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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Bar Fancy

I first went to Bar Fancy back in March with Cynthia. We were looking for a place to grab a drink and have a much needed catch-up session. We had heard that Bar Fancy had amazing fried chicken and what better and more appropriate way to spend a girls’ night then to eat fried chicken and drink beer?

IMG_3518 IMG_3522Bar Fancy is on Queen Street and is very easy to miss. Despite having huge glass windows the view is obscured by hanging plants in macramé baskets that your Nonna would have. You have to go down a long sketchy alleyway that is only lit by a badass neon tiger overhead. The inside of the bar is nothing special: dimly lit, store cozy tables and simple décor allowing the food to be the focus of the menu.

We ordered a plate of fried chicken. If you visit the restaurant between 5-7pm each night, order you can get fried chicken for $2.00 apiece. This is an amazing deal because typically the chicken is $18.00 for 4 pieces.

IMG_3521The chicken is presented very simply: on a Frisbee with a wedge of lime. There are no pretenses about the chicken or trying to make it into something it clearly is not. The pieces are huge; 2 pieces is enough for a snack but why would you want to limit yourself to only 2 pieces of this deliciousness? The chicken is meaty, buy tender, and a little greasy without soaking your face. The batter is crunchy and you can bite into the chicken without removing all the skin with one bite. The batter is slightly spicy, enough to give you the taste of the spice but without lighting your tongue on fire and is salty without forcing you to drink 6 liters of water. It is the best fried chicken I’ve eaten.

We enjoyed our fried chicken with the spicy Thai salad. This is salad works well with the chicken. The heat and freshness of the salad help offset the heaviness of eating fried chicken. And it is spicy. By the end of the salad my mouth was on fire and seeking comfort at the bottom of my pint glass.

We have since been back to have more fried chicken but this time with a side of their tar-tare. Neither Cynthia nor I loved their tar-tare, and that’s not surprising. The tar-tare is on the menu for $10.00 which speaks to the quality of meat that would have to be used. The interesting thing is that they serve the tar-tare with an Asian flair – using sesame seeds and seaweed which add nuttiness and umami flavours to the dish.

I will go back to Bar Fancy again and again for their fried chicken and maybe even outside the hours of 5-7 pm because it’s that good that I’m willing to pay full price.

Happy munching!

Happy Birthday GC!!!!

Happy, happy birthday to my best friend in the world, GC! Ok, so his birthday was July 3rd and that is when we did celebrate, I am just slightly delayed on the internet celebrations.

My struggle with birthday dinners as someone who loves food is picking a place out of the ordinary, but still with the food and style that I like and with a price tag that shows whoever I am taking out that I love them. Yes, money buys love especially when it is buying fancy food. This year’s restaurant that satisfied all of these requirements: Farmer’s Daughter.

Farmer’s Daughter is latest addition to the Farmhouse Tavern family. As the name suggests, it is more modern, focusing on seafood and is less Ontario-centric. The menus are still seasonal and fresh, but not geographically limited. I absolutely love Farmhouse Tavern (I credit it to having my favourite brunch in the city) so I was eager to try it and so was GC!

We were first seated on the patio but as this summer has been unseasonably cold we moved inside to stay nice and toasty as we enjoyed our meal. The inside is sleek, modern and very simple. My favourite touches: the neon “Fried Shrimp & Friendship” sign, the various food related books on each table and the white board-style bar menu.

Throughout the course of our meal, we each tried two cocktails. I ordered the Tell Tale Heart and the Bruce Banner. GC ordered the Old Cuban and the Summer Sangria.

CocktailsTop left, clockwise: the Tell Tale Heart, the Old Cuban, the Summer Sangria and the Bruce Banner.

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Small Town Food Co.

Last week we enjoyed a date night with Al and Jamie at Small Town Food Co., a new snack bar in Parkdale. The restaurant is small and narrow, with a very modern, minimal vibe to it. We were seated at a table near the back close to the bar – a great spot to watch the bartenders create their cocktails.

We each enjoyed a few cocktails. I ordered the Basil Smash and the Vintage ’84. The Basil Smash had Dillon’s Rose Gin, basil, and lemon. This drink was fresh, light and a taste of summer. The basil was pounded to a pulp, releasing all it’s juices and aroma. I am planning on growing basil this summer and will be looking for cocktails featuring it all summer long. It featured Dillon’s gin which is distilled in the Niagara area, a new find which I have tried in two cocktails this spring and can’t wait to try more of. I plan to visit the distillery soon – who’s in?

The Vintage ’84 had Tanqueray gin, cucumber, mint, sugar, and fresh lime. This was very similar to a cocktail I made the other day however, I prefered mine. As the only liquid in the cocktail is the gin, the cocktail was very creamy and thick, instead of fresh and light like I had hoped.

We ordered snacks to share. The server advised that you should order 2-3 plates per person and share, tapas style. The plates are too small to share between a group of four and feel full and satisfied and the bill will quickly add up.

We ordered four items off the meat section of the menu: the Duck Pogo, the Scotch Egg, Tartare of Deer and the Honey BBQ Pork Ribs. The Duck Pogo had minced duck, and honey dijon. The breading was crispy, and light. The duck was nothing special, it didn’t have the distinct, heavy duck taste to it. The honey dijon sauce was delicious but how could it not be – it was sweet, and spicy and the perfect compliment to deep fried duck.

The Scotch Egg with pork rillettes, a soft egg, and hot sauce.

Scotch EggPhoto credit: Toronto Life

If you have never had a Scotch egg I suggest you try one. Traditionally it is a hard boiled egg that is deep fried. The Scotch egg at Small Town Food Co. is a soft boiled egg encrusted with a salty, fatty casing and then dipped in a slightly sweet, but spicy hot sauce. I would like to enjoy one of these each morning with a cup of tea. This was the perfect first introduction to the Scotch egg and I will definitely be enjoying more in the future.

The Tartare of Deer had hand-cut tenderloin, a quail yolk, and was served with crustini. I love tartare and will almost always order it if I am in a legit restaurant, with a talented kitchen where I know I won’t die from poor quality meat. The fact that I have never had deer was an added bonus. This tartare was good but missed the zing from the capers and had none of the gamey-quality associated with deer. It was ok, but not a hit.

The Honey BBQ Pork Ribs came with potato salad, and double smoked bacon. In retrospect, it was foolish to order ribs with the intention of sharing them. It was a half rack of ribs that we attempted to share between 4 people. We were not given a proper knife to cut the ribs but luckily they were fall off the bone. They were sweet with a bit of tang and were juicy. The potato salad was good and the double smoked bacon was a welcomed addition to your traditional mayo-based salad. I would recommend these ribs but not for sharing and definitely not for the price: $21 for a half rack of ribs? No, thank you.

We ordered three items from the seafood section of the menu: the Oysters Rockefeller, the Scallop Ceviche and the Fish and Chips. The Oysters Rockefeller had grano padano, and spinach. If you love seafood but hate how slimey it can be, then oysters Rockefeller should become your new best friend. As an oyster lover myself, I was excited to try these as I’ve only enjoyed oysters raw. These are everything you want your seafood to be. The oysters are fishy but fresh, with a saltiness that reminds you of the ocean. The cheese and spinach work together to create a cheesy, wilted, salty topping that slides down perfectly with the oyster. You are transported back in time when eating these. You feel like you are in the 1960’s, enjoying martinis at lunch with Don Draper. This is a feeling I love and would want to feel again and again.

The Scallop Ceviche had charred lime and crispy shallots. Scallops are easily and with out a doubt my favourite seafood. Ceviche is the seafood form of tartare (loosely obviously) so of course I was down to try something that combined two of my favourite foods. The scallops were thinly sliced but you could still feel that fleshy texture with each bite. The scallops stood in contrast to the scallops, being a crispy and salty texture that was necessary to round out the dish. The lime gave the entire dish the necessary element to make it a ceviche and offered a citrus, refreshing flavour. Yum.

The Fish and Chips was panko crusted rare albacore tuna, edamame pureé, and tartar sauce. Fish and ChipsThis is obviously the most creative and interesting form of fish and chips any of us had ever had. The tuna was crusted and lightly seared, leaving the center fleshy and pink. The edamame pureé and tartar sauce were a combination of sweet and salty and were a great compliment to the tuna.

We finished off the evening with an order of Bread Pudding topped with bananas. This was not the best bread pudding I have ever had. The chunks of bread were a little tough instead of being moist and soft. The bananas however, were amazing. They were caramelized and sweet and should top everything.

We liked this place, but we didn’t love it. It is overpriced and unsubstantial. I understand the entire basis of this restaurant is bringing farm-fresh local ingredients to the city but at what price tag? Nothing we ordered was seasonal or from a specific local farm, a trend that has become a standard in Toronto restaurants. The prospect of an interesting, successful restaurant is there but under the wrong guise. This is more of an overpriced snack bar rather than a tapas-style sharing restaurant. I would suggest going for one drink and one plate. Out of everything we tried I would suggest the fish and chips and the ceviche.

Happy munching!