Showing posts with label shared plates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shared plates. 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. 
Want to become a Toronto Life Member? If this event sounded great, don't miss out on the fun. Toronto Life is providing Gastro World readers a $15 off discount code to become a member!

Just use discount code GASTROWORLD at the Toronto Life Member checkout and the discount will be automatically applied.
Email me if you join and let me know the next event you'll be attending. Maybe we can meet in person!

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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:




MeNami Udon House & Sake Bar (Toronto)

MeNami

Most good noodles should have a springy quality to it, at least in my books. I prefer my pasta al dante, wonton noodles still with give and udon chewy despite its thick doughy properties. The large green door and Vegas style name tag may not traditional characteristics of a noodle joint, but MeNami Udon and Sake Bar certainly offers an impressive bowl of sanuki udon, despite the buzzy atmosphere.   
Forget the vacuum packed versions you find in the frozen or dry good areas of Asian supermarkets, MeNami makes their fresh in-house with a special machine imported from Japan and Chef Kevin Shin spending a good deal of time in Kagawa, Japan learning the recipe and technique to reproduce it in Toronto (with a few tweaks to meet our climate).

To sample the noodle in its most neutral form, have a plate of the tsuke udon ($7.95), the cool noodles served with a sweet soy, ginger, daikon and onion concoction for dipping. It goes particularly well with the beef tataki ($12), the thin slices of lightly seared beef spiked with a lively jalapeno basil and karashi-su miso, complimenting the plainer noodles.


Being a versatile starch, there are tons of other styles on MeNami’s menu. The spicy pork udon ($11) uses slivers of the meat with a chili mixture that when mixed into the broth provides a good level of heat.


For something richer, the mentaiko cream sauce ($12) is a dish that an Italian nonna would even like. The sauce is not unlike alfredo, with the marinated fish roe adding a gentle briny essence to it. The spicy tomato oil has no bark once it’s mixed into the heavy sauce and I love the hint of freshness the finely chopped green onion and shiso leaves provide.


The curry udon with shrimp tempura ($11) has such a deep rich Japanese style curry and an aroma that lets you know it’s on the way. On top, hot and crunchy pieces of shrimp and yam tempura can make it into a meal.  


If you enjoy sweet and salty combinations, the black sesame puree udon with beef ($15) should hit the spot. For me, it took some time to warm up to the idea of dressing the udon with the black sesame soup (gee ma woo) that’s found in dessert houses. Perhaps, if the beef wasn’t bulgogi (also sweet) but rather something that’s more savoury, I would have liked it better.


The kitsune udon ($9) has an appropriate balanced sweet and salty quality, where the large fluffy piece of aburaage (deep fried tofu) is marinated in a honeyed sauce that softly permeates into the broth.  


MeNami serves more than just udon (although to visit and not haves noodles is a waste of time), offering tons of tasty izakaya options. If you’re not allergic to seafood, get the deep fried ika ($7). After having it at their media event, I had two orders of the dish on a return visit with friends. Mongo ika is in reality cuttlefish; at MeNami pillowy soft and just ever so lightly dusted with nori speckled flour. The cool dipping soy was the only thing saving me from completely scalding my tongue as I couldn’t wait to tuck into the fresh-from-the-fryer dish.


Another crowd pleaser was the corn kakiage ($5), a fritter of sweet chewy kernels with a honey butter mayonnaise for dipping. The deep fried eggplant ($6) was also pretty good once you reach the vegetable hidden amongst the deep fried yam slivers.


The oven roasted yam salad ($8) smells heavenly with cubes of caramelized yams tossed with kasha. It’s rather hearty for a salad, sitting on a bed of spring mix and grape tomatoes, garnished with pickled and deep fried onions.


Surprisingly, for a dish that sounds heavy, the convection roasted pork belly ($11) was so well rendered that it wasn’t fatty tasting at all. Each slice has been rubbed in a dry spice having a Cajun twinge to it; the dish reminds me of bo ssam as you wrap the pork with pickled onion and spring mix.


For something lighter, the albacore tuna tataki ($12) is good, the meaty thick slices of fish dressed simply with wasabi, soy sauce, green onion and green onion oil.


If you’re only going to do one raw fish plate, try the smoked salmon with parsnip sauce ($10) instead, the fish is salted, torched, and flavoured with a smoke gun giving it the oaky essence of smoked salmon but the texture of sashimi.


Their larger “one pot” dishes, kept warm on a burner, is great for sharing. The sukiyaki ($24) had a decent portion of shaved beef and tons of earthy mushrooms (enoki, shitake and oyster) in the slightly sweet broth. It was good, but I still have my heart set on trying the oden, which was sold out during our visit.


MeNami wouldn’t be called a sake bar without a menu sporting a sizeable collection. Some are available by the glass ($5.50 to $28.80) and others by the bottle ($11 - $130); something from every price point. I was just glad to see they had the Mio sparkling sake ($26), which is fast becoming my favourite easy going drink.


The restaurant has some interesting cocktails as well. The Kir in Tokyo ($11) a relatively strong mix of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, chambord and cold sake.



