Showing posts with label calamari. Show all posts
Showing posts with label calamari. Show all posts

Xango (Toronto)


To see Chef Claudio Aprile in real life is a treat. To get to preview Xango’s menu before it opens made the occasion even more special. By being a Toronto Life Insider Member, I had the opportunity to dine at the restaurant before dinner service commences on September 18th and know that Claudio was actually inside the kitchen. My mouth would taste the food his hands touched!



For someone who’s about to showcase a whole new menu, he’s calm and collected. Claudio explains that he loves the opportunity to cook food his own way and with his own flavours. Having dined at his other establishments - Colborne Lane, Origin, and Copetin – Xango certainly differs from the rest and is perhaps closest to Uruguay cuisine, the Chef’s native country.


Of all his restaurants, he felt this was his “riskiest” as Peruvian flavours are relatively under represented and through Xango he hopes to push Torontonians to try new things. While it’s a noble thought, I’m don’t necessarily agree as there are already tons of mainstream Peruvian restaurants (Kay Pacha, Mira, Baro, and Chotto Matte). Plus, being part of the Liberty Group means there’s a lot of financial and corporate muscle behind the restaurant, not exactly risky. Regardless, if it helps expand the culture palette of the city, I’m supportive.

Family style dishes came out in quick succession following the short opening speech. We’re warned that not all these items will make the final menu and that we should vote for our favourites of the evening. Ask and you shall receive. Here are some of the top picks from each category for me:

Starter – The crispy thin tostones topped with black bean and salsa with a drizzle of crema and silky queso fresco was delicious. A quick two bites that works great to warm up the taste buds or for passed nibbles. With a bit more seasoning, it’d be even better.


Raw + Salads – I loved the big chunks of tuna in the ceviche. Along with watermelon, avocado, and daikon, it’s a great dish showcasing the mix of Latin and Asian flavours that’s popular with Peruvian cuisine. And those nori chips, yum! Such a good idea.


Even the simple tomato and avocado salad impressed. Intuitively, I wouldn’t have thought seaweed would work with tomato, but it actually sets off the fruit nicely and the kalamansi dressing adds a bit of acid without things becoming too sour.



Robata – We all swooned over the lamb chops that were cooked to perfection, simply seasoned with sweet chili. This has to be a keeper. Their octopus was also delicious brushed with a sweet soy so the meaty tender pieces has a wonderful balanced smoky flavour.



Large Dishes – Sadly, one of the dishes, the scallop, never made it to our table, despite numerous follow-up attempts. So, if I had to choose between the beef and chicken, beef generally is a top choice.  Like the lamb, the striploin is cooked to perfection – whoever is manning the meat grilling station is amazing. But, the fishy flavour from the encebollado really threw me off and doesn’t work with the steak unlike surf and turf. At the same time, I appreciate Xango’s attempt to push people out of their comfort zone and introduce an atypical combination of flavours. Maybe fishy beef is something I’ll grow to love.



Extras – In my haste to get some vegetables into the system, I forgot to snap a pic of the grilled and wokked gilan. The leafy Chinese green is elevated with a quick grill before being tossed with chili crisps. This works nicely as a side with the large dishes.

Sweet – To be fair there was only one dessert for the evening, yet it was all the table needed. A shallow dish of luscious coffee and milk chocolate pudding arrives with cinnamon dusted buñuelo (a fried tortilla) to dip into it. It’s a lighter alternative to churros, but still has that same satisfying end that you want with the meal.



There were some dishes that could be great, it just needs a tweak:

Overall, I really enjoyed the flavours in the spring rolls filling, which combined sweet shrimp and light maitake mushrooms. Yet, the filling’s paste consistency means the spring roll wrapper has to be crispier to provide a better contrast. Perhaps the more fluid filling is causing the wrapper to get soggy, so a layer of nori between the shrimp paste and wrapper may help to keep things crunchy.



