Country 047 – Portugal (Nova Bakery & Pastry)

nova
Location
: 3635 Cawthra Road, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.novabakery.ca/

I really like egg tarts — in theory.  They’re actually a lot like millefeuille, in that they should be amazing but very rarely are thanks to the ravages of time.  That crispy, flaky crust?  Maybe I’ve just been exceedingly unlucky in a lifetime of eating egg tarts, but I don’t think I’ve ever had one where the crust wasn’t soggy to a certain extent.

I wanted the one from Nova to be different, but right on the first bite — when I struggled to get my teeth through the once-crispy, now-chewy crust — I knew it was game over.

Still, the custardy filling was satisfying enough to make this worth eating regardless.  Amazingly creamy, dense but not too dense, and with a mild lemony zip to cut through the richness, it was probably one of the better egg tarts I’ve had.

I’d be more upset about the sodden crust, but since I’ve literally never had one of these things where the crust was perfect, I’m just going to assume that’s a pipe dream.  I’d either have to go to a bakery where they sell so many egg tarts that they’re constantly pumping out new ones (i.e. fly to Portugal), or I’d have to camp outside of a bakery and grab one the minute they open.

I don’t think either option is going to happen any time soon, so soggy crust it is.

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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 031 – Austria (The Musket)

musket
Location
: 40 Advance Road, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.musketrestaurant.com/

I can’t say I know too much about Austria, though they did give the world the gift of Arnold Schwarzenegger — so clearly, it’s a country worth knowing about.

The obvious order at The Musket is probably the schnitzel, but I decided to go a bit off the beaten path, and ordered the leberkase (without particularly knowing what it even was).

This turned out not be a particularly adventurous choice — leberkase is a mix of corned beef, pork, bacon and onions, which is ground into a fine paste and baked in a pan.  It resembled, more than anything else, a really big, flattened Vienna Sausage patty.  Served with a perfectly cooked fried egg on top and with a side of home fries, it was more classic comfort food than adventurous eating.

I quite enjoyed it, but then Vienna Sausage and eggs was a staple when I was growing up, so it definitely brought back some warm, fuzzy childhood memories.  The fried egg compliments the salty leberkase quite well, and the home fries help round things out (I question their Austrian authenticity, but hey, if it works it works).

Country 030 – New Zealand (Hemingway’s)

newzealand
Location
: 142 Cumberland Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://hemingways.to/

Quick: name three dishes that come to mind when you think of food from New Zealand.

Yeah, me neither.

Suffice it to say, whatever New Zealand is known for, it’s probably not food (other than, of course, the ubiquitous New Zealand lamb).

Hemingway’s seems to be one of the only restaurants in the city representing Kiwi cuisine, with that representation being loose at best — its menu is dedicated almost entirely to generic pub staples like nachos, chicken wings, and burgers.  The brunch menu, however, does have one dish of interest: the New Zealand Bacon and Egg Pie, which is described as “a New Zealand favourite.”

The pie is filled with bacon, eggs, onion, and peas, and wrapped in a flaky puff pastry crust.  It reminded me a lot of the pies from the Pie Commission — but those pies are always delicious, so it’s like a bizzaro-world version of the Pie Commission, where the Pie Commission is lousy.

Yeah, it’s not great, unfortunately.  The pie has two separate layers — a bottom layer of meat, and a top layer of egg.  The egg is disastrously overcooked, with a rubbery white and a chalky, desiccated yolk.  That alone is enough to sink the pie, but even the meat layer is underwhelming.  Despite being crammed with bacon, the flavour is muddled, underseasoned and bland.  It also had an underlying funkiness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  It’s kind of unpleasant.

The crust was quite nice, though, with a good balance between substance and flakiness.  It made an amiable attempt to save the pie, but alas, it was DOA.

Hemingway's - the New Zealand Bacon and Egg Pie Hemingway's - the New Zealand Bacon and Egg Pie

Country 025 – United Kingdom (House on Parliament)

house
Location
: 454 Parliament Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.houseonparliament.com/

I remember, as a kid, scotch eggs were a special treat that I always looked forward to.  But I haven’t had one in many, many years, and I’m not sure why.  It’s one of those dishes where it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong.  Take an egg, ensconce it in delicious sausage, cover it in breading and then deep fry it?  You’d have to work pretty hard to mess that up.

House on Parliament does not mess it up.

First, there’s the perfect egg, hard boiled but not overcooked, with a creamy — not crumbly — yolk.  It’s surrounded by a really tasty sausage (wild boar, pheasant and cognac) that has an almost pate-like richness of flavour that suits the dish perfectly.  The fried breadcrumb layer is light and crispy, and just in case it’s not quite indulgent enough for you yet, they top the whole thing with a generous helping of rich, creamy hollandaise sauce.

It comes with a side of delightfully crispy homefries that were a touch underdone in the middle, but otherwise very close to perfect.

The restaurant was absolutely packed — we were able to get seated right away at just after 11:30 on a Sunday, but by the time we left the entrance was crammed with hungry diners waiting to get their brunch on.  Eating the food, it’s easy enough to see why.

Country 017 – Philippines (Lamesa Filipino Kitchen)

lamesa1
Location
: 669 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lamesafilipinokitchen.com/

I was really looking forward to trying Lamesa — specifically, I was looking forward to trying their take on sisig, a dish that looked especially compelling on the Philippines episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show.

I came at brunch, and sadly, despite its presence on their website’s menu, the sisig was M.I.A. — apparently there’s a new chef in the kitchen, so I’m guessing what’s on their website and what’s in the restaurant might not match up for the next little while.

I ordered the Silog breakfast instead, which comes with your choice of boneless bangus (also known as milkfish), pork belly tocino (which the waiter described as their take on back bacon), or pork longanisa (a sausage), along with cassava hash, fried eggs, garlic rice, and salad.

I went with the fish, which had been fried, giving it a nice crispy exterior — but either this type of fish just naturally lacks any type of moisture, or it was way overcooked.  I’m going to guess the latter.

It had an overt (though not at all unpleasant) fishy flavour, but was puckeringly salty and unpleasantly dry.  Without the runny yolk to lubricate things it would have been nigh-inedible, but combined with the perfectly-cooked eggs, it wasn’t bad.

The cassava hash (which was also fried, and which lacked anything even remotely resembling any hash-like properties) was fine — nice and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside — but I wish they had taken some of the salt out of the fish and put it here instead.  If it had been seasoned at all, you couldn’t taste it.  It was exceptionally bland, though the tangy house-made ketchup certainly helped.

The salad was the standard boxed mixed greens with a basic vinaigrette that you can find at so many restaurants; fine, but nothing to see here.  Move along.

I feel like I’m being overly negative; nothing here was particularly great, but nothing was outright bad, either.  Certainly, I had no problem cleaning my plate.  So I’ll end on a high note.  The garlic rice — fragrant with garlic that’s right on the verge of being burnt — was an intense flavour-bomb, and easily the highlight of the meal.  The garlicky taste from that rice lingered on my palate for the rest of the day, but it was totally worth it.  I’d be tempted to come back just for that.

Lamesa - the outside Lamesa - the restaurant Lamesa - the Silog breakfast

Country 015 – Taiwan (Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine)

mama
Location
: 324 Highway 7 East, Richmond Hill
Website: http://www.mamabeartaiwanesecuisine.ca

Unlike most of the countries I’ve written about so far for this blog, I’ve actually been to Taiwan.  While I was there, one of the dishes I was looking forward to trying was minced pork rice.  But when I got to the restaurant, it was packed, there was a surly-looking man behind the counter and a total lack of any pictures for me to point to.  I wound up loitering for a couple of minutes before finally losing my nerve and leaving sad and pork-and-rice-less.   Yes, trying to order food when you don’t speak a word of the language can be a challenge.

And now I’m sad all over again, because the version of this dish at Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine was pretty damn good — so I can only imagine how good the real deal in Taiwan must have been.

It doesn’t look like much, but with a surfeit of tender, perfectly cooked fatty pork in a richly flavourful, sweet sauce (served on a heaping mound of rice), it’s easy enough to see why it’s such a treasured dish in Taiwan.

We also ordered the Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken, which was crispy, juicy and well seasoned, and easily on par with the fried chicken I had in that country.

The oyster omelette, sadly, was like it came from a different kitchen altogether.

This was another dish that I tried in Taiwan, and the one I had there was almost transcendentally good, with super fresh, perfectly cooked oysters melding with the eggs in a way that was downright magical.   Those eggs, which were lightly crispy on the outside (thanks to a judicious amount of starch mixed in) and soft and creamy on the inside, were among the best I’ve ever had. Served with some sweet sauce on the side to cut the briny richness of the oysters and the eggs, it was pretty much perfect.

I knew this omelette wasn’t going to be as good as that one, but man was it bad.

More starch than egg, the omelette was chewy, gummy, and crammed with overcooked oysters that tasted fishy and canned. And it was absolutely doused in a gloppy sauce — though in this case, the abundance of sauce was probably necessary to disguise the off taste of those oysters.

Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - the restaurant Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - minced pork rice Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - popcorn chicken Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - Oyster Omelette