Country 066 – Chile (Auténtica)

AutenticaLocation: 9 Milvan Drive, North York
Website: None

When I did Argentina for this blog about 30 countries ago, I tried a sandwich called a lomito, which I noted was served in Argentina and Chile.  Well, here I am doing Chile, and yep — I ordered another lomito.

Kinda boring, but I wasn’t crazy about the first lomito I had, so I thought I’d give it another shot.

Autentica

I tried this one at a restaurant called Auténtica in the Plaza Latina food court in North York.  That’s a really fascinating food court that specializes entirely in Latin American restaurants.

The lomito from Auténtica consisted of sliced pork, tomatoes, avocado, and mayo.  It’s served on a really interesting house-made bun that’s kind of like a cross between a traditional bun and a biscuit.

Autentica

It wasn’t bad — the pork was nice and tender, and the tomato and avocado were fresh and tasty.  But there wasn’t a ton of flavour here; the pork was barely seasoned, and I don’t think the avocado or tomato slices were seasoned at all.  It was a decent enough sandwich, but nothing about it particularly stood out.

Autentica

I also tried the completo, which is a hot dog topped with avocado, tomato, and mayo (they really love avocado, tomato, and mayo in Chile, I guess).  The hot dog was smoky and tasty, but again, the other components were a bit bland.  It really needed mustard or some other condiment to give it a bit more flavour.  Still, it was enjoyable enough.

Autentica

I finished with the tres leches cake, which was the highlight.  A tres leches cake gets its name (which translates to “three milks”) from condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream.  This one also featured a layer of dulce de leche, which worked exceptionally well with the moist — but not soggy — cake.  The only issue here was that the whipped cream tasted like it was actually Cool Whip or something similar, which was unfortunate.

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Country 065 – Laos (Sabai Sabai)

Sabai Sabai
Location: 81 Bloor Street East, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.sabaisabaito.ca/

I’m gonna admit that pretty much the only thing I know about Laos is that it’s where Hank Hill’s neighbour is from on King of the Hill.  I sort of figured that I’d be learning about all kinds of countries while doing this blog, but to be honest, not really (unless you consider eating a dish or two without context to be learning about a place, in which case, sure!  I’m learning a lot!).

But now I can tell you about a couple of Laotian dishes I had at Sabai Sabai, so I guess I know a tiny bit more than I did before.

Sabai Sabai

I started with the laap lao, which the menu describes as a minced pork salad, and the “most popular dish of Laos.”  Well, okay.  Sold.

I can see why it’s so popular in Laos (and elsewhere) — it’s delicious.  It’s a simple dish, with a bowl of ground pork accompanied by a plate of iceberg lettuce leaves for wrapping.  The pork absolutely pops with flavour — it’s addictively tangy and herby, and it’s almost impossible to stop eating.  The fresh crunchiness of the lettuce is a perfect accompaniment to the flavourful pork.  It’s great.

Sabai Sabai

My main was the mee kati (coconut noodles).  This was really tasty, though it was exceptionally awkward to eat.  It essentially comes deconstructed, with the plate consisting of a pile of dry noodles topped with crispy onions, a small bowl of sauce and chicken chunks, and an even smaller bowl of crushed hot peppers.

I wasn’t sure how to approach this.  Was I supposed to pour the sauce over the noodles?  The way the plate was arranged, it didn’t seem like it.  A bowl would have been more appropriate if this were the intention, plus there was a banana leaf on the plate, and if I poured sauce over the noodles, some of it would inevitably wind up under the leaf.  So… no pouring, I guess?

Sabai Sabai

But because the noodles were completely un-sauced, they all stuck together in one stubborn clump.   I eventually sprinkled the hot peppers onto the noodle clump, and then tore off chunks and dipped them into the sauce.  But I clearly over-dipped my first few clumps, because by the time I was about halfway finished with the noodles, the sauce was almost entirely depleted.  It wasn’t the best.

It tasted really good, though!  For all the awkwardness of actually eating it, that’s what really counts — the sauce was creamy, coconutty, rich, and delicious.  The crushed peppers gave it a mild kick, and the fried onions added some crispiness and a decent amount of flavour.  The chicken pieces tasted a bit leftovery, but all in all it was a tasty dish.  I just wish they’d drop the unwelcome pretension and serve it assembled in a bowl like normal people.

Country 062 – Greece (Colossus Greek Taverna)


Location
: 280 Lakeshore Road East, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.colossusgreektaverna.com/

This will likely be my last post on this blog for a year or so, which is a shame, because yikes.  Yikes, this was an awful meal.  It’s sad to leave on a sour note, but what are you going to do?

We came at lunch, and my dining companion and I both ordered the “Authentic Gyros.”  Sadly, this dish isn’t on their online menu, so I can’t tell you exactly what it was supposed to come with, but if I recall correctly it was pork belly, tomato, greens, grilled haloumi cheese,  and honey mustard.  The presence of honey mustard on what is purportedly an “authentic” gyro probably should have been a tip-off that something was amiss.

And actually, my dining companion ordered his without honey mustard, and I guess they decided “well then, no one gets honey mustard!” because mine was sauce-less as well.

The sandwich came on a bun instead of pita bread.  That was bizarre, but who knows, maybe that’s the way they do it in Greece?  I doubt it, but hey, I haven’t been there.

Either way, it tasted like a stale Dempster’s hamburger bun.  It was not good.  It crumbled apart almost immediately after I picked it up, so I wound up eating the sandwich with a fork and knife.

The next oddity about this sandwich: it was supposed to come with pork belly, but the dried-out pieces of meat were clearly some other cut of pork.  If it was pork belly, it was trimmed in an exceptionally bizarre way — it was dry as heck and there wasn’t a speck of fat on it.  It was also uniformly gray, like it had been boiled.  It was so weird I actually brought it up with the waitress, and I’m usually a “eat whatever the hell is in front of me without doing anything that might even vaguely be construed as making a scene” type of guy.

I asked her if the sandwich was supposed to have pork belly on it.  Yep, she said, that’s pork belly.  I pointed at one of the pieces of meat to clarify.  “This is pork belly?  Are you sure?”  Yes, she said.  She was sure.  I didn’t begrudge the point, as I didn’t see any benefit to arguing over what was or was not pork belly, but no, I’m pretty positive that wasn’t belly.

Either way, it wasn’t particularly good.  The meat was fine, but it was dry and kind of tasteless.  The missing honey mustard probably would have helped, as it really needed some kind of sauce, both to lubricate things and to add some flavour.

Aside from that there were some sodden, mushy onions that, like the pork, tasted like they had been boiled.  Then there was the haloumi, which was actually pretty good, and the veggies.

For a place that is actually very well regarded online, the whole thing was shockingly bad.  I think it might be the worst thing I’ve ever eaten for this blog.

It came with a side of lemon potatoes.  They were nice and tender, I’ll give them that, but the lemony flavour was way too overbearing.  Normally these types of potatoes have a nice zingy brightness from the lemon that works well with the creamy potato; these were flat-out sour.

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 015 – Taiwan (Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine)

mama
Location
: 324 Highway 7 East, Richmond Hill
Website: http://www.mamabeartaiwanesecuisine.ca

Unlike most of the countries I’ve written about so far for this blog, I’ve actually been to Taiwan.  While I was there, one of the dishes I was looking forward to trying was minced pork rice.  But when I got to the restaurant, it was packed, there was a surly-looking man behind the counter and a total lack of any pictures for me to point to.  I wound up loitering for a couple of minutes before finally losing my nerve and leaving sad and pork-and-rice-less.   Yes, trying to order food when you don’t speak a word of the language can be a challenge.

And now I’m sad all over again, because the version of this dish at Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine was pretty damn good — so I can only imagine how good the real deal in Taiwan must have been.

It doesn’t look like much, but with a surfeit of tender, perfectly cooked fatty pork in a richly flavourful, sweet sauce (served on a heaping mound of rice), it’s easy enough to see why it’s such a treasured dish in Taiwan.

We also ordered the Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken, which was crispy, juicy and well seasoned, and easily on par with the fried chicken I had in that country.

The oyster omelette, sadly, was like it came from a different kitchen altogether.

This was another dish that I tried in Taiwan, and the one I had there was almost transcendentally good, with super fresh, perfectly cooked oysters melding with the eggs in a way that was downright magical.   Those eggs, which were lightly crispy on the outside (thanks to a judicious amount of starch mixed in) and soft and creamy on the inside, were among the best I’ve ever had. Served with some sweet sauce on the side to cut the briny richness of the oysters and the eggs, it was pretty much perfect.

I knew this omelette wasn’t going to be as good as that one, but man was it bad.

More starch than egg, the omelette was chewy, gummy, and crammed with overcooked oysters that tasted fishy and canned. And it was absolutely doused in a gloppy sauce — though in this case, the abundance of sauce was probably necessary to disguise the off taste of those oysters.

Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - the restaurant Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - minced pork rice Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - popcorn chicken Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - Oyster Omelette

Country 012 – Jamaica (Mr. Jerk)

jerk
Location
: 3417 Derry Road East, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.mrjerk.com/

I realized recently that though I’ve had jerk chicken quite a few times, I’ve never tried jerk pork. One quick “best jerk pork” search later, and I was off to the races.

I was pretty sure I was going to like this. I like jerk chicken, and I like pork, so unless they messed it up somehow, this was probably about as close to a sure thing as I was going to get for this blog.

They didn’t mess it up.

Actually, what’s the absolute polar opposite of messing something up? Messing something down? Because that’s what they did here. They messed this pork the hell down.

You know that scene in a movie where they give food to someone who hasn’t eaten in days, and he immediately starts shoveling it into his mouth with a speed and vigour that seems unwise? That was me eating this pork.

I took one bite, paused, and thought to myself, “wait, is this really that good?” I took another bite to confirm: yes, it really is that good. Then I was like a hungry grizzly bear, or like Garfield eating lasagna, or like I was worried that I’d wake up at any moment and discover that it was all just a dream.

Man, it was good. Unctuously tender, seriously flavourful, and gloriously, richly porky in all the best ways, it’s ample proof that sometimes the simplest things are the best.

It’s served on rice, which is nicely seasoned and studded with creamy, flavourful beans.  It compliments the pork really well.

It wasn’t particularly spicy (I’d put it somewhere between mild and medium spice); I thought this was a fault at first. I like spicy food, and jerk and spice seemingly go hand-in-hand. But just like I wouldn’t tell Picasso what colours he should use in a painting, I’m not going to tell Mr. Jerk how spicy their pork should be. It was perfect the way it was; why mess with that?

And a lack of spiciness definitely doesn’t equate to a lack of flavour; the jerk spices are assertive enough to pack a punch, but they never overwhelm the pork’s natural flavours. The contrast between the lightly crispy, intensely flavourful exterior and the juicy, tender pork is crack-like in its addictiveness.

I should admit, however, that I think really well-prepared fatty pork is one of the best things on the planet (exhibit A: my over-the-top hyperbole about the pork hocks at Beast), so you might try this and think “what’s he going on about?”

It’s also very possible that this was a one-time-only deal — some kind of perfect storm of deliciousness that can’t be repeated — and that it’ll never be this good again. Because how could it be? I hope it is, but seriously: can this really be this good all the time?  

Mr. Jerk - the restaurant Mr. Jerk - the jerk pork

Country 007 – Mexico (Tenoch)

tenoch
Location
: 933 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto
Websitehttp://tenochrestaurant.com/

I seem to be focusing disproportionately on Spanish-speaking countries so far.  This is completely unintentional; I’ll have to try to mix it up for the next few countries.  But first: Mexico.

I mostly wanted to try Tenoch to sample one of their tortas, a popular Mexican street food that basically entails cramming as much food as possible into a crusty roll.

We started, however, with the chorinachos, which finds delicious house-made tortilla chips layered with a crumbled, mild sausage (chorizo, I think), refried beans, sour cream, and enough melty cheese to feed a small family.  Though it was immediately apparent that we had over-ordered (this imposing pile of food is more than enough to feed two very hungry people on its own), these nachos were so good that we were happy to overindulge.

Two sauces were provided: the first was a bright green mix of seriously spicy hot peppers and avocado, and the second a creamy brown hot sauce that was one of the tastiest sauces I’ve had in quite a while.  It had a rich, smoky flavour and an addictively fiery spice-level.  It was amazing.

I asked the waitress what it was, because seriously: I want to eat this all the time on everything.  Sadly, the answer (the name of the pepper the sauce is made from) pretty much went in one ear and out the other. It was a lot of words, and it was Spanish, and I should have written it down but I didn’t, like an idiot.  Anyway, they make the sauce in the restaurant, so it’s not like I could have gone to the supermarket and picked up a bottle.

tenoch2a

Whatever that stuff was, it was profoundly delicious, and if you come here and they don’t give it to you, you need to ask for it.  That might be tough without knowing what it’s called, but trust me, make it happen.  You won’t regret it.

Next up was the main course: the Tenoch Torta, described on the menu as coming with “tomato, onion, beans, avocado, mayo, cheese, shredded roast chipotle pork, ham, milanesa, egg, pastrami, and wiener sausage.”

Yep, it’s all in there.  Everything.  Don’t even think about ordering this sandwich on your own.  My dining companion and I split one, and each half on its own was the size of one enormous sandwich.  When you first pick it up, the weight of it shocks you.  It’s gigantic.

It’s also delicious, if a bit overstuffed (shocking, right?).  There’s just so much food in there, and though it’s all tasty (the chipotle pulled pork stands out as a highlight), I think there’s probably a little bit too much stuff going on.

Just eating it was a challenge.  There’s only so wide that you can open your mouth, and even taking your biggest, most exaggerated Guy-Fieri-style bite, you’re not going to be able to cram it all in there.

Like the nachos, this would have been more than enough to feed two hungry people, and like with the nachos, I was very happy to overindulge.  This is top-shelf Mexican food.  I can’t wait to go back.

Tenoch - the nachos Tenoch - the Tenoch Torta