Revamping Cantonese landmark
Plus, St. Clair’s slice of Bombay, a food truck morphs into a bricks-and-mortar eatery and more
INDIA’S FRESH FARE
Richmond Hill’s Penglai Fairyland Restaurant has undergone a bit of a revamp. Following a change of ownership in mid-October, the eatery upgraded its decor and changed the entire menu. Previously, the 200-seat restaurant served both Korean and Cantonese cuisine, but it now focuses solely on the latter.
An expansive menu ranges from items like shrimp rolls ($6) to beef with Chinese broccoli ($16). Deepfried scallops are served with sauce sweetened by a medley of peppers and pineapple ($26). Lobster with ginger and onion can be ordered in varying sizes — from one and a half to six pounds — making it either a meal for one or for a group to share (market price). Hot and sour seafood soup (from $6) is also available in single or group portions and is hard to say no to on blustery days. Those who wish to curl up by the fire at home can call ahead and get the grub to go.
Penglai Fairyland Restaurant, 280 W. Beaver Creek Rd., 905-731-5570 In opening a new Indian restaurant on St. Clair Avenue West near Bathurst, business partners Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau didn’t want to settle for the status quo. So they enlisted the talents of three former Amaya chefs to take care of the food, and they took on renowned sommelier Peter Boyd to handle the wine. The result is Pukka, which opened in midOctober.
Pukka (pronounced “puck-a”) sticks to classical Indian cuisine in a number of ways: the kitchen is equipped with a clay tandoor oven, and chefs make use of house-made curries and chutneys. But the menu is peppered with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, and the cooking is less dependent on cream and salt than tradition dictates.
The wine list, too, is more thorough than one would expect from an Indian restaurant. Twentyfive labels from around the world are currently on offer, and the plan is to grow that selection to 70 to 100 labels.
“Indian food is complex, and it’s difficult to match with wine,” says Chawla. “But we’ve taken on this challenge very well.”
Like the far-reaching wine selection, Pukka’s menu finds inspiration from across the Indian subcontinent. Samosas ($6.90) are stuffed with butternut squash, and Ontario pickerel ($23.90) is spiced with turmeric, coriander and garlic, then seared, topped with fennel seeds and served with coconut curry.
Other Indian standards include slow-cooked daal makhani ($7.90) — featuring black lentils, red kidney beans and split chickpeas — along with chicken 65 ($9.40), a south Indian favourite that sees hunks of chicken battered in egg and corn flour, then deep-fried and spiced with curry leaf, red chili, tamarind, cumin, garlic and other spices. (That dish, like many at the restaurant, is gluten-free.)
Decor is familiarly industrial, with exposed brick walls, a cement bar and reclaimed barn wood on the tables and bar top. But Chawla and Valleau — who, like the chefs, were previously affiliated with the Amaya chain — are hoping that the lighter, fresher take on Indian cuisine will help them stand out on the St. Clair
“This is not a stereotypical restaurant,” Chawla says.
Pukka, 778 St. Clair Ave. W., 416342-1906
NUTS FOR NOODLES
For a few months this year, it almost seemed as though Toronto’s explosively popular ramen scene was slowing down. Then, both Sansotei Ramen and Kinton Ramen announced new locations, and last week, a Tokyo restaurateur opened Touhenboku Ramen near McCaul on Queen West.
Although many ramen shops emphasize the milky, creamy pork broth known as tonkotsu, Touhenboku uses chicken broth. Two types are available: a clear, light broth known as chintan, and a collagen-heavy broth known as paitan (it’s like tonkotsu, only porkfree). Owner Zuimei Okuyama says that he simply likes chicken broth, and it has the added benefit of setting his ramen shop apart from the pack.
To make the chintan broth, whole chickens are simmered for four to five hours. The paitan follows a similar process, but the chicken bones are mashed up a bit to release their flavours, and the broth is simmered for an extra hour or so until it’s viscous. Okuyama says he learned about ramen from a school in Japan.
Ramen ($10.50) is served four ways: original (paitan broth), spicy (paitan broth with chili oil), garlicky (paitan broth with a black garlic sauce) or light (chintan broth). Flavours are solidified with a concentrated sauce known as tare (at Touhenboku, the tare is based on either sea salt or soy sauce). Every bowl of ramen comes with scallions, a half-boiled egg, wood ear mushrooms and blowtorch-seared meat (pork or chicken).
And before we forget, there are noodles, too. Touhenboku makes its noodles in-house on a machine imported from Japan (it takes at least four hours of labour per day to keep the restaurant stocked with fresh noodles).
Additionally, Touhenboku serves rice bowls and a selection of apps, such as gyoza or fried chicken (all $4.50).
Touhenboku Ramen, 261 Queen St. W., 416-596-8080
LATIN AMERICAN HEAT
It’s only been about a year since Krystian Catala and Terry Nicolaou launched their popular Gourmet Gringos food truck, but the two entrepreneurs have already opened a bricks-and-mortar location near Forest Hill.
Originally intended as a prep kitchen for the truck, the space near Bathurst and St. Clair offers many of the same Latin American standards that made the food truck a hit, plus some new items.
Fans of the truck will recognize the fish tacos ($10.95 for three) and the mole-braised short rib tacos ($8.95 for three). New items include the chorizo nachos ($7.95) or the chicharron poutine (made with pork belly and shoulder, cassava fries and a Venezuelan-inspired aïoli, $7.95). Nearly everything is made in-house and tortilla chips are deep-fried to order
Gourmet Gringos, 1384 Bathurst St., 647-349-1900
Boots & Bourbon Saloon is set to open on Queen Street East early this month. Brought to us by Rock Lobster’s Matt Dean Pettit, the younger sibling will have a country theme that will encompass food, music and even entertainment.
Pizzeria Libretto and sandwich shop Porchetta and Co. are slated to open new side-by-side locations on King Street West. Both plan to stay true to their original concepts (pizza and porchetta sandwiches respectively) and will open in 2014.
A new upscale tavern-style eatery has opened at 382 Yonge Street. An offshoot of Reds Wine Tavern in the Financial District, the midtown chapter offers sharing plates and more from chef Matt Robertson (Splendido, Canoe).
The team behind Nota Bene will be opening its latest venture, Carbon Bar, at 99 Queen St. E. early this month. The new space will be much more casual and will serve contemporary American cuisine.
Foodies take note: a Chef ’s Challenge with Giada de Laurentiis has just been announced. The event will take place Feb. 8, 2014, with chefs battling it out for women’s cancer research. Mark McEwan, Vikram Vij and Maggie McKeown join as guests chefs.
With files from Katherine Cameron.
Clockwise from top left: Penglai Fairyland Restaurant; Touhenboku’s karaage (fried chicken) and, below, ramen; Pukka’s lamb kebab with mint-infused goat cheese