Turning 27

20171019_160653
Top, COS | Skirt, Banana Republic, thrifted

I turned 27 yesterday! Mikaius planned a lovely day for us, with the trip to the Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters exhibit at the AGO bookended by food – thank you, my love, for the effort that you put into this date!

20171019_104933

Breakfast was at Yonge and Wellesley, at a restaurant called The Coach House Restaurant. We’ve eaten here before and had a grand old time, so we decided to come back. Mikaius had pancakes (super fluffy and delicious, by the way) with sausage and bacon and a milkshake to wash it all down, and I had the spinach and feta omelette with a cup of coffee. A wonderful and hearty start to my birthday!

20171019_142751

We then walked to campus to visit the Trinity College Annual Book Sale, and on our way there, this adorable little ladybug decided to hang out with us for a little while. It particularly enjoyed Mikaius’ Misfits patch.

I got myself my first Ian Fleming book, an unabridged 1959 edition of From Russia with Love – it’s this exact one, although I only paid $3 for my copy! I’m going to hold off from reading it until December, but I’m pretty excited.

20171019_145141

Afterwards, we hit up the Krispy Kreme at the Kensington Market for a snack: a Pepperoni Pull-apart, a Pumpkin Spice donut, an Original Glazed donut, and a Triple Chocolate Frozzé that we couldn’t finish because it was so thick. We had to walk around Blue Banana for a bit to try and shake things down, we were so full of food.

We made our way to the AGO for the exhibit, fairly buzzing with excitement. IT WAS SO COOL. Photos will honestly not do it justice, so I only selected a few to show here, but I was so glad that this was what he had chosen to take me out to for my birthday. I adore Guillermo del Toro – Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favourite movies!

20171019_16074620171019_160208
20171019_160309

We headed out to Mo Ramyun, a short walk from the AGO, after the exhibit. Mo Ramyun is a favourite of ours, and we both tried something new: Mikaius had a bowl of the Chicken Ramyun, while I tried the Don-Gol Ramyun. Both delicious and so very filling – we had plenty of leftovers to take home.

20171019_171814

All in all, a wonderfully relaxing day: I stayed off of my email and messages for the most part, and didn’t do any schoolwork. I’ll get back to it again tomorrow, but oh my goodness was it wonderful to not have to think about everything that I needed to submit and all my looming deadlines.

Toronto Bites: The Good Fork

12773006_10205148711509708_1554619658_o

Dani: For me, The Good Fork will always be the restaurant that I associate with the sensation of starting to feel like a grown up. I got us a lunch reservation as soon as we discovered this place, and remember feeling exuberant when I got the confirmation. I was so excited! This date was also a pleasant moment to look forward to for us both, since we’re in the middle of a crazy hard semester. I think the only downside to The Good Fork is how out of the way it is for us -Bloor Street West was an hour and fifteen minutes of commuting from North York.

Mikaius: Despite the commute, it was absolutely great going to The Good Fork. What a feeling of “realness,” to have a reservation, and keep it! Not just keep it, but be an hour early!

Dani: The service was great! We were seated immediately at a window spot, where we could look out at the slushy Toronto sidewalks. Don’t get me wrong, I love window tables even on slushy Toronto days: basking in sunshine while eating delicious food is one of my ideas of heaven. The décor was beautiful, the interior was spotless, and our server was super attentive.

Mikaius: Dani’s right! We walked in, and we were seated right away. This nice little cozy spot, right at the front window. I felt so comfy looking at our slushy Toronto, with the sunlight pouring in on us. I can’t speak much to the aesthetic, as I spent my time ogling at Dani and gazing out the window.

Dani: For myself, I got a cup of coffee and the Good Forkin’ Morning with peameal bacon, which included: two eggs any way you liked them, which I ordered poached; home fries; a slice of Fred’s bread, blood orange sections, and of course the peameal bacon. The coffee was alright (the chocolate caramel cookie flavoured brew I have at home might be affecting my judgement), but it was the meal that really stood out. OH. GOD. The eggs were so beautiful I Snapchatted the moment I broke open the ooey-gooey golden yolk goodness, and how I wish I had saved that little four-second video. The bread was tasty, and the little tots were so flavourful I ate all of them even though my tummy was begging me not to finish my plate. The peameal bacon was also so tasty, and went so well with the rest of that beautiful plate.

12755336_10205148711869717_358242059_o

Mikaius: Every. Damn. Thing. That I could have wanted from “Spanish Hash” is what I got. Absolutely delicious chorizo with a little bit of spice, poached eggs to pop with gooey-goodness, tiny little home fry-tater-tot-things and roasted red peppers. Absolutely delicious, and piled on top of that black bread, was indescribably fulfilling. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing, and had to take it home to finish off. Adding bits of Dani’s peameal bacon to it all was just the icing on the cake. I recently “discovered” pea meal from a sandwich at St. Lawrence Market, otherwise I’d never really paid attention to it before. Pea meal bacon is a godsend!

12773426_10205148712029721_816289147_o

Dani: I would happily recommend this to anybody who was thinking of doing it. Just be mindful of how far the place is, especially if you need to be somewhere else right after

Mikaius: Recommend, recommend, recommend! The cost of a meal at Cora’s basically, except with a focus on more savoury foods, more unique dishes than you’d receive at Cora’s. I still prefer Cora’s, but the savoury goodness at The Good Fork has to be tried at least once!

12769374_10205148711589710_334065440_n

Toronto Bites: Sushi on Bloor

Mikaius and I have been looking for a new favourite sushi place since Akabane closed; as broke Uni students who adored sushi, we would often raid that joint for their $11 AYCE lunches. If we were going on Tuesday dates, we would settle in for a leisurely sushi lunch there, then walk down to Silver City Richmond Hill to catch an early movie.

In our search, we asked a lot of people what their recommendations were for cheap but delicious sushi restaurants, and one kept coming up: Sushi on Bloor. We never really had the time to check it out over the holidays between our work schedules, but we had a few hours free last week after school. Since we in the throes of a pretty bad sushi craving PLUS Sushi on Bloor was only a short 15 minute walk away from the St. George campus, off we went.

Dani: The decor wasn’t spectacular, but it was perfectly clean. The restaurant was full and there were, I think, two people ahead of us in line. This was on a weeknight at 8:30PM, so I took that as a good sign.

Mikaius: It was a small place, but like all the good places, it was longer than it was wide. There is something that is incredibly appealing to me about a long-way restaurant.

Dani: Between the two of us, we ordered the sashimi set (more for me than for him), the BBQ set, shrimp tempura, crab meat nigiri, spicy scallop nigiri, karaage chicken.

12552589_10204980323180105_5103557345441287235_n

By the end of the meal, I could have done without the sashimi or the BBQ set – both of which were delicious but not exactly what my tongue wanted to taste. The karaage chicken, the shrimp tempura, and the spicy scallop nigiri, however, were winners for me! I would happily order those again the next time we drop in!

Mikaius: I’ve never managed to get familiar with the various terms around sushi. So when I ordered the nigiri, I had no idea what I was getting in terms of presentation. Loved the crab meat, but I really don’t like roe and the scallop (though delicious itself) was covered in it. I cannot abide the weird crunchysaltiness of roe!

Everything was spot on, though. Nice bowl of miso soup as a palate cleanser, and that tempura was as fluffy as clouds. The karaage was absolutely fantastic, and incredibly large for a simple $5 plate. The BBQ set was good, but nothing particularly outstanding. The hit of the night for me was the simple tempura and karaage, hands down.

Dani: I would highly recommend this place! The line up should tell you all that you need to know: it’s a popular place known for good food, and the prices won’t kill your wallet.

Mikaius: Absolutely would recommend! Well priced, well placed, and hits just the right spots. The only negative I can think of is that they had a rather select set of sushi makes, compared to places with all kinds of RainbowGreenMagicalDragon sets.

Toronto Bites: Kinton Ramen

Dinner at Kinton Ramen was a bit of a lucky accident. We had actually discussed trying the place back when it had recently opened, but we never seemed to be able make it there at a time when the line-ups didn’t stretch out the door. A few days ago, however, Mikaius and I were on our way to have dinner elsewhere and passed by an unusually quiet Kinton – we looked at each other and immediately decided to head in. It was too good an opportunity to pass up!

Dani: Seating was still rather tight because most of the tables were occupied, so the hostess offered us a spot at the bar. I didn’t mind that at all because I thought it’d be interesting to see how the food was being made right in front of us. Right about the time that we were going to be seated, though, a table was freed up and we managed to snag one of the three-seaters that lined the wall. As it had been a particularly long day (Distillery District date post coming up in a few!), having our own little bubble inside the loud restaurant was wonderful.

I think that the one thing I needed a bot of getting used to was how easily-customizable your own bowl of ramen could be at Kinton! I’d grown used to spots like Ajisen where the menu is jam-packed with page upon page full of choices, but at Kinton, they do it differently. You get to create your own experience. You choose in this order from their different varieties: broth (chicken or pork) – flavour – soup – noodle – meat.

For myself, I ordered:  pork ramen – shoyu-flavoured broth – rich – thin noodles – pork belly. It was pork-overload, my goodness, but delicious beyond my previous ramen experiences. It was amazing. The pork was tender, flavourful, and delicious without being overly cloying, and the noodles had just the right chew. What won me over, though, was that beautiful broth. I couldn’t actually finish my bowl and had to ask for the leftovers in a takeaway container, which in itself was a nice surprise! The leftovers came to me already packed in a microwaveable bowl, with cutlery and napkins included, packed in a brown paper bag. I was so used to styrofoam containers that I might have squealed a little bit at Kinton’s packaging.

The staff was also incredibly friendly and efficient! The constant stream of greetings for every customer walking in or out did take some getting used to, but enjoyed that. We also didn’t have to wait very long for our food. Before we knew it, our beautiful bowls of ramen had arrived! We didn’t time it, but I’m sure that the wait time was way less than what we usually would wait for when it came to ramen.

IMG_20150630_232824
Excuse the flare – we have to remember to use Mikaius’ phone next time (that, or just suck it up and bring our camera everywhere).

Mikaius: I have to admit, at first I was confused. We had been on a long, wonderful walk downtown beforehand, after my classes. By the time we got to Kinton, I wasn’t entirely sure I could handle the rambunctious youthfulness of Kinton’s atmosphere. I expected a long list of perfect little bowls of small ramen, as the place seemed small and modern. What we got was amazing. I had prepared what I wanted off the menu, though, and suddenly realized it was Monday, so I could have the Monday Special: Karaage chicken ramen!

I had never had karaage chicken before, and was really eager to try it, in contrast to Dani’s choice of pork-based ramen. I was completely satisfied. The chicken was crispy and crunchy, it was juicy on the inside, and the chunks of chicken submerged in the ramen were practically springs of broth. The broth itself was perfectly salty and tasted like the best fried chicken I could imagine. I had gone with thick noodles and a seasoned egg to top it off. I’m used to egg with ramen, love it, too. However, I didn’t expect a perfectly molten inside on that seasoned egg, and I could not eat it fast enough.

IMG_20150630_232849
That chicken was delicious! It had all the elements of the trifecta that Mikaius always looks for in fried chicken: crispy, delicious, and it’s served in chunks rather than on the bone. Mmmmm.

Dani: I would highly recommend this place, with a caveat: you have to make sure that you don’t go during rush hours, because wait times get really long. Other than that, food is great, the service good, and the staff are incredibly helpful – all of which are usually ingredients to a good night out.

Mikaius: I’m with Dani on this one. Kinton was awesome, clean, friendly and fast. Loved it! The food was delicious! Entirely recommended!

Toronto Bites: Kanto by Tita Flips at Market 707

Summertime in Toronto is the time to go to all the food trucks, hole-in-the-walls, food markets, and food festivals. What’s a better way to celebrate the reappearance of the sun than by going out and exploring the city’s nooks and crannies, and experiencing all that being in Toronto means?

The first food review of Summer 2015 is on Kanto by Tita Flips. I first discovered Kanto when I started interning at Kapisanan last summer, and I was incredibly eager to introduce it to Mikaius as soon as I could! Part of its charm is that I can’t really consider it fast food because a sweet old lola makes the food. The wait is on the long side (about 15 to 20 minutes), but it’s worth it to soothe my homesick heart.

