Location: 160 Baldwin Street, Toronto
Koishi is a collaboration between Little Pebbles (which is great) and Arthur Pezzelli, the co-founder of Bang Bang (which is beyond great).
Bang Bang serves, bar none, the best ice cream in Toronto. It’s not even close; they blow everyone else out of the water. This makes Koishi a must-visit. A new place started by one of Bang Bang’s founders? Uh, yeah, I’m all over that.
Asian-style ice cream has very much become a thing in Toronto, and as you might infer from the name, that’s what Koishi is all about. They have a variety of Japanese-influenced flavours that you can get in a cone, a cup, or a sweet bun.
I’m all about the ice cream at places like this (as much as I love Bang Bang, the cookies are a complete waste of time), so I just went with a plain scoop in a cup.
I tried the honey soba: “toasted buckwheat & caramelized honey.”
It was pretty great — the crunchy bits of soba gave it a nice toasty flavour, and the honey was pleasantly floral, with a subtle sweetness that was just right.
The quality of the ice cream itself wasn’t as perfect as Bang Bang’s — it didn’t quite have the same level of rich creaminess, and it was very subtly icy — but it’s still top-shelf stuff.
Location: 170 Baldwin Street, Toronto
Joining places like Little Pebbles, Sakoshi Mart, and Millie Creperie, the Japanese domination of this stretch of Kensington Market continues with Koi Koi Sake Bar, which features a tasty selection of Japanese eats. I, for one, welcome our new Japanese overlords.
I tried a few things. First up was a nice little snack that every table gets by default. I meant to ask what these were and completely forgot, but they were crunchy, savoury, and a little bit sweet.
Next up was the katsu sando, which is a fried pork sandwich topped with a generous amount of mayo and tangy tonkatsu sauce, with some romaine lettuce for added crunch and freshness. It’s a solid sandwich, though the pork was overcooked (I had a hard time even biting through it in parts).
The miso nasu followed, which is a dish consisting of grilled, miso-glazed eggplant. It feels like it’s missing something (a crunchy counterpoint to the soft eggplant, perhaps?), but it’s enjoyable enough; it basically tastes like they distilled the flavour of miso soup into a glaze and then brushed it onto an eggplant.
The last dish was the bacon fried rice, which food writer David Ort called “possibly the best fried rice [he’s] ever had.” This is mostly what made me want to come here.
I’m not sure if it’s the best I’ve ever had, but it was definitely top-shelf fried rice, with a nice meatiness from the generous bacon and a satisfying level of crispiness from the fried garlic slices. The creamy mayo on top was a nice touch.
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.