While Toronto has a truly multicultural selection of cuisines to choose from, certain cuisines definitely tend to dominate. As a result, it’s extra exciting discovering delicious non-trendy food. We were eager to try Aragvi, which specializes in food from Georgia (the country, not the state – those expecting peach pie will be sorely disappointed). Not knowing anything about Georgian cuisine, we were pleasantly surprised at how familiar and tasty the dishes were.

Adjarian Khachapuri 10
What drew us to Aragvi in the first place were their variations of bread – the khachapuri.  The boat-shaped Adjarian khachapuri was our unanimous favourite, filled with molten cheese, butter, and topped with a runny egg.  We loved this chewy bread so much we got a second order, and even recreated it at home!

Kubdari Khachapuri 10
The other khachapuri we tried was the Kubdari, which had a more pastry-like consistency. It was stuffed with chicken and onions, similar to a flat meat pie. While tasty, it was not quite as unique as the Adjarian.

Satsivi 12
From the cold appetizer section, we ordered the satsivi, a creamy chicken dish that was surprisingly dairy-free. The deliciously rich sauce was made from pureed walnuts, and went very well with the bread. As a proponent of “easy meat”, I really appreciated that the large tender pieces of chicken had no tendons or skin included, and was not dry or stringy.

Kyufta-Bozbash 7.5
As I love soup, I was excited to try the Azerbaijan lamb meatball soup with chickpeas, rice, and potatoes. We found this milder soup bland compared to the other more strongly flavoured dishes and was pretty forgettable overall.

Kharcho 7
The second soup we tried was the Kharcho, a tomato-based veal soup with garlic and rice. This soup was not bland at all, being almost overwhelmingly sour from the tomatoes.

Khinkali 7.5
Next up, we tried the Khinkali, the Georgian dumpling. We were a little skeptical upon seeing them, as they looked like heavier versions of the delicate soup dumplings we are used to. Fortunately, appearances were deceiving, and the light skin wrapped around well-seasoned meat made these enjoyable bites. Apparently, the tops of these dumplings are not meant to be eaten, but we devoured them too quickly to realize.

Chakhokbili 12
Moving onto the entrees, we ordered the Chakhokhbili, a tomato-based chicken stew. Unlike the Kharcho, our other tomato-based dish of the night, it was not sour at all, with the tomatoes only providing a pleasant tang. We enjoyed this dish so much, every last bit of the garlicky sauce was mopped up.

Kupati 12
Most of their grilled entree options were kabobs, but we wanted to try dishes that were more unique to Georgian cuisine, and decided on the Kupati, helped along by our love of sausages. The pork-and-lamb sausages were grilled to perfection, with a pleasantly springy texture, and well-seasoned. We thoroughly enjoyed the sausages, as well as the crispy potatoes served alongside with spiced ketchup. The side salad, composed of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions, was a refreshing accompaniment to the heavier sausages and potatoes.

Tarhun 3.75
Continuing our theme of trying unfamiliar items, we hastily Googled the beverages we did not recognize. The Borjomi and Nabeghlavi turned out to be bottled mineral waters, so we ordered the Tarhun. As tarkhuna is tarragon in Georgian, Tarhun is unsurprisingly tarragon flavoured. The fizzy drink was very very green, but had a mild, pleasant flavour.

Aragvi’s tiny purple themed dining room is quite fancy, and feels like a compressed banquet hall – contrasting from its harsh suburban strip mall exterior. The pleasant staff and interesting foods are worth trying, but remember to make a reservation!

Last visited Saturday Evening, January 18, 2014.
Aragvi Georgian Restaurant
832 Sheppard Ave W, Toronto

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La Bamboche

Last year for Macaron Day TO, I trekked across half the city in an effort to sample macarons from different bakeries. Because I had to wait until school ended for the day to go, most places had run out of macarons (both free and otherwise) entirely. I did manage to snag some fantastic macarons from La Bamboche, and their friendly customer service had me determined to return. So, when Macaron Day rolled around again this year, I set off once more and bought a selection from La Bamboche back to NETO HQ to sample. Unfortunately some of my favourite flavours, such as hazelnut praline, and pistachio, were sold out by the time I got to the shop. Regardless, here are our Macaron Day 2014 findings!

La Bamboche Nori Wasabi Macaron
Their sampler this year was a seaweed macaron with a wasabi white chocolate ganache. While it was an interesting and well-balanced flavour combination, I think I would still prefer having wasabi with sushi only. For other brave souls interested in trying out this flavour combination, Kekou Gelato in Baldwin Village occasionally serves up a wasabi-dark chocolate gelato.

La Bamboche Caramel Sea Salt Macaron
As seen here, La Bamboche is quite generous with their butter-cream filling. Bits of toffee added texture to the otherwise smooth filling, while the mild sea salt balanced out the sweetness of the caramel. I really enjoyed this macaron, especially as their caramel was not overly sweet.

La Bamboche Espresso Macaron
This was our favourite of the bunch, and perfect for coffee lovers with its strong, smooth, espresso flavour. Q appreciated it even more, as she usually passes out very quickly after having any caffeine, but miraculously stayed awake this time!

La Bamboche
Yuzu Macaron
After I took my first bite, Q laughed at the face I made until she tried a bite herself – the yuzu flavour was unexpectedly prominent. This macaron is definitely more suited for those who prefer extremely strong, sour citrus flavours.

La Bamboche Raspberry Rose Macaron
The rose flavoured shell on its own was only mildly fragrant, but when combined with the generous amount of chocolate raspberry rose filling, Q and I agreed that it felt like a perfume bomb had exploded in our mouths, leaving a taste reminiscent of chocolaty soap.

La Bamboche Hazelnut Yuzu Macaron & Chocolate Macaron
We both enjoyed the chocolate macaron, the filling rich without being overly sweet, but Q felt that it couldn’t quite compare to SOMA’s chocolate creations. Although I enjoyed the hazelnut yuzu macaron, (Q did not enjoy the addition of yuzu marmalade inside), I would definitely pick their hazelnut praline from last year’s collection over this.

Overall, La Bamboche has some excellent macarons and interesting flavours. We’ll be back to try out more of their creations!

Last Visited Thursday Afternoon, March 20, 2014.
La Bamboche
1712 Avenue Rd, Toronto

La Bamboche on Urbanspoon

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Café Boulud

Although a bit wary of celebrity chef outposts, we went to Cafe Boulud on a wintry Tuesday evening to celebrate R’s birthday. As it coincided with Winterlicious, diners were drawn out of hibernation and a crowd soon formed in the waiting area. We were finally seated forty five minutes past our reservation time.

Cafe Boulud
Shrimp and Roe Amuse Bouche
Our meal began with a complementary bread basket and pat of butter. While breaking into the slices of sourdough, rye, and salt topped brioche, an amuse bouche was presented to us. We enjoyed the simple dish of shrimp crackers topped with a horseradish crème fraîche and crowned with roe, and were amused at its similarity in taste and texture to shrimp chips.

Cafe Boulud
Venison Pâté
For appetizers, we opted to try items from both the Winterlicious and regular menu. We started with the venison pâté, a slice of venison terrine accompanied by tiny cubes of gin jelly, daikon, and pickled juniper berries. The terrine went well with the toasted bread served alongside, but was not particularly memorable.

Cafe Boulud
Albacore Tuna
The seared albacore tuna consisted of three thick slices of tuna on a bed of iceberg lettuce, topped with a citrus confit, olive oil, and aioli. The bitter blood orange complemented the flavour of the rich tuna, and combined with the fresh lettuce into a tasty salad. However, we found the slices of tuna to be much softer than the sashimi-style tuna we are more accustomed to eating.

Cafe Boulud
Crispy Duck Egg 18
Originally, I was eager to try the smoked haddock chowder appetizer listed on the Winterlicious site. Sadly, the chowder was replaced with a lentil dal on the menu presented to us. We decided to try the crispy duck egg from Café Boulud’s regular menu in its place. The fried duck egg arrived with it’s top neatly sliced off to reveal a perfectly soft boiled yolk, which combined perfectly with the button mushrooms, onions, parsley, and cubes of bacon it rested upon.

Cafe Boulud
Celeriac Agnolotti
At this point it was getting late in the night, and whether as an apology for the initial wait, from using a camera, or from having abundant stock, we were presented with a small serving of celeriac agnolotti as a gift from the chef. The celery-topped apple and celeriac ravioli basted in brown butter were a delicious surprise, even winning over R, who typically equates celery with misery.

Cafe Boulud
Roasted Lamb Shoulder
For the main course, we both opted for the roasted lamb shoulder. Topped with an adorable slice of thumbelina carrot, the lamb was tender and not gamey at all. While the lamb was excellently prepared, my favourite part of the dish was the slice of pommes boulanger – thin slices of potato baked with layers of caramelized onions, like a cheese-less gratin.

Cafe Boulud
Caramelized Pear Sundae
While everything had been delicious so far, the highlight of the meal was definitely the desserts. R went for the caramelized pear sundae, which consisted of a caramelized pear topped with an excellent calvados ice cream, caramel sauce, an anise tuille, and studded with pine nuts and cubes of pound cake. I found the sundae to be on the sweeter side, but R felt this dessert was an euphoric experience (R: “AMBROSIAL and HEAVENLY and GLORIOUS”), and has been dying to have another since.

Cafe Boulud
Chocolate Gateaux
The chocolate gateaux was served with a scoop of pecan bourbon ice cream anchored by some chocolate crumbs. The cake itself was a chocolate crèmeux layered with feuilletine, topped with a sliver of praline and candied nuts. The plate was completed with a crushed hazelnut meringue and a stroke of chocolate syrup. As much as I crave for classic chocolate layer cakes (blame Matilda), the different textures and flavours enhanced the cake significantly, elevating the dessert beyond what can be easily created at home.

Overall, the food and service were great, despite the initial wait. However the beige decor, uncreative dishes, and “interesting” service places Café Boulud a step below the fine dining greats such as Auberge du Pommier, and Splendido (in its original form). Regardless, I would definitely return to Cafe Boulud for the desserts, as well as to try their Digby Scallops dish.

Last visited Tuesday Evening, February 4, 2014.
Café Boulud
60 Yorkville Ave, Toronto

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My Place Fish & Chips

Our ongoing quest for fish and chips brought us to My Place Fish & Chips, hidden in the Esquire Plaza at Victoria Park and Sheppard. The main attracting factor was the proximity to NETO HQ. Decorated with tea towels of the United Kingdom, the orange and green restaurant’s open kitchen greets you with a wave of delicious fried food the moment you step in.

My Place Fish & Chips
Meat Pie 4.95 & Gravy 0.55
Always eager to try more meat pies, we added a “Meat Pie Only” to our order, and were surprised to see an upside down Scotch Pie. Unaccustomed to the stiff crust, P almost flipped the pie off the table as she attempted to divide the pie in two. However, she triumphed over the pie, revealing innards of delicious savoury mince that we both enjoyed with a bowl of gravy.

My Place Fish & Chips
Haddock Platter 14
The main attraction for us was the fish and chips. We opted for the Haddock Platter in order to sample more of their seafood. The batter here is light and flaky, similar to a tempura batter. Although we thoroughly enjoyed the fish, the shrimp and scallops did not stand up to St. Andrew’s excellent offerings. Tartar sauce (not pictured) was also provided in handy packets. The chips were a nice balance of crispy and fluffy, as all good chips should be. Interestingly, My Place not only has a fish only option, but also a “few chips” option for those days you can’t handle a full plate of chips.

Overall, My Place Fish & Chips is a great nearby option for fish and chips (and meat pies) that is worth revisiting. They also offer halibut, clam strips, calamari, haggis, and even chicken burgers!

