Korean BBQ withOUT the smell. Or: An evening at Arisu

Everyone I know loves (or at least likes) Korean BBQ. Everyone I know does NOT love the effect the cuisine has on your person. When every table has its own table-top grill, it’s understandable that the resulting effect is a layer of smoke almost as dense as the one caused by an Indonesian forest fire and a smoky smell that will cling on to your hair and clothing more strongly than your college ex-girlfriend.

Oh, it's you again. -- from mashable.com

Oh, it’s you again. — from mashable.com

This is why when I heard about a modern and sleek Korean BBQ place downtown called Arisu that promises no smoke and no smell for my dining experience, I couldn’t believe it. Oh, and apparently PSY ate here too. I was there faster than Sonic the Hedgehog on speed, being careful not to forget to (gently) drag my wife along the way.

Upon entering, I gotta say, the place looked swankier from the outside. The inside looked a bit more modest, but that’s by no means a bad thing. It was pretty spacious, and interestingly, the whole space looked like a collection of three separate but slightly disjointed rooms.

Good lighting, though!

Good lighting, though!

We started with some appetizers. The most notable was the ssam bap, an interesting dish that can be best described as small ball-shaped purple multigrain rice, which you mix with tender grilled pork, and wrap inside lettuce leaves. With a dab of soybean paste on the side, it was extremely good and something that we’ve never tried before.

The ssam bap. As much fun to say as it is to eat!

The ssam bap. As much fun to say as it is to eat!

We then (obviously) ordered a whole bunch of meats to try out. The unexpected star of the show was the unseasoned beef. Yep, you read that right. UNseasoned beef. See, most people (myself included) assume that Korean BBQ is always sweet. This isn’t always the case and is actually only a small subsection of the overall Korean BBQ dining experience. Dipped into some sesame oil mixed with salt and pepper (provided by the restaurant), the beef was tender and delicious, unsullied by additional seasonings and sauces. I actually said “Oh my God, that was excellent” OUT LOUD, it was that good. We also sampled the pork and ribs, both delicious without being too fatty. And of course, the classic LA ribs, which in this case WAS marinated to perfection. The food was all delicious, without being overwhelming.

Don't worry, we had lots more than these pictured here.

Don’t worry, we had lots more than these pictured here.

We later found out that this restaurant was the only one that participated in the Summerlicious and Winterlicious events, a pretty good testament to the quality of their food since as you know they don’t just let ANYone in for these dining events (lest a Taco Bell show up on the list). And guess what? Everything they told you about being smokeless is pretty much true! While we can still smell the deliciousness of the meat sizzling in front of us as it was being cooked, virtually none stuck to our clothes. You can ostensibly walk right from a dinner here and go to the opera, and be perfectly OK.

Arisu apparently was another restaurant in the past with the same name which didn’t do too well. As a result, many people who pass by it may not even want to venture in because they don’t know that the whole restaurant has changed hands. And it’d be a shame, because this was one of the better Korean BBQs I’ve had the pleasure to try. I’d wholeheartedly recommend people to give this place a shot. It’s also one of the more underrated places I’ve been, and a bit of a hidden gem (if you can call being on freakin’ BLOOR STREET hidden).

Oh, and that bit about Psy? It’s true. He did eat here with his entourage during his stop in Toronto.

This time, it's ARISU STYLE!

This time, it’s ARISU STYLE!

 

–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

Arisu

584 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M6G 1K4
(416) 533-8104

 

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Why Hakka does NOT exclusively mean Indian-Chinese

There’s something that I’ve wanted to put forth for a long time, and for some stupid reason have never had the opportunity to. Sometimes, when I have so many things to say about a particular subject,  my stupid brain locks up and goes into a 404 PAGE NOT FOUND mode, which may be entertaining for a comedy show, but is really lousy for someone who’s supposed to be the model of erudition (at least when it comes to food)

The point that has bugged me for a very long time is simply this: in Toronto, the term “Hakka” is used ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY when referring to a type of cuisine cooked by Chinese people who came from India. This is incorrect, and I will explain why below.

"So sit yo 'ass down!" (note: this may or may not look like me) -- from englishharmony.com

“So sit yo ‘ass down!” (note: this may or may not look like me) — from englishharmony.com

I’m not going to waste your time giving a long explanation about the history of how a large group of Chinese settlers ended up in India (Wikipedia does it so much better here). But what I want to tackle is the usage of the term “Hakka” when referring to the type of food that they cook. You see, the Chinese population in India ended up adapting their cuisine to local tastes, using local spices and herbs (the most notable one being garam masala), with the result being a beautiful fusion cuisine of the complex flavours of Chinese cooking and the punch and flavour of Indian cuisine. And who were the Chinese settlers in India? Hakka people. That is to say, a subgroup of the ethnic Han Chinese.

Well then, I hear you say (I sometimes hear voices, humour me), what’s so incorrect about calling the Indian-Chinese fusion cuisine as Hakka cuisine? The answer lies in that ACTUAL authentic Hakka cuisine is a million miles away from the interesting dishes you see in an Indian-Chinese restaurant. Real, traditional food of the Hakka people (which is therefore called “Hakka cuisine”, I know eh, what a concept) look much more like, surprise surprise, traditional Chinese food. Case in point, the salt baked chicken.

 

Damn! Where's the cornstarch and gravy? -- from wikipedia.org

WHAT! Where’s the cornstarch and gravy? — from wikipedia.org

Moreover, the Hakka people migrate all over the world, and not just India. The majority of Chinese people in Central America and the Caribbean, for example, are Hakkas (major example: Chinese Jamaicans). A crapload of Hakkas also immigrated to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, the place where I was born and once lived. So to say that Indian-Chinese food is “Hakka” food is to unintentionally but completely discount two things: A) actual, authentic Hakka cuisine (that most people have never heard of) and B) OTHER Hakka fusion cuisines that Hakka people all around the world have created (such as Jamaican-Chinese fusion food – you never hear them called “Hakka”). It doesn’t help that the Indian-Chinese restaurants call themselves Hakka as well. While it’s not TECHNICALLY incorrect (the people who open these restaurants are, after all, Hakka people), it’s not exactly accurate either.

As some of you know, I’m not a traditionalist or purist when it comes to food. Hell, I’ve professed my love for Manchu goddamn Wok publicly, and insist that the oft-mocked American/Canadian-Chinese food is a legitimate type of cuisine in and of itself. So believe me when I say that I’m not trying to be pedantic just for the sake of being a pain in the ass. I’m just a bit tired of people asking me what’s my favourite cuisine, and having answered “perhaps Indian-Chinese food”, be faced with the reply “oooh, you mean Hakka food?”. Actually, no I do not.

So why does it bug me? Well, because I’m Hakka Chinese. And I have had many different kinds of Chinese cuisine cooked by wonderful Hakka cooks. Indian-Chinese dishes are just one wonderful part of the Hakka cuisine spectrum, but it is far and away only a small slice of it.

At the end of the day, I guess you can call it whatever you want, but let me ask you a question. To grab a random example, if you were a Quebecois Canadian, and your whole family emigrated to Japan, and your entire family opened a chain of restaurants that primarily serve sushi-poutine with wasabi, would you still call that Quebecois cuisine? Of course not. It’s become a beautiful Quebecois-Japanese fusion cuisine. A new cuisine in it’s own right. And THAT is what the so-called “Hakka cuisine” is in Toronto. It is, and always will be, Indian-Chinese food for me. And I will always love it.

Now gimme SOME MOAR Chicken Manchurian and pakoras!

 

Pull my pork. Or: Pigging out on some BBQ in Pickering!

Last long weekend, on a whim I decided to drag my wife off to Pickering to try out Pig Out BBQ. My super lovely coworkers have mentioned it to me a few times last year. I’ve always meant to give it a try but for a plethora of reasons (most of them bone idleness) have never actually done so. I don’t quite know why I wanted to go there out of the blue, but since I live on the edge (no, LITERALLY, I live on the edge of the Markham/Pickering border) I thought why not. It wasn’t until we got there that I realized that the restaurant was featured on my favourite Food Network show, You Gotta Eat Here featuring my Italian brother from a different mother.

It's like he's my twin. We go everywhere together. -- from cp24.com

It’s a bromance thing. You wouldn’t understand — from cp24.com

Naturally, at that moment my interest level went through the roof. But then I noticed something a bit odd. I originally thought that this was going to be a typical sit-down joint. But what I saw in front of me was a fast food-like setup not unlike a Harvey’s (but with much better quality food, naturally). You take a look at the menu options, which were all mounted on a list on the wall, order, pay, then sit down until they bring your order on a tray to you. Pros: no need to tip, faster ordering. Cons: definitely NOT a date place. Though the fact that I even considered a rib joint as a date place probably says a lot about my priorities.

Though the cute piggies by the ordering area DOES provide something for the ladies to go AWWWW about.

Though the cute piggies by the ordering area DO provide something for the ladies to go AWWWW about.

In addition to the menu items on the board, you can customize your dish further by either ordering it sweet, spicy, or smokey. WW ordered the pulled pork sandwich (spicy!) and I had the 3 Little Pigs Sandwich (sweet!), a wonderful combination of peameal bacon, regular bacon, pulled pork, cheese, and cholesterol, in a bun. As the sandwiches only came with coleslaw and without fries, we also got a side of sweet potato fries on the side. This is actually a set up that I appreciated, because I felt too many restaurants, by putting in a full-sized “side” as part of their meal, end up making the dish more expensive, while providing way too much food. We rarely can finish two orders of fries if it came with the meal, so the chance of just having to finish one, and therefore PAY LESS, is a good option. There’s only so much carbs that a wee Asian couple can take, yknow?

The food took only around 10 minutes to come. The portions do look a bit small by Canadian standards, but just about right for us. WW’s pulled pork was tasty and juicy. It had a crapload of tender pork, smothered in their sauce which, much to my pleasant surprise, was ACTUALLY a bit spicy. There were parts of the meat that were a little bland in the middle (it WAS a very thick sandwich), but overall I would recommend it. Definitely better than Montana’s, and that’s coming from a man who loves that restaurant like Canadians love curling (i.e. a lot, even though most don’t understand why).

Mmmm.....curling.....

Mmmm…..curling…..

My heart attack on a bun sandwich was really lovely. Essentially, it was WW’s order but on steroids. The peameal bacon was SUPER juicy and actually overshadowed the regular strip bacon, while the cheese nicely tied the whole dish together, bringing a layer (pun intended) of richness that permeates through all three types of meat. The pulled pork itself was, as was the case with WW’s, pretty durn good. The sweetness of the sauce wasn’t as pronounced as the spicy counterpart, unfortunately, but it’s still very nice. We also both loved that the buns weren’t very dense, but rather soft without losing its consistency when sandwiching a very moist layer of thick meat.

Hot damn, lookit this thing!

Hot damn, lookit this thing!

Finally, I have to give props to the sweet potato fries. They were actually sweet (the actual flavours came through nicely) with just the right amount of crispness and the dipping sauce was rich and delicious. Next time we may order a slightly bigger portion.

One of the very few times I kind of wished we had MOAR FRIES.

One of the very few times I kind of wished we had MOAR FRIES.

I would recommend this place and we plan to return. The only cautionary notes are that the portions are a tad small (not a problem for us) and that they actually do put proper heat in their spicy offerings (also NOT a problem for us). For a quick, simple, budget BBQ meal, it’s hard to beat this place. They even have a location downtown on Spadina, which is awesome should I ever feel that my sedentary job ISN’T making my body fat fast enough.

–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

Pig Out BBQ

780 Kingston Road
Pickering, ON L1V 1A8
(905) 492-7222

The best Taiwanese popcorn chicken! Or: Who’s your Papa?

There’s a few restaurants out there that, upon visiting for the umpteenth time, make me say to myself “Huh, I can’t believe I’ve never reviewed this in my blog”. Papa Chang’s is one of those places. Funnily enough, after getting married I (relatively) recently moved into a neighbourhood that’s actually closer to this restaurant than my old place. So I suppose it’s a sign, the stars have aligned, cats and dogs living together (whoops, wrong quote), I HAVE to review this place now.

You can see the resemblance. OBVIOUSLY. ---from Zap2it.com

John Catucci would be so proud.
—from Zap2it.com

Toronto isn’t short of Taiwanese restaurants. In fact, you can view a lot of them right here (who’s that handsome dude who wrote this Dickensian article, I wonder?). But Papa Chang’s has always been, and most likely will always be, my favourite. Coincidentally, the post also lists this place first. What a coinkydink.

I first became aware of Papa Chang’s when I visited some food fair or another in Markham many years ago. It may have been Taste of Asia, but I can’t be sure. The fried fish that they sold was so awesome that I could scarcely believe it when they handed me a takeout menu. “You mean this food vendor actually HAS A PHYSICAL LOCATION?”. Needless to say, shits were lost and I immediately went to the restaurant. I loved it ever since and, despite its cramped interior (it seriously feels like dining in someone’s brightly-coloured warehouse) and haphazard seating, have fallen in love with the place, visiting it over and over again.

If your warehouse was filled with lucky cat figurines.

If your warehouse was filled with lucky cat figurines.

On this recent visit, I was happy to see that they’ve updated the signage and the menu. The logos now look consistent and cohesive (something that always tickles my fancy as a marketer) and everything felt a bit more organized. It felt like a stronger brand, and I loved that: seeing the place actually become more established and refined. We ordered our regular favourites, hoping that the new sleeker look hasn’t had a negative impact on the food taste. We needn’t have worried.

Seriously, isn't that the cutest menu you've ever seen?

Now isn’t that the cutest menu you’ve ever seen?

This time we ordered the popcorn chicken bento box (our favourite!) and the Japanese-style fried shrimp. Yes, this makes this meal a little deep fried-heavy and no, this isn’t the only type of stuff that they sell. But we were craving for some good ol’ Taiwanese street food goodness and these certainly were perfect. We also ordered the Taiwanese sausage + minced pork rice, for good measure.

The popcorn chicken is delicious, as always. Something which I appreciate is how they’re able to ensure that the chicken meat itself is flavourful. Most Taiwanese popcorn chicken I consume have a nice crispy outer layer but pretty bland inner meat. This wasn’t the case here, which I loved. I also liked the vegetables and fish cake that came in the little cute lunch box too, everything was tasty but not overpowering.

Eat your heart out, KFC.

Eat your heart out, KFC.

The Japanese-style fried shrimp was basically like a poor man’s version of tempura, but using a simple breadcrumb batter instead of tempura batter. These, as expected, didn’t actually have too much taste to them, but were fried just right and went well with the smattering of sauce that they provided. I kind of wished that they had more of the sauce on the side to dip in, but then again I do have a sauce problem.

"I told you you had a problem!" -WW

“I told you you had a problem!” -WW

Finally, the rice bowl. The portion was adequate and the minced pork was lovely and fragrant. I thought the Taiwanese sausage was OK (I’ve always been a bigger fan of the old-school fatty Chinese lap cheongs, but this is hardly the restaurant’s fault) and complemented the dish nicely. It’s a good, filling dish and actually would pair nicely if whoever you were dining with had the Taiwanese beef noodle soup (which we didn’t get this time around but have done so before – DELICIOUS!).

The only non deep-fried dish we had that day.

The only non deep-fried dish we had that day.

Overall, Papa Chang’s was (and always is) an enjoyable experience. The food is excellent and prices for these dishes, most of which are around $6-$7, basically push it into the stratosphere of excellence for cheap Chinese people like myself. The service is always pleasant, and I find myself craving their dishes from time to time (a good sign for a restaurant). What’s more, I heard they opened up a smaller version of the restaurant in Pacific Mall called Papa Chang’s Express. Long may it continue, Papa!

 

–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

Papa Chang’s

5970 16th Avenue #110
Markham, ON L3P 7R1
(905) 554-7211

The only Indonesian restaurant in Toronto….again. Or: Let’s eat (at) Little Sister!

Toronto, as a major North American city, seems to have a “one-ness” problem. What is that, you ask? Well, let’s consider this. In a city of this magnitude and global reputation, there is only ONE major highway that takes you to the northern suburbs. There is only ONE major subway line that takes you to said suburbs (and even then, not all the way there). There is only ONE major east-west highway throughout most of the city. There is only ONE major shopping mall in the downtown core (people from Jakarta would never believe this). And my biggest beef of them all: there is only, at a maximum, only ONE Indonesian restaurant that operates in the city at any given time. Seriously.

At one time, there was only Warung Kampung. A great beacon of hope for those who were looking to have Indonesian food in an actual, sit-down location. It was the only Indonesian restaurant in Toronto. And less than a year later, it was gone. While it was initially said that they were simply relocating, they seem to have little interest in re-opening a physical location, going instead on the much-more-popular route of home-based catering. Thus, as it has been for so many years in the past, the only way you can eat proper Indonesian food is to know someone who knows someone who operates these catering businesses, and good luck getting info on any of them outside the Consulate General or Indonesian church bazaars.

So now, it is with some excitement that I found out that there is a new Indonesian restaurant that opens up. Since the demise of Warung Kampung, this place is now the ONLY restaurant you can get authentic Indonesian dishes in Toronto. I personally found it funny, in a bitterly sad kind of way, that there once again can only be one of these places at any given time. Where one Indonesian restaurant opens, the other one closes.

Minus the killings.

Minus the killings.

But enough moping about that! The new Indonesian restaurant has the extremely un-Indonesian name of Little Sister, named so because it is the little sister restaurant of Quince, a restaurant on Yonge Street that seems to be rather unremarkable, until I found out that the owners were Dutch and that they held a rijstaffel banquet once every few months or so. It’s also funny that the owners of this establishment actually reached out to Warung Kampung when they were still around, to touch base and tell them that, at least in theory, there would be a time when Toronto would have TWO Indonesian restaurants. #thatscrazytalk

And so we have Little Sister. I was a bit confused as to how the restaurant worked because the dishes were served tapas-style. In other words, all the portions were extremely small, and the prices were way too high for the size that they came in. This seemed the antithesis of proper Indonesian food, but hey, in a city of ONE, it’s not like I had any other options. And I don’t care how many times people try to point this out to me, but GOURMET MALAYSIA IS NOT AN INDONESIAN RESTAURANT GODDAMMIT. It’s a Malaysian restaurant, and a fine one at that. But it’s not, and never will be, an Indonesian restaurant.

The place was cute, with many little tidbits of Bahasa Indonesia terms written on the walls, and I could’ve sworn I saw a makeshift sign of some sort that said “Garuda Indonesia”, which is the long-standing national airline of the country. It’s very amusing, and a little bit sad, that the first time I actually sat and ate at restaurant that proudly shows Indonesian elements in its decor, it’s run by non-Indonesians. The whole place felt like a bit of a hipster joint, but at the same time it retained little bursts of old-world Indonesia. It was a rather nice sight, I have to say.

It's as if a little Indonesian warung opened up near my house and was run completely by white people. UPVOTE!

It’s as if a little Indonesian warung opened up near my house and was run completely by white people. UPVOTE!

We ordered a smorgasbord of food from the menu. I was already anticipating micro-size portions due to the aforementioned tapas-style servings, and (un)fortunately they truly did not disappoint. The portions were so small that even a small Chinese guy like me (who is notorious for not being able to finish most of my restaurant dishes) found himself unsatisfied. The first thing we ordered were the satays. There was a satay lilit (Balinese style satay) and good ol’ satay babi (pork satays). They were actually ridiculously delicious, and one thing that struck me was that Little Sister does NOT skimp on the spices and seasonings. The dishes actually both tasted almost like how they would back home. The consistency of the meat was a bit different, in that they were almost too refined compared to the coarser (but fattier) authentic Indonesian counterparts, but all in all it was an extremely good try. The problem was that these two dishes cost us basically $12 and we had…uh….very very little food to the point that each piece had to be further shared between our table members (there were 5 of us).

THIS much...

THIS much…

....and THIS much.

….and THIS much. Yikes.

 

We were fully aware of this possibility, though, so it’s not as if we ONLY ordered these two dishes. We also ordered up some babi panggang (roasted pork belly), ayam panggang (roasted chicken), grilled mustard greens, and some rendang tacos (which is probably the only fusion dish the place has – everything else is pretty authentic).  Again, we knew the portions were gonna be small, but when we saw the actual dishes, even many of my friends who were tapas veterans were rather disappointed. Flavours-wise, however, just like the satays,  the dishes were impeccable. It’s a bit hard to do individual reviews as we had so many of them, but suffice to say that Little Sister does not dumb down the seasonings, and I’m grateful for them.

Ayam panggang: not bad, but once again too small.

Ayam panggang: not bad, but once again too small.

The weakest of the bunch was the rendang tacos. It was very strange to be eating rendang, which is essentially almost like dry meat curry, mixed with spices and sauces that you would normally get in tacos. I can definitely say that the acidity characteristic of salsas (often part of tacos) that was present in the dish did NOT go well with the rich rendang. I love fusion food, but this was one that did not work.

On the other end of the spectrum, the babi panggang was by far the highlight of the meal for me. There is just the right amount of fat to be noticeable in your mouth without it overwhelming the entire experience. And the seasonings were to die for. I could’ve just ordered two of this for myself. Old-fashioned babi panggang is becoming somewhat of a rarity in Jakarta, so having one in front of me in Toronto was actually a wonderful experience. We cut up the (already) tiny dish into smaller servings so that everyone can get a piece, and I’m not embarassed to say that I probably would’ve body-checked the friend to my left to get at his serving if only that pesky conscience hadn’t kicked in at the last minute.

Damn conscience.

Damn conscience.

Overall, Little Sister was definitely a unique experience. I was happy to be able to once again taste the amazing flavours that literally burst in my mouth with every bite, just like in the old Indonesian restaurants of my childhood. And having it prepared by Caucasians was definitely interesting for me. The food is super top-notch for the most part, and mad respect to the owners for going full-tilt on the spices. However, I was very disappointed with the direction that they chose to take, with respect to how they choose their serving sizes. Indonesian food to me is NOT to be done tapas-style, because it only ends up minimizing the portions and maximizing the prices in my very humble opinion. As such, this is a restaurant where you probably would get more bang for your buck if you come in smaller groups (you can share a dish for 2-3 people. Anything more than that is way too tiny) rather than bigger ones. Because trust me, there’s NO WAY I’m gonna resist pushing whoever is beside me out of the way the next time we get that babi panggang.

 

–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!

Little Sister

2031 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M4S 2A2
(416) 488-2031

 

Almost made it to Mexico! Or: Filling my bucket list in Newmarket.

Since we got married, I’ve promised WW that we will try out more new and unique places than before. I thought I identified the perfect spot: It was featured on my Italian cousin John Catucci’s show You Gotta Eat Here, and it has a stellar reputation in the city where it was in (Newmarket). The name of the restaurant was Made in Mexico. It was also batshit full on a Saturday night. Thanks to my lack of reservation, we had to find our dining elsewhere.

How I felt. --- from memegenerator.net

How I felt. — from memegenerator.net

Fortunately, (I AM a bonafide food blogger, after all) I am aware of yet ANOTHER Mexican restaurant just across the street. It’s called The Bucket Co. and they provided the food for a Yelp event that I attended in the middle of the awful ice age of 2014 (otherwise known as winter 2014). The event was held at Tequila 185, a club/tequila bar which is owned by the same gang as those who owned Made in Mexico AND The Bucket Co. I remembered really liking the food, and the fact that Newmarket Main Street had THREE separate Mexican joints was all too amusing for my simple ol’ self. So I grabbed WW and just brought her into this relatively more peaceful restaurant.

