Thursday, 26 February 2015

Taste of Istanbul

Groupon was having a local deals sale and when I saw the deal for Taste of Istanbul's 6 course meal for 4 people for $110, I couldn't resist trying it. 
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Our six courses included: cold appetizer, soup, hot appetizer, main course, dessert and coffee or tea

Clockwise from top: Patlican Kizartmasi (fried eggplant salad), babaghanouj (babagannush) and Pilaki (kidney bean salad)
Everything was pretty good and the portion sizes were really very filling. The pita and the babaghanouj were good (the babaghanouj would have been better with a little more salt), but my favourite was probably the eggplant salad - delicious and so tasty despite being chilled. Everything was fresh and flavourful in our first course.

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Tavuk Corbasi (Chicken soup) and Kuzu Corbasi (Lamb Soup)

Mercimek Corbasi (Lentil soup)

Of the soups, the only one I would recommend is the lamb soup since it was the most flavourful and aromatic. However, if you're not a fan of lamb, then the lentil soup would be the other choice (the chicken was really watered down and tasteless).

Kalamar (Grilled Calamari)
The grilled calamari was good! Nice, juicy and tasty with the Cacik (tzatziki sauce)
The portions were also huge! A sure sign of lots of food to come if the hot appetizer was already so big.

Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza)
Crispy flatbread topped with ground beef and lamb, onion, garlic and spices. I'm not too sure if there was a sauce on this, but I thought it was better without anyways. A very meaty pizza with lots of crunchy flatbread. The tomatoes and onions were a little odd on the side of the pizza, but the lemon actually made the pizza taste better. Very interesting.

Sultan Izgara (Sultan Grill) for One
An assortment of grilled meats (beef, chicken and lamb). This dish was probably the best value for money on the menu, but it was so much meat with kobideh, lamb chop and chicken breast kebab. All well done and rather tasty with the spices.

Sultan Izgara (Sultan Grill) for Two
Some minor differences: there was a meat patty (chicken kefta?), ground beef kebab and everything in the Sultan Grill for one.
The Sultan Grill came with a side and we got bulgar pilaf, which had this really interesting texture and flavour that I thought worked well with the meat. It seemed really hearty.

Inegol Kofte (beef served with spices, pilaf and roasted vegetables)
The meat was more on the well-done side, but still tasty. The rice pilaf portion was pretty plentiful.

Turkish Coffee
Very strong and a little less bitter than an espresso shot since we could add sugar. Personally, I preferred the tea (which was the tea they served at the beginning of our meal anyways).

Walnuts, sugar syrup, pistachios all drizzled in honey and wrapped in a phyllo pastry. A little too sticky and sweet for me.

Different baklava
Another dessert with shredded phyllo and layers of nutty paste. Not as sticky and sweet as the one on top, but I wasn't a fan of the shredded top layer.

Overall: I found that I enjoyed my meal at Taste of Istanbul. It was a lot of food (especially meat), the service was good and it was good value for money for the Groupon experience. It was really a five course meal, but I thought the food was tasty and the portions were huge.

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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Salad Days

My friend recently introduced me to Salad Days in the Yonge and Bloor area for lunch. 
They recently opened another branch in underground near the Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel, but the original is in Cumberland Terrace. The line up at the newer location is much longer (and a little further for both of us), so we grabbed lunch at the Cumberland location where we could also sit down at a table to eat and catch up.
Large Salad with smoked salmon
Custom salad with spring mix, tomato and cucumber salad, pears and green beans. 
Probably not the typical mix, but my friend said the green beans were good (and they were delicious - if a little cold) and the pears were crisp and sweet. I got Italian dressing since I thought it would help flavour the salad and keep it all together.

Overall: I was pretty impressed! A lunch in Yorkville for under $10 and everything was fresh and delicious. Awesome! 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Imperial Buffet

It's been a long time since I've been to a Buffet in Toronto. Usually buffets aren't places I would go to eat because they may have a huge variety of things to eat, but I find the quality and standards of the food are not really up to par.  

Quite the variety here: sushi, pigs in a blanket, cha siu, mussels, crab salad and a lobster tart
I would say the only things I would go back for was the sushi - but buffet sushi just isn't the same quality as the sushi you would get at a Japanese restaurant. 

Eggplant, stir-fried beans, tempura, ham, Shanghai fried noodles, snail, lobster bisque
The fried noodles were okay. The rest was not very good. 

Sausage and Grilled pineapple
The grilled pineapple was really good especially coated with cinnamon on top. 

Fruits, nanaimo bar, eclair, lime pie, tiramisu and crepe with mango ice cream, whipped cream, strawberry jam, chocolate sauce and syrup
I saved room for dessert and unfortunately, dessert disappointed me too. I liked the mango ice cream and the fruits, but that was about it. 

Overall: The buffet was expensive (for a Sunday lunch) and the food wasn't that great either. I think Imperial Buffet just reminded me of all the things I don't like about buffet restaurants and I probably won't go back again. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Lakeview Restaurant

February 20, 2015
Deep Fried Mac and Cheese Balls
Crispy on the outside and ooey gooey mac n' cheese on the inside. 
I thought they were a fun and playful appetizer. 

Coney Fries with Chili, cheese and sour cream
Lots of meaty chili on top of the fries and melted cheddar cheese. The chili was a little dry though - it was mostly just ground beef on top, which is nice - but I would have liked the sauce to soak into the fries to make everything tastier.

June 12, 2013
After seeing this place on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, I was pretty excited about checking out this diner. I had to start with the featured drink on Triple Ds:
Apple pie milkshake and caesar
Apple pie milkshake $7.50 and Mimosa $4
Awesome vanilla milkshake with chunks of cinnamon apple pie blended in. 
The pie was delicious in liquid form (as well as solid). 

Cornflake chicken burger
Cornflake chicken: double breasted with melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion + storehouse BBQ sauce on a sesame bun
The cornflakes add a nice hard and crunchy texture to the chicken breast.  The fries were okay.

The Lakeview clubhouse with poutine
The Lakeview clubhouse stack: classic double decker with cornflake chicken, strip bacon, lettuce, 
tomato + sweet chili mayo on whole wheat bread. Upgraded the side to classic poutine.
The clubhouse was pretty good: the chicken was juicy inside and crunchy outside. 
The poutine had real cheese curds, but a salty gravy in a small bowl. 

Nutella Cheesecake pie
Nutella cheesecake pie
The cheesecake was a nice rich chocolate hazelnut with a great pie crust.

Overall: The restaurant has the whole diner feel, but the service was modern and fast and the food was classic with a twist. I thought that it was okay overall. 

Lakeview on Urbanspoon

Monday, 16 February 2015

Garrett's Popcorn - Chicago

Chicago Mix Popcorn
Small Bag of Chicago Mix
Surprisingly huge bag for a "small bag" of popcorn - Good Value! 
I like the concept of sweet and cheesy popcorn and I can totally see why it's one of Chicago's best foods because sweet and savoury are delicious together. 
Now, Garrett's is one of those reputable popcorn places (and they're EVERYWHERE in Chicago). We both agreed that we needed to bring some home for family, friends and coworkers to try - so we bought two bags. The popcorn lasts 2 days - so we made sure to eat it fast. 
The caramel was really good - if very sweet. However, the cheese popcorn was weird tasting - like cheetos with butter. I could sort of see how this combination works, but I wasn't really a fan of them together since the caramel tasted sweeter with the cheese popcorn and the cheese popcorn was a little greasy and strange. 

Potbelly Sandwich (Midway Airport) - Chicago


We saw this crazy long line up outside Potbelly Sandwiches, so we decided to split a sandwich to see what made their sandwiches so special. 

The guy taking our order said the most popular sandwich was A Wreck
On Brown bread with salami, roast beef, turkey, ham & swiss cheese as well as lettuce, onion and mayo
It was good - but I still didn't see what all the hype was about. Maybe it's a Chicago thing? 
 I found it was a decent sandwich: warm & toasty with fresh ingredients and reasonably priced...but I didn't find it anything extraordinary.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Blackbird - Chicago

I love that Chicago has a free zoo open year round! Even though it was freezing, we went to go check it out. It was rather empty, but it was nice! No crowds to fight and no yelling & screaming children.

So cute!!!
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Patagonian Cavy, Pygmy Hippo, Giraffe (sticking out his tongue!)

Blackbird has won a few James Beard Awards.
Maybe I should have done a bit more research before picking the restaurant. It seemed a little pretentious with most of the customers all business formal eating the prix fixe meals and here we were wearing double layers of leggings and jeans and hoodies ready to brace for the cold walk through Lincoln Park Zoo after. 
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Prix Fixe Menu and Bread
Roasted Cauliflower with almond yogurt, grapefruit, hazelnut, chives and red streak
It's a beautiful mix of colours, flavours, textures on a plate, but I couldn't help thinking - that's it??
This is the start of the three course meal and it was a few pieces of charred cauliflower, tiny slivers of tangy ruby red grapefruit and yogurt.

Dry-aged beef tartare with smoked mushrooms, crispy grains, dried tomatoes, and cress
Probably a way better choice of appetizer - less white space on the plate compared to the cauliflower (and I always thought vegetarian dishes got larger portions since vegetables are usually a lot cheaper than meat). The tartare was nice and there was good texture with the crispy grains.

Hanger Steak with smoked potato fingerling, charred cabbage, sour cream and black garlic
The hanger steak was nice...portion sizes were a bit tiny again. Lots of charring of food here with charred cabbage.

Faroe Islands Salmon with apple cider-miso glaze, sunchokes, rapini and chamomile vinaigrette
A decent lunch sized portion of salmon! The apple cider-miso glaze and chamomile vinaigrette were pretty interesting, but I almost felt like the flavours were competing with each other rather than complementing each other.

Bourbon gooey butter cake with whipped goat cheese, caramelized strudel, pumpkin pie, pecans and sorghum
This looked really cool. I couldn't really eat it because the whipped goat cheese was way too overpowering for me. Another case where there's a lot of competing flavours with the pumpkin, pecans, strudel, butter cake - but in this case, the whipped goat cheese overpowered it all.

brownie sundae with chocolate ice cream, amarena cherries, smoked oat crunch and whipped cream
Tiny! I probably didn't really appreciate the nuances of the smoked oat crunch or amarena cherry - but the rich dark chocolate ice cream was good.

Overall: As out of towners, we had some issues locating the restaurant since it was further away from the Loop and there's no bus service there - so we walked. The service was okay, we found the presentation of the food lovely and the food was decent, but we didn't really get value for money for the $25 prix fixe meal.

Blackbird on Urbanspoon

Magnolia Bakery - Chicago

Chicago River Walk

I kinda like the pace of Chicago over NYC.
It was FREEZING, but it's kinda lovely and peaceful.
I thought the Loop subway system was kind of stupid - we spent most of the weekend walking or taking the bus up and down Michigan Avenue because the subway couldn't get us to where we wanted.

We were casually strolling and saw Magnolia Bakery! The Chicago version!

OMG! We made it on PISTACHIO DAY!
We had a big 3 course lunch planned, so I grabbed a mini pistachio cupcake because I can't resist.
I'm guilty of raising my expectations too high whenever I see a pistachio dessert, but I can usually say most pistachio desserts usually meet my expectations purely because I can taste the pistachio flavour. In this case, I could see the pistachios on top, and feel little chunks of the nut get caught in my teeth in the cupcake part, but the icing fell flat for me - so it didn't really work for me.

Overall: It's nice to see the cupcake chain expanding, but unfortunately I didn't get the same experience eating cupcakes in Chicago that I did in New York.