Showing posts with label octopus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label octopus. Show all posts

Akira Back (Toronto)


Despite sounding like a Justin Timberlake song, Akira Back is named after a notable American chef, who’s also the co-owner of his first Canadian restaurant. Chef Back is known to blend Japanese cuisine with other cultures; at the Toronto restaurant the tradition continues with Spanish, Korean, and Chinese influences in the dishes we sampled.

Set in the new Bisha Hotel, Akira Back’s entrance is to the left of the lobby. On the second floor, the elevator opens onto a carbon black room with a warm wood sushi bar at the very back … there’s a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel feel.

Their menu also uniquely offers the same dish at different price points, where the cost varies depending on the ingredient used. For example, an aburi can range from $17 for whitefish to $35 if it’s topped with wagyu. I like the concept, diners can find an option that’s “affordable” or, if they really enjoy aburi, order all three.

Many tables were getting the crispy pork belly maki ($14). Despite it arriving with a bottle of overly salty soy, you don’t need it, since every element of the maki is already flavourful: from the melt-in-your-mouth pork to the creamy coleslaw and a thick apple miso. Akira’s chefs don’t shy away from using a fatty piece of pork; the centre of the maki is literally a cube of well rendered fat adjoined with a shard of crispy skin. If you like suckling pig, this is it in maki form.


The baked crab hand roll ($16) also didn’t need any other condiments thanks to the lightly-spiced dynamite mayo used inside. I enjoyed the thick piece of crab leg meat against the soft rice and delicate soybean paper wrapper. While the rice itself could use more vinegar, the consistency was spot on.  


Trying to decide between the cold and hot octopus options, our waiter suggested the octopus crudo ($19). Arriving as large meaty slices, it was tender enough and had a nice natural sweetness. The minced tomato salsa on top made it messy to eat, but paired nicely with the octopus.


The only disappointing dish was the 48-hours wagyu short rib ($32): it was no different compared to a run-of-the-mill short rib, something tender to begin with. The dish was likely cooked sous vide, on the lowest possible temperature, as after 48 hours the inside was still pink. While I can’t be certain I’ve had real Japanese wagyu, what’s used at Akira can’t be it. The meat simply didn’t incorporate the intense marbling you’d expect from the ingredient – there was one very lean cube and another with a thick layer of fat – but had the fat evenly distributed.  


While a bit oily, the kimchi and bacon fried rice ($11) hit the spot… you can taste the heat from the kimchi! Paired with the cooling crudo, it’s a pretty good combination.


Akira’s desserts cater to ice cream lovers – every plate arrives with a small sphere of ice cream or gelato. However, the descriptions can be a little vague. Wanting a richer dessert, I went with the black sesame cheese cake ($12). I should have known that Japanese cheesecake is super healthy and the dish arrives with cubes of what taste like black sesame tofu. Tossed with cubes of black sesame sponge cake, even the pastry was not overly sweet. The most decadent part of the dessert was the soybean powder ice cream, which was more milky than creamy. If you want a light and not sweet dessert, this is the one to order.


Meanwhile, the apple harumaki ($12), something that sounds fruity, ended up being the heavier dessert. Caramelized apple pieces are wrapped in phyllo or soy bean wrapper and deep fried creating a sweet spring roll. It was great, especially when it’s hot, and not too indulgent despite being deep fried.


Akira Back is not authentic Japanese cuisine and the price points are higher than other Japanese fusion restaurants. Like ICONINK’s other restaurants, you go there for the ambience and a night out. This would explain why even on Tuesday the restaurant didn’t become busy until after 8pm. It’s where you go to be seen… Akira’s bringing sushi back.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 80 Blue Jays Way, 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!


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Akira Back Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

CLOSED: Copetin (Toronto)


Dining at Claudio Aprile's Colborne Lane was one of my first forays into fine dining and tasting menus – a magically delicious experience where ice cream is made with nitrogen and puffs of foam cover meats. Hence, when it was announced that Origin King would be re-opened as Copetín and Aprile would be serving “inventive and elevated” cuisine, I was smitten.

Waiting about a month after the opening date - to give the restaurant the opportunity to work out any kinks – the dinner finally arrived. My first taste of Copetín’s creations wasn’t innovative at all, rather a complimentary Parker House roll that was nonetheless delicious: warm, fluffy, and as buttery as any brioche.


Told that the restaurant’s la plancha octopus ($17) was a popular dish, we had to try it. The grilled octopus wasn’t exactly soft and tender, but I don’t mind a bit of chewiness if it means fuller flavour seafood. All the accompanying items were light and summery including a crunchy jicama salsa, grapefruit segments, orbs of compressed cucumber, mint (this was a little heavy), and rich thick crème fraiche. Even the green curry paste was rather refreshing on account of it being served “raw”, where the spices weren’t cooked.


Be sure to get enough of the shaved dried cured egg yolk that tops the beef tartare ($17) – it’s delicious having a light smoky flavour and a Parmesan cheese texture except creamier. You’ll need it as the fried pasta chips are rather bland, which is understandable if the tartare is flavourful, but even the beef is mildly spiced with beef fat vinaigrette (likely not to cover the delicate pickled chanterelles). All in all, both starters weren’t out-of-this-world, but still good interpretations of the classic dishes.


As for the mains, there were hit and misses. The worst dish had to be the ricotta gnudi ($26), even though it looked and smelt amazing (compliments of the regianno broth). As it’s presented, I expected the gnudi to be soft, but the texture was almost sticky and felt like we were eating semi-cooked raw dough. There’s many ways it could be improved: made smaller so it cooks through or even if it were just hotter, who knows. Once I added the little bits of asparagus from the sea bream into the pasta, it tasted better.   


Curious how the dish should taste, a quick research brings up a popular rendition from The Spotted Pig in New York. As Serious Eats describes, “It felt almost like an under-inflated water balloon, a thin, thin skin that seemed impossibly delicate with a liquid center. I bit into it and felt the rush of warm savory sheep’s milk ricotta burst into my mouth.” At Copetín there’s no liquid centre and it’s more savoury dough than ricotta.

One staff member raved about the ricotta gnudi being her favourite dish while serving. Afterwards, she came back to inquire how we liked it. I had to be honest … the raw dough texture was just off putting. Perplexed, she noted it didn’t sound right as the texture’s not normally so mushy. Alas, she also didn’t do anything to correct for it either – no replacement dish that’s prepared correctly or offer to take it off our bill.

While the triple seared Australian wagyu striploin ($59) was decent for a steak, for wagyu it was disappointing. The Australian version pales in comparison to their Japanese counterpart, with no indication of marbling – the steak was so lean it’s no different from an aged Black Angus. Moreover, blue cheese is an ingredient that needs to be called out on the menu. With a love/hate relationship for many, it’s still rare that I actually like the sharp tangy cheese. Accordingly, it would be nice to know it’d be mixed into the smoked parsnip puree as it probably would have changed my decision on ordering the dish.


Luckily, the seafood mains were much better. The sea bream ($35) had a wonderful crispy skin; the fish’s meat was flaky and flavourful. On the bottom, the diced potato, clams, and asparagus medley was nice … all ingredients that go well with sea bream. While the corn veloute was a good choice as a sauce, it really needed more saffron as it left no taste or aroma. Despite the menu describing the dish as also incorporating chorizo and olive, it was surprisingly light tasting and overall needed more seasoning.


Of all the mains, the most impressive were the sea scallops ($39) – seared beautifully and under cooked so it remained sweet and soft. The Thai curry sauce was flavourful and fragrant, the spiciness balanced against the seafood’s sweetness. Moreover, there was contrast in textures with the kale chip and crisp taro root rosti on the bottom. Forget about everything else, I could have just eaten the scallops with coconut rice and been happy.


In time, Copetín will offer a tasting menu at the kitchen counter – you simply call in to discuss budget and menu preferences and the chef will create something special. Sadly, after our mediocre meal, even the promise of a customized menu isn’t something I’m dying to return for. Maybe it’s because I was too excited for the experience to begin with, hoping to re-live the Colborne Lane days. Or perhaps it’s due to staff members hyping up the experience too much - from the moment we walked in every dish was amazing or the best thing ever… the enthusiasm is great when the food can meet expectations, but makes things worse when it can’t.

In fact, it’s partly why we chose the caramelized tres leche cake ($13) for dessert. After a staff member implored us to save room to try the rosehip bavoir, the same person who loved the ricotta gnudi, I knew we didn’t have the same taste so went with the safer option instead. The tres leche was a decent ending: there was a nice char on the cake, the mole gelato an interesting sweet & savoury combination, and the caramelized bananas & smoked peanuts adding some crunch.  

Note to self: visit new restaurants with low expectations - don’t get too excited and definitely don’t let past experiences create anticipations. In my defence, Copetín’s website is also misleading, describing the cuisine as “inventive”. Having tried seven of the fifteen dishes, nothing stuck out as unique – octopus, beef tartare, and steak are all popular dishes on many menus.

Instead, the website is better off explaining that Copetín means community; as Chef Aprile explained in various interviews, it’s a drop-in casual environment he hopes to create in the new restaurant. I can see Copetín meeting this mandate, its King East location is central and staff members are welcoming and friendly. So maybe you’re not going for inventive or elevated food, but you’ll find a few good dishes and certainly a beautiful comfortable environment to enjoy them in.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 107 King Street 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!


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CLOSED: Doma (Toronto)


Doma offers an array of dishes they describe as "Korean with French inspiration or French with Korean influences". To keep things fresh, their menu changes monthly and only a few favourites from the previous month are carried forward. It’s a pretty democratic way to create a menu; as staff ask diners about their favourite dishes, the menu should be curated around the taste of customers.

Most people partake in their tasting menu where for $65 a person you try everything. In reality, for the sake of fairness, it’s really your democratic duty to sample it all so you can give a well-informed opinion on your favourite dish. If you’re not up for the task, the prices per dish have also been included in this post.

Within a short while of ordering, an amuse bouche is brought out. Being an acorn jelly, the actual jelly is neutral, so you’re greeted with a hit of spice from the finely diced kimchi and pickled onions with a slight saltiness added by the soy dashi. A refreshing summery start.


Meanwhile, the yook hwae ($18), a beef tartare that’s spiked with the spicy gochujang, is filled with flavours: of course there’s a bit of heat, but this is fairly delicate and balanced with sweet pear gel and pickled honey; black garlic aioli adds a lovely savoury creaminess. 

The long strips of beef, instead of the customary diced pieces, takes getting used to as it’s difficult to scoop the tartare and causes the entire pile of meat to come off in one bite. Hence, you’ll need the aid of a fork and it’s best to break the rice and seaweed chips into smaller pieces to create one-bite portions. Nonetheless, the tartare tastes good and I enjoy the little pieces of cauliflower and broccoli mixed in for crunch. The chips are also kept neutral so they add texture without competing on flavours.

More than one staff member told us their grilled octopus ($20) is the sole dish that’s been on every menu since the start. In my opinion, this needs to be tweaked or retired. Sure, the slaw of cabbage, bell peppers, cucumber, pear jelly, and seaweed is good – it’s that mix of sweet, sour, and spicy flavours that’s synonymous with Korean flavours. Even the pickled grainy mustard on top really adds a pop to the salad. But then, the actual octopus, although meaty and tender is just SO sweet. If octopus can be rendered into a chewy candy, it’d resemble what Doma serves.


Instead, they should keep the sam gye tang ($24), a great rendition of the French chicken roulade where medallions of dark meat is stuffed, rolled, and then baked until the skin crisps up. The Asian flavours are brought in with the stuffing: a mix of ginseng, dates, and more meat. It’s tender and flavourful, and with a dollop of fragrant ginger and scallion paste even better. White and black fungus is added for crunch and also helps to soak up the oriental herb infused chicken veloute sauce in all its crevices. Of all the dishes, this was the greatest at amalgamating the French and Asian flavours in one plate.


If Doma doesn’t keep the uhsun mandoo ($26) forever on their menu, I’ll be seriously mad. What a seafood lover’s delight with a piece of wonderfully cooked white fish (could be pickerel), a large sweet prawn, and the best part, a mandoo, which is a Korean dumpling filled with crab encapsulated in a ravioli pasta. Each of the individual proteins already have sufficient flavours, but then you smear on onion or pea puree and the ingredients change again.


While the sweet potato rice cakes ($16) were good – a base of chewy Korean rice cakes filled with a creamy sweet potato puree - it could have been the dish that French flavours are featured more prominently. The European influence was in there with a light sprinkling of parmigian, but it didn’t really add much and everything else was more Korean focused. The tofu and pork belly ragout spooned onto the rice cakes is similar to the sweet bean paste sauce found in ja jang mein. In lieu of the ragout, it would be interesting to pair the rice cakes with a creamy sauce or replace it with a thicker beef bourguignon instead.


For being glazed in gochujang, I would have expected the pork belly ($26) to be spicier. Instead, it merely tastes sweet and savoury, especially with the grilled nectarines accompanying the dish. Overall, the flavour that was missing from Doma’s dishes is something spicy. Indeed, there was a bit of it from the kimchi in the amuse bouche, but afterwards everything else was void of the taste that is so popular in Korean cuisine. The pork belly could have been the opportunity to showcase spice, even if it was merely incorporated into a side dish with the meat. 


Nonetheless, I’m glad Doma invested in using a premium part of the pork belly where the meat and fat alternates in layers (rather than having one thick piece of each), it makes the pork belly less heavy and the flavours better-rounded.

When it came to dessert, the Korean influence flew out the window. The first dessert, an ode to corn ($10) wasn’t even French and instead best described as North American. Sweet corn ice cream is combined with salted caramel popcorn, sponge cake, and corn kernels. The sweet and salty dessert was good and the honey truffle sponge cake an interesting pulled fluffy texture. Nonetheless, it was a bit disappointing that it had nothing to do with Doma’s vision.

While the apple tarte tatin ($10) is definitely a nod in the French direction, it once again has no Korean influences (unless the country loves marshmallows). The dessert was just so sugary ... when there’s caramel sauce one doesn’t need marshmallows on top. Despite looking decent, it was just too sweet and even the fruit was overpowered.


While Korean cuisine isn’t known for desserts, there are still some notable dishes. Chewy glutinous rice creations, similar to mocha, could have been filled with fruit and topped with Chantilly cream to make a Doma appropriate sweet. With so many renditions of red bean paste encapsulated desserts (whether it be pan fried, baked, or deep fried), surely something French could have been incorporated into the pastries to give it a fusion twist.

Don’t get me wrong, with the exception of the octopus and apple tarte tatin, I was pleased with the taste of Doma’s August menu. If our waiter didn’t feel the need to explain that restaurant is known for French and Korean inspired creations, I could have just accepted the dishes as presented. But, if they really want to be known for marrying the two cultures, more dedication is required at ensuring every dish (not sure some) really showcase the spirit of each culture’s cuisine. Otherwise, it’d just be another mixed continental restaurant , which are a dime a dozen.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 50 Clinton Street
 

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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Azure (Toronto)


Torontonians sometimes forget about the restaurants that populates their hotels, with the exception of those manned by celebrity chef imports. Perhaps it’s the sentiment that the restaurants are for tourists and travelers, those where expense isn’t an issue, surely not for you and I that inhabit the city daily?

It’s nice to be reminded that there are benefits to visiting these establishments: there’s generally tables available for walk-ins (after all, it’d be in poor taste to have to turn down hotel guests), the menus tend to be varied (allowing groups to accommodate tastes and dietary restrictions), and their dining rooms are oh so comfortable.

At Azure, the flagship restaurant in the Intercontinental Toronto Centre, their window canopy opens up the space and offers a great people-watching vantage point. The dark wood and plush velvet furnishings helps keep the dining room cozy and comfortable – you can sit at the table for hours. Unlike the current trend of cramming small tables (sometimes communal *shudder*) together making for a horribly loud atmosphere, Azure gives you space to converse and a sense of privacy that I often crave. Ah… tranquility.

Their service is impeccably polished and efficient, common traits of the hotel industry, yet still down-to-earth and approachable. Even before asking what we wanted to drink, our server Coco chatted care freely with us, giving us time to settle down and build a rapport. In quick succession, a basket of warm rolls were presented and a generous glass of red wine to fully take the winter chills out of my bones.

In no time, the first Winterlicious ($48) course was served. Similar to a ceviche, the escabeche marinates the octopus and scallop in an acidic solution. However, in this case, the seafood is poached first before the marinade so the texture remains tender and the tartness is mellow and manageable. I did find it a tad under seasoned (a sprinkle of salt from the table helped rectify this), given the citrus vinaigrette is light.


Amongst the meaty octopus and delicate scallop were crunchy shaved fennel and endives, juicy orange and lime segments, and creamy avocado. A delicate and surprisingly bright start – a glimpse into the warmer spring months ahead of us.

Despite being cooked through (my first instinct is to look for the slightly translucent rose centre), the grainy mustard coated salmon was still moist. The sear from a high heat helped develop a lovely golden crunchy crust and locked in its fatty juices. It sat on top of a bed of crunchy shaved fennel and radicchio that just ever so slightly wilts from the salmon’s heat. All the juices and flavours meld into the fluffy savoury citrusy couscous on the bottom.

Azure certainly doesn’t skimp on portions. A huge port and black cherry osso bucco arrives with an equally sizeable marscarpone crispy risotto cake. The veal shank was braised just long enough to make the meat tender, but not overly done so that the bone marrow disintegrated (save a piece of bread to scoop the gelee marrow onto).

