Bombay on the Lake

September 29, 2010

Though we’ve eaten at Bombay on the Lake relatively often, I’m not too familiar with anything on the menu other than the chicken vindaloo, plain basmati rice and garlic naan. But that’s really all I’m familiar with at any Toronto Indian restaurant (if it’s not a buffet). The fact we’re repeat customers tells you all you really need to know. The food’s good. But you’d better like your vindaloo hot.

Unlike some places which annoyingly tone down the spice for the gora and gori crowd, Bombay on the Lake doesn’t believe in mollycoddling. I don’t like my molly coddled. Especially not in public.

The only bad experience we’ve shared at Bombay had nothing to do with the restaurant itself. It was a hot day about a month or two back, in the middle of one of this summer’s many humid heatwaves. We were too hot to cook dinner ourselves and we gambled on them having A/C. They didn’t. But they did have one of those great tower fans that, as long as they blow on you, work almost as well.

It wasn’t pointed right at us when we arrived but it had a revolving base. I positioned it so that it’s sweep reached our table as well as the others which at that time were still unoccupied.

The table beside us wasn’t unoccupied for long as a trio sat themselves there shortly after our order was taken. Their party consisted of a couple and a female friend who sat across from them and complained, vehemently, about the heat. She saw the fan and said, “Oh, here’s a fan!” and pointed it directly at herself. “That’s better. Thank god they had this,” she said, seemingly oblivious to the fact that no other people in the room, not even her friends, were going to benefit from the fan’s cooling effect.

Looking up from her menu, the woman’s companion made brief, wary eye contact with me then, with an embarrassed manner, angled the menu to hide herself from my view. I was about to say something to the fan-stealing woman, but I decided against it at the last moment. She was roughly the size and shape of a large manatee.

I wasn’t sure if manatees are as vicious as hippopotami are reported to be, but I didn’t want to risk it. She looked a little like a hippopotamus as well, but less muscular and more flabby. And with the demeanor of a one-eyed, arthritic alleycat.

When I got home, Google informed me manatees are not especially dangerous. I should have spoken to the woman about her theft of the fan. The meal would then have been another perfectly delightful Bombay on the Lake experience. Or she might have bitten my head clean off.

Either way, it was still an excellent vindaloo.

Dundas Dining: Littlefish

June 16, 2010

In direct contrast to our previous installment of Dundas Dining, the staff at Junction breakfast-place, Littlefish, know how to deal with a busy day.

We arrived and there were no free tables. That had something to do with arriving at a brunch-centric restaurant at noon on a Sunday. Not being idiots, we didn’t really expect to get a table and were prepared to move on. We were informed it’d be no more than a fifteen minute wait and theyd bring us coffees to the waiting couch, if we wanted. We wanted.

So we sat on the comfy but hideous blue couch and watched every single hipster from the Junction eat breakfast. The young folk were hipsters, the older yuppie couples were hipsters, even the families with young children were hipsters. It was a hip place. The kids sitting across from us talked about Mogwai a lot. We waited for our coffees.

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Dundas Dining: Lenos Bar-Restaurant

May 31, 2010

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Despite being another restaurant which doesn’t believe in apostrophes, Lenos is by far the best dining experience we’ve had in The Junction. And that isn’t to say it was merely the best of a bad lot (The Junction serves up some fine meals), it was one of the better experiences I’ve had in the city of Toronto. Which, in terms of service, might still be saying “the best of a bad lot”.

Toronto has strangely low service standards for a city which considers itself a competitor on the world stage. The service at Leno’s was as good as the best service I’ve experienced anywhere. Even cities outside of Toronto where servers understand they have to work for their tips.

For the first time since starting Dundas Dining, we really felt like we had a professional—more than just a merely competent— server.

But perhaps more importantly, the food was truly delicious (and reasonably priced). Though if you’re not familiar with Colombian dishes (like us), you might not have any idea what exactly the items on the menu are. They are all familiar—similar to Mexican, Central and South American dishes—but tweeked slightly. This is where the good service came in. Our server happily walked us through the menu without making us feel like gringo noobs.

Mandi said, “I love her.”

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Dundas Dining: Swirls Cupcakes

February 23, 2010

Swirls falls a little outside of our usual Dundas Dining boundaries (roughly The Junction neighborhood), but it’s not too far past the Ghettobicoke line so I figure it’s fair play.

Mandi and I both love cupcakes. So it was with a little trepidation we approached Swirls. It’s not too far from my place so, if it were the heavenly cupcake experience it threatened to be, it’d be game over for us. We may as well start stocking up on insulin and acai berries.

Luckily, Swirls was merely “meh”.

Which is always odd for a restaurant or bakery which specializes in one product. If you’re a cupcake bakery, it’s completely fair for your patrons to have lofty expectations of your product. Which, frankly, I did have of my Still-a-Vanilla cupcake. So when the buttercream icing seemed more like whip-cream out of a spray can and the vanilla cake was a bit rubbery, I have to say I had not choice but to be a bit let down. I did ask myself if this was a case of my expectations being too high. I think I would have been a little more forgiving if cupcakes weren’t their specialty, but even so I’d have to rank this cupcake as just on the high side of average.

Mandi got the Red Velvet which was a better cake, but not as “red” as you’d expect. It did have a slight rosey tint to it. It was brown. The sign also said it was supposed to have cream cheese icing which she said it clearly didn’t.

As we left, we noticed they were putting out an Oreo cupcake which appeared to have proper buttercream icing. It looked absolutely delicious. Maybe it was. It made me doubt my cupcake had buttercream icing on it at all and I was right in thinking it was merely whip-cream out of a can.

As we were leaving we also noticed Swirls apparently makes fondant laden art cakes as well.

edward twlight cake

We think that’s the apple from the book cover.

One thing that was really fabulous about our visit to Swirls was the coffee. One of the best Americanos I’ve had on Dundas, bar none. Also the small size is apparently huge. But in typical Dundas Dining fashion, there has to be some awkwardness in ordering. You need to place your coffee order with someone at another counter entirely from where you place your cupcake order. Then they tally your coffee on a calculator which they slide over to the cupcake people. Really? That’s the best way to do it?

There’s also the option, the girl informed us, to pay them each separately. Though why they’d think anyone would ever want to do that never came to me. True, it would be more awkward and be slightly worse customer service which is the ideal in Dundas West restaurant culture, but I can’t really see the advantage.

The coffee was well worth the awkwardness. The cupcakes, not so much.

2.5 cups out of 5 cakes
5 Americanos out of 5 awkward moments

Dundas Dining: The Friendly Thai

November 29, 2009

One of the appeals of Dundas Dining in the Junction is dodgy atmospheres and awkward interactions with the wait staff. You always have a story to tell. Which is important when you’re blogging restaurant reviews. sadly, The Friendly Thai offered us no stories.

The atmosphere is slick, modern and hip and the staff professional. Unless I wanted to nit-pick, I couldn’t really fault our waiter. If I did want to nit-pick, which I don’t, I might suggest he was a smidge too attentive at the start of the meal and a little too inattentive at the end. This was probably due to us being the only people besides himself in the restaurant at the time (it was early in the evening). What else was he going to do but be attentive? Once the six o’clock shift showed up, their attention was focussed on Christmas staff schedules. But I said I didn’t want to nit-pick. They were loud about it though. But not too loud. Mandi feels bad for the staff that weren’t there to be in on the discussion though. She feels like they were getting screwed.

As I mentioned, The Friendly Thai is hip and modern in decor. It has a little of the feel of a lounge with only a single dragon and some bamboo to give the place a hint of the Orient. They were playing The Stills instead of the usual Exotic Sounds of Thailand type CD which was a little weird, but since I’d forgotten I rather like The Stills, I didn’t mind.

I’m not sure why we look at menus at Thai restaurants because Mandi always gets the Pad Thai and I always get the Green Curry, but we did look at the menu and it had all the usual suspects on it. A few weeks back we went to Baan Thai and had the same thing. You might remember, my curry had frozen vegetables on it. This curry was made with fresh vegetables. It wasn’t as spicy though and the coconut sauce was perhaps a shade too thick and rich. It was still good though and lacked a giant pile of canned bamboo shoots, which I abhor, and Baan Thai excels in.

How did Mandi’s Pad Thai compare? “They’re both fine. It’s fine. I think I was more impressed with Baan Thai because my expectations were so low. I feel like Pad Thai is kind of meh always.” Fair enough.

The bottom line is The Friendly Thai is as good a Thai restaurant as you’re likely to stumble upon in Toronto (by my experience) as any. A safe bet. But not the best Thai you’ll ever have.

And no stories to tell your friends, just a pleasant time.

4 Pads out of 5 Thais

Dundas Dining: Fatima’s Cafe & Bistro

November 4, 2009

It was brunch on Halloween and we needed somewhere to get in out of the chilly wind and Fatima’s Cafe & Bistro was, frankly, closest.

For some reason we’d been putting off Fatima’s. Something about the wording on the arched windows lead us to believe the menu was limited to coffee and panini. I’m a big fan of the panini so I’m not sure why I’d been steering us away from a visit. Perhaps the placement of the counter in the window gives the impression the space is somewhat cramped. It’s not. Nor is the menu limited.

The atmosphere is cozy and chic in red-brick and dark wood. The menu travels from France to Italy and stops at all places in between, but the fusion of flavours feels more rooted in the gallic than the mediteranian—something else we weren’t anticipating from the exterior.

Mandi’s unexpectedly spicy mussels came with pommes frites. Something I thought was odd given the generally classy tone fo the joint but she explained they come that way in France. Not being a shellfish fan, I of course didn’t discover this when I was in France. I asked if the spiciness of the mussels was a good thing, she said, “Yes. But it didn’t say anything about spicy on the menu and might be a shock for someone.” Then she said they were a little tough over all. I didn’t know shellfish could be anything other than tough and disgusting, but apparently they can be good. These were merely “okay” it seems. The pommes frites, though, were delightful. Golden, crisp and served in an attractive conical bowl.

If Mandi’s mussels were a slight disappointment, my prosciutto, spicy Genoa salami and provolone panini was anything but. It was a sheer delight. It could have, perhaps, been taken to another level with the addition of pesto, but it was by no means anything other than the best sandwich I’ve had in the Junction. Bar none. The plate was nicely dressed as well.

My americano was second only to Pascal’s, but only a grade slightly below. Easily some of the best coffee in the area.

Other than the wait staff being slightly inattentive—but not so much we were unduly annoyed and not so much as some other places we’ve visited—the general experience was good and reasonably priced. The friendly but  lackadaisical attitude of our server gave us the opportunity to play “spot the weekend dad” which is our favourite game to play when waiting for the bill. I theorized the guy beside us eating brunch with his young daughter was not actually a weekend dad but a widower dad. He just had that look.

4.75 cafes out of 5 bistros. 
(I felt I had to deduct marks for Mandi’s mussels though the panini itself was worth a solid 5 rating.)

Dundas Dining: Pascal’s Baguette and Bagels

October 5, 2009

It struck us both as odd we’d been unconsciously avoiding Pascal’s Baguette and Bagels. Mandi thinks this might be due to, from the outside, it appears to have a lot less seating than there actually is. Myself, I was turned off by the font on the windows. Even if Pascal’s does know how to use an apostrophe to indicate the possessive tense. Perhaps it’s simply because the cheesy gold art deco font on the window is at odds with the awesome, rustic carved wooden signage above. Though, now that I look at the photo, the sign actually reads, “Pascal’s and Bagels… Baguette.”  Which doesn’t make a  lot of sense.

After some deliberation, we decided our hesitation was more to do with it being unclear, despite the name stating “baguette” and “bagels”, whether there’d be much in the way of “food” available. We’d sort of written it off as a breakfast place where you’d get a coffee and a croissant.

But no. There’s quite a varied menu which includes hot sandwiches, quiche, a beefy (pardon the metaphor) looking vegetarian pizza plus the titular baguette sandwiches and bagels. Oh, and coffee and croissants too. The chocolate croissants were calling to me. As were some decadent looking chocolate tart thing-a-ma-jigs on the counter. We don’t know what they were but they looked like orgasms in caloric form.

To experience the spectrum, I ordered a roast beef baguette and Mandi the peanut butter and banana bagel. Both the baguette and bagel appeared to be home-bakedif not at the establishment itself, then fresh from a bakery near-by. Mandi’s bagel was “possibly the best bagel I’ve ever eaten.” My baguette sandwich was light on the roast beef but generous with the cheese. Not an unpleasant reversal of common sandwich making custom. Though not “the best I’ve ever eaten” definitely worth a return. Especially since the menu is reasonably priced. The croissants are still calling to me. Even after I’ve just eaten a brownie.

Our Americanos were good. A decent head of schiuma. Not as delightful as Madison’s Creperie, but as I have mentioned previously, such comparisons are unfair.

There was one detractor. A high-pitched, incessant, mechanical whine bored into our skulls the entire visit. Next time we’ll sit at the outdoor tables.

4.5 baguettes out of 5 bagels.

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