Outstanding Greek Food at Mamakas Taverna

Mamakas TavernaLocation: 80 Ossington Avenue, Toronto
Website: https://mamakas.ca/

I had an idea that Mamakas Taverna was probably something special when I tried their pork souvlaki at the recent OssFest street festival and was completely blown away.  I was finally able to visit the restaurant itself, and yeah.  Yeah.  That souvlaki wasn’t a fluke.  Everything is so good.

Mamakas Taverna

It’s the type of place where you order a bunch of stuff and share, which works out well because everything is so incredibly delicious that you want to try the whole menu.

Mamakas Taverna

There’s the spanakopita, which is basically the platonic ideal of that dish, with a crispy, buttery exterior and an intensely flavourful spinach filling.  The filling was actually quite unique, with a mildly sweet, citrusy tang that does a great job of balancing out the richness of the dish.

Mamakas Taverna

There were these keftedes — perfectly-spiced beef and pork meatballs with a delightfully crispy exterior from the fryer.

Mamakas Taverna

This looks like a pretty standard salad, but the meaty lentils combined with the fresh herbs and the nice pops of sweetness and crunch from the pomegranate — not to mention a dressing that complements it perfectly and isn’t over-applied — made it just as memorable as any of the other dishes.

Mamakas Taverna

The octopus was probably the simplest dish I tried, and proof that if you’re working with great quality ingredients and preparing them well, further ornamentation is unnecessary.  The meat had a great amount of char from the grill, with a mild sweetness and nice meaty bite.  If you’re queasy about eating octopus, you need to get over yourself; you don’t know what you’re missing.  Bad octopus can be rubbery and horrible, but good octopus is like the delicious love-child between a scallop and a pork chop.

Mamakas Taverna

My favourite dish of the night was also easily the least photogenic.  No, this braised short rib doesn’t look like much, but holy moly it was ridiculously good.  Insanely tender (but not mushy) with just the right amount of perfectly creamy fat and an intensely beefy flavour, it was basically like the best pot roast you’ve ever had.

Mamakas Taverna

The dessert — a walnut spice cake with yogurt mousse — was just as delicious as everything else, because of course it was.  The cake was nutty and rich, and the tartness of the creamy mousse complemented it perfectly.

Delicious Boba Milk at Bubble Lee

Bubble LeeLocation: 3621 Highway 7, Markham
Website: http://www.bubbleleecanada.com/

They serve brown sugar boba milk at Bubble Lee; like I mentioned in my review of Tiger Sugar, this stuff is basically bubble tea without the tea.  It’s delicious.

Bubble Lee

The secret are those delightfully chewy tapioca balls and the tasty brown-sugar-infused sauce that they serve them with.  I don’t even need the drink; just serve those things in a bowl with a spoon.  Serve them on top of ice cream (actually, that’s an amazing idea.  Restaurateurs: feel free to steal that).

Bubble Lee

I think I liked the version at Tiger Sugar a little bit better — they serve it with a “cream mousse” that makes it indulgently rich — but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what they’re serving at Bubble Lee.   On the plus side, it’s not as heavy, so it feels more like a regular drink and less like something you have to take a nap to recover from.

Amazing Ramen at Nobuya

NobuyaLocation: 285 Royal York Road, Etobicoke
Website: https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Ramen-Restaurant/Nobuya

Generally speaking, if Suresh Doss recommends a restaurant, I immediately add it to my list of places to check out.  The man has an almost supernatural gift for sniffing out unsung gems, and his recommendations are always stellar.

But I was particularly excited after reading his write-up on Nobuya, in which he raves about the ramen and calls the karaage “some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever have.”

Nobuya

Nobuya is an interesting place.  The restaurant is decked out in sports paraphernalia, and is entirely a one-man show.  It’s staffed entirely by the owner, who shuttles back and forth between the small dining room and the kitchen.  As you might expect, the service is leisurely, but very friendly.

I started, of course, with the karaage, which was a bit of a let-down.  It’s well seasoned, with a nice light crispiness on its exterior.  But the best versions of karaage are made with juicy dark meat; this was made with dried-out white meat.  It certainly wasn’t bad, but the dryness was a bummer.