Before we dig in (hah!), here’s a short primer of relevant Filipino food terminology:

  • almusal: The Tagalog word for breakfast
  • siloga portmanteau of sinangag (fried rice) and itlog (egg, usually sunny-side up). The –silog is a mainstay of Filipino almusals both in the homeland and in the diasporic communities, and it is usually paired with some kind of protein, the main suspects being tocinotapa, and daing na bangus (which Mikaius reviews below).
  • Mang Tomas sauce: Mang Tomas is the most popular brand of pork liver sauce back home. According to one of my aunts, the tastiest of the “homemade” Mang Tomas versions use the liver of the pig being roasted to make lechon in the backyard, instead of buying the livers separately. Apparently, one pork liver makes enough sauce for the pig itself.
  • daing: a method of preparing fish wherein it’s butterflied and soaked in a vinegar-y (or calamansi-y) marinade and then either dried under the sun or fried. The bangus for bangsilog (bangus + sinangag + itlog) is prepped like this.
  • atchara: pickled papaya that is usually served with pork dishes to cut through the intense pork taste and grease, so that you can go on to eat more pork. Go figure. Atchara is delicious with other kinds of food, not just pork.

Mikaius: My order was the bangsilog with the calamansi iced tea. Entirely delicious. One half of a daing na bangus that’s been soaked in an amazing yet simple vinegar-y marinade, and fried to a delicious crisp. The garlic fried rice at Kanto is always a nice, heartwarming bit of comfort. It embodies my favourite kind of food: simple and tasty. With a nice fried egg on top pouring out molten goodness into that rice when you cut into it, the rice is just the right pair to the fish. The fish itself was (and has been every time) made perfectly. The crunch on the fry is perfect, the flesh is soft, and even the skin (descaled, mind you) has that vinegary-fried flavour well in hand with a satisfying crunch.

I’ve had a good few items off the menu. Most of the menu, actually. I don’t know if tosilog or bangsilog is my favourite from Kanto. I find the –silog type of meals so homey, and every time I have one, it’s like a hug in my stomach. Most times I default to the tosilog, just because I can’t pass up pork and sweetness, but sometimes I just want that nice vinegary taste that the bangus has.

IMG_20150616_235003

Dani: I ordered the lechon kawali off of the giant menu that they have beside the counter. For the uninitiated, lechon kawali is pan-fried crispy pork belly that Kanto serves with a side of atchara (pickled papaya) and the ubiquitous Mang Tomas sauce (savoury pork liver sauce) that you have with almost all servings of lechon back home. This is laid on top of a generous serving of delicious, piping hot garlic rice liberally sprinkled with toasted garlic bits – mini flavour bombs when they explode on your tongue. My mouth is watering just typing that out. Oh, my.

While my favourite thing to have at Kanto is hands-down the bangsilog (butterflied, pan-fried bangus + sinangag + itlog), on that particular day I wanted to try something different. I’d also had fish for several days prior and wanted those greasy fatty pork chunks in my belly. It was so good. The skin was crispy, the fat was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and the garlic rice was perfect. Mmmm. If you ask me what I recommend, I’ll still say go for the bangsilog first – but the lechon kawali is also amazing if you’re craving pork!

IMG_20150616_234908

Dani: 5/5, highly-recommended! If you want good homemade Filipino food and you’re in the Kensington Market area, head over to Market 707 and sink your teeth into some Kanto.

Mikaius: Absolutely recommend. Recommend entirely! Haven’t had a bad item off the menu and I’ve had almost all the menu!

Overall: To be honest, we’re most likely going back within the month. You should, too!

Toronto Bites: Kenzo

Interior - Kenzo
Kenzo’s cosy interior! Let me tell ya, it was a welcome reprieve from the biting cold.

In the category of late posts in CSDD, this is probably the latest one. Mikaius and I went to Kenzo in late February, when snow and slush was still on the ground, and now it’s May! That doesn’t change the relevancy of this post though – ramen is always, always relevant.

Read on for a short review on one of our favourite ramen places, Kenzo!

Mikaius: Dani prefers Ajisen for the more spacious area, the different noodles and the presentation of the dishes. I like Ajisen, too, for their variety and location, but Kenzo never lets me down. They don’t have as many options, and the restaurant is slimmer, but I am good and comfy in those little booths.

Dani: Mikaius is right – I do prefer Ajisen for the general lay-out of the space, but also because it’s so much more accessible to me especially when I’m headed back down to North York from St. George. That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t go to Kenzo, though, because I absolutely will. I love their rice bowls!

Spicy Ramen - Kenzo
Spicy Orochang Chicken Ramen! Mikaius says he enjoyed it quite a bit.

Mikaius: The Spicy Orochang Chicken Ramen was what I wanted. The broth was spicy, but not overpowering, and I was able to gobble up most of it without a second thought. The presentation may not have been regal, but I always like a solid melange of colours, the peppers gave a good crunch and a good display to the dish. With the flavour, the chicken cuts were gloriously soaked by the time I got to them in the bowl. Dani’s ginger beef also went really well with the broth!

Ginger Beef Rice Bowl - Kenzo
The presentation on the Ginger Beef Fried Rice was absolutely gorgeous, and a welcome change from seeing greys and whites in the winter. 

Dani: I was pleasantly suprised by the Ginger Beef Fried Rice in two ways: the bowl was beautiful, and it tasted amazing! The delicate taste of ginger complemented the beef and rice, and the miso soup was the perfect accompaniment to it. I was not a fan of the salad, although that may also be because I’m not a salad person in general. I also tried a little bit of Mikaius’ ramen, and it was delicious! A flavourful kind of spicy, not  one of those mindless burn-your-tongue-off-without-tasting-the-flavour kinds of spicy.

Mikaius: I’d absolutely recommend Kenzo. It’s fair to say I recommend most places, because you’d have to pour my food over my head in order for me to not like food. However, Kenzo really is a great bit of ramen that gives you the flavours you want, if not the presentation you want. Thumbs up!

Dani: 3/5, but of course I’d go back again. Only if Mikaius wants to, though, because Kenzo is a bit out of the way for me.

Overall: Would visit again!

Click here for Kenzo’s website!

Toronto Bites: St. Andrew Poultry

Mikaius and I spent an early morning on campus doing student-y things to prepare for the summer semester, like getting photos taken for IDs, getting enrolled for classes, and walking around Uni checking out the sights. There’d been muffins and other pastries at the orientation session, but since neither of us had been able to have a substantial breakfast by the time lunchtime came along both of us were pretty pooped and soooo ready for food!

St. Andrew Poultry has been on our super long to-try list for a couple of months, ever since one of my co-workers mentioned how good their chicken was and brought in a take-out menu back to the office. Fried chicken sounded really good to two starving students on a cold spring day, so we decided to drop by and see if the experience matched the hype. Buuuut, we’re also really good with maps so we managed to have trouble with what was supposed to be a short 15-minute walk from campus to St. Andrew – and when I say “we,” I actually just mean “me.” I am terrible with maps. Eru knows why Mikaius stays with me.

Read on for a short review of our St. Andrew Poultry experience!

Exterior - St. Andrew
I love that distinctive sign!

Mikaius: I love Kensington. I love that everything there is small. I love small restaurants that go further back than they are wide, that aren’t playing loud modern pop songs and classic rock. I love All-Stars Wings, but the day I sit inside of it to eat is the day I die. This is something that Kensington offers in spades: locally-owned and operated places to eat with a sense of personality, calm and kindness. Unsurprisingly, St. Andrew Poultry was another lovely experience in which I was absolutely happy.

Dani: I share Mikaius’ love of the Kensington area! Even setting aside the fact that I work there, I have always loved the atmosphere of the place – truth be told, it reminds me of home. Plus, all of the food places there that I’ve had the pleasure of eating at have never disappointed – taste explosions and orgasms on my tongue and in my mouth. I’m glad that Mikaius is open to exploring the city on foot: it allows us to have a more nuanced personal experience of Toronto, and we get to share a lot of food together!

Joy Fried Chicken - St. Andrew
This was pretty amazing chicken! The skin was crisp, the meat was flavourful – but what really made this pop were the fries. Jesus, those fries.

Mikaius: What says happy more than fried chicken? Joy Fried Chicken! This is the St. Andrew version of fried chicken and it is delectable. We ordered the dark meat, and boy, was it tasty. The order also came with a great big helping of fries. The fries were, strangely enough, the star for me. The chicken was unmatched, but I’ve never tasted fries like these before. I wish I had the culinary capacity to know what the seasoning was by taste, but it was delicious and different.

