Country 078 – Uruguay (La Pasiva)

La PasivaLocation: 896 Wilson Avenue, North York
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Pasiva/174822035894964

Apparently steak and eggs are a pretty big deal in Latin America; I’ve had a version of this meal for Colombia, Ecuador, and now Uruguay.

The one they’re serving at La Pasiva wound up being almost exactly the same as the one I had at Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  It’s a relatively simple dish: steak and eggs, a salad, and potatoes (you can choose between potato salad and fries — I went with potato salad).

La Pasiva

I liked it even better than the version at Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  The well done, thinly-cut steak was a little bit tough — but it was still much more tender than Comedor’s version, and the seasoning was nice and zingy.

It’s also a nice reminder of why steak and eggs is a classic dish; they go very well together.

La Pasiva

The salad, with its standard vinaigrette, didn’t particularly stand out, but the potato salad was quite delightful.  I’m generally not a fan of potato salad, mostly because it almost always features raw onion, and that’s not my favourite flavour (putting it mildly).  But La Pasiva’s version was refreshingly onion-free; it was a little bit sweeter than I’d like, but the potatoes were nice and creamy, and it had enough of a vinegary bite to cut the sweetness.

I also tried the pasiva (because you should never leave a restaurant without trying its namesake dish), which consists of two hot dogs wrapped in fatty ham and served with melty cheese on top.  It’s served on an enormous pile of fries.

La Pasiva

Was it good?  I mean, yeah, of course it was good.  Did you not read what I just wrote?  It’s a hot dog wrapped in ham and covered with gooey cheese.  The hot dog had a nice smokey flavour, and the whole thing was quite satisfying.

La Pasiva

The fries — which were thinly-cut and were very similar to what you’ll find at McDonald’s — were okay, but they had clearly been sitting out for a while, so they weren’t hot and they were somewhat dried out.

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Country 074 – Palestine (Kunafa’s)

Kunafa'sLocation: 1801 Lawrence Avenue East, Scarborough
Websitehttp://kunafas.com/

Yes, I’ve actually written about kunafa before — they have it on their dessert menu at Tabule (which is hit-and-miss).  But hey, if I can write about multiple versions of doner or noodles, why not multiple versions of kunafa?

Kunafa's

Kunafa is great.  It’s a Middle Eastern dessert that consists of a layer of gooey white cheese topped with syrup-infused pastry.  I know that cheese in a dessert sounds odd, but the particular cheese they use — called nabulsi — has a neutral flavour and a pleasant gooeyness that makes it ideal for desserts.

Plus: everyone loves tiramisu and cannoli.  A cheese-based dessert really isn’t as strange as you might initially think.

Kunafa's

The problem with kunafa is the same problem with pizza; because of the melty cheese, it really has to be eaten when it’s relatively fresh out of the oven.  As it sits out, the cheese starts to congeal and the pastry loses its moisture.  You can reheat it (or leave it on a hot plate as they do here), but it really isn’t the same.

The version they’re serving at Kunafa’s was quite tasty, but this was clearly an issue.

Kunafa's

As you can see, the cheese was still very stretchy, but it was also a bit too tough.  If using a fork to cut through the cheese completely mangles the dessert, then your kunafa has probably been sitting out too long.  The pastry, too, was more dry and crumbly than it should have been.

But don’t get me wrong — I still really enjoyed this.  I’m not sure that there’s anywhere in the GTA that serves a really great kunafa, so this is about as good as it gets.  Nitpicks aside, it’s still delicious.

Country 063 – Moldova (Moldova Restaurant)

Moldova RestaurantIt would have been nice if my first post-hiatus restaurant had been a little bit better than this, but then my pre-hiatus restaurant wasn’t great either.  So I guess there’s a symmetry there.

And I won’t say that Moldova Restaurant was flat-out bad.  The meal had its moments.

Moldova Restaurant

It started out uniquely enough — the bread basket came with a side of some kind of sweet, intensely garlicky salsa.  It was interesting.

Moldova Restaurant

I started with the zamma — a Moldovan take on chicken noodle soup.  Aside from the pronounced dill flavour, this tasted like it could have come out of a can.  The hearty chunks of chicken and potato added some substance, but the flavour was just generic saltiness.

Moldova Restaurant

Next up was the chebureki, which the menu describes as a “fried meat pie.”  This was fine.  The thin pie shell was nice and crispy, and the sausagey filling was mild, but satisfying.  I feel like it was missing something, but it was enjoyable enough.

Moldova Restaurant

Finally there was the mamaliga, which is essentially a Moldovan polenta.  I like polenta, but I wasn’t crazy about this version.  It was pretty tasteless (hence the sour cream and the feta cheese), and the texture was overly thick and gluey.

Country 053 – Malta (Malta Bake Shop)


Location
: 3256 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/maltabakeshopltd/

Though Malta Bake Shop has a pretty decent selection of Maltese pastries, I think it’s safe to say that pastizzi is their claim to fame (they even sell frozen versions of them to a few dozen supermarkets across the GTA).

They have a few different varieties, but when I went they had two: beef and peas, and cheese.

There’s really not a lot to pastizzi; it’s a diamond-shaped pastry, with the aforementioned fillings wrapped in a delightfully flaky dough.

