Showing posts with label wagyu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wagyu. Show all posts

Tanto (Toronto)


As I write this post on Tanto, I can’t help but think about my experience at Constantine ... two similar restaurants: both newcomers in Toronto and Argentinian “inspired” so not necessarily authentic. My meals even followed comparable patterns of sitting at the Chef’s table and a dinner comprised of dishes made on their wood burning grill. Hence, although each post stands alone, I can’t help but draw comparisons between the meals.

Although both were enjoyable, Tanto elevated the experience by simply tweaking the way they did things. To begin, the made sitting at the “Chef’s table” matter. It sounds fancy, but really it merely means you’re sitting at a “bar” area overlooking the kitchen. There’s no special menu and you can order whatever you like. At Tanto, Chef Julian Iliopolus interacted with the diners – at the beginning, to answer any questions about the menu; and with each course, coming by to get our thoughts and answer any other queries that may arise. How else would I have known that Tanto’s leg of jamón ibérico wholesaled for $1,100? A very different experience than Constantine.


Tanto also commands their parilla, the wood burning grill, much better. Both are set-up similarly, the grill surface on a lever system so it can be raised and lowered. It’s how the wood is placed that differs. At Tanto, the wood burns at the back of the grill and as it heats up, smouldering chunks break off. The grill is then raised to combine these pieces with charcoal. In fact, this is generally how the traditional Argentinian asado is operated – ingredients are cooked using smouldering embers and not direct fire. As you can imagine, the indirect heat makes it easier for the chef to control the temperature and not burn the food. 


We were treated to a beautifully cooked wagyu bavette ($39) that incorporated a lightly smoked aroma but still medium rare in the centre. The fat within the marbled meat simply melted into everything so the beef looked lean but was juicy when eaten. Biting into the thinner end piece, I was met with a pungent blast of salt for my first taste. However, once a bit of the chimichurri was added, the condiment actually helped neutralize the saltiness. Moreover, the chimichurri was largely herbs and oil so wasn’t too vinegary, helping season the meat without covering all the flavours.


Arriving with a choice of sides, we decided on the patatas bravas… after all, what’s more Argentinian than meat with potatoes? The deep fried squashed spuds were amazingly creamy and topped with a garlic scape sauce. I could have eaten an order of these as a starter. 

The grilled squid ($18) also spent a minute on the grill, the intense heat cooking it quickly, so it rolls up and remains tender. Chef Iliopolus cheekily describes it being topped by “stuff”, particularly items that can cause allergic reactions. From what I could decipher there were crushed nuts, thinly fried pancetta, a thicker and tarter chimichurri, and chilies. Whatever the “stuff” was it really helped to add a burst of textures and flavours to the dish. Although I did try one piece of the squid with everything scraped off and it was still wonderfully flavoured on its own.


Seeing the leg of jamón ibérico ($30) on the counter, my husband and I eyed it giddily like kids in a candy store… we had to have a plate to start! There’s tons of literature out there that explains why this ham is special and commands such a high price. Having had it on a handful of occasions, it’s still a treat. While other cured pork products tend to be smoky, intensely salty, and you taste the porky flavour; the ibérico version has a sweet and salty taste with no intense pig odour. Hold a slice of it on your tongue for a bit and let the fat melt before chewing and you’ll be hit with these delicious juicy flavours. If ham had a candy form, this would be it.


The smoked ricotta empanada ($7) is an interesting take on the classic Argentinian snack. At Tanto it’s deep fried, the crust encapsulating molten ricotta and a leek/onion mixture. Add a bit of their house-made hot sauce to the cheese, it works well. While tasty, I still prefer the traditional beef version and will try that on a return visit. 


Hearing Chef Iliopolus describe the cavatelli with clams ($28), a pasta made with semolina flour with clams and peas, I knew it would be a dish I’d like. The chewiness of the cavatelli reminded me of gnocchi and the lightness of the peas and pea shoots were a great compliment to the rest of the meal. If only the clams weren’t cold this would have been the perfect dish for me. While not terrible, as the clams were plump and sweet, cold juicy clams with warm pasta wasn’t a contrast I enjoyed.


