R&D Spadina (Toronto)



After scurrying through the colourful China Town streets, R&D’s sleek black sign on a normal looking building seems so out of place. There’s no large sign out front packed with too much information or walls covered with colour slips of hand written menu items. Instead, the cavernous dining room with soaring ceilings features walls adorned with vibrant paintings and an opened kitchen where fans can watch the Master Chef himself cooking away.
                                                                                                                                              Indeed, most of the earlier R&D visitors are likely MasterChef Canada fans. I can still remember the episode when Eric Chong presented the lobster chow mein ($25) to the judges, looking apprehensive as they tuck into it before a smile erupts on their face. So, it was one of the must eat dishes for this visit … I want that smile to erupt on mine.


It’s an interesting idea to use the thicker chewy chitarra noodles in lieu of the thin egg noodles normally assimilated with chow mein. Personally, the chitarra noodle’s (“yow mein” or “oil noodle”) texture is more enjoyable for me. But, the downfall is its thickness requires a stronger sauce to stand-up against the doughy pasta - in this case a ginger and green onion gravy with an overpowering ginger element. Sure, it smelled amazing when presented, but the ginger’s spiciness leaves a sting at the back of your throat and causes the lobster’s sweetness to be rendered non-existent. Possibly, a lighter XO sauce combined with green onions would alleviate the need for so much ginger?

The shiitake polenta fries ($8), an airy concoction of smooth polenta and micro-fine pieces of mushroom, is delicious. Dusted with mushroom powder and served with a side of mushroom infused ketchup, it’s definitely not a traditional but so good that you shouldn’t care. Adding chopped green onions on top makes it even better (especially if you don’t like ketchup) – some pieces were on my plate from the lobster chow mein and they tasted quite nice with the fries.


The scallops ($23) with its intense sear and just cooked through doneness is what people look for with this seafood. But the sear, in part, seemed to develop from a crystallized sauce rather than a high cooking temperature causing the salty crust to be more chewy than crisp. Even so, it had great flavour and although I was worried the R&D chilli sauce and Sichuan hollandaise’s spicy elements would overpower the scallop they were actually quite muted and paired well.


Strangely, other than a single full scallop, the rest were served in half pieces as if they were cut through to see if cooked. C’mon R&D, for $23 it’s not unreasonable to just serve full sized scallops – cutting some in half to make it seem like there’s more pieces is really unnecessary.

Despite taking forever to arrive the General Sander’s chicken ($25) was a satisfying way to round out the meal. The chicken stole the show: the crispy salty coating encapsulating juicy succulent chicken. It really didn’t need either the kung pao sauce or Sichuan maple syrup as there was already so much flavour in the breading.


The waffles were a great novelty item to include but sadly didn’t showcase these eggy delights the way they are meant to be enjoyed – lightly cooled but straight off the waffle maker so the thin crust and airy centre remains; at R&D, it was warm but dense and soft. Although the drizzles of kung pao sauce added colour to the dish’s presentation, the sauce’s ultra-salty flavour is just not for me and I wish it were left off so I could have the waffles purely with the maple syrup instead.

R&D has three tempting desserts – the kahuna being a massive banana split that’s meant for sharing. Stuffed from the four pieces of chicken, we opted for the coconut sugar crème brûlée ($8) instead. The combination of palm sugar and coconut gave the dessert a warm caramel colour and a flavour reminding me of a candy I used to eat at my grandmother’s house – I want to say Riesen. The sugar crust was executed perfectly an even thickness across the entire dish. The scoop of sour cherry ice cream paired nicely in the dessert to balance the sweetness.


Serving their piña colada with tapioca pearls ($13) is a great idea. As an aside, when bubble tea rose in popularity in the 90’s I thought it may be a fad but with the continued success it’s proven the drinks are here to stay. Afraid it would be overly sweet, I requested less of the chai syrup which may not have been the smartest move as there’s a hefty dose of run in the cocktail.


Sprinkling toasted coconut on top is an interesting idea but the hard slivers somewhat detracts from the silky drink and chewy tapioca. What would be even better is if R&D allowed diners to add tapioca to any cocktail as it could work well in the Shanghai sour as well. Too bad you’ll never be able to get this boozy concoction in those sealed cups to go.

