Ajisen Ramen (Toronto)

Let’s put it out there – I’m not a food snob. If something tastes good, happens to be inexpensive and doesn’t require waiting for then life is good. That’s somewhat how I feel about ramen restaurants - many are delicious but requires too much effort to wait around for. Yes, I’d love a bowl of satisfyingly hot noodles, but I don’t want to stand around in the cold for half an hour first.

Which is why when the Kinton Ramen line gets too long in North York, I go to Ajisen Ramen instead. Personally, I find them just as satisfying and the numerous menu options a plus as well. Some may find Ajisen’s soup milder than other chains. For me, it’s flavourful enough without being overly oily & salty and as a bonus arrives piping hot. Ajisen’s soup base is what they call “white soup”, developed in southern Japan made from boiling pork bone with other ingredients and results in a lighter milkier colour. It’s not as oily so may lack that rich fatty essence people enjoy about chicken based soups.

My husband ordered the tender rib ramen ($9.50) which actually became my favourite one. There is an ample amount of meat which has sticky pieces of tendon attached to it. As a warning, tendon is an acquired taste – some will find the gummy soft texture gross. It took me a few years to develop a liking to it and now I love the contrast between the chewy tendon and soft meat.


The protein quantity in my corn and BBQ pork ramen ($8.99) paled in comparison, with a mere three slices of the smallest and thinnest pork I’ve ever seen. Instead there was a generous handful of frozen corn and half a hard-boiled egg. Which is what I miss most about other ramen restaurants – their lovely onsen soft-boiled eggs with the vibrant yellow yolks. Sadly, you won't find it here. 


You may also find Ajisen’s noodles thinner than others. But, they were still springy and didn’t get mushy in the soup. And what I enjoy most is sprinkling the flavourful chili powder over everything. Indeed, for a true ramen connoisseur this is likely akin to pouring HP1 sauce on steak, but for a non-ramen snob it’s delicious!


Their pan fried gyoza ($4.50) was where the quality faltered dramatically. As a plus they arrive searing hot with a nice crust on the bottom. But, the wrapper is also hard and sticks together so any chance of enjoying the juices in the dumplings is gone.


In the end, Ajisen’s not the best ramen you’ll ever have. But, for the price and the table availability they’re not bad either. So, next time there’s a long wait at a competing place, give them a try. It’s certainly not the finest, but sometimes satisfying a craving earlier makes things so much better. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 5229 Yonge Street
Website: http://www.ajisen.ca/

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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!

Ajisen Ramen on Urbanspoon


Flor de Sal (Toronto)


My husband and I had an amazing dinner at Monk Kitchen last Valentine’s Day and wanted to experience it again. Alas, Chef Fracchioni has since left its helm, hence our visit to Flor de Sal instead. Sadly, there’s no more kitchen table, but admittedly the dining room is so beautiful you would probably want to sit there anyways.


Situated in the redone Corner House the dining room is elegant and beautiful washed in white, silver and floral. The chairs are so comfortable that even after two hours we didn’t want to leave – this is quite impressive for my normally antsy husband.

Even before we ordered an inviting spread of crusty dense bread, rich olive oil and fresh olives were laid across the table. 


I couldn’t help but sprinkle some of the flor de sal (sea salt) left on the table into the oil to add a nice saltiness to the soft bread.


The small plates went perfectly with our before dinner cocktails. The dark and stormy ($15) contained plenty of ginger beer but lightened up with lime juice. While the Ginja ($15), a vodka based cocktail, was right up my alley sweetened somewhat with Grand Marnier and sugar but balanced with lemon juice and a sour cherry on the bottom.


There was such a deep lovely crust on the scallops ($21). With the vibrant colours coming from the watercress puree and lemon cream, there was a refreshing hint of spring right in the middle of the cold winter. We swiped up the sauce, an interesting mix of saffron broth and cream with a bit of freshness from the watercress, edible flowers and lemon.


Flor de Sal’s whole roasted grouper ($39) is a generous portion and delicious as I finished every bite. The skin is crispy (albeit could use another scraping as there were a few remaining scales on mine) and encapsulated the tender neutral meaty fish. Just lightly seasoned, most of the flavours came from the fresh fish itself, the finely diced caponata or spicy romesco sauce on the side. As a warning, it does have a lot of smaller bones so eaters should be careful.


The lamb rack ($49) was even better. Cooked to a nice medium rare it was juicy and tender. All the accompanying sides were earthy and warming from the lentil rice, fried artichoke and chestnuts. But, it was the spaghetti squash that impressed me most, it had such a great texture and freshness to it (not resembling the soft mushier squash as mine normally turns out like).


For dessert, we ordered the cheese plate ($18) to continue enjoying the bottle of wine remaining. I loved that our waitress asked us what type of cheeses we liked to make a platter suited to our tastes. On ours, were four non-stinky cheeses ranging from a softer Spanish cheese to a hard parmesan. Plenty of crackers, grapes, strawberries, fig compote and a great date & nut “sausage” rounded everything off.   



The service was friendly and unhurried with the dishes paced in a well time succession. I really felt like we were welcomed and could feel free and sit there for hours and relax. With the cozy fire place and tranquil spa like environment around us, I certainly could have stayed longer. If you’re looking for a place for a romantic date, look no further than Flor de Sal.


Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 501 Davenport Avenue

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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!

Flor de Sal on Urbanspoon


Fresh (Toronto)

For those who know me, I’m not much of a vegetarian. Sure, I like vegetables and have even been known to order a salad – but there’s generally some meat with it somewhere. However, when my friend suggested Fresh one night I actually wanted to check it out. Fresh is a popular chain of restaurants in Toronto that provide vegetarian meals that still sound delicious. For those who are vegan or require gluten free options, there is also plenty to satisfy your appetites.

For me the BBQ burger ($12) felt like a safe choice. After all, with quinoa onion rings, garlic mayo, chillies and a slaw on everything it’d be hard to not be delicious. Wanting to get some fries on the side, I even ordered it “salad” style where it arrives bun less and sits on spring mix with tomatoes instead.


As I thought, it was well flavoured from the thick smoky BBQ sauce, spicy banana chillis and the creamy garlic mayo slaw. The crispy onion rings on top were also delicious, arriving piping hot and very crispy from the quinoa added to the batter. We even got an order of them for the table ($6.50).


But, the patty in the burger, made from almond and grain, was too mushy for my liking. The areas around the crust were fine, but the middle of the patty was so soft so it felt like I was eating raw meat. Perhaps adding a heartier grain like barley into it would give the patty a better consistency.

The burger also came with a small kale salad on the side which was delicious.


The French fries ($6) were nice and fresh. I liked the addition of the sprinkling of thyme and sea salt on top.


Meanwhile, the sweet potato fries ($7.50) almost felt like eating hash browns as many of the pieces on the bottom were so small. Additionally, they were lukewarm and needed more salt. Alas, not as good as the potato fries.


I definitely won’t be becoming a vegetarian anytime soon. But, if I had to eat a vegetarian meal Fresh wouldn’t be a bad choice. There were highlights (the onion rings) and flops (the sweet potato fries and burger patty) but I admittedly left satisfied and loved the copious amounts of vegetables consumed. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 894 Queen Street West
Website: http://www.freshrestaurants.ca/menu

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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!

Fresh By Juice For Life on Urbanspoon


B.Good (Toronto)



B. Good prides itself for serving natural “good for you” food fast, right down to the ketchup they use (Sir Kensington’s non-GMO and raw sugar only). Ingredients are sourced locally and the map on the wall is proof of it.


Their burgers is what drew me here, but there are also quinoa bowls and salads for those who are looking for healthier fare. Each burger is made with beef, turkey, veggie or chicken breast (extra $1 for chicken). My husband and I both opted for classic beef, in this case hormone and antibiotic free from Enright Cattle in Tweed, Ontario.

