{Review} Dr. Laffa Restaurant in North York

Website: http://www.drlaffa.com/
Twitter Handle: @DrLaffa
Address: 3027 Bathurst St., Toronto, ON
When I visited: March 2015, Media event

The Magnetic Dr. location is closed after the owners had split. Yoram Gabay, one of the original partners opened Dr. Laffa on the go, a small restaurant at Bathurst St. and Lawrence Ave., in the heart of other Jewish establishments. Having been to the  Magnetic Dr. location, the menu is similar offering tasty sharing plates, sandwich options, as well as large platters of grilled meats, shawarma and rice.

The restaurant has half a dozen tables and a service counter with a colourful array of salads and sides, which makes the joint an ideal spot for a quick meal or take out. At the media tasting, my fellow bloggers and I had an opportunity to taste a large assortment of dishes. When I thought we were finished, the owner generously gave us more dishes to try.

Dr. Laffa

Dr. Laffa

Dr. Laffa

Dr. Laffa

This may look like a fast-food restaurant, but the food is far from tasting like it. The food was authentic with spices shipped from Israel every two weeks, the meat was tender, and flavours popped with every bite. This place is legit!

Line ups of Jewish families come here to enjoy the taste of Israel, as well as dishes from Morocco and the Middle East. The restaurant was also featured on Food Network Canada’s hit show “You Got to Eat Here!”

Here were the highlights of my visit: 

With a name called Dr. Laffa, this is a must order during your visit. What is a laffa? It is a bread similar to a pita but thinner and crispier, made in a hot oven and done in approximately 56 seconds. Use it scoop up some of the tasty hummus including the Dr. Laffa hummus plate made of ground meat and pine nuts ($12.99), or the hummus with falafel plate. The falafel was ultra crispy on the outside.

Laffa bread

Laffa bread

Dr. Laffa Hummus

Dr. Laffa Hummus

Hummus with falafel

Hummus with falafel

One of the best sellers is the laffa shawarma ($10.99) which was extremely filling and had a great balance of vegetables and sauce.

Dr. Laffa shawarma

Dr. Laffa shawarma

Having had shakshuka at a few restaurants, this is my favourite one to-date. The sauce was hot and savoury and an amazing deal for $8.99.

Shakshuka

Shakshuka

The whole grilled eggplant with tahini was tasty on its own or eaten with the laffa bread ($6.99).

Roasted eggplant with tahini

Roasted eggplant with tahin

We tried most of the menu from house-made soups, appetizers, fresh-cut fries, tasty salads, drinks and dessert. Needless to say, I was stuffed and satisfied!

DrLaffa media event March 9 15

Owner

Yoram Gabay and the Dr. Laffa team

Overall: 

You can’t go wrong with anything you order at Dr. Laffa; there is tons of variety and each dish is carefully seasoned. The prices are reasonable and you will leave stuffed! If you need help, Yorum and the team are welcoming and happy to answer any questions about the menu.

Please remember to check the website for up-to-date the restaurant hours. They are opened Sunday to Thursday 11:00 am to 10:00pm, Friday from 11:00am to 3:30pm, closed on Saturday’s, public holidays and Jewish holidays.

Thank you to Vicky @momwhoruns and Dr. Laffa for the invitation.

* The meal was complimentary but the opinions in the post are entirely my own.

Dr. Laffa Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

* The meal was complimentary but the opinions in the post are entirely my own.

Why you need to visit Casa Manila, a Filipino gem in North York

Website: http://www.casamanila.ca/
Twitter/Instagram Handle: @CasaManilaTO
Address: 879 York Mills Rd. Toronto, ON
When I visited: March 11th, 2015, Media dinner

During my first visit to Casa Manila, I was thoroughly impressed with the restaurant offerings and hospitality (read about my first visit). I had an opportunity to partner with Casa Manila for a media tasting and happy to share the exciting offerings that they have to offer.