I’m glad R&D opened in the heart of Toronto’s original Chinatown – a once vibrant busy community, to me, seems to be waning as the suburbs of the North built up. Hopefully, R&D will bring some fresh blood to liven up the neighbourhood, attracting younger individuals to the area once again. Because, yes, they will come for the trendy restaurant, but while walking there perhaps become enticed to shop at a local supermarket (has amazing prices on fresh produce that’s often sourced daily) or return to tuck into a bowl of plump dumplings and noodles.

Along the way it’s great to see Eric Chong’s succeed, an example where pursuing his dreams allowed him to do what he loves in life. For those who have “Tiger” parents pushing them become a white collared professional, even more reason to bring your parents to R&D! Personally, it’s inspiring to see his story unfold as I too want to give up my desk job and work in the culinary world instead.

As Eric noted in a CTV interview, “I don't know, not many people know what it feels like to actually realize your dream and this feeling is indescribable." Congrats Eric on realizing your dream, here’s hoping there’s many restaurants to come.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 241 Spadina 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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Spice Lounge and Tapas (Mississauga)


Spice lounge and tapas

Spice Lounge and Tapas was bustling on my Saturday visit. In the corner, Spanish music was strummed live on a guitar; although enjoyable the volume could be turned down a pitch to allow easier conversations. After all, according to Wikipedia, tapas are designed for chats as the focus becomes more about people and shared foods rather than devouring a main on your own.

The smoked duck flatbread ($14), highly recommended by my friend and waitress, incorporated the right balance of sweet and savoury. The sliced grilled pears and drizzles of honey added sweetness while smoked duck breast and double smoked cheddar were substantial enough to keep the dish from turning into a dessert. As a suggestion, rather than using a hazelnut spread (which is somewhat gritty), a chestnut puree may offer a smoother base and incorporate a sweet earthiness that would work well amongst the other ingredients.

Spice lounge and tapas duck flatbread

What’s not to like about deep fried balls of creamy rice? Spice’s truffle mushroom croquettes ($12) were decent, the mushroom risotto mixed with white truffle oil before being rolled in a panko coating. The inside was slightly bland for my taste; more salt and cheese mixed into the rice may augment the flavours more.

Spice lounge and tapas risotto balls

Spice’s PEI mussels ($11) were beautifully presented; as the lid was removed we were presented with meticulously arranged mussels topped with vibrant red pepper slivers. Despite the menu’s description of saffron butter sauce, the liquid was a redder (perhaps on account of paprika) than the famed golden hue. Nonetheless, it was delicious and I only wish there was only more bread to soak it up.

Spice lounge and tapas mussels

The brick of chilli rubbed ribs ($16) was rather an ingenious way to help keep the meat warm.  Although it lacked the barque of a BBQ smoked rib, these slow braised ones were moist and well flavoured from the mix of Spanish spices and chipotle BBQ sauce.

Spice lounge and tapas ribs

To end, bunuelos ($8) or Mexican doughnuts, warm light balls of deep fried battered with a light anise flavor. The uneven bits poking out of the sphere became very crispy. Sweetened with cinnamon sugar and a diluted caramel sauce, it provided a sweet ending to the meal without being heavy.

Spice lounge and tapas bunelos


We chose to order a couple of dishes at a time to avoid the delicious but dreaded table filled with food and not knowing where to start. Spice presented them in an adequate succession, hot and fresh from the kitchen. Despite being a busy night, they never rushed us, providing ample time between reservations – there certainly was no two hour seating limit here. All in all, a delightful neighbourhood spot for some conversations and small bites.  

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 52 Lakeshore Road East

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - 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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Joso's (Toronto)



It was my friend who described Joso’s dining area the best, “It’s is like Nonna’s house gone 18 plus!” At first, without focusing on details, every wall and ledge seems to display some sort of picture or figurine; much like the busy wall paper and family photos in Nonna’s home. It’s when we concentrated on each did it become evident each one contained some female or male anatomy in it.


