Delicious and Unique pasta at Shiso Tree Cafe

Shiso Tree CafeLocation: 3160 Steeles Avenue East, Markham
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/ShisoTree/

Italian/Japanese fusion might sound odd on paper, but aside from the fact that Italian restaurants are actually quite popular in Japan, Shiso Tree Cafe is amazing.  All you need is one bite of their food to put any doubts to bed.

Shiso Tree Cafe

I tried a couple of starters: the tera-goma tebasaki (perfectly cooked chicken wings with a crunchy exterior and an addictively sweet glaze) and the tarutaru fries (amazing fries with homemade tartar sauce for dipping).  But their pasta is the real reason to come here.

Shiso Tree Cafe

I had the nori tsukudani: “braised nori sauce, onsen tamago, ikura, scallops, mentsuyu.”

It was so good, with the vibrant Japanese flavours making it really stand out from your average bowl of pasta.

The braised nori sauce tasted exactly how you’d hope it would: like nori, but in sauce form.  There’s something a bit odd (and very delightful) about taking such a familiar flavour and putting it in a new context.

Shiso Tree Cafe

And the onsen tamago (which is kind of like a silkier version of a poached egg, with a white that’s just barely set) was the perfect compliment.  It essentially liquefies into the pasta, coating the noodles and giving them an eggy richness.

The sweet, perfectly-cooked scallops match really well with the seaweed-infused sauce, and the greens add crunchy pops of freshness.  The pasta itself is, as you’d hope, perfectly al dente.

It’s certainly an unusual bowl of pasta, but it’s one where all of the flavours have been so perfectly considered.  It’s amazing.

Shiso Tree Cafe

I finished with the chestnut creme brulee, which was a fairly ingenious spin on a classic dessert; the rich chestnut flavour complimented the custard perfectly, and the crackily torched sugar on top was as satisfying as ever.

Hit-or-Miss Pizza at Nonna’s Oven

Nonna's OvenLocation: 1285 Elgin Mills Road East, Richmond Hill
Websitehttp://www.nonnasoven.com/

Nonna’s Oven is an Italian joint specializing in pizza (they also have pasta and sandwiches, though the pizza seems to be the main attraction) with locations in Richmond Hill and Oakville.  It’s not bad, but it’s probably not worth going out of your way for.

Nonna's Oven

We started with the frittura mista — a plate piled high with deep fried chunks of calamari, cuttlefish, shrimp, scallops, and whitefish.  This was mostly pretty good, though the squid was rubbery (everything was a bit overcooked) and the cuttlefish had an unpleasantly fishy funk.

Still, it’s hard to go wrong with anything that’s battered and deep fried, especially when the batter is as light and crispy as it is here.

Nonna's Oven

The pizzas were a bit of a mixed bag.  The first was the Margherita Italiana (“homemade tomato sauce, topped with fior di late cheese, fresh basil and light drizzled olive oil”).  The thing about a margherita pizza is that it’s so incredibly simple that if all the elements aren’t on point (the crust in particular), then it’s not going to be particularly good.

And the crust is definitely an issue here; it’s ultra thin and crispy, with absolutely no substance outside of a crispy crunch.  It’s basically like eating tomato sauce and cheese on a really bland cracker.  It’s not great.

Nonna's Oven

The Hawaiian Inferno pizza (“pineapple, bacon, onion and hot banana peppers”) was definitely the better of the two.  The more cheese- and topping-heavy pizza helped to compensate for the bland, crackery crust, and the toppings all worked pretty well together.

In the case of both pizzas, the real MVP was the jar of fiery chili oil they had on the table.  It had little bits of hot peppers, and if you got a heaping spoonful of the peppers and the oil, it really kicked things up and helped to make everything a bit more interesting.