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

Black + Blue for lunch (Toronto)

The financial core of Toronto isn’t what it used to be… it’s quieter and less hectic. Yet, I’m happy to see that restaurants are still opening, and their opulence hasn’t taken a hit. Black + Blue has made its way from the west coast and into the Exchange Tower, occupying the former site of the TSX. It’s a massive space with soaring ceilings and a grandeur that makes you stop for a moment to take it all in. Focus on the details and you’ll realize the large bull artwork on their wall is made up from hundreds of steak knives, how cleaver.

Their prix fixe lunch menu ($45) offers diners a choice of a main with either an appetizer or dessert (some supplements required). Word for the wise: you’ll want to share the appetizers as some dishes are rich and the portion sizes would impress a Texan.

Thinly sliced barely seared beef forms a beautiful ruby base for the beef carpaccio. Dressed in horseradish crema and tangy pickled shimeji mushrooms, the two give the meat bright pops of flavour. Personally, I would have gone with either the crispy shallot or fried capers on the dish; having both seems like overkill and the oily garnishes overtook the delicate tender beef. But the slices of shaved parmesan were a great addition offering a bit of sweet and saltiness.

Black + Blue’s calamari is left in thick sticks, lovely bites of tender and meaty squid. The coating is crispy and light but also too salty so that it renders the dipping sauce useless. If you’re going to provide a condiment, it’s best to reduce the seasoning so that diners can taste the sauce.

Leave room for the mains as they are big. A huge cone of sizzling hot parmesan fries arrives with the steak frites ($15 supplement), they are deliciously covered with a layer of cheese and a bit of parsley for a fresh richness. Once again, I did find them over seasoned so with the garlic aioli (a tasty rendition) it ends up being too salty. I also had to leave the red wine jus unused as it was a bit too soy sauce and beef stock heavy to pair with the steak.

The steak frites includes a sizeable sirloin but it was cooked poorly: the medium rare is well seared on the outside but still fully rare in the middle. My husband, an excellent steak preparer, hypothesizes that the meat was too cold before being placed in the pan, evidenced by the tell-tale ring instead of a gradient doneness.

When my friend mentioned the undercooked steak to the manager, he brought over a doneness card to indicate the steak was cooked to their medium rare standard. My recommendation: print more of these cards and place one in each menu, so diners understand Black + Blue’s definition as it doesn’t appear to follow the Toronto standard.

Still, the manager was nice about it and noted they would have been happy to put the steaks back on the grill (likely not something chefs trying to time the next table would be “happy” about) and made up for the miscommunication with a plate of petit fours.

Underdone steak aside, Black + Blue nailed their service as everyone was a delight: professional and attentive without making the restaurant seem stuffy. Of course, the environment is anything but stuffy with the airy high ceilings and upbeat songs blasting from the speakers. One thing’s for sure, this isn’t your typical steakhouse. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 130 King 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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Selva (Toronto)


Self-coined as the world’s first immersive, multi-sensory art resto bar, Selva’s accolade is debateable. Indeed, the restaurant is a visually stimulating environment, and I could taste fresh ingredients that might be found in a jungle, but there were other senses missing:

  • What could I smell other than the pungent deep woodsy citrus aroma of the magrud lime that seemed to be part of half of the dishes? Possibly if even a few dishes were served in a cloche encapsulating an aromatic scent or if a powerful broth is poured table-side, it would help emit a smell to add to the sensory experience. At the very least, using diffusers in the non-dining room portions of the restaurant that lets out a “jungle” aroma could check this box.
  • Unless you count the dishes that could be eaten with your hands, there’s not a touch element to Selva.  Maybe they could incorporate this by changing up the cutlery and plates for certain dishes (serving the ceviche on individual leaves, creating savoury cotton candy, or even dehydrating some ingredients so that it becomes an edible handheld vessel). I know, these are all things that are difficult to create, but if you’re going to call yourself multi-sensory…
  • And finally, there weren’t even any sounds that reminded me of being in a jungle, the easiest sense to create. Of course, Selva shouldn’t become a reincarnated Rainforest Café (who is old enough to remember this place?), but even adding noises at the entrance and in the restrooms – the same areas with the diffusing scents - would help.  

This is all to say that Selva is hardly a multi-sensory experience, especially not the first in the world. If anything, my dining experiences at Alinea or even Hutaoli’s Markham location would be way more multi-sensory. Nonetheless, Selva is still a lovely environment to dine in: there’s something about the brightly coloured foliage hanging from the ceiling and beautifully presented dishes that puts you in a good mood. And the gorgeous artwork all over the restaurant’s walls, ceiling, and floor by Clandestinos Art is certainly something to behold. Would it be strange to commission a replica in my dining room?

It pains me to say this, as I deeply respect Chef Nuit and love her other restaurants, but Selva’s menu needs an overhaul. The best dish of night, unanimously agreed upon at our table, was the eggplant dip ($18 plus an extra $6 for the guacamole). It was such a nice thick consistency, but also flavoured in an interesting manner with shrimp paste (?) and chili so there’s an umami spiciness to the meaty vegetable. Even the shredded mint on top was a great touch. On the other hand, the guacamole is run-of-the-mill and could benefit from a twist to make it special, whether it be the addition of finely chopped chilis or Thai herbs. All in all, the dips are beautifully presented with an array of fresh vegetables and warm crispy tortillas. In retrospect, I would have happily had the entire platter to myself as a meal.

Perhaps I’d add on the yellowfin tuna ceviche ($18) as a starter to get the sole smell element once we squeezed the magrud lime and that distinctive aroma engulfed the table. Plus, it’s a decent dish with the delicate soft tuna contrasted with plenty of crunchy ingredients (roasted peanuts, grilled corn, celery, pickled onion) and slices of red serrano chili adding a light spice. If anything, the ceviche could use a bit more salt and oil to balance out all the acidity.

The meal starts to go downhill from here… literally as each successive dish is presented it’s worse than the one before. The grilled sea bream ($36) is still fine: while it could be taken off the grill sooner to keep the flesh moister, the skin had a lovely crispy texture. The lemongrass sandwiched in the middle of the fish was a great start, but surprisingly didn’t really diffuse any flavours into the flesh. Once we added pieces of pickled chayote, onion, and a dash of yellow pepper sauce the flavours improved, but the fish could still benefit from more salt. Who knows, maybe the sea bream was actually seasoned perfectly, and I just couldn’t taste it over all the raw garlic used in the tomato rice. Wow is this garlicky, beware to people who are on dates.

In fact, the tomato rice would go better with the grilled Denver steak ($30), which by itself is forgettable. The thin under-blade cut of beef was overcooked, but thankfully due to the marbling remained tender. It just doesn’t have a lot of flavour: like the fish, it could be seasoned more, and the sriracha-looking condiment was a sweet pepper sauce that doesn’t really add anything to the steak. If the beef was served over a bed of tomato rice perhaps the garlic in the grains would give it a punch of flavour and the beef’s fat and juices mellow out the rice. At the very least, I’d replace the sweet pepper sauce with a more traditional chimichurri, perhaps made from the leaves from the baby radishes and carrots used in the dip platter, a bit of Thai basil, and bird’s eye chili for a Chef Nuit inspired touch.

The corn fritters ($14) were shaped too small so they resembled popcorn corn versus a fritter and could have benefited from being drained longer so it wasn’t as oily. If the batter truly incorporated red curry paste and lime leaf, the ratio of spices to flour needs to increase as it didn’t taste like much. In fact, we really couldn’t even taste the corn.

Yet, the fritters were still better the fried calamari ($18), which I couldn’t stomach more than two pieces. Firstly, the sweet and sour sauce covering the bottom of the plate, rather than being served on the side, meant the sesame batter fell off the calamari leaving us with chunks of syrupy batter and naked squid. The calamari were also cut much too small so without serving spoons it was difficult to pick up with a fork.

In general, I’m surprised a restaurant that creates a family-style menu doesn’t include sharing utensils with their dishes. I finally asked for an extra spoon and fork with the fish, but these were cleared away with the sea bream and it seemed like a pain to ask for new ones with each dish. If you’re serving a sharing menu, especially under COVID conditions, providing tables with proper serving utensils is key. Moreover, swapping out the plates after every few dishes would be even better as by the end of the meal those small plates were messy.

