Location: 254 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
The Livelihood Cafe is a laudable endeavor — it’s part of a non-profit organization that helps new immigrants build a career in Canada.
So maybe I’m a jerk for saying this (okay, I’m definitely a jerk for saying this), but the food was actually pretty bad.
I tried a few things. The first dish featured multigrain toast topped with some kind of pepper spread, cucumber, and cheese (I forgot to take a picture of the menu and I couldn’t find one online, so I’m a bit fuzzy on the specifics). This was the best of the three dishes I tried. The grainy bread was a little bit too rustic, overwhelming the mild pepper spread, and the whole thing had an overriding bitterness, but it wasn’t horrible.
Up next was the baba ganoush, which came with a side of over-toasted pita bread that was halfway between crunchy and chewy. Baba ganoush is a spread that’s made primarily with roasted eggplant and tahini, so how this managed to taste of neither of those things is a complete mystery. It was just kind of salty and pasty and unpleasant.
The last (and worst) dish was the mana’eesh, which is a flatbread topped with a mix of za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix) and olive oil. Only there barely seemed to be any olive oil; the za’atar was overly dry and grainy, and the bread was off-puttingly thick and rubbery. I could barely eat more than a couple of bites of this.
Also: it was a bagel-sized piece of bread for nine bucks, which is gallingly expensive — though if you think of it as a charitable donation, it takes some of the sting away.
This is going to sound harsh, but everything was so bad I would have rather just flat-out donated money to charity without having to eat the food.
Location: 77 Kensington Avenue, Toronto
It seems like every few months, some new food trend sweeps its way through the city. In the last couple of years we’ve had stuff like poke, chicken and waffles, Japanese cheesecakes, and sushi burritos. The latest seems to be souffle pancakes, a Japanese dessert that’s exactly what it sounds like (a cross between pancakes and souffle).
If what they’re serving at Hanabusa Cafe is any indication, this is a trend that I can get behind.
My only other experience with this dish was at a place called am.pm in Hong Kong, and that version was dense, overly eggy, and just all-around unappealing.
The one at Hanabusa Cafe, on the other hand, was the polar opposite — it was almost absurdly fluffy, with a mild sweetness and a satisfying custardy flavour without any of the in-your-face egginess you might be expecting. I ordered the Original Pancake, which is the simplest choice: it’s three pancakes topped with a dollop of whipped cream and served with a side of strawberries and blackberries. It’s outstanding.
Unlike a traditional pancake, it’s already fairly sweet, so it’s perfectly delicious on its own. I could eat about a million of these (though they’re surprisingly heavy, so three feels like a good number). The ethereal lightness combined with the custardy flavour is seriously addictive.
I’ll admit that my expectations weren’t all that high, but I really, really enjoyed this.
Location: 160 Baldwin Street, Toronto
I was still hungry after the horrifying abomination I was served at Kiss the Tiramisu; I couldn’t eat more than a third of it. So I went a couple of stores down to Little Pebbles, a great little Japanese cafe in Kensington Market.
They have the usual assortment of coffees to pick from, as well as a variety of French/Japanese-inspired baked goods. I went with the Strawberry Sakura Mont Blanc, which features an almond-infused crust, pastry cream, a whole strawberry, and strawberry mont blanc cream.
Maybe I was just happy to eat something that wasn’t disgusting, but I really enjoyed this. The nutty crust was tasty, the whole strawberry was sweet and ripe, and the mont blanc cream did a really great job of balancing the chestnut flavour you’d expect with something a bit fruitier.
The whole thing was quite subdued in its flavours, but it all worked really well. I’d definitely like to come back here and try some of their other offerings, because everything looked really good.
Location: 160 Baldwin Street, Toronto
I don’t want to be too hyperbolic, but I think the sundae at Kiss the Tiramisu in Kensington Market might be the worst thing I’ve ever been served in a restaurant. Certainly, it’s right down there.
To be fair, they were clearly having issues. Shortly after I ordered, the woman behind the counter attempted to dispense ice cream from the machine; pure liquid came out. She looked shifty and then told me I’d have to wait five minutes.
A smarter man would have asked for his money back and left. Clearly, I am not a smart man.
The ice cream is layered with coffee, some kind of white sauce (mascarpone?), and a whole bunch of cocoa powder. It’s absolutely terrible.
I’m really not sure what that vile, sludgy glop was, but it certainly wasn’t ice cream. That’s not even a joke: it was thin and lacking anything even remotely resembling creaminess. I’m almost certain it didn’t have the proportion of milk fat that is legally required for something to be called ice cream. It was also grainy and icy, so it was pretty much the worst.
The flavour was no better; I find a lot of ice creams are a little bit too sweet for my taste. I had the opposite problem here. This was bland and horrible, with a vague milkiness and and unpleasantly watered-down bitter coffee flavour that was downright repulsive. There was also an insane amount of cocoa mounded onto this thing, which just made it impossible to eat without getting powder all over the place.
Despite spending well over seven bucks (!), I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. It was so bad.
Seriously: I take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about Sweet Jesus. I certainly have issues with the place, but at least what they’re serving is actual ice cream that isn’t gross.