Showing posts with label chicken skewers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chicken skewers. Show all posts

Amal for Lunch (Toronto)

Perched over Bloor Street, Amal’s dining room is an oasis of calm with coastal tones and lattice walls coaxing me to stay for a leisurely lunch. Indeed, if the timing allowed, I could lounge there for an entire afternoon - with no pressure to order and eat quickly, Amal gives you the luxury of time to relax and enjoy.

Everyone seems to start with a cold mezze sampler platter ($27), three large mounds of prettily adorned dips where we opted for baba ghanoush, garlic labneh, and the lesser-known muhammara. The later is a zesty concoction made from a base of fire-roasted red peppers spiked with spices and diced walnuts that creates a bit of texture.

The muhammara a stark contrast against the cool and creamy labneh where toum (a garlic sauce) and mint tones down the acidity of the yoghurt while giving it an extra boost of flavour. Still, I enjoyed the more traditional baba ghanoush the most where the roasted eggplant with thick and pronounced, just lightly seasoned with lemon and tahini.

While their skewer platter arrives with a thick hummus, I found the garlic labneh went perfectly with the chicken tawok ($22 for full platter, pictured in the post is an extra skewer added on for a lesser price). The morsels of grilled chicken breast were juicy with a faint herb and garlic finish, but the creamy labneh just gave it an extra burst of flavour, like a milder and creamier tzatziki.

Yet, what made us swoon was the beef tenderloin skewer ($24), the outer cubes cooked a perfect medium rare that seemed to cut like butter.  They were great on their own, with a sprinkle of the chopped grilled onions and parsley, or even with a smear of baba ghanoush. The kitchen should consider leaving space between the cubes of beef as I did find the inner cubes too rare, likely since they had less contact with the grill.

With a choice of rice or fries, our waiter smartly suggested the spuds since they’d be easier to share. The potato wedges were wonderfully hot and crispy but could use a bit more seasoning. Luckily, we had plenty of dip remaining to dunk the fries into.

I have a feeling that the front-of-the-house and kitchen are in close communications, customizing the experience to the diners. The pace of our meal was timed perfectly, with the main hitting the table just as we had slowed on the mezze and was focused more on wine and conversation instead. Beside us, a group of business diners, who were eating more ferociously, saw the procession of dishes speed up. At Amal, the diners seem to dictate the pace of the meal, which is merely a mark of great hospitality. 

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 131 Bloor Street West

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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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Ramen Raijin's frozen ramen (Toronto) for delivery

Note: Prices in post are based on regular menu prices and may be higher when using delivery services

Before COVID, when someone mentions “instant ramen”, a square of hard dried noodles is what comes to mind. That goes into a pot of boiling water for about five minutes and a powdered soup gets prepared, sometimes enhanced with another packet of dried seaweed and vegetables. Many are spicy, but you’ll need to find a delicate balance of the soup base to water… one false move will leave you with a kick at the back of the throat. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I literally cough when too much powder is added.

Then COVID hit and Ramen Raijin reinvented the concept of instant ramen. Theirs is a frozen circular disk that literally incorporates everything – the broth, noodles, and various toppings that are a far cry from the rehydrated vegetable fragments. In about the same time it takes to boil water to create the dried version, the frozen disk goes into a pot until it melts and is heated through.

And there’s no guessing games with Raijin’s spicy tonkotsu ramen ($12). The spicy-miso pork broth has enough chili to flood your mouth with flavours, but the fiery finish is subdued, and the miso adds a lovely creamy finish.

Perhaps it was all the tightly packed vegetables (corn, slivers of cabbage, bean sprouts, and green onions) and the extra minced chicken mixed into the soup base, but the spicy tonkotsu did take a couple minutes longer to prepare than the non-spicy version so the noodles ended up being a less chewy than the other.

The noodles in the Hakata tonkotsu ramen ($10) turned out perfectly and Raijin’s Hakata-style rich pork broth was just as creamy and umami laced as anything you’d find at a restaurant. Something about the freezing process makes me like the pickled ginger more, it’s mellower and melts into the broth nicely. It’s all finished with a rather thin slice of pork belly cha-shu, kikurage mushroom, green onion, and enough sesame to add a nutty finish to the soup.

Will the frozen ramen overtake the delivery and takeout options across the city? While close to the “real deal” they are still missing some of the beloved toppings like a gooey onsen egg and the crispy fresh toppings that can make it sing. The additional garnishes are easy – you can easily get a dried seaweed snack pack and finely chop scallions – but the elusive egg is more difficult. Raijin provides a recipe with the order confirmation to allow home cooks to recreate them at home. But all the work for one or two eggs … let’s just call me lazy.

To augment the meal, as the lone slice of cha shu isn’t the most substantial, Raijin offers extra pork or a host of frozen appetizers, some care of Zakkushi on Carlton just down the street. The yakitori momo ($8.50) goes bag and all into boiling water for five minutes and then you’re presented with four skewers of juicy chicken yakitori. The sauce is waterier than the lovely glaze you’ll normally find at restaurants, but in a pinch these will do.

Before placing an order, ensure your freezer has some room as for deliveries there’s a minimum $50 order size (about five ramen) and a $7 delivery fee. If you create that room if your freezer, the delivery fee is waived for a $100 purchase.

I love and value the ingenuity entrepreneurs have shown during this crisis. Dried instant ramen, you’ve been disrupted. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 24 Wellesley Street West
 Delivery: store delivery

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never order again
  • 6 - decent for delivery and takeout, but there's better
  • 7 - this is good, for delivery and takeout
  • 8 - great for delivery and takeout, it's almost like you're in a restaurant
  • 9 -  wow, it's like I'm eating at a restaurant
  • 10 - I'd happily order this for delivery or takeout instead of dining in any day!

Is That It? I Want More!

