Aoyama (Toronto)


In a small plaza sits two storefronts – Aoyama and Aoyama VIP. Enter to the one on the left and if you’ve made reservations, chances are you’ll be escorted back outside and into the VIP one. Yes, it’s a bit strange that they’re not connected, but when you want to expand and the opportunity arises (albeit not directly beside your existing restaurant), you need to seize the availability.

Just ordering your meal can take time if you’ve never visited. There’s a leather bound menu that already has numerous options, but then you’ll also want to sift through several laminated loose pages, and there’s even a wooden board with drawn images that gets circulated with other a la carte items.


Indeed, the cheeky wooden board drew us in to try some of their hand rolls ($3 for spicy tuna and $3.50 for spicy salmon). Having been spoiled by ones that chefs insist on handing you and having you eat right away, I did find the seaweed chewy and a bit tough to bite through. However, for the price, these are great, a pretty generous portion of fish wrapped in seaweed, although the spicy mayo needs to be spicier.


During the weekend, Aoyama offers a “sushi set upgraded weekend special” ($125) that comes with a more sushi and luxurious appetizers, compared to their regular option. To begin, there’s a sharing platter of small eats containing chawanmushi (a savoury egg custard), lobster tempura, yakitori skewers, other small nibbles, and a pot of seafood consommé.   


Normally, chawanmushi is served hot. At Aoyama, it’s cold so ends up being denser and almost the consistency of a savoury flan. The temperature and jellied soup takes some getting used to, but it tasted good, the dashi (?) flavours seeping through. Finishing it with a teacup of the umami-filled seafood consommé is a nice combination.

Plump pieces of lobster tempura is dressed with the all-colour-no-heat spicy mayo. Nonetheless, the lobster was cooked nicely, it just needed a bit of salt or something else to dip it into. Surrounding the dish were pods of dry edamame and tempura burdock root that was cold but tasty to nibble on.

What makes yakitori skewers delicious is when they’re hot off the grill and you can smell and taste the smoky caramelized glaze. In the platter, the chicken and scallion yakitori were cold (having been brought over from the other store) so the chicken became hard and the sauce congealed and lumpy. Really, Aoyama should consider replacing these with a starter that doesn’t need to be hot.

Something to consider when you make a reservation: what is important about the meal for you? Is it hot food or a comfortable sitting environment? While the VIP room is spacious and has an ambiance of a brightly lit piano lounge, there isn’t a kitchen so food is transported over in a non-insulated metal container arriving lukewarm to cold. To get the best of both worlds, you’ll want to order cold items when sitting in the VIP area.

Luckily, the huge plate of sushi that’s part of the set menu can withstand the frigid journey. That evening, it contained two types of tuna, the fattier toro and the regular blue fin variety; sweet soft pieces of unagi (barbequed eel); surprisingly clean pieces of aji (horse mackerel) that’s further topped with tons of ginger and green onions; tried and true kampachi,  salmon, and salmon maki; a decent take on tamago (egg) that had the flavours but not the lovely layers; as well as generous portions of hotate (Hokkaido scallop), ebi (raw shrimp), and uni (sea urchin).


In terms of the sushi rice, something I’ve really started to learn to enjoy, it had a great consistency but needs more vinegar and could benefit from being warmer. The rice is an important element to get right given it’s such an integral part of sushi.

Since the set meal lacked vegetables, an order of the wakame salad ($6), ice berg lettuce tossed in a creamy sesame dressing and topped with a sweet seaweed salad, was welcomed and helped add that freshness we were craving.


Off the a la carte menu, the seafood zousui ($18), a Japanese-style congee, was beckoning during the cold winter night. Pieces of shrimp, salmon, crab, a fair-sized scallop and various mushrooms gave the dish a lovely sweet seafood essence.


The rice sits at the bottom of a clear seafood broth, rather than being boiled for hours so that the grains combine with the soup, so you’re able to taste just the soup and then also have it with the soft rice. Indeed, the broth is king and despite being tepid had a warming property to it. If there was more seasoning and the seafood was added near the end of the process (so it doesn’t become rubbery) it’d be even better.

A bowl of tempura udon ($13) also seemed like a good choice. While the broth is rather run-of-the-mill, it was at least hotter than all the other dishes and the noodles chewy and springy. Something about ending the meal with a hot bowl of soup really suits me.


The VIP room was so comfortable that after two hours we still wanted to stay. A round of desserts helped extend the experience a little longer.


Deciding on the black sesame mochi ice cream ($4.30), it arrived two to an order. The small ping pong sized mochi needed a few minutes to rest as at the beginning it was tough to cut through. A thin chewy layer of glutinous rice flour pastry encapsulates plenty of ice cream. While it was pretty, the dessert lacked sesame flavour and tasted more like vanilla ice cream. For real black sesame ice cream you’ll want to stick with the ice cream with red bean paste ($4.50) combination.


Once the store between Aoyama and Aoyama VIP vacates, they can finally combine everything into one continuous restaurant. At that point, patrons finally won’t need to decide between quality of food or atmosphere. Until then, choose carefully.  

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2766 Victoria Park Avenue

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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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GB Hand Pulled Noodles (Toronto)


Torontonians have an affinity for noodles. Whether it be pasta, pho, udon, or ramen; as soon as the weather gets cold, a hefty portion of the comforting carbs is something I yearn for. The new kid in town is the Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles. Chefs take a giant ball of dough and slam it onto a hard surface … fold, pull, and then repeat until it gets elastic and forms into long strands.


They’re then pulled to various levels of thickness. At GB Hand-Pulled Noodles, it ranges from super thin to extremely wide with five other options in between. Hearing people order before me, I decided on the medium wide, which is one notch under the widest side of the spectrum.

Visiting during a weekday lunch, the place already had a queue of ten at the door. But, the line moves fairly quickly since they have streamlined operations that would make many automated facilities proud. However, the waiting process is a bit haphazard given they don’t give out numbers – you just wait in line and remember who is before and after your table. Once you get near the front, they will ask for the number of guests and as a table is about to clear, you’re handed a laminated menu so you place your order before even being seated.

Within minutes of taking our seat the appetizer arrives. The Lanzhou spicy beef shank ($8.99) consisted of seven long slices of tender lean beef are tossed in a peppercorn laced chili oil, which looks fiery red but has a very mild heat. My coworker describes it perfectly – you taste the spice on your tongue but not in the throat.


Since we visited on a Friday, I ordered the braised beef tendon noodles ($13.99), a dish only available Friday-Sunday. Perhaps it was the first day of the weekend, but about a quarter of the pieces were still hard to bite through and didn’t offer that lovely chewy gelatinous texture. The smaller pieces were well braised and tasty.


Nonetheless, it really doesn’t matter as I was there for the carbs. GB’s noodles are one of the better options I’ve had in Ontario, the dough evenly pulled so even the medium wide noodles didn’t become chewy in the centre but mushy around the edges. Moreover, they stayed fairly chewy throughout the meal as it took me a while to attempt to get through the huge portion … alas, I had to just finish the beef and leave the noodles, a practice my parents have engrained in me as a child.

The broth itself was fairly simple and clear, most of the beefy flavours coming from the braised tendon liquids that get spooned into the bowl. Adding some of the chili oil at the table and it became a rich soup that went so nicely with the doughy strands. The bowl is finished off with blanched bok choy, turnip slices, and a sprinkling of scallions.

I love all the hot steaming bowls of noodle options we have across the city. With the cold weather descending upon us, I’ll be tucking into bowls of the stuff for weeks to come.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 66 Edward 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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GB Hand-Pulled Noodles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maha’s Egyptian Brunch (Toronto)


It’s a common joke amongst people over 30 that waiting for brunch is the new line for clubbing. For Maha’s Egyptian Brunch, they are that tiny exclusive place that everyone wants to get into. On a nippy day, in the early winter, my friends and I waited one and a half hours (a common occurrence), before we could secure four of the twenty two spots in the dining room.

As soon as I saw the line of about 20 people, I questioned whether we should stay. But, there’s little choice in the area and we decided to wait a bit to see how quickly the line moves. The turnover gradually happens and after waiting for 45 minutes we’re stuck… we’re waiting for the long haul. When I finally walked through the door and the heavenly aromas enveloped me … I knew it was worth the perseverance.

You didn’t wait so long for traditional brunch plates like omelettes, eggs benny, and pancakes. Glancing at the menu, the first dish - the Cairo classic ($16) – already promised a meal of exotic items. The classic is a plate of foole (creamy fava beans stewed with tomatoes, onions, and spices) that’s topped with boiled egg slices, tomato feta, and a light falafel. It’s a lovely messy dish as you try to squish as much of the beans and other items into the soft fluffy toasted balady bread. Then when everything’s about to burst, you bite into it to find an eruption of flavours and textures.


