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

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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.

Country 042 – Sweden (Fika Cafe)

fika
Location
: 28 Kensington Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://fika.ca/

This is one of those things I saw on Instagram and pretty much instantly had to try. I mean, if you can look at that and tell me that you don’t immediately want to eat it, that’s good for you, but you and me are clearly two very different people.

I guess the obvious choice for Sweden would have been meatballs, but I think the Swedish cream puff is probably a bit more interesting.

It’s called a semla (or semlor in the plural — thanks, Wikipedia), and Fika Cafe’s menu describes it like this: “our take on the swedish classic – cardamom bun, seasonal jam, almond paste topped with honey sweetened whipped cream.”

It’s good (of course it’s good, look at it).  The bun itself is sort of like a doughnut, but with a denser, breadier texture.  The cardamom gives it a distinct, floral pop that stays in the background without overwhelming the other flavours.

It’s not as sweet as you’d expect — the bun isn’t particularly sweet, nor is the cream.  Most of the sweetness comes from the jam (some kind of berry when I went, though I guess it changes).  It’s a bit odd at first, though the more subtle sweetness definitely wins you over after a couple of bites.

My only real complaint is that if there was almond paste in there, I couldn’t taste it.  It’s a shame, because I could definitely see it matching well with the bun’s other flavours.

Country 041 – Serbia (Mississauga Serbian Food Festival)

serbia
Location
: 2520 Dixie Road, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.msff.ca/

Well, they can’t all be winners.

It’s probably my own fault.  Impressed by the notion of roasting an entire bull on a spit, I decided to check this festival out.  I showed up at around 7:00, which was an hour before they were due to close. This is probably where I went wrong.

The bull on a spit was nowhere to be seen (it had clearly been carved up and disposed of by then) — a warming tray full of meat was all that remained.

I ordered a roast bull sandwich and went on my way.

There were a couple of fairly big issues here.  For one thing, I’m pretty sure the aforementioned warming tray wasn’t actually being warmed by anything, so the very fatty beef was lukewarm and congealed.  That wasn’t the best.

The other, more pressing issue was that the bun — which tasted like a variation on an Eastern European flatbread called lepinja — was cold, stale, and unyielding.  I’m sure it was okay at some point much earlier in its life, but by the time it got to me it was better suited to be a doorstop, or to weigh down documents on a very windy day, or as a chew toy for an overactive dog.

I took a couple of bites, then brought the remainder of the sandwich home, tossed the bun, warmed up the beef, and ate the rest in bread that was actually suitable for human consumption.

It was a fine sandwich, I guess.  It was a bit on the tough side, and there didn’t seem to be much to the spicing of the meat other than it being vaguely salty, but it was alright.

Mississauga Serbian Food Festival - the tent Mississauga Serbian Food Festival - the roast bull sandwich

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 029 – Hungary (The Goulash House)

goulash
Location
: 200 Main Street South, Newmarket
Websitehttp://thegoulashhouse.com/

I don’t think I’ve ever had an easier time figuring out what to order at a restaurant; I mean, it’s right there in the name.  The only question was which goulash to order — they have three different types, so I asked the waitress and was informed that the goulash of choice is beef.

It comes with a small bowl of soup to start, which in this case was a creamy, garlickly cauliflower soup that I quite enjoyed.

I also really enjoyed the goulash, which was absolutely crammed with fork-tender chunks of beef, not to mention the abundant cubes of potato and the pleasantly chewy dumplings, all in an intensely rich sauce.  It’s clearly designed to be shared; it even comes with a ladle to dole it out into the provided bowls.  I made the mistake of polishing it off by myself, and spent the rest of the evening clutching my stomach and questioning the way I live my life.

My only complaint (aside from the aforementioned stomach-clutching) is that it had one spice that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that gave the dish a vaguely medicinal twang.  I was mostly able to ignore it, but it was the one sour note in an otherwise stellar dish.

Goulash House - the soup Goulash House - the goulash

Country 028 – Poland (Cafe Polonez)

polonez
Location
: 195 Roncevalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://cafepolonez.ca/

Like Cho Dang Soon Tofu, this is a place that I’ve not only visited before, but actually written about on another blog.  But hey, if it’s good, it’s good.

A lot of the food here is actually Hungarian — given the restaurant’s name, I figured I’d order off the “Polish Classics” section of the menu.  I went with the Hunter’s Stew, which is described on the menu as “slow cooked sauerkraut with slices of sausage and pork, served with rye bread.”

We started, however, with the cheddar and potato pierogies; they were pretty much pierogi perfection, with a tender, perfectly chewy exterior encasing a deliciously creamy potato filling.  The little cup of golden caramelized onions easily puts them over-the-top.

The stew, on the other hand, was probably the weakest thing I’ve had at Cafe Polonez.  Not that it was particularly bad; it was actually quite tasty.  But even with the chunks of sausage and pork, it was essentially just a big plate of sauerkraut with some added richness from being cooked with the meat.  It would make for an amazing side dish, but as a main meal it gets a bit monotonous.

Cafe Polonez - pierogies Cafe Polonez - Hunter's Stew

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 023 – Finland (Fanny Chadwick’s)

fanny
Location
: 268 Howland Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.fannychadwicks.ca/

I’ll bet you didn’t know how multicultural pancakes are.  Check out their entry on Wikipedia; apparently about half of the countries in the world have their own variation on pancakes, which have been a staple at least since the time of the ancient Greeks.

And, yes, apparently Finland is one of the many pancake-loving countries out there.  Their take — at least based on what Fanny Chadwick’s is serving up — is kind of like a crepe, only thicker and with a more substantial chew.  Topped with a mango passion fruit compote, lightly sweetened ricotta and a bit of honey, and rolled up into dense, multi-layered rolls, they make for a hearty, satisfying breakfast.

The compote adds a nice balance of sweet and tart, with the blob of creamy ricotta on top rounding things out.  The honey is sparingly applied, so if you like your breakfast to be closer to dessert, you’d be best advised to look elsewhere.

I found it a bit too eggy both in texture and taste, but then I’m not crazy about things that are eggy that aren’t eggs (I’m indifferent to French toast for the same reason).  Despite that, however, I still quite enjoyed these pancakes.

You have a few choices for the side, but I went with the smoked fish, thinking that it was probably the most authentically Finnish.  I think it was salmon, but don’t quote me on that.  It was really, really good — perfectly tender, with a pronounced smoky flavour that didn’t overwhelm.  It was hot smoked rather than cold, so it had the flavour of traditional smoked salmon, but the texture of perfectly cooked fish.  It was great.

Fanny Chadwick's - Finnish Pancakes Fanny Chadwick's - Finnish Pancakes