Excellent BBQ at Excellent BBQ Restaurant

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond HillLocation: 9425 Leslie Street, Richmond Hill
Website: None

If you’re going to put the word excellent in the name of your restaurant, you’d better be able to back that up.  Even if you’re serving pretty good food, that’s not excellent, is it?

Well, Excellent BBQ Restaurant in the Richlane Mall in Richmond Hill definitely lives up to its name: it is indeed excellent.

There’s something really satisfying about the simplicity of Chinese-style BBQ like this.  It’s beyond simple — it’s basically just whole pieces of meat and rice — but when it’s done well, it’s delicious and comforting in a way that few dishes can match.

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond Hill

Excellent BBQ Restaurant does it quite well, which is evident as soon as you get there: when I visited, there was a line going out the door, and it remained that way for the whole time I was there.

When you’re serving food this good, word gets around.

We tried a few different things.  BBQ duck.

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond Hill

BBQ pork.

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond Hill

And roast pork.

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond Hill

Everything was really good.  In particular, the duck was fatty, tender, and perfect.  The skin could have been a bit crispier, but that’s a fairly minor complaint.

Both types of pork were just as good — there wasn’t a whole lot of crispy skin on the roast pork, but what was there was shatteringly crisp and amazing.  The BBQ pork was slightly dry, but again: that’s a minor complaint.

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Noodles and Buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar

Momofuku Noodle BarLocation: 190 University Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://noodlebar-toronto.momofuku.com/

I don’t really have a favourite restaurant in the city — I have a tendency to want to try something new every time I eat out, so it’s rare that I’ll go to the same place more than a couple of times.

So I guess Momofuku Noodle Bar is one of my favourite restaurants by default, because I’ve been there several times, and it’s consistently very good.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

On this particular visit I tried a couple of their buns — chicken burger and cod cake — and both were quite tasty.  The chicken burger, which featured a generous spread of pepper hummus, was the more interesting of the two.  But the crispy, tasty cod was quite good as well.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

I also tried the onigiri, and with its crispy fried bottom layer of nori, it was certainly an interesting take on the ubiquitous Japanese snack.   But it was a little bit bland, and probably not something I’d order again.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

The Jaja noodles, which the menu describes as “bacon, black bean, cabbage, pickle,” was good, but it was another item I probably wouldn’t get again.  It had a meaty, umami-filled flavour, but it felt one-note.  It really needed a bit more vibrancy to round out its porky richness (it probably didn’t help that it reminded me a lot of a dish I had in Malaysia called chili pan mee that was superior in every regard).

Scratching my Head at Konjiki Ramen

Konjiki Ramen
Location
: 5051 Yonge Street, North York
Websitehttps://konjikiramen.com/

I think ramen might just be my favourite food on the planet.  Burgers are obviously a strong contender, but there’s something about a truly great bowl of ramen that’s incomparable.

That’s why the ramen at Konjiki — a seriously acclaimed Tokyo ramen joint that has just opened their first outpost in Canada — was so disappointing.  Their specialty is ramen made with clam, shellfish, chicken and pork.  I was exceptionally excited to try it.

You can either get shio (salt) or shoyu (soy sauce); I went with shoyu, which was clearly a mistake.  The flavour was all salty soy sauce, which completely wipes out all of the nuances from the broth.

https://tastyburgers.ca/

The thing that’s so irresistible about a great bowl of ramen is how complex it is; it feels like you’re discovering something new with every mouthful.  But there was nothing new to discover here after the first slurp.  It certainly wasn’t bad, but the first sip was exactly the same as the last.

The noodles were quite good, at least, with a satisfying chewiness.  The texture was slightly off in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but that’s a minor complaint.

The chasu, on the other hand, wasn’t great.  It was super dry, and just didn’t add much to the bowl.

I also tried the gyoza (which were pork, shrimp, and cabbage dumplings) and the karaage (fried chicken), and they were both tasty, if nothing particularly mind-blowing.

Konjiki Ramen

I should also note that there were some service issues.  I was with a group of four, and two bowls of ramen came fairly quickly.  The other two took an extra fifteen minutes to arrive.  The waitress was extremely apologetic once she realized what was happening, and I got a free egg out of the deal (which was nicely cooked, with a gooey, just-barely-set yolk — but like the ramen itself, it was too salty).

Overall, not the greatest experience ever, and certainly not worth waiting for when there are several other ramen joints right nearby.

Cubano Disappointment at La Cubana

La Cubana
Location
: 92 Ossington Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lacubana.ca/

I love the cubano sandwich at La Cubana.  Or at least, I usually do.

I was going to order something else, but then I realized that I’ve never actually written about the cubano here, and I really don’t need much more of an excuse than that.

And here’s the thing: it was good.  It certainly wasn’t bad, per se.  That’s the problem with serving truly great food; there’s nowhere to go but down, and even something that’s quite good is going to seem like a letdown in comparison.

La Cubana

The cubano here is normally the perfect amalgam of gooey cheese, savoury meats, and zingy pickles.  It’s astonishingly good.  Usually.

This time?  It was off.  Though the cheese was nice and gooey, the pork had a mildly gamy, leftovery flavour, there were almost no pickles to cut the richness of the cheese and the meat, and the bread was dry and overly crunchy.  I ate the sandwich as carefully as I could, and it still thoroughly mangled the roof of my mouth.

Has La Cubana gone downhill?  Or was the kitchen just having a bad day?  I’ll feel bad if it’s the latter — but they served me what they served me, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

Pizzeria Libretto, or: The Inventor of Pizza is Rolling in His Grave

Pizzeria Libretto
Location: 545 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://pizzerialibretto.com/

So, here’s a not-so-delightful tidbit: apparently I’ve ruined Neapolitan-style pizza for myself by eating my way through Naples for a week, because I just got a margherita pizza from Pizzeria Libretto, and it was hot garbage.

I didn’t think the gulf in quality would be so severe, but absolutely everything about this pizza was wrong.  The proportion of sauce was off, but in a really baffling way — the pizza was simultaneously too dry, and too soft.  It was weird.  The flavour of the sauce was about right (the sauce in this style of pizza is just plain tomatoes, so it’s hard to mess up), but I don’t think there was enough of it.

Pizzeria Libretto

The cheese was okay, but again, the texture was off.  It was too dry.  It’s hard for me to put my finger on what exactly was wrong, because I’m not a pizza expert, but something was clearly wrong.  None of the pizzas in Naples developed brown spots on the cheese like this one, and the texture was slightly rubbery.

The worst offender was the crust.  It was somehow over-charred around the edges — it was unpleasantly bitter in spots — and under-charred on the bottom.  I mean, look at the almost entirely colourless bottom of this slice:

Pizzeria Libretto

That’s not right.  It was insanely bland, and had barely a fraction of the amazing chew that the pizzas in Naples had.  It was like Wonder Bread; there’s no there there.

Everything else was quite good, at least.  The buttermilk fried calamari featured a perfectly crispy, tasty exterior encasing squid with a great balance of tenderness and bite.  It came with some really tasty romesco sauce that accompanied it perfectly.

Pizzeria Libretto

I also tried the Prosciutto di Parma, and like the calamari, it was quite delicious.  Granted, all the restaurant had to do was slice it, but it was very tasty nonetheless.

Pizzeria Libretto

But that pizza, though.  What was that??  It was disastrously bad.  It was like the Neapolitan pizza equivalent of Pizza Pizza.  Actually, it was worse than Pizza Pizza, because at least Pizza Pizza knows what it is and doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur.