Decent Pork Belly at Chengdu Guokui

Chengdu GuokuiLocation: 4750 Yonge Street, North York (in the Emerald Park food court)
Website: None

I’ve mentioned before that the Emerald Park food court near Yonge and Sheppard is a treasure trove of unique Asian eateries (though not everything there is particularly great).

My latest discovery: Chengdu Guokui, which specializes in Sichuan cuisine.

I ordered the braised pork rice bowl, which comes with the aforementioned pork, stewed eggplant (I think?), and a spicy slaw on top of rice.

Chengdu Guokui

It’s almost 17 bucks with tax, which seems excessive until you get your bowl and realize that it weighs about a pound, and is crammed with enough pork belly to feed a small family.

It’s certainly better than the last thing I tried in this food court, but alas, it’s not great.  The main issue here is the pork; it’s quite underseasoned, and is lacking the punch of flavour you’re expecting from the dish.  It also had a vague leftover flavour, and wasn’t quite as melt-in-your-mouth tender as it should have been.  It was tasty enough, but it was nothing special.

Chengdu Guokui

The eggplant was nice and tender, and the rice, though mushy, featured a tasty sauce and was fairly satisfying.

The star of the show, oddly enough, was the slaw; it was tossed in an intensely flavourful chili oil, and had that great numbing heat you get from Sichuan cuisine.  I wish there had been about double the amount.

Disappointing Fried Bao at Zheng’s Juicy Fried Buns

Zheng's Juicy Fried BunsLocation: 4750 Yonge Street, North York (in the Emerald Park food court)
Website: https://baogong.business.site/

Last year, I checked out Sang-ji Fried Bao and tried the scallion oil noodles and the sang-ji bao (fried soup-filled pork buns).  I thought it was tasty enough, but nothing particularly mind-blowing.

Well, I just had the exact same meal at Zheng’s Juicy Fried Buns, and suddenly I’m appreciating Sang-ji Fried Bao so, so much more.

Zheng's Juicy Fried Buns

Here’s a one word review of the meal I just had: yikes.

I started with the scallion oil noodles, which tasted like plain instant noodles tossed in a whole bunch of soy sauce (and a buttload of oil); it was greasy and one-note salty with absolutely none of the sweet complexity you associate with this dish.  The deeply caramelized scallions were present, but they couldn’t do much to fight the face-punch of saltiness from the noodles themselves.  It doesn’t help that the undercooked instant noodles were a complete bummer to eat.

Zheng's Juicy Fried Buns

The pan-fried buns weren’t much better.  The wrapper was thick, gummy and unpleasantly doughy, and the would-be crispy bottom was actually just dry, like a stale cracker.  The soupy filling was completely bland (it needed a lot of vinegar to be even remotely edible), and the pork was surprisingly tough and flavourless.

Zheng's Juicy Fried Buns

Sang-ji Fried Bao is about two kilometres north of here, and trust me: that’s the one you want.  There’s no comparison.

Tasty Cheese Tarts at Pablo

PabloLocation: 1800 Sheppard Avenue East, North York (inside Fairview Mall)
Website: https://pablocanada.com/

It’s hard to go wrong with a Japanese cheese tart.  It’s basically just a little cheesecake, and it’s delicious.  If you’re a cheesecake fan, there’s absolutely no reason cheese tarts shouldn’t be in your life.

Pablo

The version they sell at Pablo might not be the best one I’ve ever had, but it’s pretty darn tasty.

The filling is sweet but not too sweet, with a rich cheesecake flavour.  I wish it had been a bit creamier, but it’s quite good.

Pablo

The crust could have been a bit more crisp, but again, it’s very good: it’s nice and buttery, with an almost shortbread-like flavour.  The crispy crust and the creamy cheesecake is a fairly irresistible combo.

A Mediocre Croissant at Gouter

GouterLocation: 3507 Bathurst Street, North York
Websitehttp://www.gouter.ca/

I assumed I was in good hands when the woman behind the counter at Gouter spoke with a heavy French accent.  Not that every French person can automatically make delicious pastries, but it made me think that the place was probably legit.

Yeah, about that.

Gouter

I had the raspberry croissant, and it was fine.  I certainly didn’t dislike eating it.  But there wasn’t a single element that was better than okay.

The first sign that something was amiss was the paper bag it came in.  The croissant was in there for about twenty minutes before I ate it.  A good croissant should be buttery enough to immediately leave grease stains on a paper bag, but that bag was pristine.

Gouter

The second sign that something was amiss came when I tore it in half and saw that it was filled with about a jar’s worth of raspberry jam.  That’s too much jam.  And I mean, it wasn’t unpleasant to eat, but there’s no balance there.

And as suspected, the croissant — though mildly buttery — wasn’t nearly buttery enough.  It also had zero exterior crispiness other than at the very ends, and was generally lacking in flavour.

Gouter

The overall experience was basically like eating a slice of Wonder Bread slathered with raspberry jam.  There just wasn’t much to it — the lack of textural contrast and the one-note flavour was a bit of a bummer.

Surprisingly Tasty Vietnamese Food at Mii Sandwich Co.

Mii YorkdaleLocation: 3401 Dufferin Street, North York (inside Yorkdale Mall)
Websitehttp://mii.herokuapp.com/

Mii is a small fast food chain specializing in quick Vietnamese eats.  As far as I know it’s only in mall food courts, which kinda makes you think it’s not going to be very good.

(Also, the name seems like a lawsuit from Nintendo waiting to happen.  It’s a bit puzzling.)

Well, I just tried their classic banh mi, and I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it.  It’s certainly not the best banh mi I’ve ever had, but it gets pretty much everything right, and very little wrong.

Mii Yorkdale

Basically: it’s not the bastardization you’d expect from the food court in Yorkdale.  It’s legit.

It’s seven bucks, so it’s somewhat pricey by banh mi standards, but it’s a hefty sandwich; considering the location, you really can’t expect it to be much cheaper.

Mii Yorkdale

Everything is as it should be: a nice slathering of butter, a healthy amount of chunky pate, a variety of cold cuts, and a good proportion of veggies and cilantro.  There was some kind of dark sauce that was a little bit too sweet for my taste, but aside from that, it was a tasty sammich.

The baguette was quite good, too; maybe a little bit too crunchy on its exterior, but otherwise soft and fresh.