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.

Fake Burgers and Real Onion Rings at Fresh

Fresh Yonge and EglintonLocation: 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Toronto
Website: https://freshrestaurants.ca/

The original plan was to review the veggie burger from Fresh for my burger blog.  But then I actually ate it, and to be honest… I didn’t want to.

It’s not a burger.  They call it a burger, and it basically looks like a burger, but the taste and the texture both contain zero hamburger-like properties.  I only post a review on Tasty Burgers every couple of weeks, and it just didn’t feel right wasting one on something that absolutely, positively isn’t a hamburger.

Fresh Yonge and Eglinton

We started with the much-lauded onion rings, which are frequently called the best in the city.  And yeah, they’re good — maybe not best-in-the-city good, but they’re quite tasty.  They actually reminded me a lot of what they serve at A&W — they’re similarly hearty, with a crispy breaded exterior encasing a perfectly cooked onion.

Fresh Yonge and Eglinton

They were slightly underseasoned, however, and a little bit greasier than you’d like (which is particularly odd given the restaurant’s health food pedigree).  I think I like A&W’s version slightly more, especially given how crazy expensive the ones at Fresh are (eight bucks for five substantial rings).

Fresh Yonge and Eglinton

As for the “burger,” I ordered the banquet burger, which features fake bacon and fake cheese on a fake hamburger patty.

It’s fine.  It’s actually not bad for what it is, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s not going to satisfy anyone’s hamburger cravings.  The taste and texture are quite falafel-esque (but without the crispy exterior).  Like most veggie burgers, it’s on the mushy side — a problem that’s compounded by how incredibly dense the wheaty bun is.  It’s so unforgivingly brick-like that it’s actually quite difficult to eat, but I got through it.

Fresh Yonge and Eglinton

The fake cheese is basically a thick, salty paste, and the fake bacon literally could not have tasted less like bacon.  It was sweet and vaguely plantain-like.  It wasn’t bad, but comparing it to bacon is absurd.

Climbing the Lobster Mountain at Fishman Lobster Clubhouse

Fishman Lobster ClubhouseLocation: 4020 Finch Avenue East, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.flctoronto.com/

Is it even possible to see the impressively enormous piles of lobster or crab at Fishman Lobster Clubhouse and not want to immediately go there?  I don’t think it is!

I’ve been drooling over those piles on Instagram for some time now, not to mention on David Chang’s amazing Netflix show, Ugly Delicious.  But you need a big group to really do the place justice, so I had to bide my time until a large enough group could be assembled.

I recently went with a group of ten, and yeah, we did the place justice.

Fishman Lobster Clubhouse

We started with a few different dishes — soup, braised beef, greens, fried rice, noodles — and they were all tasty enough, but that’s not the reason you’re there.

We ordered a twenty pound pile of lobster, which consisted of two enormous beasts that they actually brought to the table before the meal started (a lot of people like to pose for pre-dinner photographs with their lobsters or crabs, which felt like a bit much to me).

Fishman Lobster Clubhouse

Later, the mountain arrives.  And it’s an awe-inspiring sight: a seemingly endless amount of deep-fried lobster chunks, a whole bunch of fries, and enough crispy fried garlic bits to launch a vampire genocide.

It’s so good.  The lobster is cut up into easy-to-eat chunks; it’s still on the shell, but the meat is accessible without the need for any shell-crunching tools.  Which is good, because there’s a lot of lobster there — there’s no time to mess around with cracking shells.  There’s a whole bunch of lobster to eat.

Fishman Lobster Clubhouse

It’s more lobster than I’ve ever had in a single meal, and it’s so tasty; the meat is tender, garlicky, a little bit sweet, and has some nice fried crispy bits.  That’s not to mention the fried garlic, which is surprisingly addictive (you’re going to reek of garlic for about 24 hours after eating here; deal with it).

I ate an insane amount of lobster.  I was so full.  It was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in a while.

Fried Chicken Perfection at Heirloom

Heirloom Food TruckLocation: It’s a truck, so check Twitter or their website
Websitehttps://www.heirloomtoronto.com/

Either my memory is wrong or the food at the Heirloom food truck has seriously improved, because I have a vague recollection of trying their fried chicken sandwich a few years ago and not being particularly impressed.

I just had the Szechuan fried chicken sandwich, and holy guacamole, it was so good.

Heirloom’s menu describes this as “brined chicken thigh, homemade Szechuan sauce, pickled cucumber, bean sprout, organic peanut, scallion aioli, brioche bun.”

Heirloom Food Truck

My only real complaint is that the chicken was a bit dry; though the menu claims they’re using thigh meat, I’m fairly certain it was actually breast.  Either way, it was slightly overcooked and a bit less juicy than it should have been.

Other than that?  Crazy good.

The exterior crisp-factor was perfect, with a profound level of crunchiness that’s never overbearing.

And let’s face it: there are very few things in life more satisfying than biting into a perfectly crispy piece of fried chicken.

Heirloom Food Truck

The sandwich is saucy as hell (it’s impossible to eat without getting sauce all over your hands and face), but it absolutely works.

The Szechuan sauce is sweet, savoury, garlicky, and a little bit spicy (this is a minor complaint, but I wish it were a bit spicier.  It’s basically a mild tingle).  It’s absolutely fantastic, and the big peanut chunks give it a nice nutty crunchiness.

The richness of the aioli works great with the flavour-packed sauce, and the pickled veggies help to cut through the overall heaviness of the sandwich.

The whole thing is an absolute assault of assertive flavours and textures, but it’s so well balanced.  It’s easily one of the best fried chicken sandwiches I’ve had in a while.

Hit-or-Miss Pizza at Nonna’s Oven

Nonna's OvenLocation: 1285 Elgin Mills Road East, Richmond Hill
Websitehttp://www.nonnasoven.com/

Nonna’s Oven is an Italian joint specializing in pizza (they also have pasta and sandwiches, though the pizza seems to be the main attraction) with locations in Richmond Hill and Oakville.  It’s not bad, but it’s probably not worth going out of your way for.

Nonna's Oven

We started with the frittura mista — a plate piled high with deep fried chunks of calamari, cuttlefish, shrimp, scallops, and whitefish.  This was mostly pretty good, though the squid was rubbery (everything was a bit overcooked) and the cuttlefish had an unpleasantly fishy funk.

Still, it’s hard to go wrong with anything that’s battered and deep fried, especially when the batter is as light and crispy as it is here.

Nonna's Oven

The pizzas were a bit of a mixed bag.  The first was the Margherita Italiana (“homemade tomato sauce, topped with fior di late cheese, fresh basil and light drizzled olive oil”).  The thing about a margherita pizza is that it’s so incredibly simple that if all the elements aren’t on point (the crust in particular), then it’s not going to be particularly good.

And the crust is definitely an issue here; it’s ultra thin and crispy, with absolutely no substance outside of a crispy crunch.  It’s basically like eating tomato sauce and cheese on a really bland cracker.  It’s not great.

Nonna's Oven

The Hawaiian Inferno pizza (“pineapple, bacon, onion and hot banana peppers”) was definitely the better of the two.  The more cheese- and topping-heavy pizza helped to compensate for the bland, crackery crust, and the toppings all worked pretty well together.

In the case of both pizzas, the real MVP was the jar of fiery chili oil they had on the table.  It had little bits of hot peppers, and if you got a heaping spoonful of the peppers and the oil, it really kicked things up and helped to make everything a bit more interesting.