Joso’s then wouldn’t be the ideal restaurant for children. But, it’s not a loss, as most children won’t have a hankering for spirally octopus tentacles and murky squid ink anyways.

Servers were diligent at determining which dishes need to be augmented to satisfy our table of five. So, many of the items pictured in this post are actually double or 1.5 orders. Following their recommendations is suggested as portion sizes, with the exception of the risottos, are small. However, for the best “value”, stick to round figures (i.e. either one, two or three) rather than “half” portions as for those Joso’s charges it as a main + appetizer, where the appetizer’s price is more than half the main.

The tendrils of grilled octopus ($39 a portion; two portions pictured) looked and smelt amazing but faltered on taste as a grittiness ruins the first bite. Once the layer of blackened skin along the suction less side is removed, the tentacle become more palatable as the oaky char and meatiness of the seafood shines through.


It went well with the arugula salad ($14 a portion; approx. a third of the salad pictured), as the good quality olive oil and lemon on the seafood mix in with the salad. And yes, normally dairy and seafood aren’t the best combinations but the stronger octopus could hold its own against the Grana Padano shavings.


One of Joso’s most ordered dish is likely the nero risotto ($58), a large silver platter filled with a deep black cuttlefish ink risotto. The menu notes it follows a secret Spralja family recipe inspired by the ancient Venetian recipes.


If you can get over the dark hue, your tongue will be rewarded with the ink’s salty ashy flavour mixed into the creamy grains of rice. Adding a squeeze of lemon will help mellow out the oceanic flavours and lightens the dish. Just be mindful of the ink’s staining properties, including on lips and teeth; not necessarily the best option for first dates.


But, it’s the Leonardo spaghettini ($15 for appetizer and $26 for main; 1.5 portions pictured) that will have me returning. Each strand of al dante pasta coated with the fragrant garlicky olive oil, white wine and lemon sauce. Peppered throughout were ample amounts of diced octopus and shrimp adding a taste for every bite.



Overall, the meal satisfied the seafood lover in me. The smell of cooking seafood is intoxicating and lures me in like the sirens of the sea. Well, except, it’s not exactly luring me to my death. But, if it’s over a plate of seafood pasta, there’s worse ways to go.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 202 Davenport Road

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - 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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Pastizza (Toronto)


Pastizza

Pastizza can hold its own amongst the array of Italian restaurants in the city, as not a dish disappointed that evening. Of course, sipping through glasses of vino helps and since the owners also run a Californian winery, their menu offers a number of inexpensive reds that wonderfully complement the dishes tomato sauces. 

Pastizza bomba

Arriving like a blimp flying through the air, the bomba con cacciatore salami ($17) was beautiful and a rare sight. Our server explained a hot cooking temperature combined with pizza dough causes it to puff up into a soft yeasty pillow. Adorning the bomba are sheets of salty cacciatore salami, creamy asiago and peppery arugula.

Pastizza chili oilAfter the fawning died down, the bomba is cut through and deflated for serving. Unlike pizza, it’s chewier and lighter so the meat shines through. I suggest peeling off some salami to enjoy on its own as the dough is a great vessel for dipping into the selection of chili oils provided. Pastizza should consider equipping diners with scissors as sawing through the layers with a knife is messy causing ingredients to fall off of the delicate base.

The crust of the thin pizzas are stable enough to be held; exactly what I want it to be. If you enjoy heat, the arrabiata pizza ($18) with its hot njuja (a spreadable pork sausages), spicy cacciatore salami and chili paste is for you. The addition of bitter slightly sweet rapini, earthy mushrooms, sweet oven dried tomatoes and salty parmesan provides for a well-rounded flavour.

Pastizza pizza

The bolognese pizza ($18) is another dish great for pairing with chili oils (for me the bird’s eye version in particular). With ample pieces of meatball, peppers and cheeses over tomato sauce, its a heartier pizza lightened with pieces of fresh basil.

Pastizza pizza

After catching a whiff of truffle oil it’ll be hard to avoid ordering the funghi pizza ($18). The mushroom medley offers an earthy, meaty and crunchy combination. But, a bit more fontina or seasoning would make it even better as it’s a relatively neutral pizza; even a simple olive oil and salt dressing for the arugula topping may help.

Pastizza pizza

With the excitement over pizzas, the carbonara spaghetti ($16) was the sole pasta for the night. Of course the pasta was al dante but what made the dish was its sauce. The creamy pancetta specked carbonara coats the tongue but then the peppercorns arrive hitting the palette with the mineral spice.

Pastizza carbonara pasta

During the warmer months a wraparound patio completes Pastizza so you can enjoy carbs and wine along the Esplanade or Market – two streets great for people watching. And if you feel like something lighter without resorting to salad,  may I suggest the pillowy bomba, a delicious cushion covered with meat.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 118 The Esplanade

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - 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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120 Diner (Toronto)


120 Diner

Replacing a former chain restaurant, 120 Diner offers classic favourites at reasonable prices. On Saturdays, they even offer a special Latin menu to complement their Latin Live show. As you walk into the restaurant, it has a modern retro feel to it so you don’t feel like you’re in a diner at all. But, it's more than just a restaurant, a sizeable stage is along one side and hosts a wide range of comedy shows, karaoke and live music entertainment throughout the week.  

The fragrant crunchy coconut shrimp ($11.95) arrives piping hot and I can’t wait to tuck in. Admittedly, the coating could be thinner as there were a couple that had softer parts. Perhaps, if the shrimp were covered in smaller granules of coconut first and then the larger flakes sprinkled sparingly, it may taste better. But, the slightly sweet kick mixed with the spicy mayo (a must) made this a satisfying starter.

120 Diner coconut shrimp

A diner favourite is the meatloaf and mash ($13.95). I’m not a fan of soft meatloaves where bread crumbs overpower the mixture causing it to get soft and overly smooth, so I was particularly happy with the dense beefier one 120 Diner serves. The earthy mushroom gravy paired well with the meatloaf and buttery smooth mashed potatoes.


120 Diner meat loaf

For club goers, the 120 grilled cheeseburger ($15.95) would be perfect to share after a night of dancing. Stuffed with three cheeses, the dairy definitely stole the show from the lean beef patty.
120 Diner grilled cheeseburger Although the menu notes this is served on rosemary focaccia bread, it arrived on a soft ciabatta roll instead. Likely it’s a better choice as the meat and cheese is already so heavy that an oily focaccia would be overwhelming. But, I like the idea of an herb mixed into the bun to help add a fresh element to the dish.

120 Diner grilled cheeseburger

Like most good diners the portion sizes are substantial and will leave you full, if not with leftovers. If you’re not in the mood for food, they also have a number of cocktails that can be enjoyed while enjoying a show.  The cucumber margarita ($9.75) is a great summer drink with cucumber pulp mixed throughout – it’s refreshing without being overly sweet. While the Long Island iced tea ($9.75) is strong but goes down so easy… almost too easy.

120 Diner cocktails

The restaurant’s name is certainly misleading as although the menu contains diner favourites the atmosphere is much more entertaining. From comedy acts to karaoke, it’s great for a night out. And, if that’s not enough, there’s always Club 120 right upstairs, just purchase a ticket for a special event first.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10
Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in Gastro World's mission statement, I will always be honest.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 120 Church Street

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - 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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Boralia (Toronto)


Boralia, wine

Boralia features Canadian cuisine without being kitschy - there's no wooden log or beaver in sight.  Instead, the Canadian theme is focused on the menu which is composed of dishes from the 18th and 19th centuries. From delicious wild game that the Aboriginal enjoyed to the pigeon pie of early settlers, the dishes are different but still approachable. Boralia also celebrates Canada’s diversity by featuring Chinese chopsuey croquettes, Polish pierogies and the Austrian linzer torte; reminding us of all the cultures that contributes to the Canadian landscape.

Their l’eclade ($15) is probably the most photographed given the impressive presentation of being brought tableside in a cloche of smoke. As the lid is lifted, the pine needle smoke slowly escapes permeating the table with a forest smelling smoke.