Oh Tanto, how I’ve warmed to your wood grill… the tale of two restaurants continues…

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 74 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!

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CLOSED: Skippa (Toronto)



How do I know a meal is going to be one of my top picks? It’s a twinge of sadness I feel at the end: signifying the experience is over and I’m uncertain when it’ll happen again. Oh yes, Ian and Kati Robinson’s Skippa is that good. It’s where you go for upscale sushi for under $100 (taxes and gratuities included) and the chef isn’t scary like Jiro.


In fact, Skippa’s vibe is laid back – an open kitchen so you can see what Ian and team are doing, Kati at the pass calling out orders. There’s no military responses of “yes Chef!”, instead the kitchen working as a well-oiled machine, Ian going around to answer questions and have a taste of broth when he’s not busy creating the sushi piece-by-piece.


Right after ordering, a slice of lotus root filled with wasabi infused egg yolk is presented. For something seemingly simple, it’s surprisingly flavourful and perfect for those who liked deviled eggs.


Before getting into the omakase portion of the meal, we couldn’t help but tuck into a couple of appetizers. A freshly made chawanmushi ($7) where the egg is silky and studded with shredded chicken and sliced mushrooms. While the custard was comforting and savoury, it’d be even better if the broth ratio was lowered as the custard broke apart so much that it was difficult to scoop using the small thick wooden spoons.


With two grilled fish specials, we had to try one. The grilled sawara (Spanish mackerel) collar ($5) was fantastic, cooked beautifully with a simple sprinkling of salt. We’re told to add a squeeze of lemon and smear of radish to taste; the citrus was great but I ended up scraping off the too bitter radish. For those who are afraid of bones, there will be a few you need to pick out, but the tender flavourful collar meat is well worth it.


If you’re just getting into “artisanal” sushi, Skippa is a great place to try it. Their omakase ($42) is a manageable seven pieces or you can always order by the piece (prices included below) to make your own menu. Like other upscale restaurants, the sushi is served separately arriving at the optimal hand-warmed temperature. Ian requests us to use our hands; a wet towel is provided to wipe your fingers to remove any rice or sauce residue.  

If you’re not overly hungry, the omakase dinner already includes two smaller starters – a cube of nutty soft sesame tofu with freshly grated wasabi and a sweet broth; and a spoon of soba where the noodle is overdone but the rich kombu broth delicious.  


A taste of sashimi follows, a clean and meaty grouper where I appreciate they include a leaner and fattier cut so you can taste the flavour nuances. Their house made soy sauce pairs nicely given it’s slightly thicker (so coats onto the meat better) and has a slightly sweet finish.


“Each dish is served as it is ready and in no order.” Skippa's menu warns the diner. Indeed, the sushi bounces between lighter and stronger fishes and not necessarily in the order written on the menu. We start with the kinmedai ($4), a goldeneye seabream, which is a light and neutral fish. Aside from the soy, the piece allows you to focus on the sushi rice, wonderfully warm and the optimal sticky consistency, but could use more vinegar.


Chef Ian previously worked at Sushi Kaji, and you can see Chef Kaji’s influences in the Western toppings used on the sushi. The piece of madai ($4.25) reminded me most of Kaji, who also uses lemon, olive oil, and salt a lot as garnishes. At Skippa, the salt is not as powerful and ends with an almost sweet flavour.


Our second sawara ($4.50) takes the Spanish mackerel and smokes it with Japanese hay. It’s very light so the essence lingers in the background and if anything, the most prominent tastes is the kick of radish from the dollop on top. Unlike with the grilled fish starter, the smaller portion of radish works better and nicely rounds out the cool fish.


The sayori ($4.75) is such a beautiful piece of sushi, with the glint of silver skin against the crystal white fish. Also known as half beek, the fish is mild and perfect for introducing someone to raw fish without going the maki route.


