After being holed up at home for the last week or so, I spent the weekend out and about and managed to try out two new places and got disappointed by one that used to be a good option.
TORITO - AUGUSTA AVE., KENSINGTON MKT
This place has some serious staff shortages the night we were there. It was a Friday night, prime dinner hour, granted. However, the three servers simply had too much they had to take care of: bartending, serving, host duties. As a result, we had to wait 10 minutes at the doorway before anyone took notice of us and our server was scarce throughout the evening (we waited for everything: water, menus, plates, cutlery).
The menu itself had about a dozen each of cold and hot tapas. The prices are on average slightly higher than the tapas at Embrujo Flamenco (avg. $9 vs. $7-8).
We started out with 4 cold plates: bread served with olives, cheese, and pickles; jamon; arugula salad; green bean salad. The olives that came with the bread were nicely cured and marinated. Jamon was actually some decent quality prosciutto, rather than jamon. The arugula salad was rather standard, with shaved manchego cheese and chopped almonds. At least they weren't heavy handed with the dressing (lemon and olive oil). The green beans were lovely, served with marinated mushrooms and pickles onions - but then, I'm a sucker for green beans.
For hot plates we ordered garlic shrimp, tripe stew, braised beef cheek and tongue, and salted cod-stuffed peppers. The garlic shrimp were nicely done - the shrimp were crunchy and sufficiently garlicky. The tripe stew was very good as well. The tripe weren't chewy, but still retained some texture. The braised beef cheek and tongue were good but I found that the reduction it was in was a bit too salty for my tastes. Both were very tender, but again, retained some texture. The salted cod-stuffed peppers were okay - the most forgettable of the hot plates we had, really.
All in all, the experience wasn't a bad one. The service was disorganized but friendly, and we never felt rushed despite the frantic pace they were working. I thought the prices were about fair (maybe just a touch high for certain items, like the jamon) given the quality and portion size. The wine selection and mark up is poor, however. I would go again - it was nice to have tapas without the loud Flamenco performance to drown out the conversation.
ROYAL TEA HOUSE - APPLECREEK BLVD., RICHMOND HILL
They call themselves "dimsum specialists". It's above average dimsum here. I was quite impressed - even my picky Chinese parents enjoyed it. The food was never greasy and the MSG was indiscernable. The prices here are slightly higher than the average dimsum place, but not outrageous and certainly worth it.
The menu is fairly big, with all of the standards included. We ordered a lot of dimsum, but I'll only discuss the dishes that matter when it comes to dimsum evaluation.
HARGOW - above average. The wrapping was very smooth - it could have be slightly thinner, but really, not much to complain about. They are very slightly smaller than average, but the shrimp inside were nicely crunchy.
STEAMED NOODLE ROLL - above average. The noodle was very smooth, and very thin. We ordered the one with shrimp inside. Disappointment: typical presentation of 3 whole shrimps in each roll, no more no less.
BLACKBEAN SPARE RIBS - below average. Bone to meat ratio was poor. As was the meat to fat ratio.
LOTUS LEAF STICKY RICE - excellent. 50-50 ratio of sticky rice to filling. Filling included salted egg, which was a nice touch.
STEAMED TURNIP CAKE - average. Not as much turnip as I would have hoped and it was slightly drier than I prefer (probably because of the turnip to rice flour ratio). The sausage in it was great though - very smoky and flavourful - not the stale stuff you get at some other places.
CHIU CHOW STYLE STEAMED DUMPLINGS - above average. The wrapping was very slightly gritty. Filling was top notch though. Every thing in it was individually identifiable by taste, texture, and sight, and not a big goopy mess.
STEAMED GLUTINOUS RICE BALLS WITH PEANUTS (DESSERT) - above average. A good amount of filling. The wrap was smooth, good amount of chewiness, not overly thick.
I would definitely go again, though this time I'll make sure to get a seat further from the door (I could see my breath at one point).
I'm by no means a regular here, but enjoyed decent thin crust pizzas and a great pasta e fagioli soup. We went back over the weekend and realized that a number of things have changed: new servers, new (shorter) menus, new (higher) prices, and new suppliers (different brands of tea, sparkling water, etc. than before). We didn't get a chance to ask about these changes (whether they are permanent, and to what we can attribute the changes), however, we were uncharacteristically unsatisfied with our most recent visit.
I've talked about the pasta e fagioli soup here before. In the winters, I would get cravings for it. It was very hearty, the romano beans were cooked just right with the right balance of smokiness in the broth, fresh rosemary, and a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Well, I'm very disappointed to say that the soup has been somewhat inconsistent in the past two years, and this most recent visit proved the worst. The price of the soup is now $9, and while it is "homey" to serve it in a clay pot, the beans were complete mush, no more smokiness in the broth, no more olive oil drizzled on top, and no more fresh herbs. Very very disappointing.
After my soup, I had grilled calamari shrimp served with green salad on the side. Normally, what I enjoyed about this dish was the simplicity: the greens were tossed only in a bit of olive oil, and the calamari and shrimp were very lightly salted before being grilled to perfection. This time, everything was swimming in an average quality balsamic vinegar. Ick - would you like some salad with your dressing? The shrimp were good, but the calamari were WAAAY too salty - especially since it was already floating in vinegar. Also, I don't think the kitchen cleaned its grills very thoroughly before throwing the seafood on there. The parts that were blackened by the grill were very black and very bitter tasting. To add insult to injury, the dish is now $4 more expensive than it was before - to pay for the bottle of balsamic they used, I imagine.
My dining partner had pizza, which hasn't changed much from previous experiences. This was really the only thing we recognized from our previous experiences here.
Overall, Giovanna disappointed us greatly this time around. Higher prices for lower food quality is not a good business model, ever, period.