And the worst dish of the night was also the last – talk about not ending with a bang. The shrimp in the tacos ($46 for 6 servings) were over done and rubbery and the amount of salsa, guacamole and red pepper sauce that arrive for six tacos is comical, there was enough for two tacos at best. Especially when paired with corn tortillas, which are such dry wrappers that need a lot of sauce and ingredients to stand up to the rich earthy corn flavour. In retrospect, had I known there was a lack of condiments, I would have asked for the tacos to be served with the lettuce instead.

We all grumbled over the make-your-own factor of the dish… did we seriously just spend $46 for a Chilli’s experience? Maybe this is meant to be the “immersive” factor where you feel like you’re foraging the ingredients to create your own meal, but the dish really doesn’t work in a dark restaurant where we could hardly what’s on the plate – boy did I feel old having to whip out a phone to see all the garnishes. Maybe if our table had more than one tealight in a wax-stained holder (that we had to request) we could have seen better. Selva, if you’re going to keep serving these tacos, please just make them for the table. Give me those pre-made tacos in an accordion metal holder any day.

On top of the lack of sauce and lighting, without any tongs it was impossible to pick up the julienned cabbage, lettuce, chayote, mango, red bell peppers and onion with a fork. We eventually had to abandon the unsanitary mass of forks diving into the same plate and use our hands instead. If you’re afraid of germs or eating with people you’re not close with, skip this dish. On second thought, even if you’re eating with your partner who’d you gladly swap spit with, I’d skip the tacos.

So, what made us stay after dinner for another three hours and close the place down? What Selva has going for it is their great vibe and pleasant service – Alexa came by to check on us frequently and those cocktails just seem to keep flowing. Maybe we should have started with shot and six drinks. Afterwards, all inhibitions would disappear, and I’d dive into each dish like a cave person. Final verdict of Selva: it’s a perfect place for drinks and dip but not for dinner.


Overall mark - 5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 221 Richmond 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: Mythology (Toronto)



As Mythology’s pictures mingled their way into my Instagram feed, the gorgeous looking plant-based dishes drew me in and created a sense of excitement. When I heard the restaurant was started by Chef Doug McNish, a well-known vegan chef in Toronto, it sealed the deal… plans were made and a reservation was secured.

Mythology promises an elevated dining experience. Indeed, the esthetics of the dining room with its black, white, and gold motifs gave the restaurant a polished air. The menu’s enticing dishes, spanning multiple continents, also made the place stand out.


As an amuse bouche was presented, we knew… oh yes, Mythology wants to transcend into fine dining. Yet, this first bite also foreshadowed the meal to come: dishes that look great, contain A LOT of ingredients, and then one or two things throws it completely off.

This first bite of pickled zucchini with tomato pesto and garlic chip - it tasted fine, but the garlic “chip” was so chewy that it’d be more aptly described as garlic jerky, leaving a strong lingering taste in my mouth.


Without the menu, it’d be hard to even recite all the ingredients that are part of each dish: their crab croquette special ($21) sat beneath so many garnishes and chips that it felt fussy and confusing. Such a shame, as the actual banana blossom cake was absolutely delicious, the texture oddly like crab, and the chayote relish, when used in small doses, was great.


The zaatar cauliflower ($20) felt like a similar dish and while it also had a lot of different elements, they at least complemented each other. Fluffy falafels are shaped into pucks and deep fried, then enhanced with sweet pomegranate, citrusy tahini, and fresh quinoa taboloui. The only downfall was the actual cauliflower seems secondary… really, this should be renamed as ‘falafels and cauliflower’.


As soon as the coq au vin ($22) was presented I knew something was off. Somehow the dish that’s synonymous with slowly braised meat in red wine arrives looking like a deep fried chicken cutlet? Sure enough, the seitan chicken was cut too thickly and along with the garlic mashed potatoes made for a heavy feeling meal.


Maybe French cuisine just doesn’t lend itself to being vegan – after all, it’s a cuisine that relies so heavily on butter, cheese, and meat. If the chefs sliced the seitan thinner and reimagined the dish as schnitzel – substituting the pastrami carrots and rapini with braised cabbage – it may actually work.

