New steak house stakes a claim
Plus Laotian eats, a Peruvian-via-Montreal transplant and more
A FRIENDLY PLACE
Any 905er with a taste for steak should take note: Vaughan is now home to a brand new steak house. Chop, a transplant from Canada’s west, is all about an affordable alternative to fine dining in a casual setting.
Located on Colossus Drive, at the corner of Highway 400 and Highway 7, the latest addition to the glut of Chop Steakhouses is but the second in the Toronto area. Although out west there is a smattering of Chops (Regina, Edmonton, Calgary), the steak house has recently been shaking things up in Ontario.
Inside, the expansive space is done up in royal blues and bronzes, with wood-topped tables, caged chandeliers and a wine cellar of an accent wall. For those who insist on catching the game while noshing, an oval bar is outfitted with a roster of flat screen TVs, ensuring nothing will escape you (as long as you perch on those seats with a view).
Diners can start their meals with apps that run the gamut from escargot-stuffed mushroom to a lobster, scallop and Gorgonzola dip. Need that steak up front? Chomp on marinated steak bites, served with horseradish aïoli and sweet Dijon BBQ dip.
When it comes to the steak, Chop keeps the focus trained on certified Angus beef, which is cooked at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit in a specially designed oven. Happy carnivores can go whole hog, if so desired, ordering the Chop Experience dinner with a soup or salad and side paired up with your pick of cut: New York strip loin, teriyaki top sirloin, filet mignon or smoked rib eye to name a few. Popular non-steak options include the citrus soy glazed salmon, served with cucumber orange salsa and a wild rice pilaf.
As for sippers, Chop pours a caesar flagged with celery, a sweet pepper, lime and celery salt (Chop Steakhouse, 41 Colossus Dr., Woodbridge, 905-850-2467).
— Karolyne Ellacott
Sabai Sabai has entered into its second incarnation with a move to the Yonge and Bloor area, a doubling of its capacity and a renewed focus on Laotian hospitality and preparations.
Owners Jason Jiang and Seng Luong returned from a few weeks of visiting their home country with the goal of “bringing back the essence of Laos.” Chef Nuit Regular (partner in the business and chef-owner of Sukhothai and Pai) has helped to translate some of Jiang and Luong’s personal recipes as well as infuse her classic northern Thai essence alongside some new Laotian specialties into the menu.
Green papaya salads ($11) are mixed by mortar and pestle, incorporating sweet and salty Thai blue crab, crisp long bean and house-made fish sauce, called padaek, done with fermented freshwater fish and shrimp paste.
No oil is used to sauté the minced pork laap Lao lettuce wraps ($12), infused with an aromatic bouquet of fresh herbs like Vietnamese finger mint, coriander sawtooth mint, lemon grass, lime leaf, ginger and shallot.
An 11-item vegan menu is also available daily, with classics like the tom ka soup ($7.50) and eggplant stir-fry with Thai basil and red pepper ($10), as well as the slender mixed rice noodles that form the base for coconut mee kati ($13) with tamarind sauce, king oyster mushrooms and tofu, instead of the chicken and egg thread options found on the main menu (Sabai Sabai, 81 Bloor St. E., 647-748-4225).
— Jason Finestone
IT’S ALL ABOUT PERU
Mochica, a Toronto outpost of one of Montreal’s Peruvian restaurants, now occupies the space at 614 College St. The address, near Bathurst, had been home to Pisco 1641.
The restaurant’s name refers to the Moche civilization that predated the Incas in the narrow strip of Peru between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes.
Co-owner and chef Martin Oré, who is originally from Trujillo, opened Mochica in Montreal 12 years ago to pay homage to his roots. His culinary roots started at home with his abuela. Having tired of life as a civil servant with the Housing Society of Quebec, Oré decided to turn passion into a career and enrolled in the Cordon Bleu culinary school in Lima, studying traditional Peruvian cuisine. Oré is a restaurant veteran who also owns Huaca Mar and Ceviche Bar in Trujillo and the Mochican Palace Hotel, a five-star hotel in Huanchaco, Peru.
The menu at Mochica is seafood heavy, paying homage to Trujillo, a coastal city abundant in fish and shellfish. Ceviche features prominently on the menu, although, if you want to experience something that is reflective of Peruvian culture, you’ll want to opt for the tiradito, a cousin to ceviche that was influenced by Peru’s Japanese ex-pats.
Meatier options include the anticucho de corazon or grilled beef heart. If you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s also alpaca on offer. Traditionally, a llama was sacrificed to the gods, but Oré has decided to source his meat from the alpaca (llama’s smaller cousin) farms of Quebec. For those who have never tasted alpaca before, Oré describes it as somewhere between lamb and veal. The drinks menu is pisco heavy, from the traditional pisco sour, made from lime, sugar and spirits, to more unconventional offerings like passion fruit (Mochica, 614 College St., 647-352-1641).
— Yvonne Tsui
NOT SO BASIC
Noted restaurateur Hemant Bhagwani, of Leaside’s amazing Amaya, has opened his newest project, Leela Indian Food Bar, in the Junction. The restaurant’s moniker is a nod to Ramlila — an epic play that depicts the life of Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, and is staged over a 10-day period (or sometimes longer). Bhagwani wanted to connect the imagery of rich colours, sets and history with the vibrant flavours of Indian cuisine. An artistic depiction of Rama serves as the focal point of the restaurant’s decor.
“Indian food has become too boring,” says Bhagwani, before stating that the cuisine is either traditional or going modern. He hopes to play with recipes that are rooted in tradition and refine the flavours. For instance, his HB’s butter chicken ($12.95) is smoked over charcoal, and in place of the common canned tomatoes that most restaurants use in their recipes Bhagwani uses extremely ripe tomatoes to give it intensity of flavour.
You’ll also find menu items that pay homage to cuisines that have been influenced by India. The kadhai “kali mirch” chicken ($9.95), for example, is Chinese wok-fried with black pepper and tossed with onions and banana peppers. The paneer lasagne ($10.95) subs in thin slices of paneer as lasagna sheets and minced eggplant as the filling. The inspiration behind it stems from a trip Bhagwani took to Miami, where he dined on zucchini lasagna at a plant-based restaurant. His “Indianized” version is a dish he’s particularly proud of (Leela Indian Food Bar, 3108 Dundas St. W., 416-769-7777).
— Yvonne Tsui
Clockwise from left: Chop’s glazed salmon with wild rice pilaf, the chicken naan at Leela, Sabai Sabai’s pork belly Lao sausage