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

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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 021 – Italy (A3 Napoli)

a3
Location
: 589 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://a3napoli.com/

Given that A3 is a collaboration between Porchetta and Co.‘s  Nick auf der Mauer and Pizzeria Libretto‘s Rocco Agostino, you’d just sort of assume that it’s going to be really good.  And you would be correct.  You would be 100% correct.

The menu is an even split between crispy goodies coming out of their fryer and piping hot pizzas from their enormous, impressive 900 degree pizza oven (which is pretty much the centrepiece of the restaurant).

We started with the “Land” assortment of fried deliciousness, which came with decadently gooey arancini, flavour-packed meatballs, fried mozzarella that would put any mozzarella stick  to shame, and perfectly cooked slices of sweet potato.  It included a little cup of marinara for dipping, but everything was so tasty on its own that it was mostly superfluous.

They serve a sandwich that changes every couple of weeks, served on what is essentially an undressed pizza that’s folded over.  It was meatball when I went, but it’ll probably be something different by the time you read this.

First and foremost is that bread, which has an addictively chewy texture and just the right amount of char from the inferno-hot pizza oven.  Can I have all of my sandwiches in this bread?  Because I want all of my sandwiches in this bread.

The inside of the sandwich was a perfect mix of rich tomato sauce, creamy pesto, and peppery arugula.  That’s not to mention, of course, the toothsome and abundant meatballs.  If I had to come up with the top five meatball sandwiches I’ve had in my life, this one would probably be on there.

We finished with the Zeppoli — little cinnamon-and-sugar-dusted doughnuts that are essentially like the best Timbits you’ve ever had, which come with a heady chocolate hazelnut sauce for dipping.  That sauce, I should note, was so good that my dining companion was compelled to drink the remains.

A3 Napoli - the Land Fritti A3 Napoli - the Meatball Sandwich A3 Napoli - the Zeppoli

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 014 – Belgium (Moo Frites)

moo
Location
: 178 Baldwin Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/moofrites

I know, I know — fries aren’t exactly exciting international fare. It seems kinda like a cop out for a blog dedicated to trying new things from every country in the world.

But French fries are generally thought to have been invented in Belgium, and Belgian fries are probably the first dish that springs to mind when you think of that country.  So when I realized I was right near Moo Frites — a small storefront in Kensington Market devoted exclusively to the deep fried spuds — I figured I may as well give it a shot.

The simple menu consists of fries, a ridiculous amount of dipping sauces, and a handful of more elaborately topped fry concoctions.  I went with a small order of fries (a pretty generous amount for $4.25) with frite sauce for dipping.

The fries were quite good; they were tasty, though if I were to rank them against all the French fries I’ve had in my life, they probably wouldn’t even make the top hundred.

Maybe hoping for best-of-all-time fries is an unreasonable expectation, but given that this is all they serve — and that they take their inspiration from what is reportedly the best place for fries on Earth — I was expecting the them to knock my socks off.

They were generally above average, though the exterior probably should have been a bit more crisp, and the interior a bit more fluffy.  I definitely enjoyed them, but my socks remained firmly on my feet.

Maybe this is my fault.  I didn’t notice until it was too late that, for a one dollar surcharge, they’ll cook your fries in beef fat.  This would be the more authentically Belgian way of preparing them, so perhaps this would have pushed them over the edge from good to great.

As for the frite sauce, it’s a mayo-based sauce that’s described on the menu as containing capers, anchovies, and parsley.  None of those flavours particularly punch through; it basically just tastes like tangy mayo.  But it’s a good tangy mayo.  I know dipping your fries in mayo is an alien concept to many, but it’s the bee’s knees, trust me.

Moo Frites - the menu Moo Frites - the fries

Countries 008 and 009 – Malaysia and Pakistan (Carassauga 2015)

carassauga-a
Location
: Various locations in Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.carassauga.com/

I sort of figured that Carassauga — a weekend-long cultural festival held in Mississauga every year — would provide ample fodder for this blog.  Though food clearly isn’t the focus here, it’s fairly abundant.

And it’s a fun enough event, though you’re probably not going to learn anything particularly new about any of the cultures on offer (they were dancing to “Gangnam Style” in the Korea pavilion, if that tells you anything).

But yes, the food: the first (and best) item I tried was a veggie dumpling from the Malaysia pavilion.  Closer to a fritter than any kind of dumpling I’ve ever tried, it was delightfully greasy, with a crispy exterior and a soft, chewy interior.  It was filled with cabbage and carrots, and had a sprinkling of onions on the outside that were super crispy and tasty from the fryer.

It wasn’t hot at all (it was actually bordering on cold), but even still, it was surprisingly delicious.  I was very tempted to immediately order another one, but I figured I should probably save room for other stuff.

carassauga-b

We hit the Pakistan pavilion next, where I tried dali bhalle, a cold dish consisting of a cornbread-esque pastry doused in a fragrant yogurty sauce.  There were also chunks of potato, chickpeas, and little fried bits of pastry.

It was a unique dish, that’s for sure.  Typically, when you try a new food, there’s some point of reference to be had — but I really can’t think of anything else to compare this to.

I enjoyed it, even if it was a bit one-note.  There wasn’t a whole lot of depth of flavour to the sauce, and the pastry, potatoes, and chick-peas were all similarly soft and crumbly.  Some contrast in flavour or texture would have been welcome.  As it stood, I got about half-way through and then dumped the rest in the trash.  Not that it was bad; I was just getting a bit bored.

I tried a few other things — dumplings and rice cakes from Korea, a coconut-infused pastry from Jamaica, a Timbit-esque doughnut from Africa — but those two were probably the most noteworthy.

Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015

Country 004 – Trinidad and Tobago (Leela’s Roti & Doubles)

leelas
Location: 900 Rathburn Road West, Unit 1, Mississauga
Websitehttp://leelasroti.com/

Well, that was disappointing.

I’ve never tried a double before (a doubles?  Does it have to have the S?), and I’d certainly heard good things about Leela’s.  Trying something new?  At a reasonably acclaimed restaurant?  Yeah, I was excited.

And the place was packed — so packed that I couldn’t even eat in the restaurant (I ate in the car, which is always fun).

If nothing else, it’s crazy cheap.  I got a double ($1.25), an aloo pie ($1.50), and a bottle of Trinidadian soda ($2.00), and the whole thing came up to just over five bucks.  And it was a fairly substantial amount of food, I should note.

I tried the double first.  A double, for the uninitiated, is essentially a chickpea curry sandwich made with a special type of fried bread.

It was actually pretty bad.  It probably didn’t help that it had obviously been sitting around for quite a while, giving the bread a mushy, unpleasantly sodden texture that was really unappealing.

The filling is essentially bland curry mush. It’s just kind of there, without any real personality: a gentle, ineffectual poke to your tastebuds.  Nothing about it pops.

It also had an unpleasant undertone that I can’t quite put my finger on. The closest thing I can compare it to is particularly ripe boiled cabbage. That flavour wasn’t too strong, fortunately, but it was definitely there, and it was definitely off-putting — to me, at least. I think it’s safe to assume that, in the process of updating this blog, I’ll be eating dishes that would be classified as acquired tastes. So I don’t know if this was just a bad version of a double, or a taste I simply haven’t acquired.

The aloo pie was clearly the superior of the two items. Featuring a spiced potato filling surrounded by a crispy fried pastry shell, it was nothing particularly mind-blowing, but it was tasty at least.

The filling is essentially like a smoother, less dense version of what’s in a samosa.  It tasted okay, but again, it was kind of bland.  It was spicy, at least, which helped give it some personality.

The fried pastry shell had a crispy exterior and a pleasantly chewy bite, but it also tasted very strongly of stale oil.

So no… not a fan.  But if you’re looking to get full on very little money, then sure, come here with a few bucks in your pocket and go nuts.  Just don’t expect anything that great.

Leela's Roti and Doubles - the menu board Leela's Roti and Doubles - double and aloo pie