Showing posts with label octopus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label octopus. 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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The Feast of St. Lawrence (Toronto)


Just imagine dining outdoors on Front Street with two hundred fellow guests. That's two long tables tucking into a six-course meal prepared by some of the best restaurants the St. Lawrence neighbourhood has to offer. Better yet, indulge in all this food and drink and support Second Harvest, a leading charity that rescues food that would otherwise go to waste and diverts it to shelters and food banks. A noble foundation that not only helps the hungry but also helps the environment.

If this sound like a cause you can get behind, than you can't miss out on the Feast of St. Lawrence. Taking place on August 9, 2019, the evening begins with oyster and charcuterie stations to wash down drinks as you mingle and listen to a jazz band performing in Berczy Park. 

Restaurants will also be serving hors d'oeurvres, such as Hawthorne's sous vide trout with Ontario saffron velouté topped with caviar. The bit of smokiness in the fish with the salty finish from the caviar makes this a great pairing with white wine. And yes, you heard right, there is a farm in Ontario that cultivates saffron!


Batch's beef tartare arrives in its own container, a crunchy shrimp chip that's deep fried until fluffy. Inside, the Korean inspired tartare is mixed with kimchi and Asian pear so that you get a bit of heat and sweetness. They say it's the perfect bite to pair with their IPA, which cuts the fat from your tongue. Wine, beer, and that cute dog fountain? What a way to begin.


Afterwards, the feast consists with six courses, all paired with Ontario wines. Having sampled four of the six dishes, there is certainly variety as chefs pay homage to the local ingredients Ontario offers in the summer.

Farm'r starts their salad with thick slices of roasted peaches that will just be hitting shelves in August. The bits of mint, salty feta, and peppery arugula helps balance out the sweetness and makes a delicious combination with quinoa. 


Trust me, you're in for some good food. Having tucked into a sample of Cantina Mercatto's smoked corn sugo cavatelli, the light cream base with chewy pasta, which is almost reminiscent of a tiny gnocchi, is absolutely delicious. There’s meaty chanterelles, a bit of heat from birds eye chilies, sweet corn kernels, and refreshing pea shoots. The dish is so good I went back for a second sample.


Having done a quick preparation of Cirillo’s Academy’s grilled octopus, it seems like such an easy dish to create …until Chef Cirillo actually describes how they make the octopus: slow braising it with stock mixed with its own liquids, breaking it down to remove the inedible pieces, and then finally finishing sections on the grill. You’re left with meaty bites of octopus mixed with quickly seared tomatoes, chickpeas, and arugula. It’s a nice bridge between the pasta and the heavier main.


Normally, serving 200 guests lamb done two ways would be quite the feat. But, the Omni King Edward Hotel has served large numbers of guests for decades. While I would have liked the lamb belly fat rendered a bit more, the meat was so tender. Meanwhile, the lamb chop was done a perfect medium and has a lovely salty rub.


To keep the dish summery, they finish it off with a lovely pea puree and sweet charred leeks. And if you’re hesitant about having lamb due its potential gaminess, the salty spiciness from the accompanying andouille and crouton side will surely balance it out.

The night continues with whisky cocktails from CC Lounge's onsite whisky bar and if you're too full, you can just dance throughout the evening… it’s not often you can dance along Front Street.


And if you need a little post-dinner activity, try to find the birds that are part of the dog fountain. Hint: the cat is looking at it. Once you discover this hidden sculpture you'll be a St. Lawrence insider. 

Disclaimer: I attended a media event to try the dishes above, but I'm am not being paid to promote the event. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada

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Padella (Toronto)


Like any good Italian restaurant, you won’t leave Padella hungry. Even as we sipped on wine, a basket of freshly toasted bread and a small bowl of delicious pickled beans arrived, something that even people waiting by the bar were nibbling on. 


To avoid sounding repetitive, I found Padella best suited for people who enjoy under seasoned dishes, which allows an ingredient’s natural flavours to shine, but was too plain for me. Some restaurants add a lot of toppings to their beef carpaccio ($16), the only garnishes at Padella were well-drained capers and shaved parmigiano; even the greens were left undressed. Indeed, we could taste the beef, it just doesn’t taste like much without seasoning.


Similarly, the pan seared octopus ($16) and cannellini bean salad barely had a lick of salt so the flavours were derived from the herbed olive oil. I just couldn’t get used to the octopus’ texture, which was too soft. Sure, you may be thinking tender octopus is a good thing. Yet, when the seafood flavours disappear and the springy texture almost becomes mushy, it no longer tastes like octopus.


The clams to linguine ratio in the vongole ($19) was impressive: equal amounts of seafood to pasta. Moreover, both ingredients were prepared to perfection – the clams just cooked through but still juicy and the pasta retaining that lovely chewiness. If only the sauce wasn’t so acidic – it’s like the chef forgot he added lemon and did a second squeeze, then the person at the pass added a third helping – rendering everything so sour that even the garlic and white wine were masked. This could have been an amazing dish with a quarter of the lemon and double the salt.


Only the spaghetti carbonara ($18) had a decent amount of saltiness from the guanciale, pecorino, and parmigiano. If you like bacon, this dish is for you as Padella doesn’t skimp on the guanciale. Combined with the egg yolk, the cured pork’s fat creates a rich smoky sauce that covers the fresh spaghetti. For me, I would have like more pepper to balance out the flavours.


Padella’s tiramisu ($8) was equally rich with generous amounts of mascarpone cream, making for a moist and decadent dessert. If only it had a stronger espresso flavour it would be even better, but still left us satisfied.


The cozy restaurant was packed on our Monday evening visit. From the number of people speaking to the staff, I could tell there are a lot of repeat customers and this is a neighbourhood joint. The friendly environment and respectable portions were great, I only wish the flavours were better. Luckily, aside from the vongole and octopus, the others are an easy fix with a dash of salt and pepper, something that can easily be accommodated by asking for some shakers. 

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10



How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1967 Avenue 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:



Padella Italian Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tachi (Toronto)


Hidden behind a screen to the left of Shari is a stand-up sushi bar that promises freshly made sushi served in less than thirty minutes. The 12-piece omakase menu ($55 per person) changes depending on ingredient availability and like their sister restaurant Shoushin, is served piece-by-piece with condiments pre-added to ensure the sushi is eaten at the ideal temperature and flavour.


Interestingly, the meal started with hotate, a piece that historically is lightly torched and served at the halfway point. At Tachi, the scallop is left unsinged. Light and refreshing, it worked well as the first bite.   


The chef then presented us with grouper (habuku) with seaweed sandwiched between the fish and rice, which added a nice depth of flavour. Maybe it was due to our early reservation, but Tachi’s rice is warmer than most resulting in a creamier texture, which is balanced by vinegar. Their rice was perfectly seasoned.


Popular pieces that grace many omakase menus followed. First, the seabream (madai) a soft and meaty lighter fish. Followed by kanpachi, the fleshy fish is slightly fuller flavoured but still has a fresh clean texture.


During the middle of the meal the three tunas with varying fatty levels arrived: the akami was vibrantly coloured and flavourful; the chutoro builds in richness; and the otoro, which was leaner than some other restaurants, but still deliciously melt-in-your mouth.


After the flavourful otoro, it can sometimes be hard to find pieces that are equally rich. The smoked bonito or katsuo was a lovely choice, bits of green onions adding a refreshing bite.


The chef pounded the octopus (tako) with the back of a knife, so the seafood was well scored, tender, and as soon as it hit the mouth, the octopus’ flavours erupted onto the tongue.


Having had great experiences with horse mackerel or aji at Shoushin, we had to add it to the meal ($7 supplement). Like Shoushin, it was just as delicious… they seriously know how to prepare this gamier fish well.


If a piece of sushi could be refreshing and thirst quenching, the juicy salmon roe (ikura) would be the poster child. For those who are squeamish about fishy tastes, rest assured, the juices are salty and clean.  


