Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Porchetta & Co.

I love the simplicity of Porchetta & Co.'s (@PorchettaAndCo) offerings: Porchetta by the pound, on a plate or as part of their famous sandwich. 

The sandwich offers 4 ounces of Porchetta and cracklings (chicharron) on a bun with a handful of customizable ingredients from mushrooms to rapini to make it your own!

The House Special consists of the recommended combination of melt-in-your-mouth Porchetta, crispy cracklings, decadent truffle sauce, rich Parmesan, exploding mustard seeds and finishes with a light kick of hot sauce.  It's a taste of heaven sandwiched between two pieces of crispy yet fluffy artisan bread!  It's a winner!!!

The House Special

The fried chicken and smoked porchetta Reuben with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing is the alternative. Superb in its own right but the porchetta takes a back seat to the chicken and so the house special is still my favourite

Fried Chicken and Smoked Porchetta Reuben

Despite a simple offering, Porchetta & Co. warrants multiple return visits! ;)

Mouth Watering Goodness!

Porchetta & Co.
825 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON M6J 1V4

Date Visited:  April 28, 2015

Porchetta & Co. on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Uncle Tetsu's Japanese Cheesecake... Worth the line?

Uncle Tetsu's Japanese Cheesecake shop is the first of its kind outside of Asia and opened at the corner of Bay and Dundas on March 15th with a couple hours' worth of lines all day, everyday since. I waited in line for an hour and half on a cold and windy Wednesday afternoon and this was my experience:

The Cake

In as simplest a form as possible, Uncle Tetsu's delivers a cheesecake that is delicious and aromatic without any frills or hidden surprises. There is no cookie bottom, nor is there a fruit centre and it is certainly not topped with any whipped cream. What it is, is firm enough to remind you that it's a cheesecake, light enough that you can finish the 6" cake by yourself and subtle enough with its flavours and aromas of cheese, eggs and butter that anybody can enjoy it.

I could eat this cake for breakfast, as an afternoon snack or as a dessert after dinner. I would even eat it with green eggs and ham. Many have added that the Uncle Tetsu cheesecake is better after its been refrigerated for a few hours. The cheese becomes a little more pronounced and the texture is a little firmer but I think it's also great fresh out of the oven. When fresh, the cake is feathery light, very fragrant and a bit spongy making it perfect with a glass of milk in the morning or in the middle of a weekend stroll, with coffee. After a few hours in the fridge, the cake is decadent but still light enough that you could fit it in after a three course meal. I would definitely return to Uncle Tetsu's again and again for this cake.

The Madelaines 
If you're not the type of person that will enjoy a slice of cake in the morning hours (you're weird), Uncle Tetsu's also offers madelaines. While they are a different shape than the traditional French madelaine, they're baked in more of a muffin shape than seashell, they're every bit as enjoyable as their counterparts. They taste of honey and eggs, firm and glazed on the outside, soft and spongy on the inside. They're perfect as a grab-and-go snack but they are also pretty filling so, best to share!

The Experience

The experience at Uncle Tetsu's is not much different from the cake itself - simple, charming and refined. Despite incessant line-ups that ensure the staff are occupied constantly, all the workers are very friendly, everybody is smiling. When you make your purchase, the cashier comes around the till to hand you your bag with both hands and a genuine smile. Every purchase, every customer. The madelaines are made in the corner, near the front and you can watch through the window as they pour out the mix (they'll wave to you through the glass). The cakes are made at the back, where three ovens churn out twelve cakes each, every forty-five minutes.

The Lineup
If it's warm and sunny out, you've got nothing better to do and you've got someone to hang out with, sure - the cakes are delicious. If it's cold and windy and wet and the line is out to the entrance of the Greyhound station, maybe come back another time. Bottom line, the product and the experience are great; long line ups are not.


P.S.  If you ever are wondering how long the line is at Uncle Tetsu's, follow: @tetsulineup

Uncle Tetsu's Japanese Cheesecake
595 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M5G 1M5 

Date Visited:  April 22, 2015

Uncle Tetsu Japanese Cheesecake on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 20, 2015

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen

Pai (@PaiToronto) is a fantastic Northern Thai restaurant in Toronto that serves authentic cuisine with sophisticated flavours. Without reservations, you can wait up to an hour on weekends for a table, but it's worth it.  Some opt to sit at the bar when seating is scarce in the main dining area, but others request to sit on the floor without shoes in a traditional setting and larger parties can book private dining.  But, my favourite spot is a nook that offshoots from the main area where vintage vinyl album covers from the likes of Al Greene, Clapton, Queen, and Bob Marley decorate exposed brick walls.

My drink of choice has always been a Thai iced tea at Pai.  It consists of a robust tasting tea mixed with plenty of ice and condensed milk, a great combination to tackle the Phet Mak Mak (Thai spicy) spiciness level that you can foolishly choose for your appetizers and mains.  

Thai Iced Tea

I typically order a main as an appetizer since they are priced similarly, but my last visit, I ordered the plah nua  (beef salad).  It featured tender grilled beef cooked to medium with shredded cabbage and a tangy lime fish sauce.  Delicious! 

Plah Nua
(beef salad)

You won't find an inferior ketchup-based pad thai here (think Springrolls).  Instead, you get these bouncy rice noodles mixed with a flavourful tamarind-based sauce.  In addition to your choice of chicken, beef, pork or tofu and veggies, all the usual suspects are present:  crunchy bean sprouts, egg, tofu, aromatic chives, fragrant coriander, roasted peanuts, shredded cabbage and slices of fresh lime.  All of the ingredients mingle together to create depth and layers of complexity.  I love how the dish excels by balancing savoury and acidic elements while not having to rely heavily on sweetness to satisfy "foreigners."

Chef Nuit Beef Pad Thai
Chef Nuit Shrimp Pad Thai

The pad gra prow is deceptively simple.  It's just stir fried ground meat (chicken, beef or pork) on top of rice right?  Wrong.  First, it is essential to add the crispy pork belly, which is a delightful accompaniment to the ground meat .  It's so sinfully crispy that it must be fried twice.  But don't worry, the cucumber is there to cut some of the fat.  The fried egg usually has a runny yolk, which is used to combine all the ingredients into a cohesive whole along with the oyster sauce.  The chilies on the plate and in the tangy nam plik nam pla sauce (fish sauce, garlic, lime) give the dish a nice kick! 

Pad Gra Prow

The khao soi here (with a choice of braised beef, chicken breast or chicken drumsticks) is one of my favourites in the city!  The deep fried crispy noodles always tower into the sky and the tender egg noodles absorb all the exquisite flavour of the golden curry below.  The curry is rich and creamy but not heavy enough to prevent me from consuming it with rice after I am done all the noodles... Why waste good curry?  My only complaint is that I don't always receive mustard vegetables with my khao soi, which is essential in creating the ultimate experience.  

Khao Soi with Chicken Drumsticks
Khao Soi with Braised Beef

Rice is an excellent canvas to capture all the bold and full-bodied flavours of all of Pai's curries but also their soups!  The gaeng masaman tamarind curry is a terrific comfort food dish for its tender braised beef, starchy potatoes, and crispy shallots.  The gaeng kiaw wan green curry served in a coconut is ordered more for its novelty than taste but you get superb taste from the kaffir lime and basil leaves.  The gaeng hunglay is a sweet and sour ginger curry served with either pork belly or oxtail.  The fall-off-the-bone oxtail was unbelievably tender!

Gaeng Masaman with Braised Beef
Gaeng Kiaw Wan in a Coconut
Gaeng Hunglay with Oxtail

In all, with aromatic Thai herbs and spices at their arsenal, Pai successfully finds the harmonious balance between sweetness, saltiness, and acidity in their dishes.  It's a must-go restaurant in Toronto!

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen
18 Duncan Street
Toronto, ON M5H 3G8

Date Last Visited:  April 17, 2015

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Free Tall Starbucks Blonde Roast Coffee!

This promo by twula.com is easy to redeem:

1. Text "blonde" to 81818. 
2. Click on the link in the reply text.
3. Press the "Redeem Now" button. 
4. Enter the Starbucks store # provided by your barista. 
5. Give the resulting code to the barista and enjoy!

Open to Ontario residents and available until May 31, 2015. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mr. Tonkatsu: Dedicated to its Craft

Interiors of Mr. Tonkatsu

Have you ever had trouble deciphering the difference between tonkatsu and tonkotsu?  Well, you're in luck because Mr. Tonkatsu will set you straight.  It's a shrine that worships the Japanese fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu), not the milky broth of ramen (tonkotsu) that some, the unfaithful, would confuse it with.  Their pig mascot dressed in Japanese garb and armed with a sword is yet another subtle hint that pork clearly is their specialty, but you are welcome to choose other fried Panko-battered cutlets (or "katsus") such as chicken, beef, or fish as part of your set.

The Tonkatsu Sampler
(From left to right: pork sirloin, pork tenderloin, chicken)

The tonkatsu sampler consists of pork sirloin and tenderloin katsus as well as chicken katsu, a great set for the indecisive.  The waiter explained that the pork sirloin is the most popular katsu and also has the "softest" texture.  As expected, the pork tenderloin was "firmer" but it was still quite tender in its own right.  Regardless of preference, both cutlets were juicy.  The chicken cutlet was on the bland side but there was a sweet and sticky sauce in a teardrop vessel to remedy that.  As an added novelty, you grind your personal supply of sesame seeds with a mortar and wooden pestle to give your sauce extra flavour and aroma.

Salad Dressing and Sesame Seeds
How to Enjoy Tonkatsu
The best feature of the katsu is still the crispy and far reaching deep fried Panko batter exterior.  Admittedly, although tasty, the batter holds a good amount of oil.  It's not as light as it could be but at least the katsu sits on a metal rack to allow excess oil to drip through and to preserve it's crispiness.

Accompanying the katsu is a bowl of miso, shredded cabbage and steamed rice, sides which are all refillable.  The shredded cabbage is incredibly dry and bland, perhaps to absorb all the grease from your katsu?  It's a moot point though, because you end up drenching the cabbage with sesame oil dressing anyways.  

The Fish Katsu Set is accompanied with Tartar Sauce

Nevertheless, the wait staff are friendly and attentive.  Without even looking up, our waiter replenished our sauces by squirting them directly into our bowls!

Japanese Style Deep Fried Chicken

You can't say Mr. Tonkatsu is not dedicated to their craft but be prepared for a heavy meal.  It's a relatively good option when you have a craving for fried food but it can be off-putting otherwise as everything on menu, including the appetizers, is deep fried.  Unfortunately, the cabbage doesn't help...

Mr. Tonkatsu
520 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M5S 1Y3

Date Visited:  March 30, 2015

Mr. Tonkatsu on Urbanspoon