Ruby Watchco (Toronto)


The younger me tuned into the Food Network and consumed shows such as Pitchin’ In, which enlightened me about the many food purveyors throughout Canada – not the constant barrage of “competitions” that now plagues the station. With every episode, I started liking Chef Lynn Crawford’s laid back funny attitude even more; I want to travel with her and eat her creations … oh why can’t we be friends? 

As luck with have it, Torontonians can experience her cooking at Ruby Watchco. Together with Chef Lora Kirk, they create a menu that changes daily and is truly a tasting menu ($54) as there’s only one option – take it or leave it. With the appetizer and main course, the restaurant does offer add on items (a chicken liver parfait and bacon sliders, during our visit), so if you truly detest one of the dishes, you can leave more for your guests and buy something else.  However, if you’re not a picky eater or tend to be indecisive and agonize over all the choices, this is the restaurant for you.

Although a wine pairing is available ($39), if you’re visiting on Tuesday to Friday before 7pm, there are drink specials available including $5 cocktails, $5 beers, and $8 wine (including a bubbly option)! Cheers to that!


With the exception of dessert, the dinner’s served family style and on this evening consisted of a large bowl of Ruby’s Greek style salad. For me, a salad seems like such a boring start. But, the thick creamy pickled jalapeno aioli on the bottom, turned the typical greens, tomatoes, olives and feta into a dish that I had seconds of. After demolishing the hot salty cheddar buttermilk biscuit, of course. Where are your priorities?


Make sure to leave room for the main, the thick piece of Fogo Island cod was cooked perfectly, remaining moist and flaky with the requisite crispy skin. The slightly spicy and refreshing green onion relish helped add tons of flavour to the neutral fish. So good, I bet it’s a main that even people who normally don’t like fish would enjoy.


I commend the kitchen for their perfect timing on the vegetables: the sweet heirloom carrots just starting to soften and meld into the aromatic leek marmalade; the lightly charred broccoli incorporating a bit of smoke, yet still fresh and crunchy; and the fingerling potatoes cooked through but firm enough that the starchy creaminess remains.


This evening, Ruby Watchco showcased the Big Brother cheese from Lancaster Ontario’s Glengarry Fine Cheese. A firmer varietal, it was accurately described as a cross between parmesan and cheddar. The Big Brother is relatively mild and reminds me of a younger Beemster – a semi-firm texture, slight formation of crystals, and smooth finish.


After dining at Ruby Watchco, I can see how Chef Lynn’s creations on air translates into the restaurant. The menu sticks with the tried and true favourites – a chocolate cake to finish – and elevates the recipe with tasty, non-fussy finishes.

Dark chocolate and espresso is incorporated into the cake’s batter to balance out the caramel sauce and sweet meringue topping. As you enjoy the moist cake, there are so many flavours and textures that start to peek through … and just like that, the dessert’s done.


Ruby Watchco gets polarizing reviews - you either love it or hate it. Not knowing what you’ll be eating until the week of is either exciting or an annoyance; and being served family style either means getting more of what you like or more work. It’s not a restaurant for everybody. 

For me, I have an opened mind and opened stomach, hence, it’s a meal I thoroughly enjoyed. Now Chef Lynn: can we be friends?

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 730 Queen 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:


Ruby Watchco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice (Toronto)


As a teenager, I thought drinking bubble tea would be a fad. Just like Orbitz, a juice with small spheres of fruit floating throughout, its popularity would wane once consumers got over the novelty of having food in their drinks. Yet, my psychic abilities are non-existent, thankfully, and consumption is still going strong.

Although the drink didn’t arrive in Toronto until the mid-1990’s, it was developed in 1988 when a product development manager at Chun Shui Tang (a Taiwanese teahouse) added sweetened tapioca pudding to their tea and the company loved it so much they started selling it!

For those not in the know, at its simplest, bubble tea is the combination of sweetened tea with a food additive, which isn’t necessarily tapioca (although it’s the most popular choice). In fact, the “bubble” in the name has nothing to do with these pearls, but rather the foamy bubbles floating on top that’s developed through the shaking process. 

Nowadays the drink and topping options seem endless. At CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice, refreshing juices are added in the base and even chopped fresh fruit on top. Nevertheless, there’s something about the tried and true ingredients that still draw people in. Over March, as fans were voting for their favourite drinks, with the exception of passion fruit juice, the winners had scarcely a fruit in sight.

Although a little sweet at first, despite getting the drink at 50% sugariness, the Bubble GaGa ($4.20 for regular or $4.70 for large) is rather refreshing with its passion fruit and green tea base. It’d be great for the warmer months as one begins to crave something tropical since it also incorporates coconut jelly with the tapioca.


But my favourite has to be the 3 Guys ($5 for regular or $5.50 for large), a simple milk tea with three toppings: tapioca, pudding and grass jelly! The tapioca provides that requisite chewiness and the grass jelly an interesting herbal property to the tea. Yet, it’s the pudding, an ingredient I’ve never tried, that’s most surprising adding a silky creaminess when you get a bite with the drink.


The longevity of bubble tea is outstanding, so much so, that the global CoCo franchise turned 20 in April. During this milestone, they’re offering their patrons a few perks:
  • The two top drinks noted above are on sale for April where you can get the large for just $3.80.
  • During April share a photo of CoCo’s tea using hashtag #CoCo20th on any social media platform and that’s your entry towards their contest for winning one month of free CoCo products (that’s one a day)! There will be five winners and to help you along the way, CoCo has photo booths set up in Ontario locations.
Happy birthday CoCo Fresh Tea and good luck to all. May the bubbles be with you.

Disclaimer: The above drinks were complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Website: https://www.facebook.com/cocoteaontario/

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Coco Fresh Juice and Tea Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


La Banane (Toronto)


Most restaurants tend to feature an in-your-face bar: at Lavelle, theirs gleams and at Lena it takes up half a floor. La Banane replaces theirs statement bar with a cold seafood station instead – oysters, shrimp, and crab are displayed prominently and as enticingly as any bottle of alcohol.

In the end, it’s the Alaskan king crab ($52) we settled on, which takes a bit of work, but the crab’s salty tang is a succulent treat. In terms of condiments, the tried and true cocktail sauce was good, but the thick helping of crème fraiche needed an extra boost of herbs to stand up to the crab.


Covered with a thick paste of dill, brown butter, and caper tapenade, the topping on the albacore tuna ($16) was tasty but the thick layer excessive against the ratio of fish. After scraping some off, the briny bite goes wonderfully with the delicate fish, the rest I used to dip pieces of complimentary pretzel bread into.


Having seen pictures of their Eurobass en croute ($32), an entire fish wrapped in a salt pastry, it’s a dish I wouldn’t miss. First presented fully intact, the fish is then whisked back to the kitchen to have the top layer of pastry and skin removed before being re-presented with an ample boat of tangy yuzu beurre blanc.


Wow, can you taste the salt that permeates all the meat. Really, you don’t even need the citrusy butter sauce, although it was delicious. If only there weren’t strange orbs of zucchini dotting the fish.  Personally, I’d imagine using zucchini ribbons to replace the lattice of pastry would look and taste better.


At La Banane, seafood dominates the menu. To balance out the sea, we opted for the duck breast ($28), a protein that the French does so well. Hence, when I cut through what looked like well rendered skin to find it soggy and chewy, the dish took a dive. Another taste with the bitter grilled endive didn’t improve my perception.  


I’d stick with the flatiron steak ($25), the beef wonderfully tender and the soubise sauce incorporating an unexpected kick of grainy mustard that compliments the rich beef beautifully. The bar of pommes Anna (think scalloped potatoes but using ultra-thin slices of potatoes and butter in lieu of cream) was perhaps the best part of the meal. Why isn’t this a side that you can get more of?!


Rather, everyone seemed to get a pot of their pommes aligot ($12), the mashed potatoes incorporating so much mozzarella that its stringiness was taller than a supermodel’s legs. Think you can simply lift your spoon higher to get the cheesy potatoes out of the dish? Good luck.


Indeed, the molten fondue nature of the aligot is impressive, but you really have to love cheese. Aside from the gooey mozzarella, there’s something stronger (gruyère and emmental perhaps), just a few spoons and I had to tap out.  

We couldn’t bring ourselves to shell out the $50 to try to Ziggy Stardust disco egg. As a person who generally doesn’t like chocolate, after seeing the chocolate egg filled with truffles being presented at a neighbouring table, I’m glad we opted for the gateau à la banane ($12) instead. In spite of the cake looking like something a child makes in an Easy Bake oven, the flavours are spot on (a wonderful vanilla base with a creamy banana finish) and the slightly caramelized crust along the outside was fantastic.


For an almost healthy dessert, La Banane offers a roasted ananas ($10), the pineapple encapsulated in a lovely sugary crust that turns the fruit into dessert. It really didn’t go with the tofu pudding, but I rather enjoyed the beany hit from the tofu, which could have been a touch sweeter.


For the most part, La Banane’s food is good and the atmosphere is glitzy while still welcoming and comfortable. It’s their service that needs fine tuning. By no means are they unfriendly or inattentive, if anything, it might be too attentive.

Working in pairs, rather than a person per section, it seems like everything gets repeated – being asked if I wanted water when there’s already a glass in front of me or wondering if I needed a drink while waiting for dining companions. Moreover, I understand the importance of ensuring people are happy with their food, but when a group’s deep in conversation and dishes are relatively clear, I’d rather not have someone interrupt at each course. If anything, a touch point in between the appetizer and main course and at the end of the meal would be sufficient.

Perhaps I’m being nit-picky. After all, I’d rather enter a French restaurant without the Parisian snobbery. As for the overall experience, La Banane’s seafood is fresh and their sauces très délicieux, but all these best new restaurant accolades? I don’t get it. For me, they’re like a banana: dependable, but common.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 227 Ossington 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:


La Banane Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Piano Piano (Toronto)


While restaurants across the world are making headlines with their no “young” children policies, Chef Victor Barry is moving in the complete opposite direction, closing the upscale and intimate Splendido and morphing the space into a brightly lit and whimsical (while still polished) space that embraces families. Although the main floor welcomes all guests, the lower level is tailored for children with its play area, a distraction allowing parents to enjoy unbothered bites of food. It’s sweet and welcoming, exactly the atmosphere Piano Piano wants to cultivate: a place where you feel like you’re dining in their home and gives you time to deepen family relations. 

Given our waitress raved about the egg yolk raviolo ($16), we felt obligated to try the appetizer portion to start. The typical spinach and ricotta stuffing is augmented with an egg yolk sandwiched between the sheets of pasta. As you break through the raviolo, the molten egg combines with the salty parmigiano shavings and nutty brown butter to create a rich savoury sauce. It’s a wildly inventive dish and absolutely delicious if it weren’t for the ultra al dante pasta edges.


Having read all the rave reviews about Piano Piano’s pizza, we opted for the Smokey Bear ($22), an uncommon combination of soft fior di latte cheese, smoked mozzarella, and salty smoked cured speck. Perhaps it’s unfair to complain that the pizza was too smoky (after all, it’s named the Smokey Bear), but with the pizza’s chewy crust already well-blistered, all the other intensely flavoured ingredients were too much. My taste buds were desparately crying out for something refreshing to balance it out – a lightly dressed arugula on top would have been a perfect respite.


The braised short rib ($28), not surprisingly, simply broke apart with a press of the fork; so tender you couldn’t even feel the distinct grains from the beef … everything seemed to meld into one luscious piece. For my friend, the soft texture almost had her thinking the beef was past its prime. After laser focusing on the taste, I can see her point – there is a slight funk. Possibly, the meat was wet-aged, which breaks down the fibers while retaining its juices, but does leave an almost musky flavour and aroma in the beef.


Despite sharing what we thought was a manageable amount of food, the richness of the dishes left us as full as dining at Nonna’s table on a Sunday. Nonetheless, the nutella tiramisu ($9) called. On top of the tea cup sized dessert was a whimsical piano keyboard made from cocoa powder. Like the other dishes, the tiramisu was surprisingly rich for the small size – there was no skimping on the mascarpone and in lieu of lady fingers a rich vanilla cake was used. Having had my fair share of tiramisu, I like Piano Piano’s rendition, a sweet and satisfying ending.



While I’m still disappointed that I can longer enjoy Splendido’s deliciously extravagant brunch, it’s nice to see better dining options for families with young children. For me, a childless diner, the playroom and separate dining area are meaningless and if anything made me hesitant to visit. Hence, it was a pleasant surprise that the play area wasn’t prominently displayed like a McDonald’s playground. 

Truth be told, if I hadn’t read-up about the restaurant before visiting, I’d be none the wiser about Piano Piano’s family friendly nature. There were no screaming children and the atmosphere on the main floor was like any other restaurant. Thankfully, the music was at a reasonable volume so I really felt I could converse with my friend. The food may not be as stellar as its predecessor, but Piano Piano is a comfortable and welcoming environment, a place that encourages you to connect and of course, mangia.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 88 Harbord 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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


Piano Piano Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Karaikudi Chettinad Indian Restaurant (Toronto)


I’m not afraid to admit that when it comes to Indian food, I’m a novice. I’m not knowledgeable about which dishes originate from a particular region, the spices still meld into one on my tongue, and I haven’t a clue on how to gauge a restaurant’s authenticity. Yet, it’s a cuisine I want to get to know better. Hence, I turn to the Internet and rely on “best of” lists and crowd sourced reviews before I return to Scarborough, my childhood home, where there’s an abundance of Indian restaurants to try.

As their name may give away, Karaikudi Chettinad offers Southern Indian dishes from the Chettinad region. Wikipedia hints to me that the cuisine from this region is known for their use of masala and rice (the grain even used in wraps such as dosais). Hence, it helps narrow down my choices on Karaikudi’s extensive menu (it even includes Hakka-style dishes) to those using these two ingredients.

During lunch, a great meal for one (or even sharing) is a thali, a round platter made up of various dishes incorporating all six flavours. The chicken version ($14.99) is sparse in terms of meat (two deck-of-card sized bone-in pieces), but the curry is lovely – full of flavours and spicy enough while not overwhelming.


Still, it’s the other small bowls that draws me in; urging me to dip and experiment to my  heart’s content. By all means, I have no idea what I’m having most of the time, but it’s the different textures, flavourfuls and spiciness levels that gets me excited.


One moment it’s the lusciousness of the dal (a lentil dish) or surprising heartiness of the stewed cauliflower, then I get an unexpected bitterness from an unknown vegetable. The huge bowl of what looks like lethal green chilies turns out to be refreshing crunchy string beans, stir fried with onion and bits of egg. Crisis adverted. There are just two items to watch out for:

  • A lone spoonful of thick hot sauce, a telltale sign cautioning you to use sparingly; and
  • A light coconut and cardamom tapioca dessert. If you’re not aware this comes with the meal, you may end up spooning the sweet milky liquid over rice – I may or may not have dipped papadum into it before realizing the error.
Within the thali are plenty of options to soak up the sauces: a large bowl of airy basmati rice, a crispy papadum, and a soft wheat flour chapathi. If you’re sharing, I’d suggest adding on a couple of the parottas ($1.99 each) as well. The wrap has a soft chewy texture similar to naan, but incorporates more oil leaving lovely layers … its crevices perfect for dipping into sauces.


The chicken biryani ($12.99) looks and tastes fantastic. Somehow the rice retains a light airiness but the grains have absolutely soaked in flavours. Just scoop a forkful into your mouth and leave it there … slowly the flavours come out. Similar to the thali, there’s not a lot of chicken that actually arrives with the rice, but it’s sufficient and there’s also the customary hard-boiled egg on top.


Having heard about Karaikudi’s gigantic dosas, a crispy pancake made with a fermented rice and black gram batter, the restaurant would be my first taste of the dish. Instead of table-sized version, I opted for a regular-sized masala ($10.99) that incorporates a flavourful curried mashed potato mixture in the centre. It sort of needs the potato, which adds a heartiness to the dosa; otherwise, it would have been a mere savoury crispy crepe with chutneys and gravy.


Karaikudi Chettinad was a great stop in my journey in becoming a more experienced consumer of Indian food. It’s sizeable dining room allows for reservations and the menu seems endless – thankfully, I researched ahead of time!  You start to build an understanding of how things should taste: the biryani isn’t merely coloured rice with a faint taste of spice, rather it’s evolved into a blanket of aromatic flavours that covers the tongue.  Bite by bite, my education continues.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1225 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:


Karaikudi Chettinad Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Abbot Pub and Fare (Toronto)


Having recently moved, the change in location means a new local watering hole and a whole slew of fresh establishments to dine at. In the area, there’s a fair number of casual eateries and regardless of the evening, pubs such as The Abbot are filled. Rain, snow, cold weather … nothing will stop North Yorkers from getting a cold glass of ale (or in my case, wine).

As the calamari ($12) was presented, the tell-tale perfect rings signified frozen seafood. Get ready for the shriveled insides and coating that falls off, I thought to myself. Surprisingly, my worries didn’t materialize and the appetizer was decent – the calamari relatively plump and the light crispy coating adhered just fine on the seafood.


It doesn’t seem fair to write about a pub without trying a couple of their staples: fish and chips or a burger. Sadly, the staples are also what the Abbot seems to rest on their laurels with.

I’m told the thick oily batter on their fish and chips ($15) is a typical English style. For me, it’s too heavy and despite the pieces of fish actually being quite thick, still remained buried in coating; especially the ends that were so mummified I had to peel them off. Perhaps if the batter actually incorporated enough of the “Abbot Ale” or there was some other flavour incorporated into the coating it’d be better. Unfortunately, each piece of fish simply tasted like oil … the only respite was once I doused it with a liberal splashing of malt vinegar or added the respectable coleslaw to the mix.


The beef burger ($14 with an extra $2 for cheddar and caramelized onions) looked impressive with a thick patty, colourful garnishes and a fluffy buttered bun. Looks can be deceiving as upon biting through the bun everything was just… so … plain. Aside from the liberal squirt of ketchup, I really couldn’t taste much else. Despite being warned that their burgers are cooked to medium (the proper way any real burger should be prepared, in my mind), the actual patty arrived completely cooked through.  


Maybe it was an off evening and the cooks simply forgot to dip into the spices. Somehow, both dishes were so bland – even the tartar sauce could only add so much interest to the fish and chips. I know what you’re thinking, there’s salt on the table, just sprinkle it on. Sure, this helps a bit but I’m a firm believer that what makes a dish good is the layering of flavours (i.e. having spices incorporated into the beef patty and sauce on the burger bun) so that everything works together. Moreover, making a dish taste good relies more than just salt … that’s just table stakes.

Another visit yielded tastier meals. The chicken and waffle ($20), a special for the evening, had an amazing side: the bacon and Brussels sprouts hash was bang on in terms of flavours as the slivers of vegetable and soft bacon melded together into a wonderful accompaniment. I could have easily had a large plate of the hash as a meal.

Although showing promise, the chicken and waffles just wasn’t executed very well. The coating on the chicken was nicely seasoned (the saltiness pairing nicely with the maple bourbon glaze) and the meat was juicy, yet the breading fell off as soon as the knife pierced through. Chicken meat with hard crispy shards of coating anyone? The buttermilk waffle was made with a delicious batter, but so dense it could have been pancakes; the soft cake-like texture good on its own, but much too heavy for fried chicken.

The sole dish I’d order again is the beef brisket ($22). Each thick slice of meat so tender and flavourful, having been braised in beer. It’s a real "stick to your ribs" comfort dish paired with buttery scallion mashed potatoes. Mmm… meat and potatoes, perhaps this is what pub fare is all about.


The Abbot does offer a great rendition of sticky toffee pudding ($8), served hot in a ramekin that keeps all the buttery syrup soaked into the soft cakey cinnamon bread. Yet, the syrup isn’t overpowering – just sweet enough to bring justice to the dessert, but balanced out by the neutral whipped cream on top that adds a creaminess to everything.


What I’ve learnt from attending the local restaurant: forget about the fried dishes, go for the meat and potatoes. And by all means, save room for dessert!

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3367 Yonge 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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


The Abbot Pub & Fare Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato