Brunch Done Right

For their fun, nostalgia, and familiar food, diners are a classic way to start a weekend morning. But for a truly delicious breakfast, a leap above greasy fried eggs and undercooked pancakes, head to the West Side of town. There you’ll find Julian’s, a hip restaurant with something for everyone. You’ll also find Nick’s on Broadway, which I’d never been to until a few weeks ago. Julian’s has a great atmosphere and delicious food, plus is a great place for families. (Check out the bathroom!) While less obviously family friendly, a brunch at Nick’s was a nice treat on the last day of spring vacation. I had a perfectly crispy frittata with mushrooms, feta and onions along with some pesto-grilled focaccia, a nice departure from white, wheat, or rye. My mom’s order was quite unique: black beans stewed in a hearty broth with avocado-cilantro creme and pico de gallo along with perfectly charred tortilla. My brother’s poached eggs over polenta were perfectly cooked and complimented by what seemed like beet juice. To top it off, homefries were given a nice twist with the addition of sweet potatoes and onions, as well as standard white potatoes.

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Out of all of the meals of the day, breakfast seems like the one least likely to beckon eating out. At lunch and, especially, dinner, a nice time spent at a restaurant is enjoyable. But to roll out of bed early on a weekend morning to spend money on breakfast may not seem worth it. At Nick’s however, it is.

Nick’s on Broadway: www.nicksonbroadway.com

Menu Changes Daily, Creativity Stays the Same

Tucked away on Luongo Square, it would be easy to miss north. With only twenty seats, plus a few at the bar, the restaurant is undoubtedly small and with the buzz that surrounds it, getting seated might take a while. Whether you choose to brave the wait, eat to the sounds of a perfectly curated mixed bag of music, sit against a backdrop of murals and boat ropes, and eat some darn good food is completely up to you. But, I highly recommend it.

IMG_6401 copyAfter a beautifully sunny day spent out and about, I’d worked up an appetite. As my family and I discussed dinner options, north bubbled to the top of the list because a) I’d never been there, b) my parents recommended it, and c) after being in a Momofuku craze, I was interested to see what James Mark, former chef at Momofuku Ko and bread baker at Momofuku Milk Bar, had in store.  Although I was prepared to have to wait for half an hour (longer than that and it would be time to hit up Ken’s Ramen again), I was pleasantly surprised by only a ten minute wait.

IMG_6424 copyThe menu changes every day or two, with slight shifts. There is always a type of ramen available, usually seasonal, along with other noodle dishes. The menu is divided into five categories: Country Ham and Oysters (just what it says), Veg (vegetable plates with varying sizes), Bowls and Plates to Share (nicely sized entrees that can, but don’t have to, be shared), Feast (a large plate for multiple people to share), and Sweet (one or two creative treats). The menu isn’t large, but with the constant change, there is room for Mark and his cooks to have some freedom.

So…The food! After positive reviews of multiple Toronto restaurants and Ken’s Ramen, I might sound overly positive. But, I can’t help but telling the truth; north’s food was incredibly good. Everything I had was carefully done with precision and craft. There was no better way to start the night than with the Tiny Ham Biscuits. A now staple on the menu, these delicious little biscuits filled with ham, have only one other ingredient: mustard. But the mustard has, or so it seems in the online menu archives, been what’s keeping them interesting. Coffee mustard, horseradish mustard, lime leaf mustard, burnt honey mustard, orange dragon mustard, and more have made their way between the biscuit. When I was there tonight, the mustard was red miso and added some nice flavor to balance out the meat. I also tried some Roasted Beech Mushrooms as an appetizer. With a punch of protein from some buttermilk and egg yolk, plus some crunch from walnuts and a hint of thai basil, these meaty mushrooms were not a dish to be missed.

IMG_6404 copyFor an entree, I was torn. I am a ramen fan, but I wanted to try something new, something different. I decided to go with north’s take on Dan Dan Noodles, which I’d never had before. And even if I had, I doubt they’d be like this. An incredible amount of cilantro was placed at the top of the bowl blocking the view of pretty much anything else. The noodles themselves, while good, were probably the least memorable component of the dish, surprisingly only a few small noodley circles. Very flavorful goat and squid added the heft to the dish as the main ingredients and a bit of delicious broth at the bottom of the bowl tipped it off. The waitress had warned me that it was very spicy, but, despite the fact that there were fermented chiles in full form, it was somewhat tame. The dish would have been great just as I’ve described it, but there was one more ingredient that wasn’t listed on the menu: rice cakes. Not the large circles you find at a grocery store, but instead small cylinder shaped cakes of rice with a gnochi-like feel. Having tried Momofuku Noodle Bar’s delicious sweet/spicy take on them and then making them at home, I thought this take on the rice cakes was also quite good. The cakes, having souped up the broth and the flavors of cilantro and goat, were crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, just like a good rice cake should be.

