Rickshaw Bar

A few weeks ago I met up with my friend Lynsey for some gossip and some South/Southeast Asian street food from Rickshaw Bar on Queen Street West.

We met up at 5:30pm only to realize the restaurant did not open until 6:00pm. I understand why the restaurant opens at 6 o’clock, but you would think they would try to capture the immediate after-work-crowd? I guess there isn’t an after-work-crowd in that area?  We loitered outside on Queen Street for half an hour, people and dog watching, and leaning on hipster bikes. We were seated quickly and there was only one other couple who made the same mistake as us. The restaurant filled very quickly, and by about 7 o’clock it was full.

The restaurant is very simple: smooth concrete floors, simple wooden tables, exposed brick walls with traces of graffiti and tagging, a long dark bar running the length of the restaurant and industrial copper pipe lighting. We were seated at the first table of the long row of banquette seating and were ready to enjoy some food. Like many restaurants in Toronto, Rickshaw is a sharing/tapas style restaurant so we were able to sample across the menu.

I have to mention our server. Or servers with an “s” I should say. When we were first seated, Server #1 seemed great. He was engaging, excited about the food and made suggestions on the menu. He was understanding about my allergies and checked with the kitchen regarding preparation and accommodation of this. Ok, great. A great server can be the difference in feeling comfortable, safe and happy while dining out with an allergy, especially when you have a nut allergy at an Asian restaurant. We tried to order various beef-related dishes (Ismaili beef curry, khao shay, Makai curry) but everything with beef is prepared with cashews and therefore is off-limits to me. Server #1 didn’t make this connection that all the beef is prepared together and that this might be an issue. He had to return to the kitchen several times to confirm if beef dishes contained nuts. We tried to order the khao shay which he said might contain nuts and he would check with the kitchen. He asked for a substitute order in case the khao shay contained nuts so we requested the lamb mishkaki. SERVER #1 NEVER CAME BACK. Not to tell us that yes, in fact because the khao shay is prepared with all the other beef and it will have nuts or that because of this, he had put in our alternate order. FINE.

Then Server #2 came to our table and asked if we would like anything else. We said Server #1 was checking on something for us and that we had another order coming. Server #2 offered to check on that for us. Server #2 actually came back and said no, your replacement order was never put in with the kitchen and no, you unfortunately you cannot order anything with beef because all beef is prepared together. From that point on, Server #2 was our server. I don’t know how or why this switch occurred but I am glad it did. He took care of us for the rest of our meal. He brought us the lamb mishkaki and our desserts. I left a larger tip then I normally would because we were abandoned and then saved by Server #2.

Back to the food. To start we had the Scallop Puri.

IMG_5965The Scallop Puri with scallop tartare, spiced puffed rice, cucumber, chili oil and lime.

This is a beautiful and simple dish. I love the bowl it is served on with its low sides and leaf-like shape, transporting you to a South-East Asian jungle, as if you are enjoying street food, roadside on the edge of a dark and mysterious jungle on a giant tropical leaf from the trees contained in the jungle. The puffs of rice are crunchy, light and with a slightly nuttiness from the rice. The scallop tartare is almost non-existent. You get a bite of fishiness, none of the texture or butteriness of scallops and then it is overwhelmed by spicy citrusy notes. I did enjoy this but it will not satisfy scallop or tartare cravings your may have.

Then we had the Pakora Fritters.

IMG_5966The Pakora Fritters with potato, zucchini, onion, apple and green chutney.

These were delicious. They were very similar in texture and taste to the squash fritters at Sabai Sabai. The vegetables were grated into thick strands that were then battered and fried. The coating was crispy, light and not greasy. It didn’t overwhelm the subtle flavours of the potato and zucchini. The natural flavours of the vegetables were able to compliment the batter, and offer the first tastes of summer. The chutney was fruity and played up the bright flavours of the zucchini.

Next we had the Spiced Coconut Chicken.

IMG_5967The Spiced Coconut Chicken with green peas, curry leaves and cilantro.

This was my favourite dish of the night. The broth was creamy and thick from the coconut milk and had a touch of sweetness to it. The sweetness mellowed the spiciness of the dish, which allowed the spices to gradually build and the flavor to slowly intensify. Hidden in the luscious broth were tender pieces of chicken that fell part so easily when grazed by a fork or spoon. Ordering rice on the side allows the broth and chicken come together as more of a cohesive whole on a bed of rice, making it more of an entrée rather than a soup. Don’t order the rice if you want to eat as much as possible and not fill up on plain carbs.

And lastly we had the Lamb mishkaki.

IMG_5968The Lamb Mishkaki with grilled lamb, tamarind, mint chimichurri and naan.

Lamb is one of those meats that I have a difficult relationship with. No, it has nothing to do with ethical reasons (I am a horrible person, I know. Did I mention I love veal?) it is the flavor. I don’t mind the taste, I just always forget what it tastes like. Whenever I have the first bite of something with lamb I think “oh right, that is what lamb tastes like.” But that did not happen this time. This time I LOVED the lamb.

It was tender and soft, and had a lighter flavor to it. The lamb is marinated in yogurt which gives it a bit of sweetness and adds to the tenderness. The chimichurri added a floral brightness to the lamb and the naan was a crispy yet doughy plate for it all to sit on. If you like lamb, you definitely need to order this. And if you are like me and you are not sure if you like lamb, you will like it like this.

Although we were absolutely stuffed, we of course ordered dessert. Lynsey had the crispy milk pastry and I had the coconut panna cotta.

IMG_5969Crispy milk pastry with milk, cardamom, almonds and rose petals and the coconut panna cotta with coconut, pineapple and lime.

The panna cotta was light, milky with hints of tropical fruit. It was absolutely delicious and easily rivals any traditional Italian panna cotta I’ve eaten. Although I was absolutely stuffed this did not push me over the edge.

Our meal at Rickshaw was delicious and I would definitely return. The food is accessible but still different from both your every day cuisine and traditional South East Asian food. It expands your horizon to what street food can be and transport you to the crowded street markets of Asia with every bite.

Happy munching!

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Happy New Year!

Food brings people together. It can create an atmosphere of comfort, viagra nostalgia and family. Food is an essential part of any occasion, look celebration or holiday. This year, for the first time in a long time, I celebrated Chinese New Year.

As a kid, Chinese New Year was always spent ordering take-out from my family’s favourite Chinese restaurant in Newmarket, 4 Seasons. It was not traditional Chinese food by any means but it was as authentic and ethnic as Newmarket used to be back then. 4 Seasons is still some of my favourite comfort food. This food, although greasy and absolutely terrible for us, always brought my family together and is still a staple when someone is returning home after a long time away.

Chinese New Year this year was spent with part of my Toronto family – GC and Cynthia. Cynthia suggested we try to ring in the New Year at Mother’s Dumplings. Unsurprisingly, much of the city had the same idea and the restaurant was packed. Although it is disappointing to arrive at a restaurant and be denied because they are full, there is something that makes me smile to think of a room of people all enjoying and sharing in delicious food.

We wandered down Spadina and found our way into Pho Hung. Yes, we do realize that pho is Vietnamese and not Chinese but it is commonly referred to as Asian New Year and one of Cynthia’s requirements for properly celebrating is having noodles. IMG_5364I had never had pho before. I had avoided Vietnamese food due to their need to sprinkle, dip and fry everything in peanuts (in some form or another). If you have the unfortunate luck like me to have a severe peanut allergy, Pho Hung is a place that you can try Vietnamese food. The menu is clear and explicit about what items feature peanuts and in what capacity. The staff speaks very good, clear English and your allergies and limitations can easily be conveyed. Of course, like all restaurants, there is always the possibility of cross-contamination and traces but as a food lover, this is a risk I take. Note: I am fairly diligent and careful about my allergies but I could definitely but better about it. Unfortunately, I can be cavalier and let my love of food cloud my judgment.

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Blog Crush – Brown Eyed Baker

I have a new blog crush and her name is Brown Eyed Baker. I came across BEB about a year ago when I first made her delicious and ridiculous St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes. Since then, order I have been following her religious, click salivating over her recipes and hoarding them. In the past month, help I have made three of her recipes. I think I can easily say that I am addicted.

First I made her Sesame Chicken.

Photo Credit: Brown Eyed Baker

This was a big milestone for me as a cook because it gave me the opportunity to deep fry for the first time. That’s right: I had never actually deep fried anything because I was absolutely terrified of vats of boiling oil, a valid fear in my opinion. With my trusty thermometer in hand and GC by my side I conquered this fear.

This dish was delicious and has led me to believe that I can make American-style Chinese food at home. The chicken was crispy but not greasy, moist and juicy and smothered in a tangy, sweet sauce that has a slight nuttiness from the sesame oil and seeds. One thing I do need to get better with is making rice. I know, I know. You are probably thinking, “Audrey, you have a food blog. How can you possibly not be able to make rice?” I get impatient and worry about it crusting to the bottom of my pans.

Then I made her Bourbon Slush.

Photo Credit: Brown Eyed Baker

I made this last week for a night in at our friends’ place. This was a citrus, sweet blend that added a nice frosty touch to your traditional cocktail. The bourbon flavor was subtle but present. On a cold winter day this was just the thing to keep us toasty and warm. If you are not a bourbon or hard liquor drinker, you will still enjoy this cocktail. If you have the time and the foresight to plan, you should give this recipe a try.

And lastly, I made her Black Forest Cheesecake.

Holy smokes. This cake is ridiculous, rich, and luscious and everything you could ever want in a cheesecake. I think a little part of me died it was so amazing. It is not a cheesecake for the faint of heart as it is decadent and may induce heart palpitations. This cake should probably only be enjoyed on special occasions and not random Thursday nights.

I loved all three of these recipes and they will definitely be making a regular appearance in my kitchen. I will admit that they are slightly time consuming and may result in your house smelling like the Food Pavilion of the Ex (an actual description of my kitchen by GC after making sesame chicken) but they are worth your time, effort, and calories.

Happy munching!

Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich

Another recipe from Chatelaine, another take on Asian food – Banh Mi sandwiches.

IMG_31361. Banh Mi sandwiches are exploding on the food scene, especially in Toronto. This is a trend I hadn’t tried yet so I decided to make this recipe at home first before trying it out somewhere. Needless to say, after trying this at home, I will be trying it out somewhere in Toronto. If you have a banh mi suggestion, let me know!

2. This recipe is great because part of it can be made before hand. I prepared the sausage on the weekend and cooked them during the week. The sausages were free-formed, making it easier to make them and less disguisting as you don’t have to watch ground meat being squished into a tight casing. This recipe uses the honey garlic sausages – sweet with a touch of warmth.

3. The slaw was easy to make too! Just shredded carrots and various Asian condiment sauces that you let sit for 10 minutes. It is sweet, tart and slightly salty. All topped off with my favourite herb, cilantro! Delicious! The richness of the sausage pairs perfectly with the sweet tartness of the slaw. The cilantro adds a hint of citrus, rounding out the flavours of the sandwich.

The recipe for the sausages (and all adaptations) can be found here and the recipe for the banh mi sandwich can be found here. The sausages even taste great the next morning fried up with some eggs/

Happy munching!

Hong Kong Coconut Curry Chicken

This week found me using curry in everything. I started off the week by making Chatelain’s Hong Kong Coconut Curry Chicken.

1. Did I mention that I used to hate curry? I assumed curry was always hot and spicy. There are a number of different curries ranging in heat, colour and flavour. Curry powder, which can be found in most people’s homes is subtle in flavour but adds warm flavour and colour to any meal. I used your standard spice rack curry powder and in person this was much more golden and yellow.

2. This dish has so much flavour – from the curry, the cilantro, to the various vegetables (carrot, peas, onion, potato) and the chicken. The vegetables and chicken become moist and tender, filled with the rich, warmth of the curry. My new favourite thing is coconut milk – it makes such a thick and creamy sauce but isn’t nearly as fatty sauce (I am pretending that I care about these sorts of things when I clearly don’t).

3. I wasn’t paying attention when I bought my chicken thighs – I bought bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs rather than boneless, skinless chicken thighs. They obviously still had the deep, moist flavour from dark meat but took slightly longer to cook. Make sure the chicken thighs you select are thin in order to cook all the way through.

4. All of this deliciousness piled on top of rice. I’m in heaven.

5. When you refrigerate these leftovers, the sauce will slightly congeal because of the fat from the chicken in the sauce. The vegetables become slightly soggy and mushy from sitting in the sauce for too long. This is a dish best eaten in one sitting.

This dish is probably offensive for people who make and eat really Indian/Asian food but I thought it was pretty good. I don’t get to eat a lot of curry/Indian food in general because they slip nuts into their sauces as thickening agents. This was a good substitute for us at home and I would suggest you give it a try.

Recipe is below the cut and happy munching!

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