Oh, Canada: Toronto pt. II
As I promised, I wanted to do a separate post about the food we ate in Toronto, because there were quite a few specialties and otherwise interesting things on that trip.
Toronto seemed to be a rather good foodie town, as I can’t recall anything been actually bad on that trip, even if certain things were definitely better than others. That’s normal, though: not everything can be mind-blowingly amazing all the time. And if it would be, it would become the new normal and disappointments would come more often. Rather have some “only okay” food from time to time than be disappointed more often, really.
The worst disappointment I had on the trip was the supposedly “special” Chinese restaurant close to where we were staying. The food was supposed to be from some certain area of China and be super special and fancy, but if this was a good example of the cuisine of said area, I can’t really blame anyone skipping it in the future after the first try. It was all very bland and boring. I think you need to be from around there to appreciate the finer things in the dishes, I guess.
The second disappointment was the Japanese restaurant, again near the place where we were staying at, where the actual Japanese beer was the best part of the meal. I don’t think it helped that I had just been in Japan a month before, but the place was definitely not what I was expecting. But at least the beer was good.
But let’s focus on the good and interesting experiences instead of the bad ones. Because mostly the food was good. I don’t even have pictures of all of it, actually. Which is a bit of a shame.
Because this was Canada, we of course had to go eat some poutine. For those of you who might not know what poutine is, it is fries with cheese curds and gravy. Relatively simple stuff, but for some reason not really available that much elsewhere in the world. Not sure why, because basically everyone likes the gooey, artery-blocking stuff. Or at least that is the case for most of the people I know.
So we went to Fancy Frank’s for the first proper try. Well, first try for me, my boyfriend had already sort of accidentally been in Montreal during Poutine Fest or something… But I chose Fancy Frank’s because it was mentioned on a few lists on the best poutine in town. It is more of a hot dog place, though, and it was also actually rather far from where we were staying at, but I do feel it was worth the trouble. I got to try a vegetarian poutine with Beyond Meat sausage, which meant I was more than full after my portion. The boyfriend, however, was not completely convinced his portion was enough, so he tried one of the hot dogs, too. Apparently it was all good (I was too full to even have a taste), and on the way back we popped by to a few interesting shops, even if neither of us is much of a shopper. Unless, of course, it is nerdy stuff… which most of the shops we pop into tend to be.
I also used my chance to try fancy stuff I’d most likely never eat in Europe because of the price: Eggs Benedict with lobster. In the amazingly named Eggspectation. It is such a bad pun I can’t do much else than chuckle. Eggspectation is a chain, but the food was good and the service super friendly, even if the place was, by my standards, disorientingly busy.
I’m still not really a huge fan of lobster, but I think my wallet thanks me for that. I preferred the less expensive parts of the portion: the poached eggs and the hollandaise sauce. Could eat those more often, really, but making them both at home is a bit of a hassle. I can make an okay poached egg, but the hollandaise is not really something I excel at. I think I have made it once at home and it ended up okay, but the mess in the kitchen was less okay.
The only place we went to eat twice on this trip was Bannock. It gets its name from a kind of bread, which in Canada is most likely (but don’t quote me on this) based on the bread made by First Nations, even if there is a similarly named thing in Great Britain as well. Or at least used to be, not sure if anyone calls anything ‘bannock’ there anymore.
And we tried their namesake, of course. But, umm, I don’t remember much about it. Nor do I have pictures. I remember was very dense and thus filling, but that’s about it. It wasn’t as memorable as the main dish I had on the first visit: poutine pizza. With some duck. I mean, talk about overkill. I ate less than half of my portion as it was just too darn much, after which my boyfriend tried to finish it off. He also failed (especially since he had already had a burger as well).
But since neither one of us really learns from our mistakes, we decided to go back on the last day for lunch just to get that prime example of fusion food gone rogue again. And nope, we still could not finish one of them with the two of us… I shouldn’t have ordered a main dish of my own at all, really. And I’m still not sure we could have finished it.
Another super-Canadian thing is beavertails. I had actually never heard of them before. They apparently get their name from the fact that they resemble beaver’s tails. Not really sure I fully agree, but at least they taste good. The main issue was that it was huge. Deep-fried dough, caramel, nuts and chocolate sauce meant I was regretting my life choices half-way through the thing, but eat it I did, because I’m not a quitter! Or maybe I’m just stupidly stubborn. Maybe these two are the same thing.
And now, looking at that picture, I feel like I could maybe eat one right now, too. I mean, in all honesty I probably couldn’t, not all of it, but I’d still want one. And I would do my best to finish it. And regret it again afterwards, most likely. Maybe it is better I don’t have easy access to beavertails in my everyday life.
Not all of our food was fancy and weird. We also went to eat in a cheap burrito fast food chain. And it was okay. Not something I’d eat on a daily basis, or probably even a weekly basis, but it served its purpose: we left with our stomachs relatively full and I didn’t complain too much about the flavour. And if all else fails, mix in so much superhot chili sauce that you can’t taste anything else anymore anyway.
This way we saved up some money to go eat SUPERfancy later. Well, okay, technically it wasn’t because of that, but it was an added bonus. I had made a reservation at a restaurant already weeks and weeks beforehand, because I had been watching too much Mind of a Chef around the time we booked the trip and Because David Chang is sort of amazing.
So, in case you didn’t guess already: we went to his restaurant in Toronto, called Kōjin. David Chang is a tv chef of sorts, and based on Mind of a Chef his taste in food seemed somewhat similar to mine. He is most known for Momofuku, but the Momofuku in Toronto is a noodle bar, and I wanted to go eat fancy.
And the food was definitely worth it. I don’t mind splurging on food as long as it is worth it, and here it was. It had been a while since I had had such a good meal with such good drinks to go with it. We had some sausages and corn flatbreads with different toppings to start with, and they came with chili sauce and mustard, all made in-house, and I was so darn tempted to take then with me when they told me I could do so. Too bad we had no fridge in the room and I figured they might not be quite as good anymore after a few days in room temperature plus almost a day of travel in planes and trains and what else. So there they stayed, but I still remember them fondly.
For the main dish the waitress managed to convice us to order the most expensive thing on the menu: dry-aged ribeye. And it was definitely worth every penny. We also had side dishes of grilled mushrooms and nori seaweed and grilled asparagus and egg sauce, but I have to say they were by far the least interesting parts of the whole meal. I’m sort of glad this sort of super fancy meat is really expensive, because otherwise my plan to cut down a bit on meat consumption would be very much in trouble.
And there was the dessert: a slice of ice cream cake with layers of peanut butter, maple and chocolate ice creams. All of the layers were very good, but I think we were both rather happy we decided to share a portion instead of both ordering a dessert, considering how much we had already eaten (and drunk, in my case) at this point.
Based on this visit, I’m now very tempted to go visit the original Momofuku on my trip to New York in March, but I don’t know if it would be the same alone. I might need someone with me, just so I could go “ooh” and “aah” every time I taste something new. I think the reservations might be a tad tad more problematic than in Toronto, too, but I haven’t actually checked.
Talking about desserts… I saw a rather Japanese-looking gentleman in the hotel elevator with a bag from Uncle Tetsu’s, so of course I had to figure out what and where that was. Turns out Uncle Tetsu’s is a Japanese cheesecake shop that had a “to go” window just a block away.
So I may have gone a bit mad and bought a whole darned cheesecake just for myself, since my boyfriend is not that into cheesecakes in general. I ate approximately half of my matcha-flavoured cheese cake in one go and a few slices later on, but there was no way I could finish the whole thing. And as I mentioned before, we had no way of keeping things cool. Such a waste of perfectly good, extremely fluffy cheesecake… But these things happen, sometimes, even if I try to avoid wasting food. Easier to do at home than on a trip, I guess.
The white cheddar popcorn in the picture was also very good, by the way, but the cheesecake had already stolen my heart by the time I tasted them. The poor things had no chance. Except as a way to try and balance my sugar overdose with salt and fat overdose. Balanced diet and all that jazz, right?
I also ate some bison at the restaurant near Toronto Art Gallery. And it was a mind-blowing experience. I suddenly understood so well why the poor things were almost hunted to extinction.
The waiter actually mentioned to me that he tries to eat vegetarian, but this particular portion is something he usually cannot resist. I don’t even remember what else was with it (maybe sweet potato puree and some buckthorn), but I remember sighing happily while eating. And wishing my boyfriend had had the chance to try it as well, but alas, he was busy running around nerdy shops while I was being all cultural in the art gallery. Maybe next Canada visit we can go eat some bison together. No clue when that might be, but I’m sure it will happen at some point, as he is very much a Canada fan.
So what did I learn about Canadian food? Poutine is good. The best things in Canada are the weird things you did not expect to be that good. The Canadians are amazing, so nice and polite. I also want more Momofuku food. And more Japanese cheesecake. And should maybe avoid Asian restaurants unless I hear from good sources they are actually good, because on this trip the different kinds of Asian restaurants disappointed me more than anything else.
And, fun fact to end things with: that big building (or technically two buildings, I guess, at least from this angle) on the picture behind the Toronto sign was designed by a Finnish architect. I did not know this until we went inside the building where they had a sign telling me so. Damned Finns, they get everywhere.