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.

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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: Indian Kiss

September 10, 2009

Indian Kiss

Address: 399 Keele Street, Toronto

Website

Rich and Alana both ordered: Aloo Gobi, Channa Masala, and Naan.

Plus: Tasty food. Huge naan. Cute take-out lounge.

Minus: Overpriced. Long wait. Limited menu.

Rating: 7 smooches out of 10

Alana sez: After a long holiday Monday spent running a garage sale and packing up Rich’s old apartment, we were exhausted and feeling a mean craving for Indian food. Our standby, Curry Twist, is closed on Mondays, so we decided to try out a new-ish entry into the Junction’s catalogue of eateries: Indian Kiss. This take-away spot opened recently at Keele and Dundas, and I had heard some good feedback. We were hopeful that it would cure our curry fever.

The menu for Indian Kiss is on their website, but it’s quite limited — there are no appetizers, no fish/seafood dishes, and not a lot of vegetarian options. We settled on the aloo gobi, channa masala, and naan. Indian Kiss is a take-away only restaurant, so I gave them a call to place our order before we headed down there to pick it up. It’s a good thing I called ahead — after giving our order, I was told that it would be 40 minutes for our food. That seemed absurd for take-out, especially since it was very early in the evening (we called at 4:30). However, Rich and I were jonesing for an Indian food fix pretty badly, so we decided to wait it out.

I really couldn’t believe that it would take 40 minutes to make our food, so we headed down to Indian Kiss after about 25 minutes to see if our dinner was ready. We were greeted by a very friendly woman at the counter but, true to their word, we still had a 10- to 15-minute wait ahead of us. We took a seat in the very cute and comfortable lounge area, which is well-stocked with magazines. The soothing green colour on the walls and the cushy couch took the edge off of our wait.

After we finally paid and made it home with our eats, we couldn’t wait to dive in. The prices at Indian Kiss are quite high ($2 to $3 more per dish than Curry Twist), so I was expecting huge portions. As we opened our take-away containers, however, I was dissappointed to find that the amount of food in front of us in no way justified the higher cost. Neither did the flavour, unfortunately. The channa masala and aloo gobi tasted just fine, maybe even excellent, but they were still no match for our gold standard, Curry Twist. The sauces in our dishes were well-seasoned, with complex flavours, and I was impressed by the inclusion of fresh herbs and ginger. Our naan was gigantic, fluffy, and slightly charred, just the way I like it. However, nothing really blew my mind in the same way that Curry Twist does every time.

Our meal from Indian Kiss fully satisfied our craving for tasty Indian food, but the high prices and long wait left a slightly sour aftertaste. Curry Twist will continue to be our standby in the Junction, but Indian Kiss is a reasonable back-up on Mondays when nothing but Indian will do.

Rich sez:  I found the Indian Kiss experience to be a lot like that of a strip club. When you first walk into the joint, you’re mesmerized by the decor and bright colors. The familiar aromas help build the excitement of what is about to ensue. [Alana: Ew. Gross, Rich.] You’re told to sit down and wait. And wait. All you want is some attention but, when you get some, it’s going to cost you. But who cares, right? You’re the King of the World!

At first you don’t mind paying — the dish looks light and full of life. When you bring this bag full of joy back home with you, you’re led to believe that this is going to be a night to remember. However, when opened up and put out on the table [Alana: Again, gross.], you find that the familiar taste and fulfillment that you desire with your sweet and spicy dish is nowhere to be found. Once you’re done, you feel like you’ve received more of an Indian peck on the cheek than a kiss. Like a stripper, Indian Kiss does not give you enough for your money, and you don’t get the same spicy enjoyment you expect when you bring it home. [Alana: Rich, we need to talk.]

Review: Curry Twist

July 21, 2009

Curry Twist Samosas

Address: 3034 Dundas Street West, Toronto

Website

Rich and Alana both ordered: Veggie Samosas, Baigan Bharta, Matar Paneer Masala, Naan, and King Fisher Lager.

Plus: Extremely fresh and flavourful food. Friendly staff. Great service. Calm atmosphere.

Minus: These curries may be addictive.

Rating: 10 samosas out of 10

Alana sez: I was first introduced to Indian food about 13 years ago by a close friend who happens to be Punjabi, and the experience blew my mind. So many new and unique flavours! I’m still no expert on Indian cuisine but it’s become one of my absolute favourite things to eat, and so I’m always on the lookout for tasty curry. Recently, Rich and I went on a search for some spicy deliciousness, and found ourselves in front of Curry Twist in the Junction.

Stepping into Curry Twist, you’re warmly greeted by the chefs, who work in an open kitchen at the front of the house. Our friendly waitress quickly led Rich and I to an intimate table for two near the kitchen, so we could watch the cooks in action. We both ordered a King Fisher Lager to drink, because nothing washes down Indian food better than cold beer, and settled in to scan the menu. We’re both naan fiends, so we wanted to order a couple dishes that would be easily scooped up by the soft flatbread. We settled on Baigan Bharta, a smoked eggplant mash, and Matar Paneer Masala, peas and paneer in masala sauce. We also ordered a couple veggie samosas (the appetizer special that night) to start.

As we waited for our samosas, we took in the restaurant’s atmosphere. It’s painted in soft greens and oranges, and decorated with Indian dishes and spices. Coloured lanterns give the place a soft glow, and sitar music plays on the stereo. It’s a very calming space — a perfect contrast to the spicy excitement of the food. The service at Curry Twist is as soothing as the decor — the wait staff is knowledgeable and casual, making you feel right at home. The chefs in the kitchen are ridiculously calm and methodical, even as patrons pile into the restaurant. By the time our appetizer came, Rich and I were nearly lulled into a meditative state by it all. Om.

We dove into the samosas as soon as they were placed on our table. Crispy brown on the outside, with diced potato and spices inside, these were clearly not your typical pastries from the frozen section of the supermarket. They were accompanied by a sweet and sour tamarind sauce for dipping, which complemented the spiciness of the potato very well. I basically inhaled mine.

Next to come were our main dishes and a re-up of King Fisher. Two gigantic pieces of pillowy naan took up most of our table, and I quickly tore off a piece to scoop up some of the Baigan Bharta. I’m not normally much of an eggplant fan, but I immediately fell in love with this dish’s smoky and spicy flavour. I broke up with Rich right there and changed my name to Mrs. Alana Bharta — it was that good. The next partner for my naan was the Matar Paneer Masala — fresh green peas and bouncy, lightly browned paneer swimming in a slightly sweet, slightly spicy, and completely delicious sauce. We were amazed by the freshness of the veggies in both of our dishes and, unlike a lot of lesser Indian joints, we were happy to find that the food was not greasy at all.

As we devoured the last of our meals and paid our super-reasonable tab, Rich and I could not stop talking about the awesomeness of what we had just experienced. Curry Twist is easily one of the best Indian restaurants I’ve visited in Toronto, or anywhere else for that matter. I’m pretty sure Rich and I are now addicted to this rad Junction spot, and we’ll be returning for another fix soon.

Rich sez:  How do you give anything a ten out of ten? Well, both Alana I could not come up with any reason not to give Curry Twist the perfect score.

It’s not just a great Indian restaurant, but one of the best restaurant experiences I have ever had. It’s such a relaxed and unpretensious atmosphere and, like Alana said, you’re greeted well by the staff and, as you are brought to your table, you are also greeted by big smiles from the chefs. Another cool thing is the glossary of spices, sauces, etc. at the front of the restaurant for those who don’t know much about Indian food.

We were seated right in front of the kitchen and, as I was watching Alana suck back her sixth samosa, I noticed everybody who finished their meals made a point to walk up and give a warm thank you to the chefs on their way out the door.  How great is that?

So, just like Alana said, the food was amazing. I do however want to add that the food had just the right amount of spice; SPICY enough to get that drip coming out of your nose, but not TOO spicy where you can no longer taste your meal. As we were on our second round of  beers, it seemed like dinner was going off with out a hitch,  until a slight chill ran down my spine. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the Oxy Clean guy walk in and be seated in my direct eyeline (I know the Oxy Clean guy is dead, so imagine my surprise when he is seated in front of me in an Indian restaurant in the Junction!). He was by himself and full of stink-eyes. Everybody was getting them, the waitress, me, the chefs — his stink-eye was so strong he made a baby cry …  So, with his strong hate-on for the restaurant and everything living around him, I was led to believe that when he got his food, he would spit in the waitress’ face, kick her down on the ground, and spike a Naan on her head — but I was wrong. Once he got his food, he seem to settle his stank-eye down — his mood changed towards everything, he became friendly with the staff, he was high-five-ing the chefs, kissing babies, he gave me a wink once he found out Alana left me for the Bharta. What I am trying to say is I witnessed a skeptical, grumpy old man, with horribly-dyed facial hair, change into a happy, full bellied young Santa Claus right before my very own eyes. No, the Curry Twist food will not cure cancer, nor will it get you pregnant, but what it does do is satisfy your hunger for a comfortable, affordable meal, that all can share and enjoy.  Cheers to you Curry Twist and thank you to the Chefs.

RIP Billy Mayes

Fatima's

Address: 3108 Dundas Street West, Toronto

Alana ordered: A plain omelette and a Diet Coke

Rich ordered: Eggs Florentine and a coffee

Plus: Very pleasant service. Old movies playing on the TV.

Minus: The food.

Rating: 3 fake flowers out of 10

 Alana sez: When Rich and I walked into Fatima’s, we were impressed by the calming decor and atmosphere in this new addition to the Junction neighborhood — we were immediately soothed by the exposed brick walls, modern furniture with clean lines, Casablanca on the TV, opera on the stereo, and the single flower on every table. When we were seated by the extremely pleasant and friendly Fatima, however, we noticed that these flowers were 100% fake — pretty on the surface, but with no real life to them. This would become a metaphor for our entire experience at Fatima’s.

We were encouraged when Rich received his coffee, which was delicious, and also when we began to look at the menu – everything sounded amazing. I went with the plain omelette, which comes with frites, and Rich ordered the eggs florentine. Our attentive server refilled my Diet Coke and brought us butter, jam, ketchup, and aioli in individual serving dishes while we waited for our food. We were hopeful that Fatima’s could become our new regular bruch spot in the Junction. Then the food arrived, and everything went downhill. My omelette was a mass of dark brown, overcooked and oversalted eggs piled messily on my plate. The “frites” were actually thick-cut, soggy, and greasy french fries and dipping them in the runny, flavourless aioli did nothing to improve them. My multigrain toast looked pretty, decorated with appetizing grill lines, but it was too cold to melt the butter I spread on it.  While Fatima’s looks nice, and the service is excellent, the most important part of any restaurant experience — the food — is an epic fail.

Rich sez:  Brunch is one of my favorite things to do in life and when something goes awry, I get screw-faced. Sure Casablanca playing on a flat screen was a nice calming brunch mood-setter, sure the coffee had a slight chocolate taste to it, but with bagged store bought bagels sitting on the counter, I knew the food was going to be an experience. I ordered the Eggs Florentine, one of my favorite dishes. When brought to the table it looked delicious, with frites and three little dipping sauces. Yes BRUNCH!!! I immediately grabbed a frite and sauced that bad boy up with some aioli. I was so hungry that I didn’t even realize that I was holding a limp soggy sponge and the aioli was like a watered-down Pizza Pizza garlic sauce. And I hate Pizza Pizza – you might as well deep-fry some cheese on cardboard. Anyway, back to Fatima’s. Let’s try the Florentine…Smells good.

Before I cut into my eggs Alana asked the waitress for some salt. The waitress quickly replied, “Oh I’m sorry dear, we are all out of salt, we used it all in your boyfriend’s Eggs Florentine…” BWHAAA??? With the amount of salt they put in my eggs, it could have salted a pathway for a snowed-in school day. I have no idea why they even added salt with smoked salmon already on the dish. Oh well, the hollandaise sauce will make up for it. Oh wait, where is that mouth watering fatty hollandaise sauce I love so much??? Oh, it was replaced by lemon-water-salt sauce. So, with limp fries, garlic water dip, and salty eggs, I downed four cups of their yummy coffee to get as much bang for Alana’s buck as I could (I made her grab the bill, LOL). Final thoughts – Fatima’s is like your dirt mall Santa. On the outside it looks so friendly, loving and inviting, with its bright décor, cute elves and soothing melodies, but once you get closer you can smell the booze on his breath, see his actual hair color sticking out from his beard, and the candy canes are from last year.

Diclaimer: Clearly, we do not recommend brunch at Fatima’s, but we have not had a chance to try this place for any other meals — to be fair, dinner or lunch may be better.