Casa Manila

Casa Manila

Owner, Mila Nabor-Cuachon had bought Casa Manila back in 2010, which was previously an existing Filipino fast food restaurant. She was able to transform the restaurant to a beautiful sit-down restaurant that provides delicious, healthy and classic Filipino dishes that fits their mission statement:

“We strive to make known that Filipino cuisine is distinct and unique deserving to be shared with people of other cultures. We will provide fresh, healthy (no MSG added, less salt & oil, leaner cuts of meat, and vegetarian menu items), and delicious Filipino cooking for dine in, take-out, delivery, banquet, and catering services. At CASA manila, our goal is to provide a pleasant experience of Filipino hospitality and cultural artistry in an, authentic tropical setting depicting a humble seaside resort”. 

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That is exactly what the bloggers and I felt during the evening…an evening at a tropical resort in the Philippines enjoying a scrumptious meal. We were treated to a traditional “Kamayan” style dinner, where we ate with our hands with fresh banana leaves as our plates. This was truly a fun and bonding experience that was a feast for our senses, and a true representation of the Filipino ancestral tradition. Kamayan feasts has continued until this day for various celebrations.

During the dinner, Mila graciously explained each dish thoroughly as well as the origins of each dish. The history lesson was eye-opening and informative.

We started out with the calamansi mojito cocktail, featuring the national citrus of the Philippines. The drink was refreshing and tarte, a great start to the dinner and a complimenting drink to our meal. Casa Manila also serves pop and beer native to the Philippines, including San Miguel beer and Sarsi root beer. As a snack, we had adobo dusted popcorn, which gave the popcorn a subtle salty and sweet flavour.

Adobo dusted popcorn

Adobo dusted popcorn

Our first appetizer was Casa Manila’s take on the Filipino classic, chicharon. The chicharon was created using chicken skin, rather than the crispy pork skin with a light adobo seasoning topped with a pickled green papaya slaw served with an aioli. We also enjoyed the lumpia Shanghai (springroll), which has its roots from the Chinese (hence the name), with a flavourful meaty center.

CasaManilaCollage

I am obsessed with good soup, and Casa Manila’s sinigang baka (beef tamarind soup) hit the spot with a sour Filipino tamarind base with vegetables including okra, jalapeno, eggplant, tomato and bok choy (plus there was no MSG!).

Sinigang Baka

Sinigang Baka

Now, the show stopper was next, the Kamayan feast! I could see the excitement in everyone’s eyes on the beautiful masterpiece that was carefully placed at our table; a feast that we would quickly devour!

Kamayan Feast

Kamayan Feast

The Kamayan feast was proportioned for the number of guests at the table. The feast included:

  • Inihaw Baka- Thinly sliced grilled beef ribs infused with Casa Manila’s marinade.
  • Lechon Kawali (Crispy pork belly), a Filipino iconic favourite –served with Casa Manila’s lechon sauce and seasoned vinegar.
  • Hilaw Manga Insalada (green mango salad) which was combined with jicamas, tomato, red and green onions, a tangy salad made to eat with grilled and fried food.
  • Tinuhog na Manok (chicken skewers) served with the dipping sauces, which I will discuss more shortly.
  • Flying Tilapia- It was beautifully presented and the highlight of the feast for me. The meat was tender, and the skin was fried to a golden brown.
  • Papaya Slaw and other vegetables which included tomatoes, cucumber and hot peppers which helped balanced the meal.
  • Garlic rice, a tasty base.
Kamayan, eating with my hands

Kamayan, eating with my hands

With each bite, we had a choice of dipping our food into various vinegars, the house made bagoong (shrimp paste) or the Mabuhay collection of sauces including the creamy coconut ginger sauce (ginataan), adobo (tangy soy garlic sauce), and the savoury peanut sauce (kare kare). Each sauce had its own unique taste, all delicious in its own way.

Each sauce has its healthy profile. The savoury peanut sauce has no MSG and is gluten-free, and the adobe sauce is fat-free and is vegan, which are unlike many store-bought sauces that are full of preservatives. The quality of the ingredients stays true to Casa Manila’s vision in serving healthy and delicious food. The sauces were perfect for dipping, as well as cooked in a dish.

We had several demonstrations at the restaurant to showcase how quickly a meal can be made with the sauces.Using the Mabuhay collection of sauces, home cooks can make a delicious meal in less than 20 minutes. With instructions on the back on the bottles, even amateur cooks can learn how to make a tasty Filipino dish with the sauces quickly.

Mabuhay Collection of sauces from Casa Manila

Mabuhay Collection of sauces from Casa Manila

Mabuhay Collection sauces

Mabuhay Collection sauces

With our Kamayan feast, we had additional add-ons including the sisig pork mask (pig head meat) and sisig bangus (milk fish). Although I was already stuffed at this point, I couldn’t resist tasting the savoury dishes.

Mila presenting the pork sisig

Mila presenting the pork sisig

Of course, we could not leave without having to taste the famous Filipino dessert, Halo Halo (Mix Mix). The Casa Manila version for our table was the largest one I have ever seen! The dessert represents the mix of cultures that make up the Filipino culture today. The finely shaved ice, covered with a cream mixture, topped with assorted fruits, sweet beans, custard, purple yam, puffed rice and crowned with Casa Manila’s ube (taro ice cream).

Halo Halo at Casa Manila

Halo Halo at Casa Manila

Even more exciting news is that Casa Manila is now selling ice cream flavours representing the tropical Philippines including ube (taro), coconut, mango and avocado, made by Marble slab and available for purchase at Casa Manila.

With all the drool-worthy pictures, let’s recap again on Why do you need to come visit Casa Manila?

  • The Kamayan Dinner is priced at $28/per person. There needs to be a minimum of 4 and the food is adjusted based on the size of your party. The experience is incredible, the food is delicious and you will be stuffed!
  • Casa Manila offers a large selection of classic dishes and beverages on their menu. The food is authentic!
  • The food has no MSG, there is low sodium and oil. 
  • The house-made bagoong (shrimp paste) really highlights the flavours in many dishes. Casa Manila rocks the flavours of their sauces in each dish!
  • The Mabuhay collection of refrigerated sauces can transform the Casa Manila flavours in the comfort of your own home. The creamy coconut ginger sauce (ginataan), adobo (tangy soy garlic sauce), and the savoury peanut sauce (kare kare) are available at the restaurant for $8.99 a bottle. This is a reasonable price given the quality, convenience and taste of the sauces!
  • Casa Manila has partnered up with Marble slab to to produce the ube (taro), coconut, mango and avocado ice cream, available for purchase at the restaurant ($12.50 for a tub).
  •  ….starting at the end of February 2015, every Saturday evening starting at 9pm is Karaoke Dance Night. Come with your friends, eat a delicious meal and have a blast!
Mila and I. Thank you for the invitation!

Mila and I. Thank you for the invitation!

Casa Manila on Urbanspoon
* Thank you Casa Manila for the invitation. The meal was complimentary but the opinions in the post are entirely my own.

The relaunch of Lucky Red

Website: http://www.luckyredshop.com/
Twitter Handle: @luckyredshop
Address: 318 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON
When I visited: March  13th, 2015, Pre-opening event

Back in the summer of July 2014, Lucky Red had opened with a bao-centric menu. After an abrupt closure, brothers David, Phil and Peter Chau (owners of Banh Mi Boys) decided to revamp the menu and the overall vibe of the restaurant.

Lucky Red's new sign

Lucky Red’s new sign

Lucky Red was originally set to open on March 17th, 2015 (St. Patty’s Day!) in its original location in Chinatown, but it looks like the public will need to wait just a tad longer to see what Lucky Red has in store.

Lucky Red

Lucky Red

My friends and I had the opportunity to attend the pre-opening event, where we had a chance to meet David Chau to understand his inspiration behind the interior design and menu. The restaurant makes an ideal hang out spot for good drinks and sharing bar food. There was about the same amount of food choices as the bar choices on their menu, with many specialty drinks and craft beer from their fully licensed bar.

Lucky Red's pre-launch menu

Lucky Red’s pre-launch menu

The menu did not get rid of their baos completely. In fact, they shouldn’t. Customers may be rolling their eyes…”been there, done that”, seeing another pork belly baos on the menu, but Lucky Red executes their baos very well. The pork belly was full of flavour. At $7 for 2 pork belly baos, this was well priced and filling.

Lucky red, pork belly baos

Lucky red, pork belly baos

The Bo Tai Chanh (beef tartare) with a Vietnamese spin should be kept on their menu; a great accompaniment to a cold beer!

Bo Tai Chanh

Bo Tai Chanh

And the standout from the menu was the Fried Chicken, which is a must have! David said the number of pieces for the price point may change, but the introductory price for a large was $13 for 6 pieces, which was amazing! The chicken was hot and juicy, with a crispy skin that was both savoury and had a subtle sweetness to the skin. I did the amateur move of squeezing lime on my chicken skin first, which softened parts of the skin. The pickled radish and fennel were a good addition to the dish.

Fried Chicken at Lucky Red

Fried Chicken at Lucky Red

As for dessert options, Lucky Red thankfully kept their delicious smores bao on their menu and added a durian tarte to the list.

I look forward to the opening and seeing the final menu choices!

Lucky Red on Urbanspoon

{Review} Satisfy your noodle cravings at Deer Garden [Richmond Hill location]

Website: No website, Urbanspoon link 
Address: 550 Hwy 7 E Unit 108, Richmond Hill, ON
Cuisine: Chinese
When I visited: March 2015, lunch, 2 people
Rating: $, 4

My husband and I were running some errands on a weekend and ended up having lunch at Deer Garden around 3:00pm. To our surprise, the restaurant was packed in the late afternoon. With noodles as their main menu item, luckily the turnaround was quick and we were quickly seated.

This casual HK style restaurant had an easy ordering system where each customer is given their own order sheet.

Noodle order sheet at Deer Garden

Noodle order sheet at Deer Garden

The base price for a bowl of noodles (one size only) and a cold drink was $8.75. With that price, I was able to choose the soup base, choice of 2 toppings and the noodle type. Additional toppings could be added at a minimal charge. Side orders were a great deal, as they were only $1.95.

As the restaurant is known for their no MSG fish soup, this is what we tried during our first visit. I ordered the fish soup with parsley and century egg, with beef tendon and sliced beef, with thick noodles.

Fish soup with parsley and century egg, with beef tendon and sliced beef.

Fish soup with parsley and century egg, with beef tendon and sliced beef.

My husband ordered the chaochou style dried fish and minced pork fish soup with beef tendon and tripe.

Chaochou style dried fish and minced pork fish soup with beef tendon and tripe

Chaochou style dried fish and minced pork fish soup with beef tendon and tripe

When the order came out, we were surprised at the portion size and the amount of tender beef tendon pieces in each bowl. The fish soup had a mild fish flavour compared to Thai or Vietnamese fish soup bases, but still satisfying.

On the side, we ordered dessert wings with ginger and deep fried pork chop. Both items were really tasty, crispy and an amazing deal!

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Sides with our noodle order at Deer Garden

Sides with our noodle order at Deer Garden

 

Overall:

The value for what you get is ridiculous! For $10.70, I was completely stuffed with a quality bowl of no MSG soup, a side order and a cold drink! That is just mad. If this restaurant was downtown, I could see line ups forming everyday. The service could improve, as I had to flag the server many times.

I will return to try out the other soups flavours and menu items as they also offer rice dishes, snacks and specialty drinks. Also, this is a family friendly restaurant with Chinese families as their clientele and many high chairs available.

Deer Garden Signatures on Urbanspoon

{Review} Byblos, Eastern Mediterranean cuisine

Website: http://byblostoronto.com, @ByblosToronto (Twitter)
Address: 11 Duncan St., Toronto, ON
When I visited: February 2015, dinner, 4 people
Rating: $$$$, 5

I heard so much about Byblos from blogger friends, and the cold winter in Toronto did not stop me from visiting the restaurant. From the same owners as Patria and Weslodge, Charles Khabouth and Harif Harji opened up Byblos in the heart of the entertainment district.  The Executive Chef Stuart Cameron had created family style dishes with influences from various Eastern Mediterranean countries including Morocco, Israel, Lebanon and Turkey.

Byblos has two floors, with the dining room on the lower-level. The restaurant is narrow with a long bar that stretches along one side of the restaurant. The light is dim, providing a cozy dining experience in the evening.

Here is what we ordered, and ranked in order of my preference. (I do apologize for the quality of my photos due to the dark lighting)

1. Dry Aged Ribeye with za’atar butter and smoked eggplant ($41). This was SO delicious! The meat was juicy and absolutely tender!

Dry aged ribeye

Dry aged ribeye

2. Turkish Manti Dumplings with smokey eggplant, yogurt Sauce and molasses ($14). I liked the soft dunpling wrappers and the sauce, although the dumplings had little fillings.

Turkish dumplings

Turkish dumplings

3. Fig Salad with orange blossom honey vinegar, ackawi cheese, kohlrabi and pistachio ($14). I loved the salty feta like cheese from Israel, which made the salad more hearty. I am inspired to make a homemade version of this soon!

Fig salad

Fig salad

4. Organic House Labneh  with fennel, honey, olive oil and barbari bread ($9). I forgot to take a picture. This is a Middle Eastern staple and a must have.

5. Crispy Eggplant with tahini aioli, Bayildi sauce and basturma ($12). Eggplant is often a hit or miss for me, as I dislike it when the texture is too mushy (unless it’s baba ghanoush). At Byblos, the eggplant is prepared like polenta fries, making it appetizing to look at and fun to eat.

Crispy eggplant

Crispy eggplant

6. Oxtail Basmati Rice with bing cherries, kale, fried shallots and house yogurt ($22). The rice does not photograph well but it was flavourful. I wonder if the chef cooked it with beef broth?
Oxtail rice

Oxtail rice

7. Duck Kibbeh with dried fig, date molasses, and tahini ($13). Don’t let these small pieces fool you, the filling was dense.
Duck kabbeh

Duck kibbeh

8. Shakshouka with spicy tomato, yogurt, duck egg and Romy cheese ($11). This was a great value and filling. The duck egg provided a more salty balance to the sweet tomato sauce.

9. Baked Green Olives with harissa ($6). This baked version made it seem less salty with a softer bite.

Baked green olives

Baked green olives

The bar menu developed by Wes Galloway  had many cocktail selections. I had the virgin gulab with crushed ice, pomegranate reduction, lemon and fragrant rose-hip toppings and loved it!
Overall:
The restaurant is a bit on the pricier side for a casual night out but will be on my list of places to return with a group. I love the flavours of the Eastern Mediterranean seaboard…and that ribeye is really to-die for!
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@themary_tang) for more delicious updates.

Byblos on Urbanspoon

{Charity Event} Recipe for Change, a “party for the future of food!”

Website: http://www.foodshare.net/recipeforchange
Address: 92-95 Front St E, Toronto ON
Event type: Charity
Event date: Feb. 26th, 2015 from 6-9 pm at the St. Lawrence North Market

I attended the 6th annual Recipe for Change at the historical St. Lawrence Market, a gastronomical event that featured visionary chefs, delicious food, wineries, brewers, tea sommeliers and a silent auction.

The Recipe For Change supported Food Share (@foodshareTO), a non-profit organization that works with communities and schools to deliver healthy food and food education.

Food Share was established in 1985 and has created a food system that is both accessible and sustainable to everyone. Examples of their programs include Good Food Cafe, a healthy school cafeteria for students; Field To Table Schools, Food Share’s food education program; and Student Nutrition, where Foodshare works in partnership through the Toronto Partners for Student Nutrition (TPSN) to create meal programs that have reached 149,000 students everyday. The funds raised at the #RecipeForChange event helps various food share programs.

Check out the Foodshare website to read more about their programs, their impact in our communities and how you can contribute to their mission. (Source: Food Share website and 2013 annual report)

This was my first first time attending the Recipe for Change, and I was blown away by the number of attendees who supported the incredible cause. If attendees missed the early bird tickets, a single ticket was $150 per person and included unlimited food and drinks, and tax receipts of approximately $50/ticket would be issued to guests after all costs are reconciled for the event.

RecipeForChange

There was SO much food, even a big eater like me couldn’t finish the portions at every station. The event was well organized with minimal lines ups at each booth. There were many tables to enjoy the mouth-watering selection of dishes and canapes. This event was also a great opportunity to speak to 30 local chefs all under one roof.

Typical Booth at Recipe for Change

Typical Booth at Recipe for Change

 

Silent Auction items, Recipe for Change

Silent Auction items, Recipe for Change

Check out the full menu and beverage selection from the evening. The delicious selection seemed endless!

Recipe for Change

Recipe for Change

Some of the highlights for me included:

Chef Sang Kim and daughter Kiki (Sushi Making For the Soul) prepared “modern sashimi” with B.C white tuna with maple syrup, balsamic and tamari. It was a delicious mouthful. It was awesome seeing the dynamic duo again!

Sushi Making For the Soul

Sushi Making For the Soul

Nick Liu and Jen Grant (Dailo Restaurant) served Giggie’s smoked trout with betel leaf, lime leaf, lemon grass and almond satay sauce. The flavours were bright and appetizing!

Nick Liu from Dailo Restaurant

Nick Liu from Dailo Restaurant

Richa Gupta (Good Food for Good) served the beautiful Oaxaca arbol Mexican slider with hints of Indian spices.

Oaxaca Arbol Mexican Sliders

Oaxaca Arbol Mexican Sliders

Chef Suman Roy (Wild Burger) served Ontario Bacon wrapped wild boar slider with brie, filled with nutella on a petite brioche. These fresh-off-the-grill sliders were juicy with a subtle taste of nutella!

Wild Burger

Wild Burger

Andrés Márquez and Howard Dubrowsky (Fonda Lola) served sustainable seafood ceviche . The scallop civeche with an avocado lime dressing really hit the spot. I helped myself to several of these shooters.

Seafood Civeche

Seafood Civeche

Bernadin Chef Emerie Brine served delicious beef and celery dumpling with hot and spicy sauce.

Therese De Grace (The Good Earth Food and Wine Co) served seared Upper Canada Guernsey girl cheese, winter fattoush salad, tahini drizzle, 2-day marinated sumac scented tofu. The salad was tasty and light, even with the tofu.

The Good Earth Food and Wine Co

The Good Earth Food and Wine Co

Bertrand Alépée (Tempered Room) served chewy pecan macaron, praline cream, raspberry jam, candied hazelnut. It had just the perfect amount of sweetness for me.

The Tempered Room

The Tempered Room

Unfortunately, I missed out on the the oyster station from Hooked (I love oysters!), as they ran out of oysters by the time I realized the station was there.

I did not have much alcoholic beverages that evening, but I enjoyed the tea selections from Lemon Lily Tea and Carol Mark’s ‘Primal Tea’ before and after my meal. Lemon Lily Tea is one of our household favourites, so I was so happy they were in attendance serving their organic and loose-leaf teas.

Lemon Lily Tea and Primal Tea

Lemon Lily Tea and Primal Tea

Follow @foodShareTO  on Twitter and join the the food conversations (#recipeforchange). Next year, grab early bird tickets or come with a friend to receive a discount and  “party for the future of food!”

Thank you to Mary Luz (@maryluzonfood) and Food Share (@foodshareTO) for the invitation to cover the event.

*The ticket was complimentary but the opinions in the post are my own.