Showing posts with label Argentinian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Argentinian. Show all posts

Constantine (Toronto)


Situated in the Anndore House, Constantine takes up much of the lower floor of the boutique hotel. It’s swanky and has a cool vibe, fitting into the Yorkville landscape perfectly. They offer a varied menu of Mediterranean dishes with Italian thrown in for good measure – from the owners of Campagnolo, La Palma, and Mercatto it’d be a shame if pasta and pizza didn’t make an appearance. Indeed, I had to order both tried and approved dishes, with some new tastes thrown in for good measure.

The grilled halloumi on panella ($11) is a little seen starter, the cheese resists completely melting and merely gets gooey when it’s licked with heat. I love the cheese's chewiness and its saltiness mellowed by the delicate soft panella (similar to polenta cake but made with chickpeas instead). With pickled chili for heat and a creamy labneh this was a great nibble to start on and would be work for cocktail parties.


Scoring seats at the “Chef’s table” I loved the way it’s set-up – two of the corners are split off in the middle so there is a sense of privacy. However, it’s a shame that none of the chefs bother to acknowledge the diners (even if they’re standing in front of you). While I understand they are servicing a large restaurant and can’t afford to have full conversations, even a quick hello or goodbye would be nice. At the very least, staff should refrain from calling these Chef’s Table seats and merely describe them as counter seating around the kitchen.


Just dress accordingly as it can get warm with the wood fire grill and pizza oven going; nothing a bottle of cold cava can’t fix! Hearing that many of their dishes are cooked (or at least finished) on the Argentinian inspired grill, we thought we should try these special dishes. Sadly, the they were also the most disappointing.

After visiting Tanto and seeing their set-up, I can only deduce it’s a poor decision to have the wood burn directly below the meat, rather than off to the side and cooking over smouldering embers (generally how a traditional asado is operated). The person manning the grill just couldn’t get the flame and timing right: the lamb ribs ($19) arrive overdone to the point the pomegranate molasses glaze turned into a candy crust and the meat was hard and chewy. To be fair, the cut of the ribs was also much too small and an uneven thickness. Even the cooling buttermilk dip could only add so much hydration.


Conversely, the fire roasted eggplant ($14) was underdone – the texture spongy and the insides still white from being raw. Having had some of the thinner end pieces, this dish could have been delicious if the eggplant was cooked longer and transformed into a soft creamy consistency. Mixed with garlic and herbs all the vegetables had great flavours, the generally mild shishito peppers a touch spicier at Constantine.   


While the cacio e pepe pizza ($16) was a little softer than expected (I can't help but recall that golden crispy crust from the zucchini pizza at La Palma), the chef certainly didn’t skimp on the cheese. A blend of three - chewy stracchino, creamy mozzarella, and salty pecorino – finished with a dash of black pepper, it’s a simple pie but allows you to really enjoy the warm chewy crust and dairy, with no tomato sauce.


The best dish of the evening was the spaghetti ($21). The fresh pasta extremely al dante (truthfully another 30 seconds in the water would have been my preference) and the olive oil sauce perfectly seasoned with caramelized garlic slices infusing it with flavour. I love how the sweet marinated Fogo Island shrimp was added quickly at the end for a few tosses, so they remained delicate and not overcooked. This was one dish we inhaled.  


After a carb-filled meal, the labneh mille-feuilles ($12) is a great light ending, even though it didn’t resemble the menu’s description. How it’s described: coffee, fig, and caramelized white chocolate. What I tasted: whipped cream, sweetened lebneh, flakey pastry, and slivers of fig throughout. While still good, I was really hoping for some coffee essence.


Overlooking the kitchen, I was disappointed to see the sheer number of plastic bags being tossed in the garbage (used to hold individual portions of the pasta, shrimp, rice, etc.). Considering the number of dishes that go out from the kitchen, I can only imagine how much waste gets generated and it made me feel guilty for even ordering the pasta. Having seen how other kitchens operate, competitors generally use plastic containers to hold large amounts of the ingredients and then simply spoon what’s required into the pan. Maybe some ingredients (like shrimp) require an element of precision, but surely for low cost ingredients, it really doesn’t matter. Personally, I’d rather have a spoonful less rice if it means being kinder to our environment. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 15 Charles 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:




Tanto (Toronto)


As I write this post on Tanto, I can’t help but think about my experience at Constantine ... two similar restaurants: both newcomers in Toronto and Argentinian “inspired” so not necessarily authentic. My meals even followed comparable patterns of sitting at the Chef’s table and a dinner comprised of dishes made on their wood burning grill. Hence, although each post stands alone, I can’t help but draw comparisons between the meals.

Although both were enjoyable, Tanto elevated the experience by simply tweaking the way they did things. To begin, the made sitting at the “Chef’s table” matter. It sounds fancy, but really it merely means you’re sitting at a “bar” area overlooking the kitchen. There’s no special menu and you can order whatever you like. At Tanto, Chef Julian Iliopolus interacted with the diners – at the beginning, to answer any questions about the menu; and with each course, coming by to get our thoughts and answer any other queries that may arise. How else would I have known that Tanto’s leg of jamón ibérico wholesaled for $1,100? A very different experience than Constantine.


Tanto also commands their parilla, the wood burning grill, much better. Both are set-up similarly, the grill surface on a lever system so it can be raised and lowered. It’s how the wood is placed that differs. At Tanto, the wood burns at the back of the grill and as it heats up, smouldering chunks break off. The grill is then raised to combine these pieces with charcoal. In fact, this is generally how the traditional Argentinian asado is operated – ingredients are cooked using smouldering embers and not direct fire. As you can imagine, the indirect heat makes it easier for the chef to control the temperature and not burn the food. 


We were treated to a beautifully cooked wagyu bavette ($39) that incorporated a lightly smoked aroma but still medium rare in the centre. The fat within the marbled meat simply melted into everything so the beef looked lean but was juicy when eaten. Biting into the thinner end piece, I was met with a pungent blast of salt for my first taste. However, once a bit of the chimichurri was added, the condiment actually helped neutralize the saltiness. Moreover, the chimichurri was largely herbs and oil so wasn’t too vinegary, helping season the meat without covering all the flavours.


Arriving with a choice of sides, we decided on the patatas bravas… after all, what’s more Argentinian than meat with potatoes? The deep fried squashed spuds were amazingly creamy and topped with a garlic scape sauce. I could have eaten an order of these as a starter. 

The grilled squid ($18) also spent a minute on the grill, the intense heat cooking it quickly, so it rolls up and remains tender. Chef Iliopolus cheekily describes it being topped by “stuff”, particularly items that can cause allergic reactions. From what I could decipher there were crushed nuts, thinly fried pancetta, a thicker and tarter chimichurri, and chilies. Whatever the “stuff” was it really helped to add a burst of textures and flavours to the dish. Although I did try one piece of the squid with everything scraped off and it was still wonderfully flavoured on its own.


Seeing the leg of jamón ibérico ($30) on the counter, my husband and I eyed it giddily like kids in a candy store… we had to have a plate to start! There’s tons of literature out there that explains why this ham is special and commands such a high price. Having had it on a handful of occasions, it’s still a treat. While other cured pork products tend to be smoky, intensely salty, and you taste the porky flavour; the ibérico version has a sweet and salty taste with no intense pig odour. Hold a slice of it on your tongue for a bit and let the fat melt before chewing and you’ll be hit with these delicious juicy flavours. If ham had a candy form, this would be it.


The smoked ricotta empanada ($7) is an interesting take on the classic Argentinian snack. At Tanto it’s deep fried, the crust encapsulating molten ricotta and a leek/onion mixture. Add a bit of their house-made hot sauce to the cheese, it works well. While tasty, I still prefer the traditional beef version and will try that on a return visit. 


Hearing Chef Iliopolus describe the cavatelli with clams ($28), a pasta made with semolina flour with clams and peas, I knew it would be a dish I’d like. The chewiness of the cavatelli reminded me of gnocchi and the lightness of the peas and pea shoots were a great compliment to the rest of the meal. If only the clams weren’t cold this would have been the perfect dish for me. While not terrible, as the clams were plump and sweet, cold juicy clams with warm pasta wasn’t a contrast I enjoyed.


Oh Tanto, how I’ve warmed to your wood grill… the tale of two restaurants continues…

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 74 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:



CLOSED: AMA (Toronto)


At AMA, the operations seem laid back … there’s not a corporate bone in the establish. Sebastian Gallucci, owner of AMA, recalls how he found their sous chef from Kijiji then proceeded to be 20 minutes late for their interview and even ate a bowl of pasta during the entire ordeal. Having gone through the interview process many times, I could just imagine how unsettling it would be to try to answer behavioural questions while watching someone twirl spaghetti.


He also jumped at the opportunity to team up with u-Feast to showcase AMA’s Argentinian cuisine. The $95 + taxes per person meal hooked my friends and I, after all, how can you turn down a 5-course meal with wine pairings? And not just any old pairing, thanks to the Wines of Argentina distributor, we could sample TWELVE, that a few per course! To ensure the post stays to a reasonable length, I’ll just highlight two wines I found particularly notable:

After hearing the 2017 Crios Torrontés ($14.95 at the LCBO) was made by a vintner known as the Queen of Torrontes, Susana Balbo, I knew I had to try the creations from the first wine maker from Argentina. The crisp white wine is made with Torrontés, a grape only found in Argentina, at a winery that’s located at a high altitude. It has a distinctive floral taste as soon as it hits the palette, which will need to be carefully paired with food but works well for sipping.

It’s no surprise that we sampled a host of red wines – a favourite region for me as wines are generally full bodied and reasonably priced. The 2014 Colomé Estate Malbec ($24.95 at the LCBO) is grown in Cafayate, a city 3111m above sea level! A gorgeous deep red hue, the Malbec is rich on the tongue but finishes so smoothly.


In terms of the meal, AMA’s empanadas are held together by some of such thin pastry despite being stuffed with lightly spiced ground beef hit with parmigano for extra flavour. They’re good, the dish’s heaviness dialed down by the chimichurri.


There were some great unexpected additions used in the red snapper ceviche: celery that provided a great crunch that’s different from the typical chip and sweet grapes for balancing out the tart guacamole. Of course, there’s also the customary onion, herbs, and lime, which give the ceviche its signature flavour along with big chunks of the fish. It was all served on top of a tostada for even more crunch, ideal for breaking off into pieces to dip into any stray guacamole.


Sebastian, being from an Italian Argentinian household, even showcased a ricotta gnocchi in the meal. They were the large and pillowy variety, to the point each were almost the size of ping pong balls, and perfect for those who like softer smooth gnocchi. While my preference is for smaller ones that have a bit of bite or a crispy crust, the sugo sauce was delicious - the tomatoes bright creating in a hearty sauce. I only wish there was crusty bread available to clean the plate.


Our main would make any carnivore swoon – a platter filled with two cuts of beef (a juicy ribeye and a leaner skirt steak), chicken, and chorizo. I didn’t try the chicken, but the other items were done perfectly, laced with an aromatic grilled aroma synonymous with Argentinian cuisine. My favourites were the steak, even the leaner skirt steak was so tender, the meat so flavourful. The only faux pas was the abundant globs of chimichurri spooned everywhere – the shear sourness was so overwhelming I had to scrape it off, it’s a condiment best served on the side.


Needless to say, it wasn’t all meat. A vinegary leaf salad and a yummy chunky mashed potato were also served, the starch great for soaking up some of the alcohol.


After having four red pairings with the main, I was in a happy hazy place by the time the assorted Argentinian inspired desserts came around. Truth be told, I remember little about them, only fleeting tastes of chocolate, buttery crust, and of course, dulce de leche.


What once started as a food truck (Che Baby) has morphed into AMA. They describe the vision for their restaurant so beautifully, “AMA - which means Loves in Spanish and Love in Italian - represents the idea that an experience should be more than the sum of its parts. The name AMA is inspired by our love for food, music, and our passion to creating lasting memories for those we love.” After the equivalent of 1.5 bottles of wine, I can feel that love… AMA baby AMA.

Want to check out UFeast for yourself? Sign up with my referral link to get $10 off your first experience.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10



How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 930 Queen 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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:



Ama Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lena Restaurante (Toronto)



Just try to resist digging into the hot plate of crab cazuela ($14) as soon as it arrives - it will be hard, but trust me, patience is worth it. Instead, make sure you have another small plate to nibble on first, while waiting the requisite five minutes.


Looking back, I should have reached for one of the gaucho empanadas ($13) instead. Supplied to Leña from Susana, Chef Anthony's wife, they’re good, if it weren’t so heavy on the olives. Otherwise, everything else was tasty: the pastry soft and bread-like and the beef and egg filling well spiced. A “chiminasty” sauce (chimichurri combined with Anthony’s scotch bonnet laced nasty sauce) goes nicely with the empanadas and helps to drown out the brininess of the olives.


Afterwards, then you can go back to the crab dip – so why have I made you wait so long? It’s not because it’s piping hot, but rather the fresh crackers that come with the dish. If the crackers haven’t cooled yet, they become a strange texture where the edges are crispy but the middle hard and almost stale tasting; add the crab on and things just get chewy. However, when they’re cooled, the crackers become crispy and pairs nicely with the dip.


The crab cazuela is fantastic. Large chunks of the seafood combined with a light dose of creamy lemony aioli, spinach and fennel slivers on the bottom, a cheesy parmigiano reggiano gratin on top. Unlike some dips where the creamy cheese sauce is most pronounced, you can definitely taste and see the crab – it’s the star of the dish.

Right off the bat, our waitress introduces Leña as an Argentinian restaurant with inspirations from Italian and Spanish cuisine. Having never been to Argentina, perhaps my expectation of a robust steak that has a strong meaty flavour is unfounded. So, when the meek striploin ($44) arrives, the fantasy is soon dashed.

To be fair, if the steak was served at O&B Café instead of Leña, I would have enjoyed it. The meat was tender and the fried duck egg perfectly cooked, oozing its runny yolk over everything. But, for a restaurant that’s representing Argentina, the tepid steak lacked the smokiness from being barbequed on an asado. Really, aside from the chimichurri and yucca fries, there’s not much Argentinian about the steak.

Another dish you’ll likely never find in Argentina is the pan-seared Arctic char ($29). Nonetheless, it’s good and surprisingly rich for fish. The char has such a lovely oiliness that the meat remains moist, the skin still crispy despite the dish being ignored to tuck into the steak, and the four plump mussels topping it a tasty and functional garnish. I also enjoyed the risotto-like corn and fregola gachas on the bottom, but it needs something fresh (salsa criolla maybe) to brighten the dish as everything was just so buttery and rich.


Having only been opened for three weeks, service wasn’t bad at Leña. There was a cheerful and helpful gentlemen who escorted me to the first floor hostess podium (it’s a three-floor restaurant) and our waitress provided a good run-down of the menu and its meaningful dishes. The only slip was forgetting to set steak knives before the main, and then proceeding to bring only one knife when they remembered and knew we were sharing.

Leña is a safe choice – it has a pretty robust menu and everything’s modified to meet the typical western palette. With the exception of the crab cazuela, everything I sampled was decent, but hardly memorable. So, if you want something safe, head to Leña. Just keep your expectations clear – you’re not going to experience an Argentinian affair.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 176 Yonge Street (inside Saks)

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:



Leña Restaurante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


CLOSED: Branca (Toronto)



Branca meat

You wouldn’t expect to find an Argentinian inspired grill house in a cozy corner house. Blink, especially if you’re driving, and you may miss the conspicuous neon Branca sign in the window. Surprisingly, with all the talk of roasting meats, there wasn’t even a scent in the air to guide our way. But, my dutiful husband looked up its location ahead before heading out and stopped our driver in the nick of time.  

Of course, a nice robust wine is a must with red meat – especially one from Mendoza (there are plenty on the list). But, before the mains, their cocktails sounded so enticing that I had to get a Pisco sour ($12) to start. My first experience with this Chilian brandy, it was light with the lime juice and aromatic bitters… dangerously easy drinking. The dark rum mojito ($12) was packed with fresh mint leaves; another refreshing simple cocktail to enjoy during the summer months.

Branca cocktailBranca cocktail

As soon the order was in, a bowl of chipas, Branca’s version of a bread basket, arrived before us. The Argentine cheese bread is light and airy, like choux pastry except made with tapioca flour. Filled with melted cheese studded with peppers I could have easily eaten all three myself.

Branca cheese bread

Luckily, as my appetite was whet, the empanadas ($6) soon followed. Served piping hot, I was torn – let it cool down or dive in immediately so I can enjoy the molten cheese and corn mixture? In the end, I cut it into smaller pieces as a compromise. Filled with roasted corn, poblano peppers, gruyere and fontina they’re a great way nibble to start on.

Branca empanadas

The cuttlefish or sepia ($15) perfectly showcased the seafood and all its parts: the pigment from its ink sac helped to colour the cuttlefish such a vibrant reddish-brown hue while its ink acted as a savoury sauce. The saffron fregola, little balls that glide across the tongue, was specked with spicy chorizo and sweet roasted cherry tomatoes.

Branca cuttlefish

Branca uses the Argentine grilling method al sador, where meats are splayed and skewered across metal crosses. What looks like a torture device for us ensures the meat has access to the hot wood-burning fire. So, a visit to Branca isn’t complete until you’ve fried something from their grilled section – we tried three.

The first, the entrana ($19) or skirt steak was my favourite. Cooked medium rare at the thinner slices and a touch above rare at the thicker parts, it’s beef the way it’s meant to be enjoyed – cooked, simply seasoned and then left alone. Eaten by itself or topped with a condiment ($1/each), it was equally good:

  • Chimichurri – vinegary, filled with herbs and with a lighter touch on the garlic than most. Best with the skirt steak and suckling pig to help cut through the fat.
  • Roasted garlic – cloves of sweet mild garlic sitting in an oil, delicious to eat but personally didn’t seem to go with anything.
  • Poblano romesco – a creamy sauce with a light touch of smokiness, which for me went best with the short ribs.
  • Harissa – a fiery chili sauce that’s flavourful at first before the zing from the heat slowly builds. In my opinion, it tend to overpower the meats, but I didn’t mind it on the pulled pork.
Branca skirt steak

The tira ($26), a meaty short rib, isn’t the fall-off-the-bone tenderness of the braised variety – after all we’re cooking over fire here. But, it was still easily chewable, despite its leanness, and of all the meats lent itself to pairing with the sauces (since it was rather neutral in taste).

Branca short rib

On Friday and Saturdays you can order the chancho ($34) a dish feature four different parts from a suckling pig: pulled pork, belly, tenderloin and chicharrón. Now Magazine writes about the three day process of making the dish – brining it with an aromatic mixture for two days before cooking over the wood-burning fire for an entire third day.

Branca suckling pig

I was a little disappointed that the skin wasn’t left on to get the juicy meat, thin fat layer and crisp skin combination I love so much about pork. Rather, the skin was removed of its fat and fried, served as a chicharrón or pork rind. At first it seemed a tad bland having eaten it right after a chimichurri laden piece of skirt steak, but after a swig of water and retrying it, I found the succulent meat to be quite flavourful – the taste of pork shone through (but not in a gross gamey way). For me, the highlight was the slice of pork belly slice having retained a thin layer of chewy skin and the fat rendered but still evident in the meat.   

A mound of intensely crispy and salty potato strings ($6) arrives with it – very hot but could have been drained a bit more to reduce the oiliness. But, these were addictive, I couldn’t stop snacking on just one more before the dish finally got taken away.

Branca fries

The smoked collards ($6) could be a meal in itself with the creamy sauce, smoked pork pieces and chick peas. With such heavy meats, the side was too decadent as I’d much rather have something plain and light; perhaps the green salad would have been a better option.

Branca smoked collards

Do yourself a favour and save room for the panqueques ($7). Filled with a sweet and salty dulce de leche, the crêpes are rolled and lightly brûléed on top to give it a touch of crunch. The non-sweetened chantilly cream added creaminess without adding another layer of sugariness to the already flavourful dessert. I wonder if Branca would let me return for just a helping of this dessert.


Branca crepes

Service is attentive and friendly, although following suggested order sizes (one starter, main and side per person) would leave tables with too much food - two starters, three mains and two sides was more than enough for our table of three.  At Branca, ingredients are left to its own devices. Some diners will appreciate this, allowing them to enjoy the true taste of the protein. Others may find dishes uninteresting, but I guess that’s when all those sauces will save the day. Regardless, bring a carnivore to Branca … I’m sure they’ll thank you as they leave dinner in a blissful meat-filled dream.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1727 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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:




Branca Restaurant on Urbanspoon