Review: Rawlicious (Yorkville)

If you’ve ever read my review of King’s Cafe or heard me mention about how much I love Fresh on Bloor, then you know I love vegetarian food restaurants.  The way these places cook up amazing meat free dishes show me that if I have a lot of disposable income, I could totally be a vegetarian (but then I remember that I like bacon too much.)  Raw food is a different story.  I’ve had some not-so-pleasant experiences at raw food restaurants; crumbly dried food, weird textures, and missing the comfort that warm food in the mouth gives me.

I had spent a few months going back and forth about whether I was willing to venture back into a raw vegan restaurant.  I figure for the sake of a review, I’d take one for the team and do it.

After doing a bit of researching on yelp and urbanspoon, I decided that we’d order the two most popular dishes:  the taco wrap ($9.00) and the pad thai ($15.00).  Our food came out relatively quick which would be expected since there isn’t any baking involved.

The pad thai had zuccini and kelp noodles covered in a zangy yet creamy thai flavoured sauce.  I initially had expected that I’d miss having actual starchy pad thai noodles in my meal, but I didn’t. The zuccini and kelp noodles were long and stringy like normal spaghetti noodles and the crunch you’d get with each bite made it even more satisfying.  The dish had a few pieces of cashews in it (they weren’t really crumbled and mixed in like I had expected, much like peanuts are in non-vegan pad thai) and, to be honest, it could have used a few more cashews.  The sauce, though really good the first five or so bites, got to be too much.  I understand that the sauce is used to help you forget that you’re eating a wholly vegan dish,  but there was way too much sauce on it that you were literally left with a soup of thai sauce at the bottom of the bowl.  Overall I enjoyed the dish and was quite glad that the portion was huge.

Taco wrap

Though lacking a taco shell, the taco wrap quite crunchy, thanks mostly to the giant collard leaf that wraps around it.  The whole ensemble was kept together neatly with a toothpick.  Though the taco wrap doesn’t have as much flavour was a traditional taco, the mix of guacamole and salsa on top of the nut loaf made up for it with such an interesting texture.  This is quite a messy dish though as the sauce drips everywhere so keep that in mind if you’re on lunch break from work and don’t really want to get your clothes covered in sauce.

Pad Thai

Rawlicious has an excellent selection of desserts that usually cycle on a daily basis.  The server (who possibly may have been the owner) made sure we knew that.  In fact there were a few instances while we were still finishing up our entrees that she asked if we wanted dessert.  Though I think an attentive server is nice, I couldn’t help but feel as if there was some underlying pressure on her behalf to make us consume more food.

I’m glad I went to Rawlicious.  I had a positive experience with the food being served there and it did exceed my expectations.  I do eventually plan on going back for dessert some day soon though.

T.O. Bites Rating:
A-

Pros:
-Delicious and healthy vegan food
-Fast, prompt, and attentive service

Cons:
-The prices are a little bit on the high side, but so are most raw and vegan places
-The server was a bit too promoting of the desserts

 
Rawlicious Yorkville on Urbanspoon

Review: Fabarnak

I had trepidations about going to eat lunch at Fabarnak after hearing that one of their goals is to hire community members who’ve faced barriers to employment.  Though I think that it’s a great program, my presumptuous attitude was that the quality of the food would suffer.  I’m glad to report that I was proven wrong – Fabarnak is fabulous!

The restaurant, which rests at the bottom of the 519 community centre in the heart of the village, offers two menus depending on when you go – a dinner and lunch menu through the week and a brunch menu on Saturday.  We ordered the glazed ham sandwich with a beef and mushroom soup ($10), a bento box with oysters ($15 for the large), and a risotto ($13).  We also ordered a round of chicken wings as an appetizer ($6). One of the reasons that makes this a harder review is that Fabarnak changes their menu quite often so what we ordered may not be available the following week so keep that in mind.

The food came out pretty quickly (within 8 minutes of ordering) but we were initially shocked by how small the portions were.  Then again, this restaurant sits somewhere in between a high end cafe and a fine dining establishment so we decided to overlook it for the sake of this review.  However, they could have used smaller plates because those chicken wings did look a little silly.

I’ve never had oyster mushroom and beef soup before so I didn’t have much to compare it too.  It was more like a velouté, but actually a lot thicker.  The taste was smooth but a little bit on the weak side. I felt it could have used something to bring out the mushroom taste a bit more.  The chicken wings had a nice glaze on them but it never permeated beneath the skin so the chicken lacked any interesting flavour.

When our mains arrived, we were once again greeted with large plates that had a smaller serving.  However, the food was good enough that we decided to overlook it again.  Unfortunately I couldn’t try the risotto myself due to my shellfish allergy but I was told that it was one of the nicest that they’ve eaten recently.  The bento box came with two oysters, a lemon cookie on top of a lemon sorbet, a lobster lettuce wrap, and fried potatoes.  Everything was great about the bento box, including the sorbet.  The lobster lettuce wrap had a mustard type sauce on it which I’m told gave it a nice kick.  The glazed ham sandwich was beyond my expectations.  It was full of flavour, with a bit of sweet and spiceyness in each bite.  To top it off, the bun it was served in was nicely toasted and had a good crunch to the outside of it.

I would recommend giving Fabarnak a try.  Though their menu changes quite frequently, it also gives reason to go back again and try something new.  The training program was initially the cause of my hesitation from trying out the place, but I now consider it a bonus to the experience which gives you a bit of a warm feeling after paying your bill even though it’s a bit high.  The only major issue I have with the place is that they charge you full price for each coffee refill you get ($1.75) which is pretty unheard of for most restaurants serving lunch or brunch.

T.O. Bites rating
B+

Pros:
- Great food that is of high quality
- The warm feeling you get knowing that you’re helping out those who have experienced barriers to employment
- The wait staff are nice and incredibly friendly

Cons:
- The dishes are way too huge and make the smaller portions look even tinier
- Charging for coffee refills is a bit of a stretch

Fabarnak Restaurant and Catering on Urbanspoon

Review: Eki-Bento

The Yonge and Dundas area contains a deluge of fast food and Japanese restaurants. When the old Ginger’s closed up shop at Gerrard and Yonge, Eki-Bento took over the hot spot and decided to open up a fast food Japanese restaurant.  However, much like the other fast food joints nearby, Eki-Bento provides quick meals that suffer from the lack of high quality we’ve come to expect from most of our city’s other Japanese restaurants.

Not to mention, the price point is a little bit higher than expected from a fast food place (not counting the $4.99 daily specials of course – but trust me, there are better $4.99 Japanese specials within a 10 minute walking distance from the place.)

There’s two types of entrees that you can order here – a bowl and a bento box, with the bowl being the cheaper of the two but lacks a salad and a gyoza dumpling.  They do have some udon bowls available too for those who want soup.  We went with a teriyaki chicken bowl ($5.99) and a beef short rib bento box ($8.99).  We also decided to get a salmon salad roll ($3.99) to try out the sushi.  The cashier told us that for $2.25 more, we can get a refillable fountain drink and the choice of a miso soup or a salad.  So we got that too for each combo and went with the miso soup considering that the bento box already came with a salad.  I have to note that Monday’s $4.99 daily special was the dynamite roll but having a shellfish allergy, we couldn’t really order that.

Our food was ready about 8 minutes after ordering, in which we had to go around to the side counter to pick up.  I was disappointed to discover that even though we ordered our food to eat at the establishment, it still came in very non-environmental friendly plastic and styrofoam containers!

The salmon salad roll was actually not bad.  It was a little bit on the unhealthy side with the amount of sauce on top of and inside of it, but it was pretty delicious and full of flavour.  The teriyaki chicken bowl was a bit too greasy for me. Some of the chicken bits were a little burnt, and the stir fried vegetables were covered in frying oil.  It definitely wasn’t the healthy option I was vying for.

Everything about the short ribs were average and there was nothing special to note.  The included gyoza, however, was actually kind of gross and nearly inedible.  The innards of the dumpling were really dry, but drenched in oil.  As for the miso soups?  Well they were pretty high up there on the sodium scale and didn’t really taste like the miso soup you’d get from the nearby Japanese restaurants.  They were also kind of tiny.  My best advice to you is to skip on the combo.  A drink is only $1.89 and you’d be better off not getting a miso soup and saving the extra 60 cents.

Hey Eki, I want to like you, but there are so many things you need to improve such as this kind of gross gyoza...

Another point of disappointment happened upon leaving the place.  I went to go empty our tray out into the garbage and didn’t notice that it was pretty much full and went to slide the contents of my tray into the trash.  Because of the over flowing receptacle and our dislike of the miso soup, the half empty styrofoam cups of soup went sliding down my tray, hitting the top of the garbage pile inside the trash, and flipped back up towards me, spilling soup all over my shorts.  I spent the better half of the day smelling like salty dashi which I’m sure the yellow jackets appreciated as they followed me up Yonge street.
I understand that this place really wants to up-sell the combo to people who wish to buy a drink so here’s my advice to the owners – Package the miso soup with all the bowls and bento boxes automatically (they’re pricey enough as it is and for the size they are, they should include the soup) and then combo the fountain drink with a cucumber roll instead.  Not only would it make us customers feel like we got more bang for our buck, but we’d actually have more of an incentive to combo up our meals too.  Oh, and make sure you have someone take care of emptying the ONLY garbage can you have.  It’s kind of important.

T.O. Bites Rating
C+

Pros:
-Close to Yonge and Dundas Square and Ryerson
-Relatively fast service
-The sushi rolls are delicious

Cons:
-Prices are a little high for what you get outside of the daily specials
-Some of the food is way too greasy
-They don’t empty their only garbage can that often
Eki-Bento Japanese Express on Urbanspoon

Review: Cha Lau Dim Sum

I’ve been waiting for a long time for some all day dim sum place to popup on Yonge street between Bloor and Dundas.  You can only imagine how ecstatic I was when I found out that Cha Lau Dim Sum (formerly known as Cha Liu Dim Sum when they were up at Yonge and Eglinton) opened up just north of College street.  However, if small portions aren’t your thing, then you’re better off heading to Chinatown.

When I first walked by the place, I found it completely empty on a Saturday afternoon.  Odd, but I figured that’s just because it’s new and Torontonians aren’t known to check out new places unless they’ve been fluffed and endorsed like a new socialite (but hey, that’s why you’ve got me!)  We were greeted by an energetic server who let us choose any seat we wanted.

Like most dim sum places, you’re given a sheet of paper and a pencil to mark off what you want.  The prices are roughly what you’d expect with the prices ranging from just under $3.00 to less than $5.00 (with a few higher priced items).  We chose to order the classic BBQ pork bun ($2.85 for 3 pieces), BBQ Duck pastry ($3.5o for 2 pieces), chicken and chive dumplings ($3.65 for 3 pieces), a mango pudding (1 for $3.00), and steamed rice with chicken in a bamboo steamer ($4.65).

Our first shock was the size of the cups the tea came in.  To give you some perspective, here’s a photo of one next to an iPhone:

Tiny tea cups, tiny everything!

I’m used to the tiny little white tea cups you get for dim sum, but these ones just made us laugh.  Little did we know that these tiny proportioned tea cups were just the forerunners to the incoming laughable sized portions of dim sum.

Objects may appear larger on the screen than they are in real life... unless you're looking at this on an iPhone.

Up first was the BBQ duck pastry.  They were nice and crispy and full of flavour and were about the right size. It wasn’t until the steamed pork buns arrived when things started going downhill.  When the server lifted the cover off of the steamer, I thought it was a joke.  These things were the size of ping pong balls.  Usually when you get pork dumplings, they’re roughly the size of a tennis ball… maybe a little bit smaller in some cases.  But these?  Wow.  I didn’t know they ever came this tiny.  I grabbed onto one and slowly took a bite hoping that somehow they’d turn out to be the chicken and chive dumplings disguised with a fluffy bun on the outside – nope, they were the BBQ pork buns.

So the rest of the dishes started to pour out.  The chicken on steamed rice and the chicken and chive dumplings.  Not much to report about them.  The dumplings are like your standard fresh from the freezer ones that you can pan sear at home and the chicken wasn’t really anything special either.

Well we ate what we had but left some of the chicken and rice on the steamer as we waited for the mango pudding to come.  Twenty minutes passed and still no mango pudding so we flagged down the server to question where our mango pudding was which he replied all puzzled, “are you finished your food?  You want the dessert now?”  This caused my friend to fling his arms in the air and question why they’d intentionally held back our mango pudding to us like we’re in a normal western restaurant.  I personally can’t question the ethics of separating dessert since I did grow up in a household where dessert was a treat you’d get after finishing dinner but my friend did have a point.  Most dim sum places in Chinatown and Hong Kong brought out your food as it came (or as the cart crossed by your table) so for this place to not follow that standard and withhold the mango pudding was a bit odd.  Well our mango pudding finally came and…

Minnow sized mango pudding

Yep, it was tiny.  I should have put my phone up to show you but the fish was about 2 inches long.  I’ve seen the mango pudding fish before but I didn’t know they had mango pudding minnows.  How cute, but not cute enough to be worth $3.00.  Also, the mango pudding wasn’t spectacular because it felt like straight out-of-the-box mix with no mango chunks in it at all.

I’d like to note that our server constantly hovered around our table, sort of watching us from the side.  Usually I like good service, but the fact that he was constantly standing within earshot off us with nothing to do was a little unsettling.

The bottom line here is that though I welcome a dim sum restaurant on Yonge street, this place could use some improvements.  For one, get some bigger pork steamed buns.  Even if you jack it up a dollar, I’d be happy to just not have to order two servings to get my fill.  Second, if your server has nothing to do, please tell him to go find something to do.  Standing around dining patrons makes us feel really uncomfortable.  Checking up on us every 5 minutes is okay though.  Third, don’t be afraid to bring the food out as it’s ready.  Better yet, ask people if they want their mango puddings at the end or if they’d like it right away.  And finally, if you’re going to serve us minnow sized mango pudding, lower it by a dollar or two first.  $3.00 for something as small as that totally isn’t worth it which is a shame because I love mango pudding.  As of this writing, I’d personally recommend that you either suck up the higher prices and head up to Crown Princess at near Bay and Wellesley or hop on a streetcar to Chinatown.

T.O. Bites Rating
C-

Pros:
- It’s on Yonge street

Cons:
- Tiny food portions
- High prices
- The servers like to hover around you.  Perhaps this may be remedied once this place picks up

 
Chalau dim sum on Urbanspoon