Showing posts with label restaurant reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label restaurant reviews. Show all posts

CLOSED: Zen Japanese Restaurant (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 2803 Eglinton East
Type of Meal: Dinner

When you pull into the plaza where Zen is located, you may be doubtful that a successful 29-year old restaurant exists.  But, the filled restaurant will likely change your mind.  Seating only about seven tables and a sushi bar area, you have to make reservations on the weekends or prepare to be disappointed.

I went with my cousins and we decided to order a bunch of items to share family style.   To start we had:
  • Green salad (included in dinner combo)  – fresh vegetables topped with a refreshing homemade dressing.  Unlike most Japanese restaurants that use a soy sauce/sesame oil mixture, their dressing is thicker and had a nice citrus note to it.

  • Miso soup (included in dinner combo) – I found was average; for those who find miso soup too salty at other establishments, this would be a good option for you.  For me, I like the saltiness so found the soup a little bland.

  • Seaweed and tofu salad ($4.95) – a generous sized salad that came recommended and unlike anything I’ve tried before.  I liked the seaweed mixed with vegetables and the salty soy sauce/sesame oil sauce.  The tofu itself was a bit bland, you really need to break up the tofu and dip it into the dressing to get some flavour.  I would have liked the tofu to be in smaller pieces and warmed up slightly.  But, it was very beautifully presented.
Seaweed and tofu salad

Next, we had a plethora of items to share amongst the table.  We ordered the set dinner ($35) as it included a variety of items to try.  Overall, I found the dinner didn’t really stand out and live up to the restaurant’s reputation.  If you do come, I would suggest avoiding this special and ordering a-la-carte instead.  The set dinner consisted of:
Agedashi tofu – two cubes of deep fried tofu in a fish broth.  It was a good contrast of crispy silky tofu and soup.  I liked this much better than the miso soup and would suggest this to start.
Tempura shrimp and vegetables – sadly was a little disappointed with the dish.  The batter was a bit thick and didn’t have the light crispy bits I normally enjoy about tempura.

Sushi – came with three pieces of sushi (salmon, tuna and ebi).  The fish was extremely fresh and cut to a perfect thickness.  I normally don’t like raw fish but loved the clean, flavourful taste of the tuna.  We were advised that when possible the restaurant uses wild fish, so perhaps this is what makes the difference.  If you do like raw fish, most diners swear by the chef’s menu .
Steak teriyaki – we ordered the steak medium and found it a bit tough.  Given the steak is thinner, I would suggest cooking to medium to hopefully make it more tender.
Zen teriyaki steak dinner

The a-la-carte menu items we had were much better - our favourite was definitely the spider roll ($13.50).  A generous sized soft-shell crab is wrapped with avocado and fish roe with a thin layer of rice.  Even though there were 6 pieces in the roll, it was so good I’m sure we could have had one each.  I loved the filling to rice ratio of the roll.
Spider roll

The broiled miso black cod ($7.95), an appetizer, was surprisingly affordable and a fair size.  Like the soup, the miso wasn’t as strong so the light fish flavour still shone through.  I only wish the skin was broiled a longer or could be seared so that it would be crispier; I found it a little chewy.
Broiled miso black cod

To end we tried two desserts:
  • Black sesame ice cream (included in dinner combo) – a great alternative to green tea ice cream.  It’s richer and very flavourful.

  • Mitsumame ($4.95?) – a seaweed jelly with cocktail fruits and a few red beans.  We were skeptical at first as to how seaweed would taste sweet.  In the end, you couldn’t really decipher it was seaweed and tasted like any gelatin.  Served with cocktail fruits and its juice, mitsumame is a lighter option for those who may want something sweet but not overly filling.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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!

Photo Sources:

Special thanks to my cousin who was the photographer of the pictures above!

CLOSED: Fare Bistro (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 1097 Queen St East
Type of Meal: Dinner

The dark, jewel-toned candlelit restaurant certainly resembles a classic bistro and makes a great date location. However, with limited seating, you should make a reservation to avoid disappointment.  On the night of my visit with girlfriends, we found a similar crowd - groups of friends catching up over glasses of wine and traditional French cuisine.

We decided to start with their appetizer of the day, pork belly with tempura shrimp ($14). The shrimp was the better of the two proteins but I wouldn't consider it to be tempura - more like lightly battered. The pork belly, although crispy, was too lean for my taste; a thin layer of fat would have given it more flavour and contrast to the crisp skin.

I ordered the duck confit with a black current glaze ($26). It was refreshing to have a confit that wasn't overly salty so that the taste of duck could still be enjoyed. The meat was very tender and went well with the black current glaze. The skin could be rendered more as most parts of it were slightly soggy. Surprisingly, the crisp green beans accompanying the dish were one of the most enjoyable parts - perfectly cooked and flavoured.

You can't be at a bistro without trying the steak frites ($27) which is what one friend had. The frites were exactly what I like - fresh potatoes fried until they are crisp on the outside but still dense and flavourful in the middle, only lightly salted. The strip loin (?) was a generous portion and tender but lacked the stronger "black Angus" flavour I prefer.

My other companion had and the daily risotto ($25), on this day was with lamb and goat cheese. Keep in mind I'm basing this review on only one bite - I must say it's not what I like. The tangy goat cheese didn't merry well with lamb and risotto in my opinion. Its slightly grainy texture ruined the creaminess of what I enjoy about risottos.
Given I don't have a sweet tooth, I rarely order desserts. But, my friends are very different from me, so we ordered two things to share. If anything, I thought their desserts were the highlight in the meal.
  • The chocolate terrine was a cross between a ganache and mousse and was a melt-in-your-mouth creamy texture. It also went wonderfully well with the raspberry and vanilla custard sauces that decorated the dish.
  • The blackberry upside down cake was my favourite. Cooked in a skillet, the dish was served warm and topped with generous amounts of sweet black berries which baked right into the cake. I thoroughly enjoyed the plump blackberries popping in your mouth and combining with the sweet warm vanilla cake.

Dinner for three with a bottle of wine and three cafe au laits came to $199.
Overall mark - 7 out of 10

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!

Welcome to Gastro World

You can tell by the name, this blog is about food … food from across the world: in terms of geography and cultures. The focus is on restaurant reviews – I love eating and there are just so many talented chefs out there creating amazing dishes. But, Gastro World also dabbles in all things delicious from food events, food products, food services and maybe even a recipe every now and again.

My Mission to be an Advisor

I hope to be your food advisor. Not an advocate or story teller but rather recount my meals in enough detail that you gain a view about the dishes. Taste is subjective so even though I don’t like something, read about the elements I didn’t fancy, you may find that you’ll still enjoy the dish.

Gastro World also hopes to support restaurants. It’s competitive in the culinary world and like other industries restaurants need to change and evolve to stay ahead. The hope is restaurants will appreciate my honest thoughts and not feel offended. Sometimes, I may point out things that could be tweaked and even offer suggestions on what I feel may make it better.

Of course, by no means am I an expert. As a chef or an owner of a restaurant just consider the feedback, you never know if could be helpful. After all, it’s much better to hear about it from me than to read about it later in a national newspaper or magazine when food critics are in town.

As an aside, Amy Pataki and Chris Nuttall-Smith if you ever find the time to have a meal with me I’d be ecstatic and promise never to reveal your identities. I love your reviews!

To Reveal or Not to Reveal?

In the beginning, I wanted to be anonymous, thinking this was the only way reviews could be fair and objective. Eventually, I realized it hindered my development as I had to turn down events which have proved to be invaluable to meeting fellow bloggers and gaining a deeper understanding about restaurants and what I’m eating.

So, although I’m not shouting my personal details from the rooftop, I’m also no longer hiding in the shadows. The majority of the meals are personally paid for and restaurants are not informed that I’m a food blogger when reservations are made. For those that are invited and complementary, I still believe in providing an honest opinion. After all, if I lied it’s really doing the restaurant a disservice as they won’t receive feedback which may help them evolve and stay competitive.

Other Things To Keep in Mind

Pricing is provided to allow you to judge "value for money".  Pricing will either be shown as a bill total which includes food/drink costs, taxes and mandatory service charges or in most cases the menu price for the dish (excluding taxes and gratuities).

All reviews are my personal opinion. As I mentioned, taste is a subjective thing so you may feel differently about a certain dish or restaurant. 

I receive no compensation for restaurant reviews. Meals are paid out-of-pocket and if they are complimentary the post will indicate it. I receive no reimbursement from the restaurants to write about them. However, for food product or services I may charge for sponsored posts, which are identified. Rest assured, I would never agree to write a sponsored post if I hated something.   

In the end, I hope you enjoy reading Gastro World as much as I love writing it. Please enjoy and I hope to entice you to try some of these places. 

Bon appetit!

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