Last visited Saturday afternoon, October 19, 2013.
My Place Fish & Chips
2577 Victoria Park Ave. (Esquire Plaza), Scarborough
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St. Andrews Fish & Chips

A few years ago in our search for non-Asian foods in Scarborough we stumbled upon St. Andrew’s Fish and Chips, hidden in a small plaza off Ellesmere. During our last visit, the quaint dining room (open since 1984) was packed with diners young and old, and required a short wait. For those in a rush, they have a takeout window as well.

St. Andrew's Fish and Chips
Haddock Platter 14.20
St. Andrew’s provides a good selection of fish to choose from, including halibut, haddock, and even salmon. To get a good feel of their fried seafood I went with the haddock platter, which includes three shrimp, three scallops, and chips. St. Andrew’s uses a thick batter which results in an excellent crunch. While the haddock was flaky and delicious, I particularly enjoyed the large juicy shrimp and scallops, a rarity, as too many restaurants use saltwater injected artificially inflated “jumbo” seafood. The chips at St. Andrews are thickly cut and on the shorter side, which provides the perfect ratio of crunchy exterior and fluffy interior.

St. Andrew's Fish and Chips
Steak and Mushroom Pie 6.45
I was also eager to try their meat pies at this very Scottish restaurant. The pies at St. Andrew’s are sourced from their neighbours But ‘N’ Ben’s, which I have never explored due to their early closing hours. I enjoyed this meat pie with its easily identifiable chunks of steak and mushrooms, but I tend to prefer crusts in the softer, flakier Aussie style. Also worth mentioning is their tasty gravy, which is clearly made from scratch rather than a uniform from-powder gloop. Tartar sauce is also available in convenient packets, and each table offers ketchup as well as two types of vinegar.

St. Andrew's Fish & Chips
Haggis, not so offal! 5.45
St. Andrew’s also offers haggis, mealie, and black pudding. Having had a traumatic incident with haggis as a child, I was pretty hesitant in trying the haggis P ordered, which comes with two decently sized links per order. However, P prevailed and I sampled a piece. Surprisingly, the haggis was not as offal (sorry) as I remembered. The haggis tasted quite similar to a deep fried spicy sausage, made of ground lamb parts and lots of pepper.

St. Andrew's Fish & Chips
Clam Chowder 3.45
Most of the meals come with a dinner option, but P and I have no interest in pickled beets or mushy peas. However, as a lover of clam chowder, I ordered the soup as a starter. Obviously not as good as the chowders found in Boston, the soup still satisfied my craving and was infinitely better than anything Campbell’s has put in a can.

St. Andrew's Fish & Chips
Deep Fried Oreos with Ice Cream 4.25
If all the excellently fried food above weren’t enough of a reason to try St. Andrew’s, their dessert selection is unique enough for a special trip. Deep fried Oreos, Mars Bars, jam sandwiches, and creme eggs (seasonal) accompany more classic desserts such as apple pie and trifle. My favourite of the bunch are the fried Oreos, with crunchy batter giving way to liquefied Oreos, matching perfectly with the accompanying vanilla ice cream.

St. Andrew's Fish & Chips
Deep Fried Mars Bar with Ice Cream 4.95
P prefers the fried Mars Bar, which is definitely another unique dessert. Speed matters with this dessert, as the molten Mars Bar cools rather quickly (helped along by the accompanying ice cream), solidifying into a teeth-sticking chocolate toffee.

Overall, St. Andrew’s is a haven of delicious Scottish food in a no longer Scottish suburb. In addition to all the great food above, they also offer a lunch special, 25% off for seniors on Tuesdays, and an all-you-can-eat option from Tuesday to Thursday.

Last Visited Friday Evening, November 8, 2013
St. Andrew’s Fish and Chips
1589 Ellesmere Rd, Scarborough
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Roll Play Cafe

Despite having an embarrassingly large backlog of places to write about that are actually North East of the city, this post is about Roll Play Cafe – a board game cafe located in the heart of downtown Toronto. Board game cafés are all the rage at the moment, with at least seven to choose from in Toronto. Roll Play, however, stands out from the rest with their amazing food, created by a former chef of Auberge du Pommier.

Roll Play Cafe
Super High Roller Nachos 16
Unlike other board game spots, Roll Play does not charge any cover, regardless of how much time you spend at the cafe. Instead, the food prices are slightly inflated, but well worth it for the quality of their offerings. We started with their most excessive nachos, the Super High Roller, with crispy tri-coloured chips topped with cheese (Monterey Jack and cheddar), tomato, onion, peppers, olives, jalapenos, bacon, ground beef, and chicken. On the sides were generous dollops of sour cream and an excellent made-in-house guacamole. We inhaled these nachos (and all the subsequent food) so quickly that the game master came by to express his awe at our speed at one point during our evening.

Roll Play Cafe
Warm Spinach Dip 8, Extra Focaccia 3.5
We continued our snacking with their spinach dip. I was most impressed by the baked-to-order focaccia that was sprinkled with tarragon, rather than the more typical rosemary. If you gobble down the bread too quickly (like us) and/or forget to apply the spinach dip generously, extra orders of bread are available to mop up the rest of the sauce.

Roll Play Cafe
Prime Rib Sandwich 8
After seeing this picture of their in-house roasted prime rib, I was very eager to try the prime rib sandwich. Panini-pressed with Swiss cheese, mushrooms and arugula, this was our favourite sandwich of the night. P and I seriously considered returning the next day just for it!

Roll Play Cafe
Montreal Smoked Meat Panini 7.5
While the thinly sliced layers of smoked meat topped with spinach makes a delicious sandwich on its own, Roll Play raises the bar by serving it with a creamy, delicately-cooked egg in olive oil.

Roll Play Cafe
Guacamole Grilled Cheese 6
We also ordered the guacamole grilled cheese, as the guacamole on the nachos was delicious and disappeared too quickly. Generally the addition of bread and melted cheese can only make things better, and this sandwich was no exception. Although the bite I took was particularly lime-y, the sandwich was delicious, and a great vegetarian alternative.

Roll Play Cafe
Bubble Waffle with Nutella-Banana Whipped Cream 6
For dessert, we opted for the sole option made in-house, the bubble waffle with Nutella-banana whipped cream. Roll Play uses a different batter than the typical “little chicken egg” sellers, resulting in a crispier waffle perfect for scooping up the whipped cream. We hear this dish may become a limited time option.

Hear Me Out
Hear Me Out: best card ever – I used this to acquire popcorn
In addition to the food above we also ordered a bowl of barbeque popcorn, a latte and a few hot chocolates, all of which I forgot to take photos of. The hot chocolates are made of Ritter Sport stirred into milk, instead of the powder-based concoctions commonly found at other cafes. As there are numerous Ritter Sport flavours, hopefully, Roll Play will eventually offer more hot chocolate options as well!

Toc Toc Woodman – please stop sabotaging me!
Neatly stacked on shelves of each end of the spacious cafe are a wide variety of games ranging from classics like Catan and Carcassonne, to party games for all ages. Not being in the mood for deck builders or strategy games that night, we sampled a selection of their party games:
Toc Toc Woodman – a kickstarted game that improves on Jenga. Remove the tree bark without knocking out a piece of the trunk, and hope your friends aren’t purposely sabotaging you.
Pick a Pig – deceptively simple game requiring you to create the longest sequence of nearly matching cards. It sadly took us impatient folks several rounds to play correctly.
Canadian Monopoly – extra entertaining when you set a 30 minute time limit and play in a ridiculous frenzy.
We Didn’t Playtest This At All – we got through about half a round before passing on to a game that had been playtested.
Magician’s Kitchen – adorable children’s game requiring you to maneuver marbles into cauldrons with surprise magnet traps in the game board, that I am terrible at.
Telestrations – the best party game, especially with people who can’t draw.
Hear me Out – a Cranium like game that inspired some very bizarre speeches and brainstorming sessions.

Roll Play Cafe
Why have business cards when there are dice?
In addition to the excellent food and games selection, there is a wide variety of seating, with long tables that can accommodate larger groups, or booths for a more intimate setting. The cafe is located up a flight of stairs, with clean washrooms that are conveniently located on the same floor. The upstairs location also provides a great view of the street below. Reservations for larger groups are available, which is a much more pleasant alternative to the several-hours-long queues at other board game venues.

Our only gripe of the evening was with our somewhat overzealous waitress, who began our evening by asking for our orders with unnerving regularity, although we informed her that we were still waiting for the majority of our party to arrive. Then, each time we ordered a dish, she would remove one of our menus, which we took to hiding whenever we ordered to save the remaining ones for when we felt like having another snack. Also, on a giant blackboard at the front of the cafe is a list of their house rules written in very large letters – one of these rules is that patrons may ask for the wifi password. Our waitress was very confused when we asked her for it, explaining that they did not give that information out, although she quickly checked with the manager and came back with the password when we pointed out the rule. Fortunately, these issues are easy to fix with some training in food service, and the staff in general were very helpful and friendly.

Last but not least, with your bill comes a neat souvenir – customized dice with the 6 face replaced with the words “Roll Play Cafe”. Overall, Roll Play Cafe is definitely worth returning to, especially for that prime rib sandwich!

Visited Saturday evening, October 26, 2013.
Roll Play Cafe
10A Edward St, Toronto
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Kinnaree Thai

The original goal of NETO was to explore the plazas of Scarborough, and to try the wide variety of food offerings hidden within. Kinnaree Thai is one of those places, nestled in a food-filled plaza at Pharmacy and Ellesmere.

Kinnaree Thai
Mango Salad 7.95
A great appetizer to start with is the mango salad – a fresh, sweet, and savoury dish of mango, red onion, peppermint, coriander, carrot, peanuts, and cashews. I really enjoyed this salad, mostly because the crunchy sour mangoes found in most salads were replaced with juicy sweet ones.

Kinnaree Thai
Regular Pad Thai 9.95
Available in Regular, Vegetarian or with Seafood, the pad thai at Kinnaree was a decent alternative to the ketchupy noodles too often found around the city. Although the pad thai was good enough to order twice, I personally prefer a spicier dish and would try the Thai Spicy Noodle next time.

Kinnaree Thai
Beef Massaman 11.95
Having heard good things about this dish online, we decided to order the Beef Massaman, a coconut milk curry with beef, tamarind juice, potatoes, roasted peanuts, onions, and tomatoes, and topped with a generous sprinkling of fried shallots and scallions. We enjoyed it so much we decided to order it again during our second visit, but with chicken instead. While the curry itself is delicious, striking a good balance between sweet and savoury, with plenty of coconut milk to balance the heat, we did find the meat to be slightly overcooked on both occasions.

Kinnaree Thai
Duck Curry 11.95
Despite having tried many curries before, I have never come across a duck curry, and especially not one that included both lychee and grapes! Described as a de-boned roasted duck in a Thai red curry with coconut milk, eggplant, tomatoes, lychee, seedless grapes, sweet peppers, and basil leaves, this fruity curry was definitely an interesting dish, and was also M’s favourite.

Kinnaree Thai
Coconut Sticky Rice with Coconut Ice Cream 5.95
For dessert we had the sticky rice with coconut ice cream, which came served in a little glass dish and topped with roasted cashews. We enjoyed the temperature and textural contrasts between the hot chewy rice and the cool ice cream, which contained actual chunks of young coconut flesh. For an extra hit of coconut flavour, the sticky rice itself was cooked in coconut milk, making this dessert a definite must-try for coconut lovers.

This ornately decorated mom and pop shop is truly a Scarborough gem. The attention to detail at Kinnaree extends even to the complimentary water, which is freshened with a hint of lemon.  As a bonus, they also accept credit cards!

Last Visited Sunday Evening, August 25, 2013.
Kinnaree Thai
80 Ellesmere Rd, Scarborough

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