Author Archives: M-Y

Little Sheep – hotpot heaven on a chilly night

Continuing with the soup theme this Fall… hotpot party!

On our recent trip to China, we were completely impressed with the Little Sheep restaurant in Beijing. The service was cheerful, the food was fresh, and, most importantly, the broth was amazing. When we learned that Little Sheep had branches in Canada, we were super excited.

When the craving hit, we called some friends, eagerly piled into the car, and headed to Little Sheep Mongolian Hotpot out in the suburbs. Hotpot is a style of soup fondue popular across Asia (in fact, I’ve heard that in Quebec and parts of Europe, a broth fondue is called “Fondue Chinoise”). Different regions have their own specialty ingredients, flavorings and styles. Variations include nabe (in Japan), shabu-shabu (in Taiwan and Japan), or jjigae ( in Korea).

A communal meal often eaten in the winter, hotpot starts with a simmering pot of broth placed at the center of the table. Ingredients are put into the pot, cooked at the table, and eaten immediately. Popular ingredients include thinly sliced meats, leafy veggies (such as bok choy, spinach, or lettuce), mushrooms, meat balls, root vegetables (like sweet potato and taro), seafood, tofu, dumplings and noodles. There are also a wide array of dipping sauces and herbs – my favorites include black vinegar and soy sauce, or hoisin sauce with cilantro.

When we entered the Toronto restaurant, the smell immediately made our mouths water. The all-you-can-eat menu started with a choice of broth, all made with Little Sheep’s secret soup base. The basic broth came with garlic, lotus seeds, red dates, ginger, green onion, and nutmeg bobbing on the surface. The spicy variation came with a good handful of firey Szechwan pepper, while the herbal version was lightly scented with ginsing and goji berry. For the indecisive (like myself), the divided pot allows for a choice of two types of broth. Little sheep also has family sized pots or individual pots, to suit your mood for sharing (or not). The induction hot plates built into the table surface let diners self-adjust the simmer intensity.

The great thing about Little Sheep is that it features a food bar, which reduces the hassle of flagging down busy wait staff. The open refrigerators displayed rows and rows of raw ingredients, which were fresh, clean, and also refilled frequently. There was also a small selection of slightly greasy appetizers, bowls of yummy sauces, and a handful of fruit and dessert items. Fountain drinks were also included, with both sour plum juice and traditional soy milk soothing accompaniments to the spicy hotpot.

By the time we strolled back to the car, stuffed to the brim, we decided that it was definitely worth the drive and the 45min wait for a table. Although the food was slightly saltier than expected, the lingering smell of Little Sheep’s secret soup base brought back fond memories of Beijing.

2543 Warden Ave. 416-916-9866.

Guu – a short whirlwind trip to a Tokyo bar

I’ve been hearing great things about Guu, so I was excited to finally try it out! Guu is a casual Izakaya (Japanese pub) newly opened in Toronto, known for it’s lively atmosphere and unique Izakaya food. In short, perfect for a Friday night!

Notorious for lengthy wait lists for a table, we arrived right after work and enjoyed some drinks on their heated patio. After about an hour, we were seated at a long table with benches, rubbing elbows with other groups enjoying good food washed down with mugs of beer.

The menu features small share plates (tapas style) of Japanese nibbles. Starting with orders of yakitori, we soon moved onto other more adventurous dishes. Salmon and tuna sashimi came lightly seared in a tangy citrus sauce. Creamy baked avocado and shrimp melted on the tongue (with just a touch too much mayonnaise.) Other must-haves include the eggplant, unagi rice, pork belly, and pumpkin croquette.

Along with Japanese beer, sake, and wine, Guu’s signature cocktails are a delightful way to re-live late nights at a Tokyo kareoke bar. Vodka sodas, and cocktails of lychee, sour plum, and sugar cane, are sweet but typically watery – pro: you can drink twice as much while enjoying the frenetic atmosphere.

Guu has a loudly bouyant energy that makes it difficult to hold onto the stresses of the work week. From the moment we stepped through the door, service was fast, efficient, and most of all, cheerful. Wearing traditional Japanese work garb, the staff take the spirit of “genki” to new heights – deftly delivering orders, and yelling greetings to each customer as they arrive or depart.

We could have stayed all evening, but did I mention that they hold customers to a 2 hour sitting time? Nevertheless, we rolled out of Guu well-fed, well-watered, and slightly heady from the experience.

398 Church Street
According to their website, they also have several pubs in BC.

In this picture – tuna sashimi, eggplant in garlicy miso sauce, sapporo beer, and sugar cane cocktail.

