Sunday, October 31, 2010

UPDATED: Toronto Marathon Weekend - Oct. 15th - 17th

Updated with Lucy's comments in green below.

~ * ~

As I mentioned in a previous post, Lucy and I took a trip down to Toronto. I was heading down to cover the marathon. (Looking for your official photos? Go to Marathon Foto.)

We took the morning bus, so Lucy and I arrived early in the afternoon - just in time for lunch. Maybe it's just me, but after a 5-hour bus ride, I just don't have the energy to walk around downtown Toronto for something decent to eat. Luckily, Kenzo Ramen is around the corner - quite literally, too.

Let's talk about the amazing ramen, shall we? Just as I did the last time I was here, I had ordered the shio (salt broth) ramen. Soon after we gave the gentleman our order, our ramen arrived.

Kenzo Ramen: Shio
My bowl was perfect. The slice of naruto, two small sheets of seaweed, slivers of green onions and slices of bamboo shoots all added a different texture and taste dimension.

Kenzo Ramen: Cha Siu
What gets me every time I have this ramen is the cha siu. The tender, juicy slices of cha siu were oozing of the flavour of pork. Look at the marbling! Nothing about that slice of cha siu was dry. Surprisingly, I finished my bowl with ease.

Lucy ordered the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen. I think it's because of the soft boiled egg.

Kenzo Ramen: Tonkotsu
The difference between her bowl and mine, other than the type of soup, naruto, bamboo shoots, green onions, soft boiled egg, a few pieces of bok choy, a bit of fried garlic (scraped on the side of the bowl), and pickled ginger (the pink stuff on top).

The creamy, porkiness of the soup was amazing.  The last time we visited, I tried some of Jimmy's tonkotsu ramen, but I don't remember what it tasted like (blame Gravol).  I was impressed with how well the garlic paste and ginger cut through the rich broth.  The soft-boiled egg was pretty good, but I enjoy my yolk runnier.  Also, the bok choy was slightly overcooked and limp.  It was a solid bowl of ramen that certainly hit the spot, but I plan on trying another flavour next time.

Kenzo Ramen: Bill
We both left pretty happy with lunch.

As an aside, we had a less-than-friendly greeting as we entered the restaurant.  When we arrived at the restaurant, it looked like the end of the lunch rush (people finishing their ramen up/waiting/paying the bill). I saw a waitress helping out some customers toward the back of the restaurant, but other than that, no other waitress/waiters were visible. There was a table free right beside us, so we decided to take a seat. All, but two, tables at the front of the restaurants were empty, so I thought it would be fine. Apparently it wasn't...

A waiter popped out of the back of the restaurant and approached us. This was the brief conversation.

"Hi, it's just the two of us."
"Okay. Next time, please wait at the front to be seated."
"Ah, okay, sorry."
"It's fine. But, *Pointing at the piece of paper that read, 'Please wait to be seated.'* next time wait until someone helps you to a table."

 At the time, I just shrugged it off as I was starving. The only thing going through my head was the soup and cha siu I was about to eat. Reflecting on what had happened on the subway ride later, I became upset at how he delivered the message. Sure, we shouldn't have been so impatient and just seated ourselves. But come on, is it really necessary to point at the crumpled piece of paper? I found it demeaning and offensive. We got it the first time, sir. Yeah, thanks.

 Later that evening, at our hotel in Mississauga, Lucy and I had a bit of trouble finding dinner. What we eventually settled on was a health nut's dream.

Pizza Nova
A pepperoni pizza from Pizza Nova. They had a walk-in special, so why not. It was pretty good that night. I remember discovering Pizza Nova after being fed up with Pizza Depot earlier this year. The main thing that draws me to Pizza Nova is their sauce. It's brighter and tastier than Pizza Depot's. Lucy noticed small pieces of tomatoes in the sauce, too. Points in her book, I'm sure. There wasn't a lot of cheese, so it made it really easy to eat. We killed it in no time.

Although it was fast food pizza, I was impressed with the aroma.  The sauce was simple but delicious because it wasn't heavily spiced.  I liked how the clean taste of tomatoes shone through, and the little pieces of tomato bits brightened each bite.

We also ventured around the area to pick up other food. Once we were back at our hotel room, in front of a Leafs game, we put everything we had to consume on the table.

Junk Food
Our gourmet dinner was pretty cheap, too! Let's see what we had... assorted Timbits, apple juice, honey nut Cheerios, wasabi peas, sour fruit slices, (watered-down) Powerade, and Iced Caps made with chocolate milk instead of cream. Yum!

It was horrible and yet delicious all at the same time.  We definitely didn't overeat, which helps a lot when you have a spread of complete crap in front of you.

The next morning, we missed the hotel's complimentary breakfast. Ah well. Feeling pretty worn out from traveling the day before, Lucy and I just loafed around until noon. Just like the night before, we struggled to decide what lunch would be. There was a BBQ place behind the hotel, but it was closed. We ended up walking down the street towards a place called Iron Chef. I wasn't in the mood for Japanese, but with the lack of choice, I was just going to suck it up. As we got closer, a small bakery caught my attention.

Looking around the small bakery, Diana's Pasticerria, I noticed that they had a selection of freshly baked loaves of bread and sweets. In the far corner, there was a deli counter. Diana Pasticceria was a cute place. We walked towards the deli counter, noticing that they serve sandwiches. We stood there for a few minutes, unsure of what to order. What made things worse was the cold stare of the two older ladies behind the counter. They were intimidating! Not in the elderly-Chinese-woman way. Had they have been Asian, I wouldn't have been fazed.

"What should I get?" I asked Lucy, hoping she'd toss me a lifeline.
"I don't know. What do you feel like?" With that comment, she had tossed me to the wolves. Lovely.
"Hi, can I get... uhh.... a.. uh... *staring over the many different deli meats* prosciutto and capocollo sandwich?" I asked one of the ladies, without making eye contact.
"Capocollo?" she snapped impatiently.
Was I only allowed one type of deli meat? "Uh.. yeah.. capocollo." I answered, hoping I wouldn't be harmed for my choice.
Nodding towards the cooling shelves at the front of the store, the scary lady asked, "can you get me your bread?"

I went over to the shelves, got a sheet of waxed paper and grabbed the closest thing to me. I walked back to the deli counter and handed the bread over. Phew. I'm safe.

"What kind of cheese?"
I froze. My heart pounded in my ears. All I could think of was the one with holes. "The on... Swiss.. Swiss please."

They were freaking scary.  Not outwardly rude, per se, but definitely not welcoming or friendly.  Not sure if I'd go back because of the atmosphere.  Seeing everyone else being treated the same way - even the regulars - made me feel a little better though.  They're just terrible with customer service skills, I suppose.

Capocollo Sandwich
This was the finished product. The lady finished putting it all together not long before Lucy's was. I really wished I had prosciutto or some other kind of meat. It needed more flavour. The bread was fine.

It looked rather boring.

Speaking of Lucy's sandwich... While the lady, with her cold back facing us, making my sandwich took her time putting it all together, the other lady stepped up behind the counter. Up next to the spotlight, Lucy ordered the veal Parmesan sandwich.

The first piece of veal that the lady grabbed in the container of tomato sauce wasn't that large. She quickly put it back and grabbed a giant piece of breaded veal. That's more like it! 

Veal Parmesan Sandwich 2
The piece of veal was larger than the baguette.

Also on the sandwich was mushrooms and pepper. They were fished out of some sort of liquid. The lady didn't drain them before she put them on Lucy's sandwich. Oh man, her sandwich was going to get soggy.

Veal Parmesan Sandwich 3
It would've been really good if the bread wasn't soggy.

The sandwich had a lot going on.  The veal cutlet was moist and juicy, and all of the extra toppings (peppers and mushrooms) added depth and spice to a basic sandwich.  I especially loved the mushrooms because they were so full of flavour.  It was apparent that they had been cooking for a long time.  The sandwich quickly became a total mess as the bread began to disintegrate and all the ingredients began sliding around.  It looked like I massacred the sandwich after I finished.  And I wasn't able to finish the sandwich in the end... it was just way too big.

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to wind down from the stressful experience.

That night, we met up with Liz for dinner. We met up at a small, but popular, Korean restaurant right outside of Finch station. It was a Saturday night, so we weren't surprised that it was full. What was surprising was how short the wait was. We were lucky to have a large group of friends ahead of us that were seated shortly after we arrived. The restaurant was full of Koreans. That's a real good sign you're in the right place.

Once we ordered, all the banchan (side dishes) and salad arrived.

Nakwon Restaurant 4
Seasoned bean sprouts and fish cakes.

The fish cakes were sweet and chewy - one of my favourites.  My only complaint is that they weren't spicy enough.

Nakwon Restaurant 5
Potato and chap chae. I loved these potatoes. They're covered in a slightly sweet sauce. Yum!

The chap chae was okay.  I prefer my own version, which has a lot more flavour, but I did finish this one without complaints.  The simmered potatoes were sweet and sticky, providing a nice contrast with the pickled banchan.

Nakwon Restaurant 6
Beans and pickled, shredded daikon. I'm not sure what you call these beans, but they're real good.

I think the beans were soy beans, but I'm not sure.  They were seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil.  They were barely cooked, so they retained their bite and were almost crunchy.  I had never seen this dish before, but they're one of my new favourites.

Nakwon Restaurant 3
Seaweed and kimchi.

Their kimchi was gooooooooooooooood.  Spicy and slightly sour, it was probably less than a month old.  It had a hint of ginger and packed a punch of garlic.  I'm sure Jimmy would approve.

Soon after the ban chan arrived, our seafood hot pot ( aka haemool jungol) arrived. 

Nakwon Restaurant 2
Here's one side. I see some sort of small fish, tofu, wood ear mushrooms, noodles and watercress.

Nakwon Restaurant 1
On the other side, squid (looks like it was precooked), mussels, and gochujang. There's hidden treasure at the bottom. Keep reading and you'll find out what it was.

Once cooked, this is what everything looked like.

Nakwon Restaurant 7
It doesn't look like much, since the hot pot is really shallow.

Nakwon Restaurant 8
Let me reveal the treasures. Sliced rice cakes and daikon. Yum! I love daikon in soups. Towards the end, bloated rice cakes and strands of the noodles were found. It's too bad they weren't eaten earlier, cause when you ate the over-done rice cakes and noodles, it was mush.

According to the menu, all their hot pots serve two people. I think they meant that they serve two men, cause the three of us seemed to struggle.

It was so much food!  We ate for nearly an hour, and we still only got through two-thirds of it.  I was amazed at the freshness of the seafood, especially the pieces of fish.  By the end of the meal, the dduk that we forgot about had absorbed all of the flavours of the soup, but they were practically mush.

We were about halfway through the pot when our other dish arrived.

Nakwon Restaurant 9
Seafood pancake (aka haemool pahjun).

I wish I had more space in my stomach, cause this was so good! Unlike other restaurants that would be stingy, Nakwon packed the seafood. Me thinks it's because ajummas (older Korean women) would throw a fit if they were stingy.

I totally agree!  There was an amazing amount of seafood.  I could eat this for an entire meal.  It was crispy on the outside, slightly chewy and soft on the inside.  I've never been able to get my vegetable/seafood pancakes to this texture, but now I don't have to try, haha!

Nakwon Restaurant 10
Look at all the squid! There were sweet pieces of shrimp, scallops and other fruits of the sea. Since it arrived late, we only had enough space for a piece or two. The rest was packed up to go. Man that would have been a tasty late night snack.

Everything there looked amazing. A lot of people ordered the gamjangtang, that night, which is a delicious looking pork bone soup. I'm definitely ordering this or the gamjangtang jungol (hot pot version) next time - and there will be a next time. =]

I definitely left the restaurant with a smile and a bit of a waddle. And you know another thing that made me smile? 

Nakwon Restaurant 11
The price of a delicious Korean dinner.


I had to leave the hotel super early the next morning. Funny enough, I ate the same breakfast as I did last year before covering the Toronto marathon. Breakfast bacon bagel meal without the nasty pepper sauce. I guess it has become my pre-event breakfast. The Toronto marathon went by smoothly, though the sun liked to play behind the clouds. The weather was gorgeous though.

After the event, Kelvin and I headed to Chinatown for a quick lunch. Kelvin wanted pho, but we found a parking spot in front of a ramen place, so we went there instead. The ramen place in question was Ajisen Ramen. I've heard of this place before, while doing a quick search for a good ramen place for Lucy and Jimmy on a trip they took a while ago.

I had ordered the cha siu ramen, while Kelvin ordered a seafood ramen. We also got an order of agedashi tofu that was pretty good.

Image courtesy of Kelvin

The cha siu wasn't as good as Kenzo. In fact, the cha siu here was dry and not very juicy. I noticed that they added fried garlic oil which was tasty surprise. I didn't enjoy the bean sprouts, but hey, I rarely enjoy bean sprouts. I didn't mind the soft boiled egg.

Does anyone know what the deal is with the weird spoons? I don't get it. It's like a wooden ladle.

Anyway, it seemed like Kelvin enjoyed his bowl of ramen. He didn't really say anything about it. He polished it off though, so it had to be tasty.

Image courtesy of Kelvin 

Image courtesy of Kelvin

After lunch, I rushed back to the bus terminal and caught the bus home. And with that, another slightly stressful, but awesome trip to Toronto came to an end.



Kenzo Japanese Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Pizza Nova on Urbanspoon

Diana Pasticcerea Cafe on Urbanspoon

Nak Won Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ajisen Ramen on Urbanspoon

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