Saturday, September 18, 2010

CURRY CRAB at Saigon Star!

Although we love to eat, we don't know enough about places off the beaten path and rely in particular on our "local" friends for recommendations on Asian food places in the burbs. Our good friends Jon and Stella brought us to Saigon Star during the Summer, and we were in LOVE. Saigon Star serves Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, and is most famous for its curry crab. This crab is no joke - it is heart stopping rich and indulgent, and is like no other crab or curry you have had before! The crab comes hot and fresh, drenched in delicious curry yet still has the sweet, fresh taste of crab meat. After our first time there, we knew we'd be back to try other crab preparations. The next time we accidentally found our way to the restaurant was just Tony and I. We confidently ordered a crab, pineapple fried rice (you always need something to have with the curry sauce!), and water spinach with shrimp paste sauce (tung choi). Obviously, we were way too ambitious and finished nothing but the crab. The servers were so gracious, although we got to the restaurant around 10:30pm (closes at 11:00pm), they assured us we could take our time...but we felt really bad anyhow, the staff was getting ready for their dinner!

On Friday, we made another trip to Saigon Star with friends. I was excited to revisit with more people - we wanted to try the beer crab and needed people to share it with! We made reservations and did our best to get their early - the restaurant is always packed. So many things on the menu look delicious at Saigon Star, I've always wanted to try the hot pot seafood rice pilaf with coconut milk & curry...but after curry crab it just seems like too much. We went with the standard: curry crab, hot pot beer crab served with clear noodles, pineapple fried rice and roti (a must for mopping up the curry), grilled honey pork neck meat (another famous dish), Thai tom yum shrimp soup , our veggie favourite the shrimp paste water spinach. Yum! Our meal was spectacular as usual, starting first with the curry crab, which you can't possibly eat without making a mess! The beer crab was also fantastic and I'm glad we had a chance to order it - it's very different from the curry crab, not as intensely flavoured, but delicious in a different way. The hot pot broth was very tasty, filled with vegetables and chewy clear noodles...I couldn't get enough. I can barely decide which I prefer more; but ultimately, the curry is the real outstanding dish. If curry crab were a 10 beer crab would be a very close 9.5...and felt a bit less dangerous to my heart.

It was a perfect meal for a Friday night, we were all ready to just collapse from food coma. Saigon Star is a real gem and is starting to be a regular spot for us to take visitors. Best crab in the city, I think! Having a cold beer or some young coconut juice is the perfect accompaniment to the's like being on a tropical holiday, a brief escape via food and drinks :)

A Feast at Banjara Indian Cuisine

I had a craving for butter chicken last week, and too hungry to wait on the great food at Matagali (although delicious, sometimes the wait is just too long!), we started to look up where else we could go. Bread Bar is always a favourite, but then we were also too lazy to drive north. There are plenty of great Indian places around town, and I thought of a place our friends Stella and Andrew recommended - the best butter chicken in Toronto!? Worth a try!

Pulling up to the front of Banjara Indian Cuisine, Gloria immediate recognized it as a place she had been before and said the food was we were off to a good start. They don't take reservations (I tried), but it seems we arrived at just the right time, and the first round of diners were just finishing up so we were seated within 10min. Banjara is what you would expect from an Indian restaurant - lively and colourful! There is also abundant space on the patio for a hot Summer night. The menu is extensive - we had already browsed it while waiting so we wouldn't have to waste time deciding what to eat :)

Here's what 4 hungry people settled on:

- 2 orders of butter chicken: we were foolishly hungry and the metal bowls at other tables didn't look that big!
- goat curry: I had been craving this since we had it at our friends' wedding in Calgary at the Taj Mahal restaurant. It was the first I had it and was so delicious!
- shahi shrimp: we ordered this because we had never had it, shrimp cooked with coconut and green spices.
- palak panner: done with spinach and cream.
- bheendi masala: another dish we had not had before, okra done with onions and tomatoes.
- sides of saffron rice (my favourite), plan naan and garlic naan. was a lot of food! Don't let those little bowls fool you, we forgot how rich things like butter chicken can be and ended up with leftovers. The food was all good and satisfying, we often found ourselves staring at the table and wondering what we should eat next! The best of the night was the okra, most unique and delicious. While we were very happy with our food, it was served just warm, not hot enough in temperature...and in fact, also not spicy enough. We had ordered all our food "medium," I was the weakest link, but it really was mild so next time I think we would definitely go spicy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Good Quick Meal at O&B Canteen

We're gearing up for TIFF this week, and thought no better chance than now to get acquainted with the new O&B Canteen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. We're not expecting it'll be an easy place to get a seat once things get busy down on King Street, although it is unfortunate the rest of the building doesn't appear to be quite ready for the festivities. No worries - Canteen is ready to serve!

Canteen is modern with simple lines for decor and lofty high ceilings. I especially loved the giant blackboards that cover the back wall (kitchen) boasting grab and go items to the left and market cafe dining menu to the right. The half open-kitchen concept has various le Creuset serving pieces sitting along a long stainless steel rack. I was tempted just to order just whatever was served in the Moroccan Tangine! The restaurant offers different specials by day in slightly different variations - Saturday was burger day, a turkey burger. We, however, decided to skip the special.

There was no question what I would have to start, picked easily off the paper menu/placemats - potted shrimp! Tony ordered the chicken liver parfait, which was AMAZING!!
It was probably the best chicken liver parfait we have ever had, incredibly smooth, rich and we just couldn't get enough. It was served with cumberland sauce, which had a bit of kick and was quite complementary, but we loved the parfait just as it was. My potted shrimp was served chilled in a mason jar, and more just like a cold shrimp salad, although it was still quite delicious. For mains, I had mussels in white wine sauce (served in a creuset, yay!). The broth was great, and I only wish it had been served with some French bread rather than the little toasts - didn't soak up the broth as well! It's about a pound of mussels, so not for the super hungry, but was sufficient for me. The mussels were also served with a side green salad, which was probably one of the nicest side salads I've had, including candied peacans. Yum! Tony loved his gnocchi with braised lamb, although I found the gnocchi a little bit crumbly. A really nice touch was the fresh parmesan grated on top. We were quite full after dinner, and the dessert wasn't calling out to me, but next time, maybe I will try the brownie.

When I think about good restaurants vs bad, there are always several elements: food quality, service, efficiency, and ambiance. Overall, O&B Canteen is a solid choice for any meal - I didn't find the food extraordinary but I enjoyed it, the service and ambiance were both good, and most importantly for a theatre district restaurant - it was quick and efficient. It's definitely a great "go to" restaurant, and maybe next time I'll try that burger special and definitely have some more chicken liver parfait!