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Visit Destination Thailand at Yonge Dundas Square

Destination Thailand’s third anniversary means another huge festival at Yonge Dundas Square. One of the largest in Canada, the Royal Thai Embassy transforms downtown Toronto into the friendly warm country with traditional dances, exotic fruits, crafts, massages, Muay Thai, entertainment, and of course authentic cuisine!

The Royal Thai Embassy also operates a worldwide certification program, Thai Select, which grades restaurants on their authenticity. Aside from using traditional ingredients, chefs are also judged by their cooking method and how closely that matches actual approaches used in Thailand. In Canada, the 88 restaurants that meet their requirements are given a premium or red status. At the festival, eight local establishments will be featured:

  • Bangkok Garden
  • Golden Thai
  • Linda Modern Thai
  • Pai Toronto
  • Patchmon’s Thai Dessert
  • Soi Thai
  • Stratford Thai Cuisine
  • Thai Noodle
Having sampled eats from six of the eight vendors at a media event, I can say attendees are in for a treat. Although these will likely be the dishes served at the festival (ranging from $5-$10), the selection may change depending on ingredient availability.

Pai’s gai ping is the most flavourful and tender grilled chicken skewers I’ve ever had. Chef Nuit Regular freely shared that the meat is so succulent due to being marinated in coconut milk. Meanwhile, the rich flavours are derived from a paste of tamarind, fish sauce, lime juice and chilies.

For something different try their moo nam tok, slices of grilled pork jowl mixed with a spicy sweet and sour tamarind sauce that goes perfectly with steamed sticky rice. The dish smells a good as it looks, just be sure you can handle the heat as the chili and herb sauce on top is surprisingly spicy.

With the success of the Regulars’ restaurants (Khao SanRoad, Pai, Sabai Sabai), it’s not surprising that Chef Nuit is Thai Select’s ambassador of Canada where she’ll promote the program and encourage fellow restaurateurs to uphold authentic standards. Having dined at their restaurants, there’s no doubt that they serve the best Thai food I’ve ever had – as I write this I’m wistful for another skewer of gai ping.

If you enjoy sauce drenched rice like myself, try the massaman lamb curry from Golden Thai. The lamb is melt-in-your-mouth tender without any gaminess and the flavourful curry goes so well with rice. Vegetarians, Golden Thai will also be serving tempeh or grilled tofu and vegetable satay skewers (served with peanut, sweet Thai, or hot sauces).

The second non-meat offering at Destination Thailand comes from Bangkok Garden who will be featuring a golden vegetable curry. If you’re a carnivore, try their spicy cashew chicken, which although looks innocent has a flavourful punch.

Linda Modern Thai has been experimenting with their menu to ensure it can be reproduced with their high standards. At the media event, they were showcasing the likely contenders:

  • An interesting Thai beef salad consisting of flank steak marinated with Thai basil coconut syrup, which has a sweet tartness to it not unlike balsamic vinegar.
  • Traditional grilled lemongrass chicken is elevated with a seafood sangwa sauce that the chef explains is like a salsa verde with fish sauce and lemongrass. It’s salty and sour against the smoky grilled chicken and the dots of homemade sriracha are spicy without being overpowering.  

Soi Thai, based on College Street, generally sells dishes reminiscent of the street foods in Thailand. At the festival, they will be offering a hearty complete meal: khao kha moo or succulent braised pork hocks stewed in a flavourful soy sauce broth studded with star anise, cinnamon, cilantro root, garlic and white peppercorns to give it an earthy and slightly sweet seasoning.

If you find it overly rich, dip it into the spicy chili-vinegar on the side that helps cut the grease. The pork hock arrives shredded over steamed jasmine rice and is served with blanched gai lan (Chinese broccoli), pickled mustard greens, and half a hard-boiled egg … you’ll leave full after this dish, so share it!

My first taste of Thai desserts was an introduction with Patchmon’s, a family run eatery that concocts a wide variety of sweets. I love the kha-nhom chun, a chewy glutinous coconut layer cake – you can actually peel each layer apart. Put together with coconut cream, pandan juice and tapioca flour the dessert is light and delicious. It’s normally served at special occasions and wishes a person good luck as they travel up the layers.

For those who like savoury and sweet combinations, the kha-nhom sai-sai is a dumpling stuffed with a savoury shredded coconut filling, lightly sweetened with palm sugar and coconut cream, and then steamed in lotus leaf. Their ta-goe is another surprising dessert, starting off as a luscious coconut cream on top but below a slightly salty tapioca layer with young coconut and corn studded throughout.  

With tons of desserts, Patchmon will be offering a mix-and-match plate. Arrive early and try their gleeb lum duan cookies shaped like a flower. The shortbread like cookies are finished with a food safe candle that adds a light charcoal taste and fragrance, but it can dissipate as the day advances so won’t be as pronounced for later customers.   

Judging by the hot sunny weather Toronto has been graced with this year, it’ll likely be a beautiful warm day. So, you’ll likely want a cold drink to wash down all the spicy eats. Luckily, Singha beers will be on hand selling their brews for $6; head to their special seating area for a refreshing cold drink.

Don’t forget to pick up a free passport and have it stamped at each vendor. Visit at least five of the restaurants and you’ll receive a free t-shirt and be entered into a contest to win meals for two for one year (limited to two visits per month)!

Visitors can even get a relaxing massage at two places: Shivaga Thai Massage and Traditional Thai Massage Association of Ontario. They’ll offer services with varying timing, but a massage is about $65. After an afternoon of eating and drinking how relaxing would a massage be? Just try not to fall asleep. 

How To Find Them
 Date and Time: Sep 10, 2016 from 11am - 8pm
 Address: Yonge and Dundas Square
 Pricing: Free entrance; extra for food, crafts and services

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