Country 068 – Azerbaijan (Kavkaz)

KavkazLocation: 1881 Steeles Avenue West, North York
Website: None

My dining companion and I visited Kavkaz at lunch, and like a lot of the obscure restaurants I’ve been visiting for this blog, the place was almost entirely deserted (a couple of people eventually showed up, but it was mostly a big, empty restaurant).

I’m glad places like this can survive, even if I’m not sure how.  And I’m especially glad in the case of Kavkaz, because the food was great.

Kavkaz

Almost immediately after sitting down, we were brought a bread basket with warm flatbread, and a bowl with sauerkraut and sliced pickles.  I’m not sure how these three things were meant to be combined (if at all), but they were tasty.

Kavkaz

Up next was bughlama, a stew with fork-tender pieces of lamb, a very pronounced lemony zing, and fresh pops of herbiness from the abundant cilantro (or maybe not cilantro?  It tasted like cilantro, but had a heartier texture and appearance.  I don’t know; I’m pretty terrible at identifying herbs).  The quality of the lamb was great, and the tartness from the lemon really made it stand out.

Kavkaz

Our last dish was the lulya kabab, which I liked even better.  Featuring a mix of ground lamb and beef, this tasted very similar to the kababs you can get from Afghan joints all around the city.  It was tender and perfectly cooked, and was nicely complimented by the sweet and spicy sauce that came on the side.

Kavkaz

It came with a side of potatoes that almost looked like thickly-cut chips.  The slices were creamy and perfectly cooked, with a nice hit of flavour from garlic and dill.  I wish they had been a little bit crispy, but they were otherwise pretty great.

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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 062 – Greece (Colossus Greek Taverna)


Location
: 280 Lakeshore Road East, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.colossusgreektaverna.com/

This will likely be my last post on this blog for a year or so, which is a shame, because yikes.  Yikes, this was an awful meal.  It’s sad to leave on a sour note, but what are you going to do?

We came at lunch, and my dining companion and I both ordered the “Authentic Gyros.”  Sadly, this dish isn’t on their online menu, so I can’t tell you exactly what it was supposed to come with, but if I recall correctly it was pork belly, tomato, greens, grilled haloumi cheese,  and honey mustard.  The presence of honey mustard on what is purportedly an “authentic” gyro probably should have been a tip-off that something was amiss.

And actually, my dining companion ordered his without honey mustard, and I guess they decided “well then, no one gets honey mustard!” because mine was sauce-less as well.

The sandwich came on a bun instead of pita bread.  That was bizarre, but who knows, maybe that’s the way they do it in Greece?  I doubt it, but hey, I haven’t been there.

Either way, it tasted like a stale Dempster’s hamburger bun.  It was not good.  It crumbled apart almost immediately after I picked it up, so I wound up eating the sandwich with a fork and knife.

The next oddity about this sandwich: it was supposed to come with pork belly, but the dried-out pieces of meat were clearly some other cut of pork.  If it was pork belly, it was trimmed in an exceptionally bizarre way — it was dry as heck and there wasn’t a speck of fat on it.  It was also uniformly gray, like it had been boiled.  It was so weird I actually brought it up with the waitress, and I’m usually a “eat whatever the hell is in front of me without doing anything that might even vaguely be construed as making a scene” type of guy.

I asked her if the sandwich was supposed to have pork belly on it.  Yep, she said, that’s pork belly.  I pointed at one of the pieces of meat to clarify.  “This is pork belly?  Are you sure?”  Yes, she said.  She was sure.  I didn’t begrudge the point, as I didn’t see any benefit to arguing over what was or was not pork belly, but no, I’m pretty positive that wasn’t belly.

Either way, it wasn’t particularly good.  The meat was fine, but it was dry and kind of tasteless.  The missing honey mustard probably would have helped, as it really needed some kind of sauce, both to lubricate things and to add some flavour.

Aside from that there were some sodden, mushy onions that, like the pork, tasted like they had been boiled.  Then there was the haloumi, which was actually pretty good, and the veggies.

