Friday, August 22, 2014

Can't Get Enough Dumplings

I just can't stay away from this beautiful restaurant. Just look at it. We've written about this at least five times dating back to 2009 (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th). I try my best to visit the Northern Dumpling Kitchen when I'm visiting Toronto and the Greater Area of Toronto (GTA). I used to try to visit House of Gourmet for my noodles but I haven't been there in over two years (!). During this trip back in May, I wanted to bring VN and have her try soup dumplings for the first time.



This was the first full day visiting VN in Toronto. With empty stomachs, we drove up to Richmond Hill for brunch. There were probably two people there when we arrived. It didn't matter. I knew this place was solid. We placed our order after quickly going through the menu.

The bowl of lamb noodle soup arrived first, then the pan-fried chicken dumplings and stir-fried snow pea shoots arrived shortly after. Although the dish looks greasy, it was refreshingly light -- which we needed that day.

For the untrained eye, the pan-fried chicken dumplings look so ordinary. But unless you've read or heard about these soup-filled dumplings, you'll probably burn yourself and make a huge mess. Actually, those things will probably happen even if you know. I love how the dumplings are crispy, chewy, tender, and juicy, all at the same time. Even Mom was impressed with these when she tried them -- and that's a rare thing.

The dish was a steamer of xiao long bao, which were filled with the same soup as the chicken dumplings. These pouches were gobbled up with so much joy with only a bit of ginger and vinegar. VN was impressed at how the dumplings tasted so good.


After lunch, we needed to go shopping for dinner. But first, we needed some dessert. Ding Dong Pasteries & Cafe to the rescue!

Our family usually just gets a box of assorted baked buns when we go to Chinese bakeries. Getting these sticky rice balls filled with peanuts and sugar was like a blast from the past. Mom used to make these once in a while and she'd fill them with toasted sesame seeds for more flavour. These were very enjoyable.

On our travels in Chinatown, we came across the Banh Mi & Che Cali under renovations. We were hoping to get some che (Vietnamese dessert) for after dinner. In the end, we checked out Fong on Foods Ltd. and then went to Nguyen Huong for some banh mi, steamed rice cakes, and che dau (sticky rice black bean pudding). We got most of the things we needed and headed back to VN's place.

While the 11th season of Top Chef, we prepared dinner relatively quickly. There was a funny bit when the fourth episode, Captain Vietnam, began. As if they were challenged to make Vietnamese-related food while we were making cuon.


We had the components of the cuon out on the table: rice paper, hot water to hydrate the rice paper, nem nuong, pork, fresh mint, fresh thai basil, and the noodles which were waaaay over done. It was totally my fault. To be honest, if it weren't for that awesome hoisin-peanut butter sauce VN made, it would've been inedible. Seriously. When we bit into the cuon, the noodles mashed together to form something akin to paste. Gross, I know. We both loaded our wraps with the dipping sauce before every bite.

Thankfully, dessert was a huge improvement from the noodle mishap.

Northern Dumpling Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Ding Dong Pastries on Urbanspoon
Nguyen Huong on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 18, 2014

Brunch at Pacific Mall, ChaTime

On the Friday of my trip to Toronto, JT (our cousin) and I went to Pacific Mall (aka P-Mall) for lunch.  JT was really hungry so we snaked through the top floor in search of something to eat. It was a tough decision. On one hand, JT wanted noodles with soup but also something stir-fried. I wanted almost everything! There were so many options and so little stomach space. We split up and decided to meet back up at a table by Beard Papa's.

JT returned with Singaporean curry noodles. It was slightly spicy with a hint of smokiness from the wok. JT inhaled the first half and then hit a wall. I can't remember what the restaurant is called, but it's from the place on the right side of the noodle-pulling place. You know, that place.

Since we both like beef cheung fun, I got an order for us to share from Good Taste Garden, a place in the same area as Beard Papa's. We both found the noodles were underdone and the filling was lacking in both the taste and quantity. I do remember that their cheung fun was solid a few years back.

Despite knowing that shrimp wonton noodle soup would be better if we go elsewhere in the Markham area, I gave it a try. The shrimp wontons were juicy and plump, however, they didn't have that sweet freshness taste.

We were beyond full and had to bring the Singaporean noodles back home. We waddled back down through the mall and visited a few candy shops. I was hoping to find the elusive green tea KitKat that I've heard so much about. There are green tea Pocky in Ottawa but not the KitKat bars, I suspect it's because the KitKat bars are a Japanese product. Through the interwebs, I found out that they usually do carry the sweet treats in the mall.

I spy, with my little eyes... Yaaaa! There it iiiiiis!

We left P-Mall with a few goods and headed to Chatime nearby to decide what else to do with our day. At this point, our little tummies were still full but we fought on. I'm not sure if I ever talked about Chatime, but their milk tea is freaking remarkable! I'm was elated when I heard that they were expanding around the GTA. And now apparently they have one at P-Mall? What the what?

Large pearl milk tea with less ice and pudding pour moi. I actually only wanted pearls. The pudding was accidental. The convo between me and the guy, who manned the cash, went something like this:

Me: "Hi, can we get a regular taro milk tea with pearls?"
Him: "Regular milk tea with pearls."
Me: "Can we also get a large pearl milk tea, but can you put in less ice?"
Him: "Huh? Pu*indiscernible audio* less ice?"
Me: Uh... *smile and nod*
Him: "Okay. No problem."

Yeah, so I failed. "Can you put in less ice?" Gah! "Less ice" would've been fine. Lesson learned. It's actually a similar lesson to the "mo' sauce" thing. Anyway, we grabbed our drinks and sat at one of the empty tables. For a few minutes, we just stared at the drinks while cooling off in the AC. I didn't mentioned it before, but that day was hot and sunny!

The pudding was like a softer version of grass jelly. It was odd. I don't think I'd get it again. The milk tea on the other hand, I wanted to order another one after I finished it. Greed. Pure greed. But the way I saw it was that Ottawa bubble tea places pale in comparison to this amazing worldwide bubble tea giant. JT didn't enjoy her taro milk tea because they blended up taro which resulted in a grainy texture. She preferred the powdered taro version.

Here's one of the treasures that we left P-Mall with. Aw yeah!

We headed back to JT's place for the night and ended up watching stuff like Kings of Pastry on Netflix. Man, is Netflix ever addictive!


Good Taste Garden on Urbanspoon

Chatime on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cinnamon Scones

After an early routine ultrasound at the Civic Hospital, I needed breakfast or at least a snack. I wandered over to the cafeteria and was immediately drawn to the cookies, muffins, and scones. Unsure of what to get, I grabbed a cup of coffee first and then returned. Staring at all the options for a bit, I picked the cinnamon scone because it stood out. Remembering the scones I had in Toronto, I excitedly paid for my breakfast and tried to find a clean table that was well lit -- for the photos, of course.

I took a bite and began to chew. Not too dry, not too sweet. Woah! I bit into something sweet and slightly crunchy. Cinnamon bark? No, it's soft and sweet. And that's when I realized that there were cinnamon sugar pearls in it. I thought I had picked up a cinnamon raisin scone. This was so much better than that!

On my way home, I tried to remember if I ever made a tasty scone. There was this one time when I attempted to make buttery biscuits. They ended up turning into scones because of over mixing. Other than that, I couldn't recall making scones.

Then one rainy day, I woke up with the urge to eat cinnamon scones again. With a few quick searches, I realized that I actually had to buy the cinnamon sugar pearls. I'm sure I could've made something like it, but it would probably take too long. Instead, I thought about using Skor toffee pieces to make *drumroll* cinnamon toffee scones. Doooone!

I found a recipe, added more cinnamon into the dough, replaced the cinnamon sugar pearls with toffee bits. I made both regular-sized scones and mini-scones. When these were in the oven, the house was filled with the perfume of cinnamon and sugar.

Boom. They turned out d-e-ricious! I'll definitely be making more scones from now on.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Street Food Ottawa Adventures: Streat Gourmet and Bap by Raon Kitchen

Ottawa's food truck/stand scene is still young and blossoming. There were 17 food trucks and cart permits that were given out by the city last year. Unfortunately, I've personally only tried a few of them. I've checked out the Street Food App before and seen the options out there, I just need to start planning some outings. I'm hoping to give more of them a try and thought that it would be great if I create a new label for the series. We'll call it the Street Food Adventures in Ottawa (or SFAO for short). There will also be a new "street food" label too.

Where do I begin? Andrew, our youngest brother, and I planned to go downtown to meet up with Lucy for lunch. Richard was invited by declined to complete our sibling quartet. We arrived early to ensure that we'd have a choice of everything available at the food trucks and stands. We got their a little too early and got hungry, so we tucked into the Olly Fresco's Market inside L'Esplanade for a little appetizer.

Holy! It took every ounce of self discipline not to splurge and buy and eat everything in sight. There were pierogies with sautéed onions and bacon in their buffet pans, a few kinds of soups, lots of sandwiches, and sweets. Everything looked so good. I walked around and took it all in -- the sights I mean. I'll be returning for lunch in the future. Walking around that beautiful place while hungry was a bad mistake. In the end, Andrew and I shared a pastrami sandwich on a toasted sesame seed bagel.

There were a few spots that were burned, but other than that, it was a great snack. It made us feel less antsy. I picked up a few desserts for later too. There's a date square, a red berries square (I say it's raspberry, someone else said it was strawberry rhubarb, so we'll just generalize and call it red berries), and a piece of carrot cake.

After our snack, I went to get some cash on Sparks Street, while Andrew went to pick up some dolla drinks at McD. I had planned to grab some lobster mac and cheese from the Ad Mare food truck, but by the time I returned from the bank, they were sold out. My fault. Andrew and I met back up at the Streat Gourmet food truck on O'Connor and Albert.

Based on what I've read and seen first hand, Streat Gourmet's menu changes daily. The chef, Ben Baird, is constantly tweaking and experimenting to cater to more people. I admire him for that. It takes guts but he clearly knows what he's doing. Despite not having a regular dish on the menu, he's always keeping it interesting. Some of the main offerings in the past have included things like peameal bacon sandwiches, tacos, tandoori salmon burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and soups. Dessert options he's offered has been things like butterscotch pudding with bananas, graham crumbs, Streat cinnamon buns, cookies, donuts, and rhubarb upside down cake with whipped cream. Lots of variety.

When we arrived, they had the roast beef with potato roesti, horseradish gravy, with a salad of spinach and carrot ribbons. Andrew wanted to grab something else, so we continued to walk.

We met up with Lucy at the Bap by Raon Kitchen stand on Bank Street (between Albert and Slater). As their name suggests, they serve a Korean mixed rice (could be a mix with other grains too) dish called bibimbap.

For the protein choices, they offer tofu, beef bulgogi, spicy pork or spicy chicken. You choose to have all the toppings like egg, veggies and kimchi, or you can adjust it to your taste by telling them to leave stuff out.

Once they finish making your bibimbap, you can personalize your bowl furthermore by adding some toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, and gochujang (aka Korean red pepper paste or Korean spicy sauce, as it says on the label). I'm not sure if other people like having to dress their meals themselves, but we love it because then we can adjust it to our taste.

If you aren't familiar with seasoning your bibimbap, I recommend using only a few drops of sesame oil, a few swirls of the gochujang, and a few shakes of sesame seeds. Soy sauce isn't necessary, in my opinion.

There was a bit of a line but it was moving steadily. Lucy went with the tofu bibimbap, while Andrew took the beef bulgogi route. We took our lunches and retreated indoors to a nearby food court to enjoy.

My lunch from the Streat Gourmet food truck was still warm when we began to eat. The tender slices of roast beef sat on top of the potato roesti, which was a potato pancake, was quite enjoyable. As a gravy snob who loves gravy made with pan drippings and fond (the sticky caramelized stuff left on a tray after baking), I was disappointed with the gravy. I couldn't taste the horseradish at all. The gravy, which was packed in a small cup, also had a slight sweetness. I kept going back to it throughout the lunch because I tried to like it. In the end, I left the rest of the gravy alone. The final element of the lunch was the spinach and carrot ribbon salad. The salad was crunchy and the simple vinaigrette cut through the heavy flavours really well. Despite the gravy letdown, lunch was great. Other than the gravy, I finished everything -- before Lucy and Andrew even finished eating -- which is unheard of! (I'm the slowest eater of the family.)

Andrew dressed his bibimbap with all the toppings. Once he mixed everything and tucked into his lunch, he mentioned that he would've loved to add less soy sauce and more gochujang if he could redo it. Lucy used everything but the soy sauce and happily devoured her bowl of bibimbap, with the help of the Streat salad.

It's only the second season for a lot of the food trucks/stands, so they're still working out the kinks. Even if there are bumps along the way, I'll try to support them. You should too. Go Ottawa!


Olly Fresco's (Located inside L'Esplanade Laurier Building)
181 Bank Street

Ottawa Streat Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Bap By Raon Kitchen on Urbanspoon


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