Kensington Kitchen [Mark]

124 Harbord St.
(416) 961-3404 

Closed Dec 2007

Located right at Harbord and Spadina, Kensington Kitchen is a cosy and warm restaurant that resembles a comfortable country kitchen. Small with less than ten tables, KK serves up Lebanese fare in a setting that I would categorize as casual fine dining. At first the name seems misleading since it’s not in Kensington market and not on Kensington Avenue (in the market).

I assumed it would be a bohemian cafe with artsy-fartsy hipsters who think they’re too cool to serve you (think Aunties and Uncles or Tequlla Bookworm) . I was surprised when I entered the restaurant since it looked so “adult” in the midsts of the U of T southern annex ghetto.

Kensington Kitchen has much character, with walls draped in Oriental rugs and cotton swatches, hand-beaded purses, old knick knacks, and traditional Middle Eastern art and photos of Lebanon. Food is full of intense flavour, big portions, $10-$15 price range. Offers many vegetarian meals.

Appetizers include such Lebanese favourites like stuffed vine leaves, fried eggplant and cauliflower, baba ghanouj, hummus, olives, pureed garlic potatoes, as well as warm whole wheat pita.

For our meals, Jerome and I both ordered the spicy sauteed eggplant with chunks of stewed tomatoes and tons of onions and chunks of garlic, very Jewish in style and texture and quite oily, but delicious and generous portions.

Beth had the scallops – she thought they were delicious and she liked that they came with a good serving of eggplant and sauteed spinach. No skimpy veggie servings! She though the prices were mid-range, not cheap, but worth it for what you get. She concluded that she would go back.

Daniel had the Lamb shank dish (with figs, raisins, eggplant); same as Aaron and Wendy. Very tasty, but could have had a little more punch to it?I expected the figs & raisins to flavour the dish a little more than it did. Seems as if it may have been cooked a little too long. It was, despite this, very good and I would order it again. The appetizer plate was spectacular, though and everything was ultra-flavourful.

Aaron has the Turkish-style braised lamb stuffed with raisins, eggplant, apricots, and figs. He thought it tasted a bit bland to be honest. The service was friendly though. Zam had the seafood Paella. He thought it was okay. He thought it was a little low on the flavour. He found the appetizer to be a prize winner amongst everyone. (a huge Mediterranean vegetarian plate) . It came with fried cauliflower, hummus, whole wheat pita, falafel, and other vegetarian dips was excellent! The platter was to die for. On a separate occasion he had their risotto, lamb burger, and braised lamb which he found very nice. He commented that he enjoyed their dishes and claimed at the time the lamb was halal but he was not sure about now.

Zam would definitely go there again. We all found the price range is okay .. not really expensive .. reasonable, but not cheap either. Wendy ordered the lamb with raisin and figs and she liked her dish, but she found the meat to be slightly dry. The flavours & brown rice & mint yogurt were really nice.

Average mains are $12-$14. The menu is very vegetarian-friendly like morroccan veggie stew with couscous (pure comfort) as well as some pasta dishes (angel hair pasta hold the seafood), and many other Lebanese vegetarian delights. Of the many places I’ve dined in Toronto, KK thankfully does not rip you off. Portions are big and worth the price.

Very student friendly yet can be the perfect place for a serious romantic date. This was a definitely a great place to celebrate my 32nd surprise birthday dinner . Rumour is that they have trouble handling large groups since it’s not a large space (we were 9 people and we were treated very well) . Hours are Mon-Thurs 11:30am-11pm and Fri – Sun 11:30am-11:30pm.

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Happy Buddha [closed august 2007]

2366 Yonge Street
416 544 0330

 

Happy Buddha is one of the only vegetarian restaurants in mid town. Located only about one block north of the Yonge and Eglinton intersection, this place is conveniently located in a nice central spot across from the 24 hour Shoppers Drugmart and near the Paramount movie theatre. Opened only 6 months ago (approx March 2006), Happy Buddha serves exclusively Chinese and Vietanemese vegetarian fare.

Small and cosy with about 10-15 tables, the place is tasteful, not cheesy and has classy details that focus on the minimalism, not kitsch. Specializing in mock meats such as beef, chicken, shark, pork, shrimp, Happy Buddha’s menu offers many mock meat options for those vegetarians missing the taste of meat.

On my last visit to Happy Buddha, I ordered # 303 (cashew, mock shrimp, tofu (extra $1), and veggie stir fry). Pam (the friend I reunited with after not seeing her since my University and CEGEP days) ordered #607 – Ham and stir fried veggies over a bed of steamed rice.

The menu is divided into various sections like the appetizer section (#100-110) with some dishes including fresh salad rolls (2 pieces for $3), Soy Drumsticks (5 for $5.95), and Buddha Salad ($6.95), soups (#200-206) like Shark fin with crab meat, Hot and Sour soup with 3 different sizes ($2.95, $9.95, $13.95) Wonton, and Sea Weed and Bean Curd (all $2.95, $9.95, and $13.95) , specialty dishes (#300-319) like Kung Po Chicken ($9.95), Stir Fried Veggie dishes with either bean curd or other veggie combos ($9.95-$12.95), Hot Pot (Beef, Chicken, or Fish Hot Pots between $10.95-$12.95)and sizzling plates (#400-409) , seafood sizzling plate ($12.95), and choose either beef/pork, spicy eggplant, or mixed mushroom sizzling plate all $10.95, fried rice dishes (#500-511) shrimp, crab, or chicken fried rice $9.95-$11.95, steamed rice dishes (#600-609) in a varieties such as beef, chicken, chicken curry, pork, ham, pineapple chicken all $7.95-$8.95, noodle soups(#800-805) between $7.95-$9.95 like ham and noodle, wonton and mushroom noodle, spicy rice noodle, and fried noodle dishes(#700-707) like singapore rice noodle ($9.95) and different types of mushroom dishes all on crispy noodles ($10.95-$11.95) . Milk shakes, soft drinks, and bubble tea are also available

Open Sunday to Thurs from 11am-11pm, Fri, Sat, and holidays from 11am-11pm. Delivery hours are 11:30am-3pm and 5pm-9pm. 10% discount for delivery pickup orders. Free delivery with orders more than $25.

Garlic Pepper

578 Yonge Street
416 323 9819

 

Garlic Pepper is a famous downtown eatery centrally located at Yonge and Wellesley in downtown Toronto.

Vegetarian section of the menu is one page and contains many vegetarian options but they are not truly vegetarian since I asked and soups contain chicken stock and most dishes contain oyster sauce (ignorant idiots do not know what vegetarian means). Garlic Pepper has to die for Chinese brocoli with diced garlic, piping hot and fresh. The lo mein and chow mein dishes come fresh and delicious with a colourful assortment of veggies and large portions. I also indulged in the tofu with veggies in black bean sauce and the food was flavourful, alittle greasy, fresh crunchy stir fried veggies, and spicy in flavour. Amongst the four of us, Zam and I ordered the Chinese broccoli with minced garlic and the braised tofu with veggies as well as vegetable fried rice (hold the egg). Vivek ordered the beef cantonese chowmein (a huge portion of noodles, vegetables, chicken, beef, and shrimp) and Antony ordered the General Taos chicken.
Food came out fresh, colourful, piping hot, not too salty or greasy, and very good portions. I cannot complain about the food at all. This place definitely know how to serve good food, good prices, and non-anorexic portions. So many restaurants cover their food with rice or bean sprouts (hence i will never go to the Japanese restaurant).

Menu is divided into various sections (fried rice dishes, noodle dishes, hot pot section, sizzling wok section, dim sum, shrimp dishes, fish dishes, chicken dishes, pork dishes, veggies and tofu dishes (warning: not necessarily vegetarian), beef dishes, and last but not least desserts).

Most items are between $8.99-$12.99. An unusual section is devoted to pork ribs and chicken wings, which i did not know was Chinese. However, when i look back at my childhood, i guess i remember eating something called “spare ribs”…little did i know what it was.

Only accepts cash and credit card (no interac). Open 7 days per week from 10:30am-10pm and open later (until 11pm) on Fri and Saturdays. Offers catering service (call for details at 416 323 9874). Free delivery for orders over $20 (after 5pm). There is a discount for take out (10% if you pay in cash, 5% if you pay with cards). Take out discount does not apply to business lunch menu, dim-sum, lunch, and specials. Delivers from Waterfront to St. Clair (north-south) and Don Valley Parkway to Bathurst (east-west).

Vegetarian menu a joke since no items are truly vegetarian unless you specify. Hot and sour veggie soup is made with chicken broth so be warned.

Bathrooms are upstairs and are the most scary sight I’ve ever seen in my 32 years here on earth. Forget any crackhouse you’ve ever seen (or visited) in Toronto. If you need to go to the bathroom hold it in or visit McDonalds or Tim Hortons. Bathrooms look like an ideal movie scene for the next horror flick where someone gets chopped up or slashed. Don’t enter the bathrooms. They are dirty, gross, and if Toronto Health inspects, I am sure they will be fined or shut down.

Mahar Restaurant and Sweets (post reno)

 1410 Gerrard Street
416-466-6241

Last winter I went on a blind date to Mahar and I thought the place was worse than McDonalds. What kind of person (but an idiot) would take someone to a fast food Indian place that specialized in desserts and offered dinner as a sidenote and most dishes were luke warm, and under $5. I am no snob but a dinner date should be in a somewhat nice place in a “non takeout” setting and where your date does not ditch you to serve other customers (they were a friend of the family and decided to serve other customers instead of hanging out with me).

CREEP.

Mahar used to be ugly and disgusting but this past 5-6 months, after a drastic renovation, it has undergone a rebirth, like many places in the Gerrard street neighbourhood. Mahar is now a real “sit down” North and South Indian restaurant with sweets but dinner is their main venture and sweets are now secondary. Decor is absolutely lovely. Totally tasteful and updated, the dirt and kitsch has disappeared, even the bathrooms are lovely!

Offers both North and South Indian favourites like veggie pakoras and samosa with yummy tamarind or coriander sauces, aloo gobi with thick chunks of cauliflower, “reddish” chana masala (as opposed to yellow-ish), malaki kofta (orgasmic), butter chicken, tandoori chicken, kabobs, chicken currys, chicken tikkas, mateer paneer, palak paneer, naan, and South Indian favourites like dosas, idly, sambaar (lentil soup), uthapam (fancy rice naan with onions), and delicious desserts like barfi, faluda and ras malai (milk balls in a sweet rosewater sugar milky syrup)

On my most recent visit to the newly renovated place, i went with three friends and we started the yummy buffet with some sambaar (thick lentil soup) with salad, then came the curried okra and potato (Aloo Bhindi), aloo gobi, palak paneer, mattar paneer, piping hot naan bread (hard to come by), chana masala with chunks of cardamom. For dessert, we had faluda (warm milk with rice noodles, tapioca and ice cream on top), ras malai , and barfi (condensed milk with lentil flour and tons of sugar), and freshly made warm rice pudding with raisins and cardamom.

Mahar is opened 7 days per week from 11:30am-10pm. Offers catering for all occasions, with a newly renovated banquet hall. Lunch buffet is $8.99 and dinner buffet is $10.99. Accepts all cards.