Thursday, February 21, 2008

There's Nothing Like A Free Lunch

I was treated to lunch today. The department I work in hosts a team lunch every month or so, and this time around we went to Akasaka restaurant for some Teppanyaki.

Although I quite enjoy Japanese cuisine in general, and sushi in particular, I had never before experienced a Teppanyaki meal. The concept is simple: as Wikipedia will tell you, the word "teppanyaki" is derived from teppan, which means "iron plate", and yaki, which means "grilled". That's exactly what happened. Everyone sat at a counter around two large metal griddles, and they cooked the food in front of us. Very cool to watch.

The lunch menu was pretty reasonably priced (although that wasn't a concern today, huzzah huzzah). The dinner menu, however, gets a little pricey when you start including items such as Angus beef, Filet Mignon, or King Crab legs. Mmmmmm.... King Crab legs....

There was a choice of ten set lunch specials (check 'em out here), or you could be brave and order à la carte. Each special starts off with miso soup, a green salad, and the daily maki, which they happily upgraded to California Rolls upon request, and rice and grilled vegetables are included with the meal.

I went for Special H, which is Beef Sirloin Steak, Shrimp and Salmon. Yummy. The salmon took no time at all on the smoking-hot cooking surface, and was a little crispy on the outside while still being perfectly cooked in the middle. The addition of salt and pepper, and some oil (which the chef ignited producing a ball of flame and a suitably impressed 'ooooohhhh' from the crowd) produced a nice flavor and texture.

The shrimp were really good. Again, they took a very short time to cook, and within minutes were on my plate. They disappeared rather quickly.

The sirloin was fantastic. The chef put the steaks on after asking everyone how they wanted them cooked (mine was medium-rare), and then proceeded to remove most of the fat and gristle before cooking it further. I have to admit, my first thought was "Dude! You're cutting off the best parts!", though I didn't say that as, well, he had a really big knife in his hand. I needn't have worried, as the result was a small pile of sirloin nuggets that were some of the tastiest pieces of meat I have ever eaten. Along with some soy sauce and a little wasabi (loooove the wasabi), I was a happy camper.

The meal finished off with a nice pile of julienned vegetables (bean sprouts, carrot, zucchini, red bell pepper) that had been cooked with some garlic and oil, and for dessert there was ice cream.

The choices for the ice cream were: ginger, chocolate, vanilla or green tea. Feeling as if I'd been adventurous enough for one day, I went with the chocolate. It's always a solid choice in my opinion.

Now, a word about the picture at the top of the post. This is taken from the Akasaka website, and is a picture of their Beef Roll. This was a very cool thing to watch being assembled, as it took less time than the shrimp to cook. The chef took a thin slice of the beef, placed it on the grill, immediately flipped it over, placed a small pile of roasted garlic, green onions and some other stuff on top, rolled it up, sliced it with the spatula, and placed it on a plate. Seriously, it was that quick. My co-worker who was sitting beside me ordered it, and I heard him say "oh, here comes the beef roll". I looked up to see the chef place the meat on the grill, looked down to take a bite of salmon, then looked up again, and it was on his plate and he was eating it. Neat.

This place is definitely worth a second look, as the lunch specials run from $8-$16, which includes everything. I walked out of there feeling full, but not overly so, as has happened in the past when the gang goes out for Dim Sum. So tasty, yet so easy to eat waaaay too much.

Now it's time for a nap. Unfortunately, they frown on that at my office (who knew?), so here I am bravely soldiering through the rest of the day with a double espresso sitting beside me.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Winterlicious 2008 - Truffles Restaurant

Every winter the city of Toronto holds an event called Winterlicious, which presents the average person the opportunity to dine at some very fine establishments on the cheap. Over a hundred restaurants in the Toronto area present prix fixe menus, so someone like myself can actually afford to dine at a high-class joint (heh) such as Truffles Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel. This place has earned the CAA/AAA Five Diamond award for the fourteenth consecutive year. Nice.

Oh, yes. For the princely sum of $35 apiece plus wine (plus taxes and gratuity), my girlfriend and I sampled some VERY fine food.

The set menu is as follows:

Butternut Squash Veloute
w/ Spiced Apple Relish, Bacon Chantilly
Warm Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese
w/ Bitter Greens, Pistachios, Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Organic Carrot & Chestnut Cannelloni
w/ Parmesan Snow, Watercress Emulsion
Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon
w/ Green Lentils, Golden Beets, Mustard Vinaigrette
Beef Bourguignon
w/ Truffle Pomme Puree, Red Wine Jus

Baileys Crème Caramel
w/ Bruleed Bananas, Vanilla Espresso Caramel
Warm Molten Chocolate and Raspberry Cake
w/ Cashew Nut Ice Cream

I had the Veloute, the Salmon, and the Crème Caramel. My lovely companion had the Dates, the Cannelloni, and the Crème Caramel as well. The waiter commented that not many of the Winterlicious guests had not chosen the chocolate. Hey, what can I say, we know what we like.

Quite simply put, the Butternut Squash Veloute is the best soup I have ever eaten. Full stop. It was smooth and creamy with small chunks of apple, hints of cinnamon, and topped with a dollop of cream and a perfectly cooked slice of bacon. And you know how much I like my bacon.

I took a chance with the entree, as I don't normally go in for either salmon or beets, but I thought "What the hell, you only live once". I'm glad I did, because it was absolutely delicious. There was a thick slice of golden beet with a mound of lentils, and the pan-seared piece of salmon on top. My god it was good. I'm even re-thinking my previous stance on beets, and how I don't really like them that much. I guess it's all in the preparation.

I'd been looking forward to the Crème Caramel ever since I first saw it on the menu on the website. Crème Caramel is (along with Crème Brûlée) my favourite dessert, and I was hoping for something magical. It was OK. It was perfectly prepared, with the brûléed bananas and the caramel sauce, and was very tasty, but I guess I'd been building it up in my head to be something mind-blowing, and it was only great. It seems weird to say "only" great, but that's how it felt.

Unaccustomed as I am to fine dining, the service was pleasantly impeccable. I guess the staff was motivated to get us in and out, but our reservation was for 9:00pm, and we were in the car by 10:05. It was nice, actually. As soon as we were finished one course, the server was there to clear the dishes, and to present us with the next one.

You may notice that there are no pictures with this post. I couldn't quite summon the nerve to take a camera with me to the restauarant. There were others taking pictures while we were there, and it didn't seem to be an issue, but I was just as happy to simply enjoy the meal without worrying about that, too.

Including the very nice glasses of Chardonnay (me) and Merlot (her), and my four-dollar cup of coffee (!), dinner was $120 with taxes and tip. Not bad at all.

Winterlicious 2008 runs from January 25 - February 7.