Although I found the centre of the risotto cake too mushy, it was my husband’s favourite part of the dish. Mine, aside from the osso bucco, was the wilted arugula that had a lemony gremolata mixed into it. After a heavy meal, it was exactly the last savoury bite I needed.


If only the tiramisu parfait had more espresso (or in this case the boozy Kahlúa liqueur) and less of the powdery cocoa on top the dessert would have been lovely. The mascarpone mousse was creamy and luxurious, the savoiardi cookies adding a bit of cake to the tiramisu.


A perfect sphere of ice cold honeycomb ice cream sat atop the slightly warm apple tart. The pastry was good – the shortbread crust not overly buttery, large chunks of apples and a sweet enough crumble. I felt bad leaving some unfinished, but what a huge portion after the substantial mains.


Even if the comfortable atmosphere doesn’t convince you that hotel dining isn’t just for tourists, the generously proportioned dishes could – mains are pricier but you won’t leave hungry. Of course, you can always visit them during special occasions when they have prix fixe deals: aside from Winter/Summerlicious there’s also drink and menu specials on key dates (this Valentine’s Azure is offering a $70 menu with $14 cocktails).

Torontonians, next time you’re looking for a comfortable dining experience, consider a hotel. After all, why would you only treat yourself while travelling?

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.
Is Winterlicious worth it (based on my meal selection)?
Winterlicious - $48
Regular menu - $63 - octopus ($18), salmon ($31) and dessert ($14)
Savings - $15 or 24%
How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 225 Front Street West (in the Intercontinental Hotel)

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!
Azure - InterContinental Toronto Centre Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

East Thirty-Six's cocktail hour (Toronto)


As you toil away at your job, the promise of an after work drink is so enticing … a carrot leading you to the end of the day. There’s no shortage of establishments across downtown Toronto that will supply you the drink, but to find a place that allows reservations, is cozy and friendly, and offers everything at reasonable prices is rare.

Hence, when I first heard about East Thirty-Six two years ago, the promise of $8 martinis beckoned (regular pricing also included in this post). Every day from 4-7pm, you can head there for a cheap but still expertly made martini ($8) or mixed bar rail drink ($5). If you’d rather keep it simple, they also offer $5 pints.


The St-Germain ($13) is my typical go-to cocktail with a gin base enhanced with St-Germain elderflower liqueur. The addition of sweetened lemon juice keeps it fresh while the cava makes everything light and bubbly.


Meanwhile, if you enjoy gin and tonics, you have to try the Apothecary ($13). Combining two gins, the classic Hayman’s London dry and their sloe gin variety (steeps the liquor with sloe berries so there’s a vibrant red colour), the drink takes on a lovely pink hue without the use of overly sweet cranberry juice or grenadine. With a hint of rosemary mixed with lemon, I love the citrusy herbal flavours in the cocktail.


As the cold weather begins, the Night Capp (spelling mistake intended) couldn’t come quick enough. By combining coffee vanilla infused bourbon, macadamia nut syrup and a freshly brewed hot shot of espresso, before being topped with hot foamed milk, the drink separates into layers. You don’t expect the nutty macadamia flavour, but it works to add interest. What a delicious concoction that’s perfect for something to warm you up or accompany dessert.


East Thirty Six also has a great food offering. On Monday to Wednesday during 4-7pm, they also offer $1 oysters. The so called ‘buck-a-shuck’ is served with a vinegary mignonette and fresh horseradish. You can also add on some warm olives ($5) - plump and flavoured with citrus and garlic, to round out the snacking.  


Their fries ($6) are also fantastic, thick and potatoy hot from the fryer. I could skip the extra calories that comes from the crispy chicken skin (a nice treat if you like pork rinds), but wouldn’t skimp on the creamy lemon aioli.


While sampling the new cocktails at their launch event, renditions of normal menu items such as lamb sliders, generally offered in a burger format ($16), was also served. It’s fantastic. The thick juicy patty slathered with ‘green goddess’ (a citrusy guacamole with an herb I can’t place), smoked onion and melted goat’s milk gouda. I could have easily gone for seconds but they were popular and quickly disappeared.


The octopus ($25) was meaty and tender; even the fingerling potatoes and onion getting some smokiness to meld into the seafood.


So as you go from meeting-to-meeting, plug away at a spreadsheet, or read that long boring document for the umpteenth time, just remember: the day is almost over and East Thirty-Six’s cocktail hour is just steps away.

Disclaimer: The above tasting was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 36 Wellington Street East

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


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East Thirty-Six Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato