New Haandi

1401 Gerrard Street East
416-469-9696

 

Probably one of the best dinner buffets for $8.99. Located right in Little India/India Bazaar on Gerrard east between Greenwood and Coxwell, this place is both a lunch and dinner buffet and has a regular sit down and take out menu. Lunch buffet is $6.99 and dinner is $8.99. They have many vegetarian options (hooray!) like Bhartha (Eggplant), Aloo Gobi (Potatoes and Cauliflower), Vegetable curry with potatoes and peas, Channa Masala (chick peas with onions and tomato in a red/orange curry sauce), Dahl (Lentil curry), Saag Paneer (Spinach and cheese).

The buffet is large and food appeared fresh.

They also have a dessert buffet with many flavours of ice cream, barfi (orange sweet semolina flour dessert) and Gulab Jamum (deep fried dough balls in a sweet syrup). Ice cream flavours include Mango Tango, Chocolate, Strawberry, Butterscotch, Vanilla.

The buffet also serves many fresh vegetables and a traditional Indian salad with tomatoes, onions, and lettuce with a spicy vinegar- type chili dressing. VERY YUMMY!

They also serve wine and beer. Decor is slightly kitschy with tacky chairs, tables, and tablecloths but I was happy that it lacks the pretentiousness of most Indian restaurants have downtown. The actual restaurant is very spacious, one big dining room, with large tables that are far apart from each other. Now for the downside, the washrooms. Unfortunately the bathrooms are cold, smelly, and unkept. They are located in the dingy basement outside the main entrance of the restaurant. This means that anyone off the street can go to the bathroom without entering the enterior door of the restaurant.

To conclude, I loved the food, the ambiance was fair and it was refreshing to see many vegetarian options at such a damn good price. The hell with Indian restaurants in the downtown core who think they can charge an arm and a leg because most of the clientele are rich white people. I may be white but I am not a fool. I won’t pay a lot for a decent Indian dinner!

Advertisements

Lalot

200 Bathurst Street
416-703-8222

 

On one wall of the minimalistic room is a portrait, blown up, of a Vietnamese family. Five pouting black and white children standing erect like planks of wood in the foreground, a man and a woman seated stiffly behind them. “That’s me, to the left,” gushes Sydney, tittering behind one hand. It has been less than a year since she opened Lalot north of Queen on Bathurst, a few doors beyond the dilapidated Oak Steam bathhouse with its “Men Only” scrawled across the window. Despite her eternal optimism, even Sydney acknowledges a dinner hitting the forty dollar mark (without alcohol) is a risky venture for a neighbourhood replete with goths, crack dealers and the odd homeless man circulating the tables for change.

Sydney exudes the artsiness of Queen West West in a La Coste turtle neck and a pair of sleek black-framed glasses, babbling on excitedly about Madonna’s English Roses, the excellent décor at Bymark (“yet all those suits, bleh, nobody interesting to schmooze with”), the produce at the new Pusateris up in Yorkville, how the owner of the über-trendy Drake hotel occasionally pops by, gesticulating madly, “oh you guys should definitely come to the opening party next Friday”.

Yet though tempting to pass her off as a floozy, at best a charismatic host, beneath her affability is a keenness, an undercurrent of perfectionism, a remnant of the black and white child staring stoically from the photograph. And such is Lalot. On the surface—the ubiquitous drone of St. Germain in the background, the clean lines of tables and couches trailing both walls, a small but perfectly arranged terrace in the back, Reidel wine glasses, a lovely orange hue infusing the whole place. The atmosphere is nothing more remarkable than your run-of-the-mill King Street West establishment, but there’s a precision and sophistication to the cooking which elevates Lalot to one of Toronto’s most exciting new dining experiences.

For starters try the spring rolls with lobster and shrimp, perfectly crisp and not too oily with a great tangy dipping sauce. And the tamarind soup big enough for two, flooding our bodies with a delicious warmth as we watch the snow falling beyond the window. The salt-n-peppa calamari – magnificent – but the house specialty appetizer, a beetle leaf wrapped around a thin slice of beef flank, well, it’s not as good as we expected it to be. Still, 3 out of 4 is a pretty good tally and we wait with excitement for the main dishes to arrive (also a little trepidation too, as Asian restaurants with such excellent starters often have nowhere to go but down).

But Lalot defies the formula. A stupendous Drunken Chicken, a gourmet variant of General Tao’s, not too original but how often have you craved this dish with succulent pieces of white meat, not like the regurgitated dreck that’s served at Mr. Pong’s down the street? A duck breast with peanut sauce on a mound of bok-choy that is adequate but not spectacular. A side of steamed eggplant that literally melts in your mouth with a hint of garlic and spice. The piece-de-resistance, the dish that will keep us coming back for more, is the caramelized catfish in a clay pot. Who knew this whiskered bottom-feeder, a fish that is notoriously unpleasant to the palate, could be reduced to nuggets of tenderness swimming in a rich sauce of fresh red chilli peppers? Sydney giggles as we scrape the caramelized onions from the bottom of the pot, emitting little Pavlovian sighs of pleasure.

No room for dessert but Sydney, being Sydney, graciously brings over a few scoops of green tea and red bean ice cream anyway.

-David Bledin

Saigon Sister (closed 2008)

774 Yonge
(416) 967-0808

Located right at the corner of Yonge and Bloor, this super trendy place looks super slick with white walls, minimalist design, and sleek beechwood slabs throughout. Decor is clean lines, hip, cool, funky, with minimalist decor. Almost looks like a hospital. Imagine entering one big room with an open second floor overlooking the first. Saigon Sister is somewhat affordable ($9.95-$17.95 for main dishes).

Known as Vietnamese with style and flare, this place was super noisy with well groomed cool people. Wendy and I went there before our show last Thursday night and we started our adventure with an order of vegetarian hot and soup for me, and a glass of fruity sweet wine for her. It was cool to see that they have smoothies that were thick and smooth and a long list of vegetarian items that were marked with an asterix. I ordered the vegetarian hot pot for $13.95 which came with rice or noodles (did not eat them) and came with fried tofu, bok choy, stir fried vegetables in a lime juice sauce. The dish was simply divine, very different than the usual salty soy sauce stir fries I am used to. Wendy had fish with stir fried vegetables and she said her food was the best she’s ever had in a long time.

The seating at this place is interesting. There is a central dining hall with rectangular long tables and wood hard chairs. There is a row of booths, all connected like a schoolbus. These seats are enclosed in a white alcove. Seats are white leather (I think?) and tables are sleek and cool. Service is prompt and staff are accomodating and friendly. I did ask for more veggies or tofu since I had asked to leave out the noodles/rice. They did not comply. The portions were not large so of course I was still hungry. I drank about ten glasses of refreshing water flavoured with lemon juice (supposedly it aids digestion!)

There is a back terrace for summer dining that is a private dining space in the heart of downtown Toronto. We’d definitely go back since the food was high quality, fresh, piping hot, and service was reasonable. Bathrooms are gorgeous, with funky sinks, beechwood bathrooms stalls with unfinished wood slabs, and minimalist design.

We were impressed with this new restaurant and it shows by the crowds of people that Thursday night.

Reviewed by Mark

Irish Embassy

49 Yonge St.
(416) 866-8282

Part bar part restaurant would be a good way to describe this place.

I went there with a foursome, & had reservations for 9, but thankfully as we were running mighty late, they kept our reservation for us. Good thing I called ahead.

The atmosphere kind of reminds me of Biermarket, with regards to how they separate the bar from the restaurant. With the high ceiling & white walls, this definitely did not feel like a standard Irish Pub, more like an up scaley type place, & come to think of it, I don’t recall it being too smokey either.

So they were flexible & accommodating which was good, it was a bit of a wait for the food – not so good – we had to ask for extra bread more than once but when it arrived the food was good. My beef tenderloin was awesome, two others had New York steaks they really liked & one person had a bison burger which he enjoyed. My herby mashed potatoes were super good too.

Dessert proved to be a pleasant experience, My friend & I shared a creme brulee & I wish I had ordered it all for myself actually.

Other than the loud noise from the bar patrons, which made conversation a challenge, this was a reasonably pleasant dining experience. I would go back, but I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to get there.

Cafe 668

As of mid 2007
885 Dundas Street West
*NEW* Phone: 416 703 0668

As of mid 2007, Cafe 668 moved to 885 Dundas Street West
New Phone Number: 416 703 0668

A Southeast Asian all-veggie, vegan-friendly cafe. Located right near Kensington Market along Dundas between Spadina and Bathurst, this place is quite small and cosy and only sits about 6 small tables. Nice ambiance, simple with minimal decor. I started with a small vegetarian hot and sour soup which came piping hot, thick and spicy, sour, and excellent. The soup portion was quite large. My friend ordered an order of veggie cold rolls which looked fresh and healthy. She ordered the main dish called “House Special Mixed Vegetable Noodle Soup which consisted of a huge soup with noodles and an assortment of vegetables. I ordered the veggie chicken sir fried with cashew nuts (Kung-Pau Style). It came with small diced vegetables and I asked for them to leave out the rice. I was kind of disappointed because the night before I ordered the Veggie Chicken Kung Pau at King’s Cafe in Kensington Market and that dish was the best I’ve ever had. This dish at Cafe 668 was excellent but the pieces were so small, it almost looked like baby food. I generally do not like my food diced up like that. The actual dish was filing and yummy and not expensive at all ($7.99). My friend’s main course was $5.50 and her veggie cold rolls were $2.99 for three rolls. My soup was $2.99 and my main dish was $7.99. Lunch and dinner meals are under $10.00 in most cases and are served fresh, colourful, and extremely tasty. Buddhas Vegetarian Restaurant, which is the neighbouring restaurant next door, is somewhat more grungy with bright lights, uncomfortable chairs and awkward tables, and a patchwork of 6 small dining rooms. Cafe 668 is a simple cafe of one room, classy, dimly lit, and quiet. In terms of awards, this place was selected as the number one restaurant in 2002 by NOW Magazine. It has also received praise from NOW Magazine, Eye Weekly, Toronto Life, and the Toronto Star. Open Tues-Fri12:30 -4PM, 6- 9:30PM. Sat-Sun 1:30 – 9:30PM. Closed Monday. They only accept cash.

Al-Madina

1008 Danforth Avenue
(416) 778-8881

Located right at Danforth and Donlands, this place serves East Indian food for really good prices, all within the $5.95-$7.95 price. This is my kind of restaurant. There are some vegetarian options but not many. I went on March 7th, 2004 with two friends and we enjoyed the Lunch buffet for $4.95. Seats about 15-20 people, small place but nice and cosy, fast food type of ambiance. I had the daal (lentil soup) type sauce with green bean and potato curry and fried corn fritters, similar to a vegetable pekora.

For dessert, we had this orange semolina flour dessert that tasted like rice pudding but was made with orange semolina flour, cloves, ginger, and sugar. Semi smooth, semi lumpy like old-fashioned homemade pudding. Our chai tea was authentic and home made and only $1.00.

Can’t complain at all. The overall ambiance is fast-food, not shi shi poo poo like many Indian restaurants in Toronto. I would highly recommend this place because the cook/owner kept on refilling the buffet platters with fresh food. For dinner, the buffet is $6.95 but the cook/owner told me that you could choose the buffet or order straight from the menu. Most of the menu consisted of meat dishes and vegetarian items were sparse. They accept cash, Interac, and VISA!

Curry Twist

3034 Dundas Street West.
416-769-5460
Far out west, on the ouskirts of the city lies an area named “The Junction”, home to a lovely little restaurant named Curry Twist. I’ve wanted to try this restaurant for awhile now, but due to its disparate location I’ve avoided it until now. In recent months, I’ve tried to expand the nature of my food wanderings to encompass more parts of the city that I have never been. Having worked in Scarborough, I was able to try a host of restaurants, finding some hidden gems in an otherwise sea of strip malls and chain restaurants. It’s always a pleasure to “discover” new areas of the city you’ve lived in all your life.

After the long haul to get out there, we were greeted to a mix of wonderful Indian spiced aromas upon entering the establishment. The place itself is clean, quiet and altogether a lovely venue for a dining experience. Compared to somewhere like Nataraj, a bustling and busy place which I had visited the week before, Curry Twist offers a much more laid back and somewhat romantic atmosphere.

The service was quick and pleasant. Shortly after we were seated, we decided on an appetizer of bread rolls stuffed with a mixture of spiced potatoes, green peas, fresh coriander and ginger. We shared this simple but tasty dish as well as our mains which consisted of the typical butter chicken and not-as-typical saag paneer. The butter chicken came served in an interesting metal bucket complete with a metal handle and had a rich, creamy tomato flavour. I had never tried the saag paneer before, which appears to be a type of cheese cooked in a strong green sauce. To me, the sauce looked and tasted like a very strong pesto. Both dishes were well prepared with a host of subtle tastes, though they were both missing the usual spiciness I’ve become accustomed to in Indian food.

Altogether, the meal was quick, reasonably priced (about $20 each) and good. My only complaint would be the lack of spice, I like my Indian turned up a notch.