The Bucket Co. is interesting. It’s a cute little Mexican restaurant that apparently specializes in casual Mexican street food. In contrast to the fancier (the waitress’ words, not mine) Made in Mexico, this restaurant is a lot more simple and straightforward, featuring many menu items that you would find in stalls in Mexico, or simple Tex-Mex fry-ups. As the logo of the restaurant was a bunch of shrimp in a bucket, I simply had to get the battered shrimp (in a bucket, duh) while WW tried the chicken adobo fajita. Not stuff we’d normally get on a weekend night, but hey I did promise her we’d try new things so #YOLO and all that.

It's a sign. No really. It's a SIGN.

It’s a sign. No really. It’s a SIGN. Inside the restaurant.

The food didn’t take long to come, which is never a bad thing in my books, though I admit I raised an eyebrow as to how fast it came. Clearly this is a place where the food isn’t made from scratch and has been pre-prepared. They would most likely still need to put the final finishing touches on the dishes, but for the most part they’re all done already way in advance. Again, I don’t necessarily mind this as long as the quality is still good, but keep this in mind for some of you out there that may prefer your food items to be made 100% fresh (or at least it would SEEM like they take the time to make it fresh – The Bucket Co. doesn’t even pretend that).

Fortunately, we both enjoyed our selections.  My battered shrimp is, well, battered and a bit oily. But that’s kind of what I was looking for. It’s been a while since my last fry-up and I was craving some deep-fried goodness. The little thin potato slices that came with the shrimp was lovely, and the shrimp meat itself was tender and felt fresh. Nothing was overly mindblowing but, perhaps more importantly, nothing was overfried (they all had the light golden colour which I love in deep-fried food, but without the dark brown overburnt parts) and the chipotle dip that came with the dish was wonderful. It tied the whole thing together and made the dish what it is. I’ve often said that you can make or break your goreng foodstuffs with the dip, and that certainly held true today. The slightly spicy dip sealed the deal and made a good dish better.

Mmmm....fried.

Mmmm….fried.

WW’s chicken adobo was also tasty. I’m no Filipino food expert so I have no idea what proper adobo seasoning is supposed to taste like, but this one was flavourful with a hint of sweetness, so it was more than good enough for me. I had hoped for the chicken meat to be a wee bit more tender, but given that only white meat was used and that it was most likely prepared in advance, it was still very good. I loved when WW was shocked to open the little container they provided and found little pita breads then asked what they were for. I basically told her that she’s gotta eat them like a Mexican Peking Duck. I don’t think I’ve ever made myself so clear so quickly to anyone else in my life 🙂

I get it now!

Aaaahhh…..I get it now!

For dessert, I told WW we had to order the churros. These lovely sweet fried doughsticks were very good when I tasted them last at the Yelp event, and there’s no way we were gonna miss out on them today. They actually took a bit longer to come (which surprised me a tad pleasantly) and the waitress did say that they made them fresh daily. The churros were wonderful. They were light and crispy on the outside, with a soft interior that was smooth in texture and just crumbled in your mouth. The heavy dosage of sugar was obviously awesome, and while the caramel dip that came with them was just as nice, I didn’t think that such a sugar-coated pastry required that additional infusion of sweetness. Which probably would make this the first time I ever felt that a dish was better withOUT sauce. Crazy, it must be the end of the world, or something.

Pictured: Armageddon.

Pictured: Armageddon. Sans two more churros sticks that were devoured pre-photo shoot.

We enjoyed our visit to The Bucket Co. It wasn’t the most unique collection of Mexican dishes we’ve ever encountered, but they were delicious and the service was delightful. The distance from where we live, though, made it rather unlikely that we would be a regular at an establishment that, while nice and novel, didn’t provide enough for us to justify the time and gas spent to get there. Next time, we gotta try the Made in Mexico restaurant proper, perhaps forearmed with a PROPER reservation beforehand.

 

–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!

The Bucket Co.

196 Main St
Newmarket, ON L3Y 3Y9
(905) 235-9229

 

An old downtown favourite. Or: The first post after I get married!

Yep. The headline is totally meant to entice you to click and open the article again. I guess it worked!

So in our first real date as husband and wife, WW and I visited a little restaurant that is unarguably (that’s right, UNarguably) one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in downtown Toronto: Spadina Garden. This is one of those restaurants that I have passed by when driving (mostly to pick up the in-laws at the Dundas bus terminal)  while saying “I ate here once, it was really good, we should really go back”, and yet for some reason never did. WOW THAT WAS BAD SENTENCE STRUCTURE.

I ate here way, way back around 2008 when I was working at the Atrium on Bay. I remembered not succeeding very well at that job (thank goodness it was just a co-op gig) but one of the most memorable parts during my work term was that the farewell dinner to us co-op kids was held at Spadina Garden. I don’t remember much about what specific kinds of food they served there, only that they were: a) spicy b) saucy and c) delicious. So I’m glad to report that, after SIX years of humming and hemming about coming back here, we actually did!

Yep! ---from blog.accessdevelopment.com/

Yep! —from blog.accessdevelopment.com/

I noticed that the decor has been refreshed, which is very nice to see. It’s not a place you can call fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but it looks quite modern and clean, which definitely has something to do with the fact that the place caters as much to white folk as it does to Asians. Most Chinese restaurants downtown that cater strictly to Chinese people are, I’m sad to say, a little haphazard or chaotic. And yes, I’m Chinese so I can say that #itsthetruth. The restaurant is clean, sleek, and nice-looking, though we did notice that the noise levels were rather high even though it wasn’t that full. I guess the acoustics in the place was bad. Whatever.

Nice chandelier, though!

Nice chandelier, though!

We ordered the fried Szechwan fish and the spicy peanut chicken, both Yelp recommendations, along with two bowls of simple white rice. While waiting, I ended up talking to the lady who is related to the owner of the place (a rather big family business),  and I discovered that the owners are Chinese Hakka people from India. That explains a lot. From the flavours to the saucyness of the dishes, the foods here really do reflect that style of cooking, and everything sort of came back to me. I suddenly remembered why I liked this place so much.

The food was VERY quick to arrive. At first, we were a little dismayed to see that they looked very similar. But unlike many similar restaurants, it quickly became apparent that the ingredients used were different, which resulted in very distinctive tastes. The Szechwan fish, for example, isn’t very Szechwan AT ALL (I’ve eaten at much, much more authentic Szechwan places) but it’s still very delicious. As you know, I don’t care much about authenticity as long as the food tastes good, and this one certainly fits such a description. The fish was fried in a way reminiscent of old-school fish and chips, but with a dark gravy-like sauce that was a bit spicy with very slight undertones of ginger popping up here and there.

Fish and chips on steroids, is what I would call this.

Fish and chips on steroids.

The spicy peanut chicken, on the other hand, wasn’t just good, it was MINDBLOWINGLY delicious. My favourite part is that it had a sweet taste that punctuated its spice (which was mild, tbh) and peanut flavours, complementing them beautifully. I’ve often espoused about how much I love a little sweetness in my spicy foods, and this one fit that requirement perfectly. Interestingly, it’s also very similar to my dad’s homemade chili sauce (a little family secret), something else that I treasure greatly. This one dish is worth coming back for, and we definitely will NOT wait another 6 years before returning here. Mop it up with your plain steamed rice and you’re all set.

More like SIX MINUTESnomnomnomnomnom

More like SIX MINUTESnomnomnomnomnom

Interesting sidebar, one of the servers listened a wee bit on my conversations with WW and quickly asked me if I was Indonesian or Malay. When I asked how he was able to zone in so perfectly on the region where I was born, he said that when I speak English quickly, hints of an Indonesian accent leak out. Fascinating, given that 99% of the people I speak to say that I speak English with no discernible accent. That 1% that disagree is only Beffy, by the way. Love it.

So that was that. A nice little dinner in a very well-known Chinese restaurant that we really should visit more often. The food is very interesting, as it was definitely not authentic Chinese food, not really Indian Chinese (Hakka) style, not really Canadian Chinese, and not really anything in particular. It seems to me that it’s their own take on flavourful fusion Chinese food and that, my friends, is more than good enough for me. Five stars! Zero stars for healthy points but who gives a SH—FIVESTARSFORFLAVOUR!

 

–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

 

Spadina Garden

116 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON M5G 1C3
(416) 977-3413