IMG_6410 copyMy family’s choices were all good too, so I decided to steal some bites. The Roasted Chicken Ramen was good, not great, but did benefit from some neat additions not always common in ramen, including a soy egg and mushrooms. The Roasted Monkfish was tender and delicious, but was nothing compared to the divine mushroom dashi that swam along with kimchi grilled onions and pickled ginger. Last, the Hot Flavor Sesame Noodles were quite outstanding with the best broccoli I’ve ever had. Forget boiled, watery broccoli, the tops of these green monsters were oh-so crisp and the bottoms perfectly chewy. Accompanied with very long, very delicious noodles and garlic, chile, plus some pickled greens, room in my stomach was made for this lip-smacker of a noodle plate.

IMG_6408 copyIt’s hard to describe north on a whole. Is it Asian? Is it authentic? Is it all buzz? With various noodle dishes on the menu and multiple Asian ingredients reoccurring, it is certainly partially influenced by the culture. But, despite some similarities to Momofuku, Mark is undeniably doing his own thing. And he’s doing it with passion and creativity. Ask me what new restaurant I’d like to try out next and you might find me hiding away beneath the walls of this little wonder.

A Culinary Walk Through Toronto

During a vacation in Toronto watching films at TIFF Kids, I got a peek into the culinary scene of the hip city. From the chew of chicken dumplings to the crack of homemade tortilla chips, I got to sample a wide array of flavors in the city. Here’s a quick walk-through of the restaurants I sampled.

Mother’s Dumplings

IMG_5480 copyThis house of dumplings located on Spadina Ave was packed when we arrived, but we were quickly seated. The menu is divided between boiled, steamed, pan-fried, pan-cakes, steamed buns, and some other noodle and side dishes. I tried the boiled chicken and mushroom dumplings which were by far my favorite with the soft pop of the mushrooms contrasting nicely with the tender chicken. I ordered the chives and eggs pancakes which were unimaginably hot, burning my mouth. When I bit into them at a reasonable temperature, I wasn’t as impressed as the dumplings. The eggs were done in a scrambled style but, combined with the chives, didn’t amount to much of a flavor. Where as the chicken and mushroom came together nicely, here the egg and chive didn’t result with much of a taste. The steamed bak choy, mushroom, and tofu dumplings, meanwhile, were quite good with a soft vegetable flavor. I wasn’t as big a fan of the shrimp, egg and chives, but that being said, I’m not a shrimp fan.

IMG_5437 copyEven if I didn’t love all of the dumplings, the cooking and craft that went into these dumplings is evident, especially as I watched the chefs carefully roll dumplings behind the counter. They know what they’re doing: traditional dumplings the same way members of their family made before them. And as you sit in the bustling restaurant, with your chopsticks at the ready, all you have to do is eat.

Milagro Cantina

IMG_5888 copyTraditional Mexiacan food served with care and quality. As I bit into the Trio Botanero, a trio of guacamole, refried beans, and salsa accompanied by tortilla chips, it was clear that Tostitos chips and mashed tomato puree trying to pass as salsa was not what was being served. Instead, the salsa was more of a pico de gallo with a refreshingly sharp kick to it. The chips had a salty and almost sweet flavor that could obviously only be achieved when made in house. They were so good I almost wanted to munch on them alone to soak up their deliciousness. But with the guacamole being so fresh and chunky and the refried beans being so dark and textured, I couldn’t resist a hearty dip.

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IMG_5886 copyFor an entree, I ordered the Carnitas Los Panchos tacos. Three small tortillas were propped together with a large, but not overflowing amount of pork confit. They were topped off with chopped white onions and some cilantro and served with salsa de chile cascabel on the side. Refried beans and brown rice also came on the side. The tacos themselves were good and simple. Today’s average burritos are overstuffed with fillings ranging in flavors, adding up to an all-over-the-place result. But, these tacos were filled with just enough simple, meaty, flavorful pork, a little bit of onion to cut the fat, and some refreshing cilantro and mildly spicy salsa to top it off. I also stole bites of my family’s dishes too including the Rosarito tacos. Filled with sautéed shrimp, refried beans, crema, some avocado, and rosarito salsa. The flavors came together nicely and, even though I don’t love shrimp, it still impressed me. I also sampled the Mole Poblano: grilled chicken, topped with rich, dark homemade mole dripping onto rice and seeping it’s flavor into everything it touched. Downright traditional, downright delicious.

Momofuku

IMG_5561 copyHaving taken over all of New York with four restaurants, and a Milk Bar bakery, chef David Chang headed to Toronto a couple of years ago with hopes of taking down the city. And he has done just that with a three floor empire of a restaurant. Three restaurants, one bar/lounge, one walk-in fridge: the restaurant was massively hyped. It had trouble in it’s opening months, despite ridiculously long lines, but got good reviews. I went twice during my time in Toronto and my verdict? There’s so much to discuss that I decided to write a separate review. You can expect the review soon.

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One Last Note

What did I find in common with a hip Korean-Asian-American fusion empire, an old-fashioned dumpling house, and a traditional mexican cantina? Open kitchens. If you’re not familiar with the concept, the idea’s pretty simple: an open kitchen. Gone are the days of chefs hiding away in the back, hunching over the dishes, and stressing over your food between arguments with co-chefs. With an open kitchen setup, chefs and cooks have to be constantly aware that they have an audience that will witness every step of the cooking process and will also eat the food and judge it. While the exact details of the setup ranged, the idea that these chefs must now tackle with a performance element was still there.

A Verdict

Creative, unique, diverse, and challenging, the food I ate in Toronto resembled a city that is embracing new techniques with old cushines. From pork buns to tofu dumplings, rich mole to ginormous bowls of ramen, Toronto is at it’s culinary high.

Bagels From An Eleven Year-Old, Anyone?

Driving to the bagel store while still in my pajamas has been a tradition I’ve enjoyed many a Sunday morning. Smeared with cream cheese and finished with lox, red onion and tomato, bagels are simply delicious. You probably enjoy them, like me, from your local bagel shop or grocery store. But how about bagels made by an 11-year-old? That’s right, an 11-year-old. After making bagels at home, Eli started a small business selling them to friends, Baagels by Eli, the double “a” mimics a sheep’s baa. I was fortunate enough to be one of his first customers and can honestly call them the best bagels I’ve ever tasted. You might be used to harder bagels or perhaps very chewy ones with little flavor, but Eli’s bagels were pleasantly fresh and soft bursting with flavor. They were more similar to a croissant than any other bagels I’ve had and that was a plus. The mix of salt and seed on top was the perfect way to top off an already delicious bagel. And, after munching through the bagel delicacy, I had the chance to interview Eli about his bagels.

Elis Bagels

The question you’re probably asking is how did an 11-year-old start making bagels this good? I’ll let Eli answer: “I made bagels with my family and that was fun and they were really good and I thought it would be a good thing to start a business from…and I thought it would be fun.” Throughout my conversation with Eli, it was obvious that he simply enjoys making bagels and that the basis for the business really was his passion for making the bagels.

baagels by eliEli says his bagels are fresh and “maybe taste better” than the bagels you’re accustomed to getting at the grocery store or local bagel shop and I can attest they are. But, how he achieves that final taste is a bit of a process. “First, you make a sponge,” Eli says. “You let that rise till it’s bubbly and then you mix that with more flour, yeast, flavorings, and salt. You knead that and cut it into balls. You let them rest and then form them into bagels. Then, you put them in the fridge overnight which allows them to develop flavor more slowly. When you take them out in the morning, they’ve risen a tiny bit and you plop them in a pot of boiling water, flip them over a minute in.” The final step, he told me, was loading on the toppings and putting them in the oven for 10-15 minutes.

Bagels

I also had the chance to ask Eli some non-bagel related questions, including if he had any memorable meals. He told me when he went to Greece his mom’s cousin caught an octopus and cooked it for him. Since that experience, he’s enjoyed eating octopus. More recently, Eli has also been making ramen. Thanks to his dad becoming interested in the art of the noodle, Eli and his dad spent a full day prepping for a bowl of ramen a few weekends ago. In the end, he assured me it was worth it.

When asked what his future plans for the bagel business are, Eli says he wants to keep it small. He doesn’t plan to start mass production any time soon, no, he’s happier doing a couple orders a weekend. And I’m fine with that, as long as I get my bagels.

Photo credit: Bro D for photo of Eli and bagel with lox. Tina Tryforos for bagel stack.

Making Shoyu Ramen

Tackling the challenge of making ramen involved trips to two Asian markets, multiple strolls down grocery store aisles, cooking real  stock with multiple parts chicken and pork, medium boiling eggs, and a whole lot more. And yes, it sounds ridiculously complex. But, other than hunting down some rare Asian ingredients and giving the broth time to cook, it doesn’t require any far out cooking skills that only experienced noodle fanatics can achieve. If you want to do it yourself, you can either scour the Internet for many varieties of ramen recipes or follow the recipe I used from Bon Appetit. Below, are some pictures of how my ramen turned out.photo 2

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Ramen Takes Over Downtown

3 out of 4 stars

Ken’s Ramen, the new restaurant located in the heart of downtown’s culinary scene, opened early February of this year and has been much hyped since. Despite the fact that the restaurant only has a few tables and a small noodle bar, the restaurant’s vibe is evident the moment you step inside. Loud hip-hop music blasts over the speakers, chefs busily strain noodles in an open kitchen setting, and waiters and waitresses hurry between taking orders and telling hungry onlookers that the wait will be half an hour.IMG_4487But is the food worth the strain of shouting over the noise, waiting for the table, and feeling deadly full after you’re finished eating? The answer is whole-heartedly yes. I ordered the Tsukemen ramen, a modern version of the ramen dish that involves two bowls. In one, you receive a sheet of nori (a delicious sheet of dried seaweed) placed atop the noodles (sourced from Sun Noodles) . A lime wedge is hooked onto the side of the bowl along a smear of spicy Yuzu pepper. In the other bowl is a deeply rich Katsuo broth made using bonito and a whole chicken. Swimming within the depths of the slurp-worthy broth is menma (bamboo shoots), scallions, kikurage mushrooms, and your choice of either two pieces of char-siu pork belly or 100g of “soy-braised” chicken.

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The wide range of flavors, from the chew of the noodles to the depth of the broth to the texture of the meat blend, somewhat surprisingly, well together. There are a total of ten extra toppings that you can add on to any of the four bowls of ramen, most of which are included in at least one of the ramen bowls already. They range from corn to homemade chili oil. I added ajitama to mine, which is a soft boiled egg that is, so says the menu, “soy sauce injected”. I expected to be able to see it with one look at my broth, but it was actually hidden, having sunk to the bottom of the bowl. This at first led me to believe I had been deprived my egg, but was made up for by the fun of finding it in the bottom of my bowl—especially one so perfectly soft and runny—a soft boiled delight.
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Other than ramen, there’s not much here. There are seven alcoholic drinks to choose from, sake being one, plus eight different sides, one of which is plain rice. I split a Hirata Pork Bun with my brother that was divine. The bun melted in my mouth with it’s perfectly soft chewiness that makes you want to leave it in your mouth forever. The pork itself is seared through with a blowtorch (right in front of your eyes if you’re as lucky as me to sit at the noodle bar). A small handful of greens add some lightness to the dish and it is all topped off with Ken’s spread sauce.
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On a whole, Ken’s Ramen is certainly worth the long wait you’ll have to go through. Having just opened and being the talk of the town with a star menu item as trendy as ramen has filled their doors the couple times I’ve peeked inside, but I insist that shouldn’t turn you off. In fact, it should only build your interest. With so many other good choices for food downtown (Coal Fired Pizza, Viva Mexico, and even Figidini right next door), Ken’s could easily be lost. But with such creative chefs who obviously care about the food, Ken’s seems to be bubbling up to the top of the city’s bowl.

For more info, visit www.kenramenpvd.com

Photography: Bro D

Skillet-Baked Eggs with Spinach, Yogurt, and Chili Oil – Bon Appétit

Skillet-Baked Eggs with Spinach, Yogurt, and Chili Oil – Bon Appétit.

Ottolenghi eggsINGREDIENTS
2/3 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 garlic clove, halved
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped leek (white and pale-green parts only)
2 tablespoons chopped scallion (white and pale-green parts only)
10 cups fresh spinach (10 ounces)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon kirmizi biber (Turkish chili powder), or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes and a pinch of paprika
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

PREPARATION

  • Mix yogurt, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 300°. Melt 1 tablespoon butter with oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add leek and scallion; reduce heat to low. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add spinach and lemon juice; season with salt. Increase heat to medium-high; cook, turning frequently, until wilted, 4–5 minutes.
  • Transfer spinach mixture to 10″ skillet, leaving any excess liquid behind. If using 2 smaller skillets, divide spinach mixture equally between skillets. Make 4 deep indentations in center of spinach in larger skillet or 2 indentations in each small skillet. Carefully break 1 egg into each hollow, taking care to keep yolks intact. Bake until egg whites are set, 10–15 minutes.
  • Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add kirmizi biber and a pinch of salt and cook until butter starts to foam and browned bits form at bottom of pan, 1–2 minutes. Add oregano and cook for 30 seconds longer. Remove garlic halves from yogurt; discard. Spoon yogurt over spinach and eggs. Drizzle with spiced butter.

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION
4 servings; 1 serving contains: Calories (kcal) 223.0 %Calories from Fat 64.1 Fat (g) 15.9 Saturated Fat (g) 4.9 Cholesterol (mg) 196.5 Carbohydrates (g) 10.3 Dietary Fiber (g) 3.4 Total Sugars (g) 2.4 Net Carbs (g) 6.9 Protein (g) 11.1 Sodium (mg) 172.7

Photography: Bro D

One boy talking about food