Amaya Group of Restaurants take on Indian Street Food

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I am a huge Indian food fan. One of my go-to take out joints on Just-Eat.ca is Amaya Express on Ossington. So when we were invited to check out the new spring menu at Amaya the Indian Room on Bayview, I was pretty excited. This would be some OG stuff, as it is one of the original Amaya Group of Restaurant locations.

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The Amaya Group of Restaurants was founded back in 2007 by Chef Hemany Bhagwani which currently has 15 locations to date. Chef Bhagwani told us that for the new spring menu he waned to recreate the Amaya experience from start to finish with some new dishes drawing inspiration from India’s vibrant street food culture whilst dipping its toe into some molecular gastronomy.

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Chef Bhagwani started us off with a beautiful amuse bouche consisting of a Yogurt Egg filled with Pomegranate Juice. This was a light airy and simple bite that started off our meals just right.

From there, we were given another amuse bouche of sorts, which was one of their street foods inspiration dishes: Prawn Papdi Chaat with cumin and chutney. Very similar in texture to a ceviche, it was absolutely delicious and all the flavors married so well together. I could have had several more of these, if offered.

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Next up, we were served this new version of Pakoras. Now with kale and tomato chutney. Oh my glob, these were out of this world. Kind of like crispy, deep fried kale chips but little balls. Then with the chutney? Get out of here!

We were finally shown a bit of the seafood side of Amaya with some Scallops paired with pickled lemons, shallot confit and coconut snow. It was beautiful presented and a lovely light taste.

You would think that Tandoori Chicken could not be any different but this was incredible. Spicy, tender and delicious – something about it was great. Plus the foam on it that created a enhanced simple flavor.  Oh, and dem cheese balls. Need I say more?

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Back on the seafood tip, we were treated to some more Prawns (simply titled the Amaya Prawns) – which were juicy and bursting with flavour. Add a bit of beet gel to it and you have yourself a whole new dish. Plus: I am not lying that these were some of the biggest prawns I have seen in my life.

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I would have to say that my favourite dish of the evening though was the Lamb Tenderloin with the Wasabi Ice Cream on top. I was a little bit taken aback when I heard Wasabi Ice Cream but trust me: it works and with all of these flavours. I want more. Please just give me more of this dish forever and always.

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If I haven’t sold you on Amaya’s new menu or on heading to Amaya, then I don’t know what could. They have put so much heart and soul into all of their new offerings, it comes through in each of the plating’s and each of the menu offerings. All of the menu items are so innovative yet so familiar that it’s so comforting. Worth heading to the main location on Bayview! Also of note: all menu items are reasonable priced (between $12-$18) so this makes a great dinner out.

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Photos by Yuli Scheidt

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Cafe Boulud makes home in Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel

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For many foodies, Daniel Boulud (New York based celebrity chef) is a commanding force in the realm of french cooking. When he decided to bring his restaurants (on the second floor and the downstairs bar) to the Four Seasons hotel chain, it would be an understatement to say those in Toronto were excited.

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photos by yuli scheidt

Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome.

Cafe Boulud sits on the second floor overlooking the beautifully iconic neighbourhood that is Yorkville. We were seated by a window which gave us a great 180 degree view of the restaurant whilst still being able to peak outside to see fabulous men and women outside walking the streets. One of the things that I wasn’t too sure about when coming to the Cafe was how the dress-code would be since being housed in one of the cities finest hotels. Let me assure you: while dealing with fine dining at its best, the atmosphere is not stuffy at all or entitled.

The first thing that caught my eye (upon walking up the stairs into the Cafe) was the pop-art portraits of some iconic celebrities such as Madonna. It added a bit of whimsy to the space but also gave a little nod to the indulgent celebrity nature of our city. The dining room is quite large and spacious with a bit of romance in the air.

Just recently, Cafe Boulud released their winter menu which would take on tradition, classic French cuisine while exploring all things worldly. Both Yuli and myself were excited to try this but also try out their Winterlicious menu, which was also happening at the time of our visit. We decided to eat, drink and be merry.

For the three course pre-fixe Winterlicious menu ($45 per person), we decided to indulge in the Lentil Dahl (made with Garam Masala, Coriander and Yogurt) and Grilled Albacore Tuna for our apps. The Lentil was simply rich with full flavour pop. It was one of those dishes where if you could stick your face into the bowl and lick every last drop, you probably would. Alas: I don’t think that is Four Seasons behaviour. The tuna was juicy and tender with beautiful citrus undertones. I’ll have to thank Yuli for sharing with me.

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Next up, we decided to order a couple of appetizers from the Main Menu to see what this new winter menu was all about. We ordered up some Sunchoke Risotto ($21) and the Crispy Duck Egg ($18). Ever since my first experience with Sunchoke I have been obsessed and this risotto did not disappoint. Keeping it simple with porcini mushroom and aged parmesan cheese, it was cooked to perfection and simply wonderful. This would be perfect as a main, as well. Now onto the Crispy Duck Egg which was serving up all kinds of brunch realness. The Duck Egg coupled with the button mushrooms and crispy bacon and all the yolk. I can’t know even handle the goodness. I would like this delivered to my bedroom each and everyday. Hopefully this could be arranged.

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Back to our Winterlicious main courses, where I decided to par-take in the Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Heirloom Carrot and Potatoes. This dish was not too heavy with beautiful cuts of lamb. The natural jus added a great flavour. Perfect for the diner who loves meat & potatoes: hearty and bountiful.

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On the Main Menu, we decided to check out two of their Main Courses from the winter menu: Pan Seared Digby Scallops ($38) and Ontario Venison ($41). Large Nova Scotia scallops arrive with some fingerling potatoes, in a tomato-saffron broth and left my mouth singing. The scallops were beautifully caramelized and were perfectly cooked. Yuli mentioned that her Venison dish was seasoned perfectly and had a nice rich glaze of natural jus.

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The desserts here are show-stoppers and although we stuck to our dessert pairings from the Winterlicious menu, our choices were hard. I opted for the Carmel Pear Sundae and was not disappointed.

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From the kitchen staff to the wait staff, the team at Cafe Boulud have worked hard at executing Chef Daniel’s vision into this exciting Toronto restaurant and the results resonate all throughout. If you are looking for a beautifully romantic evening out or simply a fancy brunch, you will find everything you are looking for and more at Cafe Boulud.

  Cafe Boulud on Urbanspoon

Catching up with Vikram Vij prior to Chef’s Challenge: The Ultimate Battle for a Cure

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Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto is Awesome.

The highly anticipated 4th annual Chef’s Challenge: The Ultimate Battle for a Cure is just around the corner, taking place on Saturday February 8th in support of Mount Sinai.

This year, Chef’s Challenge will be hosted by none other than Giada de Laurentiis alongside a fabulous array of Food Network chefs including the one and only Vikram Vij, star chef and restauranteur of Vij’s in Vancouver.

I had the chance to catch up with him prior to his appearance this weekend at Chef’s Challenge and got to chat with him about all things Indian food and Vancouver:

(1) How are you preparing for Chef’s Challenge?
I have studied all the other chefs and know what their strengths are and what style of food they prepare. Other than that, I am focused on what I do and what I want to cook. 

(2) Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you decided, “Yes, I want to be a chef!”
I remember sitting with my grandfather, who liked to drink. He said to me at a young age “I want you to become a restaurant owner, and I will be your bartender. You can cook and I can drink” from their I was inspired to open a restaurant with my grandfather’s name “Vij” in his honour. 

(3) How would you compare the BC food scene to Toronto?
I think both cities have great terrior for great produce and wines which the local chefs can take full advantage of.

In BC we have an amazing abundance of local produce, seafood and wines from the Okanagan, that it is hard not to appreciate what we have in our own backyard. I think chefs in BC are doing a great job of creating awareness of these products and their heritage, that rivals what is being done in Toronto.

That said, there is no question that Toronto is a bigger city, with more restaurants and a lot happening in the local food scene from charcuterie to cheese.

(4) What is one thing that completes a good meal?
Great wine and copious amounts of it while having great conversation with friends and family.

(5) What inspires you about being in the kitchen?

Finding and using personal creativity. I am always getting inspiration from my world travels and transforming it from one palette, onto the plate and sharing it with everybody.

Recipes are important when you are learning a new dish or cuisine, but cooking should be fun and creative. You should cook with your family and friends and try to put your own touch and love in the food. 

(6) Tell me the difference about the regional cooking of Indian food (North, South, etc.)

North Indian cooking is mostly yoghurt based or richer gravies. South uses its natural abundance of Coconut so lots of coconut water, dried coconut and lots of recipes based on seafood as well, due to the coastal areas.

(7) Why are people so drawn to Butter Chicken and Chicken Marsala  
Because, that is what we as Indian chefs presented to them first and every menu has them, so people would naturally think that they are the only dishes of India. Plus a good butter chicken is like a great hamburger, everybody loves it.

(8) How did you come to open your restaurant and what was the most difficult part?
The most difficult part in the beginning was worrying if I would make enough money to keep it going. Back then $100 a day was what I needed to break even. So if I made $97 dollars, I would ring in an order of naan bread, just to make myself feel good that we got to $100 dollars that day. I never gave up and the hard work of my family, of Meeru Dhalwala my wife and co-owner, and my staff paved the way to where we are today.

(9) If you could dine with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

Gandhiji – because of his powerful vision to free India. He united people while believing in its own country called ” India” , and he did this using a non violent movement that many great world leaders have followed and found inspiration from;  for example: Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu, Barack Obama.

Don’t forget to find out more about Chef’s Challenge happening this weekend. Details can be found here.

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