Saturday, November 28, 2009

60.South Africa: Nando's

Nando's Flame-grilled Chicken
839 Eglinton Ave East
(east of Bayview)
416 425 9292

I realize I'm breaking one of my rules here as Nando's is a restaurant chain.
Established in a suburb of Johannesburg in 1987, by friends Robert and Fernando, Nando's now has restaurants in 24 countries. There are seven locations in Ontario. Not all of Nando's Ontario outlets are licenced but this one sells beer and wine.
The menu is based on Mozambique/Portuguese style flame grilled chicken peri peri. We order and pay at the counter and take a sign with a number painted on it to our table. A half chicken dinner with two sides (peri fries and hearty coleslaw) is a filling meal for $13.69. The veggie burger served on a Portuguese roll was flavourful and well grilled, $8.49. We opt for tea at $1.49 each, since we're driving.
They sell bottles of various sauces and marinades made in South Africa that feature peri peri the bird's eye chili.
There are interesting bits of South Africa influenced decor but Christmas tinsel and disco music do not add to the ambiance. The service is what you would expect in a fast food outlet.

Rating: Ambiance (2)
Service (2)
Food Presentation (2)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (3)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

59. Moldova: Moldova Restaurant

Moldova Restaurant
5000 Dufferin Street, Unit 1
(just south of Steeles)
416 665 4566

When we arrived for Sunday lunch the room was set up for a large party and the server wasn't sure what to do with us. We were seated by a window and perused the placemat menus. The food choices reflect Moldova's geographical position in Eastern Europe between Romania and Ukraine.
We chose: borsht, a hearty mixed vegetable soup, $4.99; kishineu, a surprisingly tasty cold dish made with thick slices of fried eggplant topped with with mayonnaise, grated cheese & tomatoes, $4.99 [pictured here]; chicken tabaka, spicy marinated, cornish hen, $13.99; chicken breast shishkebob with rice, $10.99; coffee $0.99 a cup; jug of water on the table.
Total for four generous lunches - $55.37 plus tip.

Rating: Ambiance (2)
Service (2)
Food Presentation (3)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (3)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

58. Afghanistan: Taste of Afghanistan

Taste of Afghanistan
Downsview Park Merchant's Market Food Court
40 Carl Hall Road
(Sheppard and Keele)
416 638 2525

To find the food court you've got to walk to the back of the Downsview Park Merchant's Market and past the nearly 500 vendors peddling their wares. There are no fast food chains here, only family operated booths serving ethnic eats from far flung places.
We're here to try A Taste of Afghanistan, after reading about it in a Toronto Star article some months ago. The proprietor is friendly but not pushy, giving us glasses of green tea as we place our orders. We choose Bolani - a thin crust flat-bread stuffed with sauteed leeks and onions and Quabili Paulau - large chunks of tender meat on basmati rice topped with carrot julienne and raisins served with a spicy mint dipping sauce [both dishes pictured here]. We order at the counter then take a seat at a nearby table. The food court is spacious and brightly lit but booming music and sticky tables are a turn off. The food is authentic and tasty and at $15 for two filling lunches a pretty good deal.
We browse a book stall but nothing else about the place makes us want to stay. The "farmer's market" is just food terminal produce sold no cheaper here than my local shops. There is no charge for parking or admission and the market open Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 6 pm.

Rating: Ambiance (1)
Service (2)
Food Presentation (2)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (3)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

57. Belgium: Le Petit Déjeuner

Le Petit Déjeuner
191 King Street East
(East of Jarvis)
416 703 1560

This restaurant has an authentic continental atmosphere with somewhat incongruous green sparkly leatherette upholstery. We showed up about 6:30 on a Wednesday night. The waitress asked us if we were with "the party". We answered no and were seated at the front near the entrance and ordered drinks. They have several Belgian and Belgian style beers on the menu and we sample the Stella Artois, $5.50 bottle and the Mill Street Wit, $5.75 pint. The later is a locally brewed wheat beer. They also have an extensive list of loose leaf teas at $2.25 and we opt for the orange pekoe and masala chai rooibos.
Before ordering meals, we were told that they had no steak. For our main courses we choose: Flemish style beef stew - lean beef stewed with brown beer, served with a side salad and Belgian fries [pictured here], $14; Flemish Savoury Crêpe - filled with mushrooms, spinach and peppers served with apple slaw, $13; mesclun green salad served in a crispy poppadom cone with balsamic dressing, $5.50 and the soup de jour - which was a tasty blend of cauliflower, endive and cheddar, $5.00. The food was good but not exceptional. We order desserts - crème brûlée about $6.00 and Brussels style waffle with strawberries, organic maple syrup and chantilly cream $8.65 and waited. After some time, the waitress returned and told us that our dessert would take up to half an hour and suggested that we would not want to wait. We asked to our bill and then she returned in a few minutes saying that the desserts were now available and the chef was offering them to us gratis. We felt sorry for the waitress who was doing her best in difficult circumstances. Total for four dinners $73.40 plus tip.

