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 051 – Brazil (Mata Bar)

mata
Location
: 1690 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.matabar.ca/

I’m not sure how authentic Mata Bar is (they have stuff like sliders and french toast on their menu), but hey, it’s Winterlicious, it’s my blog, so let’s do it.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Winterlicious is a city-wide promotion where a bunch of restaurants offer relatively cheap three course menus for a couple of weeks.

I came to Mata Bar at lunch, and the waiter informed us that they were offering the ceviche as an appetizer choice that day (it’s normally only a dinner thing);  I figured, yeah, that seems authentic enough.  I went for it.

Ceviche can be hit or miss.  It’s kind of monotonous in its flavours if prepared poorly; basically just acidic and not much else.  But the version here was pretty tasty, with a good balance of acidity and sweetness, and nice hits of spice from the hot peppers.

The main meal was fried rice; it was crammed with chunks of of various meats, including what the menu describes as “salted beef,” and was hearty and quite tasty, if a bit one-note salty.  It was also lacking in the crispy bits that you’re looking for in a dish like this, but it was fine.  I enjoyed it.

The meal concluded with the Guava and Cheese Empanadas with Cinnamon.  Perfectly fried, with a lightly crispy pastry exterior and a very creamy, mildly tart filling, this was absolutely delightful.  It was a very pleasant capper to a very pleasant lunch — nothing too mindblowing, but for 18 bucks for three solid courses, a pretty amazing deal.

Mata Bar - the ceviche Mata Bar - the fried rice Mata Bar - the empanada

Country 034 – Myanmar (Royal Myanmar)

royal
Location
: 483 Horner Avenue, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://theroyalmyanmar.com/

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to order for this blog; how do you distill a nation’s cuisine into one dish?  I mean, you can’t.  But it’s always nice to get something that can at least give a partial view of what a country’s food has to offer.

In the case of Myanmar, there doesn’t seem to be much debate over their national dish: it’s mohinga, Myanmar’s take on Asia’s ubiquitous noodle soup.

So, that’s easy.  Mohinga it is.

Though Royal Myanmar’s version of this dish features noodles that are overcooked and somewhat mushy, and flavours that are more muted than you’d expect (for something that is ostensibly a fish soup, there is an odd lack of anything even resembling a seafood flavour), I still quite enjoyed this.  It’s subtle, but a squirt of lime and a sprinkling from the jar of fiery-hot crushed chilis helps to kick it up several notches.  It also has a nice garlicky hum, an added richness thanks to the sliced hard-boiled egg, and a vibrancy from the abundant fresh cilantro.

The broth has been thickened, but subtly so — some thickened Asian soups can be a bit gelatinous for my tastes, but here it’s just thick enough to to give it substance without going overboard.

It’s topped with crunchy chickpea fritters; it’s kind of like topping a soup with crackers, only with a million times more personality.

Royal Myanmar - mohinga Royal Myanmar - fritters

Country 026 – South Korea (Cho Dang Soon Tofu)

chodang
Location
: 5130 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
Website: None

If the whole point of this blog is to try new things, then I’m failing pretty miserably with this entry; not only have I been to Cho Dang Soon Tofu several times before, I’ve even written about it for another blog.

Still, I haven’t written about the restaurant’s namesake dish: an intensely flavourful, bubbling hot stew that I can’t get enough of.

Like any Korean restaurant worth its salt, the meal starts with a generous selection of banchan — essentially a variety of small appetizers.  My favourite here are the crispy, addictively salty fried sardines, but the silky cubes of soft tofu (made in house) with a little bowl of sesame- and green-onion-infused soy sauce for dipping are also quite memorable, as is the obligatory (and delcious) kimchi.

But of course, the reason to come here is that delicious, piping-hot stew.  I got mine with pork, though several other options are available.  It’s spicy, flavourful, and seriously hearty — aside from the aforementioned pork, its absolutely suffused with the restaurant’s creamy house-made tofu, not to mention the egg that you crack into the bowl yourself, and the generous bowl of purple rice that accompanies the stew (made that distinctive colour by mixing black rice in with the white).

The best part?  All that food?  Eight bucks.  Yeah, it’s a deal.

Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the tofu Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the kimchi Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the sardines Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the soup

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

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