Showing posts with label grand opening. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grand opening. 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

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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!


Is That It? I Want More!

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CLOSED: Mango Tree Thai Fusion & Sports Bar (Markham)

Thank you to Parv.ca for a number of these photos
If you visit Mango Tree Thai Fusion & Sports Bar expecting authentic Thai food, you may leave disappointed. Really, their name should be a dead giveaway there’ll be a deviation: there’s a fusion element and Thai restaurants aren’t known to be sports bars. Once you get off the elevators, on the second floor of the commercial building, and walk into the huge dark space, you know authenticity doesn’t matter. With the black walls, colourful mural, large television screen, and huge bar, it seems like it’ll will morph into a club at any moment.


There are certainly “sports bar” offerings on the menu such as obligatory fried chicken wings ($13 a pound) or burger sliders ($12) that get a Thai twist with the tamarind sauce used on them.

Some dishes tread the line between bar and Thai food. The MT spring rolls ($10) filled with a ground beef and pork mixture dotted with finely chopped carrots, onions, and coriander, the denser filling reminding me of Filipino lumpias. Or the coconut milk fried shrimp ($15) where you could really taste the coconut, but the cream they dip the shrimp into before coating the shrimp could be thinned  as the crust was a tad thick. In both instances, the filling and batter would benefit from more seasoning as by themselves the finger foods were plain, but improved with sauce. 


Then, there are dishes you’d expect from a Thai restaurant. The starter tom yum soup ($6) was a large bowl of hot and sour broth teeming with lemongrass and other aromatics. It’s certainly spicy, but not overwhelmingly; the heat balanced off with vegetables like bean sprouts that also add a bit of crunch. Opt for the vegetarian version, as the deep fried tofu is great for soaking up the spicy soup.


The mango salad ($9) takes relatively sweet green mangoes and tosses it in a light shrimp paste for a savoury element. I enjoyed the fried shallots garnishing the salad, which adds a nice earthy crunch.


Of all the mains, the chicken green curry ($14) was perhaps the most authentic tasting and our favourite main of the evening. As a warning, Mango Tree uses dark meat giving the dish a gamier taste. It also contains chunks of eggplant (great for soaking up the liquid) and peppers. If you like it spicier, dig to the bottom as the chopped pepper pieces seems to sink to the bottom of the rich coconut curry.


My friend’s description of Mango Tree is great: it’s like a HK-style Thai restaurant (similar to HK-style Western cafes or cha chan tangs). Essentially, they are Thai dishes but with a Chinese influence. For example, the khao soi ($14) switches out the spicy yellow broth for a milder soup base that has a heavier coconut element. Moreover, the egg noodles are replaced with flat chewy ones that almost have a hand-pulled quality to it. 



To cap the bowl off, a fried pineapple ring that gives the noodles a sweet element. I would have preferred the khao soi spicier; but then the menu, which showed no chili peppers beside the name, was accurately depicting the dish. In retrospect, had I known I would have asked for it to be made at the spicy level - Mango Tree offers customization options for most mains where you choose the protein as well as the spiciness level.

The MT boneless pork chop ($20) didn’t have much of the lemongrass and garlic flavours I expected based on the menu’s description. Rather, the sweet tamarind barbeque sauce flavour was prevalent and sparked the whole HK-style Thai café discussion to begin with – it had that thick sweet and sour sauce flair that’s not unlike the Cantonese style pork chops (except less sugary). Personally, I’d prefer the pork chop thinner to allow the marinate to permeate the meat more and the barbeque glaze toned down to let some of the herb’s flavour shine through.


No meal should end without an order of the Mango Tree sticky rice ($11). It takes time to prepare but the wait is worth it as the sticky rice arrives warm and when combined with cool sweet mangoes and thick coconut cream, I felt momentarily transported to Thailand. Had I known how delicious the dessert would be, I’d skip the appetizers and have an entire order of the sticky rice to end.


Kevin, co-owner of Mango Tree, explains they wanted the restaurant to be different. Of course, they serve food. But, it’s more than that. They want a space where people can visit, hang out, and enjoy each other’s company. Indeed, that seemed to ring true for our visit; while the food arrived quickly, we were left with our mains well after the forks went down so we could just relax and lounge.

We took that opportunity to sip on cocktails, my mango Bellini ($10) went down so easily, a concoction of mango puree with soda water, balanced out with citrus but so fruity that the rum melts away. For a unique drink, the Phulay sunset ($11) sounds like a tropical explosion of orange and pineapple juice with coconut cream, but the addition of ginger gives the cocktail an interesting zip.


The weekend crowd was so varied from a boisterous table of women celebrating an occasion, families, couples, to other groups of friends catching up. A lot of tables stayed for a long time, ordering more bites and drinks to keep the night going. Just like Mango Tree intended.

Overall mark - 7 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: Markham, Canada
 Address: 7850 Woodbine Avenue (2nd floor)
 

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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Get ready, Craft Beer Market opens on December 6! #GrandOpening


It’s not often the most photographed item from a craft beer restaurant are the pipes. Yet, one look on Instagram’s geotagging of Craft Beer Market and you’ll see more than your fair share of these gleaming silver contraptions. There’s a Willy Wonka factory feel to the place, except instead of transporting melted chocolate these metal pipes move cold brew from the keg room to bars on both levels.


I can understand the need for the high tech setting: with over 150 beers on tap, who would want to be responsible for lugging the heavy brew to the bars? There wouldn’t even be enough real estate at the bars to hold all the kegs. This is what it takes to offer the largest selection of craft beers in Ontario.

Making my way through a few brews, Old Tomorrow’s Light’er Up lager ($6.75) helped quench my thirst and prepare my taste buds for more beer.


There was plenty of drinks to be had at Craft Beer Market’s opening event. Collective Arts Brewing brought in ten beautifully designed cans, perfect for those who want something beautiful to behold other than a frothy cap. Their Lunch Money brew also reminded me of the lovely summer months. Meanwhile, Barrie’s Flying Monkeys served up a delicious crisp Antigravity concoction that really helped cut the saucy food.


If you’re into something different, choose from their “anomalies” section, the tangy Bandit Wizard of Gose ($6.75) had a lovely sour taste that finishes savoury that paired oh so well with the freshly shucked oysters. While these mollusks aren’t served on their normal menu, they can be ordered for larger functions - make sure to ask for the tasty jalapeño mignonette.


In fact, it’s all these crisp light beers that pairs well with the Ocean Wise seafood dishes on their menu: the Baja fish tacos ($14.50 for three) are grilled to alleviate any fried-food guilt (to allow for another beer, of course) and packed with tons of cabbage slaw. Meanwhile, the Hawaiian Ahi poke ($16) incorporated tons of tuna, but could use more garlic and sesame soya vinaigrette.


I can tell already the BBQ beer can chicken sliders ($14.50) will be a popular pick for a small bite amongst the after work drinks crowd. While it’s a typical slider, the house made BBQ sauce isn’t too sweet and the meat isn’t too oversaturated so you can actually eat the sandwich cleanly. 


The gaucho chicken flatbread ($17) has a light heat from the jalapeños and chipotle aioli. Unlike some of the other beer market type restaurants that tend to over season their foods (possibly to encourage more drinking), Craft Beer Market’s dishes are less salty with flavours stemming from the spices and ingredients incorporated into the food.


Thankfully, there seemed to be an endless supply of the Maui ribs ($14); I had more than my fair share. Glazed in a black garlic miso BBQ sauce, it’s an interesting savoury flavour, the coating in between a sticky glaze and dry rub. Paired with a stout beer, the ribs would make for a great hearty meal.


Craft Beer Market will be opened soon – December 6, right in time for all the holiday parties. For beer lovers, this restaurant is one you don’t want to miss. You can also join their CRAFT Club, where aside from getting exclusive access to special events you can also rate and share beers with their likeminded community. After downing 100 different ones, they’ll emblazon your name on a keg on their Alumni Wall. As if you need another reason to drink.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1 Adelaide Street East

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CRAFT Beer Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kelly's Landing Opens Downtown (Toronto)

Thanks to Parv for all the amazing interior shots (my phone couldn't do the space justice)
The Landing Group only started in 2010 and already has amassed eight locations across the GTA. Their newest addition, dubbed the “Centre Ice” location (thanks to their proximity to the Air Canada Centre), opens on August 23, 2017. Like the rest of the chain, the Kelly’s Landing pad is large and spacious offering an extensive menu that makes choosing difficult. Steve Pelton, CEO of the Landing Group, notes that while they know they can’t please everyone, they’ll try their best to do so.


