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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Pukka spices up St. Clair West

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

For many of us in Toronto, good Indian food is a hard thing to come by. We’re accustomed to buffet style or muddled flavours. Thankfully, Derek Valleau and Harsh Chawla (both formerly of Amaya The Indian Room) have taken on what they believe has not been filled in Toronto yet: a fine-dining Indian food spot that leaves you comforting for more. That spot is Pukka (778 St Clair Avenue West).

The space is fresh and modern with reclaimed wood table and pops of green, purple and orange throughout. You’ll find lots of funky paintings and soft lighting, which gives it a bit of a romantic touch. I had mentioned to Derek & Harsh when I first arrived that when I lived in the St Clair area some year back, restaurants like this were missing. Derek told me candidly that the area and its residents have been quite kind in their support, especially over the winter months. When Yuli and I attended on a Tuesday evening, the restaurant had ever seat full. This was even on one of the coldest winter nights we were having.

Pukka sticks to classical Indian cuisine. The kitchen is equipped with a clay tandoor oven and the menu is chalked full of seasonal, locally sourced ingredients while using rich spices and creams to take on their house-made curries and rubs.

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The menu itself is divided into snacks & eats. The snack portion has you covered with some intoxicating dishes such as: Baby Kale Salad ($8.90), which seems simple enough but with dates, cashew nut dressing and lotus chips – it brings it to a whole other level. The Vegetable String Chaat ($8.40) is serving up ripe mango and granny smith apple with a little bit of pomegranate seed just for flavour. Mix that in with some delicious yogurt and chutney and you’ve got yourself a winning dish. Another killer starter was the Chicken 65 ($9.60) which had all the feels of good fried chicken. But should you be in the South of India. This dish was spiced with curry leaf, red chili, tamarind, cumin, garlic and other spices and was pretty much, this was off the chain. I could really seem them developing this into a main. But that’s just my personal opinion.

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After inhaling all of these delicious snacks, we thought it would be wise to test some drinks off of the cocktail menu. You know to – ahem – cleanse the palette. First up was the Snapdragon ($9.20) which consisted of vodka, pear nectar, ginger beer & lime. It was sweet and fun, not too over-powering and reminded me of summer. Thankfully, it went so well with everything we were eating. Yuli decided to test out the Chai Town ($8.40) which had bourbon, chai tea, pomegranate liquors and bitters. From my sip, it was pretty delicious.

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Our servers (who were incredibly lovely and so helpful) brought out our dazzling course of mains, who informed us that most of the dishes were gluten-free. So fear not gluten-free fans, you are in luck! First up, we were brought out one of my favourite dishes of the night: Mushroom & Spinach Stuffed Paneer ($17.30). This dish was rich and bold and filling. Plus: paneer cheese is heavenly. Next up, the Pan Seared Sea Bass ($22.40) which consisted of coconut milk, curry leaves and roasted spices. The fish was beautifully cooked and the aromas of the curry was hypnotizing. You know you cannot visit an Indian food restaurant without having Butter Chicken ($17.90) and while it was good, it was not Pukka’s best dish of the evening. Oddly enough, I enjoyed everything else so much more than the Butter Chicken. The tomato infused butter sauce was rich and delicious but the chicken was a bit dry. Nothing terrible but again, not my favourite out of everything that came out. Next up, we had the Madras Pepper Steak ($19.70) which was tender, juicy and served up with caramelized onion and coconut. It was beautifully rich and delicious. This was probably my second favourite main of the evening.

Don’t forget, you have your options of sides too. We opted for the Green Beans ($8.70) with caramelized onions, coconut and turmeric and Rice ($4.60) served up in a lovely little jar (resealable) with so many aromatics. These pair deliciously with all the mains.

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If you’ve left room for dessert, there is that. We opted for the Eton Mess ($7.60), which was a mess of all things delicious: rosewater-soaked meringues in pomegranate syrup and sweet lassi cream. Um, so into it.

So if you’re craving authentic Indian and feel like making the trek to St. Clair West, make a date for Pukka. You will not be disappointed. Reservations can be made daily.

Toronto rides ‘Gravy Train’ to first Poutine Festival

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

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Just last week, hundreds gathered into the Beer Academy for five hours of all-you-can-eat poutine mayhem dished up by events company Joylister. It was Toronto’s first Poutine Festival and it brought out the curd lover in all.

Five restaurants took place in the first Poutine Festival showcasing all that they had in the fries, curds and gravy combos. Some kept it simple but some went over the top and fabulous. The event was $35 and sold out within 2-minutes of tickets going on sale. For those lucky enough to get in, indulge they did!

 

As we navigated our way through the Beer Academy and made our “Poutine Routine”, we went into the basement to check out Great Burger Kitchen’s Butter Chicken Poutine. This was the one I was simply dying to check out, as I have a thing for rich Indian flavours and disappointed I was not. The sauce was light and creamy and the chicken was juicy & tender. I have always been afraid to try variations of butter chicken anything for fear of the butter chicken sauce being too heavy. But for this portion size, Great Burger Kitchen knocked it out of the park.

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Next up, we saddled up to Coquine Restaurant and their Duck Confit Poutine. Perfectly cooked pieces of duck with perfectly salted fries and brie cheese and gravy. It was like a flavour explosion in my mouth of perfection. All the salty flavours married perfectly together and didn’t overpower. You felt as if you were eating a 5-star French poutine.

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As we made our way upstairs, we noticed that crowds had swelled and it was time for a plan of action. We divided and conquered the lines so first up, we took on Lou Dawg’s BBQ, The Mighty Loutini. This poutine consisted of none-other than pulled pork, which had heaps of it on top. I have had the original Mighty Loutini at Lou Dawg’s but this mini-version did not translate very well. The fries didn’t seem cooked very well and the pulled pork while it was delicious, wasn’t the standard I expect from Lou Dawg’s. The poutine was good but not GREAT. For those who attended Poutine Fest, I would highly recommend going to Lou Dawg’s and having the Mighty Loutini there.

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Next up was the infamous Queen West eatery Poutini’s House of Poutine who was serving up two types of poutine: Traditional and The Works. Since we didn’t come to a Poutine Festival to check out Traditional Poutine, we went with the Works and man, was it good. Topped with huge bacon pieces, sour cream, chives, fries and gravy — it was like eating a big old baked potato. It also kind of reminded me of Lick’s Taters and Cream, only with some gravy. Either way, I was super into it.

After we ate (and drank) our way through the poutine selections, we decided to cast our votes for (as Joylister called it), 2013 Poutine King Champion. Both Yuli and I were split on the vote. She casted a ballot for Coquine Restaurant and their Duck Confit poutine and I was torn between Great Burger Kitchen’s Butter Chicken Poutine and Coquine Restaurant’s offering.

At the end of the night, after all was said and done, Joylister tallied the votes and Coquine Restaurant won out amongst the restaurants for 2013 Poutine King Champion. Joylister has gone on record as stating they will be setting up more food events in the future. Stay tuned to their website.