A Mixed Bag at Tabule

TabuleLocation: 2009 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://tabule.ca/

I like Tabule a lot; it’s probably one of the better Middle Eastern restaurants in the city, though this particular visit wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring.

The starter was fantastic, at least — we got the sampler platter, which came with hummus, babaganuj, and tabule.  The creamy hummus had a nice garlicky bite without overwhelming, the tabule was fresh and zingy, and the babaganuj had a mild smokiness that really set it apart.  It comes with a basket of soft, toasty pita bread.  It’s great.

Tabule

My main wasn’t quite as good.  I got the eggplant, which comes served on mujaddara, a Middle Eastern rice dish with lentils and fried onions.

The eggplant was perfectly cooked; that particular vegetable can easily be mushy, but in this dish it had a satisfyingly firm texture and an amazing creaminess.  I think it might have been some of the most well-prepared eggplant I’ve ever had.

But while it and the rice were both quite tasty, the whole dish was one-note rich; the tahini sauce didn’t do much to contrast with the eggplant and the rice.  Something with some sweetness or acidity would have really rounded things out — as delicious as it was, I was getting tired of eating it by the end of the plate.

Tabule

I had the kunafa for dessert, which was a more unambiguous failure.  I actually had this on a previous visit, and that time it had a really great balance of creaminess and crispiness, without being overly sweet.  This time?  Not so much.

But to quote LeVar Burton: you don’t have to take my word for it.  Here’s a side-by-side of the the one I just had, and the one I was served on my last visit.

Tabule

Yikes.  And it was as bad as it looked — it was absolute mush all the way through, with an unpleasantly intense, throat-burning sweetness.

Overpriced Thai Food at Kiin

KiinLocation: 326 Adelaide Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.kiintoronto.com/

Kiin is the latest Thai restaurant in the burgeoning restaurant empire of Jeff and Nuit Regular (they also own Sukhothai, Pai, and Sabai Sabai).  It’s one of those places where you order a few things and share, which is nice because you get to try more stuff (though you inevitably end up spending more, which is a bigger issue than usual at Kiin).

Kiin

The first thing we tried was the pandan chicken, which features tender pieces of chicken that have been wrapped in a pandan leaf (you can eat those leaves, though they recommend that you remove them).  It comes with a bowl of sweet chili sauce for dipping.  It’s a tasty dish, but definitely not a home run — the chicken, though nice and tender, was quite plain, and the chili sauce was standard-issue and nothing to write home about.

Kiin

Next up was the pork jowl, which was a definite upgrade over the chicken.  It’s crammed with classic Southeast Asian flavours: it’s a little fishy and a little sweet, with a nice punch of sourness to round it out.  But it’s too assertive, and the balance of flavours is off.  It’s tasty, but the slices of pork (which are slightly tougher than they should be) are completely wiped out.

Kiin

The final dish was kua hang gai, which was a braised chicken stir fry.  No complaints here — the chicken was super tender, and the flavours were well-rounded and satisfying.  We got this with one order of jasmine rice and another of roti.  The deep-fried roti was crispy and tasty, but it was closer to fry bread than standard roti.  I liked it, but a more traditional preparation would have been preferable.

I mentioned that price was an issue.  The pandan chicken was $15, the jowl was $17, the stir fry was $26, the rice was $5, and roti was $6.  With tax and tip, it was approaching a hundred bucks, which is just way too much money for the calibre of food that we were served.  Not that any of the dishes were bad, but those are fine-dining prices, and the food wasn’t at that level.

Crispy Fried Goodness at Mr. Tonkatsu

Mr. TonkatsuLocation: 520 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.mrtonkatsu.com/

Tonkatsu is one of those dishes that’s very difficult to dislike.  You can coat pretty much anything in panko breading and then deep fry it, and that thing is going to be tasty.  A fried, panko-breaded pork cutlet?  Served with rice and a delicious dipping sauce?  Yeah, it’s hard to go wrong there.

And while Mr. Tonkatsu doesn’t serve the best tonkatsu I’ve ever had, they certainly do a solid job with it.

Mr. Tonkatsu

They have a couple of different pork options on the menu — loin and tenderloin, with the latter being an extra dollar.  I went with loin, which comes with a bowl of rice, tonkatsu sauce, shredded cabbage, and miso soup.

The panko breading on the tonkatsu had an absolutely perfect texture — it was golden and lightly crispy, with just enough heft to make its presence known, but not enough to overwhelm the meat.  But it was way underseasoned; it was actually pretty bland.

Mr. Tonkatsu

Thankfully, the tonkatsu sauce very thoroughly solves that problem.  I normally like that stuff — it’s kind of like a Japanese take on HP sauce — but the version here was something special, with way more complexity than the norm.

It’s good that the sauce was so delicious, because the meat needed a lot of it.  Aside from the distinct lack of flavour, the pork itself was overcooked and extremely dry.  A prodigious application of the tasty sauce goes a long way towards fixing those problems, but they are problems nonetheless.

Mr. Tonkatsu

Everything else was quite good.  The dressing for the cabbage was the usual sesame-infused concoction you’d expect; it was quite satisfying.  And the miso soup had a mildly fishy funk that I found to be delightful.

Excellent BBQ at Excellent BBQ Restaurant

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond HillLocation: 9425 Leslie Street, Richmond Hill
Website: None

If you’re going to put the word excellent in the name of your restaurant, you’d better be able to back that up.  Even if you’re serving pretty good food, that’s not excellent, is it?

Well, Excellent BBQ Restaurant in the Richlane Mall in Richmond Hill definitely lives up to its name: it is indeed excellent.

There’s something really satisfying about the simplicity of Chinese-style BBQ like this.  It’s beyond simple — it’s basically just whole pieces of meat and rice — but when it’s done well, it’s delicious and comforting in a way that few dishes can match.

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond Hill

Excellent BBQ Restaurant does it quite well, which is evident as soon as you get there: when I visited, there was a line going out the door, and it remained that way for the whole time I was there.

When you’re serving food this good, word gets around.

We tried a few different things.  BBQ duck.

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond Hill

BBQ pork.

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond Hill

And roast pork.

Excellent BBQ Restaurant, Richmond Hill

Everything was really good.  In particular, the duck was fatty, tender, and perfect.  The skin could have been a bit crispier, but that’s a fairly minor complaint.

Both types of pork were just as good — there wasn’t a whole lot of crispy skin on the roast pork, but what was there was shatteringly crisp and amazing.  The BBQ pork was slightly dry, but again: that’s a minor complaint.

Noodles and Buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar

Momofuku Noodle BarLocation: 190 University Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://noodlebar-toronto.momofuku.com/

I don’t really have a favourite restaurant in the city — I have a tendency to want to try something new every time I eat out, so it’s rare that I’ll go to the same place more than a couple of times.

So I guess Momofuku Noodle Bar is one of my favourite restaurants by default, because I’ve been there several times, and it’s consistently very good.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

On this particular visit I tried a couple of their buns — chicken burger and cod cake — and both were quite tasty.  The chicken burger, which featured a generous spread of pepper hummus, was the more interesting of the two.  But the crispy, tasty cod was quite good as well.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

I also tried the onigiri, and with its crispy fried bottom layer of nori, it was certainly an interesting take on the ubiquitous Japanese snack.   But it was a little bit bland, and probably not something I’d order again.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

The Jaja noodles, which the menu describes as “bacon, black bean, cabbage, pickle,” was good, but it was another item I probably wouldn’t get again.  It had a meaty, umami-filled flavour, but it felt one-note.  It really needed a bit more vibrancy to round out its porky richness (it probably didn’t help that it reminded me a lot of a dish I had in Malaysia called chili pan mee that was superior in every regard).