To be honest, I have only recently become a huge fan of Indian food (I had not been introduced to it while growing up – so I am not going to declare myself as an expert on this topic, just for context. Hopefully some more experienced CHers can chime in with their thoughts and reviews). I discovered the unique flavours and aromas about 5 to 6 years ago - right here in Toronto. But the love of Indian food really took off when I found myself in London and dining at Bombay Brasserie. There was so much ‘punch’ in every bite, with so many layers of spices that were all so unique to my palate. After my visit to London, I found myself infatuated with Indian food, so my search continued when I returned to the shores of North America.
I had tried a few places in Toronto, and to be honest, none of them really blew me away. I was impressed with Debu’s Biryani House, but was less than impressed with Jaipur Grille (about 5 years ago). When I found myself frequently traveling between Boston and Toronto, I continued my search in Beantown. There, I discovered Café of India, which incidentally has the best biryani I have ever had in North America, and Kashmir – it’s cousin restaurant that is a bit higher end (with better curries).
I have just resumed my search for the best Indian food in Toronto, sampling some cheaper ‘alternatives’ that leaned more towards Sri Lankan and Bengali – such as Babu’s in Scarborough, and Mistaan Catering and Sweets (both quite good on their own merit, especially for the prices – though Mistaan was more to my taste), but none of them really hit the spot by filling the void left by Indian food in London and Boston.
A month ago, I found myself at Amaya’s Bread Bar for a birthday dinner. I had heard many good things about it, and was itching for some good Indian food. While perusing the menu, I settled on the tasting menu, which was very reasonably priced at $48 for 5 dishes (+ amuse).
The daily tasting menu dishes were as follows:
• Amuse of Watermelon shooters + Pakoras: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
• Appetizer of Chicken Tikka and prawns: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
• Aloo Gobhi: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
• Beef Masala: same photo as Aloo Gohbi
• Halibut Curry: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
• Rice Pudding: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
The amuse kick-started the meal on a high-note. It was sweet, spicy and very refreshing. The pakoras were well fried, and did not taste purely of batter, as I have had at many other places. The appetizers were also quite strong – minimal batter. The chicken was tender and moist, with the single prawn being of high quality as well. The prawn had good flavour, and was paired with a sauce that did not overwhelm its sweetness. The aloo gobhi was my favourite dish of the taster. I do not recall much of it anymore, as it has been quite some time, but it had a good texture, and I am a fan of chick peas. The beef masala was a bit dry, and did not leave a lasting impression. It was just “OK" for me. The halibut was a very nice piece of fish. It was sweet, and exceptionally fresh. However, it was a bit overcooked for my tastes, though it was an excellently prepared dish in every other way. An overcooked fish just does not sit well with me, but I am sure others may find this a winner. The rice pudding was a disappointing end though. It was gooey and did not have any bite or texture to it. I would have preferred more aromas (vanilla, or cardamom) and a bit more spice, as it was very flat and one-dimensional for me. I have had much better rice pudding elsewhere (even from my own kitchen). The jeweled rice though was amazing. The rice was exceptionally fragrant (though a touch oily for my tastes), and well seasoned with great texture. It was definitely one of the best rice sides I have ever had the pleasure of tasting in an Indian restaurant. Quite a treat and I would have definitely wanted more. I would equate it with great "wok hai" in Cantonese cuisine.
Jeweled Basmati Rice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Though this rotates on a daily basis (so we were told), the menu was small, which would probably lead me to believe that the rotation is probably on a tight schedule, leading to numerous repeats if one has frequent visits. However, for a first visit, I believe the tasting menu is a great way to sample their various offerings. One thing that I really appreciated was that they allowed each individual to order according to their preference – just because one member of the table plans to order the tasting menu, not everyone else at the table is forced to order that as well. This leads to greater variation, and the ability to sample more of their fare. Kudos for them for respecting that not everyone has the intention of dropping $60+ on a meal, even though their friends may be willing.
Our table also added an order of Lobster Naanini, and a Lamb Rogan Josh. The lobster naanini – which is actually a play on the naan as a panini – was unfortunately cold by the time it was delivered to our table. It had potential though, but because it was cold, the flavours were muted and the texture of the bread itself was soggy and chewy. As a result, I was underwhelmed by this $14 bread dish. I, however, did see potential, but it did not live up to it on our sampling. It was nicely spiced, the lobster ‘chunks’ were present, though sparse, and the grilling gave a nice char to the bread’s flavour. The rogan josh was the highlight of the meal. Unlike typical lamb rogan josh’s I have had elsewhere, this one was melded with French cuisine in a playful way, using a lamb shank. I was very pleased at the size of this dish, and the flavours, though more tomato-based than I would have liked, and sweeter with less spicing than I would have preferred, it was quite a winner. I would not know to judge whether or not it was authentic, but if I could wager a guess, I would say that it was definitely altered to cater to North American palates. Though as a dish on its own, it was very tasty and I would definitely order this one again. The lamb was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the flavours were very well absorbed into the meat. I would have to say that this dish has set apart Amaya’s Bread Bar in my book, and would make it the reason why I would return. Their naan’s were also very flavorsome – the naan basket had 3 pieces of naan (butter, regular, and a garlic naan). They were great to use to soak up the sauces. I would recommend a basket for about 2-3 persons. There was a lot of sauce with the rogan josh and the halibut dishes, so the naans did come in handy. I even had some leftover sauce taken home to eat with rice for another lunch. Very delicious sauces overall.
I would definitely return to Amaya’s Bread Bar, as it is the strongest player in Toronto for Indian food that I have been to as of late (since Debu’s Biryani House closed down a while back). It’s flavours are far from ‘authentic’ or typical, but that’s not to say it isn’t great food. This fusion is a welcome change, and I cannot wait to sample Debu’s new place soon. Tabla is also next on my list. The lighting created a very ‘spa’-like feel, and was very relaxing. The dishes and cutlery used were also very attractive. Overall, I was very satisfied with Amaya – their service was apt, the food was excellent, and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. I am so happy to hear that so many top notch Indian eateries have been popping up all over the city. Now I can rest assured that I will satiate my desires for Indian food in between trips to Boston and London. Cannot wait for my next meal.
Table of Food: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Cheers and Happy Eating!
Amaya’s Bread Bar 3305 Yonge St., Toronto - (416) 487-1100.
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