Part 3: Going on a Roller-coaster Ride

If you've just stumbled upon this post, get an understanding of what this is about by visiting my journey to developing a career with food.
It’s been a while since unleashing the master plan, but between writing two weekly posts on Gastro World and the assignments from a food writing course at George Brown, it’s been difficult to find time for the personal blog.

Over the last three months, I’ve gone through a roller coaster ride of emotions. Not the swirly nauseating ride like the tea cups; rather the up and downs of something like Behemoth.


The Behemoth. Photo courtesy of Canada's Wonderland
Starting on a High

Like the beginning of Behemoth, as every day passed and changes started adding up, I became progressively excited about the future. Signing up for a food writing course, joining affiliate programs to try to monetize the blog, coming to the realization that money can’t buy happiness … each step raised me higher on the happiness meter and I couldn’t wait to see what was at the crest of the hill.

Starting anything is a wonderful time: I’m energized and as every step passes my goal seems that much more attainable.

Reaching the Crest

Then somewhere in the early spring I reached the top. For a brief moment I was proud of everything I’ve done. For friends who read these personal posts, we’d talk about the achievements and challenges over meals and wine.

However, reaching the crest also means plateauing. I really didn’t know what more I could do and honestly, whether there was time to do more – like cold calling restaurants and people in the food consulting industry to develop a network.

Going Through the Stomach Churning Decline

It’s the part that Behemoth riders know is coming: at any moment you plunge from the high into a deep low valley. Although it wasn’t a quick decline for me, it seemed that as things compounded I eventually hit the bottom of my enthusiasm scale:
  • Through the George Brown course, I learnt how hard it is to make a living off food writing. Unless you’re the hand full of publication writers, you’ll likely need to supplement your income with other things like editing, fact checking or writing non-food related article. 
  • Plus, I’m not a great writer – most assignments only broke the 80% mark (which is good enough to write for small publications but not the really professional ones as my teacher describes).  Certainly, it’s a mark my parents wouldn’t be proud of.
  • Realizing food consultants have some sort of culinary background. Most were executive chefs or restaurant owners. Simply having a developed palette and eating a lot doesn’t qualify me. Sure, I could use my financial background to help restaurants with budgeting and costing. But, I’d rather stick with a big corporation if I’m working with spreadsheets.
  • Even all the alternative sources of income I tried developing has failed. Sheblogs, an ad service, is “continuing to monitor” Gastro World as it doesn’t have enough monthly Canadian viewers. I’ve yet to make one sale through Amazon’s affiliate program. None of the secret diner services I’ve applied for has sent over a job – imagine what a detailed write-up I could give them!

Riding Through the Ups and Downs

Since the low, occurring somewhere in May, there’s been smaller joyful and disappointing moments. Through it all, I’m thankful for the podcasts that have helped change my perspective on the journey (Dr. Robert Puff of the Happiness Podcast is the most useful).

“Dreams are beautiful, they’re wonderful. But, they can cause suffering when you cling too tightly to them.” he suggests.

It was then I realized I was becoming too attached to the idea of developing a career in the food industry. When I first set out to do this, what enticed me was the possibility of living a happier and more fulfilling life. But, as I started working towards it, every step started adding on pressure to generate success. Simply put, the journey was doing the opposite: it was weighing me down and stressing me out.

So, I’ve started changing my attitude: I’m going to let things happen and go along for the ride. Yes, sometimes there will be a success (like being invited to try out restaurants and attend media events) but even if there are set-backs to be grateful for the opportunity and learn from it.

I refuse to let the behemoth journey of developing a fulfilling working career bring me down. This is one ride I’m going to enjoy, no matter what turn the track takes. 


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Big Bone BBQ and Wicked Wings (Newmarket)



Big Bone BBQ

With Rib Fest season set to kick off, this post on Big Bone BBQ and Wicked Wings occurs at an opportune time. If you frequent the events, you may remember the stall Purple Pig. My friend recounts that it was her family’s favourite place and was extremely disappointed when they closed. So, imagine to her delight when she realized Big Bone is the reincarnated Purple Pig from the festivals!

Since this was my first experience, the Big Bone combo ($21.95) was the smart choice to try their ribs and wings. With ½ rack of ribs, pound of wings, and tons of sides, it was more than enough to share between my friend and me.

The meat’s flavour has the chance to shine through given the ribs were covered with enough sauce without being drenched. The glaze was well balanced with hints of tangy and sweet flavours. Most of all, I liked that there was some bite to the ribs – sure they separated from the bone easily but not to the point that it simply falls off.

Big Bone BBQ

As for the second part of their name, Wicked Wings, these are intensely smoked so the flavour permeates through the chicken. We ordered ours tossed in a hot and honey sauce but really the great smoky flavour with a lighter BBQ glaze would have been more than enough.

Although the meat was fantastic the sides were less exciting: the coleslaw sickeningly sweet, the corn bread hard and cold, and the baked beans decent but tasting of the canned Heinz variety. The fries were the only redemption arriving hot and crispy but definitely not made-in-house with fresh potatoes. But then, who’s really here to eat all the fillers? Give me the meat any day.

The dining area is small and simple but we were able to score a table for four on Friday evening despite their no-reservation policy. Regulars seem to get takeout instead so the tables turn over at a good clip. However, with the constant flow of takeout, the food takes time to arrive – a test to my willpower when all I can smell is roasting meat and platters walk by looking much like my order.

After dinner, we were so impressed that we ordered takeout for our families. Between the flurry of requests, Big Bone mixed up two of my friends’ wing orders. One friend, who coincidently was the one who loved them so much, called to let them know. Lee Rombos, co-founder of Big Bone answered and apologized for the mistake. My friend wanted me to point out that he was very nice and even offered her a gift certificate to make-up for the error. Certainly a testament to their friendly service.  

If you’re like me and the crowds of rib fest seem daunting, look no further as a past contender has set-up permanent locations to serve us instead. Sure, I’ll miss out on trying five different racks, but what Big Bone is serving is pretty good. Enough to leave me wanting more and likely make the long drive up North again.

Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 207 Eagle Street

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____________________________
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!


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Dragon Dynasty's Dim sum (Toronto)


Dragon Dynasty dim sum

Scarborough, in my books, is home to some great dim sum restaurants. As Toronto’s China Town expanded North in the 90’s, diners no longer had to travel to Spadina and Broadview to get their brunch fix. One of the earlier restaurants being established was Dragon Dynasty. Indeed, it seems like all my Chinese friends who grew up in Scarborough have visited the place before, if it isn’t already their family’s go-to dim sum place.

Their siu mai ($3.90) is decent following the traditional strictly pork-based recipe. Updated formulas tend to mix in chunks of shrimp and sometimes rehydrated black mushrooms adding to the flavour and the texture. Hence, you may find the siu mai at Dragon Dynasty denser and meatier compared to other restaurants.  


The spare-rib rice noodle roll ($4.90) is two dishes in one. On top, pieces of salty black bean spare-ribs that’s no different from the regular dish. Underneath are pieces of plain steamed rice noodle rolls, which soak up the spare ribs juices as it cooks and tends to be softer but also silkier.


I still prefer the traditional rice noodle rolls filled with BBQ pork ($3.90) or wrapped around a crispy dough fritter ($3.90).  There is a generous amount of chopped BBQ pork in the first and the cilantro (?) mixed into it adds a fresh element to the dish. The dough fritter could be fried longer to help resist getting soggy in the soy sauce, but benefits from the ample amount of dried shrimp on top that adds a nice seafood essence to the roll.


Their braised beef tendon ($3.90) impresses and is stewed so long that it becomes a soft sticky mess I covet. The sauce is garlicky with a light spice to it, which could be from satay?


If you’re dining with a larger group, the seafood dumpling ($5.90) and beef balls ($5.90) are great dishes to try. Both are simply boiled arriving with a sweet green onion infused soy sauce for dipping. The dense beef balls are springy in texture and comes with some refreshing watercress. The shrimp dumplings brimming with shrimp is just cooked through so it retains their crunch and sweetness.


Dragon Dynasty’s dim sum rice dishes is pricier than competitors at $7.95. But, they are the only establishment, that I’ve experienced, that cooks it in a hot clay pot so that it develops a lovely brittle golden crust on the bottom (generally this method is only found at congee places). The dish is smaller than what is found at congee restaurants, but could easily be shared amongst a table of five.


In lieu of paying for tea there is a “sauce charge” of $0.60 per person, an added cost that is common in all dim sum restaurants. Compared to other made-to-order places, prices are relatively inexpensive as most dishes being classified as a “small” (there’s usually a handful of these elsewhere). I would suggest arriving before 11am as Dragon Dynasty is popular and it does take some time to get all the dishes (especially if you’re ordering the rice).

After more than 20-years, the restaurant’s décor is becoming dated. But, really does this matter? For me, it’s the food that matters most and at Dragon Dynasty their dim sum still continues to satisfy.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2301 Brimley Road


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____________________________
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!


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The Fry (Toronto)

The Fry

Toronto has its fair share of menus offering succulent pieces of fried chicken, but little of them exist north of Bloor – a blessing for my waistline. But then, an unassuming place popped up in North York with a simple name – The Fry. There’s no hiding what lurks on its menu; one doesn’t enter the restaurant in search of salad and poached fish. Every time I walk by, it calls, beckoning me with the promise of Korean fried chicken (“KFC”), a rendition of the tasty treat that gives Colonel Sanders a run for his money.

Once I could stand it no longer, I rounded up a friend and succumbed to the half and half chicken ($26.99). The first “half” is a basket of plain KFC. The breading is spiked with a blend of spices, which was more than enough flavour to enhance the meat. It’s hot and salty, not overly heavy and lends itself to being enjoyed plain without ketchup (or any other condiment for that matter).

The Fry half and half fried chicken

On the other hand, the second “half” is tossed into a viscous sauce reminding me of the Pandora’s box blend from All Star Wings. The sweet and salty sauce is good at first but soon becomes heavy after polishing off a larger piece. Luckily, at the Fry, baskets contain a treasure trove of cuts with the typical thigh and drumstick ones but also full nuggets of white meat, rib bone without much meat and even a neck bone thrown in for good measure. So, I soon opted for the smaller less meaty cuts instead.          

The Fry half and half fried chicken

With the meal, the Fry also throws in a couple of complimentary vegetable dishes to help counteract the oiliness of the chicken. A sizzling plate of chewy sweet corn is brought first and a great test for one’s chopstick skills. Next a platter of crunchy cubes of vinegary daikon, a simple soy salad and an overly sweet creamy coleslaw. I had my fair share of the daikon after the chicken and the cool sweet sourness did help ease the meal’s heaviness.

The Fry cornThe Fry veggies

The Fry’s dishes are huge and meant for sharing; even with two of us there was plenty to take-home. If you don’t want tons of leftovers, I’d suggest at least three (if not four) people to best tackle the meal. The Fry also has non-battered Korean dishes such as spicy rice cakes and hearty stews that may be worth a try. I’ve now answered their beckoning call, will you?

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 4864 Yonge Street

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____________________________
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!

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Japango (Toronto)

Japango Toronto

As I entered, they asked the dreaded question, “Do you have a reservation?” Shaking my head, I held my breath, “It is only 11:30 on a Tuesday.” I thought, “How it is that I need a reservation?” Here I was, on a day off trying to get a taste of Japango’s sushi creations. Lunch, I heard, is good time to visit as they have an affordable menu and if you arrive before noon the wait for the small 20-ish seat restaurant would be minimal. Luckily, they had room for me and led me to a table in the middle.

The lunch menu has a selection of delicious bentos, but it was sushi my stomach was craving. Ordering “sushi one” ($15), I had but a few moments to take in the quaint preparation station and famed chopsticks in boxes held at the back (only reserved for those who eat frequently at Japango), when a bowl of steaming miso soup arrived. It was simple and salty: not a sliver of seaweed, cube of tofu or garnish of green onion in sight. But, it was piping hot and savoury.

Miso soup japango

Beautiful pieces of fish arrives shortly thereafter, so the soup was placed aside. There’s the familiar deep pink tuna, vibrant orange salmon, and cooked shrimp. The other slices, I could only guess at but not named off the top of my head. The tell-tale silver skin seemed to be mackerel and the suspicions were confirmed upon tasting. But, the last three were unknown.

The paper placemat was some help with labelled pictures so that I could guess the medium pink one to be hamachi or yellow tail. Unfortunately, the waitress wasn’t the most knowledgeable and had to ask chef before letting me know the two white pieces were butterfish.

sushi Japango

It really didn’t matter. Each piece was equally delicious with delicate tastes from the mackerel, tuna and yellow tail. The shrimp was a little over poached but still not as hard as some other places. For the soft almost creamy butterfish, a crispy garlic oil was brushed on top to enhance the neutral fish.


The California roll was a thin layer of rice wrapped around flavourful nori, crispy matchstick thin cucumbers, stringy fake crab and an adequate amount of crunchy fish roe. I tried to prolong the lunch by savouring the roll and letting the tobiko pop and release its briny oil on the tongue. 


The whole meal was over in less than half an hour with a waiter quickly bringing the bill as the dish was whisked away. I don’t blame them, they need to be quick; as by that time, a small queue had already started. And I was satisfied: not overly full, given Japango adheres to the traditional more fish than rice ratio, but comfortably filled and my craving for sushi quelled.  

Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 122 Elizabeth Street
 Website: http://japango.net/

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:


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Cookbook Review: The Encyclopedia of Cooking



The Encyclopedia of Cooking, a house-warming gift, has languished on the bookshelf - safely tucked away from cooking splatters. The behemoth by Günter Beer and Patrik Jaros, containing 750+ pages of recipes, information and photos, just seemed overwhelming. Motivation for its use finally arrived when I decided to make salmon for a dinner party.

It’s surprisingly easy to find information: the Contents page lists various categories with Freshwater Fish and Saltwater Fish the logical sections to start. The Freshwater Fish section contains a further breakdown - success, there are three salmon recipes!

The recipe’s layout is understandable and sensibly laid out: an ingredients listing with pictures (in case the appearance of salmon is foreign to you) on top and three-star difficulty classification system on the bottom. Simply written procedures with corresponding numbered pictures, a food-porn worthy final product photo and box of suggested changes round out each recipe.   


Settling on the slow-roasted salmon, I followed measurements carefully despite the 2/3 cup of whipped butter seeming more than pictured. Luckily, it wouldn’t matter, as the butter simply melted off and pooled into the baking dish anyways.

The instructions instructs me to “place each [of the salmon portions] in an individual buttered soufflé dish.” Ramekins I have, but the oblong small casserole dish pictured in the book I didn’t. Instead, the entire fillet went into a baking dish and I hoped for the best. Alas, after the prescribed 45 minutes the salmon was still rare. Not wanting my guests to wait, I increased the temperature from 185°F to 250°F and the fish finished cooking in 20 minutes. It appears individual portions are required to meet the allotted cooking time.

Sautéed potatoes seemed like a fitting side. Oddly, more instructions accompanied it than the salmon. The potatoes recipe instructs to “wash the parsley, pluck the leaves, and chop them finely”, whereas the salmon recipe mentioned a simple, “wash and finely chop.”


Overall, the cookbook is smartly laid out and an ideal choice for beginners or those who crave simple recipes. Categories include basic information, such as the official names or various cuts of potatoes, allowing readers to delve deeper into the ingredient. But an encyclopedia has limits given that it contains a lot of varied information - if you’re looking for 50 ways to cook salmon: this isn’t the right cookbook.

Rather, the Encyclopedia of Cooking is a great all-purpose cookbook and gift if you don’t know someone’s culinary interests. The perfect house-warming gift to receive, as I’ve finally discovered now that I've just taken sit off the shelf. 


More Information on the Cookbook
 Publisher: Parragon Inc.
 Year: November 2010
 To Buy: Go to Amazon 

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Kanpai Snack Bar (Toronto)



Kanpai snack bar

We don’t get night markets in Toronto. Sure there’s the occasional one in Markham or Cherry Street, but it’s yet to occupy a permanent location, even if only during the summer months. In Taiwan, their street food is infamous, where for under $20 you’d be stuffed from the small plates of xiaochi. Street food we do not have, but Kanpai Snack Bar does offer us a taste of what we’re missing and in conditions that are way more comfortable than the plastic tables and stools of Taipei.

I wouldn’t say the menu is the most authentic, as a lot of crowd favourites such as beef noodle soup, oyster omelets and stinky tofu won’t be found here. But, there are certainly strong influences from the spices and ingredients used with most menu options ranging from $4-$7 a plate.

The sole item over the $10 mark is their Taiwanese fried chicken. The 8-piece “bucket” ($22) feeds a crowd with large dark meat portions simply oozing juices as you bite through it. Fried chicken is gracing menus across Toronto and Kanpai’s doesn’t disappoint. Although the chicken doesn’t seem to be brined, there’s more than enough flavour from the liberal dusting of spices in the breading. The hot sizzling pieces are then topped with chopped cilantro, green onion and bird’s eye chili (if you really want it). It’s good and a dish sure to evoke food envy if you don’t order it and see others tucking in.  

Kanpai snack bar fried chicken

Fried chicken and coleslaw go hand-in-hand. At Kanpai, they’ve swapped out the cabbage for potatoes in their Taipei tater slaw ($5).  Julienned potatoes are slightly under cooked so that there’s still a subtle bite to it. It’s tossed in a Szechuan peppercorn dressing, that as a warning pools on the bottom of the plate; so when you first take the slaw from the top it seems light, but whoever gets the last of it is met with a tongue searing burn.


Since there’s never enough fried chicken, we also tried the MC Hammer ($7), named thusly as Kanpai believes you “can’t touch this” blend of herbs and spices. Unlike the fried chicken, the breading is less intensely flavoured but the chicken meat appears marinated so each nugget is well seasoned throughout. Try having a piece with the fried Thai basil leaves, they add a hint of aromatic that makes it outstanding.


