Friday, May 25, 2012

Toronto: Banh Mi Boys Sandwich Shop

oh boy
:Queen West:

I'm in a bad place.  Everyone in life will be where I am right now, sooner or later, or sadly, perhaps you already have.  That is, in fact, the only uncertainty life gives us: you don't know when sh*t will hit the fan but you do know that you can handle it.  And life's easier to manage when you have great friends.  Not the riff raff that latches onto you along the way, but the ones that walk with you.  They're the ones that make you laugh, and make you eat.  I've said it once before, but food is sometimes more than necessary, it's often therapy.

Minnie and I headed to Banh Mi Boys yesterday after a ridiculous walk around the city.  I haven't been hungry for days but when I walked in I forgot about my worries and focused on the menu.  The shop is shiny and the faces are smiley. 

The menu is easy, three types of eats: taco, banh mi (bread in Vietnamese), and steamed bao (I call bao 'pillow bum bread' because they're billowy like a pillow and rounded like a bum).

BMB basically suped up a cheap and common snack by keeping the frame, but improving the engine.  Vietnamese subs have been a long staple of the frugal, the poor, the wealthy, the's an easy dirty good meal.  They always come in the most AMAZING bread - soft and fluffy bread encased by a crunchy, chewy crust.  BMB simply took out the questionable (but tasty) meats and replaced them with braised beef cheek, five spice pork belly, kalbi beef, duck confit, and tofu.  And in doing that, I think they introduced banh mi to a whole new audience.  That might explain why it was an overnight sensation.  And I do mean sensation because I heard the line-ups were bonkers.

Minnie and I didn't have to wait.  Nor did we have to take it to go.  We beat the rush and got a seat.  Between the two of us we ordered kimchi fires, two kalbi beef tacos, a pork belly banh mi and a beef cheek steamed bun.  The best part, it's cheap - all that for about $25.

Minnie's favourite was the beef cheek bao:

Mine was the kimchi fries:

kimchi fries
garlicky mayo, spicy pulled pork, kimchi and green onions...dirrtttyyyy

P.S. BMB should note on the menu that the kimchi fries are NOT vegetarian. Not for me, but for the plant-eaters out there who order it and then can't eat it.  Such was the case for the three hipsters next to us.

kalbi beef taco
I only had two issues, both with the taco.  The first is that it's more like a roti shell.  I think they should call it roti, but I feel like they don't care what I think.  With the success they've had, why mess with it right?  The other issue involved the kalbi.  As an expert in Korean food, I have to say the kalbi was really good save and except how chewy it was.  Korean mommies know that you need quality beef marinated in their own family's secret sauce until it's ridiculously tender.  But nailing the flavour of kalbi is hard in-and-of-itself so I was impressed.  The kimchi was another surprise.  It tasted right (but salty). 
five spice pork belly banh mi
braised pork belly, pickled radish
All the meats we had were perfectly seasoned and really, really, really good.  Especially my pork belly - fatty, tender, and tasty. 

During the fifteen minutes it took to eat, I smiled.  All my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks like they're here to stay.  Hey, at least I'm eating again.

Banh Mi Boys on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Toronto: Gusto 101

get your motor runnin'
:King West:

I would have rather hit the highway than have gone out for dinner.  But my dear, dearest Budgie knew what I needed more than I did.

If you read my blog you'll know that I have been waiting for Gusto 101 to open since news of its impending arrival hit my radar.

And it really opened in a blaze of glory and caused a feeding line frenzy of people waiting to be goo-stofied.  In fact, it's become so popular (as has being a foodie in general) that people are name dropping it left-and-right. When did restaurant name dropping become a thing? Apparently now.

It's a triple threat, and one. The 'and one' would be the spectacular rootop patio. Mark my words, people with fight to get a seat come summer.

Converted from an old garage, I loved everything about the restaurant. It parallels everything I would want in a man.  Raw and industrial, yet warm and welcoming.  Unpretentiously put-together with a side of scruff.  The sexiest part of Gusto is it's open kitchen.  Watching chefs work that line is like taking a peak under the hood.  Vroom. (I know, I need to stop.  But in-your-face-puns is the best remedy for a case of emotional writer's block.) 

Affordable food sets Gusto apart, but what makes it more unique is that it has its own micro-winery serving wine from the tap for $1 an ounce.  And believe me, this isn't the wine that your parents learned at "that winemaking class".

I've heard people complain about shady service and long waits.  I didn't experience either.  Our server was knowledgeable, pleasant and charming. Budgie and I didn't wait at all.  Then again, we're smart.  Going to a popular restaurant is much like going to see a movie on opening day, you should know better. Eat outside peak hours on off days (i.e. Sunday night at 9:30 pm) and you should be fine.  Of course, they do leave half the restaurant open for walk-ins and half for reservations.  That's correct.  They take reservations, so now isn't it a wonder why anyone is complaining. 
Budgie and I ate a lot. No more than usual, but we're always unusually hungry.  Okay, fine I am.
Delicately divine Carpaccio ($12.95)
Beef tenderloin, truffled canellini beans, and pecorino

Scrumptious Polipo ($13.50)
Char grilled octopus, tapenade, green beans and basil orange vinaigrette

My choice - Rigatoni Lucani ($13.95)
Braised lamb shank, fresh herbs, pecorino and peperoncino
Excuse me, I have a question.  Was that dill on my pasta? 
Because dill and salmon I get.  But dill and lamb.  My mouth got confused.*

Budgie's pizza - Spinaci ($13.50)
Buffalo mozzarello, pecorino, housemade ricotta (amazeballs), and garlic

Lenticchie aka lentils ($5.95)
Patate al Forno aka potatoes ($4.95)
Budgie and I were stuffed.  Certifiably goo-stofied.

For us it delivered in place and people, food, and price. Put your hand up if you disagree.  See, not one person did.

If I was in a "better headspace" I would have floated out on food cloud nine, but seeing as it took a girl who didn't want any company and fed her right.  I walked out on my own with a glimmer of a smile, Gusto was just what I needed.

I need more than good food. I need food that hugs.

*UPDATE: June 2012 - apparently dill and veal go together...and while it may not be my favourite flavour combo, THEY did it so well I believe. Do you believe?
Gusto 101 on Urbanspoon

Vancouver: Sushi House II

don't disturb the animals
I will be very sporadic over the next several months.  Life just dealt me a bad hand.  But my parents taught me to embrace the bad as heartily as you would the good.  So, like the dutiful daughter of any immigrant family, I listen.  Please standby.

I was in Vancouver last week.  Amidst the sh*t I had some good eats because I like to eat my feelings.  I also met up a few good distractions.

One particular eat only cost me $1.25.  That is until I ate like five:

Aburi (something) sushi.  Sushi passed over a flame. 

I've always liked Sushi House.  It's a family go-to for easy, cheap sushi eats - recall here

It was perfect.  And for the minute it took me to eat it, life was okay again.

Then it slapped me across the face.