Of all the dishes, the one I thought Mythology would ace was the mushroom ravioli ($24). I’ve been to other vegan restaurants that makes great mushroom pastas with cashew based cream sauces. While the porcini cream sauce was spot on, in terms of flavours, it was too gluey and the pasta forming the ravioli was also so thick that the consistency resembled leftover pasta re-heated in the microwave. Similar to the crab croquette, the dish was then further ruined by having way too much stuff on it: hazelnut crumbs, garlic chips, baby greens, and truffle lemon vinaigrette?! All things that do nothing to help the ravioli.


When we saw the avocado and tuna tartare ($13) it was stunning. The “egg” yolk, which actually oozed, was also so impressively recreated. But then we bite into it and are repulsed by the saltiness, to the point we had to send the dish back.


We’re advised that it’s because the tomato is cured in salt so the texture changes to represent tuna. In my mind, couldn’t that also be done by simply pressing the tomato? At the very least, rinse off the cured tomato before using it. It was so salty that after one bite of the dish, it threw us off on the seasoning of everything else. After the shock to the taste buds, the next dish seemed bland.

Not all the dishes were disappointing, some of the tastiest ones were also the simplest. We all loved the panisse ($8; not pictured as it came out terrible), which is listed as a side on the menu but could easily work as a starter. The deep fried wedges tasted like mozzarella sticks, but finishes lighter and left us wanting more.

Who would have thought that king oyster mushrooms could be made to look like calamari ($14)? Indeed, biting into it you can tell it’s not seafood, yet the texture is uncannily similar. Served freshly fried with the crispy garlic cornmeal crust and cooling tartar sauce, we loved it so much we got another order.


It’s then we discovered portion sizes are inconsistent: the first such a mammoth mound of large calamari pieces filling most of the board, while the second serving barely covered the middle and the pieces puny like it was made with the leftover ends.


I can’t help but feel I was tricked into eating at Mythology by great marketing – kudos to their Instagram photographer. Even with the terrible experience, I can’t help but want the restaurant to succeed. Hence, I offer two words of advice: keep it simple and restrict garnishes to three items; and if the dish doesn’t fill the initial vision, pivot and change it into something else. I sincerely hope it gets better from here, Toronto needs more meatless fine dining options.

Overall mark - 5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1265 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:



Tholos (Blue Mountain)


While dining in “resort” areas such as Blue Mountain, I don’t have high hopes for food. Restaurants are never terrible – the high rents won’t allow it – but to meet the “family friendly” requirements, establishments generally veer towards chain-like menu with pizzas, burgers and pasta reining supreme.

Hence, I was pleasantly surprised with Tholos. My first visit was years prior, a semi-forced lunch when the resort package we purchase included a $50 voucher to the restaurant. After dining on a selection of appetizers and souvlaki, the experience was tasty enough to warrant a return dinner.

Their menu is still safe, with the westernized Greek favourites like saganaki ($15), a slab of salty chewy kefalograviera cheese, pan fried in a hot pan and then flambéed table side before being finished with a squeeze of lemon. The gooey cheese lets off a fragrant aroma before being tucked into a piece of bread. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh bread and cheese.

The rings of fried calamari ($16) were too thin for my taste - I find it’s difficult to dip into the thick garlicky tzatziki without the breading coming off. But, it was still decent: lightly floured and tender.


If you’re in the mood for a comforting main, Tholo’s moussaka ($22) is a great choice. Layers of potato and eggplant are combined with a spiced lamb and ground beef mixture before being topped with a cheesy creamy béchamel sauce and baked. Oh it’s good, after sneaking a bite of my friend’s, I instantly wanted more.


Luckily, my main didn’t disappoint. One dish I love from Greek cuisine is braised lamb shank ($27), a large piece of meat slow cooked for hours soaking in the braising liquids with any ligaments turning to a soft gluey texture. Within the side options are tangy lemon potatoes, which sounds delicious, but I had to go with the simpler rice, a much better choice for soaking up the red wine and meat sauce. You don’t want to waste a drop of this.


Sure, Tholos still has elements that draw in families – such as the re-creation of a courtyard setting that aims to make diners feel like they’re eating in ancient Greece; or pasta, burgers and chicken fingers to appease finicky eaters. Yet, for us adults, Tholos offers decent appetizers and delicious mains … and the selection of $45 bottles of wine makes for a jovial night, courtyard or no courtyard.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Blue Mountain, Canada
 Address: 170 Jozo Weider Boulevard

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:


Tholos Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato