Country 058 – Ireland (Fynn’s of Temple Bar)


Location
: 489 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://fynnstemplebar.com/

Add “boxty” to the list of things I hadn’t even heard of before starting this blog (and in case you’re a member of the “what the hell is boxty?” club, as I was until recently, it’s an Irish take on the potato pancake).

Fynn’s has a couple of boxtys (boxties?) on the menu; I went with the Dublin steak and mushroom boxty.

The boxty was actually much closer in consistency to bread than I was expecting — it had a chewy, bready texture that was more like naan than a traditional potato pancake.  It was unexpected, but it worked quite well with the stew inside.

As for the steak and mushroom stew, it was true to its name and crammed with mushrooms and chunks of beef.  The beef was slightly on the tough side, and there was one spice that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that was a bit overpowering, but for the most part it was tasty and satisfying.

Flynn's of Temple Bar - the outside Flynn's of Temple Bar - the boxty

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 049 – Morocco (Nader’s Middle Eastern Grill & Bakery)

nader
Location
: 3900 Grand Park Drive, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/nadersgrill/

I’ve actually been to Nader’s once before, for my burger blog.  It probably wasn’t fair for me to judge this place based on their hamburger, so here I am, ordering something that’s much more in their wheelhouse: lamb shank tagine with couscous.

It’s a fairly hearty stew, with the aforementioned lamb shank submerged in a saucy mix of potatoes, chick peas, carrots, and some kind of zucchini-esque vegetable, among other things.

It was fine, I guess.  It was kind of watery and a bit one-note salty, but I basically enjoyed it.  I think I’ve mentioned how much I love lamb on this blog, and the lamb here — though a bit dry — was quite tasty, as usual.

It’s just…  the overall flavour of the dish never really pops.  You know that thing that happens when you’re eating a great meal, and every mouthful seems to reveal something new?  It was pretty much the opposite here.  The first bite told me everything I needed to know, and every bite after that was more or less exactly the same.

But again, it wasn’t bad.  It was just ho-hum.

Between this and the burger, I think it’s safe to say that Nader’s isn’t exactly my new favourite restaurant.

Nader's - lamb shank tagine Nader's - lamb shank tagine

Country 040 – India (Sweet India)

sweet
Location
: 7126 Airport Road, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.sweetindia.com/

Remember when I was saying that a nicer-looking restaurant and a clientele that doesn’t match its ethnicity were both tell-tale signs that a place like this might not be all that great?  Well, here’s a definite exception to that rule: Sweet India is both very nicely designed and, when I went at least, around halfway full of people who looked like they’d fit in comfortably with the cast of Friends.

It was also one of the best meals I’ve had since starting this blog.

The restaurant is laid out like any number of food court joints; they’ve got food in warming trays, and you can pick what you want.  I went with the vegetarian thali, which comes with your choice of three different dishes, raita (a cold yogurt-based cucumber salad), rice, and a basket of naan bread.

I think it’s hard to tell from the picture what an obscene amount of food that is, but seriously: look at the fork and knife for scale.  The plate is about the size of a cafeteria tray, and it was crammed with food.  Not to mention the basket full of naan, and the generous serving of dessert.

Suffice it to say, after eating all that I was ready to lie down and go into a food coma.  And for less than ten bucks, it’s a pretty amazing deal.

The three dishes in the top row of that tray are: aloo baingan, a flavourful mixture of eggplant and potato; chana masala, a chickpea curry; and aloo methi, a potato dish cooked with methi leaves (also known as fenugreek).

It was all really good, though with its fragrant intensity, the aloo baingan was clearly the star of the show.  It was a flavour bomb in the best way possible.  It helps that the accompanying ultra-fresh naan was superb; it was the perfect combo of lightly crispy outside and chewy inside.

The dessert was moong ka halwa, a creamy, pudding-like dish made mostly from lentils.  Indian desserts tend to be a bit of an acquired taste, and I was so full at that point that I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t like it so I could take one bite and throw the rest out.  But it was so good.  So of course I had to eat the whole thing, food coma be damned.

If I had one small complaint, it would be that while everything was fairly spicy, it does feel like the spice level has been toned down to accommodate the aforementioned Friends-like clientele.  A bit more of a fiery kick would have been nice, but everything was so amazingly tasty that it really didn’t matter.

Country 031 – Austria (The Musket)

musket
Location
: 40 Advance Road, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.musketrestaurant.com/

I can’t say I know too much about Austria, though they did give the world the gift of Arnold Schwarzenegger — so clearly, it’s a country worth knowing about.

The obvious order at The Musket is probably the schnitzel, but I decided to go a bit off the beaten path, and ordered the leberkase (without particularly knowing what it even was).

This turned out not be a particularly adventurous choice — leberkase is a mix of corned beef, pork, bacon and onions, which is ground into a fine paste and baked in a pan.  It resembled, more than anything else, a really big, flattened Vienna Sausage patty.  Served with a perfectly cooked fried egg on top and with a side of home fries, it was more classic comfort food than adventurous eating.

I quite enjoyed it, but then Vienna Sausage and eggs was a staple when I was growing up, so it definitely brought back some warm, fuzzy childhood memories.  The fried egg compliments the salty leberkase quite well, and the home fries help round things out (I question their Austrian authenticity, but hey, if it works it works).

Country 029 – Hungary (The Goulash House)

goulash
Location
: 200 Main Street South, Newmarket
Websitehttp://thegoulashhouse.com/

I don’t think I’ve ever had an easier time figuring out what to order at a restaurant; I mean, it’s right there in the name.  The only question was which goulash to order — they have three different types, so I asked the waitress and was informed that the goulash of choice is beef.

It comes with a small bowl of soup to start, which in this case was a creamy, garlickly cauliflower soup that I quite enjoyed.

I also really enjoyed the goulash, which was absolutely crammed with fork-tender chunks of beef, not to mention the abundant cubes of potato and the pleasantly chewy dumplings, all in an intensely rich sauce.  It’s clearly designed to be shared; it even comes with a ladle to dole it out into the provided bowls.  I made the mistake of polishing it off by myself, and spent the rest of the evening clutching my stomach and questioning the way I live my life.

My only complaint (aside from the aforementioned stomach-clutching) is that it had one spice that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that gave the dish a vaguely medicinal twang.  I was mostly able to ignore it, but it was the one sour note in an otherwise stellar dish.

Goulash House - the soup Goulash House - the goulash

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.