Country 083 – Nicaragua (La Bella Managua)

La Bella ManaguaLocation: 872 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.labellamanagua.com/

It’s always a good sign when you go to a restaurant and hear almost no English from the proprietor or the surrounding tables.  There are so many reasons why living in a city as multicultural as Toronto is a great thing, but food is certainly at the top of that list.  I honestly don’t think there are too many other cities in the world where I could do a blog like this.

So I was fairly confident that I was in good hands at La Bella Managua.  Eating the food confirmed it.

La Bella Managua

I tried a couple of things.  First up was the Pollo a la Parrilla.  This featured a perfectly grilled piece of chicken, rice and beans (gallo pinto, which is Nicaragua’s national dish), salad, and fried plantains.

Everything was great.  The chicken was nicely grilled and seasoned, with some welcome crispiness on its exterior and a perfectly cooked interior.  White meat is very easy to overcook, turning it dry and unappealing, so kudos to them for preparing this so well.  And the sweetness of the fried plantains balanced nicely with the savoury chicken.

La Bella Managua

The gallo pinto was simple enough, but very satisfying, as was the salad (which consisted mostly of avocado, tomato, peppers, and red onion).  I’m normally not a big fan of raw onions in salad, but these were mild enough to be acceptable.

The other dish I tried was the Nacatamal, which is described as “typical Nicaraguan tamales stuffed with seasoned pork loin & vegetables.”

La Bella Managua

This might be the least photogenic thing I’ve ever eaten.  I mean, it looks horrifying.  But it’s the ultimate “don’t judge a book by its cover” dish, because it was absolutely delicious.

Unlike the tamales I recently had at Tacos El Asador, these were absolutely crammed with flavour, and the tender pork loin gave it a satisfying meatiness.  In case it wasn’t obvious enough from the chicken, this is a top-shelf restaurant doing top-shelf stuff.

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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.

Country 037 – Nigeria (Village Suya)

suya
Location
: 900 Rathburn Road West, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.villagesuya.com/

I think I should preface this review by saying that Village Suya has only been up and running for a few weeks; I wasn’t too crazy about the meal I had here, but it’s quite possible that they still have some kinks to work out. So you might want to take this review with a grain of salt.

For the uninitiated, Suya is Nigerian-style grilled meat, typically sold by street vendors on skewers.  This particular restaurant serves beef and chicken; I went with beef, and got it with a side of fried rice.

The rice was easily the highlight.  Though it looks fairly similar to Chinese-style fried rice, it definitely has a personality of its own.  It’s a touch on the oily side (my mouth felt grease-slicked for at least an hour or two after eating), but it has a satisfying curry-tinged flavour, and just enough of a kick to put some sweat on your brow.

And whatever they’ve marinated the beef in is actually pretty tasty; it’s nicely seasoned, with another solid dose of spice.  But (and this is a fairly big but) the beef was excessively chewy and dry — it’s kind of unpleasant (of course, this didn’t stop me from eating almost all of it, but I digress).

The meat was either severely overcooked, or they’re using a cheaper cut of beef that’s meant to be stewed (or, more likely, a little from column A, a little from column B).  It’s too bad, because if the meat were a little bit more tender (or, more accurately, tender at all), it would probably be pretty good.  The elements, otherwise, are all there.  But when the beef is that jerky-like in its consistency, it’s kind of tough to enjoy — even if the flavour is pretty good.