Review: Pho Huong

April 30, 2010

Address: 394 Pacific Avenue, Toronto

Alana and Rich both ordered: Large veggie pho, spring rolls, and beers.

Plus: Great vegetarian pho,  lots of condiments, opens at 10 am.

Minus: Weird atmosphere.

Rating: 8 hot-sauce ninja turtles out of 10

Rich sez: Alana and I love veggie pho so much that we decided to implement PHO FRIDAYS! Every other Friday we will adventure out to a new location, if we can, and have pho. This week: Pho Huong in the Junction.

This is not the first time we have gone here for veggie pho, but we thought we should share its greatness with the interwebs. Being a Phriday, we decided to have some beer and an order of spring rolls with our meal. Sadly, we frequent Pho Houng so often that we have memorized the menu number for our favourite dish: P12 – L. Which is the large tofu and veggie pho bowl, in vegetable broth.

Bring on the spring rolls. CAUTION – these spring rolls are scorching hot to the touch when they first arrive at your table. They are also a little greaser than I would like, but are perfect  for a hangover lunch/dinner. Wait, why was I hung over on a Friday? A single order is two spring rolls, cut into 2 pieces each. I always try and take the bigger halves when Alana is playing chop sticks with her chop sticks? What? Did I just write that?

The  pho arrives. The large size is perphect. I like mine a lil’ more spicer than the norm, but sometimes, sometimes, I get a little carried away with the cock sauce. However, I have figured out a simple soulution. I just draw a ninja turtle in my bowl (I like Raphel) with the sriracha and, with a swirl of soya and a few dashes of hoisin, I am good to go. The veggies are fresh and the broccoli pieces are huge. I tend to finsh my bowl before Alana and start to give her the hungry seagull eye. Once I start squawking, she usally hands over the rest of her bowl before we get kicked out.

The Phatmosphere – it gets moderately busy in this restaurant. Any hour of any day, you will not be eating alone.  If you go on a weekend you will find that there are several children running amuck within the restaurant — often, it seems as if they are running a side-business as a day care. If you need to use the restroom, it’s down the stairs, past the Christmas tree, through the small hallway … yes, a Christmas tree still stands at the bottom of the stairs. I am OK with celebrating Christmas 365 days a year, but this tree has no lights,and it’s tied to the banister.

Overall, I love Pho Huong and all of its quirks. It never disappoints.

Alana sez: Pho Huong is one of our go-to neighborhood restaurants. Their veggie pho is like a warm hug for your insides — it will cure anything from a hangover to the plain old blues. I especially love that they open at 10 am on the weekends. It’s never too early for a delicious bowl of noodle soup.

As I’ve mentioned before, good vegetarian bowls of pho are few and far between. At many Vietnamese restaurants, the vegetarian soups are bland, uninspired afterthoughts. Not so at Pho Huong. The already-flavourful broth is kicked up with the provided sriracha, soy sauce, hoisin, and lime juice. Within this wonderful base, a  generous portion of tender (but not mushy) rice noodles swims among barely-cooked broccoli florets, carrot rounds, tender onion slices, and puffy fried tofu. It’s comfort food at its best.

As Rich mentioned, the atmosphere can be a little weird. There’s a flat screen TV showing CP24, 24 hours a day (natch), and something that sounds like the soundtrack from Gone with the Wind is always on the speakers. There are children dancing everywhere, and the service can be impersonal. Regardless, Pho Huong is probably our favourite place to grab a bite in the Junction, and I hope it never changes.

Review: The Egg and I

April 29, 2010

eggni

Address: 275 Highway 20 South, Stoney Creek

Rich ordered: Greek omelette with homefries.

Alana ordered: Cheese omelette with homefries.

Plus: Good seats, nice staff, pleasuring potatoes.

Minus: The building is a a bunch of pink shacks, no one but the chef had a mustache.

Rating: 7 Uggs-wearing teenagers out of 10

Rich sez:  A while ago, Alana and I were in Hamilton to attend a Stag n’ Doe and to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The next morning, we were in dire need of the  best hangover brunch spot in Hamilton. We found it at the Egg and I on Highway 20.

My previous visits to the E.I. had been tainted with over-dressed church goers, crying babies, college girls wearing sweat pants to hide their freshmen 15, and greasy cold food. My hopes were not high as we made our way up the Hamilton “Mountain.” On the way, I explained to Alana that the Egg and I looks like a bunch of mashed shacks, but the interior has your typical country-diner vibe.  As we entered, we were greeted by a professional and young teenage staff.

We were seated right in front of the kitchen, where I immediately noticed that the chef seemed to be 15 years old, but with an enviable moustache. He was barking out orders and checking each plate that went to the pass for quality control. I was like DAMN! Someone has watched way too much Hell’s Kitchen, but he was killing it.

I ordered the Greek omelette. It was packed full of flavorful veggies and the side of potatoes was perfect. Finally, someone gets it. Good potatoes can save a bad brunch. I could be eating a omelette of goose droppings and, as long as the home fries are spiced just right, I am a happy camper.  My advice to The Egg and I is to keep the young mustachio chef for life. He’s a keeper. Did I just develop a man crush? Well, he’s no Ryan Reynolds. Never mind.

Alana sez: As we pulled into the parking lot for the Egg and I, my hopes were not high. It looks like a shanty town populated by The Hills’ casting-call rejects, AND it’s in Hamilton: a designated food dead-zone. By the time our food arrived, my expectations were so low that they were hanging out with some CHUDs in the sewer.

Strangely, my omelette arrived with a perfectly square slice of bright-orange cheese melted on top. The homefries on the side were a matching shade of orange. Bracing myself, I put some eggs in my mouth. And chewed. And … it wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was even GOOD! Our mustached friend in the kitchen had managed to turn out a tender, velvety omelette with plenty of real melted cheese inside. I next scooped up some of the homefries to find that they were fluffy and spicy, with some crispy browned edges that added textural contrast. I was amazed — we had found a decent brunch in the Hammer!

With my hangover chased off by the holy trinity of cheese, eggs, and potatoes, I was ready to face the long drive back to Toronto. Granted, we may have caught them on a good day, but I would definitely recommend The Egg and I if you find yourself in need of a tasty breakfast in Steeltown. Especially if you appreciate teenage mustaches.

Review: North of Bombay

April 18, 2010

Address: 2996 Dundas Street W, Toronto

Website

Alana and Rich both ordered: Samosas, mango pickles, dal makhani, eggplant bharta, aloo gobi, and naan.

Plus: Wide menu, generous servings, tasty vegetarian dishes.

Minus: Small naan, food ordered less than “spicy” may come out bland.

Rating: 8 KHAAAAAN!s out of 10

Alana sez: In the Junction, we have no less than 4 Indian restaurants to choose from when we get a hankering for something spicy. Our usual default is Curry Twist, but when Rich and I decided to host a screening of The Wrath of Khan for some friends last weekend, we thought it might be fun to try something new. This adventurous mood eventually landed us at North of Bombay with our Shatner-enthusiast pals Leah, Dan, and Iris.

The menu at North of Bombay is larger than at Curry Twist, with a wide selection of vegetarian options — great news for Rich, Iris, and I, as we were in the mood for veggies. After some discussion (too many choices!), we settled on the dal makhari, eggplant bharta, and aloo gobi, and asked the kitchen to make them spicy. Leah and Dan opted for a meatier menu and went with the lamb curry and butter chicken, ordered medium in the spice department. We all ordered samosas and naan to go along with our mains.

After a brief wait the samosas arrived, accompanied by three condiment options: green coriander chutney, tamarind chutney, and a diced onion and tomato salsa. The green chutney was the clear favourite at our table — its bold, tangy coriander flavour went excellently with our pastries. The samosas themselves were also delicious — packed full of spicy potatoes and peas, with a crispy (but not greasy) exterior. Our meal was off to a good start.

As our mains arrived at the table, I noticed that the serving sizes at North of Bombay are larger than you usually see in an Indian restaurant — I worried for a moment that we had ordered too much. This fear was erased as soon as I took a bite of the eggplant bharta. Smooth, smoky, and fresh-tasting, with perfectly balanced spices, I knew there would be no leftovers from this dish. Sure enough, by the end of the meal, Iris was polishing off the last of the eggplant directly from the serving dish, with a spoon. It was heavenly. The aloo gobi, which often suffers from blandness at lesser Indian restaurants, came in a fantastic tomato-based sauce — tart, spicy, and sweet all at once. I was also impressed with the crisp-tender texture of the cauliflower — no mush here. The dal was also solid, with perfectly-cooked lentils bringing the heat, but did not wow us like the other two dishes. Although the mains at North of Bombay are generous, the naan is on the small side — this was bothersome to me, because I LOVE naan, and their version is soft, slightly charred, and delicious. I would have liked to have more of it to sop up the delicious sauces.

Our meat-eating friends were less impressed with their meal — at North of Bombay, ordering your dishes “medium” seems to imply that you want no spice at all. The lamb curry and butter chicken were deemed bland, but still tasty. If you find yourself at NoB, stick with spicy — I don’t have a super-high tolerance for heat and I found the spice level to be perfect in our veggie dishes.

As we finished up and headed home to watch James T. Kirk’s mid-life crisis, we all agreed that North of Bombay served up a great pre-movie dinner. We’re lucky in the Junction to have so many great restaurants at our disposal, and North of Bombay will definitely become a more regular part of our repertoire. We’ll just make sure to order extra naan next time.

Rich sez: “Mango Pickles!!!!” is what I screamed out when I saw them on the menu at North of Bombay. “Mango pickles” is what I sung in my head to the tune of the BATMAN jingle as they arrived at our table. As I put a piece in my mouth, I imagined the mango pickles beating the eff out of my taste buds — POW! BLAM! POOF! BAP! Little did I know, I hate mango pickles. GAG! SPIT! SPALT! GROSS! Once I had gargled away the offensive flavour with my Kingfisher beer, Alana reminded me that I have ordered Mango pickles before, from Curry Twist (name drop), and that I had also spit them out there. Oh yeah …

I don’t blame North of Bombay for my poor short-term memory, but I do blame them for making my mouth salivate. Going into NoB, I was skeptical. Like Alana said, we have 4 indian restaurants in the Junction, and one of them is aguably the best in Toronto — I had my doubts that NoB could compete. Those doubts would soon be squashed with their mango pickles. No, wait — their samosas. What a delight they were. I would have smothered my samosa with the delicious green coriander chutney, but Alana did a three-finger dip into the sauce to coat her samosa. Thanks. Awesome. Wicked. But not to worry, the waitress brought a second helping of the condiments and I helped myself to a second helping of the samosas. Life was good.

After being cross-examined about my decision to wear Batman underwear on our Star Trek movie night, our main dishes arrived. The eggplant bharta was by far the best I’ve ever had, even better than Curry Twist’s. It was so tasty, so flavourful, that I had wrestle with Alana’s imaginary friend Iris to try to finish off the dish. Sadly, like Khan, I was out-smarted and left jersied with the table cloth stuck in my mouth. I lost out on the bharta, but my genetically engineered intellect helped me snag the last few mango pickles on our way out the door. Victory! Wait — NOOOOOOOOO!

Delightful News

April 13, 2010

With summer just around the corner, the lure of ice cream is becoming harder to resist — especially if it’s rich, organic, hand-crafted ice cream from Delight in the Junction. Earlier this evening, we were out for a walk in the neighborhood, enjoying the warming weather, when the sight of Delight’s storefront caused a Pavlovian-esque ice cream craving. We had a fever, and the only cure was Delight cones.

The small chocolate shop carries a variety of ice cream flavours (including a dairy-free option), and on this occasion we opted for one chocolate and one banana-caramel. The beautifully-textured scoops come tucked inside a handmade waffle cone, and are each topped with a dark chocolate heart (organic and fair trade, like all of the amazing chocolate at Delight).

As we paid for our treats, we learned some fantastic news. The owners of Delight are planning to open a new cheese shop next door, in time for the Junction Arts Fest (September 2010)! The shop will feature Canadian artisanal cheese, with many selections from Quebec. As cheese fanatics, we couldn’t be more excited about this development — we’ve been hoping for a cheese shop in the Junction for some time. September can’t come soon enough!

Review: Brad’s Eatery

April 5, 2010

Address: 325 Roncesvalles Ave

Rich ordered: Eggs benedict with smoked salmon, on a potato rosti, with a side salad.

Alana ordered: Croissant breakfast sandwich with homefries.

Plus: Amazing homefries. Large portions. Friendly atmosphere. Solid brunch.

Minus: Mediocre coffee. Oily salad.

Rating: 8 annoying grunts out of 10

Rich sez: After a fun night of twelve-dollar 40s and sweet mash-ups with DJ Lockdown at my second-favorite bar in Toronto, Margret, a Good Friday morning brunch was needed. Alana and I had recently heard from a friend of ours that Brad’s on Roncesvalles was the place to go. When I think of the name Brad, I associate it with the eldest son from Home Improvement. As such, my expectations for this place were very low. I asked Alana on the drive to Brad’s, “How long do you think it will take Brad to come talk to us about his girl troubles with Ashley?” Alana: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Alana was a JTT fan, I guess.

As we walked towards the entrance, they were just opening up the front windows so we could sit and enjoy the new warm weather — lucky us. Alana ordered a Coke Diete and I had a the coffee. As we sat and sipped our drinks, I was not terribly impressed with my coffee’s flavour (or lack thereof) — maybe I was too distracted by the half dozen crazies walking by. I orded the eggs benny with smoked salmon on a potato rosti, and a side of garden salad.

Before our food got to us and 2.5 cups of coffee in, a family of 7 came skipping into the restaurant. The family’s youngest boy was riding a bike with new trainies on it — his dad called out , “Mark come on, lets go!”, but he would not set foot in the door, and who can blame him? Noogies and adoption jokes from Brad awaited him inside, and who knows where Randy was hiding, waiting for the perfect time to tie him to a tree, or steal all the attention away with a cancer scar … uh, sorry — back to reality. The poor l’il guy was actually hesitating because he didn’t want to leave his bike outside with the Roncy riff-raff. Alana and I assigned ourselves as his bike security team, since we had the window seat. With a gracious thanks and tip of the hat from dad, off went future Goth Mark in to the restaurant.

Our food arrived, and as soon as our plates were placed on the table I immediately regretted not ordering the homefries. Alana’s plate was stacked with the toasty, spicy squares from heaven. My garden salad was alright — it was a little to oily for my liking, but I enjoyed that the dressing was freshly-made, rather than store-bought garbage. This was my first time having eggs benny with potato rosti underneath and, let me tell you, it will be very hard to go back to english muffins (not that hard, actually — I had them again today at Milestones. Yes Milestones has a brunch menu. Weird right?). The eggs were cooked perfectly — piercing the yolk caused a rich, creamy yellow river to pour out and mingle with the hollandaise. I wished I had eaten my brunch more slowly, so as to better enjoy its well-balanced flavours, but I tried to whiz through it so I could steal more of Alana’s homefries. Over all, I think Brad’s is right up there with some of the great spots in Toronto to get a good brunch and a nice walk in a cool neighborhood. One thing not to expect is Brad himself to come over and entertain you with his soccer skills while you eat.

Alana sez: While Rich was busy peeping on Jill with Wilson in one of his (not infrequent) Home Improvement hallucinations, I was having a very enjoyable brunch to kick off the Easter long weekend. The vegetarian options on Brad’s menu are quite limited, so I ordered the croissant breakfast sandwich with oven-roasted tomatoes in place of the usual peameal bacon — the kitchen was happy to oblige. I think people who order salad at brunch are crazy (see: Rich and his Tim Allen obsession), so I went with homefries on the side.

Before long, I was digging into one of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. The croissant was lightly toasted, and piled high with scrambled eggs, aged white cheddar, and exceptionally flavourful roasted tomatoes. Each bite was better than the last, and I was a little sad when I finished it. But only for a second — I had a mountain of homefries waiting for me that weren’t going to eat themselves. I was as impressed with my side as I was with my sandwich. The homefries were spiced generously with smoked paprika, and perfectly crispy-on-the-outside-and-fluffy-on-the-inside (or COTOAFOTI to homefry connoisseurs such as myself). I finished my meal at Brad’s completely sated, and hangover cured. I think Rich enjoyed his brunch, too — he kept mumbling about JTT’s dreamy eyes as we paid the bill.