Then add some of the tangy crispy balady salad to the mix and all the flavours change - the acid of the cold pickled vegetables cutting through the hot thick foole. Just be warned, family style dining at Maha’s is a must as there’s so many things to try and dishes are rich, so it’d be too heavy to have one thing on its own.

The Egyptian falafel ($16) is akin to the Scotch egg where soft boiled eggs are encapsulated in a crispy falafel. What an inventive dish! Biting into the golden brown sphere, I’m greeted with a combination of creamy yolk, moist spiced chickpea, and a bit of crispy coating. The eggs sit on a pile of home fries, which at Maha’s are tossed in cumin so they’re earthy and aromatic.


Even the scrambled eggs get a boost of flavours: the Basturma scramble ($15) incorporates pieces of beef cured with fenugreek, garlic, and spices. Their menu describes it perfectly, “an incredibly savoury combination is unlike anything you’ve tasted before”. As you taste a forkful, you’re met with a wave of rich tastes before it finishes with the fluffy egg texture. Who knew the tried and true scrambled eggs could get this yummy.


After all the fantastic egg dishes, Maha’s mind blowing chicken ($16) seemed less mind blowing. Indeed, the mountain of roasted chicken pieces (reminded us of shawarma), had enough spices and garnishes (tabbouleh¸ mayo, and generous drizzles of tehina) to entice taste buds. But it was almost too much as the small toasted egg bun was so tiny that it merely melted into all the juices. The chicken would be better served as a platter with some of the charred balady bread so diners could make your own wraps. That soft toasted bread would be better matched with the salty saucy meat.


The meal was all washed down with a honey cardamom latte ($5.75 for the large), which was warm, rich and fragrant. Because it was a fairly decadent latte, I really should have just gone for the small size. Sitting beside the bar, we were able to watch the drinks being prepared - a painstaking process where the inside of the glass gets painted with a dark honey before any liquids are added. It would explain why each drink arrives separately and it took half the meal for our table of four to get all the lattes.


Brunch at Maha’s was absolutely delicious and it’s certainly worth all the hype. But like clubbing, you may want to bring a roadie, except in this case filled with a hot beverage, as you’ll need something to fuel the wait.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 226 Greenwood Avenue

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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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Maha's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Beef Noodle Restaurant 老李牛肉麵 (Toronto)



Tucked in the far corner of a small Scarborough plaza, Beef Noodle House isn’t the easiest place to find. The only tell-tale sign of the business is their stand-up sign out front. It will lead you into a dark corner where you’ll enter a place that’s not much brighter. The dining room looks dated, but is larger than what you’d expect from a place serving noodles. Moreover, you won’t feel like you’re in a Chinese restaurant … just go with it.

What comes out of the kitchen is truly Asian. Given their name, you can’t visit and not try their braised beef noodles with brown sauce ($9.95). A sizeable bowl arrives filled with thick doughy noodles and generously sliced pieces of tender beef. While the noodles don’t appear to be the hand pulled variety, I like their firmer texture and the broth is strongly flavoured – salty and with a hit of heat – to hold up against it.


Add on a “one-person” combo and a plate of vegetables and it’s more than enough food for three people. The combo is an amazing deal, for $9.95 there a variety of dishes to choose from, each arriving with a bowl of steamed rice and a large bowl of diced vegetable, tofu, and mushroom soup (it could use more salt).


The three cup chicken in casserole pot arrives with that signature caramelized ginger and onion aroma. Well braised, the chicken has a stronger rice wine taste than expected: after all, the sauce made from equal amounts of soy sauce, sesame oil, and the rice wine. Indeed, the generous portion of sesame oil does mean the sauce gets a little greasy, but also makes for a fragrant dish, especially when combined with the ginger, garlic, and Thai basil.


Similarly, the General Tao chicken is a heaping plate of lightly battered diced chicken that’s barely coated with a sweet and savoury sauce – despite looking bare, the flavours were rich enough. Using the darker leg meat, instead of chicken breast, helped deepen the dish and keep the chicken moist.


On most visits, a plate of garlic stir fried A choy ($8.95) completes our meal. The stir fried greens look rather limp and lifeless but has a nice crispy texture and smells of wok hay.



The menu also offers a variety of Shanghai style dim sum. The onion pancake roll with sliced pork ($6.95) is what I like to think of as a Chinese sandwich. A well toasted chewy pancake flecked with green onion gets a smear of sweet hoisin glaze before being wrapped around hot lean pork. It’s a sandwich you’d like to eat in the winter. It’s not fancy, but it hits the spot.


Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 4271 Sheppard Ave East


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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 Patrician Grill (Toronto)


When you’re hung over and hungry, a big platter of food from a diner is oh so satisfying. The Patrician Grill has been satiating appetites since the 1960s; their retro sign and dining room surely makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Maybe it’s me, but the fact that there’s no lines and they serve big portions for low prices – sometimes it’s great to be old fashioned.

The dining area isn’t fancy but comfortable, the well-padded vinyl banquettes overlooks the kitchen and if you really want to be where the action is, there’s a row of stools for couples and single diners.


What makes the kitchen’s proximity great is everything arrives fresh and hot. The fluffy vegetarian omelette ($11.75) was packed with diced tomatoes, onion, green pepper and enough cheese to give it that signature gooey pull. With a choice of home fries, French fries, or mashed potatoes (yes, it can be a hearty breakfast), we’re advised the home fries are cut in house and then the diced pieces are slowly cooked over the flat top developing a golden crust without feeling greasy. I ate every single piece.


Interestingly, breakfasts also come arrive with a small cup of coleslaw, the vinaigrette based greens adding a nice refreshing crunch and splash of acid against the heavier breakfast.

As a table, we decided to forgo the toast that comes with breakfast and shared an ordered of cinnamon French toast ($10.50) for dessert. It was an amazing idea as a slice of the custardy hot toast was an ideal sweet ending. They’re also thin enough that it wasn’t too filling. If only it was served with maple syrup, instead of the thick artificial corn syrup variety, it would be even better.



Toronto has a great variety of brunch spots: from fancy affairs with bottomless bubbles to simple eggs and bacon. I’m glad we stumbled upon The Patrician Grill when another spot down King Street had a queue. In less time than we would have had to wait, we were warm and deliciously fed.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 219 King 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!


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Graceful Vegetarian Restaurant (Toronto)


Vegetables are getting their recognition amongst Toronto's new restaurants lately. Even if a restaurant isn't purely vegetarian, menus are starting to offer more meatless options. Coming from a Chinese background, it's surprising there’s been little advancement in our cuisine. Greens still seem to be a dish used to balance the meal and are generally simply stir fried.

Buddhist cuisine is probably the closest thing for a fully vegetarian Chinese option. Graceful Vegetarian Restaurant is a long standing restaurant that closed at Market Village and moved across the street on Steeles. Being one of my favourite Buddhist restaurants, I was excited to try the new location that's tucked in the corner of the bustling mall and not nearly as easy to find as their former home.

Graceful's assorted gluten platter ($10 for small) doesn't look impressive but is the best I've tasted in the city. Some elements are supposed to represent mock versions of barbeque platters, such as barbeque pork or fried intestines. Generally, each has a chewy soft texture and some sort of intense flavour: sweet, savoury, curry, or a combination of a couple of tastes. Thankfully, they are not too saucy so despite being piled beside each other on the dish, they all retain their own flavour. I particularly liked where certain elements of the dish are served warm.


The pan fried bean curd sheet rolls ($8.50) appeared deep fried rather than prepared in a pan, which helps to keep the bean curd sheet softer but doesn't give it that lovely golden sheen. Graceful doesn’t overdo it with the number of layers so the roll tastes delicate, especially with the saucy filling mixed with vermicelli, which helps soak up the sauce. If they added some more bamboo shoot or black fungus for crunch, these would be even better.


Surprisingly, the deep fried taro fish with sweet and sour sauce ($16.99) was available – many places require advanced notice for the dish. Graceful takes silky thick taro filling, shapes it into a fish, and encapsulates it in a thin fried crispy layer. To balance out the heavier dish, they add ginger slivers to the sweet and sour sauce and thin it out so that you can have more of it with the taro. Reserve this dish for at least six people as it can be quite filling.


While a lot of options at Graceful are fried or stir-fried, they show restraint with its oiliness. The fried rice in the Fu-kin chopped mock meat and seafood dish ($18.99) was fairly dry and the sauce provided just enough flavour without becoming too salty. I just missed the pieces of Chinese broccoli (gai lan) normally incorporated in the dish, which not only adds a nice shot of colour but also a bit of texture.


Out of all the dishes were ordered, the Law Han crispy egg noodles ($17.99) was the sole one that wasn’t a “mock” item. Combining crunchy black fungus, baby corn, chestnuts, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and other vegetables in a savoury brown sauce, it’s all topped on thin egg noodles. It’s a dish you want to tuck into right away if you like the noodles crispy (go for the edges) or you can wait a bit for the centre section if you enjoy them tender and soaked with sauce.


Compared to their Market Village location, it’s not a place you want to sit in for a long time. The ventilation could use an upgrade as the dining room reeks of cooking oil and it seems smaller so larger tables need a reservation to avoid being turned away (and we did see that happen).

Yet, everything tastes just like I remember. Normally, this would be a commendable feat. However, after sampling all the new amazing vegetarian options across Toronto, being the same isn’t good enough anymore. The menu seems dated and monotone; it would be nice to see them offer more items where the vegetable is the star instead of being the imitation version of a traditionally meat filled dish. In the world of innovate or be replaced, maybe even Chinese Buddhist restaurants need to step up their game. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 4675 Steeles Avenue East (inside the Splendid China Mall)

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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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Fishman Lobster Clubhouse (Toronto)


Fishman’s newest location is also their largest: a colossal dining room that resembles a mini banquet hall with what seems like a hundred tanks lining the walls ... all filled with living and breathing sea creatures. I’m just glad we were sitting in the middle of the room. All those eyes on me, while eating, would have been unsettling.

As typical in Chinese restaurants, staff bring the live seafood to the table prior to cooking – the restaurant feels they’re showing diners they’re getting something fresh. It’s an act I’d rather skip. After all, if they really wanted to deceive you, they’d switch out the seafood in the kitchen since there’s no distinguishable feature once it’s chopped, deep fried, and covered in garlic anyways. Moreover, in the age of "doing it for the gram", the fad of hoisting the big creatures by the claws to take pre-dinner shots is disturbing. Yes, they're about to be killed, but shouldn't they at least die with as little stress as possible? Frankly, I find it cruel … *deep breath* … animal welfare activist rant over.

A couple of tips for first time visitors to Fishman Lobster Clubhouse.
  • Go with a larger group - 8 or more individuals is ideal - as their best options are the combos. Otherwise, for a duo, indulging in a lobster or king crab can get expensive as they’re $20+ a pound and they rarely carry ones under 5 lbs.
  • Order less than the suggested menu group size as they always provide too much food and inevitably will try to upsell you for 1-2 extra pounds since animals rarely all arrive at an exact weight. For example, for our table of nine, the special king crab dinner or combo G ($468), which is supposedly for 6-7 people was more than enough.
It starts with a big pot of boiled silkie chicken broth, the steamed soup arriving piping hot and full-flavoured. While a bit oily, it’s at least a clear consommé - a lighter start to the otherwise heavy meal.


All the “smaller” dishes arrive near the first half of the meal. Things like the deep fried oysters lightly floured and tossed in a thick honey pepper sauce. It’s crispy, but not overdone, and the sauce’s flavours were spot on. Although the actual oyster had a stronger odour than I would have liked.


Two lighter dishes followed. First, the steamed bass, which could be cooked a touch less, but tasted fresh and clean as the kitchen took the time to thoroughly descale the fish and cover it with plenty of scallions. To round out the meal, a sizeable bowl of poached snow pea shoots topped with goji berries. Normally, I would prefer the dish with garlic, but Fishman smartly leaves out the ingredient since it’s already so heavily used with the lobster and keeps the vegetables neutral.


Soon the fried seafood arrives. There’s of course the lobster: a behemoth 7 lb. tower (although in this case ended up being 8lbs) cut into huge pieces. While impressive to look at, a bigger lobster does mean the meat isn't as sweet and the claws’ texture is denser and harder. The claw shells also seem to have a stronger odour... maybe I just have over reactive olfactory receptors.


Nonetheless, the tail pieces arrive as baseball sized globs of meat – you almost wish there’s a knife and fork so you can cut through it like a steak and really enjoy the lobster. Even the legs become more edible as they’re thick enough to have meat in the spindly limbs.

The lobster tomalley is used in fried rice with a bit of green onion. The dish could use more seasoning, but our table ended up adding bits of the fried garlic from the lobster, which quickly helped spruce up the rice.


Personally, I found the king crab (6 lbs.) was the better of the two crustaceans – although there were mixed reviews around the table. Firstly, a king crab is naturally larger so the flavours remain succulent. Moreover, Fishman makes it easy to eat by splitting the legs’ shell so you simply need to drag a finger through it to get everything out.


Described as Hong Kong style on the menu, in Chinese this translates to bay fong tong. Compared to what I’ve sampled in the past, it’s less spicy, less saucy, and in in lieu of small fried fishes (or ground pork) the crab is combined with French fries – something I don’t mind as the toppings usually go to waste and I can always eat fries! However, it would be even better if the crab was simply steamed with garlic. Sure, it doesn’t look as impressive, but the king crab’s quality would be preserved and since the lobster is already fried, a steamed option would balance the meal better.

With all the seafood, we added an order of the diced beef tenderloin with garlic ($25), which really wasn’t necessary since we couldn’t even finish the rice. Yet, having a different flavour and texture was nice – the beef, cut into thick cubes, had a nice tender chewiness.


Although I don’t love the food at Fishman Lobster Clubhouse, I can see its appeal. It’s an excuse to gather a group of loved ones and share in a filling extravagant meal. Especially one where you can let loose, get in there, and get your hands dirty. 

Overall mark - 6 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 4020 Finch Avenue 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!


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Fishman Lobster Clubhouse Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Frilu (Thornhill)


Chefs who are taking the risk of leaving Toronto to open restaurants that are not on the subway line should be commended. Indeed, weeknights can be quiet, but people living in the suburbs also need a selection of fancy restaurants, especially ones serving tasting menus. I love the suburbs during the winter - who wants to struggle with paid parking and brown slush when you can drive somewhere with complimentary parking on site?

Frilu is located amongst a quieter drag of Yonge Street, but blink and you may still miss the small single lane pathway to the parking lot (located at the back of the restaurant). At least in Thornhill making a detour is a relatively easy affair.  

Their seasonally changing tasting menu aims to showcase local fresh Canadian ingredients. While the restaurant’s name is derived from the Norwegian concept friluftsliv, surprisingly their dishes are less Nordic and more Asian, possibly influenced from Chef and owner John-Vincent Troiano’s time working with Chef Hashimoto serving kaiseki cuisine. Followed by stints at Michelin darlings Noma and Benu, you can see how these experiences built Frilu’s menu.  

The 2018 fall rendition of the menu is dubbed “harvest moon, changing leaves” ($95) and consisted of ten dishes. After speaking to the couple beside us, they insisted the wine pairing is a must ($60). Indeed, they were right. The pairings were spot on going perfectly with each dish. Given my friend and I were driving, they even let us split a pairing, or the equivalent of about two glasses per person.

Frilu aims to “excite and surprise” guests, so one dish that will span across all seasons in the Lar-Eo. Inspired by an Oreo, Frilu’s biscuit drops the chocolate and uses black quinoa and blueberry instead, which sandwich a creamy centre made with lardo (whipped pork fat) spiced with star anise.


We’ve advised to eat the savoury cookie like an Oreo - twist it open and lick the centre – the creamy white filling silkier and lighter than the original offering. While the quinoa cookie is an interesting idea, it’s also a bit mealy and dry. If Frilu really wants to start with something whimsical, they should take the dish one step further and serve it with a warm cup of cream consommé. It would help balance out the dry cookie and give the diner the whole experience of dunking an Oreo in a cup of “milk”.

Maybe they thought the cava paired with the Lar-Eo would be sufficient. It did help cut through the fat and added a refreshing contrast against the earthy spices, but didn’t revive a dry biscuit.

Make sure to spoon some of the sake and sherry broth that comes with the Great Lake trout dish onto the fish. The rainbow trout is cured with Prosciutto giving the fish a salty cured flavour with a smoother texture. However, by itself, the trout is rather plain and really benefits from the sake broth, which although is hard to gather in a spoon, does give the dish that extra punch of flavour.


Once again, the drink pairing was perfect. The sakura sake helped mellow the cured taste and also went surprisingly well with the thickened chicken jus in the next dish, one of my favourite of the evening.

Frilu’s take on agedashi swaps the fried tofu with one made with glutinous burdock root flour. The smooth chewy base was topped with generous amounts of uni and sat in a pool of thick roasted chicken jus. The combination of the three ingredients was heavenly. The only mediocre element being the radish slices, which while adds a contrast against the dish’s softer elements was overpoweringly strong. Perhaps if they were cut thinner or lightly blanched, the pungent raw bitter flavours wouldn’t be as pronounced. 


Another rich dish followed, a cube of venison tongue sous vide in coffee and basil for 45 minutes, rendering it tender while still having a bit of chewiness common with the cut of meat. A strongly flavoured dish with a hint of smokiness and an umami saltiness from anchovy, it’s balanced by a bold red wine that could stand up against the flavours. Seeing the shavings on top, thoughts of frozen foie gras danced in my head, but it was actually hazelnuts that were surprisingly soft and added a light nuttiness.


Frilu’s blog points to the pumpkin patch as being most symbolic of the fall season, sort of like the star dish on the menu. A small squash is roasted than some of the innards is combined with bone marrow to create a piping hot spread on warm toasted pumpkin seed bread. It’s definitely something you can smell before you even see.


The centre of the squash, containing the bone marrow spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, was absolutely delicious on the crusty bread. However, once that meagre portion was gone and you’re left with plain roasted squash … it just tastes so … plain.

Other portions of the “patch” need more seasoning - whether it be adding salt to the squash-only portion or the bread itself. The easiest fix would be to give the diners a side of salted butter, so once you get to the non-marrow portion, there’s something else to add to the bread that’s still flavourful.

The hen of the woods really featured the ingredient in its fullest form: a thick wedge of mushroom that’s simply prepared with fermented mushroom paste and mushroom vinegar. In the end, it’s a dish for those who really like mushrooms, whether it’s the meaty middle or slightly crunchy ends.  


Sadly, the dish that sounded the tastiest was the worst of the evening. It started off well with lightly poached lobster in brown butter, warmed through but still tasting raw. But, then it was covered with beef floss (similar to the pork version that’s widely used in Chinese cuisine paired with congee or wrapped in sticky rice), which added a lumpy gritty texture to the lobster. Maybe I could have looked past the floss it there wasn’t so much horseradish added to the puree that it completely covered everything. The flavours only improved with a swig of Riesling, which did help temper the harsh horseradish.


By this point of the meal, we were two hours in and still feeling hungry. Thoughts of whether adding a katsu sandwich ($9) to the menu certainly crossed our minds. If this happens to you, just be patient.

The last savoury dish, roasted duck with rice, is probably the heartiest. An aromatic burnt onion jus is poured over sticky rice and duck at the table. The amount of jus poured was just a little uneven - mine was light (I would have loved more), while my friend’s was drowning and salty. Small slip aside, it was tasty: the duck tender, well-seasoned, and the skin lightly crisped; while the burnt onion jus going great with the sticky rice. A well selected dish to end the meal!


 “Earth apple” was the first dessert and while there were apple flavours, there’s also strong coffee elements, which worked remarkably well with the fruit. Dried sun choke slices adds a crispiness against the silky ice cream. Overall, the dessert went nicely with the madeira wine (port was also available for those who like something sweeter). 


To end, a Dora cake that kind of brings the meal full circle – another sandwich product that brings out the kid in us (although this dessert would be more widely known in Asian cultures). The buttery Castella pancakes were so good and Frilu swaps the traditional red bean paste for a creamy mascarpone. If only they left out the cubes of pear; they were too hard and really threw off the entire pastry.

In the age of seeking peace and happiness, friluftsliv is the concept of immersing ourselves with nature. For example just going out to a park for a long walk, while focusing on nature and not taking selfies along the hike. It’s supposed to provide a sense of spiritual and physical wellbeing.

It’s a great concept, but after sitting in a restaurant for almost three and a half hours, I can’t say that Frilu preaches the concept well. In speaking to the front-of-the-house manager, she explains they want to recreate an experience of connecting with people over food. While I appreciate having this time with my friends, we all agreed, the meal was much too long and needs to be trimmed by at least an hour.

Who knows, perhaps it’s just another symptom of living in the digital era where our patience decreases and we constantly want to be entertained. Sure, it’s a great experience to dive into the dishes and expertly matched alcohol pairings, but the long lags in between are hard to sit through, maybe it’d be bearable if I was dining in a forest. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Thornhill, Canada
 Address: 7713 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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