Showing posts with label grilled squid. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grilled squid. 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

CLOSED: Cava (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 1560 Yonge Street
Type of Meal: Dinner

Situated in a street level corridor of the St. Clair Centre, it’s not a location you’d expect to find a restaurant with Cava’s Spanish and Latin American flair. But, individuals certainly known about it given its busy dinner service on our week night visit. Their dining room is a stark contrast from the dimly lit corridor outside, as upon entering you’re greeted with clean blonde wood and tons of lighting.

With a fairly extensive tapas menu, there are a large number of choices and a particularly good vegetarian selection. We relied on the advice of Theran, our server, to narrow down our choices. His favourite dish is the pincho of Gamay-poached foie gras ($9), so we ordered one each given the small portion.

Generally, I’m not a big fan of foie gras (based on taste and ethical reasons), but decided to try it anyways given the hyped up dish. Thick slices of cool foie gras sit on a crisp crostini and is topped with a dollop of pear mostarda (similar to a chutney). The poached foie gras is one of the smoothest I’ve ever had with a consistency similar to a flourless chocolate torte.  As it melts in your mouth, your tongue is coated with rich flavour; but, before it becomes too overpowering the sweet mostarda cuts through and mellows everything out. If you like foie gras than this is a dish you need to try.

My friends really enjoyed the Spanish mackerel ceviche verde ($14) which is less tart than typical ceviches. Instead, the cilantro, fish and tomatillos (?) shine through, with the mixture tasting good on its own or with the fried tortillas accompanying it. For me, I found it a bit bland and would have liked more heat and citrus to counteract the oiliness from the tortilla chips.

The warm salad ($10) had some great vegetables in it - artichoke, piquillo pepper and oyster mushrooms. They are all grilled and dressed with a simple caper vinaigrette and sprinkled with cilantro. This is a hearty salad and good for the cold weather.

This dinner was the first time I’ve tried jamón Serrano ($16.50) and must admit that after having Ibérico is a bit of a disappointment, but you get what you pay for. The slices were too thick making them difficult to cut or chew. Overall, it was sort of tough – perhaps because the ham wasn’t well marbled – and doesn’t have that melt-in-your-mouth quality I enjoy with charcuterie.

Hands down my favourite dish of the night was the eggplant ($9.75). Wedges of eggplant are coated, deep fried and then cooked in a dish with tons of gooey queso fresco (cheese) and a tangy tomatillo sauce. Drizzles of honey and tons of bonito flakes top everything and just brings the dish together so well. It had a great combination of flavours and I could easily eat a whole plate of the eggplant with some crusty bread. You definitely have to try out this dish when you visit.

The roasted brussel sprouts ($8.95) were nice but pretty plain. Sure they were cooked well and had a nice caramelized crust to bring out its natural sweetness but they lacked a complementary flavour – the black garlic just didn’t really stand out.

To end we had a series of the more substantial small plates. The first was the grilled squid and zucchini ($15.75) in a romesco sauce (a hazelnut and red pepper blended puree). There was a fair amount of squid accompanying the dish, but could have benefited from a bit more time on the grill to give it a smokier crust. Although quite colourful, the romesco sauce wasn’t very strong; overall, it’s decent but lacked anything exciting.

The grilled sea scallops ($23) were perfectly cooked so they were just cooked through and remained sweet and tender. The cauliflower puree was creamy and certainly had some butter in it. I love the addition of lentils to contrast the smooth puree, but wish they were softer.

Lastly, my friends wanted to try the veal sweetbreads ($23). Having only had a small piece of it once in my life, I knew it wasn’t horrible but was always under the impression it was calf brains. Turns out I was completely misinformed and sweetbreads is actually the thymus (throat) and pancreas of the animal. At Cava, Chef McDonald uses the thymus of the veal.  As with my first experience, it actually tastes pretty good (akin to a very tender piece of chicken with a denser pâté texture) but not something I’d order on a regular basis. Hats off to the chef for pairing it with a radicchio-poblano chile salad, which went so well adding a freshness against the heavy sweetbread.

To end, we shared a plate of churros con chocolate ($8). You really can’t go wrong with freshly fried pieces of dough dusted with sugar and served with hot melted dark chocolate. If the star anise was left out of the batter it would be even better; the licorice taste of the spice just isn’t something I like. But, once the luscious chocolate covers it, the flavour is thoroughly masked so not a deal breaker.

All in all, the food was good; our meal had some really great dishes and none were overly disappointing. But, the true highlight was the great service we received from Theran – friendly and approachable, attentive to our needs and so knowledgeable about Cava’s menu. However, I’d caution you to order a few dishes at a time and then order more if required. We ended up ordering too much and were stuffed by the time the scallops and sweetbread arrived. But, just make sure you order the eggplants, you’ll thank me for it later.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - 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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