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
 

Review: Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill

Last summer I had a scrumptious buffet brunch at the O&Bs up at Blue Mountain, and a few months ago I had an amazing burger at the O&B owned Bannock.  So I had a positive preamble before going to the Oliver & Bonacini Cafe Grill down on Front street and was expecting a superb night out with some friends.  A superb night was had by all, but just not in the restaurant.

Let me preface this review by stating that I know how rough it is to be wait staff at a busy restaurant.  I’ve done it for three months and realized that it was a tough job that I wasn’t the right fit for.  I don’t want to come off as a person who picks on over-worked wait staff, but when you run a fine dining restaurant and your staff have the enthusiasm of a sloth, perhaps it’s time to reconsider how long you schedule their shifts for.

The first incident happened when my friend had received his refill of coke, I asked the server if I could make a drink order.  Instead of asking what I’d like, she simply looked at me, blinked her eyes, then turned her back and walked away.  Mind you, she wasn’t our server and was just the lady dropping off our drinks.  But a simple, “I’ll go get your waiter” would have worked.  The second incident was during the taking of our orders.  Another friend was undecided between a few things, the black angus beef brisket ($25), rock shrimp and bay scollop linguine ($17) and the calamari puttanesca ($19).  He asked her which one would she recommend of the three and she went with the beef brisket.  Now, I know most people are thinking of course she’d pick the expensive one.  I was too and was willing to give her the benefit of a doubt until it was asked why and her response was “because it’s something you don’t make at home.”  Really?  Cause I don’t think I know anyone who would make a calamari puttanesca at home, let alone know what a puttanesca is. In addition to this, when asked about the other main dishes, her descriptions of them were less than adequate. “Oh it’s good” was pretty much the response we’d get for each item.  There was a severe lack of detail regarding her narratives about each entree which meant she hasn’t tried them and is pretty new to the restaurant, or really just doesn’t give a damn.  We unanimously decided that it was probably the latter.  The cherry on top was that she didn’t know how much the daily special was, or really what exactly it was.  Sure, I’d forgive this at a place like Fran’s or even The Three Brewers – but it’s a bit puzzling that the O&B staff doesn’t know much about their own menus.

Any way, enough nitpicking about the staff from me.  This is a food blog so let’s talk about the food now!

First, warm soft bread and butter is always a table pleaser.  Funny enough, we were never offered more bread.  I mean, I’m sure they refill the bread cause it’s a cheap free appetizer, but they just took away our bread bowl and never returned it nor asked if we wanted more.

So my friend ended up going with the beef brisket regardless of the “you don’t usually make it at home” comment which doesn’t apply to him since he never makes anything at home.  I went with the chicken burger ($15) as did another friend, and the last friend went with the lamb shepherd’s pie ($18).  A pleasant surprise to us was that our waitress said that we could order a half-portion of the infamous mac & cheese (usually $16 for a full portion but punched in at $8), so we did.

I personally didn’t get to try the lamb shepherd’s pie, so I can’t comment on it but I did overhear that it was pretty good.  The brisket was nice and tender and had a good flavour to it.  The chicken burgers, however, weren’t too bad but at the same time weren’t anything special.  The monterey jack cheese that they used didn’t really have a strong flavour to it.  The bacon stole and overpowered what little flavour the burger did have.  I was hoping that since they used ground chicken, that they could have added some spices or possibly some onions into the meat like you would do to make a really good beef burger.

The mac & cheese, though good and creamy, was also nothing too special.  The crunchy bits on top did add to it though – but to be honest, I’ve had much better at The Counter and Butler’s Pantry.

T.O.Bites Rating:
B-

Pros:
- The option of ordering the half serving of Mac & Cheese was nice since a full serving would have been too much.
- The reception staff at the entrance were really friendly and bubbly (in contrast to the wait staff)
- The food was okay…  But only okay – as in no real complaints but it wasn’t as delicious as the food at O&B’s Bannock at Bay and Queen.

Cons:
- The food was okay…  Like I mentioned above, I was expecting much better.  The burger at Bannock is so good!  Why can’t the ones at O&B be just as good?
- Our waitress (and the drink server) were very unenthusiastic and weren’t completely educated about the menu… which is funny because it’s not really a big menu.
- The bathroom had a constant lineup going down the hall.  Keep that in mind if you’re the kind of person who has to make multiple trips.
Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill  on Urbanspoon

Review: Guu Izakaya


It took long enough but my Guu cherry has finally been popped. The reason why it took so long is because I could never figure out why anyone would want to wait over an hour just to eat at a restaurant. Sure, it’s getting rave reviews, but is it really worth it to wait an hour in the pouring rain to go inside?

Yes, it’s worth it, but with the Church street location being so close to various coffee shops and Eatons Centre, I hardly see why anyone would wait around outside, especially when Guu will give you a courtesy call 15 minutes before your table is ready.

When you first enter Guu, nearly all the staff stop in their tracks and greet you with a really loud “irasshaimase!” Get used to the volume now because they’re going to be shouting it every time someone else walks in the door.

Our party ordered around 9 tapas (which came to about $70.. pretty cheap) and I’ve got almost no complaints about any of them. The food came instant and was fresh and hot.  The service was amazing with the waitress constantly checking on us to see if we needed anything else or wanted to order more.  They also gave you nice lemon scented warm hand cloths to wipe your hands before you eat – a really thoughtful touch.

Since I’m sure most people have already heard countless times how amazing Guu is, I’m going to forgo describing everything in my usual great detail and instead present you with a bunch of food photos and their description. So here goes…

Okonomiyaki, Beef short ribs, and smoked salmon

Fried Brie with blueberry sauce, tofu salad, mushroom and cheese bibimbap

Deepfried pumpkin with egg in the middle (eat it while it's hot!), black cod, nasu dengaku (eggplant)

My low light iPhone photos do the food no justice.  Guu is good, really good.  However, waiting nearly 2 hours to eat said food isn’t fun unless you plan your evening around it.  Guu doesn’t take reservations so if you don’t want to wait, you should go pretty early around 4pm when the place is starting to open.

Guu Izakaya on Urbanspoon