Nobuya

But of course, the ramen is what you’re there for.  They have a few varieties on offer, but the owner identified the Tokyo ramen as his favourite, so that’s what I ordered.

Tokyo-style ramen is very, very different than the rich, hearty tonkotsu ramen that’s so omnipresent in the city; it has a much lighter consistency and a delicate flavour which makes it a very refreshing change of pace.

Nobuya

It’s also seriously delicious, with a complex meatiness, a very mild fishy funk, and a subtle sweetness to round things out.  It pulls off that delightful magic trick you’ll find in the best bowls of ramen, where every spoonful seems to bring something new to the table.

The many toppings — things like garlic, green onion, and pickled ginger — only amp up the already delightful flavour.  It’s fantastic.

Nobuya

But then there’s the noodles.  I’m assuming this was a one-time mistake (the bowl was too delicious for it to be anything but an unfortunate glitch), but the noodles in my and my dining companion’s bowl were overcooked to the point of mushiness.  Given how good the rest of the bowl was, this was particularly unfortunate.  But I guess if you’re one guy running an entire restaurant on your own, little slip-ups are bound to happen.

The chashu wasn’t great either, with a slightly tough texture and a gamy flavour.  But again, that soup was so damn good that it really didn’t matter.

A Middling Breakfast at Cafe Crepe

Cafe CrepeLocation: 246 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: https://cafecrepe.com/

Cafe Crepe does surprisingly well; I recently showed up at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, expecting it to be mostly empty, and the place was absolutely packed.  People, apparently, love crepes.

And the crepe itself is solid.  Everything else, on the other hand…

I ordered the Cafe Crepe Speciale, which comes with three eggs that are theoretically cooked how you like them, “with bacon or sausage & your choice of crêpe: sugar butter, lemon sugar or cinnamon sugar.”

Cafe Crepe

I went with a lemon sugar crepe, sausage, and eggs cooked over easy.

I briefly considered mentioning something when the waitress plopped down a plate of scrambled eggs, but the prospect of eating in shifts with my dining companion wasn’t particularly compelling.

It was fine?  I guess?  The scrambled eggs were slightly overcooked and completely underseasoned (if they had any salt, I couldn’t taste it), but decent enough.  And the sausage was something resembling chorizo rather than the breakfast sausage you’re expecting, but it’s tasty enough.

Cafe Crepe

As for the crepe, it’s actually very good — it’s nice and fresh, with a texture that does a great job of balancing tenderness and bite.   But it’s absolutely doused in sugar (it’s both on top of and inside the crepe), and the lemon (which was also copiously applied) tasted off; I’m pretty sure it was actually ReaLemon or something similar.

It wasn’t a bad breakfast, but it probably makes more sense to order a crepe that’s harder to mess up, like Nutella and banana.

Tasty Treats at Kevin’s Taiyaki

Kevin's TaiyakiLocation: 333 Dundas Street East, Mississauga (inside PAT Supermarket)
Website: None

Kevin’s Taiyaki is inside the PAT Supermarket in Mississauga, which is a pretty trippy place to visit.  It’s basically like stepping through a portal into South Korea.  When I went, every other person — both customer and employee — was Korean, and the only language I heard spoken was Korean.  PAT has a downtown location as well, but I’ve never quite had the same experience there.

I have a definite fondness for South Korea (I think it’s an underrated travel destination), so that was delightful.

Kevin's Taiyaki

Like the downtown PAT, there’s a location of Kevin’s Taiyaki right inside the supermarket, which specializes in red bean or custard filled pastries.

I got the red bean, and it was very, very good.  It was freshly made, with a nice crispy exterior, fluffy pastry (if you’ve never had taiyaki before, it’s extremely waffle-like), and a delicious red bean filling.  The red bean had a restrained level of sweetness and a chunky (but still smooth) texture that was extremely satisfying.

Kevin's Taiyaki

Taiyaki is one of those dishes that’s very simple and rarely bad, but difficult to do really well.  Kevin’s Taiyaki does it really well.