Dani: The Joy Fried Chicken was great! As you can see from the photo, the skin was all kinds of crispy, which is one of my benchmarks for good fried chicken. And the taste? Like nothing I’ve ever had before, which is saying a lot because fried chicken is one of my favourite things in the world. I agree with Mikaius though – those fries were addictive. I don’t have the skill to know what seasoning they put in those tasty things, but I would definitely come back again and again for those fries.

Chicken Shawarma - NU Bugel
There was something about this chicken shawarma that I found super yummy. I think I might have liked it more than the Joy Fried Chicken.

Mikaius: The second part of the order was the chicken shawarma in a pita. It was as good as the Joy Fried Chicken, filled to the brim with vegetables and flavouring, the chicken was coated in a wonderful yellow sauce. It was flavourful, crunchy where it needed to be and made my tongue dance. As well, they put a little garnish of fries to help absorb the inevitable leak of the delicious juices from the open mouth of the pita, and I love those fries.

Dani: Even though that fried chicken was wonderful, what won the day for me was the chicken shawarma in a pita! The photo doesn’t do it justice (I know I need to get better at food photography!), but I loved it all: the vegetables, the flavour, the chunks of chicken, that sauce. This is for sure what I will order the next time I come in, although perhaps I shall order it in a bowl instead of in a pita because I am such a messy eater.

MIkaius: Absolutely I would recommend St. Andrew Poultry! They get a solid thumbs up! If you’re anywhere near Kensington, you like the goodness that is chicken (though their menu includes lamb, brisket and other goodies!), then go and stuff your face full of happytastes! Gogogo!

Dani: 4/5! I have been recommending this to my close friends, and two of them have already been converted to the great taste of St. Andrew.

Overall: Would very happily go back again!

Check out their website and their Instagram page!

Toronto Bites: NU Bügel

Interior - NU Bugel
NU Bugel’s gorgeous counter. While I still wish that we sat at the enclosed porch, it was almost worth it for that chalkboard menu. Not in the picture: the bagels staked on wooden pegs.

Mikaius and I finally managed to steal a little time from our busy schedules to visit a couple of new (to us) food places at Kensington Market. Coming up in the next weeks will be several KM-themed Toronto Bites posts, from experiences that we were only all too eager to dive into, and equally as eager to share with everyone. Today’s edition of Toronto Bites will be about NU Bügel, a great little bagel place down at Augusta Avenue!

Coconut bagel with peanut butter - NU Bugel
Coconut bagel with a hearty serving of smooth peanut butter.

Dani: Going in, I was very excited about trying the coconut bagel out of the several different types that they offer (plain, poppy, sesame, everything, onion, coconut, and whole wheat). Since I wasn’t very hungry and only wanted a light snack, I ordered the coconut bagel with peanut butter instead of getting a sandwich. I was actually more than half-tempted to get Nutella on my bagel, but because I was also ordering a mug of hot chocolate I figured that having chocolate on chocolate would be overkill. The overall experience was rather meh. The bagel itself was so-so, and the peanut butter was spread so thick that even with hot chocolate to wash it down a lot of the PB stuck to the roof of my mouth with every bite. I ended up eating only half of my bagel, which was so messy because of the generous layer of PB.

NY Pastrami + Onion Bagel
New York Style Pastrami on an onion bagel: seasoned NY pastrami with baby arugula and boursin + a side salad.

Mikaius: My order was the NY Style Pastrami (seasoned NY pastrami with baby arugula and boursin) on an onion bagel. The bagel was delicious and flavoured, the seasoning for the sandwich itself was just right. It also had a very small salad on the side, which couple well with the bagel between bites. The pastrami was very nice, and came right apart without any struggle, while the heavy helping of boursin provided a good addition to the overall flavour.

Hot chocolate - NU Bugel
Probably the best hot chocolate I’ve had, ever.

Dani: It’s not an exaggeration when I say that NU Bügel served me one of the tastiest cups of hot chocolate that I’ve had in my five-year stay in Toronto! It was delicious – went down smooth, was very flavourful, and had a hearty dollop of whipped cream on top. With my bagel being a lackluster experience, this was the shining star of my meal.

Capuccino - NU Bugel
It was a perfectly adequate capuccino, we think. Nothing to write home about.

Mikaius: I had a little cappuccino to go with it, but unfortunately, I always forget that I don’t actually like coffee drinks, and there is a reason I throw a couple sweeteners in when I make my own.

