Monthly Archives: November 2014

Shiso Tree Cafe

Shiso Tree Cafe

Address: 3160 Steeles Ave.  Unit 1. Markham, ON, L3R 4G9  *Located in J-Town*

Phone: (905) 479 – 9319

Tucked in the hidden J Town Alley in Markham, Shiso Tree Cafe serve Japanese style pasta and comfort foods.  We were welcomed by humble, polite and relatively shy Japanese waitresses, who smiled warmly at everyone.

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Credits: The Food Files

 

The restaurant was quite busy for a Tuesday evening, filled with youths, young families and full grown families.  This cafe is quite a hub for different age groups to set up gatherings, dates and reunions.  The place was relaxing and decorated with simple fixtures, felt quite down to earth and homey.  Piano music played through the speakers, and laughter from different tables filled the lighthearted environment.

The menu shows hint of Japanese and Western fusion.  All dinner pastas are served with a salad and garlic bread.wpid-20141111_192301.jpg

I like the homemade Japanese vinegarette or salad dressing, had a hint of sourness and sweetness to it.  The bread was toasted crispy and had a strong garlic-butter flavour.

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Miso Vongole ($14) is a spaghetti made with miso based sake ginger sauce, served with fresh Manila clams, garnished with nori and green onions.  Together with nori and green onions, the spaghetti had a spirit, giving it additional crunchy texture, flavours and a portion of vegetables.  However, the spaghetti was extremely salty and was sitting in oil or excessive melted butter. The clams were fresh and chewy, had a slight hint of the sake. The sauce itself was not that strong to begin with.  I barely sensed it in the dish.  I assume the chefs used the sauce to make the clams and then when it was cooked, the residual liquid was mixed into the spaghetti. However, the butter overthrew the flavours. So, clams were good but spaghetti was not.

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Wafu Seafood Spaghetti ($18) has fresh clams, shrimp, squid in shoyu and dashi sauce, garnished with yuzu, micro daikon, nori, shiso and green onion.  It had a similar appearance to the miso vongole, garnished with nori and green onions mainly but with a spoonful of shiso and yuzu on top, which has added a slight tangy flavour to the spaghetti, making it less salty.  I definitely enjoyed the wide array of flavours this dish had.  A generous amount of fresh seafood was served and was done to perfect texture.  Therefore, I liked this dish more than miso vongole.

Presentation was beautiful, organized and aligned properly.  It gave me the feel that the chef and assistants cared about the quality of their food and the happiness or satisfaction the food can bring to the eaters. But I feel like I am the only one who was not overly impressed by the taste of the meal.  Nonetheless, Shiso Tree Cafe is a place to experience Japanese style pastas and a great quiet place for studying or gathering.

Ratings

Food 3 / 5

Ambiance 3.75/5

Service 3.5/5

Shiso Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Ambiyan Indian Restaurant

Ambiyan Indian Restaurant
Address: 149 Main St, Unionville, ON L3R 2G8
Phone: (905) 480-0094
Website: http://www.ambiyan.com

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An authentic Indian restaurant situated in the historical 1800s Main Street, Unionville.   You will last expect to find an Indian restaurant along the European styled street.  The restaurant is easy to locate because it is the first restaurant in view if you are driving north of Highway 7.  Great location!  The restaurant other than serving Indian cultural cuisine, it is also a bar on the other side, different roles under one roof.

Interior decor can be updated.  It has brown – beige tones. accompanied by reflecting mirrors and paired with little diamond patterned carpet.  The LED overhead lighting was so strong and bright that it showed the ceiling dirt between the hanging rods.  Not to mention, there was one particular bulb that continuously flickered, which was quite frustrating.  The waiter or manager should have done something about it voluntarily, but did not.  However, we did not fuss or complain about it either.

Sunday evening at 7 pm, the restaurant was quiet or empty, kind of surprised.  By 9 pm, our group was the only table left in the restaurant.  Service was, of course, speedy and our hardworking sole waiter kept filling our water jugs.  He knew his menu off by heart, was able to describe flavours when we were unsure and gave recommendations when we asked him.  He was really friendly, making small conversations with us too.

It is great that Ambiyan has its own Prix Fixe Menu, to offer more selection for a better price and for competition.  Admire the fact the menu is tailored to fit different diet preferences – a vegetarian and must-have-meat selection – with different prices.

$25 for Non-Vegetarian:

Appetizer: choice of chicken samosa or chicken pakora

Main course: choice of one poultry or meat main course

Side: choice of basmati rice pilaf or freshly baked naan

$20 for Vegetarian:

Appetizer: choice of spinach pakora or Aloo Tikki

Main: choice of one vegetarian main course

Side: choice of basmati Rice Pilaf or Freshly baked naan.

Well, we had to have meat in our meals, therefore, the group chose the non-vegetarian option, $25 per person.  I have posted the price of the individual appetizers and main course for comparison and for everyone’s information.

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Chicken Pakoras ($11) are boneless chicken breasts deep fried in chickpea batter, served with tamarind chutney.  The sauce, soul of the appetizer, was minty and was refreshing.  The fried chicken breasts were bland without the tamarind chutney.  But saying that, the batter was not oily, skin crispy and the chicken was juicy and tender.

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Chicken Samosas ($9) are deep fried “dumplings” stuffed with chicken and potato, paired with tamarind and mint chutney.  The skin was crunchy and crispy.  As you take a bite into the samosas, the slight curry flavour oozes into your palette and aroma in the air.  It was a mouthwatering piece, so soft in the middle, from mashing the ingredients to fill the “dumplings”.

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Plain Naan ($3.75) is a white flour bread baked in tan door which came with the Prix Fixe meal.  Garlic Naan ($4.25) is bread infused with garlic butter and coriander, which we ordered on top to try.  Each other came with two slices.  Basmati Rice Pilaf ($4.0) is the famous Indian rice infused with saffron.  Honestly, nothing can ever go wrong with these sides, great to accompany the individual sauces the main course has to offer.

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Left to Right: Chicken Vindaloo, Beef Vindaloo, Butter Chicken, Lamb Roganjosh, Beef Mushroom Curry

The restaurant offers different levels of spiciness.  Vindaloo is the spiciest they have available and everything else ordered were either mild spicy or not spicy at all.

Chicken Vindaloo ($18) is a famous dish from Southwestern India State of Goa, made with white wine, garlic, chili and vinegar sauce.

Beef Vindaloo ($20) follows the spicy South Indian recipe, stewing beef chunks cooked in a white wine, vinegar, chili and garlic sauce.

Beef and chicken vindaloo taste the same.  The main difference is the texture of the meat and the sauce.  If beef is stewed long enough, the meat will become very soft and eventually, strands of beef will break away from the chunks.  As a result, the vindaloo sauce became stringy and thick from the beef strands.  Also, the beef juice was well mixed into the sauce and the beef chunks absorbed the spices of the sauce; had a strong beefy flavour.

The chicken tasted as good, except chicken is not a good meat when it comes to stewing, always have to hand peel to produce the same result as the beef.  Nonetheless, the chicken bites absorbed the vindaloo spices nicely and was very juicy and soft.

Because vindaloo sauce is the spiciest, I specifically ordered it to see how spicy it really is.  Initially thought the sauce was not that spicy, it was rather sour or tangy, which should be caused by the vinegar.  The spiciness of the garlic and chilies slowly creeps up on you.  I eventually realized I was sweating, tongue was burning and drinking cups of cold water continuously.  It was an unexpected but fun form of spiciness.  Furthermore, the sauce was very aromatic and was able to taste the wine infused into the food.  The dish was absolutely great!

Butter Chicken ($18) is boneless diced chicken breasts simmered in a mild tomato cream sauce.  The diced chicken breasts were extremely tender and juicy, skimmed away all the fat, and absorbed the wonderful sauce.  The sauce was just amazing, sweet and rich in butter, at the same time brought out the spices, giving diverse flavours.

Lamb Roganjosh ($20) is cubed lamb slow-stewed with red chili, kashmiri garam masala and cumin.  I do not favour lamb because of the acquired or aftertaste it has.  But the texture of the lamb was similar to the beef- great stewing meat, soft and juicy- where the individual strands of lamb broke away from the chunks to thicken the sauce. Kashmiri garam marsala is comprised of many different herbs – cumin, bay leaves, peppercorn, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg.  Therefore, the dish, a mixture of different herbs and spices amplified the freshness of the lamb. The combination of herbs complimented each other. Gorgeous!  Because the aftertaste was not strong, since majority of it was covered by the heavy spices.

Mushroom Beef Curry ($20) is diced beef with sliced button mushrooms in a medium spicy sauce.  This is a typical curry that Indians make, using dried herb powder. It was so good though. The space surrounded by the aroma of curry and the mouth watered by the heavy curry taste was just rewarding.

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A closeup picture of the Chicken Vindaloo, detailed with a couple of slices of oranges and pearl onion.

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A closeup picture of the Mushroom Beef Curry, garnished with fresh parsley.

I loved how authentic silver metal bowls and grail held the food, creating the formal atmosphere to a cultural Indian meal.  It had a form of seriousness to the dinner.  The dinner ware was quite heavy duty and had engravings on it, quite beautiful.  Also, the metal holds  heat better than glass; therefore food was always hot and warm.

Overall, I am very pleased with the meal.  The portion sizes do not look big, but it was definitely enough, as we had leftovers to take out.  In fact, the males said they were stuffed when everything was cleared on the dishes.  Guess it was expected when the meal mainly consisted of proteins, carbohydrates and starch, lack of vegetables.  However, I would like to say, if I ever need an Indian food fix, Ambiyan is definitely my first choice, especially when it is a close drive from home~

Ratings

Food 4/5

Ambiance 3/5

Service 3.5/5

Ambiyan on Urbanspoon

Gonoe Sushi

Gonoe Sushi

Address: 5 Glen Cameron Rd.  Thornhill, ON L3T 5W2

Phone: (905) 597-0176

Website: http://www.gonoesushi.com/

When I was small, Glen Cameron Plaza was a place my family always went to for lunch and dinners every weekend because there was a Chinese cuisine restaurant there established for as long as I can remember.  Twenty years ago, there was limited selection on Asian restaurants and development in the city.  Twenty years later, the present, there is an influx of different Asian cuisine, showing the multicultural Canada and acceptance of different ethnic groups within the country.  At the same time, I also sense the perseverance of authentic foods, for acceptance and recognition.  What is the best way of understanding a culture?  Food, a form of visual and sensory education.

Getting back on track, Gonoe Sushi is located on Thornhill’s bustling Yonge Street, 15 minutes north of the well known Korean Town in North York.  The newly built World on Yonge condominium is the plaza’s new neighbour.  Being on bus route and in well developed neighbourhood, it is extremely easy to find and attracts diverse clientele.

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On a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was a full-house, servers hardworking, bringing out dishes and dishes of scrumptious looking food.  The interior decor is quite standard and similar to other Japanese restaurants, with wooden framed booths and stone floors.

Service could be faster and prompt because I had to remind the servers a few times about seating and orders.  The girls seem to have their priorities wrong.  They rather get take out boxes to package unfinished food, get a pot of tea and clean a table when there were no line ups than taking my order that has been ready for at least 10 minutes or bring my bill.  They also kept clearing our plates of unfinished food, to a point we verbally notified them to not touch our plates and bowls unless they were told to.  In a way, I got a bit frustrated and annoyed with their service.

Gonoe Sushi restaurant is in reality owned by Koreans.  Therefore, they serve Korean stews and dishes, other than the typical Japanese rolls.  A special sashimi menu is available; all seafood is imported from Korea, with a selection of some flat fish, sea cucumber, sea squirt, abalone, squid and sea intestine.  I find it quite intriguing because I have never heard of these marine creatures except sea cucumber and abalone.  Everyone ordered something from this special menu than the book.  We wanted to be safe because we drove quite a distance to come here.   If you have a huge party, I suggest trying this special side menu because it looks really fresh, according to the neighbouring tables.
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Other than the items we ordered, we get miso soup, cold noodles and side dishes of kimchi, spicy beans, baby bok choi and Korean style coleslaw on the house.wpid-20141028_203135.jpg

Wakame ($4.95) is a Japanese seaweed salad with miso dressing.  Seaweed salad is a standard appetizer and tastes like any salad from other Japanese restaurants.  Seaweed mixed with sesame oil and garnished with sesame seeds.  The portion size is quite large for the price and quite filling.

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Small Sushi & Sashimi “Boat” ($44.95) comes with 12 pieces sushi, 20 pieces sashimi, and 6 pieces maki.  Obviously not served on a boat, but it was organized nicely with some artsy skills.  Everything was very fresh.  I liked how all the sashimi were thickly cut, fat and soft.  Not too much rice, making the rolls and sushi not that filling due to excessive carbohydrate.  The sushi and the roll were very intact and great bite sizes.  The variety of fish can be more diverse, but what was served were stapled fish selection.

I really recommend everyone to try this restaurant in Thornhill because the quality of food is fresh and delicious.

Rating

Food 4/5

Service 3/5

Ambiance 3.25/5

Gonoe on Urbanspoon

Bitter Melon Pork Bone Soup

A Chinese saying: the more bitter the food is, the healthier it is.  I somewhat live to that saying.  Bitter melon is one of my favourites in that category.  Not only is it rich in vitamin A and C, it is also rich in metals, giving our bodies adequate amount of nutrients for optimal health.  Therefore, I deeply believe the health benefits of a bitter melon: lowers cholesterol, prevents diabetes and bladder infection, lowers acid in our body and cleans the gastro intestinal tract,  It brings your body into equilibrium and has a cooling effect.

I enjoy the range of flavours a bitter melon offers, like bittersweet, similar to the “ginseng” acquired taste.  Honestly, the taste of bitter melon is not something I can describe with words.

Feeling extremely exhausted after work?!  This simple soup will solve all problems.

Ingredients

2 Pounds Pork Bone *pork tends to give all soups a sweet soup base*

1 1/2 Pounds Bitter melon, sliced and cored

1/5 cup Soy Beans

8 Cups Water for soup + 3 Cups Water for prep

3 Teaspoon Salt

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*optional* You can chop some carrots into bite size chunks as an extra ingredient for the soup.  If you do not want additional vegetables, but find the soup a bit bitter, you can insert a couple of honey red dates, slivered almonds and goji berries to neutralize the taste a bit.

The good thing about Asian soup is you can add whatever vegetable in it and it will taste absolutely natural, sweet and good!  Soup is all about mix and matching ingredients together.

Note: With the soy beans, it will add an additional source of calcium to the soup.

How to Make It

1) Boil 3 cups of water and blanch the pork bone for 3 minutes to let all the fats and oil come out.  With a strainer, remove the pork bone.  Discard the fatty, white foamy water.  By doing this, it saves you the step of using a spoon to scoop out all the fat and foam.  It also ensures that you get a pot of clear soup.

2) Soak the soy beans in water for 10 minutes.

3) Cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.  Save the seeds.  Slice the bitter melon.

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4) Add the blanched pork bones in 8 cups of water in a pot.  Bring it to a boil.wpid-20141106_194319.jpg

5) When the water boils, add the sliced bitter melon, its seeds, and soy beans.  Wait for the water to boil again.  I put in the vegetables last because by inserting it with the pork bones, the vigorous boiling water will soften up the melon and turn the texture into pulp.  I quite like eating the ingredients intact and mildly soft.wpid-20141106_194617.jpg

6) When the water comes to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 40 minutes.  Season with salt, and stir.  Serve hot.wpid-20141106_200214.jpg

The flavour of the soup is not as bitter as one will think.  Personally, this was the beginning step to accepting and liking bitter melon.

Korean Style – Vegetarian Japchae

I always had a liking for Korean food, especially their stews and glass noodles.  The texture and simplicity in flavour of the glass noodles make it a good choice for any time of cooking style in Asian cuisine.  Stir fry glass noodles is usually served cold as an appetizer, mixed together with vegetables and meat.  It is served hot as dumplings, sausages, rolls and with stews or noodle soup.  As can be seen, many varieties of dishes can be produced with glass noodles.

Although glass noodle was originated from China made from mung beans, yams,potatoes, cassava, or canna, this is one food that shows cooking is an art with no borders.

Ingredients

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1 Pepper, cut into bite size

1 Broccoli, chopped into bite size

1 Carrot, cut into thin sticks

1/2 Medium Onion or 3 Shallots, cut into thin sticks

2 Garlic Cloves, minced

4 Ounce Green Leaves

4 Ounces Sweet Potato Noodles

2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

1 Teaspoon Sesame Oil

1/2 Teaspoon ground white pepper powder

*optional* couple of fresh basil leaves, for diverse flavours
I substituted most of the sesame oil with olive oil because it tends to lower cholesterol and is good for heart and arteries.  Not saying sesame oil is not healthy, but sesame oil is very aromatic, that the natural flavours of the vegetables will be covered, at least I find.  In general, I used less oil than usual because I do not like my food swimming in oil, and sometimes the over loaded oil makes me feel full.  Sugar was not used, as the fresh vegetables have a sweet taste to it.

How to Make It

1) Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Put the noodles into the boiling water, cover and cook for 1 minute.  Stir to ensure the noodles do not stick together.  Cover and cook for another 7 minutes until the noodles are soft.  Strain and cut them a few times with kitchen scissors.wpid-20141105_223115.jpg

2) Bring another pot of water to a boil.  Add the green leaves and blanch for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Take it out of water and rinse the greens in cold water.  Squeeze it with your hands to remove any excess water.

3) Heat a skillet with 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat.  Stir fry the aromatic vegetables, ie. shallots and garlic until fragrant, and a bit translucent, about 1 minute.  Add the remaining chopped vegetables into the skillet.  Add a pinch of salt and stir fry it for about 2 minutes.  Transfer to bowl or plate when done.

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4) Put all ingredients together.  We can start adding the condiments for the upcoming mixing process.  Add 2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce, 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil, 1 Teaspoon Sesame Oil, 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper powder and mix it together by wooden utensils or by hand.

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5) Garnish with a few basil leaves and further mix.  You will get a final vegetarian japchae with diverse flavours.wpid-20141105_230347.jpg

Chips Roulette With Dorritos~

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Russian Roulette, hit and miss, chance, what are the odds?!  All these phrases and terms popped into my mind as soon as I saw the bag of Doritos.  As the bag says, “One in seven chips will be spicy.  Beware!”  Because math is not my forte, so I say at least 20% of the tacos are spicy, which really sparked my interest.  FUN!  Play with chance and probability for the unknown results.

Honestly, there were really no surprises to the bag of chips.  At least 85% of my chips were the regular nacho cheese flavour and the rest, small ones were the spicy chips.  It was not that spicy or hot, where you breath fire.  Quite mild.  The combination or mixture of the two flavours made the whole concept interesting and enjoyable.  This bag of chips reminded me a bit of jalepeno cheesy nachos at the pubs.

Nonetheless, very amusing and entertaining.  I will probably eat this with a group of friends, trying to prank them or play a dare game with them.  Quite merry!

Spicy Chili Oil

It has been months since I received my regular dose of chili spiciness!  My mom is against buying the sauce from supermarkets because of health and skin reasons.  Meanwhile, there have been numerous scandals about manufacturers making oil with raw materials derived from the ground, or fake chili sauce made of plastic and food colouring, and putting poisonous MSG to enhance the taste of different condiments.  To ensure natural product, I made chili oil that you find at Asian restaurants to enhance my soup noodles and everyday foods.

It is really simple and once you made it once, you will never want to buy from the supermarkets again.  The natural and diverse flavours just cannot compare!

Ingredients

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1 ounce dried whole red chili peppers

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon Sze Chuan peppercorns (find it at T&T, or any Chinese Supermarkets)

1 anise seed

3/4 cup oil (I used sunflower oil.  You can use other types)

1 teaspoon salt

*note* You can use however much peppercorns you like.  I like to use more because I like the tongue numbing effect.  Anise seed is optional.  I used it to add more depth to the taste of the condiment and to diversify the flavours.

How I Made It

1) Place whole dried chilies, Sze Chuan peppercorns, garlic and anise seed into a blender or food processor.  Blend for 3 to 4 minutes until chilies are broken up into small pieces.
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2) Heat the oil in a small sauce pan under medium low heat, until it gets hot, before you see fumes and boiling point.  It will take around 1 minute.  I recommend heating the oil in a separate bowl over boiling water because that will prevent over heating and burning the pot.image

 

3) Add chopped spices into the cooked oil.  Cook and stir.  It will take 3 to 4 minutes or until oil is turning red.
image4) Remove from heat.  Add salt and stir.  Let it rest.  When cool, bottle the chili oil in a glass container.  Store it in a cool, dark environment.

It is so good.  I already used it with noodles, for hot pot, and tofu!

Make you own~  It is easy, healthy and tastier!