Dolsot Bibimbap – better than the sum of its parts

Korean Mixed Rice in a Hot Stone Bowl

Sometimes, you just feel like savouring a big bowl of something warm, spicy, creamy, and deliciously chewy. It’s like comfort food, with more kick. Dolsot Bibimbap is one of the tastiest dishes in Korean cuisine, and one of the most well known. If fact, when we were in Korea, my sister and I specifically tracked down a restaurant famous for this dish (and let me say, it didn’t dissappoint!:)

When the craving hits in Toronto, we often go to Korean Village Han Kuk Kwan (628 Bloor W). After some yummy side dishes, and a bowl of miso soup, the bibimbap arrives at the table sizzling, aromatic, and prettily presented – a feast for the eyes, nose, and ears. A hot stone bowl, lightly greased with sesame oil, holds warm rice topped with an array of seasoned vegetables and meat – slivers of zucchini, carrots, daikon, and shitake mushrooms, and tangles of bean sprouts and spinach, with tender stirfried beef. Balanced on top is a fried egg, sunny-side-up, garnished with sesame seeds and a few straws of nori (seaweed). All of this is accompanied with a side of red chili sauce.

Bibimbap is meant to be mixed, so it is inevitable that this prettily displayed dish ends up as a homogenous mass. Yet, it somehow tastes best this way – the rice develops a crispy stickiness, the egg melts and disappears, and everything merges together into something indescribably delicious.

Mixing a bowl of bibimbap can be quite an art… a steady, constant motion is required to ensure that each grain of rice gets enough contact with the hot stone, while at the same time ensuring that nothing rests in place too long to burn or stick. I like to start with a squirt of red chili paste, then using the spoon, I roughly chop up the egg making sure that the egg yolk breaks. Then I start scooping down the side, along the bottom, and up the middle – turning the rice and everything on top at once. Once in while, I use the back of the spoon to pat down the mixture, ensuring contact with the stone, and an even distribution of all the ingredients. Not sure if this is the way it’s supposed to be done, but i’m always happy with the result.

Tokyo Grill (Toronto Restaurant)

The BEST Casual Japanese Food Joint in Downtown

A couple of Japanese exchange students clued us into this tiny unassuming restaurant on a busy section of Yonge Street. It’s specialty is authentic casual Japanese fare – I’m told it’s the type of food families eat around the dinner table, or at the local izakaya (pub). It’s actually run by Japanese folks, and the small tables are usually packed with groups of Asian students looking for quality cheap eats.

A warning to the uninitiated – there is no sushi here. Many unsuspecting customers who equate Japanese food with sushi have left disappointed. For those looking for something other than the old california roll, tempura, and miso soup combo, Tokyo Grill is something special.

The appetizers are simple. Edamame, grilled fish, and japanese pickles are good starters if you’re hungry, but the mains arrive equally fast.

A selection of ramen bowls, donburi, and grilled foods dominate the menu. If you can’t decide, the specials board offers great suggestions, and all featured meals come with complementary miso soup (incidently, one of the best miso soups we’ve had this side of the Pacific).

The croquette dinner is a favorite – two panko encrusted crispy potato patties served with rice and salad and sauce. The terriyaki dishes are popular, and also come with pan-grilled vegetables. Salmon is usually a great choice.

The sukiyaki is perfect in the winter months, with a soul-warming sweet broth chocked-full of thin-sliced beef, tofu, Japanese spinach, bean sprouts and onions. Ask for an extra bowl of rice, and there’s enough for two.

And on the last Saturday of the month, Tokyo Grill serves up freshly made soba noodles by the platter. It surprised me how different fresh soba tastes compared to the store-bought dried variety – not quite the same difference between fresh and dried Italian pasta.

This visit, I opted for the chicken kastu – deep-fried breaded chicken fillet served with salad, rice, and tangy tonkatsu sauce. The chicken was moist, but not greasy. The salad was simple, with a citrus-y dressing. Just non-pretentious, wholesome food

582 Yonge Street (at Wellesley)

Kenzo Ramen-ya (Toronto Restaurant)

In our ongoing search for authentic casual Japanese food, good ramen has always been surprisingly elusive. Then GD and I discovered Kenzo Ramen (Dundas and Bay, http://www.kenzoramen.ca/) and one chilly night, we decided steaming bowls of noodle soup would be the ideal late-night snack. Boy, were we glad we made the trek to Kenzo.

The restaurant is small, and decorated with Japanese elements. It was packed, but after about a 10 min wait, we were seated in a cozy corner table. The short menu offers traditional ramen from different regions in Japan (brought back memories of the tasting menu at the ramen museum in Yokohama), and a selection of “sides” (basically, additional popular Japanese foods like gyoza). We ordered the tonkotsu ramen and the netsu ramen. And just because they had it, we also had an order of takoyaki

The big bowls of ramen were heart-warming, and the broth was layered with great flavours. Definitely the best we’ve had in Toronto. The takoyaki was so-so, more of a novelty than anything else. Everything was nicely presented in Japanese style, especially for a casual food joint. The takoyaki came in collapsible bamboo bowl. The beer came with a small dish of wasabi beans. All in all, we’ll definitely go back when the craving hits again.