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.

(Mostly) Tasty Eats at The Ex

The ExLocation: 210 Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto
Website: https://theex.com/

Though I haven’t been in a couple of years, I enjoy going to the Ex.  I mean, they have an enormous building dedicated entirely to food, not to mention vendor after vendor selling junky carnival food, so of course I enjoy it.

I didn’t get to try quite as much as I would have liked (this stuff was all extremely heavy), but I sampled a few things.

The Ex

The Big Chief from Porkies Sandwich Co.

This place specializes in porchetta and pork belly, and serves a sandwich that’s crammed with both of them.  The two meats are topped with caramelized onions, arugula, provolone, salsa verde, and chipotle mayo.  It’s not bad — the two types of pork are a bit bland and textureless (they’re super tender, but there are zero crispy bits or crackling), but they’re still porky and satisfying.  The cheese was unmelted and basically added nothing to the sandwich, but the onions and the sauces are tasty and do a good job of cutting through the extreme richness of the belly and the porchetta.  I will say, however, that this might have been the greasiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Grease was leaking everywhere.

The Ex

Scorpion Burrito from Burrito Co.

Though Burrito Co. advertises this as “Canada’s hottest burrito,” that’s a dubious claim; the burrito itself is barely spicy at all.  It does, however, come with a tiny dropper filled with a legitimately fiery hot sauce.  This stuff isn’t kidding around, though I wish they had added it right into the burrito, because having to reapply it every couple of mouthfuls was a bit of a pain.  As for the burrito itself, it was fine, I guess?  It was decent enough, but nothing about it particularly stands out (other than the comically absurd $19.25 price tag).

The Ex

Pickle Pizza from Rick’s Pizza

This is the only thing I tried that was outside of the food building.  The slice is basically exploding with pickle flavour; it’s topped with pickle slices, and features dill ranch instead of tomato sauce.  It’s a novelty food and it tastes like a novelty food, but it’s actually kind of satisfying.  The pickles are nice and zingy, and the pizza itself is decent.  I don’t know that I’d want to eat this all the time — but isn’t that the whole point of carnival food?  If it’s something you’d want to eat on a regular basis, it’s probably not doing its job.

A Very Memorable Meal at Cava

Cava TorontoLocation: 1560 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.cavarestaurant.ca/

I tend to focus mostly on places that offer prices on the cheaper end of the spectrum; aside from the obvious (they’re cheap!), I generally find them more satisfying.  There aren’t many things in the world that I love more than a really great bowl of noodles from a hole in the wall.

Still, it’s nice to venture out to pricier restaurants every now and then.  There’s a level of craft and a quality of ingredients that you just can’t get without shelling out some cash.

Cava Toronto

Cava is a great example of this.  It certainly isn’t cheap, but holy moly the food was good.

They focus on Spanish-inspired tapas, so I got to try a handful of things.

Cava Toronto

The chicken liver and foie gras mousse was deeply flavourful and luxuriously creamy.  It’s served with a little bowl of grainy mustard on the side, which does a great job of cutting the richness of the mineraly pate.

Cava Toronto

The “Supergilda” features a deliciously fishy sardine on tomato-spread toast, speared with olives and anchovy.  It’s simple, but immensely satisfying.

Cava Toronto

Next up was the jamon croquetta, which was a crunchy fried tube of creamy goodness.  It was a bit light on the jamon, but was otherwise really tasty.

Cava Toronto

The beef salpicon was one of my favourites of the evening.  It had a seriously intense beefy flavour, a tasty combo of high quality olive oil and acidity, and a fantastic contrast between the tender beef and the crispy bits on top.

Cava Toronto

My absolute favourite dish of the night was the eggplant with queso fresco, bonito, and tomatillo sauce.  Holy crap, this dish.  The contrast in textures here was insane — the deep fried exterior was shatteringly crisp, and the eggplant within was absurdly creamy.  The combo of those two textures was bonkers, and the gooey cheese, smoky/funky bonito flakes, and zingy tomatillo sauce complimented it perfectly.  So damn good.

Cava Toronto

The last savoury dish was the roasted pork belly and morcilla in a kidney bean stew.  This was basically an upscale version of pork and beans.  It was almost absurdly rich, with the blood sausage really amping up the luxurious flavour of the beans.

Cava Toronto

We had the churros for dessert, which was probably the only real disappointment of the night.  The cinnamon- and sugar-dusted churros were certainly tasty, but nothing about them stood out from the churros you can get at any number of places throughout the GTA.

Cava Toronto

It did, however, come with a small cup of drinking chocolate that had an amazingly intense flavour.  Just give me a big mug of that and I’ll be a happy man.

The Diner House 29

The Diner House 29 in St. Catherines, OntarioI watch a ridiculous amount of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  It isn’t often that I go to a restaurant that feels like it would fit in on that show (we just don’t seem to have a lot of restaurants like that in the GTA).  But Guy would be right at home at the Diner House 29 in St. Catherines.

There were a few things on the menu that caught my eye, but I went with Porky’s Revenge: “Roasted Pork Belly on a Toasted Bagel Bun with 2 Fried Eggs, House-made Onion Chutney,  Niagara-Peach Mayo & Monterey Jack.”

The Diner House 29 in St. Catherines, Ontario

Pork belly is one of those trendy ingredients that’s popped up on pretty much every menu over the last several years.  But I still have a hard time saying no to it.

And the version here is good.  I have a friend who teases me over the use of the word “unctuous,” because it’s one of those words that really isn’t in a normal person’s vocabulary.  It’s pretty much exclusive to food nerds/writers/bloggers (see also: mouthfeel).

That being said, this sandwich was unctuous AF.  Between the rich, fatty pork belly, the runny yolk from the eggs, the mayo, and the gooey cheese, the sandwich screams unctuous.  There’s really no other word to describe it.

The Diner House 29 in St. Catherines, Ontario

And yet it wasn’t too rich.  The sweet chutney helps to balance things out, and the flavours all work so well together that it never seems one-note.

The bagel bun was quite dense, with a very crispy exterior.  It would have been too much for your average sandwich, but there was so much going on here that the hearty bun was just right.

My biggest issue is that the sandwich is so overstuffed and slippery that as soon as I picked it up, it immediately started to fall apart.  I panicked, took a quick bite, then set the sandwich down and proceeded to eat the rest with a fork and knife.

The Diner House 29 in St. Catherines, Ontario

The sandwich comes with a salad, soup, or potatoes on the side.  I got the rice, beans, and pesto soup; it was absolutely crammed with stuff and had a satisfying pesto flavour.  It was hearty and tasty.