It’s really the pastry itself that makes this so amazing: it’s crispy, flaky, buttery and perfect.  It’s similar to Greek-style phyllo pastry, but it’s done perfectly.  It’s the type of pastry perfection that can only be done by people who have been making the same thing for many, many years, and have clearly mastered their craft.

The fillings were tasty as well, though the beef and peas was the superior of the two.  The cheese (ricotta) wasn’t bad, but it was a bit underseasoned, and a little eggy for my tastes.

I should also note that these things are ninety cents each, which is insanely cheap for something so delicious.

Country 043 – Venezuela (El Arepazo)

arepa
Location
: 181 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://arepazo.ca/

A good way of figuring out what to order for this blog is Googling “[Insert country here] national dish.”  In the case of Venezuela, their national dish is pabellón criollo, which consists of braised beef, rice and beans, and is typically served with fried plantain.

The version at El Arepazo is a bit untraditional– for one thing, it’s served on an arepa, which is essentially like a corn tortilla and a pita had a baby.  Steak is substituted for shredded beef, and given that it’s served in bread, rice has been taken out of the equation entirely.

I quite enjoyed it, though any notion that it could be eaten like a sandwich went out the window almost immediately.  The arepa itself isn’t exactly substantial, and they’ve filled it with a lot of stuff.  I took one bite and the whole thing collapsed into bits like a meat-and-bean-filled pinata.

Still, however you eat it, it’s good.  The steak is a bit on the tough side and all the flavours are probably more muted than they should be (though the two sauces that come on the side — a red and a green salsa — add some needed zip), but it’s otherwise pretty tasty.  The beans, the beef, and the creamy plantains are a good combo, and the gooey cheese helps to bring it all together.

Country 035 – Argentina (Jay’s Sandwiches of the World)

jay
Location
: 622 Bloor Street, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/jayssandwichesoftheworld/

You’d think a place called “Jay’s Sandwiches of the World” would be a treasure trove for a blog like this, but I guess I’ve been at it a bit too long — I’ve already covered pretty much all of the countries that have been sandwichified by this restaurant (places like Italy, Cuba, and South Korea).

There was one sandwich, however, that was fair game: the lomito.  Depending on who you ask, it’s either a Chilean or Argentinian specialty  (Uruguay serves it as well).  The version served in Chile is typically made with pork, and Argentina’s version more commonly with beef (not surprising, given Argentina’s love of that particular meat).

Well, Jay serves beef, so Argentina it is.

This particular version is a steak sandwich with melty mozzarella, a fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and lomito sauce.

It’s apparently a beloved dish, so I’m going to assume that something went wrong in the translation — this one, at least, wasn’t particularly good.  There’s just not much to it; nothing stands out.

The steak, though nice and tender, is surprisingly flavourless.  The fried egg was overcooked, with a chalky yolk and rubbery white.  And though it’s hard to go wrong with melty cheese in a sandwich, the plasticky goo here makes me want to reconsider that.

As for the “lomito sauce,” I’m pretty sure it was just ketchup, mustard, and mayo.  The fresh, crusty-but-not-too-crusty bread was quite good, at least.

I guess it sounds like the sandwich was horrible?  It wasn’t horrible.  It wasn’t particularly good, mind you, but I ate the whole thing, and if you put another one in front of me, I’d probably eat it again.

I know, “it was food and I ate it” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.  I’ll just assume that the other sandwiches at this place are better, though it’s exceptionally unlikely that I’ll ever be back to find out.

Jay's Sandwiches of the World - the restaurant Jay's Sandwiches of the World - the Lomito

Country 021 – Italy (A3 Napoli)

a3
Location
: 589 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://a3napoli.com/

Given that A3 is a collaboration between Porchetta and Co.‘s  Nick auf der Mauer and Pizzeria Libretto‘s Rocco Agostino, you’d just sort of assume that it’s going to be really good.  And you would be correct.  You would be 100% correct.

The menu is an even split between crispy goodies coming out of their fryer and piping hot pizzas from their enormous, impressive 900 degree pizza oven (which is pretty much the centrepiece of the restaurant).

We started with the “Land” assortment of fried deliciousness, which came with decadently gooey arancini, flavour-packed meatballs, fried mozzarella that would put any mozzarella stick  to shame, and perfectly cooked slices of sweet potato.  It included a little cup of marinara for dipping, but everything was so tasty on its own that it was mostly superfluous.

They serve a sandwich that changes every couple of weeks, served on what is essentially an undressed pizza that’s folded over.  It was meatball when I went, but it’ll probably be something different by the time you read this.

First and foremost is that bread, which has an addictively chewy texture and just the right amount of char from the inferno-hot pizza oven.  Can I have all of my sandwiches in this bread?  Because I want all of my sandwiches in this bread.

The inside of the sandwich was a perfect mix of rich tomato sauce, creamy pesto, and peppery arugula.  That’s not to mention, of course, the toothsome and abundant meatballs.  If I had to come up with the top five meatball sandwiches I’ve had in my life, this one would probably be on there.

We finished with the Zeppoli — little cinnamon-and-sugar-dusted doughnuts that are essentially like the best Timbits you’ve ever had, which come with a heady chocolate hazelnut sauce for dipping.  That sauce, I should note, was so good that my dining companion was compelled to drink the remains.

A3 Napoli - the Land Fritti A3 Napoli - the Meatball Sandwich A3 Napoli - the Zeppoli