The sea water eel (anago) was soft and sweet from the sugary glaze. It was a good alternative to dessert as surprisingly Tachi does not end off with a piece of tamago.


Instead, the last piece was a tasty tuna hand roll (temaki) with green onion mixed into the fish for even more flavour.   


Even though the meal was done in 25 minutes, both chefs took the time to have a conversation with us, keeping the experience warm and friendly (when it could have turned into a robotic task of making and eating sushi). A stand-up sushi meal is definitely something to experience, just bring some cash (for tipping) and make reservations to score one of the limited eight spots. 

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 111 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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:




Tachi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hexagon (Oakville)


It’s remarkable how many Toronto food lovers will travel out-of-country for a great meal, but when they hear a restaurant’s outside of the GTA boundaries a crestfallen “But, it’s so far!” is the typical response. Why is it that we’ll more likely hop on a plane for a Michelin starred meal than just traverse our highway system (even with the traffic) to support Canadians? Indeed, not every restaurant is worth travelling to. However, after a dinner at Hexagon, I assure you - this one is worth the drive.

Finding parking is easy in the “downtown” Oakville area, much easier than locating Hexagon. Situated in a court yard amongst other restaurants, their entrance has no signage. Therefore, look for a blue awning… you’ll then receive confirmation you’re in the right place, after opening the door and seeing their name etched into the tile floor.


Hexagon does have an a la carte menu, but it’s very small. Therefore, if you’re dining with someone that needs choice, the four-course menu ($75) is your best bet; there’s 3-4 options for each course. And don’t worry if you don’t understand the menu – even while visiting with a group of frequent diners, we haven’t heard of 20% of the ingredients listed … cascabel chili anyone? Luckily, the sommelier patiently described everything to us in a conversational manner, comparing them to items more commonly found on Canadian menus.

Starting with a warm pain au lait, this is the bread that even people who have sworn off carbs may succumb to. Soft, flakey, and buttery; it’s delicious and could go toe-to-toe with the one served at Alo.


The tendril of charred octopus is oh so tender and arrives with a palm sized black corn tortilla that makes a great two-bite taco. Dots of sauces cover the plate so you can try a bit of the seafood with something tangy, spicy, or creamy… although it’s already good enough by itself.


Torn between the onion consommé and truffle shallot agnolotti for the second dish, my friend graciously offered me a taste of her soup. As expected, the broth is flavourful and fragrant, putting French onion soup to shame. Soft plump gruyere gnocchi and caramelized onions line the bottom of the bowl, the consommé still the star.


The pasta was just thick enough to give the agnolotti chewiness while letting the creamy smooth ricotta filling come through. Even with a cream sauce, the dish wasn’t too heavy, balanced with the diced granny smith apples I was a bit apprehensive about, but added a fresh element.


Although the duck could have been cooked less, since it was dry aged, the meat remained tender and the skin was wonderfully rendered until crispy. The saltiness from the cube of duck confit on the side also contrasted nicely, tantalizing the taste buds. Overall, there was so much going on with the plate: black garlic paste, sea buckthorn jelly and even a hunk of savoy cabbage left crispy (not unlike a gigantic Brussels sprout), but it all worked together.


Hexagon’s piñata dessert is whimsical and great for people who like playing with their food. Suspended above the crème brulée was a white chocolate capsule filled with powdered sugar. I’m advised to whack the chocolate with a spoon, emitting a puff of white exploding over the dessert. Playfulness aside, the crème brulée was rich without being heavy due to the citrusy kalamansi and floral jasmine used in the dessert. A nice end to the meal.


Since we were celebrating a birthday, a special dessert arrived afterwards - a peach almond tart. The pastry was thick but crisp and buttery, the richness balanced out by a slight tropical taste from the fruit.


The meal was a delicious one - the four courses just enough food to satisfy without being stuffed. For those who are hungry and adventurous, Hexagon also offers a 9-course tasting menu option where there is no choice. After all, if you’re going to travel “all the way” to Oakville, why not make it worth it?

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Oakville, Canada
 Address: 210 Lakeshore Road East

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:



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