At their media event, they served a fantastic sundae – the mere sight of the Pocky biscuits stuck in the matcha ice cream excited the inner child in me. Every layer presented another taste and texture with crunchy cereal, soft sweetened red beans and whipped cream. Although it's currently not part of their regular menu, I've been advised they are considering expanding on the ingredients and offering a rendition of it.

Just be warned, if you’re visiting with more than two people, get a reservation. Trying to make sense of how staff choose to sit walk-ins amongst reserved tables can be a frustrating ordeal; and no, attempting to work out the logistics for them with recommendations on how to situate the tables will only confuse them further. MeNami, please hire a front-of-the-house manager!

Nonetheless, the mere fact that I returned just weeks after gorging on so many dishes at their media event, should be a testament to how much I enjoy their creations. So with a reservation in hand, I will return to the restaurant.      

Overall mark - 8 out of 10
Disclaimer: Tasting of dishes in the post were from attending MeNami's media night (where they were complimentary) and on a return visit (paid for). Rest assured, as noted in the mission statement, I will always provide my honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 5469 Yonge 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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


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


CLOSED: Portland Variety (Toronto)


Portland Variety

Portland Variety is aptly named: serving a menu that well ... has variety. Although mostly dominated with Spanish offerings such as pintxo surtidos there’s also Turkish influences with the baby eggplant byaldi or fusion dishes like the warm mushroom salad with yuzu dressing.  

The mushroom and arugula salad ($15) looks deceptively plain when presented – a mound of barely plain leaves dotted with dressing and pine nuts. But, upon digging into it, there’s a treasure trove of sweet honey mushrooms whose warmth ever so lightly melts the manchego cheese shavings. The yuzu dressing adds a well-balanced acidity but is salty enough to flavour everything despite there not being an abundance covering the arugula.

Portland Variety mushroom salad

Easily edible for brunch, dinner or even dessert is the house-made ricotta cheese ($11) – in fact, I highly recommend it for dessert if you’re a cheese plate fan. The soft creamy ricotta was warmed through to give off a light whiff of the cheese’s essence. Pile on a good helping onto each crostini, since there’s so little bread, then top with a chopped hazelnut, slice of sweet pear and drizzle of honey to make a bite that combines crunch and comfort.

Portland Variety ricotta

After waiting half an hour the 22oz rib eye ($48) arrives. Perhaps a little overcooked for my medium rare tastes and slightly too lean for rib eye (my friend fittingly described it closer to being a strip loin), it was nonetheless still tender. The porcini rub provided great flavouring but started flaking off as you ate it leaving a slightly dusty residue on the tongue – perhaps on account of being cooked too long.

Portland Variety ribeye

The steak is served with a side of caramelized onions providing some sweetness to the dish. Personally, I enjoyed it better with the cassava fries ($8) we ordered which were blisteringly hot and crunchy. However, your liking for the fries will largely depend on what piece you get, as my friends and I soon found out. The ones cut from the outside of the root vegetable are fluffier (really what you want in a fry) while the inside pieces were so hard that even my steak knife had its work cut out for it. Portland Variety should consider only using the less dense pieces for their fries and save the harder ones for something else – perhaps a stew will show up on their menu next?

Portland Variety cassava fries

When our dessert of beignets ($7) arrived my heart sank – who took the large fluffy airy beignets and turned them into hard looking Tim Bits?! Begrudgingly, I cut into one and found it surprisingly airy in the centre. Upon taking a bite, they were actually light and delicious. It was the salted caramel sauce that fell short as it’d be more appropriately described as a ‘spread’ then a dippable sauce. My friend, who does more baking then I, noted it’s likely due to the sugar being cooked too long that it started to crystalize. Who knows, maybe some cream mixed into it would help liquefy it into a smoother dip – as it did have good flavours. And if that doesn’t work, just stick with the more forgiving chocolate ganache instead.

Portland Variety beignets

If you’re looking for shareable plates with variety, Portland’s menu will have you covered. If you’re looking to carry a conversation, it’s likely not the best option. With the tables packed so closely together and the unforgiving acoustics of the back dining room, diners have to shout at each other just to be heard. Of course, it’d help if Portland Variety would just turn down the music and forego some revenue by removing a couple of tables (this should also help servers from having to squish through between chairs causing them to knock purses to the floor). Overall, the food was good and even shows creativity. But, the loud headache inducing atmosphere won’t get me back anytime soon.

Overall mark - 7* out of 10
* Mark purely based on food

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 587 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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:



Portland Variety Cafe on Urbanspoon

CLOSED: Branca (Toronto)



Branca meat

You wouldn’t expect to find an Argentinian inspired grill house in a cozy corner house. Blink, especially if you’re driving, and you may miss the conspicuous neon Branca sign in the window. Surprisingly, with all the talk of roasting meats, there wasn’t even a scent in the air to guide our way. But, my dutiful husband looked up its location ahead before heading out and stopped our driver in the nick of time.  

Of course, a nice robust wine is a must with red meat – especially one from Mendoza (there are plenty on the list). But, before the mains, their cocktails sounded so enticing that I had to get a Pisco sour ($12) to start. My first experience with this Chilian brandy, it was light with the lime juice and aromatic bitters… dangerously easy drinking. The dark rum mojito ($12) was packed with fresh mint leaves; another refreshing simple cocktail to enjoy during the summer months.

Branca cocktailBranca cocktail

As soon the order was in, a bowl of chipas, Branca’s version of a bread basket, arrived before us. The Argentine cheese bread is light and airy, like choux pastry except made with tapioca flour. Filled with melted cheese studded with peppers I could have easily eaten all three myself.

Branca cheese bread

Luckily, as my appetite was whet, the empanadas ($6) soon followed. Served piping hot, I was torn – let it cool down or dive in immediately so I can enjoy the molten cheese and corn mixture? In the end, I cut it into smaller pieces as a compromise. Filled with roasted corn, poblano peppers, gruyere and fontina they’re a great way nibble to start on.

Branca empanadas

The cuttlefish or sepia ($15) perfectly showcased the seafood and all its parts: the pigment from its ink sac helped to colour the cuttlefish such a vibrant reddish-brown hue while its ink acted as a savoury sauce. The saffron fregola, little balls that glide across the tongue, was specked with spicy chorizo and sweet roasted cherry tomatoes.

Branca cuttlefish

Branca uses the Argentine grilling method al sador, where meats are splayed and skewered across metal crosses. What looks like a torture device for us ensures the meat has access to the hot wood-burning fire. So, a visit to Branca isn’t complete until you’ve fried something from their grilled section – we tried three.

The first, the entrana ($19) or skirt steak was my favourite. Cooked medium rare at the thinner slices and a touch above rare at the thicker parts, it’s beef the way it’s meant to be enjoyed – cooked, simply seasoned and then left alone. Eaten by itself or topped with a condiment ($1/each), it was equally good:

  • Chimichurri – vinegary, filled with herbs and with a lighter touch on the garlic than most. Best with the skirt steak and suckling pig to help cut through the fat.
  • Roasted garlic – cloves of sweet mild garlic sitting in an oil, delicious to eat but personally didn’t seem to go with anything.
  • Poblano romesco – a creamy sauce with a light touch of smokiness, which for me went best with the short ribs.
  • Harissa – a fiery chili sauce that’s flavourful at first before the zing from the heat slowly builds. In my opinion, it tend to overpower the meats, but I didn’t mind it on the pulled pork.
Branca skirt steak

The tira ($26), a meaty short rib, isn’t the fall-off-the-bone tenderness of the braised variety – after all we’re cooking over fire here. But, it was still easily chewable, despite its leanness, and of all the meats lent itself to pairing with the sauces (since it was rather neutral in taste).

Branca short rib

On Friday and Saturdays you can order the chancho ($34) a dish feature four different parts from a suckling pig: pulled pork, belly, tenderloin and chicharrón. Now Magazine writes about the three day process of making the dish – brining it with an aromatic mixture for two days before cooking over the wood-burning fire for an entire third day.

Branca suckling pig

I was a little disappointed that the skin wasn’t left on to get the juicy meat, thin fat layer and crisp skin combination I love so much about pork. Rather, the skin was removed of its fat and fried, served as a chicharrón or pork rind. At first it seemed a tad bland having eaten it right after a chimichurri laden piece of skirt steak, but after a swig of water and retrying it, I found the succulent meat to be quite flavourful – the taste of pork shone through (but not in a gross gamey way). For me, the highlight was the slice of pork belly slice having retained a thin layer of chewy skin and the fat rendered but still evident in the meat.   

A mound of intensely crispy and salty potato strings ($6) arrives with it – very hot but could have been drained a bit more to reduce the oiliness. But, these were addictive, I couldn’t stop snacking on just one more before the dish finally got taken away.

Branca fries

The smoked collards ($6) could be a meal in itself with the creamy sauce, smoked pork pieces and chick peas. With such heavy meats, the side was too decadent as I’d much rather have something plain and light; perhaps the green salad would have been a better option.

Branca smoked collards

Do yourself a favour and save room for the panqueques ($7). Filled with a sweet and salty dulce de leche, the crêpes are rolled and lightly brûléed on top to give it a touch of crunch. The non-sweetened chantilly cream added creaminess without adding another layer of sugariness to the already flavourful dessert. I wonder if Branca would let me return for just a helping of this dessert.


Branca crepes

Service is attentive and friendly, although following suggested order sizes (one starter, main and side per person) would leave tables with too much food - two starters, three mains and two sides was more than enough for our table of three.  At Branca, ingredients are left to its own devices. Some diners will appreciate this, allowing them to enjoy the true taste of the protein. Others may find dishes uninteresting, but I guess that’s when all those sauces will save the day. Regardless, bring a carnivore to Branca … I’m sure they’ll thank you as they leave dinner in a blissful meat-filled dream.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1727 Dundas 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:




Branca Restaurant on Urbanspoon