Tasty Japanese Cream Buns at Hattendo Cafe

Hattendo CafeLocation: 13 Baldwin Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.hattendo.ca/

One of the things that takes some getting used to in Asia is that some countries there consider white bread to essentially be a dessert.  More than once, I’ve gone to a convenience store and bought what appears to be a Twinkie-esque pastry, only to realize that it’s just a plain white bun, like a hot dog bun.

Hattendo Cafe

Which is to say that if you’ve never had the type of Japanese cream bun they serve at Hattendo, you might be surprised to discover that the bun itself is basically just a soft, fluffy hamburger bun.  Once you get used to it, however, it’s quite tasty.

I tried three: custard, chocolate, and red bean.  The bun itself is quite nice.  It’s soft, fluffly, and just a little bit sweet.

Hattendo Cafe

The custard was my least favourite of the three flavours.  It was nice and creamy, but the flavour was middling; there just wasn’t much to it.

The chocolate was much better, with a pronounced cocoa-infused flavour and a satisfyingly restrained level of sweetness.

Hattendo Cafe

The red bean was the best of the three.  If you normally don’t like beany sweets, this might just be the perfect gateway dessert — it’s super creamy and tasty, with a really nice balance between the creamy custard and the sweet red beans.

On Hiatus (and a few quick reviews)

I’m traveling, so this site is going into hibernation for a while.  Feel free to follow my travels at Up in the Nusair (or don’t, I can’t force you… or can I??  No, I can’t… yet).

But first, here’s a few very quick reviews of places I didn’t get a chance to write full posts for before I left.

Cafe Landwer

Cafe Landwer

I actually visited this place a couple of times recently.  The first time I had the shakshuka, which was quite tasty and comes with an almost absurd amount of food.  It’s a little bit bland, but it comes with an ample amount of fresh bread for dipping, and the tahini sauce helps amp things up.

Cafe Landwer

The second time I had the Sinia Kebab, which features beef kebabs and some grilled veggies on top of freshly baked flatbread, topped with a tahini sauce.  This was quite tasty, though it really needs something acidic to cut through the richness.  I eventually wound up spooning in some of the salad that comes on the side.  I’m not sure if that’s the intent, but it helped.

Jelly Roll from Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons

It’s a jelly roll from Tim Hortons; it tastes exactly how you think it’s going to taste.  It’s basically a very minor upgrade over Little Debbie.  It’s pretty junky, but I enjoyed it.

Pho from I Love Pho 2

I Love Pho 2

I already wrote about the surprisingly great I Love Pho 2, and the pho confirms it: this is a place that knows their stuff.  The broth has a really great flavour, and the variety of meats they mix in are all perfectly cooked and tasty.

SoSo Food Club

SoSo Food Club

I tried a handful of dishes at SoSo Food Club.  Everything was tasty, but the highlight was the addictively cumin-tinged lamb biang biang noodles.  The strong cumin flavour, the tender lamb, and the extra-broad noodles all work very well together.  The mapo tofu, with its numbing heat and silky tofu, was another highlight.

The Drake Commissary

The Drake Commissary

The bread here is amazing.  Like at Terroni, you have to pay for it, but unlike at that place, it wasn’t infuriating.  It was well worth paying for.  I came here at brunch and had the trapper beans, which had a lot going on, but everything worked perfectly together.  In particular, the beans had a savoury richness (and a complete lack of sweetness) that made them quite unlike any baked beans I’ve had before.

Mango Pancakes from HK Sweets

HK Sweets

This was fine, I guess.  I actually had mango pancakes in Hong Kong, and they were ridiculously good.  I was hoping these would recapture that, even slightly, but no such luck.  Aside from the fact that they’re not actually pancakes (they’re crepes), the mango was underripe and crunchy, and I think the cream was actually Cool Whip or something similar.  Still, it was decent enough for what it was.

Chicken Shawarma from Ghadir Meat & Restaurant

Ghadir Meat & Restaurant

Oh man, this shawarma.  I actually visited this place based on a tweet from Suresh Doss — he called it the best shawarma in the GTA, which should really tell you all you need to know.  The man knows his food, and he’s certainly not wrong about Ghadir.  It’s amazing.  It’s got the perfect blend of tender meat with lots of crispy bits, tasty sauces, and fresh veggies.  If it’s not the best shawarma in the GTA, it’s certainly a very strong contender for that crown.

A Very Memorable Meal at Cava

Cava TorontoLocation: 1560 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.cavarestaurant.ca/

I tend to focus mostly on places that offer prices on the cheaper end of the spectrum; aside from the obvious (they’re cheap!), I generally find them more satisfying.  There aren’t many things in the world that I love more than a really great bowl of noodles from a hole in the wall.

Still, it’s nice to venture out to pricier restaurants every now and then.  There’s a level of craft and a quality of ingredients that you just can’t get without shelling out some cash.

Cava Toronto

Cava is a great example of this.  It certainly isn’t cheap, but holy moly the food was good.

They focus on Spanish-inspired tapas, so I got to try a handful of things.

Cava Toronto

The chicken liver and foie gras mousse was deeply flavourful and luxuriously creamy.  It’s served with a little bowl of grainy mustard on the side, which does a great job of cutting the richness of the mineraly pate.

Cava Toronto

The “Supergilda” features a deliciously fishy sardine on tomato-spread toast, speared with olives and anchovy.  It’s simple, but immensely satisfying.

Cava Toronto

Next up was the jamon croquetta, which was a crunchy fried tube of creamy goodness.  It was a bit light on the jamon, but was otherwise really tasty.

Cava Toronto

The beef salpicon was one of my favourites of the evening.  It had a seriously intense beefy flavour, a tasty combo of high quality olive oil and acidity, and a fantastic contrast between the tender beef and the crispy bits on top.

Cava Toronto

My absolute favourite dish of the night was the eggplant with queso fresco, bonito, and tomatillo sauce.  Holy crap, this dish.  The contrast in textures here was insane — the deep fried exterior was shatteringly crisp, and the eggplant within was absurdly creamy.  The combo of those two textures was bonkers, and the gooey cheese, smoky/funky bonito flakes, and zingy tomatillo sauce complimented it perfectly.  So damn good.

Cava Toronto

The last savoury dish was the roasted pork belly and morcilla in a kidney bean stew.  This was basically an upscale version of pork and beans.  It was almost absurdly rich, with the blood sausage really amping up the luxurious flavour of the beans.

Cava Toronto

We had the churros for dessert, which was probably the only real disappointment of the night.  The cinnamon- and sugar-dusted churros were certainly tasty, but nothing about them stood out from the churros you can get at any number of places throughout the GTA.

Cava Toronto

It did, however, come with a small cup of drinking chocolate that had an amazingly intense flavour.  Just give me a big mug of that and I’ll be a happy man.

Sandwich Perfection at Tortería San Cosme

Tortería San CosmeLocation: 181 Baldwin Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.sancosme.ca/

I recently mentioned that the sandwich at Egg Bae was fine, but that it was a bit one-note; the flavours and textures were all monotonous, and it was kinda boring to eat.

The Conchinita torta from San Cosme is the exact opposite of that.  It’s an almost absurdly well-balanced sandwich.

It was my first time back there since it opened; it was very good then, and it’s even better now.  The torta I just had was dangerously close to sandwich perfection.

Tortería San Cosme

The sandwich comes with pulled pork, refried beans, habanero onions, and fried plantains.

It’s ridiculously good.  All the elements work together in such perfect harmony.  There’s the tangy pork (which is super tender, but still has some texture) and the creamy beans, which balance perfectly with the mild sweetness of the plantain.  The pickled onions add crunch, and their vinegary bite helps to cut the richness from the pork and beans.

Tortería San Cosme

Then there’s the crispiness from the fried plantains, not to mention the amazing bread, which is lightly crispy on its exterior and delightfully fluffy inside.

It’s kind of absurd how good the sandwich is.  The contrasting flavours and textures are like a perfectly orchestrated symphony.

Tortería San Cosme

And it’s made even better with the house-made pickled jalapenos they have on the counter.  These things are so good, with an assertive crunch, a vinegary bite, and a mild spiciness.  You assume the sandwich can’t get better than it already is, then you add a few of those, and yeah — somehow it gets even more delicious.

A Unique Japanese Dessert at HCafe

HCafeLocation: 4750 Yonge Street – Unit 119, North York
Websitehttps://www.hcafecanada.com/

I’ve mentioned before that the Japanese Netflix TV show, Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman (about a Japanese businessman who’s obsessed with dessert), is pretty much the best.  It’s frequently hilarious and features some mesmerizing food porn, not to mention enough slickly-shot footage of Tokyo to make you want to get on the next flight.  It’s great.

He eats at least one dessert per episode, and it all looks amazing.  Sadly, much of it is really difficult (if not impossible) to find in the GTA.

HCafe

One of the desserts he eats is called ohagi, and you can actually find it at HCafe, a tiny little Japanese dessert shop near Yonge and Sheppard.

It’s pretty unique.  It features a ball of chewy rice (a mix of glutinous rice and regular rice) surrounded by a sweet red bean paste.

HCafe

It’s not quite like any dessert I’ve ever had — it’s chewy, almost like mochi, but with a coarser texture thanks to the grains of rice.  The sweetness is very subtle, and though the flavour is mostly beany, there’s an underlying fruitiness.

It’s odd, but also surprisingly delicious.  If you like mochi, this hits a lot of the same notes.