Location: 9 Bogert Avenue, North York (in the Emerald Park food court)
There’s a Chinese street food called jian bing that’s fairly ubiquitous in China, but virtually unknown over here. And I’m not sure why — it’s super delicious, and it’s cheap and relatively easy to make.
That’s why I was so excited when I found out that a little place called Gao’s Crepe in the Emerald Park food court serves these things.
That food court is hidden away on the bottom level of a condo near Yonge and Sheppard; you’d never even know it’s there if you’re not specifically seeking it out. But it’s a gem. Aside from the crepes, there’s several interesting-looking eateries here, mostly Asian.
Gao’s Crepe doesn’t even have a sign, and there’s no English menu posted — again, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d pass right by. But the jian bing they’re serving is the real deal.
Jian bing is essentially an eggy crepe that’s coated with hoisin sauce and hot sauce, sprinkled with green onions and cilantro, and wrapped around a crispy piece of fried dough. The version at Gao’s Crepe is freshly made right in front of you (you can watch the chef doing his thing).
It’s quite tasty. The contrast between the chewy crepe and the crispy fried dough is really satisfying, and the vibrant flavours of the hoisin and the hot sauce matches well with the freshness of the green onions and the cilantro.
It’s not as good as the versions I had in Shanghai — it’s a little dry, and the balance of flavours feels just a bit off — but then that sort of comparison is always unfair. We’re a million miles from Shanghai, and it’s quite good.
Location: 93a Ossington Avenue, Toronto
I’ve already established that Bang Bang continues to be the best. Further proof? A flavour called P’nut Butter Cup, which they describe as “Reese candy / mucho peanut butter.”
Mucho peanut butter?? Uh, yes please.
I’m not sure why they call this P’nut Butter Cup — there are actually Reese’s Pieces in there, not peanut butter cups, and that’s what it tastes like (I love Reese’s Pieces, so I’m not complaining). Though they do also add chunks of chocolate, so I guess that adds a certain amount of peanut-butter-cupiness.
The ice cream itself is ridiculous. It’s so rich and peanut buttery — “mucho” definitely isn’t an exaggeration. It almost tastes like some kind of delicious amalgam between ice cream and peanut butter, like a jar of peanut butter and a pint of ice cream found its way into Jeff Goldblum’s teleportation machine. It’s incredible. And the crunchiness of the Reese’s Pieces makes for a great contrast with the dense, smooth ice cream. It’s pretty much the best.
Location: 9425 Leslie Street, Richmond Hill
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 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.
And roast pork.
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.
Location: 111 Richmond Street West, Toronto (in the Assembly Chef’s Hall)
Are you a cake person or a frosting person? Because the cupcake I had at Short and Sweet is making me doubt myself. Generally I prefer a cupcake that’s a bit heavier on the cake in the cake-to-frosting ratio, but Short and Sweet goes hard in the other direction. And yet I quite enjoyed it.
As you can see from the photo of its midsection, between the injected sauce and the icing on top, it’s something like 35 percent cake, and 65 percent sauce and frosting. It’s pretty intense.
I got the Dream Team cupcake, which is a vanilla cupcake that’s been topped with vanilla buttercream and a swirl of caramel and chocolate sauces. It’s also injected with the aforementioned sauces. It’s an intense, in-your-face sugar bomb — and yet it somehow isn’t too sweet. All of the flavours go together so well.
It helps that all of the individual components are great — the cake is moist and fluffy, the buttercream is smooth and velvety, and the two sauces are great. In particular, the rich, dulce-de-leche-esque caramel sauce is absolutely fantastic. But everything is so sweet, and altogether you’d think it would be way too sweet, but it isn’t. It works.
I also tried the s’mores cookie sandwich, which consists of two above-average chocolate chip cookies encasing a whole bunch of chocolate frosting and marshmallow sauce.
Do I even need to say anything else? Or does it go without saying that it was delicious? Because it’s just as good as you’d hope it would be.
I should note that it’s incredibly heavy, both figuratively and literally — the thing must weigh like half a pound, so eating this all at once isn’t advisable unless you have a particularly large appetite. But it’s so, so good.
Location: 190 University Avenue, Toronto
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.
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.
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.
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).