Outstanding Greek Food at Mamakas Taverna

Mamakas TavernaLocation: 80 Ossington Avenue, Toronto
Website: https://mamakas.ca/

I had an idea that Mamakas Taverna was probably something special when I tried their pork souvlaki at the recent OssFest street festival and was completely blown away.  I was finally able to visit the restaurant itself, and yeah.  Yeah.  That souvlaki wasn’t a fluke.  Everything is so good.

Mamakas Taverna

It’s the type of place where you order a bunch of stuff and share, which works out well because everything is so incredibly delicious that you want to try the whole menu.

Mamakas Taverna

There’s the spanakopita, which is basically the platonic ideal of that dish, with a crispy, buttery exterior and an intensely flavourful spinach filling.  The filling was actually quite unique, with a mildly sweet, citrusy tang that does a great job of balancing out the richness of the dish.

Mamakas Taverna

There were these keftedes — perfectly-spiced beef and pork meatballs with a delightfully crispy exterior from the fryer.

Mamakas Taverna

This looks like a pretty standard salad, but the meaty lentils combined with the fresh herbs and the nice pops of sweetness and crunch from the pomegranate — not to mention a dressing that complements it perfectly and isn’t over-applied — made it just as memorable as any of the other dishes.

Mamakas Taverna

The octopus was probably the simplest dish I tried, and proof that if you’re working with great quality ingredients and preparing them well, further ornamentation is unnecessary.  The meat had a great amount of char from the grill, with a mild sweetness and nice meaty bite.  If you’re queasy about eating octopus, you need to get over yourself; you don’t know what you’re missing.  Bad octopus can be rubbery and horrible, but good octopus is like the delicious love-child between a scallop and a pork chop.

Mamakas Taverna

My favourite dish of the night was also easily the least photogenic.  No, this braised short rib doesn’t look like much, but holy moly it was ridiculously good.  Insanely tender (but not mushy) with just the right amount of perfectly creamy fat and an intensely beefy flavour, it was basically like the best pot roast you’ve ever had.

Mamakas Taverna

The dessert — a walnut spice cake with yogurt mousse — was just as delicious as everything else, because of course it was.  The cake was nutty and rich, and the tartness of the creamy mousse complemented it perfectly.

Delicious Boba Milk at Bubble Lee

Bubble LeeLocation: 3621 Highway 7, Markham
Website: http://www.bubbleleecanada.com/

They serve brown sugar boba milk at Bubble Lee; like I mentioned in my review of Tiger Sugar, this stuff is basically bubble tea without the tea.  It’s delicious.

Bubble Lee

The secret are those delightfully chewy tapioca balls and the tasty brown-sugar-infused sauce that they serve them with.  I don’t even need the drink; just serve those things in a bowl with a spoon.  Serve them on top of ice cream (actually, that’s an amazing idea.  Restaurateurs: feel free to steal that).

Bubble Lee

I think I liked the version at Tiger Sugar a little bit better — they serve it with a “cream mousse” that makes it indulgently rich — but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what they’re serving at Bubble Lee.   On the plus side, it’s not as heavy, so it feels more like a regular drink and less like something you have to take a nap to recover from.

Amazing Ramen at Nobuya

NobuyaLocation: 285 Royal York Road, Etobicoke
Website: https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Ramen-Restaurant/Nobuya

Generally speaking, if Suresh Doss recommends a restaurant, I immediately add it to my list of places to check out.  The man has an almost supernatural gift for sniffing out unsung gems, and his recommendations are always stellar.

But I was particularly excited after reading his write-up on Nobuya, in which he raves about the ramen and calls the karaage “some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever have.”

Nobuya

Nobuya is an interesting place.  The restaurant is decked out in sports paraphernalia, and is entirely a one-man show.  It’s staffed entirely by the owner, who shuttles back and forth between the small dining room and the kitchen.  As you might expect, the service is leisurely, but very friendly.

I started, of course, with the karaage, which was a bit of a let-down.  It’s well seasoned, with a nice light crispiness on its exterior.  But the best versions of karaage are made with juicy dark meat; this was made with dried-out white meat.  It certainly wasn’t bad, but the dryness was a bummer.

Nobuya

But of course, the ramen is what you’re there for.  They have a few varieties on offer, but the owner identified the Tokyo ramen as his favourite, so that’s what I ordered.

Tokyo-style ramen is very, very different than the rich, hearty tonkotsu ramen that’s so omnipresent in the city; it has a much lighter consistency and a delicate flavour which makes it a very refreshing change of pace.

Nobuya

It’s also seriously delicious, with a complex meatiness, a very mild fishy funk, and a subtle sweetness to round things out.  It pulls off that delightful magic trick you’ll find in the best bowls of ramen, where every spoonful seems to bring something new to the table.

The many toppings — things like garlic, green onion, and pickled ginger — only amp up the already delightful flavour.  It’s fantastic.

Nobuya

But then there’s the noodles.  I’m assuming this was a one-time mistake (the bowl was too delicious for it to be anything but an unfortunate glitch), but the noodles in my and my dining companion’s bowl were overcooked to the point of mushiness.  Given how good the rest of the bowl was, this was particularly unfortunate.  But I guess if you’re one guy running an entire restaurant on your own, little slip-ups are bound to happen.

The chashu wasn’t great either, with a slightly tough texture and a gamy flavour.  But again, that soup was so damn good that it really didn’t matter.

Mediocre Khao Soi at Imm Thai Kitchen

Imm Thai KitchenLocation: 651 College Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.facebook.com/Immthaikitchen/

Khao soi is one of those dishes I have a hard time resisting.  The combo of the creamy and vibrant curry soup, the chewy noodles in the bowl, and the crispy fried ones on top add up to a dynamite mix of flavours and textures.

Imm Thai Kitchen

At Imm Thai, I tried a few of the starters before I got to the soup: spring rolls, fresh rolls, and fried sweet potato.  The two types of rolls were both about what you’d expect, but the sweet potato really stood out.  The thin strands of potato were crunchy and addictive — they were basically like a freshly-fried version of Hickory Sticks, and I couldn’t get enough of them.

Imm Thai Kitchen

The khao soi, on the other hand — i.e. the reason I wanted to visit the restaurant in the first place — wasn’t the best.  It was fine; I certainly didn’t dislike eating it, but it is absolutely, positively not in the same league as the best bowls of this particular dish.

Imm Thai Kitchen

The “soup” itself is the biggest issue.  And yes, in this case, the word soup definitely needs to be in quotes — the thick, sludgy liquid here was at the consistency of a particularly hearty gravy.

Imm Thai Kitchen

Of course, the broth in a bowl of khao soi is supposed to be a little bit richer than a typical bowl of soup, but this version took that two or three (or four or five) steps too far.

Imm Thai Kitchen

The flavour, too, was a bit one-note, with none of the delightful complexity that makes the best bowls of khao soi really sing.  The crispy noodles on top were nice, if not quite as abundant as you’d like, and the pieces of chicken (you can also pick tofu, shrimp, or lobster) were all dry, personality-free chunks of white meat.

Quick Bites: Nani’s Gelato, Fishman Lobster Clubhouse, and Bakerbots Baking

Nani's GelatoPumpkin Pie and Chocolate gelato from Nani’s Gelato

I’ve written about Nani’s Gelato a couple of times for this blog, and it continues to be fantastic.  Both flavours were top-notch, and the gelato itself is as rich and creamy as ever.  Alas, they’re currently closed for the season; apparently a permanent location might be in the cards, so fingers crossed that they’re able to make this happen.  Clearly, gelato of this calibre needs to available all year round.

Fishman Lobster ClubhouseLobster mountain at Fishman Lobster Clubhouse

I don’t have much to add about this place since I wrote about it last — but come on.  Look at that thing.  That’s a photo you have to share.  And that’s the impressive thing about this place: it seems like it’s expressly designed to impress on social media (and yeah, it clearly is), but it’s also surprisingly delicious.  It’s meaty and perfectly cooked, and the way they fry it makes it a bit more interesting than standard boiled/steamed lobster, but still allows the meat be the star of the show (it’s fried in the shell, so the majority of the meat isn’t battered).  It’s so good.

Bakerbots Baking (Bang Bang)Orange Cardamom ice cream from Bakerbots Baking

Hot tip: Bakerbots Baking serves a decent assortment of Bang Bang ice cream flavours, so if you ever feel like a scoop of Bang Bang without the line, head to Bakerbots.  And the orange cardamom was exactly what I was hoping it would be: creamy and orangey like the best creamsicle you’ve ever had, but with a nice hit of cardamom flavour.  It’s a quality scoop of ice cream.