Showing posts with label bento. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bento. Show all posts

Aka-Oni Izakaya (Toronto)


While I do love expertly crafted sushi, made piece-by-piece and eaten at the optimal temperature, these meals are reserved for special occasions. Generally, I’ll limit my sushi and sashimi intake to “fancier” establishments - perhaps I’m being overly cautious, but low prices and raw seafood seem like a bad combination. Yet, I can still get my fill of cooked items at reasonable prices. The newest find is Aka-Oni Izakaya, a restaurant that offers an array of affordable lunch bento boxes amongst other dishes.


Standard items arrive with each bento meal:
  • Scalding miso soup that contains so much miso paste that it stays emulsified. A lone clam can be found at the bottom, surprisingly not overdone.
  • Simple green salad dressed with a tasty soy, lemon, and ginger dressing.
  • A daily appetizer, which in our case were two deep-fried gyozas. They’re of average quality but at least hot and freshly made.
  • A bowl of rice, even adorned with a bit of seaweed salt for extra flavour.
  • And for dessert, pieces of cut-up fruit (with the bento) and a scoop of black sesame or green tea ice cream (served afterwards).

Rarely are you able to find surf-and-turf for under $20. Aka-Oni’s take bento ($18) meets the challenge with a wee tempura lobster tail and small steak. While the lobster is frozen, you can still taste some of the lobster’s sweetness … it helps when the chef shows restraint with the batter. It’d be even better if it were cooked less.


Surprisingly, the Angus steak arrived pink-in-the-middle medium despite being cut so thinly. Simply grilled, it tasted like beef and was tender.


A generous portion of the saba shioyaki arrives in the matsu bento ($16), but does require a generous squeeze of lemon and grated radish to mask the light fishy essence (not abnormal with mackerel). Moreover, I thoroughly enjoyed the enoki stuffed beef rolls. Some may find it a tad salty, but the flavours were perfect at complimenting all the neutral crunchy mushrooms.


There aren’t bento boxes during dinner, but there is a set meal for those who like crab and sashimi. Not feeling too hungry, we stuck with some sharable dishes that spanned their entire menu. With two pages of kushiyaki skewers, we opted for the Negima chicken thigh ($2.25) and Matsusaka pork jowl ($6.99); both cooked well remaining tender, incorporated enough of the sweet and savoury glaze, and had the requisite charbroil flavour. Just don’t expect very large skewers, each containing four to five small bites at most.


For something more substantial, the grilled squid with unagi sauce ($9.99) is a better option, especially since it also uses the same glaze and has a smoky grilled flavour. With plenty of pieces to go around, the squid is of course chewier than meat but great for munching on with drinks.


I liked the freshly fried tempura prawn that’s used in the dynamite roll ($7.50), nice and crispy and still warm. Aka-Oni does a good version of the popular maki, wrapped in thin layer of rice and seaweed with the customary avocado, tobiko, cucumber, and spicy mayo.


We finished with a bowl of Hakata black garlic ramen ($11.99) selecting the thicker noodles to hold up against the stronger soup. While I would have liked the noodles to be cooked a touch less, the broth was thick and filled with flavours without relying solely on salt. While not overly large, the restaurant didn’t skimp on the toppings, including a thick slice of pork belly chashu, half an onsen egg, corn, bamboo shoot, thinly sliced black fungus, fish cake, and seaweed. It could rival a bowl served at traditional ramen restaurants downtown.


While you’ll never dream of Aka-Oni’s dishes (a nod to Jiro), they’re well prepared and decent quality for the low price. Besides, it’s one of the few places where the dishes arrived looking like the menu’s picture, if not better. Thanks to Aka-Oni, I can eat well while saving up for meticulously made sushi.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 633 Silver Star Blvd

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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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Aka-Oni Izakaya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Robot Restaurant ロボットレストラン (Tokyo)

Location: Tokyo, Japan
Address: 1-7-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Website:
http://www.robot-restaurant.com/E/
Type of Meal: Dinner 



Make your way through the maze of bustling streets in Shinjuku, look for a building that hurts your eyes if you stare directly at it and you will have found Robot Restaurant.  Despite four shows on Saturday night (three every other day) and rain during our visit, the 100+ seat arena was still full. To avoid disappointment, I suggest making a reservation – although as a warning it doesn’t help you get through the line any faster. Nonetheless, even their entrance is entertaining enough with two ladies sitting in moving robots and one drumming away.

After making your way down endless flights of stairs to the basement the showroom and “restaurant” awaits.  You hand in your ticket (chosen upstairs) and are given a meat or fish bento box.
The ¥5,000 charge per person certainly isn’t spent on food costs; my chicken and pork were a tepid temperature and made me feel squeamish about food safety. To play it safe, I decided to stick with the tasteless balls of rice mixed with pickled vegetables to tie me over until a follow-up dinner can be had. Luckily, the bottled green tea provided at the seats were cold and refreshing and draft beers were available (believe was ¥500) if you get there early enough. 

Any visitor will tell you, what makes you want to go back is not the food.  In fact, they should just consider doing away with the horrible bento and provide rice crackers and nuts instead.  What makes you want to return is the sheer unbelievable experience of an hour filled with huge props, flashing lights and beautiful skimpily clad women.  From robots, sharks, bulls and everything in between each set becomes more outrageous than the last.

The minute the show is supposed to start, the beer cart is whisked away and people ushered back to their seats where a safety demonstration is given.  Individuals occupying the first row are warned that these floats and robots will come inches of you.  Immediately, the lights dim and twenty girls on drumming floats burst out with dragons woven in for good measure.

Having only visited once, I can’t be sure on whether the show changes.  But, when we visited over Christmas, the following pole-dancing sequence was set to Mariah’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”. So, I sense they do try to change things up somewhat to make the show applicable to the season.

Afterwards, things start getting jumbled.  A robot, shark, bull and mermaid battle break out where every time the black curtain lifts something else unbelievable flies out into the middle of the room.

Glow sticks are given out and the audience is encouraged to cheer and pump their firsts as a cacophony of robots, circle bikes, Segways and giant robots circle the room – all done to Psy’s “Ganganam Style”.

Just when you think it’s over and disappointment starts seeping in, giant lit robots come out … certainly every Transformer’s fan’s dream come true. Soon, the women flood the room again with each one getting a shout out and doing a dance move in the middle of the robot crowd.  Think of it as a high school dance gone astray… with robots of course.

To end, a brightly lit tank, plane and barrels (trust me it sounds weird but all works) float around the room with a crazy amount of cheering.  The groups of young business people, giggling girls, couples, tourists and rowdy teenagers alike seem to be enthralled with the spectacle. At this point, you can’t help it but you’re bopping around in your chair and waving the glow stick like it’s your job. At least that was my experience.

Consequently, although I ate a “meal” at this “restaurant”, I can’t give Robot Restaurant a mark – how do you a rate something where the food is a zero but the experience a ten? Unless you’re sensitive to flashing lights, I highly recommend you check out Robot Restaurant. It’s here where you’ll truly get a sense of that wild Japanese game show experience and wonder where you’ve been transported to. It’s here where you have stories to tell your friends when they asked you what you did in Japan, only to have them look at you like you’re crazy.

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Ni-Ji Japanese Restaurant (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 1095 Ellesmere Road
Website: https://www.facebook.com/ilovenijisushi
Type of Meal: Dinner


If you read reviews about Ni-Ji Japanese Restaurant, you may be confused why some customers exclaim it’s the best sushi in Toronto and others grumble in disappointment about travelling to eat at the place.  Hopefully, I can shed some light on this disconnect.  Firstly, Ni-Ji is not the best/most authentic sushi you will find in Toronto; establishments such as Hiro Sushi and Nami or maybe even Zen Japanese Restaurant, also in Scarborough, would be better choices. 

With that said, what brings people to Ni-Ji is its relatively decent tasting dishes offered at extremely reasonable prices. The restaurant is busy, expect waits on weekends, but keeps ingredients fresh (of utmost importance for something like raw fish).

The spicy salmon maki ($4.95) is an explosion of salmon with tons in the roll and more topping it as well. For under $5 you’re served quite a substantial portion of fish! Besides, I enjoy the roughly diced pieces so they are still distinct pieces rather than becoming a pulverized paste mixed with tempura bits that some restaurants serve. The sauce has a nice hint of spiciness to it but not so overpowering that it makes you think that you’re dipping the sushi into sriracha.





Ni-Ji’s spicy seafood udon ($9.95) contains sufficient amounts of seafood (shrimp, squid, mussels and scallop) as well as vegetables.  I wouldn’t call this a highlight of the restaurant – the noodles are like frozen varieties found in grocery stores and the broth needs to be spicier. But, if you’re looking for something hot and hearty during the winter months, a bowl of noodle soup is one of my favourite things


Generally, my go-to are their bento boxes which provides me with tastes of everything to satisfy cravings. Bento #1 ($11.95) containing salmon teriyaki with bean sprouts, fried tofu, a California maki, rice and slivers of pickled daikon seems popular. Although there's a generous portion of salmon, it's overcooked and too dry for my taste.



Rather, I prefer Bento #2 ($11.95) which has beef bulgogi, fried tofu, a California & salmon roll and rice.  The bulgogi pays homage to the Korean options being offered at the restaurant (which of course shows the restaurant is not the most “authentic”) and is thinly sliced and well marinated.

Their sushi dinners are also satisfying. The Kyoto ($11.95; 8 pieces of sushi, 3 pieces of California and 3 pieces of salmon), Sapporo ($12.95; 7 pieces of sushi, 6 pieces of maki and 1 salmon hand roll) and the maki combo ($11.95; California, salmon and cucumber maki rolls) are fresh and palatable.  For the Kyoto and Sapporo, I found they generally include additional salmon sushi above what’s stated on the menu which is always a pleasant surprise.

All meals are usually served with a bowl of simple salad, Korean congee (has an interesting earthy smoky taste that I like) and green tea ice cream.  If you order any bento boxes, you’ll also be offered a bowl of mediocre miso soup as well.





Right after ordering, two simple banchan dishes of seaweed drizzled with a sweet beany Korean chilli sauce and marinated vermicelli noodles arrive. Sometimes, Ni-Ji also serves two pieces (yes pieces) of edamame per person with the banchan as well.  




Although Ni-Ji’s dining room is small, it actually sits quite a few people.  Service is lightening quick with the staff running like a well-oiled machine; unfortunately, sometimes too efficient as they take things away when other guests are still eating and present the bill as soon as the last dish is whisked away. However, turnover is usually pretty fast and if you can’t stand to wait, you could always do take-out which seems to be a popular choice amongst locals.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10




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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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Ni Ji Sushi on Urbanspoon