While the halibut ceviche is such a pretty dish, arriving in halved coconut, it tastes bland since it’s really just a combination of mild fish with coconut milk. I’d imagine a hit of chili and something with texture, like Inca corn kernels, would help add pizazz to the dish.



The chimmichurri goes nicely with the whole roasted hen, but the actual fowl was overcooked. It could come down to the piece chosen or the difficulties with serving a whole bird to so many tables within a short time frame, but after the impressive lamb chops and steak, a dry bird is not how you want to end the night.



Most shishito peppers are grilled; at Xango they’re battered and fried like tempura. So while it’s tasty, I wouldn’t classify it under the “extras” sections, which to diners may seem like side dishes. It’s simply too heavy to be an accompaniment, but as a “starter” it works.



Lastly, if these dishes never made it to the final menu, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

For a dish the menu describes as being garnished with a caramelized peanut sauce, the crispy squid is oddly sour and lacks nutty flavours. I get it, calamari is a safe corporate option. But, it’s also on so many menus across the city that if it’s not fantastic, why even bother.



While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the skewer of chorizo, shitake, and pickled peppers, there’s nothing exciting about it as well. Literally, if tastes like you’re eating a mushroom, than chorizo, a pepper, and ending off with another mushroom. Is the progression of ingredients or combination really memorable or important? Not really.




In the end, it feels a little strange to be judging a Master Chef judge. After all, he’s the one that critiques the creations of so many hopefuls and offers suggestions in his calm friendly manner. Here’s hoping my thoughts came though as rationally as Chef Claudio himself. And to Master Chef Canada, if you ever need a judge, my services are always available. 
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Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 461 King 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!

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CLOSED: Entice Culinary Lounge (Toronto)

Entice Culinary Lounge’s current menu incorporates an assortment of cultures and flavours. Normally, I’m skeptical … really, can a chef actually master such different dishes and create something delicious? Truly, the creations aren’t traditional or authentic (such as our main of Korean beef ribs), but the menu reads like the popular dishes from each custom curated into one. The result: it’s not easy deciding what to order because so many items sound enticing.

Even as the cast iron calamari ($15) was presented, I could tell it was cooked perfectly - the hot pan gave it a quick sear, leaving the protein tender.  Since the squid wasn’t grilled, there’s not a strong smoky flavour, instead, the crispy garlic pesto shone through. Dots of fried capers were a nice contrast and the diced lemon segments a tart surprise, rather than the typical lemon wedge.

Despite the beef patties being cooked through (ideal for those who are squeamish about pink meat), the sliders ($15) were still juicy thanks to the bacon lardon pieces mixed into the beef. The flavourful patty held up against the slice of sharp cheddar, tangy pickles, and chili mix on top.


Entice’s mains certainly don’t lack flavour. The Korean beef ribs ($27) had the customary sweet garlicky soy marinade with the caramelized barbeque char. Even the shoestring fries were topped with ample amounts of chopped kimchi for a sharp acidity; the spicy pungent vegetable means you definitely don’t need ketchup. Meanwhile, the vinegary Asian slaw was cooling, cutting against the rich tacky ribs.


The sea bream ($27) was an excellent suggestion from our waitress, the fish’s skin so crispy it could have doubled for a chip, while the mild fish still moist. On the bottom, the zucchini noodles were light and satisfying; the roasted rapini and fennel adding an earthiness to the otherwise summery dish. Yet, I couldn’t help marvel over the lemon squeezing gadget – helps keep fingers citrus free while extracting so much juice from one thin slice.


Even the desserts were tempting. Since we couldn’t settle on one, we had the peanut butter Nanaimo ($10) and pumpkin fritters ($10). The Nanaimo arrives deconstructed, the plate includes all the staple ingredients: milk chocolate, coconut chocolate cookies and a peanut butter cream. As an added bonus, there was a light coconut sorbet that had virtually no sweetness except for the natural coconut milk.

