Country 076 – Antigua and Barbuda (Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen)

Chubby's Jamaican KitchenLocation: 104 Portland Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://chubbysjamaican.com/

No, technically Chubby’s doesn’t qualify as a restaurant from Antigua and Barbuda.  It’s Jamaican.  It’s right there in the name.

But there are a bunch of tiny Caribbean countries, and for the purposes of this blog, compromises are going to have to be made.  Jamaican cuisine is probably going to stand in for pretty much every country in that area, because Jamaican restaurants are everywhere.  The rest of the Caribbean?  Not so much.

Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen

Chubby’s is a bit of an odd one.  It’s a far cry from the typical hole-in-the-wall Jamaican place you’re expecting, with a twee, hipster-friendly dining room that looks like it’s been scientifically engineered for social media appeal (and indeed, if you look up the restaurant on Instagram, there are far more twenty-somethings taking selfies than pictures of the food).

I was worried that the food might be an afterthought, but I tried a couple of things and they were both great.

Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen

First up: the saltfish fritters, which are lightly crispy on the outside, with a chewy texture that’s reminiscent of glutinous rice.  True to its name it’s both salty and fishy, but not excessively so; it’s nicely balanced.  The strong flavours are complimented well by the mango-lime-papaya salsa, which is sweet and surprisingly spicy.

Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen

I also tried the curry goat, which features a generous amount of fall-off-the-bone tender meat in a fragrant curry sauce.  It comes with a side of rice and a small helping of sugary-sweet mango chutney.  The chutney seems way too sweet at first, but it kind of has the same appeal as eating cranberry sauce with turkey.  It grew on me.

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Country 075 – Bhutan (Lhasa Kitchen… or is it Potala Kitchen?)

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)Location: 1422 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lhasakitchentoronto.ca/

I’m not gonna lie: I’m kinda cheating with this one.  Lhasa Kitchen is a Tibetan restaurant — one of many on this particular stretch of Queen — but when I looked it up online, they had a whole section on their menu dedicated to Bhutanese cuisine.

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

When I showed up, however, the restaurant was actually called Potala Kitchen, and the dishes from Bhutan were MIA.  It was an odd turn of events (odder still: as I write this, there isn’t a single reference to Potala Kitchen online, even on the restaurant’s website).

Bhutan and Tibet are neighbours; their cuisine must be somewhat similar.  So… close enough, I guess?

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

I tried a couple of things.  I started with the beef momo — essentially a Tibetan version of steamed Chinese dumplings.  The skin was slightly dry and the minced beef inside was a bit tough, but these were still pretty tasty (not to mention a great deal at seven bucks for a very generous order of ten).

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

I also tried the pork shabtak, which was an unqualified home run.  This featured a whole bunch of thick slices of ultra-tender pork belly and slippery fried onions in an oily, intensely flavourful sauce.

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

It comes with something called tring-mo — a big, fluffy steamed bun.  You eat it kind of like you’d eat roti; you tear pieces off and dip it in the pork.  Rice is an option, but this was way more interesting.

Country 074 – Palestine (Kunafa’s)

Kunafa'sLocation: 1801 Lawrence Avenue East, Scarborough
Websitehttp://kunafas.com/

Yes, I’ve actually written about kunafa before — they have it on their dessert menu at Tabule (which is hit-and-miss).  But hey, if I can write about multiple versions of doner or noodles, why not multiple versions of kunafa?

Kunafa's

Kunafa is great.  It’s a Middle Eastern dessert that consists of a layer of gooey white cheese topped with syrup-infused pastry.  I know that cheese in a dessert sounds odd, but the particular cheese they use — called nabulsi — has a neutral flavour and a pleasant gooeyness that makes it ideal for desserts.

Plus: everyone loves tiramisu and cannoli.  A cheese-based dessert really isn’t as strange as you might initially think.

Kunafa's

The problem with kunafa is the same problem with pizza; because of the melty cheese, it really has to be eaten when it’s relatively fresh out of the oven.  As it sits out, the cheese starts to congeal and the pastry loses its moisture.  You can reheat it (or leave it on a hot plate as they do here), but it really isn’t the same.

The version they’re serving at Kunafa’s was quite tasty, but this was clearly an issue.

Kunafa's

As you can see, the cheese was still very stretchy, but it was also a bit too tough.  If using a fork to cut through the cheese completely mangles the dessert, then your kunafa has probably been sitting out too long.  The pastry, too, was more dry and crumbly than it should have been.

But don’t get me wrong — I still really enjoyed this.  I’m not sure that there’s anywhere in the GTA that serves a really great kunafa, so this is about as good as it gets.  Nitpicks aside, it’s still delicious.

Country 073 – Armenia (Mamajoun)

MamajounLocation: 209 Ellesmere Road, Toronto
Websitehttps://mamajoun.com/

Mamajoun is an Armenian pizzeria that specializes in lahmajoun, a tasty flatbread that’s traditionally topped with a mixture of ground beef and minced veggies.  It’s mostly a take-out place, though they do have a few small tables and a counter where you can sit.

You can get your lahmajoun on its own, or you can choose from various fillings; they wrap the whole thing up and stick it in a panini press to give it a nice crispiness on its exterior.

Mamajoun

I’ve been eating the Middle Eastern version of these (called lahm bi ajin — basically the exact same thing, but with a different name) for pretty much my entire life, but for some reason it’s never occurred to me to cram more stuff in there and eat it like a wrap.  And I have no idea why; it’s kind of ingenious.

Mamajoun

I chose to have mine filled with soujouk, which is a really tasty sausage that basically combines the intense flavour of a cured sausage with the texture of a fresh one.  You can also fill it with the usual assortment of olives, pickled goodies, and hot peppers that you’d expect from a Mediterranean wrap.

Mamajoun

It was quite tasty.  The lahmajoun itself had a nicely spiced meaty flavour, with a good contrast of fluffiness and crispiness on the flatbread.  The soujouk and the other fillings worked really well; between the vibrant sausage and the various vinegary pickles, it’s an absolute face-punch of flavour.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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 069 – Iran (Takht-e Tavoos)

Takht-e TavoosLocation: 1120 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://pomegranaterestaurant.ca/tavoos/

I think I’ve mentioned before that I love lamb.  Beef is great, obviously, but there’s something about the intense flavour of a good piece of lamb that I find irresistible.

Takht-e Tavoos’s version of kalleh pacheh — an Iranian soup made with chunks of lamb hoof, tongue, and cheek — is almost certainly the lambiest dish that I’ve ever had.  The flavour was intense.  I loved it.

Takht-e Tavoos

The broth is thick and rich, with a really pronounced meaty flavour.  There’s a Middle Eastern dish that consists of rice and lamb (I had a version of this at Reyan in Mississauga), and this was almost like a soup version of that; there’s no rice here, but the spices are very similar.  It’s almost too rich, but a spritz of lime adds some brightness and helps to round things out.

And the chunks of lamb (which were generous) were so good.  Certainly, with its hodge-podge of face and feet, it might be a bit of a tough sell.  But, for the most part, the meat here was amazingly well prepared.

The cheek, which was unctuous and luxurious, was the best of the bunch.  It was melt-in-your-mouth tender, with a face-punch of amazingly lamby flavour.

Takht-e Tavoos

The tongue was almost as good.  It certainly looks a bit off-putting (it’s a full tongue, so there’s no mistaking what it is), but the meat was amazing.  It doesn’t have the intense fattiness of the cheek, so if you’re fat-averse, this might be more your speed.

The hoof was easily my least favourite of the three.  This is a harder cut of meat to get right — it’s mostly just a lot of really thick skin and collagen, without a whole lot of actual meat.  The skin here was a bit too rubbery, and the meat almost non-existent.

Takht-e Tavoos

Still, given how good the other two cuts of meat were, it’s hard to complain too much.  Plus, the dish comes with some fresh, tasty flatbread on the side.  It tastes just as good on its own as it does dipped into the soup.

Honestly, my biggest complaint about this dish?  It’s an absurd amount of food.  Between the heaping bowl of rich soup, the substantial pile of meat, and the two sizable slices of flatbread, it feels more like something that The Rock should be eating during a training regimen than a meal for a normal person. I (mostly) finished it, and I felt obscenely full for the rest of the day.

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.