During a sneak peek event, we tried a number of items, prior to Kelly’s Landing official opening. True to form, the dishes were very different. Of course, there’s pizza, a perennial crowd favourite. Of the three styles, I was most surprised with the sausage picante ($18), a flavourful concoction combining spicy tomato sauce, house-made spicy Italian fennel sausage, roasted peppers, and mushroom. Generally, I find sausage pizzas too heavy, but theirs was not oily so the crust remained dry and crispy. Moreover, the meat added just enough to taste without being too salty.


The artichoke and cheese ($16) is what I’d normally order. The pizza is rich and creamy thanks to the parmesan asiago cream sauce and goat cheese with mozzarella mixture on top. Other ingredients are kept simple with slightly tangy marinated artichokes, sundried tomato, and baby kale; items that help balance the dish. Meanwhile, Mamma’s margarita pizza ($15) is the opposite – light and juicy with a bit of sweetness from the balsamic syrup.


You’ll be tempted to share an order of the brisket mac ‘n’ cheese ($11), which takes aged cheddar pasta and tops it with brisket that’s gone through a 10-day brine and 14-hr smoke. Imagine the most intense smoky bacon with a light heat (care of the poblano barbeque sauce), mixed with creamy pasta… how can you resist?

As the Beer Sisters taught me, creamy foods pair well with beer since the carbonation in the drink helps to cleanse the palette; a dish like mac ‘n’ cheese goes nicely with a light one. Coincidently, Kelly’s Landing has a ‘Beyond the Beer’ program where 50 cents from the sale of a draft Dos Equis gets donated to the University Health Network (operates hospitals such as Toronto Western and Toronto General). Now you can have your beer and help others too.

Two dishes that wowed me at the tasting were the Moroccan curried chicken ($20) and turkey burger ($16). The Moroccan curry incorporates a great blend of North African spices so the sauce actually has a strong hit of spices - full-flavoured and slightly spicy. It comes with fragrant basmati rice, flatbread, and some cooling crema that helps stave off any heat.


While the turkey burger ($16) is less exotic, it’s remarkably good thanks to the granny smith apples and herbs mixed into the patty for flavour and moisture. There’s a bit of spice from the chipotle aioli that’s balanced by a creamy Napa cabbage slaw, no boring burger here.


For vegans, Kelly’s Landing offers the Righteous Greens ($19) a mix of quinoa, brown barley, kale, roasted yams, avocado, vegetables, chia seeds, and cashews all tossed in a lime ginger sauce and topped with chili slices. It’s a hefty filling salad with sweet, salty, savoury, and spicy flavours giving the dish a Thai flare without tasting like a traditional Thai dish.


The Honey Smash cocktail ($13) is summery and sipping friendly, comprised of Absolut vodka mixed with strawberry and raspberry purée topped with mint. Touted as their take on a daiquiri, I find the cocktail is much smoother and you can taste the berries without the scratchiness of ice crystals mixed throughout.


During brunch (Saturday and Sunday from 11am – 3pm) you can get the Landing Cure ($16), a monstrous Caesar topped with a lobster tail, pizza slice, jalapeno Havarti and bacon skewer, celery, carrots, vegetable skewer, and an extreme green bean pickle. Good luck walking out hungry.

Aside from the traditional beer (24 options on tap), cocktail, and wine options, Kelly’s Landing also offers an extensive list of spirits. In fact, there’s a good choice for scotch lovers at various price points.

During the opening event, Glenlivet was on hand and I conducted a blind taste test to see if age actually matters. As it turns out, the older scotches definitely have less of a burn, but after a certain point it’s all pretty smooth. Personally, I preferred the 15 to the 18 year ($18/oz) as it’s an easy going drink. However, for people who like a drier peppery bite, the 18 year old definitely has those flavours thanks to being aged in bourbon and sherry casks. A more price conscious offering is the Glenlivet Founder's Reserve ($10/oz) that has an amazing oaky aroma but harsher bite.


With their 43' x 30' retractable roof and spacious patio, you know Kelly’s Landing is going to be popular with the downtown crowd and packed during games. Luckily, they accept reservations (even on their patio), which seems to be an anomaly amongst the newer restaurants opening downtown. I’m already excited to return for food and liberations and to try out the patio. Go soon, while the summer’s still upon us.   

Disclaimer: I tasted the food and drinks noted above at a media event. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 123 Front Street West

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog