Kay Pacha (Toronto)


Even though I’ve had Peruvian cuisine previously, I’m still surprised by the seemingly varied choices available on a menu. Due to their proximity to other countries, their cuisine has European, Asian, and West African influences, aside from the traditional Inca-based dishes. Moreover, since Peru’s geography has many climates (mountains, rainforest, and access to water), dishes also range from light seafood to heartier grains and meat. This makes Peruvian restaurants an ideal gathering place for groups with varying tastes - there’s so much on the menu that you’re bound to find something that will satisfy picky eaters.

Kay Pacha’s menu is no different, our meal encompassed dishes often found in Argentinian, Mediterranean, Japanese, and Chinese restaurants… with a Peruvian twist of course. Their empanaditas ($12 for 3) are like empanadas but the pastry is not as flakey and a bit harder. The filling of ground sirloin, boiled egg, and olives was delicious. Plus, I’m glad the kitchen left the olives in big chunks, so they could be picked out if necessary. Accompanied by two condiments (rocoto cream and chimichurri), I found the rocoto cream goes well with the empanditas; the sauce has a faint chili taste and is mellower, adding a hint of richness and a wonderful aroma to the pastry.


When you see the ceviche classic ($24), you’ll notice it’s distinctly different from the Spanish and Mexican versions of the dish. Firstly, the ingredients (red snapper, red onion, toasted chulpe corn, boiled choclo, sweet potato puree, yam puree, and leche de tigre) arrive separated allowing someone to remove something they really don’t like. 


After mixing everything together, the sweet potato and yam purees cause the ceviche to turn a bright colour, the dish looks like halo halo but tastes like ceviche… it takes some getting used to. Overall, the ceviche is decent but needs more salt and there’s almost too many crunchy elements for my taste.

The antichucho grilled skewers of black tiger shrimp ($15) were done perfectly, the shrimp tasty on their own or with the hot sauce. It’d be even better if the ribbing on the sides of the sugar peas were removed as the vegetables were a little tough and sinewy.


While the final dishes took a while to prepare, they were worth the wait. The Miami ribs Nikkei ($28) is very flavourful, the short ribs marinated with Chicha and soy sauce, so the meat becomes sweet and salty. Some may find the ribs fatty and chewier, but this is expected with beef ribs and is also heartier than the pork version. Lining the bottom of the plate are “majaco” style plantains, which are deep fried and then stewed so while they’re not crunchy, they contain moisture.


An order of the chaufa de mariscos ($30) goes great with the ribs. The fried rice smells amazing and is filled with large pieces of tiger shrimp, squid, scallop, and mussels. Soy and “chifa sauce” are added to give the rice a sweet saltiness. Just a bowl of the rice would make a satisfying meal. It’s a dish that embodies things I love: fried rice, seafood, wok hay, and bursts of flavours. Ah… Peruvian cuisine, why are you not more readily available?


Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10



How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 744 St. Clair Avenue West

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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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SoSo Food Club (Toronto)


Walking into SoSo Food Club, you would think you’re entering a retro hipster diner instead of a Chinese restaurant. The neon lit tunnel at the entrance is both trippy and wacky, I can’t help but think of Star Trek and going into hyper drive as I walk towards the host. Just pray you get seated at the plush banquettes by the window. The small circular tables by the bar are impractical when Chinese cuisine serves dishes that are meant for sharing – have fun trying to fit more than a dish, bowl of rice, two cocktails, and two water glasses on the desk-sized table.

If you’re feeling hungry, get one of the smaller bites to start as the main dishes take a while to arrive. I’m glad our waitress, Tabitha, convinced us to get the xiao long bao ($9) to tie us over. Truthfully, they’re like the ones from Asian Legend; nonetheless, they are well made: the wrapper thin with a slight elasticity and holding a lot of broth. An extra flavour element was added into the minced pork filling that I couldn’t decipher, maybe Chinese cooking wine? It gives the trapped soup an interesting taste.


Every table seems to get the lobster mapo tofu ($29). An entire lobster is halved and the meat removed from the shell then stir fried with soft tofu cubes, crab, and a thick spicy sauce (the mapo really has heat, especially if you eat the little chunks of red chilies strewn throughout). Smartly, the kitchen leaves the lobster in big chunks, it’s the only chance you can taste it since the strong sauce will cover any seafood essence. But there is something indulgent about having lobster with a dish that’s typically something served in homes. If only the rice it comes with was better, it needed more water and didn’t seem to be the “perfumed” variety.


A lot of SoSo’s menu is spicy and I expected to their dan dan mian ($16) to be scorching. Surprisingly, the heat was restrained with sesame sauce added to help mellow the spice. The chewy noodles are made in-house and thick enough to hold up against the thick spicy sauce. If there was some of the traditional crunchy preserved vegetables added, the noodles would be even better, the crushed peanuts just didn’t provide enough contrast.


For vegetarians, there’s also enough to choose from on the menu. The Not Really a Buddha basket ($15) could work as a main dish as the deep-fried taro paste pancake is pretty heavy. Covered with various chopped vegetables in gravy, the fresh corn kernels were a nice touch and provided crunchy elements against the soft taro. Adding some of the traditional Buddhist vegetables to the dish, like jook sung, would have made this even better as the vegetable would soak up the gravy, providing a more flavourful bite.


Coming from a Chinese background, I know SoSo Food Club is not 100% authentic. Yet, the creations are great representations of traditional dishes, with original elements that make it special. Plus, they have a great bar menu that is much better than the dusty bottles of alcohol or run-of-the-mill “cocktails” found in the old school restaurants. Their SoSo lager ($8) and Liefmans Yell’oh pineapple ale ($8) both intrigued me (and went great with their food) … this is coming from someone who rarely orders beer. SoSo encouraged me to enjoy Chinese food differently, in a dark day-glo environment with drinks that are much stronger than tea.  

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1166 Dundas Street West

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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Labora (Toronto)


In the evenings, the back of Campo Food Hall transforms into Labora, a tapas restaurant. With the rest of the stalls closed, there’s a sense of calm as you enter the space, like walking through a short alley to get to the restaurant.

While Labora isn’t as laid back as a small shop in Barcelona, it does have a casual vibe, which is why when our waiter asked if we like olives (before we glanced at the menu), my husband answered yes (even though I’m impartial to them). Soon a large plate of them arrived with a $7 charge to match. I’ve dined in countries where a snack charge is added to everyone’s bill. Usually, this means a plate is already sitting on the table and the menu generally calls out the cost. To have someone ask if you like olives, like if you want bread, and then charge you for it feels misleading.


Maybe if it was only $3 (and a smaller portion) it would be less noticeable. What arrives is a sizeable plate with four different types of olives marinated in citrus so makes it less pungent and almost sweet. As olives go, these aren’t bad. Just not my first choice for adding to the meal.

A dish like the Joselito lomo ($13.50) is what I would have preferred to snack on with beer. Sourced from an Iberico pig, it’s cut from the loin instead of the leg, so the meat is leaner but still melts on the tongue and has that lightly salted sweetness found in jamon. It’s also a good introduction to Iberico products, if you’re not sure if you want to shell out $30 for jamon.


The menu describes the pan tumaca ($6) as tomato rubbed ‘Cristal’ bread. What is Cristal bread? From what I deduced, the moniker likely references all the air pockets formed in the well-toasted airy bread that’s drenched with olive oil and so crunchy, it tastes deep fried. The thin layer of tomato paste is rather neutral, most of the flavours stem from the olive oil.


For something spicy, the bocata del calamari ($9.50 each) will have you reaching for a cerveza. Rings of lightly dusted deep-fried calamari are sandwiched in a brioche bun with tons of aioli, drizzled in hot sauce, and a pickled pepper is skewered through the squid. The pepper adds a juicy freshness to the sandwich but with the siracha was really spicy. Luckily, you can always pull it out and take small bites to temper the spice. The sandwich was delicious and one of my favourite dishes of the evening.


Another was the rubia gallega ($19.50) a cured Ontario ribeye that’s prepared like Iberico, thinly sliced then topped with honey mushrooms and truffle oil. The truffle oil was a bit overpowering when eating the beef on its own, but with crostini the flavours balance out. What a genius idea to use ribeye as the protein, the cut has enough fat for that lusciousness, like ham, and lends itself to taking on the lightly sweetened flavour.


After some heavier dishes the tumet ($19) was a welcomed contrast. The oven-roasted terrine made with thinly sliced zucchini, eggplant, and potato was a fairly big portion. Aside from the potato, the other vegetables became lost in the thick zesty tomato sauce so more of the zucchini and eggplant would make this even better.


Some dishes could have been good if only there wasn’t one overpowering ingredient added. Sometimes it just pays to keep it simple with seasonings like oil and salt.

The BC striped shrimp pintxos ($16), a special for the evening, takes the tiny shrimp and lines them onto whipped roe on toasted bread. These ingredients would have been more than enough: the roe salty with a rich seafood essence; the shrimp a little sweetness; and there’s even chives, adding a taste of the herb and colour. But then, a liberal sprinkling of paprika is added, completely overpowering the shrimp and giving a slightly bitter finish to the dish. 



Similarly, the sour grapefruit used in the serviola crudo ($18.40) covered the delicate yellow tail tuna. Maybe it has something to do with our waiter urging us to spoon the marinating liquid over everything, to get the coffee flavours. 


In all fairness, our waiter was extremely friendly and warm, I know he was just trying to make sure we had the best experience possible. However, I couldn’t taste any coffee and the sour grapefruit so pungent I coughed. Alas, the poor tuna no match for the citrus. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 433 King Street West (in the Campo Food Hall)

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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Don Alfonso 1890 (Toronto)


Don Alfonso 1890 originates from Sorrento within the Amalfi Coast of Italy. The Mediterranean restaurant has been awarded two Michelin stars and is known for their extensive wine list. While I haven’t visited the original location, it’s described as a picturesque boutique hotel that even has an onsite cooking school. In comes the Liberty Entertainment Group (owners of Casa Loma, Liberty Grand, etc.) who convinced Chef Ernesto Iaccarino to partner with them to open the new Toronto outpost. Of course, Chef Iaccarino will stay in Italy, hence the Toronto kitchen is led by Chef Saverio Macri, who trained with Chef Iaccarino for months.


Set in the former Rosewater Supper Club, the space is even lighter and brighter than before. Sitting in the soaring dining room, you can’t help but feel a sense of tranquility and awe. A few large art pieces draws interest, but otherwise the space is relatively neutral, so you can focus on the food.


In keeping with Don Alfonso’s tradition of using local ingredients, dishes like the Manitoba bison and Nova Scotia ling cod has been customized for the Canadian menu. However, they do import some ingredients to retain the Amalfi Coast flavours. For example, the olive oil that’s carefully poured onto the bread plate (with an indentation that separates the oil) is from Tuscany, a great pairing with their airy and salty focaccia. Also make sure to get their hot crispy mini baguette, this goes wonderfully with the truffle butter.


The 8-course tasting menu ($150 per person with vegetarian option available) consists of five savoury and three sweet dishes, wine pairings are an additional $100.

A collection of canapés arrives on a tree limb shaped plate, where the actual canapés are meant to resemble fall foliage. Each bite is different: yellowfin tuna tartare and parsley crisp a light start; bison tartare with chili chip resembled typical beef tartare; sea urchin with squid ink crisp finishes off with a bitter bite; and finally, meaty and refreshing rockfish ceviche with turmeric crisp, my favourite of the bunch. While each canapé is quickly finished in two bites, it must take a long time to make four different toppings with four different flavoured chips.


Admittedly, when I first saw the ice creamed eel course my stomach turned. Yet, what arrived was pleasant and tasted like a salty cream, not unlike Cesar dressing without the cheese and garlic. Once mixed into the wild rose scented tagliatelle, which by itself is also powerful, the saltiness and the floral flavour worked remarkably well. However, I’d suggest adding the creamed eel gradually into the pasta as the ratio given is unbalanced – for Don Alfonso, doubling the pasta and reducing the creamed eel by a third is advisable.


For some protein courses, dishes allow diners to flavour the meat to their preference. The seared Muscovy duck breast comes with three sauces: a balsamic reduction, a star anise glaze, and royal gala apple purée. It’s a nice touch to be able to mix-and-match to my liking – surprisingly, I enjoyed the star anise glaze the most. The duck was beautifully seared, if only there was more duck and less sauce.


Where the sauces didn’t work as well was for the bison. The San Marzano tomato and red chili reduction was a splitting taste of Frank’s Red Hot and the salsa verde, something that normally goes well with steak, just didn’t pair well.


With the bison wrapped with swiss chard, mozzarella, and a buttery bread crust, the dish was a cross between beef wellington and chicken cordon blue. While my husband believes a chimichurri would go well with it, I think a simple jus mixed with a sweet element (like a berry or current) would have been great – perhaps a little safe, but at least tastier. Luckily, the meat was flavourful enough on its own that I didn’t need the sauce, it was merely disappointing that the meal didn’t end stronger.

For other dishes, we’re told to aggressively mix everything together… to have the elements individually would be too plain. Sure, the mackerel in the vermicelli di gragnano was done beautifully and clean tasting, but once combined with caramelized onions, Alalonga tuna purée, and crunchy Silician pine nut pieces, it was even better. Some patrons may find the dish salty; for me, it was perfect. So much so, that I may go back for a larger plate from their a la carte menu ($28).


The menu describes the merluzzo as having a ‘crisp’ herb skin. While it was a thick sauce formed with six herbs, the skin on the ling cod wasn’t crispy. In fact, it really didn’t taste like much - if anything, the zucchini puree under the fish was stronger and gave the protein flavour. Regardless, it was a lovely lighter dish, adding some vegetables into the meal.


A sizeable portion of Ontario strawberry sorbet arrives as a palette cleanser, in between the savoury dishes and dessert. The pistachio glass is a nice decorative touch.


Dessert begins with something traditional, a Neapolitan sfogliatella, consisting of a flakey phyllo pastry filled with tons of cinnamon infused cream. So much pastry cream that it felt like we were having cinnamon mousse - I say more cone, less cream! Moreover, the amarena cherry glaze should be drizzled around the plate, given it’s an acquired taste (depends if you enjoy maraschino cherries), which I would have preferred to avoid.  


The last dish ends with a bang … or billowing smoke. A tray of petit four arrives with dry ice in the centre, which makes for a great presentation while keeping the sweets cold. The pastry of the deconstructed cannoli was delicious, the nuts adding a great crunch, but the almond cream wasn’t for me. My favourite was the creamy hazelnut semifreddo, which went particularly well with cappuccino. And the last bite, a silky olive oil truffle on a crunchy pistachio biscuit, a rich sweet ending that’s also notably balanced.  


Although $150 tasting menus are widely found in major cities worldwide, in Toronto it’s still one of the pricier options. Aside from the sturgeon caviar (used sparingly with the ice creamed eel), the ingredients aren’t particularly luxurious, so why does Don Alfonso command the price?

Aside from the tie-in to the Michelin-starred restaurant, likely due to the sheer amount of people working. A team of two assembles the canapes dish, which as the evening progressed expanded to three – three people to scoop premade toppings onto crisps. Every table is served in unison, no matter how large. And even opening a bottle of wine is an elaborate affair with the sommelier wheeling over a cart (complete with lit candle), slowly removing the cork, pouring the wine into a large crystal decanter, before presenting the cork on a silver platter and pouring the wine.

Or maybe it has something to do with all the tableware they need to purchase. Every course is served on a customized vessel with matching silverware, believed to showcase the characteristics of the dish. 

In other words, Don Alfonso offers an over-the-top experience that’s rarely found elsewhere in the city. They make you feel special … where else are you offered a tour of the kitchen and wine cellar before leaving the restaurant? It’s the place to go for a special occasion or when you really want to impress someone.



For a glimpse of the experience, you can also visit the second-floor lounge where they offer an a la carte menu, a mix of some tasting menu dishes and others created especially for their smaller kitchen. You may not get served in unison and the wine may not arrive elaborately with a cart, but you can try the tasty vermicelli di gragnano mackerel.

Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 19 Toronto 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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Laveanne (Campbellcroft)


Looking for a photo op amongst flowers and disappointed to hear the sunflower farm is now closed? Luckily, you can still nestle yourself amongst the lavender fields of Laveanne. About an hour outside of Toronto in Port Hope, Laveanne is a small farm with no admission charge containing a little store and open-air bistro. Unless you’re a photo fiend, you likely won’t spend more than an hour and half at the facility, but a visit to the goat farm and Port Hope marina can help fill the day.


They’re only opened for July when the lavender flowers. By the time we visited at the end of the month, the peak of the lavender bloom was over, but the purple flowers remained on the plants. Perhaps not as vibrantly coloured as mid-month, we could still smell the distinctive scent as we walked amongst the field.


A local restauranteur/caterer also takes over their open-air bistro for lunch. During 2018, it was On the Side Gourmet where they offered a simple menu with four sandwiches, a larger salad, soup, dessert, and sides. The bistro consists of a dozen tables under a tent attached to a gazebo where the kitchen resides. While the food was mediocre, at best, there’s something about eating amongst a lavender field that makes everything taste better.


The steak on baguette ($17) is better described as roast beef on a sausage bun. Everything was too soft for me – the beef so thinly sliced against the grain that it almost crumbles, which would have been okay if the bread also wasn’t doughy. Moreover, it needed seasoning - even with grilled onions and cheese sauce there wasn’t much flavour. While the French potato salad was a vibrant combination of cherry tomatoes, green beans, carrots, celery, onion, and olives, like the sandwich it needed something more than just herbed oil to give it interest.


Still, the “steak” was a better option than the grilled chicken kabob ($16), which had been precooked, left in a warmer, then re-heated on the grill. By the time it was served, the chicken was dry and hard. Perhaps if there was more sauce to rehydrate the protein it’d be better, but the wrap barely contained any tzatziki and the tabbouleh was really chopped tomatoes and not the flavourful Middle Eastern parsley and grain salad you’re expect. Luckily, I paired this with the garden salad, so when added into the wrap there was at least some flavour and crunch. Otherwise, the best part of the sandwich was the warmed flatbread.


While I’m not normally a huge fan of lavender in food, being at Laveanne convinced me to try the punch with lavender syrup ($3). Not surprisingly, there was no lavender flavours; I couldn’t even smell the aroma. To be fair, maybe it was because we had just walked through the field of flowers that had such a strong fragrance. For fruit punch, it was fine.


Disappointing lunch aside, Laveanne is worth a visit, especially if you’re looking for a relaxing and low-key drive. Sometimes you just need to get out of the city and be amongst nature. In July, why not make it fragrant purple lavender? 

Overall mark - 6 out of 10 



How To Find Them
 Location: Campbellcroft, Canada
 Address: 8667 Gilmour Road
 Website: http://laveanne.ca/

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

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

Cheese Garden (Toronto)


In case you’re wondering, Cheese Garden is not an export from Japan. Although, it is inspired by all the pastries found in the area when Ruka (owner) visited the country and decided to learn the recipes to bring these confections back to Canada.  

The Japanese cheesecake ($10) is widely found across the GTA and probably the first thing people think about with Japanese cheese-based baked goods. Cheese Garden’s is not as buttery as some of their competitors, but is smoother while still retaining that fluffiness you expect from the cake.


My go-to way of sampling the cake is in three stages: fresh from the shop; leaving in the fridge for at least 8 hours before a second slice; and finally waiting a full 24 hours before having a last taste. On previous occasions, I generally prefer the confection after a day in the fridge. In the cold, the cake deepens and turns creamier. Oddly, with Cheese Garden’s I actually preferred it fresh, possibly because it was so silky to begin with.


What separates Cheese Garden from their competitors is their expanded offering - they are not a single recipe pony. And if you like cheese their double fromage cheesecake ($18.95) will make you swoon.


Inspired by the famous creation from LeTAO from Hokkaido, the cake consists of two layers – the top frozen while the bottom baked. They are sandwiched together amongst sponge cake bits, melding into one to give the eater two flavours and consistencies.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of LeTAO’s version, there’s a stark distinction between the frozen and baked layers (the bottom is darker). Meanwhile, the colour variation at Cheese Garden is slight, but if you look closely you’ll see the top frozen layer is smoother and less crumbly.


Following the directions, I left the cake at room temperature for about half an hour before cutting. By this point, it was still difficult to cut through and there was an icy consistency covering everything. So, it went back into the fridge and after another 4 hours the second slice was much better, the top layer softened and resembled an ice cream cake crossed with tiramisu.


By the following day, still in the fridge as I didn’t want to keep freezing and defrosting the cake, it turned even creamier, the top layer seeping into the bottom and became what I’d call a cheesy trifle (without all the fruit).

While the double fromage is only 4.5 inches, it’s really rich. So, despite being small, I can see why the cake can feed six. The cheese flavours are definitely more pronounced than the Japanese cheesecake, but still light and mellower than western counterparts.

Having only sampled a third of Cheese Garden’s creations, this is the bakery to go to if you don’t mind spending more for something different. With a plethora of choices, perhaps it’s the excuse you need to round up a group of cheese lovers for a tea party.   

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

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 5291 Yonge Street

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

Cheese Garden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato