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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Soup: Round Up III

As we enter April the weather is slowly warming up which means that our soup days are numbered. This summer I vow to try chilled soups but until then, here is a few warm soups I made in March.

IMG_55611. Steak and Potato Soup – January 26 – this soup is a thick, luscious stew. The vegetables are roasted and sweet, coated in caramelization. It takes your typical beef stew to another level with sophsticated and different vegetables: sweet potatoes and parsnips. The steak is moist and falls apart in the stew. This will definitely make a regular appearance in our house next winter.

2. Cream of Asparagus Soup – March 2 – this soup tastes like pure spring. Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables and I wait all year for it. It is so fresh, tender and moist. The soup is creamy, light and fresh. It needs to be puréed a lot to remove all the natural stringiness that asparagus has. Add a dollop of sour cream and fresh chives to add even more freshness and you are kicking off spring!

3. Moroccan Lamb Meatball and Couscous Soup – March 22 – I was so excited for this soup. The picture in the cookbook was so appealing: spicy meatballs, a red broth, pearls of couscous dotting the soup and pieces of mint floating on the surface. However, mine did not turn out like this. It turned into a congealed blob of couscous with meatballs stuck in it. I used Moroccan couscous because I couldn’t find Israeli and this made a huge difference. Moroccan couscous is smaller and is sucked up so much broth. i couldn’t find ground lamb so I used ground chicken. This recipe was a mismatch of substitution. GC didn’t mind it though and I guess if at least one person enjoyed and ate all the soup then it couldn’t have been that bad.

Recipes are below the cut – happy munching!

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St. Patrick’s Day 2014

St. Patrick’s Day is not my favourite holiday but it is one I seem to celebrate every year. I wear green, I paint my nails green and gold and of course, I bake and cook.

This year, I busted out Brown Eyed Baker’s Irish Car Bomb recipe again because it is perfect and totally lovely. Between juggling my purse, lunch and a massive container of cupcakes, trying to hold on to the subway pole and not making eye contact with people so they don’t ask for treats, I narrowly made it to work without a smushed or dented cupcake. Phew. I think it was worth it as all the cupcakes were munched and not a trace remained.

For lunch I made Irish Lamb Stew (from Williams-Sonoma Soup of the Day – March 17). Giancarlo and I made this stew together and it was the first thing we truly made together – cue your awwwws.

IMG_5587This stew was amazing. It has a huge depth of flavour and texture. Because the ingredients are layered, the bottom layer of potatoes and onion complete dissolve and create a thick, flavourful base for the stew. The top layer of potatoes and onion maintain their shape and texture creating distinguishable chunks of deliciousness. The lamb is chewy, moist and tender.The thyme permeates the entire soup and gives it this rich, intense flavour. Yummmm.

This stew will become a staple for St. Patrick’s Day in our house. It is a few days late but you should make it anyway!

Recipe is below the cut and happy munching!

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Museum Tavern

Tonight I met up with Cynthia and we checked out the new Museum Tavern across from the Royal Ontario Museum on Bloor Street.

Museum Tavern has a great patio that overlooks Bloor St  with bistro chairs and tables. The only downside on being located on a busy street is that the tables were covered in a fine layer of street dust – the joys of al fresco dining. The interior was gorgeous and I am definitely going to sit inside next time. It has a tin copper ceilings and cozy bistro tables. The bar was packed as we left at 7:30 which speaks volumes for a place on a Tuesday night. The crowd was young professionals but there was a table with this old man and his two sons that looked identical but with different coloured hair – a ginger and a brunette. Adorable.

We started off with food and then moved on to drinks. We are professional, working girls!

Cynthia ordered the Pulled Lamb Torpedo.

Pulled Lamb with harrisa, goat’s cheese, green olives and arugula pesto. Here’s what Cynthia thoughts of her sandwich: “The sandwich was definitely very tasty. There was a good amount of goat cheese. Sometimes they don’t put enough for you to taste, sometimes it is too strong that it overwhelms everything else. I can’t comment on the pesto by itself but it went well with the lamb. I don’t usually like arugula. The lamb was tender and well seasoned. The coleslaw was interesting and unique – not sure how I felt about it. My only complaint was it was too salty. I would take it down a notch. And the olives didn’t help with the saltiness. I would have done without them.”

I’m going to have to bring this foodie out more often! Thanks, Cynthia!

I ordered the Lobster Rolls.

Lobster rolls with mayo, chives and double smoked bacon. This is not the best lobster roll I have had. The mayo was used sparingly which is always a good sign. There was the light hint of citrus from lemon but I wish I had been given a wedge of lemon to give it a squeeze more. The chives were fresh but the lettuce was not as crunchy and fresh as I would have liked. The bacon was too crispy and I don’t think the smokiness worked with the creaminess of the lobster. The bun was a little too tough and the lobster did not penetrate deep enough into the bun. It was delightfully toasted though. It was good and considering the price of other lobster rolls it was not a bad price – $18/two rolls. And really, a lobster roll or two is always a good bet.

Once our bellies were full, we each ordered a cocktail,

Cynthia ordered the Apricot Bourbon Sour.

Maker’s Mark bourbon, lime, black pepper-apricot syrup, decanter bitters and egg white. This had a sharp booze taste which was highlighted by the apricot syrup. I couldn’t taste the lime or the hint of heat that should have come from the black pepper. I always feared cocktails with egg white but we didn’t die so that fear has been conquered!

I ordered the Watermelon Collins.

Bombay Sapphire Gin, watermelon, basil, lemon and pink pepper-aloe syrup. This was amazing! The watermelon and basil work in tandem together to excite every taste bud in your mouth. The gin is the perfect alcohol to bring out the fruity tones of the cocktail. Bombay is made using other herbs so it is a natural choice for this cocktail.

I would definitely suggest you check out this place – a combination between an old boys’ club and lounge with high quality food and drink. A great addition to the neighbourhood.

Good atmosphere,great food, fantastic cocktails and of course, amazing company. Another successful food experience with one of my favourite people.

Happy munching!

Greek Tacos

On Saturday, I made Greek tacos from Food Network’s Sandwich King for lunch. Just a little bit about this show – Sandwich King is a new show hosted by Jeff Mauro, who won Season 7 of “Food Network Star.” When I first saw this show, I wasn’t a fan. Mauro reminded me of a frat boy and everything he said seemed to resemble, “Dude, bro. Let me make you a sandwich.” (There is a voice that accompanies that sentence and some hand gestures as well). But the more episodes I watched, the more I liked it. The show is more than just sandwiches – he goes to restaurants, delis and bakeries in Chicago, teaches you about high quality ingredients, historic Chicago restos and the dishes that inspire his sandwiches.

I was watching an episode on Friday at lunch and he did his own take on traditional Greek gyros. Obviously we can’t have gyro spits in our kitchens but that shouldn’t stop us from having gyros at home.

Three simple steps to make a delicious sandwich/pita/gyro/taco.

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