For a place that is actually very well regarded online, the whole thing was shockingly bad.  I think it might be the worst thing I’ve ever eaten for this blog.

It came with a side of lemon potatoes.  They were nice and tender, I’ll give them that, but the lemony flavour was way too overbearing.  Normally these types of potatoes have a nice zingy brightness from the lemon that works well with the creamy potato; these were flat-out sour.

Country 060 – Denmark (Danish Pastry House)


Location
: 487 Cornwall Road, Oakville
Websitehttp://www.danishpastryhouse.ca/

So I probably could have done something a bit more interesting for Denmark, but if I have an opportunity to buy a big box of pastries, I’m going to buy a big box of pastries.  I don’t need much of an excuse.

I ordered six (and prepare for some seriously Nordic-sounding names): hoj snegl, spandaur, tebirkes, overskarn, æblefisk, and royal crown.

After two or three, they started to feel somewhat interchangeable.  That’s unfair, of course; they’re all different enough.  But they all have the same (delicious) flaky pastry base, and they all have a delightfully subtle sweetness.

They’re so different from the cloying sugar-bomb danishes that you’ll find at most doughnut shops that it’s hard to even compare them.  They practically belong in entirely different categories.

They’re all pretty great, in case that isn’t clear.  There’s nothing like a really good pastry from a bakery that knows their craft, and the Danish Pastry House clearly knows their craft.

Country 058 – Ireland (Fynn’s of Temple Bar)


Location
: 489 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://fynnstemplebar.com/

Add “boxty” to the list of things I hadn’t even heard of before starting this blog (and in case you’re a member of the “what the hell is boxty?” club, as I was until recently, it’s an Irish take on the potato pancake).

Fynn’s has a couple of boxtys (boxties?) on the menu; I went with the Dublin steak and mushroom boxty.

The boxty was actually much closer in consistency to bread than I was expecting — it had a chewy, bready texture that was more like naan than a traditional potato pancake.  It was unexpected, but it worked quite well with the stew inside.

As for the steak and mushroom stew, it was true to its name and crammed with mushrooms and chunks of beef.  The beef was slightly on the tough side, and there was one spice that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that was a bit overpowering, but for the most part it was tasty and satisfying.

Flynn's of Temple Bar - the outside Flynn's of Temple Bar - the boxty

Country 056 – Norway (Karelia Kitchen)


Location
: 1194 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://kareliakitchen.com/

I feel like ordering cured fish at a Nordic restaurant  might be a bit on the nose, but I suppose there’s a reason why we so closely associate that stuff with Scandinavian countries.

Karelia Kitchen has a pretty bustling brunch crowd — the only reason my dining companion and I were able to get a table is that someone had skipped out on their reservation.  They were about to flat-out turn us away, without even the option to wait.  Suffice it to say, reservations are advised.

I ordered the potato pancakes, which come with hot-smoked trout, beet and horseradish cured gravlax, and a poached duck egg.

The highlight was easily the gravlax.  I’ve certainly had a pretty healthy amount of smoked salmon over my lifetime, but gravlax has eluded me.  It’s similar, but instead of being smoked, it’s cured in a mixture of sugar and salt (and in this case, beet juice and horseradish).

It was fantastic — the texture was silkier and more melt-in-your-mouth tender than any smoked salmon I’ve had before, and without any strong smoky flavours to get in the way, the flavour of the fish itself was much more pronounced.  It also had a really subtle sweetness that complimented the fish perfectly without overwhelming.

I don’t think I tasted any horseradish, which is a shame — it would have been a nice addition, but the gravlax was so good on its own that it’s hard to complain too vigorously.

The trout was pleasant, but nowhere nearly as transcendent as the gravlax.  It had a pleasantly smoky flavour, but it was a bit dry.

The potato pancakes were about on par with the trout — they were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, but nothing about them stood out.

The poached duck egg had a pleasantly runny yolk, and a richer flavour than the typical chicken variety.  It all comes together quite well — and of course, that gravlax.  It’s so good.

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.