Quick Bites: Aquarela Restaurant, Hey Noodles, Good Taste Casserole Rice

Aquarela Restaurant
Mofongo at Aquarela Restaurant

After realizing that I had never tried mofongo — a Puerto Rican dish in which plantain is mashed with garlic and crispy pork skin — I quickly discovered that Aquarela is pretty much the only game in town.  Thankfully, they seem to be doing a pretty great job of carrying the torch for the dish in the GTA; I have nothing to compare it to, but it’s tasty, that’s for sure.  It’s rich, creamy, garlicky and abundantly delicious.  It’s kinda like mashed potatoes on steroids.  It also comes with your choice of meat; I went with the crispy pork belly, and yeah, that’s a great combo.  Something to cut through the plate’s overwhelming fatty richness would have been nice, but that’s a minor complaint for a very tasty dish.

Hey Noodles
Noodle Soup at Hey Noodles

The noodles at Hey Noodles are great (as you’d hope for from a place with “noodles” right in the name of the restaurant), but what really blew my mind was the price.  I ordered the Chongqing Street Noodles, which is a very large bowl of soup that’s absolutely crammed with noodles, and that somehow only costs $6.99.  The egg was an extra dollar, but even still, that’s a fantastic deal, especially considering how tasty it is.  The noodles are nice and chewy, and the soup is delightfully zingy, with that addictive combo of spiciness and numbing heat that you get in this style of Chinese cuisine.

Good Taste Casserole Rice
Clay pot rice at Good Taste Casserole Rice

Clay pot rice is an extremely simple dish — it’s basically just plain white rice that’s topped with meat and cooked in the eponymous pot, which makes the bottom layer of rice nice and crispy.  It’s simple, but immensely satisfying when done well.  The one I ordered was  topped with eel and various meats and sausages, and yeah, it’s super satisfying.  The fluffy/crispy rice, the tasty meats, and the sauce they have on the side (which was in a soy sauce container, but I’m fairly certain was more than just soy sauce) was a great combo.

Brunch with a Twist at Madame Levant

Madame LevantLocation: 821 Gerrard Street East, Toronto
Website: https://www.madamelevant.com/

Madame Levant is a brunch spot with an interesting gimmick; most of the menu consists of brunch classics “with a Levantine twist.”

Actually, maybe using the word “gimmick” to describe what they’re serving here is unfair.  Based on the two dishes I tried, Madame Levant manages to combine brunch standbys and Middle Eastern ingredients in a way that feels completely organic.

Madame Levant

First up was the Halawa Pancakes, which the menu describes as “GF flour blend pancakes served with orange blossom tahini maple syrup & topped with pistachios and ward (dried flower petals).”

Halawa — a sweet, tahini-based dessert — and pancakes turn out to be a great combo, and the floral notes you get from the orange blossom and flower petals complements it perfectly.  I feel like I need all of my maple syrup to be infused with tahini from now on; it adds a richness and a mildly nutty flavour that really amps up its deliciousness.

The pancakes are gluten free, but aside from a slightly denser texture than the norm, they’re very good.

Madame Levant

I also tried the Sujuk Scrambled: “beef sausages finished with pomegranate molasses, 3 soft scrambled eggs, with a side of hummus, pita, & olives.”

This one’s pretty basic, but when you’re dealing with good ingredients that are well prepared, sometimes simpler is better.  The sausage is tasty and the eggs are nicely creamy.  Hummus and eggs aren’t a combination that I would have thought of, but it works.  Nothing here knocked my socks off, but it’s a solid dish.

Quick Bites: Dairy Queen, Uncle Betty’s, Soul Chocolate

Dairy Queen
Pumpkin Pie Blizzard at Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen brings out the pumpkin pie Blizzard once a year, and come on.  Just put it on the regular menu.  It is the king of Blizzards.  It tastes just like a pumpkin pie, but in Blizzard form.  It’s so good.

Uncle Betty's
Sweet Potato Hash at Uncle Betty’s

This is the type of thing I’d normally write a full post about (I haven’t even written about Uncle Betty’s on this blog, though I did try the burger for Tasty Burgers), but honestly?  I don’t want to.  I mean, look at it.  It’s basically just a pile of cubed sweet potatoes with some onions and a little bit of spinach interspersed throughout.  No particular seasoning that I could taste, no caramelization or crispiness… just a bunch of bland sweet potato topped with a couple of poached eggs, and served with a slightly congealed cup of hollandaise on the side.  It tasted as sad as it looks.

Soul Chocolate
Chocolate Shot at Soul Chocolate

I was actually hoping to get the delicious soft serve from Soul Chocolate, but alas, when I went they had just stopped serving it for the season.  I don’t know who came up with the notion that you can only have ice cream in the summer, but that person is a criminal and deserves to go to jail.  So I got the chocolate shot instead, and it’s very good.  It’s not quite on the level of the version they serve at Soma; it’s got an odd sour note that I found a bit off-putting, but is otherwise deeply chocolatey and thoroughly satisfying.

Oji Seichi Might Just Serve the Best Ramen in the City

Oji SeichiLocation: 354 Broadview Avenue, Toronto
Website: https://www.ojiseichi.com/

Oji Seichi is the brainchild of Mitch Bates; he was previously the chef at Grey Gardens and the sadly defunct Momofuku Shoto, and in case those credits aren’t enough to tell you that the guy knows what he’s doing, let me tell you: the guy knows what he’s doing.  Based on my recent visit, the ramen at Oji Seichi might just be the best in the city?  It’s right up there, that’s for sure.

The menu also features an assortment of sandwiches, and I’m sure those are delicious too (how could they not be, given the quality of the ramen?), but trust me — you need to get the ramen.

Oji Seichi

The classic ramen features a broth made with chicken, pork, and seafood (a vegetarian option is also available) and comes in either shio or shoyu.  I got shio, and holy moly it was so good.

The broth is (mostly) perfect.  It’s a bit too greasy (your lips feel slick with grease almost immediately), but other than that, it’s outstanding.   It’s lighter than the rich tonkotsu style of ramen that’s so common in the GTA, but it’s absolutely exploding with flavour.  It’s got a deep roasty/meaty flavour that’s abundantly satisfying, with a subtle seafoody kick that hums along in the background without ever calling attention to itself.  It’s also lightly smoky, but again, in a way that complements all the other flavours in the bowl so well.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the best bowls of ramen have this magical ability to keep revealing something new with each mouthful, and this is definitely that.  The flavours are not subtle, but it absolutely never feels one-note or tiresome.

Oji Seichi

They make their noodles in house, and like the rest of the bowl, they’re top-notch; they’re perfectly chewy and have a very subtle, almost nutty flavour.  So good.

The toppings are outstanding, too.  The egg looks like it might be a bit undercooked in the photo, but trust me: it’s great.  Perfectly jammy yolk, super flavourful — my only complaint is that the bowl comes with half an egg and I needed about a million of them.

And the chashu, with its silky, melt-in-your-mouth texture, is even better.  They finish it on the grill to give it a smoky flavour, and good god I want to dive into a swimming pool filled with the stuff like Scrooge McDuck but with pork belly instead of money.  Crazy good.

A Tasty Bowl at Musoshin Ramen

Musoshin RamenLocation: 9 Boustead Avenue, Toronto
Website: https://www.musoshin.com/

I think ramen might be my favourite dish of all time, which means the last year and change has been a long, sad, ramenless slog.

(Yes, there is instant ramen, but that’s not even remotely the same.  You could also make it yourself, but that’s an all day project and it’s never going to be as good as what you can get at even a half-decent ramen shop.)

Musoshin Ramen

Well, ramen is finally back in my life, and, of course, it’s delightful.  Musoshin is actually a small Japanese ramen chain (they have three locations in Kyoto) that recently opened in Toronto, and yeah, it’s good.

I started with the karaage, which features very crispy pieces of juicy boneless chicken thigh; this was maybe slightly too salty, but was otherwise packed with flavour and was top-notch fried chicken.

Musoshin Ramen

Next up was the ramen: I went with the namesake Musoshin Ramen, which features a porky tonkotsu broth — it has a very rich, roasty flavour with a lot going on (is it made with seafood, too?  Because it definitely has some subtle seafoody notes).  It borders on being a bit overwhelming in its flavour, but it never crosses that line.  It’s very tasty.

Musoshin Ramen

The noodles were quite good, too, with a springy texture and a satisfying level of thickness.  The egg costs extra, but it’s nice and creamy and worth the two dollar surcharge.

The chashu, on the other hand, is the bowl’s clear weak spot.  It was pretty dry and had a very pronounced gamy, leftovery flavour.  Everything else is delicious enough that this doesn’t really matter, but it’s a bummer nonetheless.

Musoshin Ramen

I had the strawberry mochi for dessert, and it was the perfect way to end the meal.  Featuring a full strawberry surrounded by sweet red bean paste with a chewy mochi wrapper, this was a delightful mix of chewy and creamy with a perfect level of sweetness.