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Torafuku & AnnaLenna

Happy September! During our hiatus, I went back to Vancouver and tried two new hot spots in the city.

Torafuku
After seeing all the drool-worthy photos on Instagram, my foodie friend and I ventured to the new Asian fusion restaurant, Torafuku (Japanese for “Lucky Tiger”) on Main Street near Vancouver’s Chinatown. It’s been one of the latest hot spots to go to and we had been waiting for weeks to try their food. Their packed establishment, while new, may be attributed to the fandom of Le Tigre, the popular food truck company run by Torafuku’s co-owner.IMG_2685Since they don’t take reservations, which is becoming more common¬†in downtown hotspots, we arrived at the restaurant closer to 6:30 pm and took our chances. Luckily, we were greeted immediately upon entering and escorted to the last table for two in the back corner. Seating is rather limited with larger, sharing-type tables, a few tables for two and four. I would suggest going there even before 6:30 pm to secure a spot for you and your dining guests.

Once you enter the restaurant, you’ll notice the simple, yet tidy decor speaks to the more relaxed dining environment. The open-kitchen attached to the bar made the environment lively, where patrons could easily interact with the chefs busy at work. I also noticed a popular Vancouver food blogger was also seated close by ūüôā

The service was very attentive and one of the better ones that I’ve received in Vancouver. Our waitress came to check on us at least three times during our meal. She gave us some good recommendations, even though we sort of had an idea about which dishes we would order already from previous patrons. Most importantly, we didn’t feel rushed at all, despite there being a line-up on our way out.

My favourite dishes among the four that we ordered were the Kickass Rice 2.0 and the Rye So Messy Рpartly because of their awesome names but they were two solid dishes. The portions of both dishes were adequate as sharing plates for two.IMG_2686My friend and I were very excited to try the popular Kickass Rice 2.0 dish and to say the least, it did not disappoint! Each bite of the pork belly aburi had a burst of spicy, savoury, and sour flavours, but was not too overpowering.

I’m a huge fan of Southern-style Fried Chicken…it really is my ULTIMATE comfort food! Unfortunately¬†the fried chicken skin served here wasn’t crispy enough, which would have made the dish a 9 out of 10. The sesame seeds and ramen crumbs however gave it some crunch¬†and was a nice twist on the classic fried chicken dish.IMG_2690I love the name of this dish too, “This is not Tortellini”, which consists of¬†pork dumplings with shiso, ginger, garlic and scallion. I would have to say this tasted like the typical potsticker, but I really enjoyed the sweetened beet puree and steamed vegetables.IMG_2692The last dish we ordered was the calamari salad. The calamari was deep-fried well – chewy on the inside and a little bit crispy on the outside. Topped with a sweet chilli dressing, the calamari was also balanced well with¬†onions, tomatoes, and fresh arugula. Though I enjoyed the calamari texture, I thought it was underseasoned and the sweetness of the lychee did not match well with the savoury¬†and tangy flavours of the calamari and squid. Perhaps this one was my least favourite dish; I would have liked it more if the lychees were replaced with another fruit that was mildly sweet, such as sliced apples.IMG_2699On average, the prices were roughly $10-12 per dish. For the portion size of these sharing plates, those with bigger appetites may leave craving for more. We actually headed to Rain or Shine Ice Cream afterwards! Though it wasn’t exactly bang for your buck, the friendly service and creatively executed dishes might entice you to come back. I’m excited to see what they will be adding to their menu in the near future!

AnnaLennaIMG_2712My family and I went to the upscale AnnaLenna Restaurant in Kitsilano for a special occasion. We were very¬†excited to try this restaurant since it’s been voted #1 in Vancouver!¬†The decor was a little bit mismatched yet quirky, with pieces of lego and vintage gameboys on the shelf as you enter the doorway. The black booths where we were seated provided a more classic and contemporary feel and were very comfortable. I loved the natural lighting from the open patio and the nice summer breeze.IMG_2708Serving primarily Canadian West Coast cuisine, AnnaLenna offers a very limited selection¬†of 15 dishes on their menu. The waitress explained to us that all of the menu items were intended to be¬†sharing-type dishes, recommending 2 dishes per person; however, we thought 8 dishes in total would be a little much for the four of us.¬†¬†One of my favourite dishes was the heirloom tomato salad. I’m not a big fan of cheese, however, the soft burrata cheese complemented the texture of the tomato and the crispiness of the house cured bacon. This is the perfect summer dish that I will be definitely ordering again in the future!¬†IMG_2720There were not many vegetable options, so we ordered the¬†kale salad. After discussing with my guests, we felt that the ginger tahini dressing was a bit too creamy and the salad was overseasoned with salt, making it a heartier appetizer. I really enjoyed the fried cauliflower because it provided a sweet caramelized flavour to balance off the saltiness. I appreciated the different elements that were involved in creating this dish, for example, the potato chips topping the salad were a nice surprise providing desirable crunch and texture.IMG_2721Since I’m allergic to a lot of different types of shellfish, fish is one of the staples I can eat safely without getting a bad reaction. One of my favourite types of seafood is salmon, which the¬†wild trout that we ordered tasted very similar to. The crust on the trout was perfectly seared (not one bit burnt) for that extra crunch. We also ordered another seafood dish which was the scallops.¬†The puffed rice cereal was an interesting accompaniment on the dish and provided some nice texture overall. However, the seared scallops, though cooked well, missed its mark with its seasoning and was underwhelming in flavour.¬†While both dishes¬†were beautifully presented, our expectations were not met with the smaller portion sizes and value of the dishes.IMG_2724 IMG_2727Two other¬†honourable mentions belong to the tamari-marinated grilled pork belly and the wagyu beef short ribs – the highlights of the night! Pork belly is usually a fattier and heavier Chinese dish but the pairing of oat porridge and cooked beets made the dish less decadent and rich. The caramelized flavours of the pork belly provided a sweet flavour that matched well with the umami flavours of the meat. Similarly, the wagyu short rib was another stand-out dish which¬†was extremely tender and cooked perfectly medium rare. The peppercorn jus also didn’t overwhelm the natural flavour¬†of the beef and its melt-in-your-mouth texture will leave you wanting more!IMG_2730IMG_2736Unfortunately, we passed on the dessert of either grapefruit semifreddo or chocolate custard because we already bought a cake to eat at home. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this special dining experience at AnnaLenna, especially the choice of dishes offered. Despite having a more limited menu, most of the dishes were¬†high-quality and¬†signature dishes. I really look forward to trying their brunch menu and desserts one day.

-Matchachoco

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Winterlicious 2015: Bent I Ever Had

Excuse the Drake puns throughout this post ‚Äď we are fully aware that we might overdo the use of Drake references here *cue the eye rolls*. We have heard that Drake, one of Canada‚Äôs treasures and an undeniably talented rapper, is a regular at this restaurant!

There is no question that Chef Susur Lee is a guggernaut in the elite culinary world. I’ve seen him on TV a number of times (Chopped Canada) and read some reviews on the Internet, so I was mighty curious about his restaurants in Toronto and what all the hype was about.

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Named after his wife’s maiden name, Bent is a Toronto restaurant owned by Susur Lee that specializes in seafood and Asian fusion cuisine. I’ve heard so much about Bent and for the last two years, I’ve wanted to visit, but it was never the right timing. However, I planned ahead this year and noticed that I would be in town for Winterlicious, the two-week prix fixe menu foodie event, and Bent was on the list of participating restaurants (yay!). I didn’t have to do that much convincing for my partner-in-crime Ricelessasian to agree to join me, since she enjoys Asian cuisine as well!

The restaurant itself is quite special and unique. From the bar to the chairs to the floor tiles, there is an eccentric, retro-feel to the whole establishment that brings you a little back in time. I guess that is what‚Äôs particularly magical about the restaurant ‚Äď it provides a ethereal escape from the crowded downtown core.

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While there was only one option for dinner at $35 for 3 courses, the portions were rather generous for the price we paid. Our waiter said that normally the Asian Duck Confit would cost around $30 for just that dish alone.

We decided to get different entrees and appetizers (the dessert was the same on the menu), so that we could taste and sample each other‚Äôs dishes. I will be the first person to admit that I need a lot of variety when I go out to eat ūüôā

For the first course, we chose the Pan-Roasted Braised Beef in Peking Crepe and the Baked Dim Sum Chicken (Siu Mai).

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The crepe was something both of us didn’t expect! We had the steamed type of crepe in mind that is often served in Chinese restaurants, so we were quite pleasantly surprised by this fusion twist! The half-moon-shaped crepe, almost like a empanada, was deliciously crispy and flaky. The braised beef filling was very satisfying and was extremely tender and moist.

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There were so many different elements and layers to the flavours associated with the Baked Dim Sum Chicken (Siu Mai) than the countless ones I have eaten at regular Dim Sum. The Sui Mai was juicy, plump and we were given very generous portions. It definitely had to be the most ‚ÄúAsian‚ÄĚ-inspired dish on the menu; we appreciated the accompaniments like the white and black tree ear mushrooms and lap cheung. For me, it was a bit on the saltier side than I preferred.¬†I often eat Siu Mai, so personally I was not blown away. Nevertheless, the dish photographed beautifully with the colourful plating and outstanding presentation.

For the second course, we ordered the Asian Duck Confit and the Roasted Assam Style Halibut.

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After tasting the Duck Confit, we came to a consensus that it was a tad dry (overcooked), which was quite disappointing because we both enjoy enjoy eating duck. The only thing that saved this dish was the cranberry and ginger relish sauce (we would seriously bottle that up if we could!).

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Oh you fancy huh? 

The plating was divine, with the lobster bisque resembling a pond, in which the fish and and tofu were ‚Äúfloating‚ÄĚ in.¬†I have nothing negative to say about the halibut. It was cooked perfectly ‚Äď the ‚Äúmelt in your mouth‚ÄĚ ‚Äď type I‚Äôm talking about. We enjoyed the Indian-inspired flavours of the tamarind and chickpeas, which balanced well with the subtle flavours of the halibut.

Lastly, the dessert trio, made up of Chinese Sesame Tong Yuen with chocolate nougat, Passionfruit jelly, and Feuillatine Carrot Cake, was a great way to end our delicious meal.

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The presentation was lovely with the 3 separate sections to showcase the different desserts. My favourite dessert would definitely have to be the Tong Yuen as there was a nice surprise of texture with the crunchy nougat that is not found in the typical Tong Yuen dish. The raspberry and apricot puree also nicely balanced the richness of the chocolate sauce. Unfortunately, the passionfruit jelly was not spectacular, and neither was the carrot cake. I thought I could have gotten these anywhere in the city.

Overall, the service was very friendly ‚Äď our waiter was very talkative and even made recommendations for what we could order next time. I thought he was a bit pushy in suggesting us to order an ‚Äúadd-on‚ÄĚ dish¬†besides¬†the prix fixe menu, but we politely declined. I was worried a bit after reading a few reviews about the ‚Äėcold‚Äô service, but I don‚Äôt think we encountered that during our lovely first visit.¬†I guess you could say the servers weren’t on their worst behaviour.

There were definitely many highs and a few lows to our first dining experience at Bent Restaurant. However, because the Winterlicious and Summerlicious menus are such great values, we would opt to go again during these times and not during their regular service.

Bent was more than just an option during Winterlicious. It refuses to be forgotten.

-Matchachoco

Rating:

Food: 4.5/5
Service: 4/5
Value: 5/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5

Mandalay Restaurant: An Intimate Dining Experience

In January, we were graciously invited by our good friend to dine at Mandalay Restaurant, which is located in East Scarborough, Toronto. We actually wanted to visit last year, however, due to school and my trip back home to Vancouver, we were unable to find a suitable time until the new year.

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Mandalay Restaurant is a fine dining establishment serving a fusion of Western and South Asian cuisine, in the Toronto suburbs of East Scarborough. The restaurant is tucked away like a hidden gem in a small shopping strip. I’m not aware of too many fine dining restaurants in the outskirts of Downtown Toronto, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn about this restaurant! Overall, the entree dishes on the menu are something you would expect to see more in downtown.

The intimate setting is probably the greatest appeal to the restaurant and is a very convenient place to eat for suburbians who are seeking that quality dining experience near home. Though it is more suitable for special occasions, I wouldn’t think twice about going for lunch or dinner on non-occasion nights either. The entrees are moderately priced and are more affordable than other fine dining restaurants in the downtown core. The ambiance was very relaxed with a rather romantic feel, (a great place to have a date!).

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The variety of food offered is quite amazing for a smaller, independent restaurant. While perusing the menu, I was very impressed to see that they offer bison and kangaroo on a regular basis. Overall, they have a lot of variation for both those who prefer a lighter meal and those who want to indulge a little bit more!

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I’m not sure whether it was because we kept taking pictures, but the calamari was a bit cold and soggy by the time we ate it. Alternatively, we really enjoyed the Warm Spinach Salad, with honey dijon dressing, mushrooms and bacon bits, one of the more popular appetizers we learned. I love the idea of warm salad, especially on a cold winter day!

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The appetizer-sized naan pizza with sautéed mushrooms, tomato and goat cheese was also another excellent recommendation. I really enjoyed this fusion dish and all the savoury caramelized flavours of the vegetables balanced well with each other. The amount of goat cheese was not overpowering and gave the dish that extra satisfying richness.

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We were spoiled by the assortment of appetizers, so by the time the entrées came, I was nearly full! But you know what they say, when in Rome…

Ricelessasian ordered the Stuffed Chicken, a generous piece of chicken breast filled with an assortment of mushrooms, spinach and goat cheese. The dish was also accompanied with grilled vegetables and pineapple. The chicken was drier than we would have preferred, but the roasted vegetables were cooked perfectly, nicely tender and packed with a pleasant caramelized flavour.

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I had a craving for some steak so I ordered the 10 oz. New York Striploin (AAA quality) with mushroom gravy, roasted potatoes and grilled mixed vegetables. The steak was cooked perfectly medium rare and was juicy and tender. I really enjoyed the mushroom glaze, which I felt complemented the meaty flavour of the striploin very well. The portions were very large in general and we thought it was amazing value for the price.

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Needless to say, by the time dessert came, we were very full. If you know me or Ricelessasian, we have major sweet tooths! We don’t necessarily like very sweet pastries, but we both appreciate a good dessert to end a meal.

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Coincidentally (or not), we both picked the same dessert to order ‚Äď which was the Raspberry Mousse Cake. I noticed that their desserts are not currently featured on their website menu, possibly because the dessert menu changes from time to time. The mousse cake was very pretty and the slice was a very generous portion compared to other places I have eaten at. I really enjoyed the mousse part ‚Äď maybe more so than the chocolate cake layer. We also had a sample of the Grand Marnier Cheesecake which had a refreshing orangey flavour to it. The liquer was quite subtle and the graham cracker crust wasn‚Äôt too sweet. Overall, we both enjoyed this cheesecake, and we regretted not ordering this initially! Haha.

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The service was very attentive and we didn’t feel rushed throughout our entire meal. The restaurant also has an impressive wine collection, which we hope to try on our next visit.

The food quality and attractive plating speaks for itself and I would highly recommend it to any friends or family who are in the area!

Rating:

Food: 4/5
Service: 4.5/5
Value: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5

Mandalay Restaurant
3478 Lawrence Ave E C3
Toronto, ON M1H 3E5
(416) 438-7949

*Disclaimer: Our meal at Mandalay Restaurant was comped. However, all of our opinions regarding the food and dining experience are our own. 

Vancouver Eats

In between our baking adventures for Sam’s birthday order, we decided to do a lot of sightseeing in Vancouver. Actually make that eating our way through the city for 7 days. There were so many more caf√©s and afternoon tea places that Matchachoco wanted to bring me, but I guess that will just have to wait for the next visit ūüėČ

Matchachoco: yes, we forgot beta5chocolates, Earnest Ice Cream, Secret Tea Garden, and the list goes on….

collage IMG_4735Outpost Mini Donuts
110 – 12240 Second Avenue, Richmond, BC

Somewhere along the streets of Steveston is this lovely vintage looking store which sell mini donuts. We came in a bit early as the store was still closed, so we waited outside as we smelled the fragrance of fresh donuts being prepared. We got half a dozen of mini donuts containing lemon, blueberry, vanilla bean, and Canadian maple flavours. While we were disappointed with the vanilla bean mini donut, we savoured the lemon and blueberry mini donuts. We loved the concept of fresh mini donuts with a variety of flavours, as well as the interiors and display outside the store.

IMG_4660Timothy’s Frozen Yogurt
3800 Bayview Street, Richmond, BC V7E 6K7
http://www.yelp.ca/biz/timothys-frozen-yogurt-richmond

This was one of the best and freshest frozen yogurt desserts I’ve ever tried! Pictured here is a fresh blueberry frozen yogurt served with a waffle cone made fresh in store.¬† Sharing is not recommended ūüėȬ†¬†I would definitely try their other flavours when I come back.

IMG_4744Steveston Pizza Co.
3400 Moncton St, Richmond, BC 

This pizza is kind of a funny story. As Matchachoco and I continued to roam around Steveston, we passed by Steveston Pizza Co. which we’ve heard has one of the best pizzas in Richmond. We came to the store intrigued about their menu (they have a $120 and $450 pizza!) and came just in time as we witnessed a¬†family¬†devour the extravagantly priced¬†$120 seafood pizza in the store. The pizza looked¬†appetizing and it was topped with a variety of fresh seafood such as Icelandic scampi and lobster ratatouille (we wish we had a photo of it). We also had a brief chat with the friendly owner and we were pleasantly surprised (somewhat shocked)¬†that he offered to make us a generously-sized margarita pizza on the house.The pizza was piping hot and had a thin crust with lots of bocconcini¬†cheese! You could definitely taste the freshness of all the ingredients. While it wasn’t the most expensive item on the menu (lol),¬†it was truly one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had.

I later found out that¬†Steveston’s¬†$450 pizza has beaten Gordon Ramsay’s $148 pizza for the Guinness World Record title¬†for the most expensive pizza in the world.

collage2The Stock Market (Granville Island)
1689 Johnston Street, Vancouver, BC V6H3R9
http://www.thestockmarket.ca/

One of the best parts of my trip was going to Granville Island as I was mesmerized with the countless of food¬†shops/stalls that they have. We had soup from The Stock Market (a huge props¬†to the owners¬†for creating such a witty name!). We got the Smoked Salmon Chowder and the Chicken Barley Soup. We found the Smoked Salmon Chowder to be too salty, but we enjoyed the Chicken Barley Soup as it was¬†hearty and¬†had a nice balance of earthy¬†flavour (although we could be biased because we love barley!). Both soups came with fresh focaccia bread. I liked the bread and thought¬†it paired well with both of the soups, but Matchachoco wished the bread could’ve been warmed.

IMG_4312collage4IMG_4320Black & Blue Steakhouse
1032 Alberni St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2V6
http://www.glowbalgroup.com/blackblue/

This was a super heavy dinner! Pictured here are some of the dishes that we tried in addition to the meat selection display  (from top to bottom, left to right): Medium Rare Sirloin Steak, meat display, Stuffed Mushrooms, Blue Cheese Bread, Beef Carpaccio, and Surf & Turf. I never thought I would like raw beef, but that beef Carpaccio hit the spot. I also enjoyed the roasted brussels sprouts (not in photo) which had hint of sourness and was probably the lightest menu item we got (although Matchachoco thought it was too sour for her taste because of the balsamic vinegar). This place definitely has meat and seafood done right, but we found some of the dishes too rich and heavy.

IMG_4344IMG_4357IMG_4382IMG_4347Thierry
1059 Alberni St, Vancouver, BC V6E 1A1
http://www.thierrychocolates.com/

Just across Black & Blue steak house is this crowded patisserie called Thierry.¬†The place seems to be jam packed every time we passed by it. We came here quite late and they only had two flavours of macarons left: coffee and lime coconut¬†(shown in the photo). I thought that their macarons were quite different from previous macarons I’ve had before as their macarons were relatively richer in taste and texture.¬†The macaron shells were dense and had no air pockets whatsover¬†(translation: it’s a sign of a good macaron and it’s¬†not a rip off lol). Matchachoco and I weren’t a huge fans of the coffee macaron, but I enjoyed the lime coconut macaron. I gave some chocolates to my brother and he commented¬†how shiny the chocolates were. I think most of the chocolates we got were dark chocolate based, and coming from a¬†dark chocolate lover,¬†Thierry gets a thumbs up.¬† We didn’t have any of the cakes and other pastries, but I was fascinated with their display. One of the cakes that particularly got my attention was the passion fruit cake (as shown in photo), which had mini macaron shells on the sides. I was really amused with how small they were able to pipe the macaron shells.

10346637_10152375598987969_6004380931402416712_nWhite Spot
1616 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC
http://www.whitespot.ca/

After a long bike ride at Stanley Park, we were starving, so we headed to White Spot. We decided on White Spot because it was a certain professor’s favourite burger¬†place in Vancouver (haha). We had the Monty Mushroom Bigger Burger each and shared the salad and sweet potato fries¬†which came as side dishes with the burgers. I was quite impressed with Spot’s salad¬†(fresh arugula with honey sherry dressing, cranberries, toasted almonds and¬†sunflower seeds)¬†that came on the side. I thought it was just going to be a regular salad! Although we both enjoyed our meals, we couldn’t finish all of it even if we were starving. It was a heavy meal ūüėõ

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collageIMG_4037Miku Restaurant
#70 – 200 Granville St, Vancouver, BC
http://www.mikurestaurant.com/

Our photos just¬†don’t give justice to how good our dinner at¬†Miku was! Matchachoco and I were struggling to take photos of the food as it was quite dark in the restaurant. Regardless, the view of the Waterfront from Miku was spectacular at night. Matchachoco and I love this place and of course the food! My favourite dishes were the Nutrigreens Farm Tofu Salad, Soba Pepperoncino, and the Salmon Oshi Sushi. The Nutrigreen Farms Tofu Salad definitely goes¬†on my list of favourite salads ever ūüėõ The texture of the scrambled tofu and the crispy tempeh just¬†goes well¬†with the tangy¬†salad with Japanese flavours.¬†We also loved the freshness of the seafood in the Soba Pepperoncino and the Salmon Oshi Sushi.¬†The sauce they used for the Salmon Oshi Sushi as well as the jalapeno topping really compliment the sushi combination.

imageimageNew Town Bakery
6360 No 3 Rd, Richmond, BC V6Y 2B3
http://www.newtownbakery.ca/

We were recommended to try the Chicken Deluxe (Bola Bola) steamed buns at New Town Bakery. The bun was¬†pretty huge,¬†so¬†Matchachoco and I shared the bun for brunch as we were travelling (there was just not enough time to go to all the amazing places in Vancouver lol). The bun had a juicy meat filling, but it wasn’t very rich, which I really liked.

IMG_5595IMG_5593La Patisserie
6360 Number 3 Rd, Richmond, BC V6Y 2B3
http://www.yelp.ca/biz/la-patisserie-richmond

I got pretty excited when we went to La Patisserie. I noticed that they had a variety of cake flavours which I don’t usually find in Chinese Bakeries in Toronto (e.g. blueberry, lychee, and something that had wasabi in it). While I didn’t get to try their breads and other pastries, Matchachoco and I got to try a variety of their cake flavours. Pictured here are: blueberry, green tea, mango, chocolate, taro, strawberry, and black sesame. The cakes were very light and not too sweet, which is typical in Chinese bakery cakes. Although we were impressed with the flavour choices they had, we weren’t¬†as impressed with how the flavours were incorporated into most of the cakes that we got.¬†For example, the strawberry one¬†tastes¬†a bit¬†‘artificial’.¬†However, we really enjoyed the taro and fresh mango cakes (which everyone raves about). The taro cake tastes similar to an ube cake with cream, while mango cake reminded me of one of my favourite mango cakes when I was a kid.

imageTasty Kitchen
8300 Capstan Way, Suite 1226, Richmond, BC V6X 4B5
http://www.yelp.ca/biz/tasty-kitchen-richmond

This is a relatively new restaurant that I learned about from Matchachoco’s dad.¬†Since we already tried other different cuisines on this trip, we decided to go to this traditional¬†Cantonese restaurant. We had Pepper Beef which was served with some vegetables. I thought it was one of the best dishes of the night.¬†¬†The beef chunks were so tender and the onions and mushrooms accompanied the earthy flavours of the eggplant very well. We also tried the lobster which is a must-try in Vancouver. It was cooked Asian-style with soya sauce and thin egg noodles. I also enjoyed the¬†steamed¬†Cantonese White Cut Chicken¬†with green onion & garlic dipping sauce. Hopefully this restaurant is still around when I visit Vancouver again since I heard this location has changed restaurants many times!

-Ricelessasian

Winterlicious 2014: Canoe

It was only last December that we ate at Canoe. The first time, we were treated to their regular a-la-carte menu – a combination of entrees and appetizers such as braised Alberta lamb, fresh oysters and smoked duck breast. It was a special occasion and meal for us and ever since, we’ve been comparing other restaurants to this one.

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We never thought our second visit would be this soon. Fortunately, the annual Winterlicious food festival in Toronto has made lunch (and dinner) very affordable and therefore ‘easily’ convincing us to revisit one of our favourite restaurants in the city. Winterlicious (January 31-Feb 13) is really like the Olympics of eating. For two weeks, foodies alike in the city can participate in rounds of eating at the top restaurants the city has to offer. It’s not really competitive, but after a good solid meal, we really are all winners, aren’t we?

The atmosphere was calming, yet there was lively chatter amongst the business crowd and regular patrons. Canoe, one of the eight Oliver and Bonacini restaurants located in Ontario, is renown for its spectacularly breathtaking view of the CN tower and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. That’s really one of the selling points of this establishment that might keep you coming. Luckily, their food has been nothing but excellent quality and consistency.

The feeling of going up to the 54th floor of the TD Tower Building to the restaurant is rather exhilarating – in a good way. I often refer to it as “going up to food heaven”. (let’s hope there really is one ;))

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We were quite decisive this time about what we wanted to order, having perused the prix fixe menu ahead of time.

To disclose, as a big fan of butternut squash soup, I’ve been hesitant of ordering it when it’s something I could make at home or purchase in the school cafeteria. Besides the fact that it was on the cooler side, I really was pleased with Canoe’s take on a classic – infusing ginger, tarragon cream (yum), and leavened bread croutons – items I would not usually put in my homemade soup. The richness of the soup did not overpower tasting the other ingredients in the soup, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Ricelessasian, on the other hand, had the Maple Mustard Pork Rillette (similar to p√Ęt√©), which was seasoned nicely and fork-tender. It was served with Kozlik’s mustard, hen’s egg, gherkin, and miniature mushrooms which all melded well with the rillette.

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Out of the entrees, we were both drawn mostly to the Ontario Strip Loin with Northern Woods Mushrooms, Layered Potato, & Birch Onion Marmalade. Everything in that description sounded like what I would want to eat everyday. The Strip Loin was outstanding in both flavourful and texture (slightly chewy, yet tender); probably the best that I have ever tasted! The slight marbling on the meat also was what won me over about the dish.

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The onion marmalade was actually one of my favourite things on the plate  Рit had that amazing, sweet caramelized flavour which was a lovely complement with the meaty umami flavour of the Strip Loin and sauteed mushrooms.

If you know us, you would know that we usually look at the desserts before we pick our entrees. I’m sure people with a sweet tooth are accustomed to do the same.

Ricelessasian had the Wild Rice Pudding (ironically). The texture of the rice pudding was nice and chewy. The incorporation of the wild rice was a nice touch to the conventional rice pudding. We really enjoy the the mousse which topped the rice pudding. It was light, earthy, and fruity.

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The Niagara Walnut Tart (apple caramel, roasted apple and creme fraiche) was a very decadent way to end the meal. It had a lovely buttery taste and the pastry was crisp rather than flaky. Believe me, it is a richer dessert but so worth it if you’re a fan of apple pie, or tarts in general. The mixture of tanginess from the berry sauce with the sweetness of the roasted apples on top complemented each other well. It was a very generous portion for a dessert to the point where I ALMOST couldn’t finish it! Thank you Canoe for not be stingy with the portion sizes.

Having one of the last lunch reservations of the day, we had the restaurant almost to ourselves near the end of our three-course meal. We thought it was a great moment to capture the view on the other side, something that we didn’t do the last time around.

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If you’re ever in the city, we highly recommend to be wined and dined at Canoe.

Rating:

Food: 4.5/5
Service: 4.5/5
Value: 5/5
Ambiance: 5/5

– Matchachoco

Our Year in Review (2013)

It’s only been 8 months since we’ve started blogging, we have enjoyed every minute of it. Even the editing part. As we countdown to say hello to a brand new year and bid adieu to 2013, we recall all the wonderful experiences so far in the blogosphere and developing a platform to share our baking interests with friends, family and fellow bloggers out there.

Matchachoco: I have had the great opportunity to collaborate with my baking & blogging partner throughout this year. We overcame a few challenges this year with finding more time to bake during the busy school year. I am excited to move forward to the next year of learning, baking and blogging!

Ricelessasian: 2013 was full of ups and downs for me. It was a bittersweet year; hence the constant posts about matcha (bitter) and desserts (sweet), lol. I’m looking forward for more food adventures with my baking buddy!

Here’s 2013 in review at the Underground Culinary Lab:

Our first blog post was posted in May 2013!IMG_0521

Ricelessasian broke one of the whisks of her electric hand mixer because the butter she used was not softened enough at room temperature. For months, she dealt with an electric hand mixer with a single whisk.
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A few months after, she broke the other whisk when she was beating meringue. She eventually had to buy a new electric hand mixer. I guess we can rule out that the butter was not softened enough at room temperature.
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Someone was caught red handed pureeing beets for the rainbow cake Underground Culinary Lab made this year.
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The first time we went to Taste of the Danforth!IMG_5965

Ricelessasian’s fan girl moment in New JerseyIMG_6309

Baked a bunch of cupcakes for a special annual event. We have still yet to feature the recipes. Untitled-1

Matchachoco rolling out dough for the pumpkin empanadas at the food lab in our school. The pumpkin empanadas were for a school event.IMG_0331

Matchachoco used the leftover pumpkin filling for pumpkin tarts!
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What we were up this year’s ThanksgivingIMG_0236

The result of our impromptu baking after our volunteer shift!img_0285

The last major baking post on Underground Culinary Lab for the year of 2013
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High Tea for Two at Ruelo Patisserie

Matchachoco and I spent a pleasant afternoon¬†tea and brunch¬†at Ruelo Patisserie¬†about a month ago (yes, this post¬†is a little¬†overdue). I¬†initially told Matchachoco that I wasn’t thrilled about going to Ruelo¬†because of their mixed reviews online, but after having a few bites of¬†their selection¬†for high tea, I just had to take back what I said.

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Being my first high tea experience¬†at a patisserie, I was really pleased with it and I enjoyed most of their selections. Matchachoco, who has¬†been to a couple of high tea places before, thought that¬†it wasn’t the best¬†high tea she had¬†nor was it the worst.¬† Nevertheless, we generally both enjoyed our¬†visit at Ruelo Patisserie. We had a great deal from an online offer, and it was amazing value for what we paid for and a fraction of the cost of high tea served at upscale downtown hotels.

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For tea, we were given a wide range of options from the typical¬†tea flavours¬†to¬†the unconventional ones like the¬†chocolate spicy tea.¬†Matchachoco had the Earl Grey Tea, while I had the strawberry green tea. The strawberry green tea had an overpowering¬†strawberry aroma at first, but once¬†I got to take a sip of the tea,¬†I¬†found that the strawberry flavour wasn’t as¬†overpowering as its aroma; it had the right balance of strawberry and green tea flavour.

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We were¬†quite amused with the containers that were used serve the tea. We initially didn’t know how to use them and thought that we had to wait for most of the tea drippings to reach the bottom of the container before pouring the tea in our cups (that would’ve taken a long time!). We found out eventually that you had to press the button on top of the container to make the process faster. We felt a little silly for not knowing this new breakthrough in high tea technology ūüėõ

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The high tea selections included raisin scones served with Devon cream and Kusmi jam, pain¬†au choclat,¬†mini Atlantic smoked salmon sandwich on scone,¬†Italian prosciutto wrapped grilled pepper, mini shrimp salad sandwich on crouton, tuna quiche,¬†lemon cake,¬†French macaron, cr√®me br√Ľl√©e, and¬†mango almond pudding. Matchachoco commented that the servings were just enough for two people; it wasn’t overwhelming but it didn’t leave you short.

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Ironically, I generally enjoyed the savoury selections more than the sweet selections. Of my top picks were the quiche, mini shrimp salad sandwich on crouton, and the French macarons. I liked the texture of their French macarons because they were on the slightly chewy side. Matchachoco also enjoyed the quiche and the French macarons. We think the purple macaron was cassis and the yellow macaron had a salty caramelized filling.

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One of the major flaws we found, however, was that the cr√®me br√Ľl√©e was liquid at the bottom. I thought that the mango portion of the¬†mango¬†almond pudding was sweeter than what I was used to, and Matchachoco thought that smoked salmon on scone was just the wrong pairing.

In conclusion, this was Matchachoco’s grading of Ruelo (I’m gonna let her grade it since she seems to be the high tea expert here):

Selection: 4/5
Food: 3.5/5
Service: 2.5/5
Presentation: 3/5

-Ricelessasian

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Address:

Ruelo Patisserie
Yonge & Eglinton, 4-6 Erskine Ave.
Toronto, ON

Carlo’s Bake Shop

I’m huge fan of Cake Boss, so imagine the hype and excitement I went through¬†when I finally¬†got the chance to visit the famous Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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I went to the bake shop twice during my stay in New Jersey. I initially went on a Friday evening, but I decided to go back again on a Monday afternoon because they didn’t have the¬†lobster tail pastries¬†anymore when I went there on Friday. Weekends were to be avoided because I’ve read that the line-up can¬†get really bad¬†on the weekends. The bake shop was packed during both visits, but it wasn’t as bad as the 3-4 hour line up¬†I’ve read online. Surprisingly, there was no line-up outside¬†the bake shop when I went there on Friday, but there was a line up outside when I came there on Monday. I was lucky enough that I came earlier on Monday, because the line-up behind me got worse.

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Arriving inside Carlo’s Bake Shop, you’ll see an abundance of desserts¬†and souvenir items. It’s a shame that the place was so crowded that¬†you wouldn’t be able to marvel at the desserts in peace. It takes skills to be able to take photos¬†of the desserts¬†without anyone photobombing it.

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Pictured here are lobster tail pastries, vanilla cupcake with fudge frosting, and cannoli.

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Hands down to the cannoli! I’ve tasted a couple of cannoli before and I never really liked them, but the ones from Carlo’s Bake Shop were the¬†best I’ve had.¬†It was so good that it was my favourite out of the desserts I’ve sampled from the bake shop. The cannoli shells remained crispy¬†and the filling was on the creamy side, rather than the ricotta cheese side. It was different from cannoli I’ve tried before.¬†They also had cannoli shells covered in chocolate which were also really good, but I thought that it was too rich.

The lobster tail was¬†also a noteworthy pastry that I tasted. It consists of a custard filling wrapped around a crisp pastry shell shaped like a lobster’s tail. It tasted like the crispy version of a cream puff. My parents said that the pastry shell stayed crisp even after eating it the day after. This was one of the pastries recommended by many to try when you visit Carlo’s Bake Shop (that’s why I went back on Monday), and they were right about it.

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Of course let’s not leave the cake part¬†as this post is about Cake Boss’ bakery. We got a mini tiramisu cake and my parents really liked it.¬†My brother and I shared a vanilla cupcake with fudge frosting and a chocolate cupcake with fudge frosting. We got fudge frosting because my brother loved their fudge frosting. I thought that the frosting tasted like the typical fudge frosting, but this one softens at room temperature. Both vanilla and chocolate cakes were very moist, just like how it’s supposed to be. I found that the cakes had a very distinct flavour that I just can’t seem to describe, though it’s not bad. At first I thought it was because of salt, but now I’m not sure.

I got a variety of Italian cookies to bring home to Canada to share with friends. I’m not really that familiar with Italian cookies, but it seems like¬†most of the cookies had the same cookie base only differentiated by shape, garnish, filling, and colour.

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Next time, I hope to visit Carlo’s Bake Shop with Matchachoco and to¬†actually see Buddy in person ūüėõ

-Ricelessasian

Address:

Carlo’s Bake Shop
95 Washington St
Hoboken, NJ

Dessert Trends Patisserie √† Toronto

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On a rainy and humid summer day, Ricelessasian and I decided to visit and sample some of the pastries at Dessert Trends. Actually, it was so impromptu that we didn’t even know if it was open or not! We thought we would take the chance anyhow. Luckily, it was open and so the dessert madness begins!

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Featured here are: Chocolate & Almond Opera Cake and Passion Fruit Parfait

Passion Fruit Parfait was by-far our favourite of all the desserts we tried. The passion fruit mousse was light and airy, not like traditional Western desserts. It also didn’t taste as sweet as other types of mousse we’ve tried before, which could be attributed to the freshness of the natural fruit flavour itself.

Chocolate & Almond Opera Cake – divine layers of goodness!

The opera cake takes technique to perfect its many layers of cake base, ganache and almond crunch. The contrast in textures of smoothness and crunchiness made it that more appealing bite-after-bite. It was Ricelessasian’s first time eating opera cake so she didn’t really know what to expect! She thoroughly enjoyed it because it wasn’t too rich.

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Chocolate Mousse cake with un tr√®s petit macaron! How cute is that? We were more impressed by the little macaron than the cake itself. I thought that the dark chocolate mousse was nothing too special – it tasted similar to that I’ve tried in most Asian/French patisseries in Vancouver. Though this cake base lacked fluffiness and was quite dense. We liked the zebra stripe design though – a little inspiration for our future labs!

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I sneaked a photo of Ricelessasian while she was busily taking photos of all the amazing desserts. (Hopefully this sees the light of day!)

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The beautiful decor at Dessert Trends Bistro is like nothing else in Toronto. Looking out through the glass windows, we actually could have imagined ourselves at a patisserie in Paris. Everything from the colour palate of the restaurant to the high walls and ceiling made it an exquisite space to be in.

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The aftermath of the White Chocolate ‘Egg’ that was the container for the Passion fruit parfait. We were very impressed with the stability of the white chocolate – how could it hold the Passion fruit mousse without breaking? Ricelessasian and I took a good few minutes to hypothesize about it.

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Beyond anything else, we enjoyed each other’s company – having an afternoon of Blood Orange Tea (fancy!) and treating ourselves to something special.

Ricelessasian and I are not affiliated with Dessert Trends. We were recommended to try this from our friend. It did not disappoint!

-Matchachoco

Address:

Dessert Trends Patisserie
154 Harbord St.
Toronto, ON