


How To Find Them
 Price: $39.99 for one or $139.99 for all four
 Website: http://29fevrier.ca/dont-forget-the-date/?lang=en or through Costcos for members

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog