Country 027 – Jordan (Tabule)

: 2009 Yonge Street, Toronto

I recently tried the Winterlicious menu at Tabule; everything was quite tasty, particularly the perfectly cooked salmon kebab, but what I want to talk about is the Knaffa Ashta.

Knaffa (which has various spellings that I’ve found online, including kanafeh or kunafa) is one of those dishes that should really be bigger than it is; it’s seriously delicious.  I actually got to try the real deal while on a trip to Jordan, or at least one variation on it — it changes somewhat depending on where you get it and who’s making it.  The one that I had in Jordan consisted of a layer of soft, white cheese, sandwiched between two cakey layers made of semolina flour, soaked through with a sweet, rosewater-infused syrup.  It was amazing. I know cheese in a dessert sounds odd, but trust me, it was pretty much the best thing ever.

The version they serve at Tabule is a little bit different, with a more coarse, noodley pastry, and ashta — a Middle Eastern pasty cream — instead of the cheese.  It doesn’t quite hit the heights of the one I had in Jordan, but it’s probably one of the better versions of this dish I’ve had in Toronto.  The creamy ashta, in particular, really works well, and the amount of syrup is pretty much perfect — this is an easy dish to make cloying, but the amount of sweetness here was just right.

Tabule - the lemonade Tabule - the hallum salad Tabule - the salmon kebab Tabule - the knaffa ashta


Country 019 – Vietnam (Pho King Fabulous!)

: 2411 Yonge Street, Toronto

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: the name of this restaurant is probably going to make you cringe.  It’s an unfortunate bit of frat-boy humour that belies the legitimately tasty food that can be found inside.

You’d also expect an authentic Vietnamese joint to be a bit more bare-bones in its decor; the best Vietnamese restaurants in the city tend to have an endearingly run-down vibe that’s a bit at odds with the slickly appointed dining room you’ll find here.  Again: don’t judge this book by its cover.

I ordered the Fabulous Beef Noodle Soup, which the menu describes as being filled with a cornucopia of meats: “Rare eye round, well-done flank, soft tendon, tripe, and beef meatballs.”

You have the choice of a medium or large bowl; the medium is absolutely crammed with noodles and meat, so unless you have a particularly voracious appetite, it’ll do.

A bowl of pho like this lives and dies by its broth, and this one has one of the most richly flavourful broths that I’ve tried (but then I’ve had maybe ten bowls of pho in my entire life, so don’t get too impressed).  Kicked up with a couple of spoons of chili sauce and a squeeze of lime, and you’ve got a really satisfying bowl of soup.

The noodles are perfectly cooked and abundant, and the variety of meats gives the dish an appealing mix of flavours and textures: there’s the tender combination of rare and well done beef, the distinctively chewy/crunchy bite of the tripe, the unctuous richness of the almost melt-in-your-mouth tendon, and the hearty meatballs.  There wasn’t a weak link here, which was nice.

Pho King Fabulous - the restaurant Pho King Fabulous - the pho