Epicurean Rut! Need Recs for Best "Mystery Meals"
I find myself in a bit of a rut, it would seem. I go to the same Ethiopian joint for the same veggie platter, order the same Pho from the Pho place on the corner, grab the same chicken from the same 'ole churresqueria, and get the same pulled pork from the local BBQ spot.
But let me define my request a little bit better:
I'd like recommendations for good, inexpensive out-of-the-way joints that don't look at me funny when I ask for "chef's choice" meals. Places where the menu might not be in English (if they have a menu at all). Places that won't bring me chicken fingers. I want to try something new, something that I might not otherwise have the nerve to order!
In Japanese restaurants, you'd ask for 'omakase' and receive dishes that are unique to the restaurant, or that are seasonal or somehow special. I'd like that experience, but at weird little Bangladeshi joints in the 'burbs, or mom-and-pop Asian outfits in a strip mall in downtown nowheres-ville. Places that will willingly and enthusiastically cook a meal that is "as the chef likes it", not something that caters to North American tastes.
Basically, "Hit me with your best shot... Fire awaaaaay".
I'm at College & Dufferin, but I'm willing to go anywhere that the TTC goes.
That said, location is less important than finding a place that is ready and willing to serve a "Chef's Choice" meal. I'm asking here, because I find that restaurants often have difficulty with this request: they aren't willing to risk serving something "different", or something really spicy, or a dish that uses weird ingredients.
How about Fantaxia at Don Mills/Finch. It's a traditional homestyle chinese restaurant, nothing fancy but it does offer a "chef's special". I went to a family birthday dinner there and it was a creative surprise.
3555 Don Mills Rd, Toronto, ON M2H3N3, CA
On Wednesdays, the chef at Fat Cat Wine Bar on Roncesvalles offers a "Trust Me!" menu: 4 (or more) chef-chosen courses for $35. I haven't tried it myself (it's on my to do list), but I've heard good things.
Fat Cat Wine Bar
331 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto, ON M6R2M8, CA
You can definitely call ahead to request chefs' multicourse meals at a number of restaurants, but my only experiences doing that are at mid to higher-end restos. Are you hoping to go off the menu or are you just looking for assistance creating an interesting meal from existing options? I am sure that the Black Hoof and/or Hoof Cafe could accommodate you, as can Tabule, Mashu Mashu, Djerba la Douce, Pomegranate, Torito, Cava, Zucca, Origin, Amuse and many others. I would call first and ask what the restaurant can do for you. Do them a favour and go on a quieter night, perhaps Monday through Wednesday, so the chef can give your request his or her full attention. Expensive restaurants get these requests all the time, but a small or ethnic place should have no problem granting your request, as long as you give them adequate notice. I recall someone posting about a special dinner created for them at Sukhothai. My local Viet place takes advance requests for just about anything, from bun rieu cua to family style meals with rice, meat, vegetable and mustard greens soup courses. Ask ahead and ye shall receive, but ask when you've just been seated and don't be surprised if the kitchen balks.
2009 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON M4S 1Z8, CA
387 Spadina Rd, Toronto, ON M5P, CA
Djerba la Douce
1475 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4J1N5, CA
276 Augusta Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2L9, CA
1560 Yonge St., Toronto, ON M4T 2S9, CA
11 4th St E, Cornwall, ON K6H2H7, CA
The Black Hoof
928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA
Very thoughtful post, thank you. My preference would be to go off-menu. My goal is to try something that I haven't had before, or that I might not order because I don't know what it is. I'd be avoiding the expensive places out of necessity. Good tip on calling ahead: I'm going to try this at a couple of places.
One interesting idea possibly worth pursuing with Indian restaurants would be to find out where exactly the owner/chef is from and request a full meal of regional specialties. The owner/chef should be flattered at your interest in his or her specific region. Again, though, I would suggest either calling ahead or visiting once to try regular menu items, then chatting up the owner and organizing this special menu for your next visit. For instance, I would love to have some of the dishes I tasted in Rajasthan that I've never seen on a menu here. If I were to find out that a restaurant is owned by a Rajasthani, I'd definitely inquire about dal bati, which is homey comfort food. A trip to Karaikudi Chettinad Restaurant during their non buffet times could yield a delicious Chettinadi meal.