Decent Thai Food at Pai

PaiLocation: 18 Duncan Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.paitoronto.com/

After recently having a mind-blowing meal at Khao San Road (which is just around the corner), I decided to Thai it up again, this time at Pai.  Alas, the meal was quite tasty, but it wasn’t even close to being on the same level as KSR.

I ordered the Pad Gra Prow — “holy basil stir fried with your choice of ground pork, chicken, beef or tofu, steamed jasmine rice, thai style fried egg, nam prik nam pla sauce.”

Pai

I went with pork, and elected to go Thai spicy, which is the highest spice level.

And indeed, they were absolutely, positively not kidding around with the spice.  I enjoyed the level of heat, but then I’m somewhat of a glutton for punishment in that regard (see also: my undying love for the “hot AF” chicken at Chica’s Chicken).

Pai

Sadly, aside from the impressive level of fiery heat, nothing about this dish particularly stands out.  It’s perfectly tasty, but none of the flavours pop, even when you add the fish sauce that comes on the side.  It’s a serviceable dish, but it’s boring.

Contrast that with the life-changing bowl of Khao Soi that I had at Khao San Road, and there’s no contest.

Of course, it’s not a fair comparison since the two dishes are so radically different.  But my dining companion had the pad thai at both restaurants and was able to make a 1:1 comparison.  He had the same reaction — Pai is fine, but KSR is magical.

Fried Chicken Breakfast Sandwich at Porchetta & Co.

Porchetta and Co. - Exchange TowerLocation: 130 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://porchettaco.com/

The Exchange Tower location of Porchetta & Co. is a bit different from the other ones — it opens early, and it has a breakfast menu.  This menu includes a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich.

Fried chicken in the morning?  Yes please.

Sadly, it’s not quite as great as you’d hope, but it’s fried chicken, an egg, and gooey cheese.  Of course it tastes good.  How could that combo not taste good?

Porchetta and Co. - Exchange Tower

Like all of the fried chicken at Porchetta & Co., the chicken here is perfectly cooked, with a satisfyingly crispy exterior.  It’s dipped in hot honey, with a very strong emphasis on the honey.  It’s sweet.  I wish there were a bit more spice, and maybe some vinegar to cut the sweetness, because it’s tasty, but it’s a bit cloying.

The egg was overcooked, with a chalky yolk — but other than that, the sandwich was solid.  The cheese was nice and melty, and the buttery toasted English muffin was the perfect vehicle for the chicken, egg, and cheese.

Decent Breakfast Sandwiches at Egg Bae

Egg BaeLocation: 189 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://eggbae.ca/

I’ve been meaning to check out Egg Bae pretty much since it opened, though I’ll admit that the name kinda makes me cringe.  I can’t help but think about this moment from 30 Rock every time I see it.

But regardless of the name, I just can’t say no to a tasty breakfast sandwich.  Who can?

Egg Bae

The menu is admirably focused, with breakfast sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, and more breakfast sandwiches (they also have hash browns if you want something on the side).  I went with the eponymous Egg Bae: “Soft Scrambled Eggs, Chives, Muenster Cheese, Slow Cooked Onions, Bae Sauce.”

It’s decent enough, but alas, it didn’t quite knock my socks off.

Egg Bae

All of the components are really good (in particular, the eggs themselves are perfect — they’re amazingly soft and creamy with zero sliminess), and the hearty bun does a great job of holding up to the very gooey sandwich.

But all of the flavours and textures are basically on the exact same wavelength; it’s one-note soft, salty, and rich, and as good as it is, it gets monotonous.  It really needed some texture to balance out how soft everything is, and something acidic to cut the richness.  It’s not a large sandwich, and I was still sick of eating it towards the end.

Egg Bae

Certainly, Gold Standard, which serves my current favourite breakfast sandwich in the city, remains the… well, gold standard of breakfast sandwiches.

This will probably flush my credibility down the toilet, but I think even a McMuffin is better (I’m partial to the Egg and Sausage).  Yes, the quality of the ingredients at Egg Bae are clearly superior and the eggs are better prepared, but the McMuffin is just more satisfying.  The toasted English muffin gives it some much-needed textural contrast, and the flavours are better balanced.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Delicious and Unique pasta at Shiso Tree Cafe

Shiso Tree CafeLocation: 3160 Steeles Avenue East, Markham
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/ShisoTree/

Italian/Japanese fusion might sound odd on paper, but aside from the fact that Italian restaurants are actually quite popular in Japan, Shiso Tree Cafe is amazing.  All you need is one bite of their food to put any doubts to bed.

Shiso Tree Cafe

I tried a couple of starters: the tera-goma tebasaki (perfectly cooked chicken wings with a crunchy exterior and an addictively sweet glaze) and the tarutaru fries (amazing fries with homemade tartar sauce for dipping).  But their pasta is the real reason to come here.

Shiso Tree Cafe

I had the nori tsukudani: “braised nori sauce, onsen tamago, ikura, scallops, mentsuyu.”

It was so good, with the vibrant Japanese flavours making it really stand out from your average bowl of pasta.

The braised nori sauce tasted exactly how you’d hope it would: like nori, but in sauce form.  There’s something a bit odd (and very delightful) about taking such a familiar flavour and putting it in a new context.

Shiso Tree Cafe

And the onsen tamago (which is kind of like a silkier version of a poached egg, with a white that’s just barely set) was the perfect compliment.  It essentially liquefies into the pasta, coating the noodles and giving them an eggy richness.

The sweet, perfectly-cooked scallops match really well with the seaweed-infused sauce, and the greens add crunchy pops of freshness.  The pasta itself is, as you’d hope, perfectly al dente.

It’s certainly an unusual bowl of pasta, but it’s one where all of the flavours have been so perfectly considered.  It’s amazing.

Shiso Tree Cafe

I finished with the chestnut creme brulee, which was a fairly ingenious spin on a classic dessert; the rich chestnut flavour complimented the custard perfectly, and the crackily torched sugar on top was as satisfying as ever.

Good Eats at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

Hokkaido Ramen SantoukaLocation: 515 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.santouka.co.jp/en

After ramen disappointments at Konjiki and Kinton, I was starting to worry that a really good bowl of ramen might be impossible to find in the city.

Well, here’s Santouka, riding in to save the day.  Their ramen certainly wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was a solid bowl of noodles.  I enjoyed it.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

They specialize in tonkotsu ramen, in which pork bones have been boiled down for hours until you get a rich and creamy broth.  They have shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso, or spicy miso.  I went with shio.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

It’s a quality bowl of soup.  The broth doesn’t quite have the magical complexity that you’ll find in the best versions of this dish, but it had a rich porky flavour (without the heavy greasiness that can bog down tonkotsu ramen), and a good amount of salt that doesn’t overwhelm.

The noodles were slightly thinner than I’d like, but they have a nice chewy bite.  They’re satisfying.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

The egg is an add-on, but it’s worth shelling out the extra cash; it’s nicely seasoned and perfectly-cooked, with a gooey but — and this is the key — not runny yolk.