I was a little disappointed the maguro ($4) on the menu didn’t arrive. However, the aji or horse mackerel it was replaced with was wonderfully executed, cleaned well so there was no hint of fishiness. Adorned with garlic, instead of the customary green onion, it worked.


Luckily, the tuna did make an appearance in the temaki ($6) handroll. Unlike the other pieces of sushi, these were whisked to each person (rather than by table) and we’re encouraged to eat it right away before the toasted seaweed, sourced from Japan’s Tsukiji Market, got soggy. Undeniably, it was crispy and the flavourful tuna mixed with a spicy sauce so you didn’t even need the soy sauce.


In terms of the use of soy, with each piece Ian either tells you to dip or not. The one flaw of needing to dip is the garnishes make it challenging to fully flip over the sushi so you’re dipping the fish rather than the rice (the preferred method to ensure not too much soy is soaked into the rice). I guess it goes with Skippa’s laid back vibe, but personally think if a chef’s going to be particular about whether sushi gets soy, he should just paint it on for the diner to make sure the optimal amount is on each piece.   

Before the final piece of tamago, we added on the wagyu ($9), the well marbled beef lightly seared so the oil mixes with the sweet glaze and covers the tongue in a rich sauce. Absolutely delicious!  


The final tamago ($2) wasn’t the best interpretation. Perhaps it was due to the thick angular chunk the sweet egg was cut into, but it was too dense and lacks aroma since it doesn’t include the seared portion of the egg on top.


While it’s out of character, I didn’t read any reviews prior to going to Skippa, just a brief “first look” type of article. Therefore, when I heard our dessert options were ice cream and sorbet, I turned it down. It wasn’t until I glanced over at the group beside us and saw them gushing over the ice cream that I flagged down our waitress in a last-ditch effort get the dessert within our two-hour seating window.

Skippa’s roasted green tea ice cream ($5.50) is made in-house and while I’d prefer it harder, the ice cream was very creamy and has the nuttiness of sesame that goes so well with green tea. It’s good, you’ll want it.    


After all that, two hours flew by in no time and our dinner was over. Yes, I felt that twinge of sadness that a delicious meal came to an end, but since Skippa is affordable, it’s also not a once-a-year-only place. I’m already excited to return in the summer. Maybe the space outside will turn into a patio, but I’ll be back at the sushi bar, amid all the action. 
Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 379 Harbord 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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Skippa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Sushi Kaji (Toronto)


Before sushi became popular, when most people thought California rolls were the real deal, Mitsuhiro Kaji already started serving authentic offerings to those lucky enough for score one of the 30 seats in his quaint Etobicoke restaurant.  

After trying Yasu, Shoushin and Yunaghi, visiting Sushi Kaji, where Japanese fine dining in Toronto arguably began, was a pilgrimage that seemed important. Similar to the later two restaurants, Sushi Kaji’s omakase menus aren’t pure sushi; instead a mixture of small dishes and sushi - for an extra $30, they’ll also prepare a sashimi course.

Since it was our first visit, the takumi ($130) experience was in order. Instead of miso, Kaji presents a bowl of smoky butternut squash soup; a light consistency yet still incorporating a strong powerful flavour. While the broth was fantastic, the chicken meatball was rather neutral and needs to be enjoyed with the soup.


As the salads are presented, we’re advised the dressings are on the side so we can customize the potency of the flavours … of course, I ended up adding everything. Thankfully, the sugary sweetness of typical seaweed salads was missing, instead, Kaji pairs the seaweed with lemon miso that’s enhanced by slightly sweet radish slices.


Meanwhile, the daikon salad pays homage to the legendary Japanese knife skills – impossibly thinly sliced and crispy, so refreshing with a creamy sesame dressing.


The salad was a great cleanser before the sashimi. With a dusting of lemon rind on the sea bream and amberjack, the white neutral fish were refreshing. While both these fish are somewhat soft, the Spanish mackerel has a harder fleshy texture having a crunchiness to it, if fish could be crunchy.

Surprisingly, Kaji’s sashimi incorporates rich pieces of tuna belly, generally reserved for sushi, which melts in the mouth and best left as the last fish you’ll eat. The relatively large slices of octopus are tender, but left plain so you can still taste the seafood’s sweetness.


While the satsuma age, a deep fried seafood cake incorporating pieces of octopus and a slight zing from ginger, was tasty, it was the potato salad (yes, you heard right) that was outstanding. Instead of the typical chunks, Kaji shreds the starch into match sticks and mixes the potatoes with micro-fine diced onions, which really makes the side pop.


Lastly, before the sushi, a meaty plate of sautéed wagyu leaking its oily flavours onto the equally meaty oyster mushrooms. In the middle, were large chunks of soft braised short rib, lightened by a splash of chrysanthemum sauce. The dish was hearty and swoon worthy – momentarily silencing everyone at the bar except to sneak glances at how much their fellow guests were enjoying it.


Sitting at the bar allows you to witness Chef Mitsuhiro’s assembling skills. While the entertainment at other sushi bars is watching chefs deftly cut through fish like butter, when it comes to sushi at Kaji, the seafood is pre-sliced… hence why you’re really watching Mitsuhiro assemble the sushi piece-by-piece.

Nonetheless, it’s still an entertaining affair with the Chef’s elaborate gestures – with the salsa music in the background he could have been doing the flamingo with each arm flick. I was so entranced by the dance that I missed photographing the octopus – another slice of the tender flavourful protein, except in this case drizzled with olive oil and sprinkling of salt.

The following raw shrimp, in my opinion one of the worst ways to enjoy this seafood, wasn’t overly gummy as Kaji covered it with a lemony light cream sauce.  Yet, not cooking the shrimp does nothing to enhance its sweetness and the consistency raw shrimp is rather off-putting.

Tuna arrives next with the customary lean (akami) followed by the fatty belly cut (otoro) to highlight how the same fish can offer such different texture and tastes. The akami was a beautiful vibrant hue with a strong wasabi finish, while the otoro served whole (instead of chopped into little pieces) so you can really enjoy the marbling.


After a quick blowtorch to sear the top of the scallop, this piece was covered with melted butter with a strong kick of black pepper. Indeed, it’ll help mask any fishy tastes that the mollusk may have, but also covers up any of the scallop’s mild sweetness.


Surprisingly, after the octopus, Kaji also served calamari as well – in this case raw so there’s a sticky chewy texture, but very clean tasting. With raw ginger and finely sliced shiso leaf, it’s rather refreshing.


The following flounder (hirame) received a similar preparation with crushed shiso leaves topped with warmed olive oil and salt. A good tasting piece on its own, but too similar to the calamari. Sisho is such a strong herb, akin to a citrusy basil, that back-to-back it’s overpowering.


Unlike other high-end sushi establishment, at Sushi Kaji you do get a plate of soy cause and wasabi - rather than the chef swiping on the amount deemed optimal for each piece. Instead, Chef Mitsuhiro coaches diners on what to do (no soy or little soy). Still, some pieces, like the Japanese horse mackerel (aji) could really use a thicker soy and all the toppings makes it difficult to dip so would benefit from having a helpful swish from the chef.


The eel, heated through in the toaster oven with the sweet thick glaze, is absolutely delicious. Kaji tops it with lemon rind adding a great lightness to the otherwise richer sushi.


To end, a piece of spicy tuna maki. I commend the restaurant for trying to elevate such a common roll with chopped otoro without any of the dreaded tempura bits mixed throughout. It was certainly better, but the seaweed could be crispier (still rather chewy like the common versions) and the spicy mayonnaise also unexceptional.


Chef Mitsuhiro plays with different condiments, marrying Western and Asian elements, so you do get interesting tasting pieces at Sushi Kaji. However, a person can only enjoy so much olive oil and salt. Maybe I prefer sushi traditional, but I found oil and salt tasty with the scallop but really detracted from other items. The entire time I just wanted a swish of condensed sweet soy… where was it?!

So many chefs believe the most important part of sushi is its foundation – rice. Although Sushi Kaji’s rice is soft and creamy, it lacks the hit of vinegar I’ve grown to love. The temperature could also be warmer.    

Interestingly, the restaurant switches the tea before dessert for a lighter smoother blend. The sweets were pleasant but conventional: a scoop of vanilla ice cream on red bean paste and a run-of-the-mill gelatin textured panna cotta with chopped pears and shiso sorbet – someone really loves this herb!  


The restaurant’s bar seating arrangement is strange: despite there being empty chairs, they choose to sit everyone right beside the next couple instead of spacing everyone apart. Yet, for a first visit you need to sit at the bar, to fully immerse yourself in the experience. Just don’t expect any privacy.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 860 The Queensway

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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CLOSED: OMAW (Toronto)


While OMAW’s name is not an acronym, for me it summarizes my experience: Oh My! Ah… Well? Let’s start with the “Oh my!”, my initial reaction when I heard Toronto Southern food master, Chef Matt Blondin, was back in a permanent location serving his famed shrimp and grits! Having last eaten the dish almost five years ago during Blondin’s last weeks at Acadia, I still fondly remember the luscious comfort food.

As soon as Omaw’s menu was placed in front of me, I anxiously scanned the one-sheeter, almost missing it as the grits was hidden in the description, rather the dish simply labelled gulf prawns ($15). The grits didn’t arrive until halfway through the meal and when the small bowl was finally presented it looked good, but seemed saucier than I remembered.  



Numerous media outlets report that these are indeed the same shrimp and grits from Acadia. Then why does it taste different? Sadly, dining at Acadia was before I started documenting my food adventures, but this dish didn’t bring back the iconic Blondin cooking I yearned for.  It’s still good with a smooth consistency packed with flavours on account of the pimento cheese, jalapenos and smoky broccoli. It just somehow lacked the hearty grittiness of the grain itself… ah well.

Before our meal began, a bowl of complimentary lightly pickled cucumbers arrived, a refreshing snack to munch on as I marveled over the sabbatical ($15) cocktail. If you’re into not-overly sweet, citrusy (shiso and lime) drinks with a surprising twist (ginger, habanero, and herb saint), do yourself a favour and order the drink. Despite the differing ingredients, they combine together so nicely and the lingering kick from the ginger and habanero leaves me wanting more.



With the restaurant’s small plates menu, sharing is encouraged or you could mix-and-match to create a customized tasting menu. The aged wagyu ($17) is gorgeous and reminiscent to a dish served at Alo



Also incorporating tons of tastes - from the creamy aioli, soft pea relish, and not overly heavy beef fat vinaigrette - the dish is decent but I couldn’t help but crave a crispy element. The crumbles of buttered popcorn could have done it but somehow didn’t. The small hot pancakes the chef suggests rolling thin strips of the beef onto is a good idea, but may work better if served thinner with crispy edges.

Two forgettable dishes include the beef shortrib ($15), wonderfully cooked and tender but lacked interest, and the Kentucky fried squid ($13), which were so thin the dish tastes like cornmeal fries slathered with mayonnaise (in this case an Alabama white sauce that’s a mayonnaise based BBQ). The crunchy slivers or melon rind on the squid were noteworthy, something the dish needs more of.


Nonetheless, the dinner wasn’t a complete disappointment. The crispy jambalaya ($9) was fantastic and a must-try if you love arancini (fried risotto balls). The flavourful rice incorporates diced tasso (a fattier cut of smoked lightly cured pork) and is covered with a prawn powder before being deep fried and served sizzling hot. What I wouldn’t give to pop one into my mouth right now.



The turkey & dumplings ($15) was also satisfying, the fowl itself rather sparse but the dumplings lovely and not unlike a pillowy gnocchi. Drink every last drop of the flavourful broth spiked with black truffle oil, it’s salty but oh so satisfying.



OMAW isn’t where you’ll find low key Southern home cooking, but with Chef Blondin you should expect a spark of pizzazz and opulence. Regrettably, the Matt magic didn’t cast a spell on me this time. Ah well.  

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 88 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: