Review: Bar Raval

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Fig & Olive Oil Cake

Bar Raval transports you to a Spanish pinxtos bar, separated from the outside world and offering some of the best food in Toronto.

Before entering this restaurant I had never enjoyed a meal while standing across a barrel in the company of others, nor had I been so confused as to how a seating system works.

The crowded gastro-bar has a bar area with baked goods on display, a table stretching along one side and barrels with flattened tops that act as tables.

If you don’t grab one of the limited number of stools, you’ll be standing for the duration of the meal. But fret not! Most people are standing in this restaurant so you’ll fit right in.

There is also a covered outdoor section that lacks any seating, with more barrels and a window sill to rest your food.

It’s anyone’s guess how the wait staff keep track of whose food goes where but they seem perfectly comfortable, never getting confused or missing an opportunity to ensure you’re having the best possible visit.

The interior is dark and crowded, which makes you feel like you’re part of a small community experiencing the restaurant together.

It comes as no surprise that Chris Nuttall-Smith has placed this in Toronto’s top new restaurants of 2015.

Food & Drink

The Walk Off: Whiskey sour with Absinthe and a strong taste of apricot. Nice to have alongside various tapas to offer a sharp contrast with the oily breads and various rich meats.

Pumpkin & Hazelnut: A small salad with plenty of semi-sweet mashed pumpkin with arugula and pine nuts

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Tomato Bread: Toasted bread with fresh tomato spread. Amazingly simple and delicious. A must try!

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Croquetas: two breadcrumbed fried rolls filled with cheese that simply melts in your mouth. A dish that is far too easy to quickly eat and miss.

Hot Octopus: Small pieces of octopus and potato in a puddle of olive oil. Good portion for splitting between two people.

Mushroom Tower: Two skewers of mushrooms each poked into a piece of bread soaked with good olive oil, topped with a single shrimp. If you like mushrooms, this is the dish for you.

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Fig & Olive Oil Cake: Sweet, somewhat fluffy, large pieces of fig, a hint of olive oil. Served with cream that makes a good dip for each bite of cake.

Rating: 5/5

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman

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Review: The Cactus Club

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tuna tataki

The Cactus Club is a massive trendy new restaurant in Toronto offering a spectacular atmosphere, great service and acceptable food.

Three separate levels split up this 500-seat restaurant. Each floor is trendy and unique.

The first floor was a bar with tightly packed tables, the second floor offered booths and larger tables with a more homey atmosphere, and the top floor was a massive bar area with plenty of tables and a fully retractable roof.

We were seated on the second floor in a booth. Light jazz music set the mood and allowed conversation to be had without difficulty.

Service was very friendly and quick- a surprise given the sheer size of the restaurant. Our waitress never missed an opportunity to inquire about a refill or answer one of our questions about the menu.

The Food

The menu included an assortment of interesting appetizers, meats, salads and pastas. There was also a feature menu of the location’s unique signature dishes.

The tuna tataki appetizer ($15.50) was fantastic. Great portion size with 12 pieces to share between the three of us. While certainly odd to eat this Japanese dish without chopsticks, the semi-rich umami flavour and melt-in-your-mouth texture easily made up for that.

The ceviche appetizer ($16), was the first on a long list of disappointments throughout the evening. Portion size was good, but that’s where the enjoyment stopped. The dish lacked flavour apart from its fishy taste.

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ceviche

The kale + grilled chicken salad ($16.50) was extremely tart (sadly not an exaggeration), making it inedible. We ended up sending it back and swapping it for another salad.

The quinoa salad ($14.50) had a splendour of different ingredients. This too came with several thin slices of chicken breast.

The first few bites were fascinating as your mouth explores the different ingredients and flavours offered by the dish.

However, it quickly became apparent that the dish both appeared and tasted as if someone had thrown leftovers from the fridge into a salad with the hope that it would work- it didn’t.

Both salads, while unenjoyable, had very large portions and could easily be split between two people.

The Duck Confit ($25), a signature dish, was more fulfilling. The single duck leg was cooked to perfection, topped with tons of greens. It was placed on a large bed of lentils soaked in an excess of vinegar, which made them far too tart.

I strongly recommend paying the additional $9 for another duck leg, otherwise the dish is insubstantial.

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duck confit

For dessert we had the key lime pie ($8.25). This and the tuna tataki made up the two saving graces of the meal.

It was very creamy and somewhat rich. It came served with a large dallop of cream on top which blended perfectly with each bite of the delicious pie.

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key lime pie

Conclusions

It comes as no surprise that this restaurant is popular among Bay street bankers. The trendy, unique and vibrant space offers a multitude of dining experiences.

However, the average Torontonian looking for a nice quality meal will be disappointed if they expect anything more than trendiness and acceptable food from this multi-level establishment.

Rating: 3/5

http://www.cactusclubcafe.com/
77 Adelaide St. W.

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman

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Review: Japango

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Sushi Two

Located near Bay and Dundas, Japango is a squished restaurant that offers some of the best sushi in Toronto at affordable prices.

Upon first glance you may be deterred from going to Japango to eat given its claustrophobic atmosphere. It has a very small seating area where even sitting down at your table is a challenge (I nearly knocked over someone’s drink as I was leaving).

The restaurant as a whole can seat about 20 people and is better for smaller groups. I strongly recommend making a reservation (on my first visit here I was forced to leave after being told there was a 45 minute wait time for the four of us).

The waitress was friendly but very distant. She didn’t do much apart from bring us our food and didn’t readily offer any suggestions or explain anything about the restaurant and its menu.

Service was lightning fast, bringing us the appetizer and mains in quick succession (frankly without adequate space between them) only a few short minutes after we placed the order.

The large round plates used for plating were a great addition to the presentation of the meal, unfortunately they hardly fit on the table, especially with the appetizer arriving at the same time.

Food

I ordered the agedashi tofu as an appetizer – four large pieces of (scorching hot) tofu in a bonito soy sauce. At $5 this made for a well valued dish for two.

For my main, I got the sushi two lunch option, which included 12 pieces of nigiri and six pieces of California roll.

Unlike other restaurants which tend to give you a lot of cheap salmon and tuna in the nigiri platters, the chef here at Japango gives you a good assortment of fish – my sushi two included hotate (scallop), hirame (halibut), ebi (prawn), sake (salmon), and more.

While California rolls aren’t exactly authentic or known for quality, the ones included in the sushi two lunch were an exception. They were certainly the best California rolls I’ve had.

Overall, it was an excellent value at the price of $25 plus tax for a fairly filling meal in the heart of downtown Toronto.

I have yet to try anything on their drink menu but I have been told their sake is amazing – particularly the sayuri nigori sake, a sweet creamy sake with a smooth aftertaste and served in a memorable pink bottle.

Rating: 4.5/5

http://www.japango.net
122 Elizabeth Street

P.S. Those looking for an after lunch dessert should check out Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecake or Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Matcha Café, which are both right around the corner from the restaurant. Their cheesecakes are amazing!

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman

Introducing: Sushi Couture

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Sashimi Dinner

Sushi chef Ken Zhang succeeds in bringing the high quality fresh fish of Japango and Yuzu No Hana to the Bloor Street area.

Those used to massive menus at sushi places with tons of specialty rolls, hand rolls, soups and more may be deterred by the simple menu found at Sushi Couture.

But fear not! For most items on the menu are carefully crafted by the expert hands of Chef Ken Zhang, notorious for his work at Japango (arguably the best sushi in Toronto).

The sashimi dinner was an absolute delight. 15 pieces of assorted fish, such as salmon, surf clam and Japanese mackeral.

Unlike most sushi restaurants in the area you can really taste the freshness and quality of the fish – I left with zero doubts of the chef’s skill in finding and properly serving only the best of the best to his customers.

The menu also includes a $75 omakase – a set meal of eight course hand selected and crafted by the chef. While this may seem pricey, it is very far on the cheaper end of the spectrum when it comes to this type of meal.

Sushi Couture sets the standard for how sushi restaurants ought to be – quality fish, reasonable prices and excellent presentation.

http://www.sushicouture.ca/
456 Bloor Street W.

Review: Ferro

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Magic Mushrooms: portobello & oyster wild mushrooms, crostini and roasted garlic reduced cream

With plenty of Italian restaurants to choose from in Toronto, Ferro stands out by providing large portions of high quality pastas, pizzas and seafood at reasonable prices.

While certainly a pleasant place to eat, it is a dark restaurant with plenty of noise created by the loud music and close proximity of patrons to one another, which turns conversation into a bit of a task.

Service was quick and pleasant, staff never missed an opportunity to refill a drink or clear off empty plates. Beyond that, they were very knowledgeable about the menu which was a big help considering its size and diversity.

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Burratina: whole baby burrata cheese, San Daniele prosciutto, charred asparagus and romesco

There are lots of appetizers, salads, pastas, pizzas and more to choose from. Everything was well portioned; even with sharing, there was always more than enough to go around.

Appetizers cost around $15 and mains around $20.

Magic Mushrooms– a Ferro ‘signature’ dish- which didn’t sound overly interesting on the menu turned out to be fantastic. At first glance they are simply mushrooms with creamy garlic sauce on bread, but once you put it in your mouth all doubts go away.

The creamy sauce blends perfectly with the mushrooms to create a sweet and savoury flavour, which the crostini prevents from becoming overwhelming. Each bite melts in your mouth and leaves you wanting more.

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Speck: smoked prosciutto, bosc pear, gorgonzola & mascarpone, arugula and honey drizzle

Speck, a sweet pizza heavy on the arugula and smoked prosciutto was very much a combination of pizza and salad. The arugula could have easily been an appetizer in of itself.

While many dishes elsewhere often skimp out and disappoint by providing limited prosciutto, this pizza had an abundance. (I was unable to finish more than half of the very filling pizza and ended up taking the rest home).

Piatto Di Pesce: A platter of seasonal fresh seafood including jumbo tiger prawns, wild caught scallops, mussels, clams & filets of fish in a light tomato broth
Piatto Di Pesce (for two): A platter of seasonal fresh seafood including jumbo tiger prawns, wild caught scallops, mussels, clams & filets of fish in a light tomato broth

I had the chance to try a bit of the Piatto Di Pesce, a massive seafood dish that was offered for one or two. It was surprisingly abundant for a seafood dish with large pieces of salmon, jumbo tiger prawns, mussels and more – all in a light tomato broth.

With little other than a slight noise complaint about this restaurant it comes as an easy recommendation to those looking to try high quality Italian food in Toronto without having to dish out tons of cash to get an abundance.

Rating: 4.5/5

http://ferrobarcafe.ca/
769 St. Clair Avenue W.

Review: Miku

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Smoked Soy Grilled Octopus

While Toronto is no stranger to upscale sushi restaurants, Miku’s focus on aburi makes it a unique experience and a must-try. Bay street bankers, sushi fanatics, and people celebrating special events will enjoy the high quality fish here.

Recently opened at Bay and Queens Quay the atmosphere fits the location. Whether you’re sitting at the bar, at a table or in a booth your meal will be an absolute pleasure. Lighting fixtures hang down from the ceiling piquing any and all architectural curiosities.

If you are unfamiliar with the cuisine, or with aburi sushi, fret not. The wait staff will provide in-detail explanations of each dish and its preparation. They are efficient in both their delivery of information and of the food itself.

As an appetizer we shared the Smoked Soy Grilled Octopus ($19): togorashi spiced crispy chicken skin, ruby steaks mustard greens, sea salt crusted baby potato, meyer lemon, wasabi chimichurri and aioli. Octopus was plentiful in this dish, making it well worth its price.

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Aburi Sampler

Their aburi is lightly seared by a butane torch to provide a unique texture without letting the gas seep into the flavour. Each piece is paired with its own sauce or garnish to maximize its flavour and give you the exact experience the chef has designed.

From their chu-toro to their oshi (pressed) salmon aburi everything tastes amazing and leaves you wanting more.

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Salmon Oshi Sushi

The quality of the fish used in their aburi and nigiri was reminiscent of Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.

The premium nigiri comes with six delectable pieces, offering a wide variety of flavours. Salmon, mackeral, chu-toro and others are possibilities according to the chef’s choice when ordering this dish.

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Premium Nigiri

The waiter noted that the shrimp head is fully fried and fully edible, albeit sharp. (I took him up on this suggestion and found it to be very crispy and fairly salty, an interesting experience, but not something I would go out of my way for).

Served with their nigiri is both standard and high quality soy sauce.

À la carte is also an option with everything from mackeral to o-toro.

The quality of their food is not limited to their sushi.

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Cast Iron Baked Mussels

Cast iron baked mussels are a must-try: wild boar bacon, brussels sprouts, melted iwa-nori butter and grilled lemon.

I strongly recommend dipping the mussels in the butter that helps bring out their rich flavour.

To finish things off we got the dessert option of Warm Matcha Chocolate Fondant: valrhona dark chocolate, molten matcha ganache, roasted berries, white chocolate powder and jasmine tea ice cream.

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Warm Matcha Chocolate Fondant

Warm chocolate and matcha filling ooze out of the cake as you cut into it. Each decoration on the plate is an interesting addition to the already fantastic dessert and shouldn’t be ignored.

I have nothing bad to say about this restaurant. It has a great upscale atmosphere, efficient and informative service, reasonable prices and excellent food reminiscent of Tsukiji. It would be a shame to visit Toronto and not give this place a try.

Rating: 5/5

http://mikutoronto.com/
105-10 Bay Street

Introducing: School

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Super Cheesy Bacon French Toast, Black ‘N’ Blue Flapjacks, Grilled Local Breakfast Sausages

School restaurant is a unique brunch experience in downtown Toronto that will leave you stuffed.

Sticking to its name it has two large TVs playing shows about schools and has a wall of clocks reminiscent of those you see in classrooms.

As the time ticks by you may find yourself waiting for up to an hour to get your table. But fret not! You can download the “NoWait” app to get yourself on the waitlist and they will text you when your table is ready- but you must be there in five minutes, otherwise you get detention.. er.. your table will be given away.

Food ranges from waffles with chicken, to breakfast poutine with hash browns to French toast with a cheesecake filling. Each dish is presented beautifully.

There are plenty of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to choose from including specialty “school” themed cocktails, lattés and teas.

Unlike the schools we all know, School will always leave you wanting to try another course on your next visit.

http://www.schooltoronto.com/
70 Fraser Avenue (Liberty Village)