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Jun 25, 2012 03:03 PM

Chowthoughts on Nuttall-Smith's latest review

There are some obviously well known ones on there like Zen, but what do CH'ers think of the list in general? I'm not from Scarberia so many of the names are new to me

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  1. I've tried a few over the years (but no takeout - don't do that as everything is soggy by the time I get home).
    In general I've found them competent but unexciting. In particular the flavours tend to be 1-dimensional. Sort of place I frequented in my college days, or use for fuel now, rather than dining.
    But I think that was his intent anyway - I'm assuming so, as none of those I've tried have been worth a 15 minute drive.
    These are all (possibly) great neighbourhood places. The sort that belong in a neighbourhood newspaper (oh, isn't that where Joanne Kates is now?!).

    1. I've never generally been a CN-S fan and even though this latest review felt a lot like an attempt to be overtly different from Joanne Kates and the kinds of reviews/spots she did, I gotta say that I found it to be a decent read. I'm not familiar with most of the spots that he reviewed so I can't review his review - but I do like that he was highlighting lesser known, cheap spots outside the downtown core.

      1. What a 'ONE-DIMENSIONAL' biased list!!!
        He must have a palette only for hot/spicy food since 7 out of 10 on that list serve hot, spicy South Asian food!
        Scarborough and not a single Northern Chinese or Cantonese restaurant mentioned????!!
        Next, he'll most probably has a write-up on Vaughn and Woodbridge but leaving out Italian!!!

        19 Replies
        1. re: Charles Yu

          Agree with Charles. I live in Scarborough and except for Zen, I have/had little interest in the other 9 places mentioned, most of which I've never heard of. That he did not include a single Cantonese eatery is almost surreal. I guess I'm not part of the G&M's target audience..... It might be mildly interesting to observe this "bias" extended to other parts of the city....naw, I doubt I'll be following his columns.

          1. re: Charles Yu

            Hi Charles, this is Chris. Hit me: where's great in Scarborough that's totally unique, best-in-class or extremely close to it for Cantonese in the GTA, i.e. so good that you'd advise strangers to get in their cars and make a special trip from 30 minutes away. If there's something I missed, I'd love to know about it.

            1. re: pimentdespelette

              If you are CN-S, are you suggesting/revealing that you were not aware of any outstanding Cantonese restaurants in Scarborough and that's why you did not review any??

              1. re: T Long

                I've been to a few mediocre, 1980s-style Cantonese places in Scarborough. But no, I don't know of any outstanding Cantonese there. Do you? Like I said, I'd love to hear about them.

                1. re: pimentdespelette

                  What exactly is 1980's style Cantonese? If you've been to Maple Yip and don't consider it to be one of the best Cantonese restaurants in the GTA, I would be interested in your list of better Cantonese in the GTA.

                  1. re: T Long

                    That's all you've got? Maple Yip?
                    Let me know when you come up with somewhere outstanding.

                    1. re: pimentdespelette

                      So who's better?? the GTA. Name one place at least. Need to establish a reference point.

                      1. re: T Long

                        Stay tuned. Meantime, the way your original post sounded—the one in which you called it "surreal" that my list doesn't include a single Cantonese place—I got the sense that you know hundreds of brilliant Cantonese places in Scarborough. Like I said, I'd love to hear what they are.

                        1. re: pimentdespelette

                          You need time to come up with a single name? This conversation is becoming surreal!

                          1. re: T Long

                            By "stay tuned," I mean I've got a few great ones for upcoming packages on great suburban eats. Of course I hope to find more. Which was the point of my original post here. So far I'm striking out, I guess.

                            1. re: pimentdespelette

                              If you don't consider Maple Yip any good, then I guess you are right. If you gave just one example of what you consider to be an outstanding Cantonese restaurant, then there would be a reference point for a two way conversation. Cheers.

                              1. re: T Long

                                I had a very good steamed green bass yesterday at Maple Yip, unfortunately spot prawns and scallops on the half shell were sold out by then. :(

                                I saw they had stir fried tripe in xo sauce, I'll have to order that next time.

                                A very consistent restaurant. It helps to have a Chinese person with you, one that can read the wall items.

                                Gourmet Garden is the truth.

                                The smelly tofu hotpot at wei's is awesome.

                                1. re: T Long

                                  Did anyone stay tuned long enough for C N-S's big reveal? Was there a big reveal? And if so, what were his recommendations?

                                  1. re: Full tummy

                                    IIRC, he relied on much more experienced palates to guide him through Scarborough, then wrote an article, claiming the reco's as his own - but eventually gave them the a tiny bit of credit... on twitter.

                                    How he came to be The G&M's food critic is beyond me.

                                    1. re: Full tummy

                                      As far as I can tell he has not yet followed up on the promise/threat to do more "packages of suburban recommendations"

                                      1. re: bytepusher

                                        Thanks! So the secret winners were, um, non-existent.

                  2. re: pimentdespelette

                    Maple Yip - One of the best Cantonese Restaurant in town. Specializes in steamed whole fish! If available, their wok-fried live BC spotted prawns with top soy are to die for!!

                    Dragon Dynasty - IMHO, the Best 'cart service' Dim Sum restaurant in town '

                    The Old Place ( Sheppard and Glen Watford ) - Szechuan cuisine that is as good if not better than BSRJ you mentioned ( hole in the wall though! )

                    BTW, all those 'hot and spicy South Asian curry places' but one of the most authentic and good ' Singapore/Malaysian' cuisine place - Gourmet Garden and its newly opened restaurant was left out?! Nothing like that down town! Much better than the newly opened Hawker Bar!!

                2. I enjoyed the review. It was a refreshing change for the Globe and I plan to try most of the restaurants.

                  1. I like the premise of the list and the fact that the writer dares to engage with streetsmart Chowhounder's who question his choices. Off to a good start CNS. Humble and positive is the way to go!

                    Agree with Charles Yu on Dragon Dynasty being the best cart service dim sum in TO

                    I would be very afraid if the best sushi experience in Toronto is called Zen Japanese Restaurant and is located in a Bowling Alley plaza !!! Maybe you had too much sake or maybe sushi should not be served in TO !?

                    17 Replies
                    1. re: dcArtisan

                      Zen has remarkable quality, so please don't knock it until you try it.

                      I thought the article was a great start and I look forward to the future installments. What a nice change to see a review focused on humble but delicious finds out of the downtown core. Given that the best Chinese spots seem to be in Richmond Hill and Markham, perhaps that's why CNS chose to leave those for another article.

                      1. re: TorontoJo

                        Being a downtown dweller with no car, I have never been to any of these places. I really enjoyed the review, and have to admit that one of the first things that I did on reading it was to forward it to a friend with a car whose bf lives in Scarborough, with a note that we should try some of these places! I am looking forward to reading more of the reviews.. I also liked the direction... telling readers about great, not necessarily new spots that they may not otherwise hear of.

                      2. re: dcArtisan

                        funny, i'm the exact opposite. my favourite sushi places are found in plazas and any place that looks like ki has me running for the hills. japanese culture has always lead me to understand they're strong believers in understatement. i guess the underground subway location would turn you away from one of the most highly respected sushi guys in tokyo, jiro.

                        1. re: pinstripeprincess

                          really? you mean you don't like cream cheese in your rolls? bacon? kimchi? :)

                          1. re: downtownfoodie

                            i don't have a refined enough palate to appreciate the salty, mildly sweet combination of north american dairy products with vinegared rice and sinewy smoked salmon.

                          2. re: pinstripeprincess

                            No. Jiro himself would turn me away from Jiro. He is an arrogant man and whilst his technique and fish quality are top drawer his attitude and cheaply furnished space are not worth the exorbitant price in my opinion (he is successful enough to have upgraded - if he cares about his customers!!). I have had better sushi experiences in Tokyo at or considerably below that price point - some in Ginza and others in less reputable locations.

                            As for Zen, maybe in Toronto good sushi is to be found in a suburban plaza. The G&M description mentioned "fluke sashimi with dark purple umeboshi plum and bonito paste" which to my palate would overpower the delicacy of the fluke. Umeboshi is more classically paired with hamo that has been lightly torched. Here the sour-saltiness of the plum enhances the hamo flavors. Fluke sashimi is so delicate a fresh lemon-salt with a light touch of shiso would be more appropriate in my mind (mouth :)

                            1. re: dcArtisan

                              i've had lovely sushi in spartan spaces in japan as well at much lower prices as well. it's not the furnishings i'm there for, it's the skill, quality and the training that i'm hoping they're passing on that i'm there to support.

                              if you're going to scoff at sushi in plazas, then you haven't bothered to seek out the best that's available in toronto. not that you have to if you're from somewhere else with better sources. we're a city full of bad sushi but the better stuff is still heads and tails beyond. LA also isn't very different re: plazas.

                              i'm personally a fan of fluke with unmeboshi paste. we don't get hamo here. when the umeboshi is used with restraint, the saltiness offers a really amazing side to fluke. shiso is great and usually i prefer that but if they can get that ume balance right, they've got my heart.

                                1. re: dcArtisan

                                  my experiences at hiro have been mediocre. i haven't been in years. i think you'll also find that it doesn't rank highly among the sushi lovers here. especially if you're looking for some sense of value.

                                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                    I never look for value sushi because to me it is a counter intuitive approach. Pristine fish costs extra unless you live in a fishing village :)

                                    I found a 2-tier experience to exist at Hiro which is what I am accustomed to in Japan. Regular customers without price caps will always have a better experience. Of course I sit at the counter so as to allow the chef to tightly synchronize his production with my consumption. (1 at a time !!) This unbridled approach has rewarded the best quality and theatre. As for Hiro, like yourself I have not been in a rather long while so maybe his passion has cooled.

                                    How would you classify the the Zen Restaurant experience? Value or quality?

                                    1. re: dcArtisan

                                      you're misunderstanding what i mean by value. i'm talking about value the way you talk about jiro and the other great (or better) places you can get sushi.

                                      zen's restaurant setting is in a plaza and the furniture is cheap. the sushi is significantly better than most (since you're likely going to compare this on an intl vs local level). take what you will from that re: your understanding of value and quality. the two terms intersect at certain places for me.

                                      1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                        Thankyou for clarifying Princess.
                                        I thoroughly enjoyed your food and travel blog postings. Charmed writing indeed :)

                              1. re: dcArtisan

                                Jiro is not actually that bad. If you play it cool and don't come off as an asshat you'll be fine there. I do agree however that there are alternatives to Jiro to be found elsewhere and that he is not the be all and end all of sushi in Tokyo, as everyone seems to think because of that documentary.

                                As for Zen, I believe we're lucky to have a place like that in the city. I would put Zen up against sushi places in NYC and LA at the $50 price point. Same with Le Cafe Michi's Chirashi Don. I have never had a better Chirashi Don in North America than their version. To touch on PSP's point about the best west coast spots being in non descript areas, Sawa, Go, and Mori, are all pretty below the radar as far as location goes.

                                So, Umeboshi/Bonito Paste would overpower the fluke but Shiso wouldn't? Sei San could put dogsh*t on his fluke sashimi and it wouldn't overpower the fish. The guy's been doing it for awhile you don't think he considers things like ratio?

                                Just FYI, common practice:

                                Fluke sushi = Japanese citrus (Yuzu for example) + Salt

                                Nama Tako Sushi = Lemon + Salt

                                But of course, the rules are always flexible Especially in North America.

                            2. re: dcArtisan

                              Don't go to Sushi Kaji, then, if location means that much to you.

                              1. re: Pincus

                                Agree. It must bother downtown snobs to no end that the top 3 Japanese restaurants in Toronto are NOT in the core. (in alphabetical order) Hashimoto in an industrial park, Kaji way out west, and Zen in a strip plaza in Scarborough.

                                You go to those places for the food and service, not for the neighborhood around it. If the neighborhood is more important, anybody can go to Bloor West and take their pick of dozens of Chinese McSushi featuring 100 different Monster Truck Rolls from Hell.

                                1. re: Pincus

                                  As for downtown snob I profess to be neither ...a difficult palate to please though :)

                                  Allow me to explain my previous comments. The choice of name combined with its unusual location are normally early indicators of a place to avoid for sushi. Perhaps intuition does not apply when searching for quality sushi in Toronto?
                                  Hashimoto, Sushi Kaji, Hiro Sushi ....all take the name of the chef which implies pride and passion are present in the chef. The choice of Zen for a restaurant name seems less prudent to me and perhaps also to Mahayana Buddhists. (Catholic Hot Dogs....Sunni Fried Chicken...)

                                  Fine food experiences usually come down to a restaurant's thoughtful management of the details. I look for those as early indicators of the experience that may follow. As you and others have pointed out there are exceptions. This is the reason you may find me lining up with my friend Shinji at cheaply designed and out of the way Sushi Dai, just outside Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market at 4:30 am. Here the quality of the fish is impeccable having been caught a short time before. Also, the chef is highly competent in a classical no frills way. Yet one can easily escape for under $40 which makes it perhaps the best cost/performance sushi in the world. It is also a delightful way to spend a Christmas morning as I have.