Showing posts with label tostones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tostones. 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

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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!


Is That It? I Want More!

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La Cubana (Toronto)

Having been to Cuba twice, it’s a shame I’ve never had authentic Cuban food. Right or wrong, I chose to eat at the resorts, whose food is mediocre at best … I like to joke it’s the vacation you can go on without worrying about gaining weight.

One thing I do remember are the strong cocktails. La Cubana is no different, the el Paraiso ($12) is probably the lightest, a tasty combination of gin, muddled basil, and grapefruit juice.


Lucky to dine with someone of Cuban decent, she explained the difference between a cubano and medianoche ($9.99) is merely the bun, the later on a softer kaiser that’s not pressed so the pork version looks like a pulled pork sandwich. The restaurant doesn’t skimp on the meat, along with gruyere, red onion, cornichon, grainy mustard, and a chipotle mayo the sandwich is filled with flavours and the bun doesn’t stand a chance at holding in everything.


The medianoche’s filling is very similar to the pork shoulder ($15.99), so in hindsight we should have ordered either a different sandwich or main. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the slow cooked pork, which is nicely smoked and has a slightly sweet taste. I especially enjoyed the crunchy vinegar coleslaw on the side - just watch out for the rounds of jalapeno, the heat can really sneak up on you!


Main plates also arrive with hot tostones (pressed plantains that are deep fried) and rice with beans. The tostones are rather bland, a bit of the hot sauce helps, but the beans and rice goes perfectly with the meats. 


Especially the guava BBQ beef short rib ($16.99), tender and tasty with its sweet glaze. Topped with an herby chimichurri and frizzled onions, it was my favourite dish of the evening.


Although already filled, we decided to share a natilla ($4.99), the only dessert I’ve never had before. Described as chocolate pudding, it’s much better, the light creamy chocolate custard incorporating a balanced sweetness.


Although it’s disappointing that Cuban resorts don’t serve more local fare, I understand they’re faced with limited ingredient availability (since meat and fresh vegetables are scarce) and it could have been ill received from previous resort guests. Therefore, we’re blessed in Toronto to have La Cubana, somewhere you can sample a taste of Cuban cuisine. 

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 92 Ossington Avenue

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:


La Cubana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

CLOSED: La Creole (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 810 St. Clair Avenue West
Type of Meal: Dinner




La Creole, a new restaurant to land in St. Clair West, brings the taste of Haitian Creole cuisine to Toronto. Given my friends and I are visiting New Orleans soon, La Creole sounded like the perfect way to introduce ourselves to the Louisiana food culture. After viewing the menu and doing some research, it appeared I was a bit misinformed – Haitian and Louisiana Creole are influenced by the same French and Latin flavours but not identical. Hence, you won’t find jambalaya, gumbo or shrimp & grits here.

The ceilings are draped with white linen while booth seats contained accent pillows, giving the restaurant a toned down Sultan’s Tent feel. Lively music was played throughout the restaurant, but alas no one started dancing in the stage area at the back. However, the relaxed jovial atmosphere certainly put me in a good mood for the food to come.

Almost everyone gets a plate of their le plate fritay (small for $12 and large for $18; large portion pictured below).  Essentially, it translates into a plate of assorted deep fried items. La Creole’s arrives with numerous pieces of malanga root fritters, codfish fritters, marinad (deep fried dough) and tostones (fried plantain patties).


Although they look similar, each offers its own unique flavours and textures. The malanga root fritters were the crunchiest given the little slivers that come through the batter and fry on its own. Although the starch look like taro, its texture is lighter and reminded me spaghetti squash. The taste of dried cod shown through in the codfish fritters but the consistency a tad mushy for my taste. Meanwhile, the marinad were surprisingly flavourful despite only being fried pieces of dough; not oily at all they were light and fluffy with a great savoury taste. Our table agreed the fried plantain were dry and bland, I had to put a fair amount of pikliz on it to make it edible.
Accompanying the fritay was a light refreshing watercress yoghurt dip and pikliz (a spicy vinegar based coleslaw). 

For the amount of food, there was way too little dip and upon asking for an extra portion were charged $4. Certainly, the price isn’t astronomical, but why the large fritay has the same helping of condiments as the small to begin with was baffling.

Every main came with a helping of black bean rice, tostone and a handful of spring mix. Ben, the owner of the restaurant, had suggested we order the fried snapper ($23). Indeed, the dish looks impressive with a whole snapper arriving upright and showed promise with a tomato and spicy heat coming from the creole sauce. But, the fish needed more sauce as it was a bit overdone and dry. I’d imagine the stewed version would likely taste better (at the very least more flavourful and tender), but perhaps not as exciting looking.  


The ratatouille ($12) was a complete miss, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s because the creole sauce on the snapper and chicken were so packed with spices, but the ratatouille seemed extremely bland in comparison. Despite the menu proclaiming it containing spinach, eggplant, zucchini, cabbage and carrots, all I could taste were carrots (for those who know me, these are one of my least favourite vegetables). In the end, the dish just tasted like unseasoned stewed carrots, which personally wasn’t appealing. What I liked most was the side of black bean rice, which was quite delicious (a sticky consistency, but each grain of rice still defined).


Lastly, was the creole roasted chicken ($14), the best of the mains. Packing the most flavour of all the dishes and the meat nice and tender, we should have just ordered the larger version which feeds two for $23.


Opened in mid-March, by mid-April more training is required for staff members. Despite having only 15 items on the menu, our waiter couldn’t point out what each item on the plate of fritay were. When asked what pepper was used to spice the pikliz, that question couldn’t be answered as well. Of course, not every staff member may know all the ingredients, but at the very least they should offer to ask the chef and find out. Don’t get me wrong, service was friendly and attentive, but as a curious minded patron the lack of knowledge wasn’t helpful and doesn’t give me much confidence.

Perhaps my taste buds have been westernized by the Louisiana styled dishes, but I was expecting bold flavours and tendered stewed meats. Aside from the pikliz and creole chicken none of them really reached that level. All in all, I found the food decent but not something I’d want to have again.

Overall mark - 6 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!