Country 096 – Iceland (Taste of Iceland)

Taste of Iceland 2019Location: 350 King Street West, Toronto
Website: https://icelandnaturally.com/event/taste-iceland-toronto-2019/

There isn’t a single Icelandic restaurant in the GTA, so if you want a sampling of their cuisine, the annual Taste of Iceland — in which a chef from that European country is flown in to cook a five-course meal for the weekend — is your only option.

It’s not a bad option.  It’s certainly pricey — with tax and tip factored into the $76 per person price tag, I think it probably adds up to about the same as half a dozen typical meals I’ll eat for this blog.  But you get what you pay for, and aside from some surprisingly abysmal service at host restaurant Luma, it was a memorable meal.

Taste of Iceland 2019

My good friend Wikipedia notes that the most common foods in Iceland are lamb, dairy, and fish; all three were represented in this meal, with the courses consisting of cured leg of lamb, charred Arctic char, Atlantic cod, skyr mousse, and doughnuts.

The thinly-sliced cured lamb was really unique, with a mild funky flavour and nice pops of texture from the crispy little chips made from salsify, a parsnip-esque root vegetable.  The crumbles of smoked cheese were also a nice touch.

Taste of Iceland 2019

The two fish dishes were easily the highlight; both were amazingly well prepared and featured some seriously tasty accompaniments.  In particular, the Arctic char was almost ridiculously moist and tender, and featured a rich butter sauce that I wanted to fill a pool with and swim in.  The fermented radishes did a great job of cutting through the indulgent sauce.

Taste of Iceland 2019

As for the dessert, the skyr — an Icelandic yogurt — was incredibly creamy, and was complimented perfectly by the slightly tart wild blueberry puree and the fragrant, licorice-infused meringue crisps.  The doughnuts were a bit too dense, but came with an intensely delicious caramel sauce that was so good it really didn’t matter.

Country 089 – Nauru (Kub Khao)

Kub KhaoLocation: 3561 Sheppard Avenue East, Scarborough
Website: https://kubkhao.ca/

Ever heard of Nauru?  No?  It’s a tiny island nation of about 13,000 people in the Pacific Ocean.  It goes without saying that there are no Nauruan restaurants in the GTA (or anywhere in the world outside of Nauru, I’m guessing).

Kub Khao

Apparently both seafood and coconuts are a big part of the local cuisine, so I figured a Thai coconut curry with fish would fit the bill.  Enter Kub Khao, a new-ish (it opened in 2016) Thai restaurant from one of the chefs behind Khao San Road.

I ordered the Choo Chee Pla, which the menu describes as “basa fish, curry paste, coconut milk.”

Kub Khao

The dish features a very generous amount of fish in a rich, coconut-infused curry sauce, with rice on the side.  It’s pretty amazing, with an impressive depth of flavour, a nice creaminess from the coconut milk, and super tender chunks of fish that are perfectly cooked.  It’s easily one of the better curries I’ve had in a while.

Country 085 – Ivory Coast (Golden Gate Restaurant)

Golden Gate RestaurantLocation: 2428 Islington Avenue, Etobicoke
Website: None

I’ve had a few dishes over the course of doing this blog that feel like acquired tastes that I haven’t yet acquired.  That was definitely the case with fufu, a very popular West African dish consisting of mashed cassava and plantain.

It’s… interesting.  It tastes a lot like a much starchier, gummier version of mashed potatoes.  It doesn’t have much flavour, but then I don’t think it’s meant to be eaten alone.

Golden Gate Restaurant

It’s traditionally served with soup (in the photos I’ve seen online, they’re served separately, but here it’s all in one bowl).  I got the peanut soup (something called “light soup” was also an option), which was rich, flavourful, and pleasantly spicy.

It’s an absolutely enormous portion, and I found myself getting sick of eating it long before it was done.  I actually quite liked the vibrant soup — the slightly elastic, gummy fufu, on the other hand, I wasn’t as sold on.

Golden Gate Restaurant

It comes with a few chunks of beef and fish, which weren’t great.  The beef was so incredibly tough that I could barely pierce it with a fork, and the fish was dry despite being submerged in soup.

Country 072 – Kiribati (Spice Indian Bistro)

Spice Indian BistroLocation: 320 Richmond Street East, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.spice-indian-bistro.com/

Let’s face it, very few of us are familiar with all 196 countries.  I don’t care how into geography or world politics you are, some countries are going to fly under your radar.  Case in point: Kiribati.  If you claim to have heard of this place before a few seconds ago, then one of three things is likely true:

  1. You’re lying.
  2. You’re from Kiribati.
  3. There is no third option.

It’s safe to say that there are no restaurants in the GTA serving Kiribatian cuisine.  However, a quick googling reveals that both curry and fish are staples in their food culture.  Since I don’t exactly have too many choices, I figured any fish curry would fit the bill.

Spice Indian Bistro

Regardless of how close the curry at Spice Indian Bistro is to what they serve in Kiribati, I’m so glad I went there.  Because the fish curry was jaw-droppingly good.

The fish itself was so impeccably cooked that it’s honestly a little bit upsetting.  It was moist and tender and perfect; why can’t all fish be prepared this well??

Spice Indian Bistro

And the curry was absolutely delicious; it’s sweet and spicy, with a depth of flavour that’s downright impressive.  It was easily one of the better curries I’ve had in a while, and the fluffy, lightly-spiced rice was a perfect accompaniment.

Like a lot of the restaurants I visit for this blog, the place was mostly empty.  I’m going to have to insist that you go there ASAP, because Spice Indian Bistro needs to stick around forever.  It’s so good.

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