I had the west side ($7.49) with sharp cheddar (extra $1.49). You’ll immediately taste the difference in the patty. It’s thick but loosely packed so it isn’t heavy. With no fillers, I could taste was the delicious beef and it was a lean cut as it didn’t feel greasy.  Topped with creamy avocado, a refreshing salsa mix and a bit of heat from the chipotle puree, I really enjoyed this gourmet burger.


My husband opted for the adopted Luke ($7.49) which already comes with cheese (smoked gouda). Topped with mushrooms, caramelized onions and smoky BBQ sauce this is the classic hearty burger.


B. Good’s real fries ($3.39) were tossed in some spices to give it a garlicky chili taste. While their sweet potato fries ($3.99) were nicely salted to add a savoury element to these sweeter fries. Both are finished in the oven (I believe means is flash fried and then baked in the oven the rest of the way) to allow them to be somewhat crispy but healthier tasting. In fact, the fry’s container proudly displays the fat content of B. Good’s fries compared to chain favourites.


Their drinks prices are on par with the actual burger. But, I did find the kale crush ($6.49) delicious and refreshing. Despite the vibrant green colour the kale’s taste was muted due to the addition of apple, pineapple, banana and pineapple juice. It’s a relatively thick smoothie from the Greek yogurt mixed throughout.


If you’re allergic to food items, B. Good is the place for you as things are kept simple. Their website is a wealth of information listing ingredients they use in each item, right down to the sauces. And they provide a list that people who are avoiding gluten should skip on. Interestingly, the gluten free buns actually contain way more ingredients (many not natural sounding) compared to the good old fashioned white bun.


Consider joining the “family”, their loyalty program, as they offer many opportunities to earn freebies. By signing up and voting, I received complimentary fries, a burger and a smoothie so I pretty much got my meal for free. If you’re creative B. Good also holds contests to develop new menu items … if you’re chosen you get to eat for free for life! With prices in line with other gourmet burger joints and plenty of seats, I sense B. Good will soon be booming during lunch and dinner.


Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada 
 Address: 100 Front Street 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!

Embassy Restaurant / Samosa King (Toronto)

When I need snacks for a house party or an appetizer for a potluck, samosas from Embassy Restaurant (also known as Samosa King) is a go-to choice for me. They're a bargain at five for $1 for the vegetarian ones and two for $1 for chicken. Personally, I like the vegetarian ones best. They are packed with curried cubes of potatoes, some peas and then encapsulated in a thin enough wrapper. Plus they're always fresh as Embassy churns through hundreds of them in an hour.


You need to get the sauces to go with the samosas as they complete the dish. The red tamarind chutney ($1 for a large container) is sweet with a hint of sour; great for cooling down the heat of the samosas if you're not into spicy foods. But, if you're like me and enjoy the heat, the spicy neon green cilantro with chillies sauce ($2 for a large container) is the way to go.


Of course, Embassy offers other good eats as well. They have a full sit down restaurant, but the equally large take-out area is popular with various curries under $10 and even $2.49 specials on weekdays.

As I waiting for my samosas I couldn't help but marvel over all the things they offered such as:

Roasted chicken, wraps and tons of curries.



Doughy fried delights


Cases upon cases of sweets


Some things to snack on


And the appetizer/sides like rotis and spring rolls


So, if you ever want to please the crowds head to Embassy. Every party/potluck I've served the samosas at have always been a hit. Just be prepared to wait as Embassy is a popular destination. There is often a line-up but it moves at a consistent speed. On weekends I've generally waited 10 minutes but on New Years Eve when the queue curved around the door it sneaked up to 30 minutes. Just keep calm and entertain yourself because these tennis ball nuggets of fried goodness are worth it.


How To Find Them

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 5210 French Avenue East
Website: http://www.embassyrestaurant.ca/

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Embassy Sweets on Urbanspoon