Rating: Ambiance (4)
Service (1)
Food Presentation (3)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (3)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

55. Malaysia: Matahari Bar and Grill

Matahari Bar and Grill
39 Baldwin Street
(west of McCaul Street)
416 596 2832

There is a cluster of diverse restaurants at the east end of Baldwin Street in the Kensington neighbourhood, and it's difficult to choose between them. We meet up at the Matahari for dinner on a Tuesday evening and quickly realize we've made a good choice. We notice that the University of Toronto faculty crowd has discovered it too.
Our starter, the Calamari Matahari [pictured here], is beautifully presented and nicely cooked in a tamarind glaze and served with a peanut sauce, $9.00. For main dishes we choose: Sayur Lodeh - eggplant, green beans, cabbage, tomatoes and tofu in a flavourful but not too hot curry sauce, $14.00; Chicken Kapitan - marinated chicken breast cooked with fresh lemongrass, galanga, lime leaf, lemon juice and coconut milk, $15.00. We wisely decide to share one order of steamed rice, $1.50, which was plenty for the two of us. The mango sorbet, $5.50, provided a light and refreshing finish to a delicious meal. We linger over a glass of Pinot Grigio $8.00 and a pot of ruby chai tea, $2.00. Total cost for two $62.31.
The service was prompt and efficient, if not overly friendly. The ambiance, though lacking in ethnic flair, is comfortable and chic in the minimalist fashion. The ladies restroom, however, did not pass the cleanliness test

Rating: Ambiance (3)
Service (3)
Food Presentation (4)
Food Quality (4)
Value for Money (3)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

54. Somalia: New Bilan

New Bilan
183 Dundas Street East
(east of Jarvis)
416 943-0330

On this windy, sub-zero Saturday morning we arrived fifteen minutes before New Bilan officially opens but nevertheless ventured inside and take a seat.
Appetizing smells are coming from the kitchen and we are offered soup made with goat broth and vegetables which is tasty and warming. From the limited menu we choose the Vegetable dish [seen here] a stew made with kidney beans, broccoli, carrots, onions and other veggies in a delicious sauce that comes with either a side of chapatti or Somali rice, $6.99 and the grilled chicken steak served with a smaller portion of the same vegetable stew and rice ,$7.99, which is equally tasty and filling. A complimentary pitcher of mango juice arrived. It is not as thick and sweet as mango nectar and was very refreshing. At the end of our meal, we ask for some Somali tea which is sweet and spicy and comes in Styrofoam cups.
Total for four hearty lunches is $32, including tip - amazing value for money.
The decor is an odd mixture of depictions of Somali culture in plywood and garish dollar-store plastic tablecloths. Under a mural of an African village, a large TV was broadcasting the local news. We recommend you tread carefully in this neighbourhood and avoid the restaurant's washrooms.

Rating: Ambiance (2)
Service (2)
Food Presentation (3)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (4)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

53. Laos: Queen Mother Cafe

Queen Mother Cafe
208 Queen Street West
(west of University Ave)
416 598 4719

Upon entering this popular downtown eatery you may wonder what connection it has with Laos. The answer is its chef – Noy Phongnanouvong. Known locally, since its opening in 1978, as the "Queen Mum" it is named after the late Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, mother of Queen Elizabeth II.
There are many tempting items on the lunch menu, but we try to sample the most Laotian of the lot.
For a starter we share the vegetarian nam dip - soft rice paper rolls filled with tofu, bean sprouts, cucumber, lettuce, vermicelli noodles, carrot, bell peppers, fresh mint and coriander, served cold with sweet and spicy peanut sauce, three pieces for $7.25 [pictured here]. Our main courses are: bah me hang - fresh thin egg noodles stir fried with bean sprouts, onions, celery, chopped peanuts, sautéed shrimp and sliced chicken in a spicy lime coriander sauce, topped with green onions, we chose the medium spiced version, $10.95; curry vegetable roti stuffed with sweet potatoes, carrots, chickpeas and tofu in a spicy curry sauce, wrapped in an Indian dahl roti, served with a baby greens salad, $11.50; and grilled chicken sandwich - chicken breast on a toasted baguette with roasted red peppers, baby arugula, sun dried tomato pesto and asiago cheese, $10.95 (with half salad/half yukon gold fries on the side $1.50 extra).
Service was brisk and friendly. We were seated promptly and glasses of water and menus appeared quickly.
The decor is more about old Toronto than the orient. Fifties rock and roll is being piped in. At the entrance, there's an interesting display of objects found in the walls during renovations that date from the time when the building housed a bakery. A sign advertises eclairs 3 for 10 cents.
Overall a good experience, though more Laotian items, including a vegetarian main dish on the lunch menu would make it more enticing.

Rating: Ambiance (3)
Service (3)
Food Presentation (3)
Food Quality (3)
Value for Money (3)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Challenge Met

The original Toronto Ethnic Eats Challenge,to visit 52 different ethnic restaurants, bakeries and cafes, was met in December 2008. Our culinary journey has been so enjoyable that we've decided to continue with monthly jaunts. Know of a Toronto ethnic eatery we should try? We welcome your suggestions - just post a comment here.