Boralia e'clade or mussels

When the smoke dissipates what remains is a delicious bowl of mussels. Its meat is tender and silky, while the broth has a hint of creaminess from the butter but is relatively light and tangy. Despite being encapsulated in smoke, there’s no char taste in the mussels so its natural sweetness comes through.

Boralia e'clade or mussels

On the side, they suggest ordering some of the red fife levain bread with cultured butter ($3). The slightly warm spongy dense bread is perfect for soaking up the cooking liquid.

Boralia bread

One of my favourite dishes of the night was the pan roasted elk ($15). The lean meat was prepared rare to allow it to retain its tenderness. There was no gaminess to it, yet doesn’t remind you of beef … after all, its elk and should taste different.

Boralia elk

In the centre sits a wild rice crusted egg, which when cut through oozes onto the plate and mixes in with the cranberry gastrique and burnt onion puree. The crust goes quite nicely with the liquid yolk and has a sweet nuttiness to it. Crunchy paper thin radish slices and a pieces of tender braised turnip round out the dish.

Boralia elk

Their pan roasted trout ($17) was moist with a thin crispy skin. Being a milder and less fatty fish it went well with the sweet Iroquois popcorn grits. The salad of thinly sliced heirloom carrots and parsnips dressed in birch syrup vinaigrette was also light and refreshing. This is a wonderful dish for the warmer weather.

Boralia trout

Thankfully, the lighter trout came before the rich pigeon pie ($23). The golden brown crust was so flaky yet rolled thinly enough that it didn’t become too heavy. Chunky pieces of tender pigeon, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables were packed into the pie within a light gravy.

Boralia pigeon pie

But what stole my tastebuds were the succulent pieces of lean roasted squad breast on the side. Boralia seriously does meat well with a quick sear and light seasoning so that the meat's flavour profile shines through. In all, dishes are artfully presented and constructed to offer different tastes and textures while relying on natural ingredients.

Boralia pigeon pie

The caramelized onion and potato pierogies ($13) were large and a great combination of thin outer crispy crust and a generous filling. The crispy onions topping it went so well with it that I wish there was more of it to balance out the smooth stuffing. After the heavier pigeon pie and pierogie the crispy sauerkraut on the bottom contained just the right amount of sourness to provide a refreshing quality to everything.

Boralia pierogies

At Boralia, there’s no maple syrup with snow desserts. But, their Louisbourg hot chocolate beignets ($9) sure did hit the spot. Unlike other beignets that tend to serve the sauce on the side, at Boralia the ganache is piped into the centre and oozes out like a molten lava cake. The darker chocolate, paired with the beer batter dough and lemon sugar ensures the dessert isn’t overly sweet.

Boralia beignets

But, it could have been flipped in the fryer more liberally as I found for a couple of pieces, although mostly golden and crispy, contained spots which were pale and doughy.  

Boralia beignets

So, what will I say next time someone asks what Canadian cuisine is all about? It’s about the abundance of delicious proteins we have from the elk and squab found on land or the fish and mussels of the sea. Or the wonderful dishes that gets invented when different cultures collide. And although our climate doesn’t provide any tropical fruits, there are many delicious root vegetables and corn which is just a juicy and sweet.

Boralia is a place you should bring out-of-country visitors who appreciate good food. Although they won’t be eating in the former tallest free standing building, they will learn that Canadian cuisine is filled with delicious fresh ingredients and goes beyond beaver tails and poutine. After all, isn’t the diverse offerings and approachable nature of our cuisine which really represents the Canadian culture so well?
As an aside, you may notice in the title photo that their name is spelt “Borealia” and on various sites such as Urbanspoon and Instagram that’s also how it’s found. There’s no confusion amongst the community. Originally, the restaurant was opened as “Borealia”, which happened to be the name of another restaurant. So, to avoid trademark issues they have had to drop the “e” and the name morphed to “Boralia”. So, if you’re searching “Boralia” and there are no results, try the first spelling and you may find what you’re looking for. 
Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 59 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
  • - 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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Borealia on Urbanspoon