Dani: The staff, though, was amazing! They were so helpful and cheery, that you can’t help but be happy the moment you walk in. I’d definitely come back with a group of friends for a nice warm cup of hot chocolate. It also seems to be a terrific option for a date place, if you and your partner felt like having bagels!

Mikaius: The service was absolutely fantastic. The place itself is a nice little shop, compact but comfortable. The staff was stylish and gave us service with a smile, bringing over our drinks and chatting with people as they came in. The mood was incredibly friendly and polite.

Dani: Will I come back for snacks? Of course! 3.5/5.

Mikaius: If you like bagels, if you like sandwiches, then this place is for you. Definitely thumbs up. Will eat again.

Overall: would go back again!

Click here to access their website. They have Instagram too!

(Editor’s note: For my scores, as Mikaius, I’m going to be using a thumbs up/down system from herein out, as I prefer to simply recommend or not recommend places. The minutia of integral-scoring is lost on me.)

Toronto Bites: Date Night at Ajisen and Teashop 168!

10934716_10203147795128049_231866965_n
(Top row) Ajisen’s Spicy Miso Ramen and Deep Fried Chicken Set + (bottom row) Teashop 168’s Watermelon Italian Soda and Red and White Funnel Cake

Mikaius and I went on a Pokémon X/Y date last week! He’s playing Y and I’m playing X, so there were some game-exclusive stones and Pokémon that we wanted to trade with each other. Both of us having grown up playing some iteration of Pokémon card games and watching the original series, we’re both a little obsessed with the 3DS games. I try to do the side quests and catch as many Pokémon as I can, and Mikaius has been on an evolving kick lately. It’s loads of fun for us, and a simple way to relieve stress between classes and work.

We met up rather late, though, so we decided to make a night of it and grab dinner and dessert. I mean, if we’re going on a dinner date, that means we’re not little children playing Pokemon… right? The night was chilly and called for steaming hot food to warm up our insides while we traded, so we hit up Ajisen Ramen for dinner, and Tea Shop 168 for dessert.

Dani: Walking into Ajisen has always felt like walking into a welcoming hug, especially on shivery winter nights. It wasn’t snowing, but that breeze sure was determined to knock everything over! I’ve eaten at Ajisen a couple of times and I’ve never had a bad experience – my favourites from the ramen menu are the deep-fried chicken ramen, the pork ramen, and the Ajisen ramen. Crazy good! The broth is always so savoury, the noodles are just the way I like them, and the bowls are giant.

Mikaius: For me, Ajisen is about new flavours. I’ve only been to a handful of ramen places, but I’ve never had a bad bowl. Every time I visit a restaurant, I like to try something I haven’t had before. One of the things I like about Ajisen is the wide selection of flavours, even if a lot of them are little tweaks. A bit of spice here, some miso there, pork instead of chicken, that kind of thing. Ajisen isn’t my top for ramen, as they use a thicker noodle that I find a bit too-much-noodle for my ramen-wants. I’m a sabaw-guy (note: sabaw is soup/broth in Tagalog).

Dani: Tonight, I decided to order something from the rice set menu because of two reasons: one, I had not eaten rice at all that day, and two, I wanted to know how their rice dishes measured up when stacked against the ramen dishes. I ordered the fried chicken rice set, and it came with miso soup and veggies, a healthy serving of fried chicken chunks, and a bowl of rice sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was fantastic! I kind of regret that not getting ramen since Mikaius’ bowl looked so appealing, but I was not at all disappointed with the quality of the rice set. The warm tea they serve with the food helped warm up my frozen insides. The fried chicken was tender and flavourful, and the rice was cooked perfectly. I would probably not have it again, but that’s simply because the ramen menu has so many other items that I want to try as well!

Mikaius: I ordered the Spicy Miso Soup. I love miso soup. I love ramen. I love spicy. It just made sense, especially since I am always nagging Dani that I want something with miso and I always forget to order it. The sabaw was fantastic, but unfortunately the cold had worked its devil magic on my nose. I couldn’t taste particularly well, as my nose had turned into a leaking-clogged mess. However, the spice was good and powerful and helped to punch that out. A perfect soup on a cold night. Unfortunately, because of the combination of cold-nose and spicy, I couldn’t really taste the miso. So I’m still craving that, just a plain miso soup. Dani’s chicken went really well with the sabaw, though, left to soak in and soften a bit, it was delicious. It was fantastic when poured over rice. This also marks the first time I’ve never had the stomach to finish off my ramen, with just a fingernail’s height of sabaw left in the bowl. I’ll have to try it again, when the weather is better and my nose has feeling in it.

Dani: For dessert, we shared a watermelon Italian soda and a Red-and-White Funnel cake, which came with strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. Both were a disappointment, which was massive letdown for me because I frequent the Teashop 168 at Yonge and Steeles and I’m an avid fan! Maybe the Italian soda was a flop because watermelon isn’t a sharp enough flavor to carry over into Italian soda, but that funnel cake was burnt. The ice cream was really good, as were the strawberries, but there was no excuse for that burnt funnel cake. Service was awkward and weird, and took a long time as well – a group who ordered about 5-10 minutes after we did were served first, and our food was brought to the wrong table before it was brought to us.

Mikaius: The Tea Shop wasn’t great, we really just went in for Italian soda. With my penchant for always-new flavours, I picked our drink. I should have known watermelon wouldn’t have had much flavour, but it was particularly weak. The funnel cake was, unfortunately, lifeless. It was just kind of crispy and unappealing, not helped by my entirely sabaw-filled stomach. The wait sucked, but in that time, I managed to trade all the Pokémon I needed to, and each one of ‘em evolved into something awesome!

Dani: I will wholeheartedly recommend Ajisen to anybody and everybody! 4.5/5 is how good they are – and it has been a pretty consistent experience. The North York branch of Teashop 168, however, I would probably not. 2.5/5, mostly because of that burnt funnel cake.

Mike: Ajisen may not be my favourite, but that’s only because of the noodles they use. I can’t recommend it enough, 4/5. I’d recommend Tea Shop 168 as a franchise, but not the one we went to, at least, not at that time of day, 2/5 because I managed to trade a bunch of Pokémon.

Toronto Bites: Harlem Underground

IMG_20140916_181456424_HDR
Harlem Underground was quiet when my friends and I walked in – all the better for a catch-up birthday dinner!

Last week, a friend of mine picked Harlem Underground for her 22nd birthday celebration, and it was the first time I had the opportunity to dine there. It is a cozy little establishment, a great place for friends wanting to catch up for a couple of hours over food and drinks.

Upon walking into the restaurant, my first thought was that it was the perfect place to celebrate with the birthday girl. The seats were cozy, the restaurant was immaculate, and because it was a weekday night there were barely any other people there besides us three. We were allowed to pick our seats because it was not busy, so we chose spots right beside the big window looking out onto the sidewalk. Plus, they played Michael Jackson songs all throughout our stay, which was a definite (albeit coincidental) plus due to the man being one of the celebrant’s favourite performers. Our server was also incredibly helpful and cheerful, especially considering that she was the only one working the floor that night!

IMG_20140916_181503112_HDR_Fotor_Collage
The menu, and my plate of food: I had their Guinness Marinated Chicken with a side of Coconut Rice and Collard Greens.

I ordered the Guinness Marinated Chicken with a side of Coconut Rice and Collard Greens. I was super excited about this particular dish because I had never eaten anything cooked with beer before. I thought that it was high time that I finally did, and when I saw that Harlem offered a dish that involved beer, my choice was made.

Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed. Our mains took quite a while to come out, and by that, I mean close to half an hour. We didn’t really notice it because we were busy catching up, but that was a wait time atypical of slow days in restaurants. When we finally got our meals, I was ravenous and dug in almost immediately. The chicken was tender and the portion size was huge, but the biggest disappointment was that it was mediocre. I was expecting a different sort of flavour in my mouth, and truthfully, the dish I ordered was rather bland. The portion was big enough that my hunger was quelled, but that was the only outstanding factor to it. The coconut rice was also adequate, nothing to write home about. As for the collard greens, I have never had them before so I am unsure as to what they should taste like. I will say that my portion seemed rather under seasoned, like everything on my plate.

However, as I said earlier, I do still feel like it was a great place to hang out with friends, for drinks and a meal. Rather pricey if you’re on a student budget, but still doable.

Overall rating: 2.5/5, would go there again, but I would definitely order a different dish.