Empty Instagram Bait at Taiyaki NYC

Taiyaki NYCLocation: 128 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Website: https://taiyakinyc.com/

Taiyaki NYC is basically the same concept as Sukoi Desserts, in which a taiyaki (a Japanese waffle-like dessert in the shape of a fish) is filled with ice cream and other toppings.

It’s a dessert that’s tailor-made for Instagram; in fact, Taiyaki NYC even has a portion of their wall made entirely of flowers to make your photo really pop.  I just wish they put in half as much effort to make the food pop.

It’s a dessert I should love.  Ice cream is great.  Taiyaki is great.  Cramming those two things together should be a home run.  And yet…

Taiyaki NYC

I went with the Mangonificient, which is supposedly one of their most popular flavours — it features a mango/vanilla swirl inside a custard taiyaki.

The ice cream is the biggest issue.  It’s not good — it has a decent mango flavour, but it’s icy and thin.  It’s topped with a cookie and a few tiny cubes of tasteless mochi on a stick.  It looks impressive, but the taste is another story.

Taiyaki NYC

I will say, however, that the taiyaki itself is actually quite good.  It’s nice and fresh, with a crispy exterior and a perfectly cakey/fluffy interior.   They sell them on their own, which is clearly the thing to order.  It probably won’t be much of a hit on social media, though, so what’s the point, right?

Authentic Ramen at Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

Hakata Ikkousha RamenLocation: 247 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.ikkousha.ca/

I tend not to mention my travels too often on this blog, because:

  1. That would get insufferable fast.
  2. It’s generally not fair to compare a version of a dish in Toronto to its legit counterpoint thousands of miles away.  There are so many reasons why it’s hard to perfectly replicate a dish outside of its home country, from the availability of ingredients to the pool of local chefs.  That’s not to mention the psychological aspect; there’s something about being in a place that makes the food taste better.  Of course the croissant you just had in Toronto isn’t as good as the one from the charming little bakery in Paris.  That would be an uphill battle in so many ways.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

However, in this case it can’t be helped; I’ve eaten the ramen at the original location of Hakata Ikkousha Ramen in Fukuoka, so it’s impossible for me not to make a very direct comparison.

Ikkousha serves Hakata ramen, a particularly rich variety of tonkatsu ramen that’s served with ultra-thin noodles.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

Shockingly enough, the bowl they’re serving here is basically indistinguishable from the one I had in Fukuoka.  I didn’t love it there and I don’t love it here, but the quality is about the same.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s quite tasty.  But it’s a bit one-note in its porky intensity.  Still, it has a somewhat roasty flavour that keeps things interesting.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

The secret to this type of ramen (unless it’s exceptional, and this place isn’t exceptional) are the condiments.  Particularly: pickled ginger and spicy pickled mustard leaf.  Adding a generous amount of both of these condiments gives the bowl a nice zippiness that cuts through the rich broth quite nicely.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

The rest of the bowl is (mostly) quite good.  The egg is a $2 add-on, but it’s totally worth it; it’s perfectly cooked and very flavourful.  The noodles, despite being very thin, have a nice bite to them and compliment the creamy soup perfectly.  And the chashu was nice and tender, though it did have a mildly gamy/leftovery flavour.

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.

A Simple but Tasty Sandwich at Cluny

ClunyLocation: 35 Tank House Lane, Toronto
Website: https://clunybistro.com/

Cluny is a French bistro in the Distillery District that also has an attached bakery where they sell various pastries and sandwiches.

Cluny

The bakery has the requisite sweets, of course, along with a handful of tasty looking sandwiches and savoury pastries (the quiche looked good, as did the tourtiere).  I went with the ham and brie sandwich.

I got it toasted, though I think untoasted might be the better option.  Toasting gets the bread a little too crunchified, and melts the fat in the ham, making the sandwich a drippy, greasy mess.

Cluny

Even so, it’s a tasty sandwich.  The bread, even in its over-crunched form, is top-notch, and the speck ham and brie work nicely together.  It’s a simple sandwich, but if you’re dealing with high quality ingredients that compliment each other well, further ornamentation is unnecessary.

The Sad Decline of Paramount

ParamountLocation: 1290 Crestlawn Drive, Mississauga
Website: http://www.paramountfinefoods.com/

You’ll notice that I only have the one photo from Paramount, of a partially eaten take-out box of a dozen falafel.  I wasn’t planning on blogging about this one, but I think I kinda have to?

Paramount makes me sad.  The one I visited, in an industrial area of Mississauga, is actually the first location of the now omnipresent chain.  Back before they started expanding, it was a fantastic restaurant — easily some of the best Middle Eastern food in the GTA.  Every time I went there, the place was absolutely slammed.  It was so good, and people couldn’t get enough of it.

Then, of course, they started expanding, and the quality started to go downhill.  Slowly at first, but the decline was unmistakable.  The crowds thinned out, but it was still popular enough.

The last time I was there, maybe about a year ago, the food was clearly inferior to its highs in the pre-expansion days, but it was still pretty decent.

I just went to pick up an order of a dozen falafel, and the place was an absolute ghost town.  It’s easy enough to see why; it was quite possibly the worst falafel that I’ve ever had.  It was dense and dry, with an unpleasantly crumbly texture that sucks all the moisture out of your mouth.  It tasted wrong and stale despite being fresh from the fryer.

As for the weirdly sour tahini sauce and the bland pita bread, the less said the better.

I think I’m done with Paramount, and considering how good it used to be, that makes me sad.