Halal 786 Restaurant
In a not altogether altruistic fashion, I'd like to share with the folks of Hog Town that a superb Montreal Pakistani restaurant has opened up a location right here in Toronto (1330 Gerrard East).
I was an habitué of the Montreal location, and after having visited the new Gerrard location, I can assure you that it is every bit as delicious (the Montreal chef is here training the Toronto staff).
Of particular note are their Sarsoon ka saag, biryani and Lahori charga.
Do check them out. You won't be disappointed. (And I will be indebted to you for helping them to remain open.)
We tried 786 yesterday and were impressed, though we didn't order much. The haleem and the boneless ginger chicken both had layers of flavour and a nice (and appropriate) level of heat. Both were delish. The nan was OK, but it was dryish, a bit too thick to cradle the food, and did not taste of the tandoor. Mango and sweet lassis were fine.
Service was fine, though the server did not have enough English to tell us very much. We will return.
That the place was empty (except for us) at a Friday peak dinner hour was disappointing. The previous resto at this location was awful, but this place is a different world. The Lahore Tikka House across the street was, as usual, packed. Although I like the Tikka House, it has declined a lot since their grandiose (and apparently dead in the water) expansion began. While the cooking differs somewhat, they appear to be in a similar realm and 786 has more sophisticated cooking and a greater variety of food. Competition is good and I hope they succeed.
Having only been in TO briefly, I've yet to check out all of the restos on Gerrard. That said (and I may be wide of the mark here, so bear with me), Toronto South Asian food seems to be divided between steam-table fare (which can and is often delightful) and pricier, swankier joints (which I have yet to try). The 786 serves food that is fresh and cooked to taste (spicy or regular), and the flavours arelayered and textured in a way that other places haven't seemed to measure up to.
I have the impression that their cooks cook with abandon. They seem absolutely fearless in a way that makes for great food.
If that says anything without actually saying anything...
Just check 'em out.
We dined at 786 last night. A very good place, and certainly a notch above most of the other places on Gerrard or downtown. So far, in both their menu and cooking, they resemble rather the North Indian/Pakistani places outside the core city areas (ie Iqbal in Woodcliffe or Mr Chillies in Scarborough) - long may it last.
Our favourite dishes were the Lahori fry fish (very fresh tilapia, and well spiced/marinated, without drowning the fish flavour) and also the paya (beef trotter stew). Both were really delish. The chargha was good too, freshly baked, tender and well-flavoured but chicken is rarely very exciting for me. Competent sarson ka saag, and a welcome, extensive, and unusual vegetarian menu with rarely seen dishes such as lobhiya (beans) and karela (bitter melon) masala - we'll try them next time. The breads were a little bit of a disappointment. The nan was fine, but the tandoori roti was average, while the chapati was too big and not warm and fluffy as it should be. The next table had a chicken biryani which looked quite inviting. In future, I might try the biryani rice (sans meat, which is an option along with plain rice) as an approximation of the beloved Eastern India fish and rice combo, and stick to the nan with meat dishes. We look forward to the nihari and haleem on future visits. The menu says they do these only on weekends, but we were told that they had nihari and paya last night (Monday). I am not sure whether they will do them most nights once they are more busy. We always find that the quality of such dishes serve to distinguish places from the normal run of 'curryhouses'.
The service was decent, but the server is a rather nervous and not too articulate young man, appeared a new hire from around here, unlike the kitchen staff who seemed to be from the Montreal place. However, he did us a good turn in informing us that they had paya last night. I would not term the cooking as 'fearless' but rather as cooking which tries to be true to its roots. As I said before, long may it last.
I was there with some friends two nights ago. Had the Lahori fish and chargha chicken, both recommended by our server. They were excellent, especially the fish. We also had a beef curry (forgot what type), which had good gravy, but the beef was a little on the tough side. The butter chicken was a disappointment. I guess I am used to the conventional cream-drenched westernized sauce, rather than the oil-based type (a thick layer of presumably ghee) and a few small cubes of unflavorful chicken breast. And they addes herbs to it!?? There was dried oregano (or basil?) in the sauce.
Next time I'll stick to the fish and try some other items on the menu.
Difference is not so much of country as of region (since India and Pakistan are both Indian sub-continent as is Bangladesh - links with Sri Lankan cuisines and South India). Most of the humbler (and better) Pakistani restos serve Punjabi Muslim cuisine such as haleem (meat/cracked what stew), nihari (beef stew), along with dishes such as karahi gosht, tandoori chicken that are staples of restuarant food all over South Asia. This comes under the ambit of a broad range of North Indian food as oppposed to the South Indian places such as Udipi Palace that serve a very different kind of regional resto cooking, largely vegetarian, and with different spicing and ingredients (largely rice and lentil based) from the North Indian ones. But not correct to say all South Indians are veg, it is just that there are fewer egs of the non-veg South Indian regional places here, except for Maroli (Kerala), and Anjappar (Chettinad) - also the Sri Lankan places in Scarborough where u get both the veg and non-veg S Indian-type dishes. The vast variety of regional Indian/Pakistani cuisines like NW Frontier, Sindhi, Gujarati, Bengali etc one seldom get outside of homes except for specific locations.
On Gerrard, quite a few of the Indian/Pakistani places have links to Lahore or Delhi which were two central urban/food cultures, quite closely related. Surati Sweets is run by Gujaratis and has a few snacks from that region as well as the more common pan-S Asian ones like burfis. In Scarborough, as I said, you can sample good Sri Lankan too in Hopper Hut and a a no of small joints. In Brampton, lots of Punjabi Hndus and Sikhs offer their own takes on sweet and savoury dishes - that is another variant on the Punjabi regional cuisine. I am not taking here about the bulk of the downtown Indian restos which are the standard resto cuisine you will find all over the world, a kind of homogenized 'Indian food scene.
After my trip to 786, I'll post about the menu and what to order, but I'm sure from the first post, you can't really go wrong with a good place. Sometimes restos are a little unsure if non-S Asian customers will like haleem, or paya (trotter broth) etc but if you are an adventurous foodie, just insist. Ask for plain yoghurt on the side or sweet lassi if you need to cut the spice. Often the people there love takking about their own food if they see you are really interested, but they wont really knw much about it from the intellectual angle, so be warned. And North Indians/Pakistanis know nothing of South Indian and the same the other way around, often etc etc so not a good idea to ask Udupi about 786 and the reverse.
There is a wonderful new Pakistani place called Mr Chillies that has just opened on Lawrence, I'll post about it soon - the onwer is very articulate and ethusiastic, and has a couple of dishes no one else makes, including one called khageena.
Do you know if they do a weekend breakfast, and if so what time they open? Wondering if they do halwa-puri etc like some other Pakistani places in the city for breakfast. Or if sarson ka saag is accompanied by the traditional makki ki roti, made from chickpea flour, the quintessential Punjabi winter dish.
Btw, I walked into the previous place, called 'Tribals' or some such name and claimed to offer Frontier cuisine, nothing of the kind, a very average menu in what was trying to be upmarket and just succeeded in being pretentious. After your post, have high hopes for 786.
I've been wondering about this place since I live around the corner. Premises were previously occupied by another Pakistani place that NEVER had anybody in it, and got a few lashings on this board from those adventurous enough to go. So I do hope we have a great new addition to the strip.
What, in your opinion, makes this place stand out from the other Pakistani places nearby?