The crunchy theme continues with the deep fried goldmember ($7), salt and pepper dusted pieces of squid served with a house-made cocktail sauce. And honestly, if you’re going to do it you might as well go all the way… we had to try the piggie smalls ($6), the most decadent of the bunch – slices of pork belly deep fried and topped with the same salty and lightly spiced mixture.


Not everything is fried and crispy on the menu. The O.G. “original gangsta” bao ($5) is a traditional take on the pork belly steamed bao with slices of slow cooked five-spice pork dressed with shredded carrots, fresh cilantro and a salty pickled mustard greens relish. With the plethora of pork belly baos available across Toronto this one was under whelming. Admittedly, we left this for a while as there was just too much food to try, so it could be that by the time we ate it the bun and pork had cooled. In hindsight, we should have ordered the food in batches to avoid having everything coming simultaneously. The salty dip on the side is interesting, like a beef dip in Taiwainese form.


Maybe it’s because we started with such strong dishes that by the time the shrimp po po ($7) came it seemed bland. Kanpai, I strongly recommend serving this dish first, think of it as a salad before the main courses. Certainly, it’s a nice contrast against all the fried options but compared to the other dishes lack the Taipei influences. Cold peeled shrimp, diced avocados and orange segments (a disappointment when you’re expecting pomelo) is mixed in with arugula, red onions and a tart dressing lacking the spiciness described on the menu.


Similarly, the cabbage patch kids ($5) arrive steamed looking rather than having the “wok fired” essence you’d expect. With the chili, garlic, onion and bell peppers added to the brussel sprouts there’s such promise that the dish could be aromatic… but alas, it was bland. The only saving grace is with such a meat filled starchy meal, we really did need something wholesome to counteract it.


My favourite part of the night was not the deep fried chicken (although it’s a close second) but rather the fried rice. I could seriously come back for a bowl for myself. The shricken satay fried rice ($8), a cheekily named dish with chicken, shrimp and mixed vegetables is combined with a deep rich tasting satay sauce.


Meanwhile, the red rooster fried rice ($7), likely a nod to the popular Rooster brand that makes rice, is pork based and uses a spicy jiao ma dressing made with Sichuan pepper.  Unlike other chillies, there isn’t the same burning sensation, but rather there’s a numbing property to it. If you can handle the heat, any of the above fried rice are a treat.


There’s a limited selection of desserts but both things we ordered were satisfyingly good. Ping pong beignets ($6), named for their size, are a great rendition of the deep fried doughnuts. At Kanpai, the batter is made with a glutinous mix of purple yam and sweet potatoes. At first glance, they look like a sugar coated Timbit, but as you bite into it a cheerful purple yam centre greets you.


A modern take on the traditional deep fried silver thread buns is the wow bao ($6). The middle is strings of soft bao made from pulling oil covered dough so that it takes on a noodle form. So, you can pull it apart and dip individual strands into the dips or just have more surface area to work with. The slightly spiced Nutella is good, but it was the classic combination of sweet condensed milk that brings back fond childhood memories. You need to really hold the condensed milk in your mouth to get the effects of the pop rocks; perhaps serving pop rocks on the side, so they stay dry, would help.


Cocktails are available on tap ($9.50), made-to-order ($10-$11) or as spiked punch by the pot ($50). The made-to-order glasses enticed us most and there were certainly alcoholic strengths for different tastes. There’s the easy drinking cheating communist with sochu (a spirit similar to sake) and pear brandy cut with the Japanese soft drink Calpico, lemongrass syrup, lime juice and garnished with a bird’s eye chili ($10). 


The Montauk Tame Impala ($10; borrowed from Toronto’s Monatauk Bar) is my kind of drink with tequila, ginger beer, chai syrup, cucumber and lime juice - not too sweet and just strong enough to remind you that you’ve having a cocktail. But if you really want to have a good night, the ooh Long Island iced tea ($11) arrives looking like an innocent lemonade, but tastes like the vodka, rum, tequila and gin it’s mixed with. Where are the promised oolong tea, lemon juice, and basil & simple syrup?!


The restaurant certainly encourages patrons to drink and eat. Prices are affordable so when deciding between two dishes, why not just get both? The staff genuinely wanted to help; a bright-haired Asian waitress made the point of stopping, dropping the dishes she was holding and offered to take a picture for us when she saw us struggling with a group selfie. So you may not be wandering around in a Toronto night market anytime soon, but thanks to Kanpai there is a comparable alternative. With relatively comfortable seating, friendly staff and tons of small plates to choose from – if you can take the heat, it’s worth a try.  

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 252 Carlton Street

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!

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