Country 071 – Ecuador (Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano)

Comedor Popular EcuatorianoLocation9 Milvan Drive, North York
Website: None

Though I’ve already written about a restaurant in the Plaza Latina food court, another visit was probably inevitable.  That place is an absolute treasure trove of Latin American food.

This time, I visited an Ecuadorian restaurant called Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  I wasn’t sure what to order; the woman behind the counter recommended a dish that came with a hearty soup and churrasco, an Ecuadorian take on steak and eggs.

Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano

The soup came out first, and it was really, really good.  I didn’t see it on the menu, but I’m pretty sure this was sancocho.  I had this particular soup at a restaurant called Mi Tierra, but this one was clearly the superior version.  The broth had a really satisfying chicken-infused flavour, with a nice hit of cilantro and a zestiness that kept me coming back for more.

Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano

It was also seriously hearty, with huge chunks of cassava, carrots, plantains, beef, and corn.  This alone would have been a satisfying lunch.

But of course, there was still the main meal: a huge plate piled high with steak, rice, fries, two fried eggs, and a salad.  If you’ve got a big appetite, this is your place.

Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano

Oddly, I really enjoyed this even though most of the individual components weren’t all that great.  The steak was tough, the fries were run-of-the-mill, and the rice was fairly bland.  But once I started eating it all together, it coalesced into something surprisingly tasty.  The perfectly runny yolks on the two eggs essentially becomes a sauce that improves everything; if you get a little bit of multiple elements in each mouthful, it’s delicious.

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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 063 – Moldova (Moldova Restaurant)

Moldova RestaurantIt would have been nice if my first post-hiatus restaurant had been a little bit better than this, but then my pre-hiatus restaurant wasn’t great either.  So I guess there’s a symmetry there.

And I won’t say that Moldova Restaurant was flat-out bad.  The meal had its moments.

Moldova Restaurant

It started out uniquely enough — the bread basket came with a side of some kind of sweet, intensely garlicky salsa.  It was interesting.

Moldova Restaurant

I started with the zamma — a Moldovan take on chicken noodle soup.  Aside from the pronounced dill flavour, this tasted like it could have come out of a can.  The hearty chunks of chicken and potato added some substance, but the flavour was just generic saltiness.

Moldova Restaurant

Next up was the chebureki, which the menu describes as a “fried meat pie.”  This was fine.  The thin pie shell was nice and crispy, and the sausagey filling was mild, but satisfying.  I feel like it was missing something, but it was enjoyable enough.

Moldova Restaurant

Finally there was the mamaliga, which is essentially a Moldovan polenta.  I like polenta, but I wasn’t crazy about this version.  It was pretty tasteless (hence the sour cream and the feta cheese), and the texture was overly thick and gluey.

Country 057 – Kyrgyzstan (Chaihana)


Location
: 1000 Finch Avenue West, North York
Websitehttp://chaihana.ca/

Chaihana is tucked away in a fairly anonymous office building; though there’s a small sign outside, it’s very easy to miss.  My dining companion and I had the entire restaurant to ourselves — outside of the staff, the place was deserted.  It’s pretty much the definition of a hidden gem.

A lot of hole-in-the-wall joints like this can be dingy and unwelcoming, but Chaihana is clean and colourful; they’re definitely trying to attract more than just the grizzled regulars you’d expect in a place like this.

They specialize in the ‘stans: the website mentions Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.  The dish I ordered is actually the national dish of Kyrgyzstan, so that’s a fourth ‘stan to add to the roster.

I ordered beshbarmak, which a pretty simple dish — boiled beef (which is sliced), topped with sauteed onions and served on a bed of very broad noodles.   There’s really not much more going on than that — there’s some green onions, dill, cracked pepper… and that’s about it.  It’s basic, hearty comfort food.

The pasta was a bit mushy and it was incredibly greasy (you know when you’re eating something really greasy, and your lips get grease-slicked with every bite?  Yeah), but it was pretty satisfying.  The tender beef, the noodles and the onions all go quite well together.

It’s served with an equally simple bowl of soup — basically just broth (mutton, according to Google) with a little bit of dill and some green onions for colour.

Chaihana - the beshbarmak Chaihana - the soup

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 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 #020 – Israel (Sid’s Deli)

sids
Location
: 160 McCaul Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.sidsdeli.ca/

I know, I know — I’m cheating.  The type of deli that Sid’s is serving up is an American Jewish phenomenon, without much (if any) connection to Israel.  Sid’s should really fall under the United States on this blog, but since I’ve already covered that country, here we are.

Hey, if you don’t like it, start your own international-cuisine-themed blog.

The fact is, I couldn’t resist writing about this place.  There aren’t many things I enjoy more than a really good smoked meat or pastrami sandwich.  When a new deli opens in the city?  I’m all over that.

Sid’s menu features the usual assortment of deli classics; I went with a pastrami sandwich, and had it with a bowl of matzoh ball soup on the side.

I really wanted to like this — there’s a dearth of really great deli sandwiches in the GTA, and none that I know of in the downtown core (and no, Caplansky’s hasn’t qualified as anything better than okay in quite a stretch).   So I was crossing my fingers for greatness; alas, it wasn’t even good. It was catastrophically overseasoned.  Like, it was kind of insane how overseasoned it was.

The flavour was nothing but black pepper.  You could basically tell that there was a tasty piece of pastrami under there, but it was completely obscured under a deluge of overbearing spice.  You couldn’t take a bite without crunching down on whole peppercorns.  It was unpleasant.

It’s a damn shame, because the pastrami otherwise seems to be right where you want it to be.  I went with the hand-sliced option, which was cut into perfectly thick, yieldingly tender slices of fatty — but not too fatty — beef.  I had a bite or two where the fat was slightly unrendered and tough, however, for the most part it was perfectly cooked.

But this wasn’t pastrami — it was a pepper sandwich with meat.

It came with a small side of coleslaw, which wasn’t much better.  It tasted okay, but it was weirdly mushy.  The soup, at least, was quite good.  Despite my deli love, this was my first taste of matzoh ball soup, and yeah — I can see the appeal.  The matzoh ball essentially performs the same function as crumbling crackers into soup, only far more substantial and satisfying.  Aside from that, it was just an above average chicken soup.  Tasty stuff.

Sid's Deli - the restaurant Sid's Deli - the pastrami