Zengo’s Test Kitchen: A Melody of East & West

Words by Gillian Kreft
Additional words by Lauren Edward

When you start thinking about fusion cuisine a few things cross your mind, but something that most of us wouldn’t think of is mixing Japanese & Mexican food, but the culinary genius that is Richard Sandoval did it, and it is amazing.

My lovely taster for the evening, Lauren.

My lovely taster for the evening, Lauren.

Sandoval’s restaurant Zengo, recently announced its new Test Kitchen Menu combining the forces of Mexican & Japanese food. The menu rotates every few months mixing different Latin & Asian cuisines into one extraordinary melting pot of flavors.

I was invited to test out the TK menu and I jumped at the chance. Since I’m vegan, I brought one of my good girlfriends, Lauren, with me to devour everything that I couldn’t. While Zengo doesn’t advertise as being vegan friendly, they do have a separate vegetarian menu that includes a few dishes that are already vegan or are easily adaptable.

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They started by bringing us out a drink from the TK cocktail menu, the Shiro margarita which included nigori, agave blanco tequila, lime juice, simple syrup, and house-made sour. I’m not usually a tequila drinker but this was amazing, a sugar rimmed glass added just the right amount of sweetness without making it into something that was all about the sugar and not enough about the fusion of sake & tequila.

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Next were the appetizers, a vegetarian sushi roll to share, Terikayi Pork Belly Gorditas “Sliders” for Lauren, and Arepas de Shiitakes for myself.

For me, the corn meal cakes topped with shiitakes, and guacamole  were a bit too spicy but that was easily remedied by taking off some of the jalapeno on top. They were perfectly crunchy while the mushrooms added a nice meaty texture to them.

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LE: “My first plate to try was the TK Terikayi Pork Belly Gordita “Sliders”, a sort of dressed up McMuffin as the manager called them. Hearing this I was initially a little skeptical, but these little suckers knocked my socks off.  Piled atop a crispy masa cake was sliced pork belly, oaxaca cheese, guacamole, carmalized pineapple, and pickled chiles for just the right amount of heat. The meat was tender and tasty and couldn’t have been better complimented by the array of flavorful fixin’s.”

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As someone who eats a lot of vegetable sushi, I can’t say that this roll stood out. It was delicious but nothing that I haven’t had before. They served the aioli on the side and it was so good Lauren kept it at the table “just in case there’s something else” she could slather it on.

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The next drink they brought out was described as an “updated Old fashioned.” Its formal title: The Calamansi Old-Fashioned; consisting of Japanese whiskey, fresh calamansi juice, agave, and bitters. It was a little heavy on the whiskey but still delicious. I can’t say it read much different than the old fashion my grandmother makes when I visit her but maybe she’s ahead of the times.

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When they brought the entrees out I have to say that I wasn’t super excited. I had read the menu prior and noticed the only dish that was vegan was a tofu one. I love tofu, but as a vegan it can get a little lackluster after a few hundred dishes. When the dish was put in front of me, I couldn’t deny that the presentation alone was enough to make me want to lick the plate clean but once I took a bite of perfectly cooked tofu and a chili sauce, there was no stopping me. I finished my plate before Lauren and was begging for one more piece of tofu to soak up what was left of the sauce but alas, I was left with bokchoy & beansprouts which did the job just as well as the tofu.

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LE: “The TK entree was Kabayaki Glazed Lamb Shank Barbacoa. Now, I will admit I am not the biggest fan of lamb, but this dish prompted a change of heart. You know that melt-off-the-bone meaty goodness that so many of us barbecue lovers can’t get enough of? Well, try this. Aromatic ginger, chiles, and tamarand gave this shank some zing, without overpowering the lamb itself. As for the pairings, this is when things kind of fell apart. The lamb was served over a bed of “arroz verde” and pickled vegetables. I really wasn’t a fan of either of these sides as I felt they offset the composition of the dish and added some strange contrasting flavors. The rice was bitter… pungent almost, and spicy. Not the good flavorful kind, but the burn your taste buds spice. No thanks. As for the veggies, well, okra and carrots, they  were arranged nicely but added very little umphf to the dish. Let’s just say that after finishing the lamb itself, I was ready for dessert.”

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What is a meal without dessert? (The answer: sad) I was able to try all three of their sorbet flavors that rotate, Strawberry-yuzu, Blueberry-ginger, and Mango. I would venture to say that the strawberry and blueberry are made in house while the mango is store-bought. Either way, they were all delicious; the strawberry and blueberry were amazing and the addition of the yuzu and ginger made them undeniably the best sorbet I’ve ever had.

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LE: “Dessert, the showstopper of all showstoppers. Folks, on this night the stars aligned and the culinary Gods above sent to earth the perfect post-dinner treat. The TK Avocado Panna Cotta. I don’t think I can effectively do this dessert justice through any description, but if you ask Gillian, there was very little talking and a whole lot of om-nom. Fresh avocado custard, similar to flan, was perfectly sweet with a subtle hint of that avocado flavor. Served alongside this was a mango chutney of sorts with fresh mint, and peanut chocolate cookie crumbs. What kind of mad world do we live in? I never would have expected this to be as good as it was, but it blew my mind and left me wanting seconds. Cheers to good food.”

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Overall, I was impressed with Zengo. The service was impeccable (thanks Ryan!) and they were more than happy to accommodate two diets into one perfectly presented meal. The tofu alone makes me dream about returning. I look forward to what Sandoval’s next culinary mash-up will be.

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Fat Girl Gone Vegan

Hi, I’m Traci and I eat and make vegan food! Now, I’m not going to call myself vegan. I don’t eat meat, but I haven’t given up the whole cheese thing. However my boyfriend is vegan, so every meal I make for both of us is vegan. (Except that one time I put honey in our smoothies. I was uneducated, I didn’t know!)

I felt inspired the other night, so I went a little crazy. Baked marinated tofu, with creamy avocado pasta! We finished it off with strawberry-blueberry pie, topped with sweetened coconut cream!

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If you haven’t tried avocado as a pasta sauce, you’re missing out. The trick is to get the perfect avocado. You know, the ones where they almost taste like butter? Mash that thing up with some lime juice, olive oil, basil, garlic, and mix it in with cooked pasta. It’s so good!

We usually fry our tofu, or mash it to make fake egg salad (really good by the way) so I wasn’t sure if baking it would give me the results I was looking for. But holy crap, it was better than I expected! It was still soft on the inside, and slightly crispy on the outside! I made a simple marinade for it, and it matched the pasta pretty well. I added some hoisin sauce, olive oil, lime juice, basil, garlic, and a tiny bit of agave nectar to sweeten it. A little agave can go a long way. It made the tofu sweet, and even a little sticky, like a good BBQ sauce. A great protein to go with our pasta!

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And then the pie! I love pie. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. The crust is buttery and flaky, and the filling is luscious and rich. This was my first pie ever. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve never made a pie crust before. And how does one make a vegan crust buttery and flaky?? Three words my friends: Becel Vegan Margarine. It has made my morning toast so much more enjoyable, not to mention my baking. The pie was filled with juicy strawberries and blueberries, and I finished it off with a drizzling of sweetened coconut cream! I don’t think they will be any pie left for my breakfast tomorrow.

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I definitely don’t cook like this all the time. It’s hot, and I’m lazy, and going to Harvey’s for a veggie burger is much easier. But it’s so rewarding when I can successfully make a tasty vegan meal that even non-vegans will love!

The Stop’s Night Market Raises $115,000 And Proves Huge Success

YuliScheidt_StopNightMarket_Plate photos by yuli scheidt

Originally posted on Toronto Is Awsome

Foodies in the know have been salivating over The Stop Community Food Centre two day Night Market and for good reason too.  With the Stop transforming the alleyway behind Honest Ed’s into a magical food and wine (beer/spirits) getaway, it’s no wonder tickets sold out in 2 hours pre-show!  At the $50/all you can eat and drink price point, it raised $80,000 before foodies even stepped up to some of the 60 vendors who were on hand over the two days.

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On the warm Wednesday eve I attended the Night Market, a record 1,000 + people packed their way into the Market, zigging and zagging their way through beautifully crafted food carts (hand-made by design students all throughout Toronto such as Ryerson and OCAD). Although some lineups were bigger than others (Richmond Station, Valdez, Hawker Bar and Stockyards – just to name a few!) everyone was kept comfortable and entertained with lots of drink stations & a beautiful brass marching band.

But let’s get down to the nitty gritty details of best of food highlights, because I know that is all what you’re waiting to hear about.

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BIGGEST WOW FACTOR – Chef Rocco from Pizzeria Libretto knows how to impress!  His Meatball sandwich with Ricotta & Salmoriglio was not only big but it was beautiful and delicious.  You may have ended up wearing half of it on your face, but isn’t that half the fun?

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BEST SERVING DISH – The boys from Cote De Boeuf really know their meat. So clearly this Mini Corned Beef Sandwich stacked high (and I mean HIGGGGH) really got everyone in the crowd motor running.  Best of all: it was served on a LED wooden light plank!  Neat.

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VEGAN KNOWS BEST –  I have always been a huge fan of Tori Vaccher and Tori’s Bakeshop, but she took it up another notch with her Donut servings at the Night Market. Apparently these Strawberry Cream donuts (all vegan) were just a trial, but something she decided to try because they were a favourite of her dads.  Well, that taste was irresistible and I am hoping she will introduce them in-store.

MOST DISAPPOINTING – So I hate calling them out like this, as I love their restaurant but Ursa’s Tofu (which was suppose to be smoked and have some earthy mushrooms) was not that great.  I remember eating their tofu in the restaurant and just loving it up.  But this tasted too bland and too raw.  Perhaps not a good Night Market choice?

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FORTUNE INCLUDED  – Nick Liu from Gwailo not only served up a badass dish of Hakka Style Wontons, which were quick and easy to eat.  He included a cute little fortune cookie on the side that mentioned how he had yet to have a home.  No worries, Nick!  Your food speaks volumes and your fortune speaks to my heart.

BEST CHILDHOOD THROWBACK – Thanks to the boys at Richmond Station., I was able to live it up like a kid (a big one) with their Hot Dog with Beet Relish.  While the bun was a bit flimsy, the dog and beet relish was all flavor.  Working the grill: Top Chef Canada alum Dennis Tay (formerly of Keriwa Cafe)!  Holla.

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CAN I HAVE SECONDS PLEASE?  Whoa, the Grove had me falling in love with their Lemon Verbena Cream, Olive Caramel, Strawberry Gelee and Basil Granita.  Just between you and me, I may have licked the bottom of the serving dish.  But don’t tell any of the other more serious food bloggers, ok?

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WORTH THE WAIT – Man, Farmhouse Tavern knows how to make a burger.  Because this stacked slider with goat cheese was so thick, juicy and mmm mmm good.  It had a bit too much bun.  But hey, the meat was perfectly seasoned.  So worth the wait.

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CULTURAL CROSSING  Paulette’s is always doing it up proper.  So when we saw them rolling out these Garam Masal and Cinnamon Sugar Donuts, you know I was all over that.  Verdict: dope as hell.

In the end The Stop’s Night Market raised $115,000!  That is double the amount of 2012!  Congrats to the Stop and all the vendors involved but also, congrats to all those who attended and help make the Night Market a HUGE success.

Additional Photos:

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Foodwares #CHWDWN Pop-Up Lunch ft. Hot Bunzz, Porchetta & Co., FeasTO, Babi & Co. + more

My mom has worked for the Hudson Bay in Calgary for longer than I have been alive. The majority of that time was spent at the historic location downtown (so historic by Calgary standards that my grade five class once took a field trip to learn about it’s architecture). A lot of the women in my family have worked at this location over the years, and I became very familiar with it growing up.

I distinctly remember visits to the 6th floor cafeteria with my grandmother. Thursday’s special was half price liver and onions. But times change and this kid is now an adult who was invited to the most recent #CHWDWN event hosted by the Foodwares Market in the Hudson Bay’s flagship Queen Street store here in Toronto.

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This blew that liver and onions outta the water. Ama and I headed down on our lunches and found ourselves in the midst of this semi-regular pop-up lunch with business district types also on their lunch breaks. You think it’d be chaos, but everything went ticking like clockwork. Nothing makes us Type-A Food Lovers happier.

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First we honed in on some Hot Bunzz. We’ve seen these kids around down, but had never partaken of the bunzz before. We desided to sink our teeth into a Brazilian BBQ after asking the girl at the counter what was the most popular. Out other choices were Quebec 3 Chz, Sicilian Sausage, and Texas Pulled Pork. With that on our tray we moved to the next station.

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Having survived Burger Week the previous weekend, Babi & Co. was there reppin’ Indonesian-inspired street food. We grabbed an order of babi on a bun, just the grub they’d been serving up at Artscape Wychwood Barns on #BurgerDay. They didn’t last long, we savored the bite-sided buns for less than a bite they were so yummy.

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Next we stopped in at Foodware’s own station, where their in-house team along with a consulting chef from Oliver & Bonacini introduced us to the creation they’d been dropping hints on all week. The All-Canadian Donut Sandwich. It’s genius in it’s simplicity. Take a lightly sweetened donut cut in half, slap some Peameal bacon and a maple mayo on there. Top it off with a donut hole in the donut hole, plate it with a perfect hunky chunky potato and egg salad with plenty of smoked paprika and we were in heaven.

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Porchetta & Co. was standing by with their standard sandwich (read: not your standard sandwich). The pork, cheese and seedy, whole grain mustard made our Ama a believer after she’d had a disappointing sammie at Porchetta’s brick and mortar on Dundas last year.

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Last to hit our tray was some dumplings from FeasTO. New to the Fat Girl Food Squad’s radar we slurped down some shiitake, portobello, leek and tofu bundles. Our other choices where a deconstructed beef pho, or foie gras and water chestnut dumpling.

Foodwares is located on the lower level of the Hudson Bay at 176 Yonge Street right along in the thick of the kitchen wares. Always my favourite department.