Although deconstructed desserts look pretty, I’m always disappointed with the final output – the ingredients are everywhere and in the wrong proportions. Even though I try to get a bit of each element, the ultimate outcome is never as good as having the actual dessert. In this case, I really wanted a taste of the dense creaminess generally found in the dessert, but ended up tasting coconut sorbet mixed into hard cookie bits.

Luckily, the simple pumpkin fritters hit the spot. The warmth helped permeate the spices within the dough so you can smell and taste the cloves and cinnamon. They were also dense enough that even as the maple ice cream was melting, the fritters didn’t become soggy, rather it just seemed like a pool of sauce for the doughnuts.


For those who prefer drinking their sweets, Entice even has a selection of dessert cocktails: the il ciocclato sounds like an adult hot chocolate (complete with marshmallows) and the smashing pumpkins a warmed rum drink incorporating pumpkin puree and sweet potato syrup.

For cocktail aficionados, you need to try the liberations at Entice Culinary Lounge. The city has really stepped up with great drinks and Entice doesn’t disappoint with unique and exciting concoctions. The entire bar staff came together to develop ideas for the menu and even make many of the syrups and infusions for the drinks.

Take the Beauty and the Beast ($14), the cocktail starts with Pinot Noir that reduces by a third before adding hibiscus syrup and further concentrating in half. It’s put together with a shot of scotch (what I like to think is the Beast of the cocktail), except the Pinot Noir mellows the mixture and the drink tastes of Christmas morning. Inside, the cocktail is adorned with an edible hibiscus flower, which reminds me of the Chinese red preserved plums. Although the sprig of rosemary used as the stem of the flower is a clever idea, I found it overpowered the drink’s aroma; to really appreciate the cocktail, I ended up removing the rosemary. 


1001 Nights ($14) was concocted for the owner’s mother, who enjoys a tasty drink that’s not overly sweet. Somehow, she and I have the same taste. You can tell there’s tequila in the cocktail but along with Amaro Nonino, sage and cucumber, it’s but a whisper in the background.

What I appreciated most about the drink was the use of saffron, which is rarely incorporated into cocktails. The prized spice was to pay homage to the mother’s Persian heritage, with large strands frozen into the ice cube so that as it melts the spice melds into the drink. Even the sugar surrounding the rim is infused with saffron so that it’s the first taste that hits the tongue.

Justin Cleva, new Executive Chef of Entice, reveals that diners can expect the menu to change in December: with the cold weather, they’ll be adding comfort foods, but done in the elevated Entice fashion. Who knows, maybe it’ll become a collaborative effort again. If it’s anything like inventiveness of the cocktail menu, we’re all in for a treat.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10
Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1036 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:



Entice Culinary Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thai House Cuisine (Kingston)



Since 1999, Thai House Cuisine has served Bangkok style dishes to diners across Ontario. Blooming into four locations (Toronto, Mississauga, Kingston, and Belleville), the Toronto location was eventually sold, allowing the founder to focus on the others. Their Kingston restaurant was an ideal stopping point during the Tasting Thailand Tour between Toronto and Ottawa.  

For the indecisive, the appetizer assortment ($14.99) offers a great variety: tons of crowd pleasing fried items including lightly dusted calamari, tasty crispy vegetable spring rolls stuffed with thinly sliced vegetables and glass noodles, and peppery shrimp wrapped in spring roll sheets; simple egg, tofu and vegetable fresh rolls wrapped in rice paper; slightly dry chicken satay skewers; and a refreshing cucumber salad. A nice starter, snack or nibbling plate.

There’s something magical about Thai soups – a medley of ingredients simmered together for long periods creating a cacophony of flavours. The coconut chicken soup ($6.99) was the best part of the meal: a surprisingly light broth, despite the coconut milk, balanced with a slight acidity from lemon and kaffir lime leaves. Don’t be fooled, the milky liquid still has a spicy kick, with the galangal (an ingredient similar to ginger root), creating a throat cleansing sting. Do yourself a favour and save some of the broth to spoon over steamed rice.


Another great addition to rice is the beef tamarind curry ($13.99). Generally, I prefer sticking to chicken, shrimp or vegetable based curries as I find flank steak slices often become tough and tasteless. Thai House Cuisine uses brisket instead, which undoubtedly takes longer to cook, but produces a tender meat that actually soaks up flavours.


Despite the menu displaying three chilies beside the spicy chicken ($12.99), the stir fry wasn’t too hard to handle given the sauce incorporates a sweetness to mellow the heat. We were warned that the restaurant’s dishes have been toned down for the Canadian palette, so if you’re like me and would want this spicier, don’t be afraid to ask for the full-fledged version.


Using the same sauce as the chicken, but seemingly more garlicky, the spicy fish ($16.99) smells amazing as it’s presented. Served as thick boneless filets, the trout remains moist with enough sauce for flavour, but not swimming in the glaze to overpower the seafood. Be warned, this is a substantial dish, so share or be prepared for take-out.


The stir fried garlic pork ($12.99) didn’t have as much garlic as anticipated, but rather a slight peppery taste. Overall, it was a tasty dish, but perhaps cutting the pork into chunks rather than slivers would help the meat become juicier.


With all the protein rich dishes, it was nice to have a mixture of stir fried vegetables ($11.99) and an omelette to provide balance. The khai jeaw, a Thai omelette, is thin and pan fried in a lot of oil so the edges crisp up and becomes fluffy. With nothing mixed into the egg, except for spices, the plain omelette also pairs well with pad Thai.


Their pad Thai ($12.99) has a slight sourness from the tamarind but isn't overly pronounced. Incorporating the typical toppings - shrimp, chicken, tofu, egg, bean sprouts and chopped peanuts – the rice noodles had nice flavours, although could use a bit more “wok hay”. 


Growing up Chinese, I’m accustomed to the heavy grain based East Asian desserts – rice, beans and glutinous flour are common building blocks to our sweets. Thailand is known for their coconut rice ($3.50). Served warm and creamy, it’s mildly sweet with a slight salty current mixed into the coconut. Boy, we were in for a treat! Thai House’s owner was able to procure some of the best mangos I’ve ever tasted in Canada – the fresh juicy sweet ripe fruit went splendidly with the sticky warm rice.


Another great sweet ending is a glass of oliang (iced coffee) or Thai tea. Both are enriched with other ingredients: sesame seeds, soy beans or corn for the coffee; or star anise, tamarind or cinnamon with the tea. The drink isn’t a simple brew-and-consume either – the coffee is often filtered through a “coffee sock” and the tea poured from pot to pot at great heights to create a smoother product. A sweetened condensed milk can be added creating beautiful layers as presented.  


It’s safe to say my taste buds left fully satisfied: spicy, sour, sweet and salty … how can you eat a meal with just one?

Overall mark - 8 out of 10
Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Kingston, Canada
 Address: 185 Sydenham 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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:



Thai House Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Browne's Bistro (Toronto)


Tucked in a corner of a stone building off Avenue, you may miss the steps down to Brownes Bistro. Leading to a rather large restaurant, their décor is classic: the dining room consisting of dark wood and cream linens. If you’re a fan of old school restaurants like me, you’re in for a treat.    

Their Summerlicious menu ($28) was equally traditional, with the exception of the vegetable samosa, suitably safe for non-adventurous eaters. Of course, as a food lover, I love trying new things. But, sometimes I get tired of the shared fusion plates, doused in a variety of sauces and start yearning for timeless dishes.

If Browne’s grilled calamari weren’t so salty, the starter would have been good: the seafood was tender with a gentle smokiness. However, this was ruined by over seasoning the calamari when the aged balsamic and shallot sauce drizzled on top was also so flavourful.  


Despite being thinly sliced, the Atlantic salmon was surprisingly moist having been grilled quickly so it was just cooked through. Unlike the starter, the fish was simply topped with a citrus-herb-lime infused butter and seasoned suitably.


Although the presentation of the apple rhubarb crisp could be improved, the dessert was satisfying – plenty of apples and rhubarb baked until soft but still having bite. Not overly sweet, the dish relied on the buttery crumble topping and French vanilla ice cream to make it a dessert.


Summerlicious gets a bad reputation amongst those working in the industry – I understand, they’re often serving a lot more food to a lot more people than they’re normally used to. With the special pricing, bill totals will ring in less so their gratuities are otherwise lower. Encounter dinner guests that are especially demanding (please don’t ask for substitutions) and I can see why it’s a draining two weeks.

Yet, it’s also the perfect opportunity for restaurants to expand their clientele. If it weren’t for Summerlicious, I would have never tried Brownes Bistro, having found it by looking for dinner menus with a specific price point that’s close to home.

Luckily, Theo, our server for the evening, didn’t mind the event. He welcomed us warmly, offered to take pictures, and joked with us throughout the evening … even though we were rowdier than their normal clientele (residents of the areas).

Foodies, I challenge you to look past what’s flashy and new. Sometimes you need to step back and reconnect with the classics. After all, it’s not that often a business survives, let alone lasts over 30 years, there must be a reason.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10
Is Summerlicious worth it (based on my meal selection)?
Summerlicious - $28
Regular menu - $42 - calamari ($12), salmon ($22) and dessert* ($8)
Savings - $14 or 33%
* The dessert price is a wild guess from me

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1251 Yonge 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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


Browne's Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pappagallo (Grand Cayman)

Pappagallo Grand Cayman


Little did I know that I’d be transported to Polynesia in the Cayman Islands. Yet, after a short drive north of Seven Mile Beach, a beautiful structure greeted us: walking along the bamboo lined bridge, taking in the large thatched roof and hearing the rustling wind blow through the palm trees … where did we go?

Pappagallo is a serene restaurant situated on a spacious bird sanctuary. While sitting in the screened in patio the lagoon in the background is eerily calm, but during the day there’s plenty of wildlife to behold. From the high ceiling dining room and outdoor water features, there’s so much to see with their décor that the hunger pangs momentarily subsided - to just be outdoors and take it all in!   

Pappagallo Grand CaymanPappagallo Grand Cayman

Humphrey Bogart, the restaurant’s “oldest employee”, greets us at the door and gets tons of attention. The mild tempered African Grey parrot even patiently posed on my friend’s shoulder for pictures.


Then again, the smell of shellfish and garlic is so enticing; soon we were coxed into our chairs and a bottle of cold wine settling us in for dinner. A basket of the calamari (CI$10.50) was great for sharing: plenty of squid with thinly sliced zucchini for added interest. The fried starter needed more draining as everything was rather oily and the salt was a tad heavy handed but nevertheless tasty, we finished it anyways.

Pappagallo Grand Cayman: calamari

True to its Italian roots, Papagallo’s pasta dishes are large … there’s no risk of leaving hungry. The tagliatelle (CI$27.50) appeared freshly made and tossed with a fragrant garlic shrimp broth, basil and olive oil finishing it off. Although the scallops and shrimps could be cooked a touch less, they were nonetheless meaty and delicious.  

Pappagallo Grand Cayman: tagliatelle

The seafood theme continued for our table with my friend ordering the lobster spaghetti (CI$32) brimming with pieces of the crustacean. Meanwhile, the sweetness in the lobster and shrimp (CI$36) threw me off and having a whole plate of the rich brandy-tarragon cream sauce would be too much.

Pappagallo Grand Cayman: spaghettiPappagallo Grand Cayman: lobster and shrimp

Complimentary bites of bruschetta (fresh and tasty) and chocolate cookies (dry and powdery) were also presented. I welcomed every last bite. Anything to make the tranquil dinner, in a tropical oasis, last a few minutes longer.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: North end of the Island
 Address: 444B Conch Point Road

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: