Fin Izakaya

Finhttp://www.finizakaya.com/
55 Eglinton Ave E, Toronto, ON M4P 1G8

For my birthday this year, my hubby took me out to Fin Izakaya.  We have been here a few times for other celebrations but it has been a while since we’ve been back.  I usually enjoy the food as I do love Japanese cuisine.  It’s quite refreshing to visit an izakaya rather than the usual sushi bars or AYCEs.  The Izakaya phase does seem to have died down, but there weren’t that many that has spurred during the popularity of this style of Japanese cooking.  I wonder if it has to do the pricing?

On this visit, Fin was hosting one of their fish auctions, but unfortunately by the time we finished dinner, it hadn’t started yet.  I really would like to go through one of these auctions and see what it’s like.  I’m not aware of any other restaurants that hosts these.

So let’s jump right into to what we ordered:

  • Tuna and Garlic rare steak
  • Dried Fish Kawahagi
  • Duck Shichimi Yaki
  • Hot Pot Crab and Asari clam + Rice (a special)
  • Beef Rice Bomb
  • Sashimi of the day – Sea Bream whole
  • Chicken Winglettes – Red Salt
  • Pear Sake
  • Asahi (on tap)

Line ups: None
We had made our reservations on Open Table (www.opentable.com/), but there was no one waiting at all.  Every time we visit, we’ve never had to wait more than 5 minutes and we’ve always had reservations.  They are very consistent at ensuring their patrons are seated and those with reservations do not have to wait.  I greatly appreciate that.  Some places we’ve been to, even if you have a reservations, you’re just lining up when you get there.

Service: Great/Excellent
Let’s start with their parking.  I find it great that they provide parking space for dinner customers since it’s quite hard to find parking on that part of Eglinton.  The only thing that’s inconvenient was getting into the lot.  I called to advise we were approaching the entrance.  The person on the phone asked if we were right at the gate.  I advised him that we were just about to swing around to turn in as the construction was blocking the entrance from the westbound lanes.  He advised me to call back when we’re right at the gate or just come inside.  It was literally 30 seconds later when we found ourselves in front of the parking gate, but no one picked up the phone.  My hubby stayed in the car as I ran into the restaurant.

When I entered the restaurant, I advised the hostess my hubby was at the parking lot and she sent someone out to let him into the lot.  She noted my reservation and proceed to seat me.  Upon coming in, my hubby advised that after the attendant let him into the lot and told him where to park, he disappeared through a staff entrance and didn’t tell my hubby if the front entrance was the only way back.  We had a server come to us within a few minutes to ask what we would like to drink.  Throughout the rest of the evening, our food was always presented to us, they came to check on us throughout the evening, and the bill was prompt.

The only other item for service to note was when we asked for the rice for out hot pot.  We couldn’t find our server, so another server came to our table and when we told her we would like to add the rice to the hot pot, she said we when we finished the items in the pot, then let her know and she’ll take it to make the rice.  Moments later, our server came and asked if we wanted to make Okayu/Zosui (can’t remember which term he used).  We said “sure”, and he took the pot away.  We still had the crab claw and a few clams in there, but he got the chefs to make the porridge anyways.

Food: Delicious

finbeef
Tuna and Garlic rare steak
Findrinks
Asahi (on tap) and Pear Sake
2015-01-28 10.05.26
Beef Rice Bomb

 

Finseabream
Sashimi of the day – Sea Bream whole
finwings
Chicken Winglettes – Red Salt
finfishjerky
Dried Fish Kawahagi
Finduck
Duck Shichimi Yaki

 

finrice
Hot Pot Crab and Asari clam + Rice (Okayu/Zosui)
Finhotpot
Hot Pot Crab and Asari clam

 

Almost everything was excellent.  Loved the Beef Rice Bomb with the sweet/salty teriyaki like sauce.  The mayo adds a creamy texture to coat the beef and rice.

I always like the Dried Fish Kawahagi.  It’s basically fish jerky.  It has a nice subtle hint of sweetness, charcoal fragrant from the grill, and is chewy like jerk.  Great appetizer to go with a drink.

The Hot Pot Crab and Asari Clam was our favourite of the night.   The broth was a delicious concoction of seafood goodness.  It had clams, shitaki mushrooms, cabbage, a crab leg, enoki mushrooms.  What made it even better was the essence of the soup was used to make an Okayu (rice porridge).  I’d have to say, that was the best Okayu I’ve ever had.  Milky, creamy, cheesey seafood flavoured okayu.  I don’t know how they got so much flavour out of the broth, because there wasn’t that much seafood in the pot.

The Sea Bream Sashimi was very fresh.  No metal like taste or fishiness at all.  It had a firm, crunch texture.  Beautiful red, pink, white colour.  After we ate the meat, we had the carcass grilled with salt.   It was nice and light.  Went well with our okayu.

The Tuna and Garlic rare steak had a great soft yet slightly firm texture.  It was served atop of onions.  Although it was cooked tataki style, it didn’t carry much cooked flavours.  It wasn’t as garlicy as we would’ve liked.  Actually I tasted more sweet onion flavour than garlic.

Duck Shichimi Yaki.  It’s basically grilled slices of duck.  I’m pretty sure it was duck breast that was served on a bed of enoki mushrooms.  It was nice pieces of duck.  I didn’t find it extraordinary or anything that stood out, but it’s carried a subtle heartiness.

The Chicken Winglettes unfortunately was a little under whelming.  Yes it had a great crunchy without the oil and batter, but overall it just didn’t stand out in anyway.  Each of them only had 1 bone, so it was nice to not have to chewy out 2.  There wasn’t much fat content like your usual wings.  The red salt did have a hint of sweetness to it, but it was just lightly sprinkled on, so it was very hard to taste it.

I didn’t try my hubby’s Asahi, but he had no complaints and ordered a second too.  The pear Sake was very refreshing.  Sake is a strong alcohol and I know not everyone likes it.  With the subtle hints of pear, it adds a fresh lightness to the drink.  Don’t be fooled though, it’s still 15%-20% of alcohol.

Decor/Cleanliness: Excellent
We’ve never had issues with cleanliness at Fin.  Tables are always clean when we are seated.  We’ve never had to change cutlery.  If food is dropped on the floor, it is cleaned up immediately.

Overall: Great/Excellent

We don’t have any complaints.  Food flavours overall were well developed, sashimi is fresh, drinks are good, general service is good.  There really isn’t much else I would say about Fin.  It’s one of our usual spots when we feel like izakaya.  The overall experience of this visit was great.

Fin Izakaya, you’re YOL Approved!

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Red Velvet Crinkles

I decided to give these crinkles a try because of a work pot luck.  Most of my colleagues were Red Velvet crazy, so I wanted to introduce something new to them.

Now, what is a Crinkle cookie?  Simply put, it’s a cookie with small wrinkles and creases on the surface.

red-velvet-crinkle-cookies

So unfortunately this was also a recipe tested during the holidays, so I didn’t get a chance to take pictures.  I would say that my crinkles turned out 80-90% like the pictures on the site.

http://www.yummly.com/recipe/external/Red-Velvet-Crinkle-Cookies-577458

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Yield: About 30 cookies

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp milk or buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 5 tsp red food coloring
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Directions

  • In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt for 30 seconds, set aside. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs 1 at a time, blending until combined after each addition. Mix in milk, vanilla bean paste, lemon juice and red food coloring. With mixer set on low speed, slowly add in dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Stir in white chocolate chips. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill 2 hours or until firm enough to shape into balls.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour powdered sugar into a bowl. Remove dough from refrigerator, scoop dough out and with buttered hands, shape into medium balls (about 2 1/2 Tbsp each). Roll cookie dough balls into powdered sugar and evenly coat. Transfer to Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheets and flatten slightly, then bake in preheated oven 13 – 14 minutes. Allow to rest on cookie sheet several minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
  • *If you want them a little more chocolatey you can replace 2 – 3 Tbsp of the flour with 2 – 3 additional Tbsp of cocoa powder.
  • Recipe Source: Cooking Classy

__________________________________________________________________________

In terms of the recipe, there’s a lot of substitutions allowed.  Here is a list of what I ended up using:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (sifted and minus 3 tablespoons)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (plus 3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 tsp  Vanilla Extract
  • 2 tsp lemon juice (fresh lemon)
  • 2 Tbsp red food coloring 
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

In terms of the directions, it is very detailed.  I only did 1 thing different =>made the dough ahead.  After I chilled the dough for about 1/2 hour in the fridge, I formed them into balls (didn’t need to butter my hands as I used a cookie scoop to scoop out the batter).  I put the balls in plastic wrap, inside an air tight box, then into the freezer.  I made this 3 days ahead so that I can do fresh baked cookies the morning I needed them.

Easy to make?
Yes, it was very easy to make these cookies.  I didn’t find any of the directions unclear.  The only thing I would note for the direction is, when rolling the dough balls in the powdered sugar, make sure that it’s coated white and not a thin layer.  I made several batches of these, seeing how easy and pretty they are, but the first batch, I was worried about rolling too much sugar, but when I rolled and dusted off the excess, they did not turn out pretty.

How’d they turn out?
Overall, I’d say the recipe turned out as it should.  I got a thin crispy layer outside, soft, cake like inside.  The white chocolate chips went well with the cookie, but I wonder what would happen if there were cream cheese chips?

Timing?
In terms of time, it wasn’t time consuming at all.  I guess I did do make mine ahead of time.  The dough freezes well and makes it’s very easy.  Take them out of the freezer, roll in powdered sugar, and bake.  If you choose to use this method, just remember to take the frozen dough out of the freezer and let it rest for about 1/2hr in room temperature before rolling them.

If you were to follow the recipe, you would have that 2 hr gap of waiting for the dough to harden as it chills in the fridge, but if you’re making dinner in between, it would be perfect as well.

Overall?
These pretty cookies were super popular over the holidays.  I guess with the red and white colour, it added to the festive feeling.  My hubby, who generally doesn’t like sweets too much, had a few of these cookies.   Everyone else really liked how they were almost like little cakes  and with Red Velvet being a huge trend still, it increased the popularity of these crinkles.  I ended up making 4 batches of these over the month and they were always gobbled up.

Cooking Classy’s (on Yummly) Red Velvet Crinkles, you’re YOL Approved!

Kinton Ramen – 4

As Ramen is a popular trend in the last few years, there’s more and more shops popping up everywhere.  Most of these authentic Japanese ramen shops are closer to the heart of Toronto.  The chain Kinton Ramen has decided to open their 4th location in North York. http://www.kintonramen.com/locations/

I’ve been to 3 of the 4 locations now but I do have to say, there is a slight difference from this new location to the ones downtown.

On this visit we ordered their appetizer special, Kinton Ball, Original Chicken-Shoyu-Thick Noodle Ramen, Original Pork-Shoyu-Thick Noodle Ramen, and green tea to drink.

kintonball
Kinton Ball
kinton1
Original Pork-Shoyu-Thick Noodle Ramen
kinton2
Original Chicken-Shoyu-Thick Noodle Ramen

 

So let’s break down the visit.

Line ups: None
It was awesome.  It’s very rare to go to any ramen place without a line up.  It could be due to the holiday season as we went just after Christmas and maybe it was lunch rather than dinner, but regardless, lucky for us=)

Service: Good/Great
As we entered the shop, there’s the familiar “irasshaimase!” greeting by everyone.  The staff seated us right away and a within a few minutes a server came to ask what we would like to drink and if we’re ready to order.  At the end of the meal, it wasn’t difficult to find someone to ask for the bill and within 2 minutes, we received our bill.  The only thing about the service that wasn’t perfect was, our tea.  At the other locations of Kinton Ramen, whenever we order tea, no matter how busy the staff are, if they notice that our cups are empty, they will ask if we would like more water.  During this visit, as I mentioned, they had no line ups and the restaurant was not full, so it was just a little disappointing to not be offered more water for our teas.  We did look up for staff a few times during the meal, but there were no staff in sight (other than the ramen chefs, busily putting up the orders).

Food: Good
Kinton Ball: Delicious! What is it, you ask?  It’s a pork scotch egg with sweet chill mayo.  The egg of course is a seasoned egg with the gooey egg yoke center.  It is panko crusted then deep fried.  The ball is light and crispy on the outside, not oily at all.  As you break through that you get into a thin layer of shredded pork, next is the seasoned egg white, then you hit the center with yoke slightly oozing out.  It’s one yummy layer after another, but without the sweet chilli mayo to embellish all the flavours, it wouldn’t be the same.  The mayo adds to the flavour of the pork and keeps the whole ball moist as you’re eating it.  Presentation was fabulous and attractive.  Just like the one from the Baldwin location, better actually because the yoke was a little more gooey.

Chicken Ramen: I decided to get the chicken ramen because the last time we visited the Queen St. location, my hubby got it and it was a nice light broth but full of flavour (minus the fat=P).  The amount of chicken was the same from the other location to this one – 2 slices of  tender chicken breast.  The noodles were chewy and al dente as expected.  The broth was a little disappointing.  It was not the same light flavourful broth I had at the Queen St. location.  The broth was very heavy and thicker, much thicker.  I don’t know what they added to it, but the broth separated and when you stirred it, the flavour was strong and aromatic, but it was no longer a light chicken broth.  I was quite disappointed.  The presentation was ok, a little lacking when it was first served.  As you can see in the picture, the chicken was sunken and you can’t see much of the noodle, it just looked stale and sad unfortunately.

kintonchicken kinton2

Pork Ramen: My hubby got the basic pork ramen because we wanted to go with the basic to see how it holds up.  The pork shoulder-2 pieces, great!  It had grill marks, with the coal aroma, well seasoned, and it was soft and not chewy. The noodles, same as mine, perfectly cooked.  Consistency is so important.  The broth, did not measure up to the other location. We ordered the regular fat level as we do most of the times.  Why do I say the broth didn’t measure up?  It didn’t tasted as though the flavours were not fully developed through the simmering process. (Here’s a link that will explain in depth the broth process so you can try it yourself: http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/02/how-to-make-tonkotsu-ramen-broth-at-home-recipe.html)  The broth had some elements of the flavours, but not that full smooth, milky, slightly thickened texture and flavour.   Broth and noodles are the essence of ramen; the toppings are just the extras.

kintonpork kinton1

Decor/Cleanliness: Excellent
The decor is consistent with all the other location.  Unique wooden squares laid out on the walls. The trademark golden piggies everywhere.  It’s modern-chic, in line with the brand.  It’s was definitely clean.  No sticky tables or chairs.  All the utensils were pristine.

utensils

Overall: Great
All in all, I would say it’s a good visit.  This is the closest, distance wise, authentic ramen we have near us.  Everything was great except a few details.  Main issues are just the soup bases, which are very important.  Since they have just opened a couple of months ago, maybe it’ll take a little time for them to catch up.  I, for one am keeping my fingers crossed.

Will definitely will be back to see if you will make it on the the list!

Olde Village Bistro

This weekend I was craving French Toast and I went to the trusty Yelp and Urbanspoon sites to look for a place closer to home.  I came across Olde Village Bistro (http://oldevillagebistro.com/).  They are on Hwy 7 and Unionville Main St, just beside the Dominos.

20141102_130646_resized

It is definitely a neighbourhood little restaurant that seats, I’d say about 50.  Reading so many good reviews, I was excited to try this local bistro.  They have a 7 page menu, that’s including breakfast, lunch, kids, and drinks, so there are quite a few choices and I could smell the yummy bacon and the fragrant cinnamon as food was being made on the grill.

Here’s what we ordered that day:

  • Orange juice (large)
  • Coffee (bottomless)
  • Traditional Breakfast with Bacon
  • French Toast

As soon as we ordered the drinks, we got them in less than 5 mins., which was great considering they were full house.  The orange juice is a store bought type juice, not fresh squeezed.  The coffee, no idea what brand, but it tasted like every day coffee, so no complaints.  The only thing that slightly bugged me was, although the coffee was bottomless, I was never offered a refill until all the food was cleared off the table and the bills were paid.  I did hear the server ask our surrounding tables if they would like more coffee, so maybe ours was just overlooked.

Unfortunately, we waited about 20 mins for our food and when it arrived, it was just warm.20141102_131401_resized 20141102_131350_resized

Let’s start with the the Traditional Breakfast with Bacon.

The picture above is exactly how the plate came.  We had not eaten anything, or touched it.  The Traditional Breakfast with Bacon comes with 3 eggs, any style, hash, and of course bacon.  The plate to be honest was underwhelming.  The eggs were fluffy, but because they were scrambled and cut into such small pieces, it just didn’t feel like a hearty breakfast and lacking in the “mouthful” feeling.  The hash was small potato chunks.  You can clearly see it was boiled and then grilled.  Tasted a little bland, no salt or seasoning.  The bacon…Bacon is a super yummy, fatty food.  I know some people love it super crispy, as if it came out of the deep fryer and it just crunches into many pieces, but that is not the proper way of cooking bacon.  At Olde Village Bistro, parts of the bacon was overcooked (super crispy) and other parts were well cooked, slightly crisp with a little chewiness.  It wasn’t anything I would rave about, just an ordinary homestyle breakfast plate that we can make at home.  For $5.99, I guess it was ok.

Now moving onto the French Toast.

As you can see plating looks great.  3 slices of toasts, cut in half, battered/soaked in eggs, and grilled.  It is topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  They serve this with syrup.  The syrup is bottled by the bistro, so I’m not sure what it was, but it wasn’t too sweet like hone and not too bland just corn syrup.  The toast themselves were unfortunately also underwhelming.  The crusts were not soaked with egg at all and also a bit hard, not crunchy like it’s toasted, but just hard.  The middle parts of the toasts were sunken in and flat.  They were not fluffy toasts with crispy outside as you would come to expect from a well made french toast, which by the way is extremely hard.  Without the syrup, powdered sugar, and cinnamon, I would not have been able to finish my french toast.  Also with this pretty plate being luke warm, that probably added to the deflation of the bread.

One other side note I have prior to summary is, our bill was passed to our table right after all the food and cutlery were brought to the table.  We had not even started eating yet, nor did we ask for the bill.   Also I did advise the server we had another person that’s on their way.

I was very excited to try Olde Village Bistro based on all the great reviews on Yelp (http://www.yelp.ca/biz/olde-village-bistro-markham) and I was hoping to find a little neighbourhood breakfast/brunch place, since most of the good ones are downtown Toronto.  I’m sad to say, they have not met my personal expectations.  I believe that restaurants deserve to be visited more than once, because maybe they were having an off day, so I will try them again one day soon and hopefully the experience changes.

Olde Village Bistro, will you be Off the List?

Timmy’s CranAppleWalnut Bran Muffin

tim-hortons-cran-apple-bran-muffic-insidetimmies

As daily Tim Horton’s goer, I try many of their yummy treats.  Today I decided to give the Cranberry Apple Walnut Bran Muffin a try.  Unfortunately I was severely disappointed.  It could have been the location I go to at work, as I know the products are delivered to us rather than having them baked on location.

Let’s break down the muffin:

Muffin top:

It had Oats, Walnut bits, and some visible red which looks like parts of cranberries.  It had that muffin top crunchy but was a bit dry, maybe due to the toasted oats and walnuts being there.  It wasn’t sweet, but also wasn’t lacking flavour.

Inside/middle of Muffin:

20141103_132703 20141103_133432_resized

The inside parts of the muffin was moist for a bran muffin, however there were spots that were wet and soggy.  As you can imagine a soggy muffins texture wise and flavour wise doesn’t make sense.  There were some cranberries inside and they seem like they were frozen cranberries as it bled around the muffin.  I don’t mind frozen cranberries, as it’s understandable for fruits to not be available every season.  The issue I had was flavour and texture.  The cranberries were so sour.  They were not tart, they were just sour.  Around the cranberries, the muffin was soggy as well.   The apple bits lacked flavour.  Biting into the bits, you wouldn’t know they are apples.

Bottom of the Muffin:

20141103_133410_resized

The bottom of the muffin was well done.  It wasn’t burn at all and it came off the muffin liner easily.  There were cranberries and apples on the bottom as well.

In the end, due to all the soggy part, I found the muffin very hard to eat and if felt like it was not a well made baked product.  I do think this can be just the location at my work place but I definitely will not be trying this muffin again at this location.

Cranberry Apple Walnut Bran Muffin (from work), You’re Off the List!