04 10 / 2012

We aren’t entirely sure what it’s all about, but we spotted the Kimchi Bus on Bloor yesterday!

22 8 / 2012

Dear Diary,

These rules are killing us! We were seriously hankering for some kimchi, so we headed off to dinner only to realize that the next stop on our never-ending-at-this-pace trip was the White Brick Kitchen.

The place is pretty new, so it wasn’t really on our radar. We had noticed it a month earlier, when it was an Eggsmart, but the new place opened quickly and here we were. First impressions: not a Korean joint. It’s a pretty bare-bones scene, with Toronto-ey pictures on the walls and bright lights. Dan declared it to be “hipster fare.” Beth countered with a “Lakeview north.” A.J., wisely, studied the menu.

First up, no banchan, so we did our best with deviled eggs. This is a risky move and maybe an unfair comparison because banchan is so good and deviled eggs are so controversial. These ones came with fried onions on top (also controversial).

A.J. opted for the Mac and Cheese. What can we say? It came with tomatoes and was huge. It also came with croutons and bread, so if you are on the Atkins diet, avoid this item!

Dan went with the fried chicken, also huge. Here it should probably be noted that today’s special guest star, Brandon, is a fried chicken enthusiast who has literally fried chicken with the best. It was also a huge portion, and came with a coleslaw that was mustardy and only a little creamy.

Beth got the Confit Turkey Club and realized that either she does not know what “confit” means, or the people at White Brick Kitchen do not know what “confit” means. In this case, “confit” means thick slabs of cold turkey. This was, sticking with the theme, also a large sandwich, which came with the seasonal veggie (broccoli, in a spicy garlic fry).

Brandon, coerced by Beth, got the pulled port sandwich, which came with pickles and this weird mustard, and, again, coleslaw.


As you can see from these faces, we were totally overwhelmed by the amount of food and we all tried everything but didn’t finish anything. This probably should have been a cue, but we missed it and ordered two desserts. Guess what? HUGE. These desserts were hella big. We went with a three-tiered red velvet cake, and a a peanut butter pie.

The sheer size of the cake dominated most of the conversation during dessert, which, again, we didn’t finish. Seriously, that is not a mini fork!

All in all, this is an alternative to Korean food deep in the heart of in Koreatown, if for some crazy reason you are looking for such a thing. It was, thus far, one of our more expensive meals, coming in at around $25 a person, but that kind of makes sense as we ordered a lot and they have enormous portions.

Ultimately, we all agreed that while everything was huge - and Dan, being a fried chicken lover, thought his meal was fine - the quality just wasn’t quite there. And there’s something about the decor that made us slightly uneasy. Like as if we were eating lunch in a movie studio set and the food was the stuff they feed the extras.

We opted to give White Brick Kitchen 2.5 stars, but they are two and a half very fucking big stars.

18 7 / 2012

Dear Diary,

After a harrowing three months or so apart, the Kimchi Diarists have finally been reunited! A.J. returned from his top secret mission across the country looking relieved and slightly damp, with significantly less hair:

We immediately dragged him to K-Town’s chartreuse beacon of Vietnamese/Chinese cuisine, Pho Ngon:

Since we were all feeling emotional and also pretty lazy, we decided to let the chefs of Pho Ngon think for us and ordered the “DINNER FOR 3” from the set menu:

Dan and A.J. also opted for some tasty Bubble Tea:

Beth was not down:

The vegetarian spring rolls were decent:

The deep fried crispy wontons were decent:

The General Tao’s Chicken was decent:

The beef with black bean sauce was decent:

And the vegetarian fried rice was decent:

I guess what we are trying to say is, the food was decent. Nothing special. Perhaps we would have done better to order off the Vietnamese menu, because the set menu was just your standard greasy spoon Chinese take-out faire.

That said, Pho Ngon has a friendly, family run charm that outshines the grub and some playful touches that made the dining experience delightful and memorable. For example, they offer a Pho-King Spicy Challenge soup that if consumed completely in under 30 minutes entitles you to “FREE* FOOD FOR LIFE!” (*We never did find out what fine print this little star entailed):

A guy at the table across from us tried and failed the challenge and the excitement brought the whole restaurant together in a way you don’t often see outside of Medieval Times. He was ceremoniously added to the Hall of Shame:

While the poor guy admitted defeat, the chef/owner came out to laugh at him and tell us about how incredibly expensive the chilies in the Pho-King Challenge soup were. Pretty effing expensive, apparently! Which explains (we suppose) why only six people have actually succeeded at entering the coveted “Hall of Flame”:

The price was cheap, and all in all we had a charming time - probably because it felt so good to all be together once again. Though we would have given the food 2.5 snowflakes, the shenanigans of the Pho Ngon crew raised us up to a solid 3 Snowflakes!

11 6 / 2012

Dear Diary,

Okay. We know. You didn’t think we were coming back, did you? You thought we had left forever. Had given up on Korean food and just hadn’t told anyone.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Even though our lives got hella complicated over the past few weeks, we’re still crazy committed to this ever expanding world of kimchi and kimchi-related foods. Sometimes we have commitment issues and we just need a moment to sort it out. The important thing is we’re back now, right?

And a good thing too, because next on our list is the beacon of good times to come, the Sunrise House:

While A.J. was still away working on his super secret project, we were joined by some pals:


Nomi (noted kimchi expert)

Brandon (head chef at the Black Hoof)

Mika (owner of the delightful Good Egg in Kensington Market).

Nomi taught English in Korea for a year and it turns out that Sunrise House is his favourite Korean joint in Toronto! Apparently it’s eerily similar to restaurants in and around Seoul, all the way down to the specific kinds of cups they use.

 

Special Korean cups?

We basically let Nomi take the lead in ordering everything, and he indulged us pretty handily. With a crew of five peeps, we managed to order a ton of stuff!

First off the banchan was pretty decent. Beth was still partial to the kimchi at Tofu Village, but the cold noodles and the potatoes were a huge hit. The spicy cucumbers were a new one – and great! Here is some banchan chilling with the kimchi pancake (we’ll talk about that later).

We then basically went on an insane eating binge and tore through the banchan, kimchi pancake, and the following:

Kimchi Stew…

Squid Bulgogi…

Jae Yook Bok Um (a crazy pork thing)…

And Dduk Buk Gi (chewy rice cakes in spicy sauce).

It was relatively epic. Arms and metal chopsticks were flying around all over the place! And unlike the misordering that occurred previously, having Nomi on the scene made sure that everything was pre-vetted and perfect!

There were a few quibbles though – the squid bulgogi was undercooked, meaning you really had to mash down on that squid. It was also agreed by all that we could have done without the soon kimchi stew. Not that it was bad. It just missed…something. Which made it kind of boring.

That being said, the kimchi pancake was ridiculously off the chain. Crazy good! It was the icing on the cake of a pretty amazing meal. Even though there were five of us, we probably ate enough for eight people.

 

Did we say the icing on the cake was the kimchi pancake? Well, in that case the chocolate sprinkles on top of the icing was the price: $42 to feed five people.

All in all, we understand why noted kimchi connoisseur Nomi M. is so fond of this place! And even though we had some quibbles, we need to give this place mad props: 4 snowflakes!

 

 

06 4 / 2012

Dear Diary,

Imonay Korean Restaurant is totally cute! We weren’t sure what to expect, because, well, we haven’t heard anything about it and it looks pretty nondescript:

The completely endearing menu won us over pretty quickly, explaining that, “‘Imonay’ literally means aunt’s place. Try Aunt’s delicious authentic home-cooked Korean meals.” So we did! Imonay also made it feel like our aunt lived in a basement suite, which made us like her even more.

Our friends Luke and Tony joined us for dinner and it was great. Luke approached dinner like a competition, and took an early lead by declaring himself to be “the most dynamic” dinner guest on the Kimchi Diaries thus far. Check out this evidence:

Wow! What energy! It’s like he’s jumping out of the screen and into your lap! Smarminess aside, Luke probably did “win” dinner, but more on that later…

We started with some pretty awesome banchan - 9 different dishes in all! Imonay threw down some as-yet unseen and untasted banchan in the form of a sauteed eggplant dish and what we ultimately decided were pickled pears, though this was the topic of some debate that remains unresolved.

Then we moved on to some appetizers. We opted for a kimchi pancake and some glass noodles with beef. The kimchi pancake was arguably the best six dollars we as a foursome have ever collectively spent (we’ve previously split a carton of Ben and Jerry’s so you can gauge the awesomeness of this pancake accordingly). Tony thought the glass noodles (jap chae) were better than those at Tofu Village and that also opened up a debate. (Can you sense a pattern here? What an argumentative dinner!)

Tony, Beth, and Dan were all interested in the Bibim Guk Soo, described as “white flour noodle topped with veggies, sweet and spicy sauce and sesame oil.” This sounds delish and slightly less heavy than most of the K-Town meals we’ve been eating. However, this proved to be a horrible misorder. The problem: The menu should clearly state that Bibim Guk Soo is “served cold,” and it totally didn’t. What made it all the more confusing was that another dish on the menu said “served cold” so you know it’s not our fault! We blame poor signage.

When the dish came, all three of us let out a collective sigh. Cold noodles! We were had!

Dan made the best of the cold noodle situation, eating most of it and declaring it to be “good!” Tony completely avoided her cold noodles and hit the glass noodles instead. Beth tried to eat as much of the beef bulgogi as she could before Dan noticed that she was no longer “sharing” two dishes with him. Basically, as soon as two bowls of cold noodles arrived, everyone went into survival mode. It got a little weird.

Here is Beth’s “making the best of it” face, diary, but she was not pleased. Dan’s blasé attitude wins again, as he really was this happy.

This is really where Luke won, sticking with the old favourite of bibimbop. He went out on a ledge a bit, adding some bulgogi and avocado (yeah, avocado) to the stone bowl. There are lots of add-on options here; something to check out if you’re a bit over the standard bibimbop fare (though, really, that is crazy: bibimbop is so good!). Luke was a big fan of the bibimbop but mentioned that he wouldn’t be adding avocado again any time soon.

All in all, we were pretty torn about how we felt about Imonay. We love the name, we love the glass noodles, we love the pancake, we love the cute decor, and we love the excitement over personalized bibimbop. But we don’t love cold noodles, and unfortunately, three quarters of the table ordered them. 3.5 snowflakes!

27 3 / 2012

Dear Diary,

We have to admit to some bias here. It boils down to this: Tofu Village is the reason that this whole Kimchi Diaries thing started in the first place. We’d all go there together and marvel at how tasty everything was, and then one day someone sighed and said that the only thing the food was missing was a grander purpose…and this blog was born (okay, it might not have been exactly like that but close enough). So in reading this entry, please remember that we have a soft spot for this humble restaurant. Also, as you can see, we were feeling a little emotional because it was A.J.’s last Kimchi Diary for a couple of months (he’ll be in Vancouver for a super secret project until the beginning May). We’ll try to do our best without him.

We aren’t too worried, he’ll come back! Someone recently, and astutely, noted that we might not make it around the block and this pace, so chances are good that we won’t even have hit Bathurst by the time he’s finished in Vancouver!

Tofu Village, though, is a jewel of Koreatown. Maybe it’s because it’s within spitting distance of the “sexy” dated posters of the Metro Theatre that it comes off as so sparkling and clean. The lights are bright, the décor minimal, and the restaurant big, so it gives you the sense of eating at an Ikea-sponsored restaurant. No matter! Tofu Village has lots more to offer than just minimal design.



See our second-last post for a good spot for soon tofu – but see this post to find out where you can get all manner of tofu-related delights. First of all, Tofu Village has seafood and tofu pancakes, which are absolutely delicious. These pancakes set Tofu Village apart from the competition. Crunchy, chewy, salty, and buttery, served with a gyoza sauce deal, they are a definite must for anyone hitting this spot. True story: after eating one for the first time a few months ago, our friend Rich M. exclaimed that it was the best thing he had ever tasted in his entire life! (He might have been exaggerating.)



Aside from that, while the banchan is pretty standard, they do mix it up in a few important ways. First of all, the kimchi is the best that we’ve had on the strip so far (we’ve only been to two other Korean joints though). Word on the street (ahem, via Toronto Life) is that they make their kimchi daily, so it might not be as fermented as other places but it makes up for it in deliciousness!

Another banchan highlight are these tofu slivers served with tiny broccoli. Delicious! We doubled down on the tofu, the kimchi, and the delicious marinated potatoes.



For the main dishes, A.J. ordered the veggie and beef glass noodles. They’re in the appetizers section but make a great main (they’re also prominently featured in a massive photo on the wall). Beth went with the veggie bibimbap, and Dan went hard on the meat and ordered the BBQ beef ribs. The glass noodles were delicious – a little sticky, served piping hot, and infused with small slivers of beef and veggies. Tasty, filling, and priced like an appetizer: bonus! The bibimbap was top notch – super fresh, spiced nicely, and it also included a nice proportion of veggies.

The BBQ beef ribs were tasty as well, but didn’t blow Dan’s mind like the Clinton’s chicken wings did (we know, apples and oranges).


All in all, we ate more than our fair share of the bottomless banchan, devoured our tofu pancakes, and were deeply stuffed after our mains. We were this happy:

We’re telling you, Tofu Village is the real deal! It remains our go-to spot despite the many Koreatown options ahead and behind. Four and a half snowflakes!

23 3 / 2012

Dear Diary,

With a little time to kill, we (Beth and Dan, no AJ today!) decided to sneak into Korea Bakery for a very quick snack one fine afternoon. Nestled between Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu (last post) and Tofu Village (next post), Korea Bakery mixes up the straight shot of Korean restaurants with a little bit of the doughy stuff.

While not technically a restaurant, we were in K-Town one afternoon and with nothing better to do, we decided to make a quick dash into Korea Bakery to see a) whether there was any fuss, and b) if there was, to see what it was all about.

Dan had been in a while back and remembered eating some pretty decent noodle and veggie-filled steamed buns, but when we inquired at the counter, the delicious buns had been discontinued! Suffice to say, we were pretty crushed and resigned ourselves to finding a sweet treat to fill us up for tea time.

Everything had a vaguely processed look to it. Beth opted for cream-filled…um…pastry puffs (?) and Dan ordered a red bean-filled pancake that looked almost identical to the pupusas at Tacos El Asador (which we’ll be getting to much later on!!!). It was an unseasonably warm day and feeling adventurous, he also grabbed a Korean drink made of rice.

The pastries.

Dan’s pupusa-looking pastry and the Korean rice drink.

The verdict?

Beth wasn’t sure what to make of her pastry puffs. They were pretty dry and a little saccharine.

Dan’s red bean pancake was better. It was also dry, but the paste inside infused the pastry with a little moisture and it was reliably, sweetly beany. However, the rice drink was a horrible mistake. Definitely one of those acquired tastes, it consisted of rice swimming around in slightly sweetened water. Picture cooking rice with too much water and adding some sugar, and you’re basically there.

We didn’t have to talk it through very long to settle on a score. In the absence of the legitimately delicious steamed buns (go back after April!) and with only so-so pastries, Korea Bakery gets 2.5 snowflakes!

19 2 / 2012

Dear Diary,

We finally made it to the east side of Clinton Street, and we celebrated our arrival with an orgy of banchan. That’s right: the kimchi diarists finally got down with some kimchi!

This is Dan saying the “Oh” of “Oh, damn”: 

We hit up Buk Chang Dong, our first authentic Korean joint on the tour. Other reputable sources have declared this to be their favourite Korean spot on Bloor. And, we can now safely say: they’re onto something.

We loved it! And not just because we’ve spent six weeks trying to eat our way east so we could finally get some Bibimbop. Well, maybe.

Buk Chang Dong, or as most people call it, “that orange Korean place”.

Now, the banchan is always the most exciting part of the Korean experience. We especially love those little brown things, which we always assumed were fermented soy beans in some sort of paste, but full disclosure: they might be something else entirely.

Anyway, Buk Chang Dong had these seriously delicious beans in full effect, and they were great. But their kimchi didn’t taste super fermented or super hot, which was a bit of a letdown (still, first hit of kimchi on our travels!).

Seriously though, you’d have to be a real jerk to find fault with banchan – it’s the ultimate bonus:

Look at all this adorable banchan!

Dan and Beth ordered the Soon tofu, which - judging from the fact that 6 of the 8 menu items were some version of Soon - is probably the house specialty.

Dan ordered the dumpling Soon tofu and Beth got hers with kimchi. You can opt for different spice levels and after some stilted debate with our server, Beth went for “regular” and Dan got “hot” (there’s an “extra hot” option too).

Both were super tasty and came with the requisite stone pot of purple rice, which the waiter ceremoniously emptied into a bowl and then filled with water:

We can’t figure out why they always do that? Are we supposed to drink the cold rice water or something? So mysterious!

At its heart, Soon tastes like a delicious chicken soup with bite. And there’s a reason they upsell the tofu so hard - it fills the bottom of the bowl and has an insanely silky texture. We probably should have skipped ahead last week and come here for Soon while we were all sick. But rules are rules!

A.J. on the other hand went with the classic and fun to say Bibimbop, which came in a sizzling stone pot with an unexpected side of Miso soup (Miso soup at a Korean restaurant? Who knew? Beth did). The blend of steamed veggies with a sprinkling of meat (we think?) and a wedge of egg proved delicious, and A.J. couldn’t get enough of the perfectly crispy rice lining the hot pot (literally, he’s not great with chopsticks). 

We cleaned our bowls right down to the stone and were totally stuffed, but spent only $10 each. Needless to say, our first Korean stop did not disappoint!

Now, we’re a little worried that we’re getting overzealous after waiting so long for Korean food, and we don’t want to dole out this many snowflakes too “soon” (see that?), but Buk Chang Dong felt close enough to a full 4 snowflake scene to warrant, well: 4 snowflakes!

08 2 / 2012

Dear Diary,

After a week off due to an unscheduled flu epidemic that swept through Koreatown (and most of the world), we are back on the wagon and ready to eat!

Home to a wood cabin décor, cool kid Saturday night dance parties, and massive screens for your hockey viewing pleasure, Clinton’s stands as the last stop between the random Koreatown outliers (see previous posts) and the daunting strip of blocks upon blocks of Korean hardcore. 

So it was with mixed emotions that we descended on Clinton’s for a last supper of pub fair before endless pork bone soup and bulgogi (not that we’re complaining – bring it on already!).

It turns out Dan used to live behind the restaurant and told us about his fond memories of hitting Clinton’s for tasty lunchtime veggie burgers back in the day (like, 5 years ago).

Since then, Clinton’s hasn’t really changed – it’s still one of the only bars in K-Town for non-karaoke related fun. It still feels cozy and a little dirty inside, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And, judging by the crowds on weekends, it’s probably still a great place to pick up if you’re in your early twenties (or a creepy old man).

Here’s A.J.’s most charming pick up look:


And Beth’s “thanks, but not interested” look:


And Dan’s “creepy old man” look:

When we got to Clinton’s around 6:30pm, the place was relatively quiet, though the mandatory Leafs game soon started on the massive screen at the back.  The menu consisted of your pretty standard bar fare, though there was an intriguing vegetarian menu advertising fake chicken wings and some other items that we decided to avoid.

Our super nice waitress bluntly warned A.J. to avoid the Caesar salad (which we appreciated). Eventually, he settled on the bacon cheeseburger, Beth got the Mexi burger (both of which came with fries and salad), and Dan got the chicken wings (hot) with a side salad.

Here is said side salad in all its rectangular glory:


Because everyone was still feeling a little under the weather, there was, sadly, no beer drinking. However, Dan did order a hot toddy which was coveted by all.

When the food came, there was general approval. The side salads and dressing were basic but edible. The McCain’s frozen store-bought style french fries prompted an argument between Beth and A.J. about superior french fry preparation – A.J. likes the long, thin variety while Beth prefers the chunky, hand-cut style.

Overall, Beth and A.J. did agree that the burgers were decent, but nothing outstanding (Beth noted the predictably stingy guacamole portions). When asked to describe the burgers in more detail, both just shrugged and said they were “fine”. Beth eventually elaborated: “It tastes like everything was bought somewhere else.” 

 

The same can’t be said for the chicken wings however. Deep fried in a yummy batter and served with a really tasty hot sauce, Dan declared them to be some of the best wings that he had ever tasted in Toronto!

Beth took a bite and agreed, though we discovered she doesn’t know how to eat chicken wings (like, she doesn’t even know which end to bite!), so take her opinion with a grain of salt.

It’s hard to make wings look appealing from this close… but trust us - they were really good!

All in all, the bill was pretty average – in the $15 dollar range each. It seems pretty hard to find halfway decent bar food for cheaper these days.

In conclusion: if you need a burger, Clinton’s is probably no better than your average pub. But if you’re craving really great wings, hit that joint up! Everything else was pretty standard, but we’ll definitely go back for more hot wings. We liked our waitress, we like the outdated décor, and we like that Clinton’s still exists. A reliable mainstay, but in the face of Koreatown’s wealth of options, there’s so much more to explore… 3 snowflakes!

 

26 1 / 2012

Dear Diary,

Sake Sushi marks our first foray into Korean food, sort of…

Technically, Sake Sushi is a Japanese restaurant. You can probably guess this from the name, which pays homage to both a Japanese drink, and a Japanese food, in that order. But, Sake Sushi combines its Japanese fare with an abundance of Korean Banchan, making for a rather unusual dining experience.

At first, we were overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of ordering. There were no less than 5 distinct menus, each with a variety of different options, and the blaring J-Pop wasn’t exactly helping.

Deciphering the “Combos” menu basically requires a PhD in probability theory:

But we somehow managed to order one combo, a seaweed salad, the house roll, veggie pancakes and octopus balls.

Beth warned that she can’t handle her sake, so we elected to get a bottle of the delicate Pink Sayuri, which the waitress assured us was sweet and popular with the ladies:

Beth still didn’t like it.

But all was forgiven as a flurry of plates arrived bearing delicious treats. We kept asking, “Who ordered this!?” and the answer always seemed to be, “It comes with the combo”.

Note: though they accept cards, if you order a dish off the combo menu, you must pay for your whole meal in cash for some reason… (tax dodge?)

But order a combo you must! For this is your gateway to a plethora of delicious fusion Banchan. For example, our combo came with a refreshing passionfruit-dressed salad, crisp house-made potato chips (which were really good!), and a spicy and welcome variation on Kimchi:

There was also a rich and creamy corn and cheese dish (better than it looks):

Some mussel soup (which A.J. refused to try):

Tasty Salmon whatever-this-is:

As well as some sashimi, and some other white fish too…AND THAT WAS ALL BANCHAN! We hadn’t even gotten to the real food yet.

Finally, our actual orders started arriving. The Wakame salad got Beth’s blessing:

The house roll was a lightly charred and crunchy treat:

The pancake was perfectly ketchupy - and we mean that in a good way:

And the octopus balls made for a satisfyingly doughy mouthful:

Our special guest and medical resident Meg demonstrated the freaky principals of Bonito flake reanimation:

Unfortunately, the headlining dish of our combo was almost too hot to eat both temperature and spice-wise:

"I need more water!" A.J. tried and failed to communicate to the waitress, mid-bite:

But it was really our own fault for listening to Dan and thinking we could handle something called, “Blazing Fire Chicken”. Dan showed no remorse (though he was seriously sweating by the end of the meal):

Nonetheless, everyone was completely satiated, except A.J. (our resident “stick in the mud”) who nibbled timidly at the seafood dishes and was left “a little hungry”. But whatevs - he knew what he was getting into when we started this blog!

Sake Sushi’s delicious and unique fusion stylings were a bonafide hit. With all the Banchan, we polished off over a dozen different plates of food and even with sake it only came to $17.50 per person (combo!). Given that we actually ordered so little, we can’t wait to go back and try more (you know, in, like, a year when we’re done with this shit).

And for the record - we all agreed that it’s at least comparable, if not better, than that overhyped izakaya place Guu, which sits just east of Koreatown.

Only four restaurants in and we’re already worried that Sake Sushi may be the best joint in K-Town: an astonishing 4.5 snowflakes!