Me Va Me Kitchen Express is a fast-casual chain of restaurants serving East Mediterranean cuisine with three locations in Ontario. Their downtown location opened in mid 2014, and overlooks the busy intersection of Queen St W & John St. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have dinner at their Queen Street establishment and tried a few things on their menu. The menu features a variety of Mediterranean classics such as hummus, laffa wraps, signature dips, falafel, shawarma, and more. I believe that the chain sets the standard for Mediterranean food, as their their food encompasses the bold flavor that is known for this cuisine.

The restaurant itself is spacious, and decorated with a monochromatic theme giving it a very contemporary look. There are a handful of tables in the back for those who want the full dine-in experience. However, the concept also caters to the busy Torontonians who are looking for healthy and fast yet affordable meals. Ordering food-to-go is made easy at Me Va Me Kitchen Express as the simple storefront provides quick service (take-outs) at the front of the restaurant. The open kitchen concept allows customers to see all the fresh ingredients that the restaurant uses, as it is clearly displayed. Although, they don't have their own delivery service, Me Va Me Kitchen Express is also a partner of Foodora, who delivers their food on their behalf to those living in the vicinity of the delivery zone.

During our recent visit, we started with an order of Trio Dip Plate ($10.95) - hummus, lebaneh za'atar and baba gonoush garnished with extra olive oil and fresh parsley. Served with LAFFA bread. The platter was perfect for sharing, and there was a generous portion of all three dips. My favorite out of the three was the baba ganoush (grilled pureed eggplant and mayonnaise), which was creamy, and the flavour of the eggplant was really prominent. The dish is also served with a plate of freshly baked laffa bread, which were pillowy and soft. It was quickly devoured!


Next up was another plate of starters consisting of the Falafel ($4.95) - 6 pieces and served with tahini sauce, and Moroccan Cigars ($6.95) - 6 pieces and served with tahini sauce. Falafel is a deep-fried ball made from ground chickpeas, and is a common dish eaten through the Middle East. It's commonly served in a pita, but it can also be eaten on its own as an appetizer. The falafel balls were served hot, and had a nice crunchy exterior. I found the inside to be quite moist, and full of flavor. However, my favorite of the two was the Moroccan cigars, which was fried, and filled with spicy beef.



One of the more popular hummus on the menu is their Grilled Mushroom on Hummus ($9.95) - champignon mushrooms, Julian onions, lemon and fresh oregano tossed and lightly drizzled with olive oil, grilled and served on hummus. It had a nice consistency and the texture itself is creamy without being runny. I am not a huge fan of mushrooms, but the grilled mushrooms added a lot of extra flavor with the addition of olive oil and fresh oregano. Me Va Me Kitchen Express also offers a selection of pre-packaged dips refrigerated for takeout at the front as well. I actually came back a couple of days ago to grab two large containers as my family love the hummus from here.



As my entree, I opted for the Grilled Chicken Breast Skewers ($13.95) - tender pieces of boneless chicken breast with our special seasoning and grilled to perfection. Served with our special B.B.Q sauce. All entrees come with a side (fries, basmati rice or grilled vegetables) and salad, which completes the meal. The chicken was well-seasoned and I loved the crispness of the fries. Lastly, the set boxes are reasonably priced considering how generous the portion, and it was a filling meal.



J opted for the Grilled Lamb Burger Sticks ($13.95) - minced lamb and veal marinated with spices, herbs and grilled to perfection, as per recommended by the manager. The two lamb burger sticks were perfectly cooked and well-seasoned with a nice hint of spice.


Overall, Me Va Me Kitchen Express is committed to serving healthy fast fare in a relaxing environment. They are open Monday to Thursday from 11 am to 10 pm, Friday to Saturday from 11 am to 11 pm, and Sunday from 11 am to 10 pm. 

Address: 240 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1Z7

Social Media:


Disclaimer: The food provided in this post was complimentary. However, all of the opinions expressed in this review are of my own.

Me Va Me Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Me Va Me Kitchen Express

by on Friday, March 18, 2016
Me Va Me Kitchen Express  is a fast-casual chain of restaurants serving East Mediterranean cuisine with three locations in Ontario. Their d...
Entice Culinary Lounge is a new upscale bistro that opened earlier last month on Queen and Ossington. The bistro aims to offer "a globally-inspired menu" with their plentiful offerings. Entering the space, Entice Culinary Lounge's interior looks very modern and sleek with its contemporary design. I was personally enthralled by the bar counter top, as flat screens have been retrofitted to play classic silent movies on a loop. It adds quite the touch to the overall look of the bistro.  

** Images are courtesy of Entice Culinary Lounge **




The menu is headed by Executive Chef Ryan Wilson-Lall who has created a very diverse menu including items such as mushroom moccachino, k-beef ribs, whipped porcini egg white, sour cherry duck breast, and butternut squash gnocchi. Wilson-Lall draws inspiration from Toronto's diverse culture, and uses a selection of fresh seasonal ingredients to create Entice Culinary Lounge's menu. Looking at their menu, I can see that they offer a wide selection of dishes that would satisfy various people's tastes. Overall, Entice Culinary Lounge doesn't adhere to one particular cuisine, but rather is a conglomerate of a global fusion of flavors which is a welcome feat. Entice Culinary Lounge is open for dinner Tues-Wed from 5 pm to 12 am, and Thurs-Sat from 5 pm to 2 am. They also offer brunch on Saturday and Sunday starting at 10:30 am.

I had the opportunity to attend their launch party a couple of weeks ago, where guests were treated to signature cocktails, and passed canapes that showcases what the bistro has to offer.

The Carbonara Raviolo - bacon, cremini, whipped porcini egg white, crispy basil, pecorino cheese, roasted garlic mascarpone filling is Entice's signature dish, and perfectly creamy.

 

 There were some unexpected takes on familiar dishes such as this Smoked Fish & Chips - mahi mahi, caper raisin remoulade, shaved jalapeno, crispy tortilla on the appetizer menu. The addition of the jalapeno provided a more complex flavor of sweet and spicy.



Sea Salt Crusted Lamb Shoulder - roasted tri-colour carrots, curry leaves & cauliflower ‘couscous’

 

 The robustly spiced K-Beef Ribs - apple, house made spicy kimchi, was my favorite out of all of the passed canapés that I sampled. The beef ribs was tender and the house made spicy kimchi added a whole lot of flavor to the dish.



The No Bake Chocolate Biscuit Cake - toasted walnuts, raspberry sorbet, definitely satisfied my sweet tooth. It had a well balanced-flavor, and you can't tell that it's flourless.

 

More Dishes from their Menu:

Mushroom Moccachino - wild mushroom espresso broth, shaved chocolate, sweetened froth


Mango & Papaya Salad - pomegranate seeds, avocado, jicama, zucchini, artisan greens, grilled clementine dressing


 Warm Scallop & Double Smoked Bacon Salad - pickled artichoke, shaved fennel, mache, lemon oil & aged balsamic


Spicy Ahi Tuna - pickled long radishes, sliced avocado, crispy mung bean noodles, mango salad, wasabi & yuzu tobiko


Sour Cherry Duck Breast - carrot purée, roasted parsnips, baby turnips, beet chips


Wild Boar Ragu - fresh house pasta, whipped sheep ricotta


 Entice Burger - spicy mustard & sharp cheddar spread, dill pickle, bacon lardons, fries or greens


Striploin - purple patatas bravas, asado mushrooms, collard greens


Tres Leche Waffles - Mexican chocolate wafer, strawberries, whip cream


Address: 1036 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1H7

Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EnticeLounge
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/enticelounge/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/enticelounge
Website: http://enticelounge.com/

Disclaimer: The food provided in this post was complimentary. However, all of the opinions expressed in this review are of my own.

Entice Culinary Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Entice Culinary Lounge

by on Thursday, March 17, 2016
Entice Culinary Lounge is a new upscale bistro that opened earlier last month on Queen and Ossington. The bistro aims to offer "a glo...
Nota Bene is one of Queen St's most notable and popular restaurants since it first opened in 2008. The restaurant recently underwent a complete space renovation, and relaunched their menu this past February. They contracted +tongton to redesign their dining room, and it now feature mounted tumble weeds, hanging wine rack, and tree trunks that are oiled using the method of Shou Sugi Ba. The new look inspires a more earthy and nature concept. I also noticed that it's much more approachable now as they have removed the dark tinted windows that stare onto Queen St. According to Executive Chef David Lee, the new menu has evolved with a heavy emphasis on seafood and vegan/vegeterian dishes. The dishes are mainly inspired by David Lee's extensive world travels, and his recent interests in catering to veganism.



I was given the opportunity to do an interview with Chef David Lee (owner and executive chef of Nota Bene) after dinner.

First off, I want to congratulate you on Nota Bene ranking #12 on 2015 Canada's 100 Best Restaurants this year. Do you have anything to add? Thank you! We're very proud that we have been here for 7 years. It's a lot of hard work and dedication to our craft in what we do. I think the next stage of Nota Bene is definitely going to be a progression in terms of what we've done, and to think of what is next for us.

 What was the main reason for the restaurant relaunch earlier this February? I think the timing was right, and this was pretty much a progression of what we do. This was the first time where I had the restaurant to myself (note: he had a couple of partners before), and I felt that the restaurant needed a new identity.


I noticed while scanning around the room that the demographics of the patrons are a little older. How are you trying to attract the younger generation (aka millennials like myself)? In terms of the younger crowds - we have a great bar for casual affairs. We also offer a great 4-7 snack menu and the dining menu is for those looking for something more evolved. So, there's something for everyone.

What is the secret to your staying power in an ever-changing culinary landscape in Toronto? That's a good question, I don't know if I can answer that. However, I think it's because we're true and honest to our craft, as we believe in what we do. As long as there is progression and sensibility; we will never lose focus in what we're trying to achieve. I guess that's why we're still around.

Why did you choose to become a Chef? I guess it was a very natural path for me. I was also inspired by both my grandparents and parents - they are great chefs within their groups. I learned a lot about cooking from my culture, and I was taught to respect the ingredients from a very young age. Nothing was taken for granted while growing up.

In terms of the new menu - what would you say was the biggest inspiration behind it? I think we went for a very clean approach in terms of some of the items. Honestly, the seasonality is extremely important to us at Nota Bene. The moment that you get the season changing, we also change up the menu based on the seasons.

I read that you worked in a Michelin starred restaurant in the past. Did you take anything from that experience and apply it to owning your own restaurant? This was a while back in the 80's, so it was a very different dining scene. So in terms of the Michelin starred, you don't get to sleep much and you work a lot. The evolution in what you're striving for is pretty incredible and special. However, it's hard to apply my experience to today as it's different now in the sense of how the world thinks of the food.

What is your passion that allows you to wake up everyday and put this much dedication to your culinary craft? My family - absolutely! I have two families (the one at Nota Bene and the other one at home). I guess when it comes down to it - I also love what I do, and it drives me.

 What was the biggest challenge that you faced when doing the relaunch of the menu and space? I don't know as it has only been a couple of weeks. There are still hurdles that we're trying to figure out. However, we are still striving to do better everyday, so it's a work in progress at this stage. One of the  previous challenges was getting the restaurant done in time as we completely renovated the restaurant. Another is encouraging people to come out of their comfort zone, and try something new off the menu. There has been guests who have coming here for years looking for the same thing - so it's all about finding that balance. We're trying to keep the menu accessible, but still encouraging patrons to try new items.

Lastly, I have quite a few friends who are home cooks, and they inspired to be in the food industry. What advice would you give to home chefs who are inspired by your style, and your cooking? I think that if they're very serious about it, then they should knock on restaurants' doors. They should try to get an opportunity to work in the back of the kitchen as a start. There, they will be able to observe, and get a feel of what it's like to work in a kitchen environment.


It should be noted that the bar was also given a facelift, and the space is now larger. My evening started off with some light snacking at the bar where I was introduced to Nota Bene's bar snacks menu, which showcase several snacks for $4 each between 4 pm to 7 pm (Monday to Friday) - $7 after 7 pm. Also available on their menu is a small selection of smaller plates recommended for sharing for $12 each. The entire 4-7 menu caters very well to those who seek to partake in unwinding after work before dinner with their friends or colleagues.

Salt Code Fritters ($4 between 4-7, and $7 after 7 pm)


Crisp Pork Cheek ($4 between 4-7, and $7 after 7 pm)


 Puffed Beef Tendon ($12)

 

Suckling Pig Green Papaya Slaw ($12)


I also got to sample a few new dishes from Nota Bene Restaurant's relaunched menu. Please note that all of the dishes pictured below are sample sizes, and the main dishes are bigger (portion-wise). Nota Bene is open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Saturday (closed Sunday).

I don't eat vegetarian dishes often, but the Heirloom Cookstown Carrots ($16) - sunflower “sour cream”, kale, Malaysian red curry oil, channa dal, hemp hearts, stimulated my taste buds. 


 8 hr. Roasted Celeriac ($14) - crema, caramelized blood orange, rosemary


There are a few new Japanese-inspired dishes on the menu like this “Tsukiji Fish Market” Sashimi Plate, as Chef David Lee likes the clean flavor profile of Japanese cuisine. The fish are directly sourced from Japan's Tsukiji Fish Market, and the sake pairing complements the sashimi. Note that the platter is available Thursday to Saturday only.



The Hamachi Ceviche ($17) - clam & tomato jelly, leche de tigre, charred scallion, pickled cucumber was a beautifully presented, colorful, and delicious dish. 


St. Canut Farms Suckling Pig ($32) -  Savoy cabbage, Boudin Noir sauce, Kozlik’s mustard


 Wild Halibut Filet ($37) - lima bean mash, shiitake "bacon", black garlic, gremolata


The Chocolate Ganache "Fleur de Sel” ($12) - caramelized milk powder, toasted marshmallow, seabuckthorn, milk ice cream, was a more elevated take on the classic s'mores. I enjoyed the contrasting flavor profile of the dark chocolate with the light milk ice cream.


The Rhubarb Compôte ($13) - avocado sorbet, dried fruit & nut granola was one of the new vegan dessert options; simply light and refreshing.



I had an enjoyable and satisfying meal sampling some of Nota Bene's new dishes. It was a busy Thursday evening, and I liked that there was an abundance of staff on the floor. Overall, the service was friendly, and prompt without being overly intrusive. I am happy to have visited the new and updated Nota Bene, and will happily return. 
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Address: 180 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V 3X3

Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NotaBeneToronto
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/notabenetoronto/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/NotaBeneToronto
Website: https://notabenerestaurant.com/

Disclaimer: The food provided in this post was complimentary. However, all of the opinions expressed in this review are of my own.

Nota Bene Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Diwan is a beautifully designed restaurant inside the architecturally stunning Aga Khan Museum at Don Mills. The restaurant is accessible by TTC or vehicle (there is a flat parking fee of $10), and is located to the right of the entrance of the museum. Since late last year, the kitchen has been headed by celebrity chef, Mark McEwan, who is known for his culinary skills and established restaurants such as North 44, ByMark, One, and more. McEwan's culinary background isn't Middle Eastern food, but he does a great job of executing a menu that highlights the bold flavors that this type of cuisine is known for. They don't claim to be authentic, but the food is put together with precision and great care that complements the museum. Diwan is open for lunch from Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm.




Diwan's decor evokes the luxury of a 19th century private Syrian home, and its menu draws inspiration from Middle Eastern, North African, and Indian cuisine. Additionally, the 65-seat restaurant is filled with natural lighting, giving it a bright, contemporary and modern ambiance allowing guests a great view of the adjacent Ismaili Centre. Chef McEwan and his team has created a menu with their take on Pan-Islamic cuisine that includes starters like goat kafta, roasted beet salad, lamb kibbeh, and entrees like grilled beef shish kebab, and chicken jalfrezi. The dishes are said to offer traditional flavors while adding a more modern flare to them in terms of ingredients, and presentation.


The Goat Kafta ($12) - braised goat meatballs, curry sauce, warm naan, was a manageable size for a starter, and a great introduction to what is to come. Four plump goat meatballs surrounded by an overflow of delicious curry sauce, and served with warm naan.


The starters menu offers an array of tantalizing choices, but I opted for the Grilled Octopus ($17) - green chickpea salad, Moroccan olives, sweet stewed peppers, sujuk, and Aleppo pepper aioli. The octopus was perfectly cooked, and had a nice tender texture to it. Aleppo pepper is a spice that is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine, and has a moderate heat level. I could definitely taste a hint of spice in the octopus, and it was just the right amount.


The Grilled Beef Shish Kebab ($23) - with brown zataar butter, chickpea purée, sticky saffron onions, roasted heirloom beets was a more elevated take of the beef shish kebab that I've had in the past.


My choice of main was the Chermoula-Marinated Prawns ($24) - with roasted heirloom carrots, avocado, labneh, orange-cumin vinaigrette, and fresh coriander. The dish was well presented with a bed of salad topped off with six pieces of prawns, and lightly glazed with orange-cumin vinaigrette and labneh. The portion was a little small for an entree compared to my fiancé's dish. However, I loved the addition of the orange-cumin vinaigrette as it added a nice citrus flavoring to the prawns. I don't regret ordering this dish.


The Carrot Halva Upside Down Cake ($10) - all spice, brown sugar reduction, cream cheese icing contained a healthy chunk of real carrots, and was delicious. This dessert is the Diwan team's modern interpretation of the popular dessert using grated carrots and halva. This was my first time trying halva, and I learned that it's a dense and sweet confection of Arabic origin that is popular across the Middle East, and South/North Africa.



The Raspberry Sorbet ($8) was a light, yet refreshing frozen dessert.


Overall, we had an enjoyable lunch in a lovely atmosphere. Diwan at the Aga Khan Museum was a little far for us, but we made it count as we also shopped for a few things at McEwan's nearby grocery store after lunch.

Aga Khan Museum also has a fantastic performing arts program available and for many of their shows they offer a special dinner package at Diwan as well. Dinners begin at 6 pm on performance night and are $75 per person (performance ticket price not included). To reserve, please visit agakhanmuseum.org.

 There are two great poet series and a showcase performance coming up in April 2016 as detailed below.

Reflections on Rumi (Saturday, April 16)

The incomparable voices of sisters Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat unite with the kamancheh, piano, and percussion to deliver exquisite interpretations of Rumi’s poetry.

Reflections on Kabir and Khusrau (Friday, April 29)

Master sitartist Shujaat Khan and singer Ramneek Singh, known for her pure, meditative style, interpret the works of two beloved Sufi masters.

WORLD MUSIC SERIES

DakhaBrakha
- Showcase Performance (Saturday, April 23)

Ukrainian quartet and self-described “ethnic chaos” band returns for another original performance.

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Address: 77 Wynford Dr, Toronto, ON M3C 1K1

Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/agakhanmuseumtoronto
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/diwantoronto/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/agakhanmuseum
Website: https://www.agakhanmuseum.org/content/about-diwan

Disclaimer: The food provided in this post was complimentary. However, all of the opinions expressed in this review are of my own.

Diwan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Diwan at the Aga Khan Museum

by on Monday, March 14, 2016
Diwan is a beautifully designed restaurant inside the architecturally stunning Aga Khan Museum at Don Mills. The restaurant is accessible...