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: Noka

After spending a good 15 minutes trying to decide which sushi place to lineup for decent sushi on a Friday night in the annex, we all decided it was time to break the habit and let go of our New-Generation-Sushi-on-Bloor security blanket for one night.  Sure, it was a gamble, but on the plus side we wouldn’t have to wait in a lineup for 30 minutes to be seated.

The greasy but yummy taro chips

Sitting right next to Sushi on Bloor (which is a really risky move for a new Japanese restaurant) is Noka.  Though it had a tacky looking yellow and orange “Now Open” sign, we felt the decor inside screamed Yorkville.  This was a nice change from the whole student-cafeteria vibes that most other Annex sushi restaurants gave off.  I know, it’s the Annex – the hipster and undergrad-chic central of the noughties.  But we’re in 2012, so change is good.

Each table is started off with a free appetizer of greasy but incredibly delicious taro chips.  To start off we ordered some sushi.  We ordered the Noka Fever ($12.95) which was made of baked chilean seabass, avacado, mango, and wrapped in soybean paper.  There were also two other rolls of sushi (seen below) but it slips my mind what they were called so I’ll have to actually update this later if I remember.

The sushi came out well presented and all were incredibly tasty as well.  They weren’t falling apart all over the place as well when you pick them up, which is something I notice happening more and more at another ‘favourite’ sushi restaurant I frequent.

The Noka Fever with Chilean Seabass

My only gripe has to be with the Noka Fever.  Though they used the soybean paper to wrap the sushi instead of seaweed to not overpower the delicate flavour of the seabass, I felt that this made the sushi way too soft.  I usually prefer my sushi with a bit of texture or crunch usually added by the seaweed or tempura bits.

 

 

The typical but always delicious miso soup and salad (with orange flavoured dressing)

We also ordered Chicken Teriyaki ($8.95) and Grilled New Zealand Baby Lamb Chop ($12.95).  The presentation of the food was as good as it tasted.  The sauce on the lamb chops (which looked more like a rack of ribs) was tangy but with a hint of sweetness in it.  The chicken was very tasty as well.  Nothing new to the sauce since it’s your standard teriyaki sauce but the way it was grilled with vegetables nice.

In order: The other sushi, the chicken teriyaki, and the lamb chops.

T.O.Bites Rating:
A-

Pros:
- The food was of a very high quality and quite delicious.  A nice change from the tired old Japanese restaurants nearby.
- Our water glasses were always kept full and the wait staff was incredibly friendly and nice.
- The free taro chips were delicious.

Cons:
-The food is a bit pricey for the Annex though you get what you pay for… but I do hear they have a cheaper lunch menu for those on a budget.

Website: Noka Toronto
Noka Contemporary Japanese cuisine & sushi 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

Review: Natural Sushi

Sukiyaki hot pot... just make sure you ask for the original broth

Sukiyaki hot pot... just make sure you ask for the original broth

The best part about Natural Sushi are their lunch specials.  But this review is about dinner as you can see by the really red lighting of the photos.  Much like Okinomi House around the corner, Natural Sushi has also adopted the Japanese red lanterns to adorn their decor.  I can’t say I’m a fan of the red lighting.

"den kaku" aka eggplant

"den kaku" aka eggplant

Natural has been known as one of the best places to get cheap sushi, but it’s definitely not bad sushi.  Tonight, we ordered a Tepanyaki with teriyaki chicken and their beef sukiyaki hotpot.  The hot pot has become a favorite of ours but since we haven’t been to Natural in almost a year, we were shocked to find out that our sukiyaki hot pot broth tasted bland and salty like the broth from an udon soup.

We asked the waitress about this and she said that due to many complaints about the sukiyaki being too “sweet”, they modified it and started using the udon brother instead.  She said next time to let them know that you want the original brother and they’ll take care of it.  Fortunately, after a bit of persuasion, she agreed to get us a bowl of sukiyaki with just the original broth in which we transplanted the noodles, beef, and veggies from the not-so-good broth to the good one.  So keep this in mind if you’re going there for the sukiyaki.

Tepanyaki with Teriyaki Chicken

Tepanyaki with Teriyaki Chicken

The tepanyaki was pretty good and the chicken was of high quality.  The plate came out of the kitchen with a nice loud sizzling sound which lasted a good 3 minutes while sitting on my table – beware of the grease splatters!  It comes sitting on a bed of sprouts with some broccoli on the side.

If you’re in the Bloor and Yonge area and are looking for a cheap and decent sushi place to eat, then be sure to head to Natural Sushi.  Out of the handful of sushi restaurants in that area, Natural may not be the best, but it’s a great value for your dollar.

Natural Sushi Japanese on Urbanspoon