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Valens

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I went with one of my best friends, J, for a Summerlicious lunch date. After going through a bunch of menus, we settled with Valens.

 

The Atmosphere

It’s a small space with a small patio at the front. We came just before the lunch hour rush and got a seat inside. The decor is all darkly coloured, with lots of natural light coming in through the front window. We were seated close to the front window.

 

The Food

Valens - tuna bruschetta
Tuna Bruschetta

For my appetizer, I picked the tuna bruschetta. The bread was soft and chewy, which indicated to me it was fresh. the tuna itself was a little lack lustre. It reminded me of canned tuna, mixed with some tomatoes and bell peppers, then heavily covered with cheese and cracked pepper. It could have been much better, and I’m sorry to say I was disappointed with this one.

 

Valens - pan seared atlantic salmon
Pan seared atlantic salmon

My entrée choice was pan seared atlantic salmon. When the plate first arrived, I was taken aback at how large my piece of salmon was. It’s huge and was literally the size of my hand, if not a little longer. Unfortunately, the salmon was dry and overdone, which made eating it rather difficult. I was glad for the sauce because it was a maple sauce, so the sweet liquid helped to moisten the salmon a little bit. The vegetables were great: herb roasted potatoes and grilled peppers. If only the salmon was cooked better, I would have really liked this dish!

 

Valens - mocha almond tartufo
Mocha almond tartufo

My dessert was the mocha almond tartufo. It came already sliced and served in a glass cup so I had to eat quickly or it would melt in the heat. It had a slight mocha flavour to it and the almond flavour came from the crushed almond crust. I loved this dessert and would happily eat it again. It’s not too sweet but oh so refreshing and cool.

 

The Verdict

I’m only so-so with this place. I’d like to eat there again and try something else to see if their regular fare is any better than their Summerlicious fare. Sadly, I can’t say I would recommend this place, particularly if you’re looking for seafood. I have yet to try their non-seafood dishes so it could be drastically different.

 

The Place

Valens (no website, but Yelp link here)
19 Baldwin St, Toronto, ON
416-340-0303

Written by Jessica

July 29th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Events,Food,Restaurant

Night It Up!

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For the past twelve years, there’s been a night market held in Toronto that brings together numerous vendors of asian street food, trinkets, and entertainment. Five years ago, it changed it’s event name from Toronto Night Market to Night It Up! and it’s still been going strong ever since. The only asian style night markets I’d ever been to were the ones in Hong Kong, and the Richmond Night Market. I was always curious about this annual event, but work kept conflicting with the weekend and I would always miss it. That is, until this year. Lucky me, I didn’t have to work! Mr. Pixelbunny and I finally went to Night It Up and see what it’s all about.

 

The Atmosphere

Held outside of the Markham Civic Centre, the event hosts over 100 food and merchandise vendors. Each booth is essentially a tent with a table in front, with a mini kitchen just behind it. The event is cash only, so make sure you have enough on you! Otherwise, there is an ATM on site.

There’s also an outdoor stage with live entertainment featuring local singers and talents, so there’s always something good to listen to as you munch away at all the food! If nature calls, there are port-a-potties on the premise along with portable hand washing stations. There’s also a good police presence there, as you can see them walking in twos or threes, scanning the area or lining up to partake in the glorious eating.

Mr. Pixelbunny and I went in the late afternoon around 4:30pm and wandered and ate until 7pm. I’m pretty sure even more activities occur at night, but we were stuffed and needed to leave before our tummies growled for more.

 

The Food

Night It Up! - pork skewer
Pork Skewer – $2

The first thing we had was the pork skewer from Karmayan (booth G1). They are a Filipino cuisine booth and they had these great, succulent pork skewers. There’s two people manning the grills, and they each cook numerous pork skewers. Once they’re done, they’re placed in a aluminum tray in the middle where the person taking the orders can retrieve them. We waited a little bit for ours to finish cooking since the tray was empty. It only took another couple of minutes, and we were presented with steaming hot skewers of juicy pork. Slightly salty, slightly sweet. Loved it.

 

Night It Up! - watermelon juice
Watermelon Juice – $7

One of the more pricier fares of the day was the watermelon juice from Watermelon Juice (booth G2). It’s a small watermelon, hollowed out, then refilled with blended watermelon. You’re definitely paying the price for novelty here, and you’re at the mercy of whether the watermelon is sweet or not. However, for those who enjoy it so much that they want more, there is a refill option for $2.

 

Night It Up! - twist taro
Twist Taro – $5

The rotato was always on Mr. Pixelbunny’s radar, but once he saw there was a taro version, he had to order it. The twist taro is from Happy Twist (booth F4). You can watch them drill a hole down big chunks of taro or through a potato, insert a skewer into it, then have it placed in a machine that makes the rotating cut. After the machine is finished, someone takes the skewer, holds it vertical with the taro/potato at the top, then raps the end of the skewer on the table, elongating the taro/potato. Imagine stretching a slinky. Yup, that’s what it looks like. After that, it gets dunked into a vat of boiling oil to fry, and then taken out to dry. It’s neat watching the whole process at work. Almost like an assembly line.

 

Night It Up! - Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki (regular size) – $7

A popular place that was recommended on the website was the okonomiyaki from Okonomiyaki on Fire (booth F3). This was way better than my previous experience with okonomiyaki (see my post here) and much more tasty too. There were a lot of shredded cabbage in ours and not too heavy on the batter. I would have preferred a some more aonori and katsuobushi than was provided, but the flavour was still good. I definitely recommend this!

 

Night It Up! - grilled salmon cheeks
Grilled Salmon Cheeks – 2 for $5

Also from Okonomiyaki on Fire (booth F3) was the grilled salmon cheek skewers. The photo on their sign is misleading because I’m absolutely positive those are scallops. I didn’t take a picture but if you’re there, you’ll know what I mean. The salmon cheeks are silky and soft, and lightly seasoned. Some of their other fare were Japanese style grilled zucchini skewers and grilled lamb chop skewers, both of which are also 2 for $5.

 

Night It Up! - shucking fresh oysters
Shucking fresh oysters

We spotted this and couldn’t resist getting into the long line up.

 

Night It Up! - Pacific Tiger oysters
Pacific Tiger Oysters – 7 for $10

We had headed over to Diana’s Seafood (booths B9 and B10) and waited in line for 20 minutes for their delicious fare – freshly shucked Pacific Tiger Oysters. At 7 for $10, this puts your oysters for only $1.43 each, which is an amazingly good deal! Especially since these oysters are quite large and meaty. They also have a very nice sweet after taste to them. This one is a must try if you come!

 

Night It Up! - Cola Bomb and Sunset Grenade info
Info about what we had next

When looking up info about Night It Up!, I read this post, about Baron Hau, a local chef. He is bringing molecular gastronomy to Night It Up! and it’s at Modernist Desserts (booth K4).

 

Night It Up! - Cola Bomb and Sunset Grenade
Cola Bomb (back) and Sunset Grenade (front) – $3 each

This picture doesn’t do these desserts justice! The Cola Bomb is this gelatinous sphere of cola, that’s covered with strawberry foam and sprinkled with chocolate powder, freeze dried caramel bits, pineapple gel, and a slice of dehydrated pineapple. Amazing! The Sunset Grenade, is a sphere of mango juice, sitting in spiced apple juice, with a thin layer of grenadine syrup at the bottom. When you look at it, it seriously looks like a raw egg. Once you drink it, the sphere sits in your mouth until you break the sphere, letting loose an explosion of awesome manga juice. If you’ve never tried or heard of molecular gastronomy before, you have to try this. It’s a really neat way to experience something truly amazing!

 

Night It Up! - takoyaki
Takoyaki – $12

Next was takoyaki from Naniwa Taro (booth K1). These are the best takoyaki I’ve ever had in Toronto! Crispy outside, soft inside, and fully cooked inside too! A little pricey (it works out to $2 each!) but tasty. Wish it was a little cheaper though.

 

Night It Up! - making stinky tofu
Adding stinky tofu to the oil

Lastly, we went to Wei’s Stinky Tofu (booth F6) to try their infamous stinky tofu. Lucky for us, they were making a fresh batch.

 

Night It Up! - frying stinky tofu
Frying Stinky Tofu

Look at them bubbling away! The aroma was certainly stinky at times, but the breeze was in our favour and blew it away from us.

 

Night It Up! - stinky tofu
Stinky Tofu – $5

At last, the stinky tofu! To be honest, it didn’t smell stinky at all. It’s served with some chili sauce and pickled cabbage. The sauce it’s served with is a garlic pepper sauce. Slightly disappointing only because I was expecting a really pungent smells, but otherwise, the tofu tasted great! Check one off the bucket list!

 

The Verdict

There are tons of other vendors that we haven’t tried but were too full to attempt. With so many food vendors, you certainly won’t leave hungry. Admission is free, and parking is just a short walk away. What are you waiting for? The weekend is almost over!

 

The Place

Night It Up!
Markham Civic Centre
101 Town Centre Blvd, Markham, ON

July 12, 2013 – 7pm to midnight
July 13, 2013 – 12pm to midnight
July 14, 2013 – 12pm to 8pm

Written by Jessica

July 14th, 2013 at 12:24 am

Posted in Events,Food

Jump

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Twice a year, Toronto puts on an event where restaurants from all over the city put together a 3 course prix fix menu for lunch and/or dinner. This is known as Summerlicious. The idea is to get more people out to try different many different things for a set price. For foodies, this is a great time to try the more expensive restaurants on your list for a fraction of the cost of a regular night out. This summer, I had my sights set on Jump.

 

Jump - sign
The sign outside – so cute!

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of their sign outside. “Jump” mounted on a spring! Also, I thought it was quite clever having the “u” being higher than all the other letters of the word. It’s kind of like it’s jumping up to be noticed!

 

The Atmosphere

The restaurant was newly renovated and reopened this past April, and you can tell how beautiful it is once you walk in. There are large, leather-bound chairs arranged neatly around tables, immaculate place settings, wait staff and kitchen runners dressed to the utmost detail. I could already tell I was in for a real treat tonight.

 

Jump - back wall wine rack
Tall, geometric shapes for the wine racks

We were given a table at the back which had a glass panel ceiling for half the room, and a covered ceiling for the other half. The lighting effect was really nice given that so much natural light was coming from outside. The wine rack along the back well was fun to look at. Criss cross panels created diamond shapes that are filled with different wines. I thought it was a rather interesting way of storing their wine collection!

 

Jump - hanging lights
Giant lamp shades

You can see the glass panels in this picture, which is the open half of the room. When outside lighting becomes too dim, your light source comes from these giant lamp shades, which was a nice nostalgic reminder of my childhood.

 

The Food

Jump - Summer Nights and Sparkling Peach Mango Lemonade
Summer Nights ($10) and Sparkling Mango Peach lemonade ($6)

We started off with some drink specials on their Summerlicious menu. The Summer Nights drink is made of Malibu rum, peach schnapps and blueberry lemonade. There is definitely blueberry purée in there because at the bottom of my drink were some particulates of blueberry. A large lemon slice gives it a nice touch and doesn’t really impart any taste to the drink. This drink goes down easy so sip lightly. The sparkling mango peach lemonade is their non-alcoholic beverage, and tasted more on the mango side than peach. Definitely sparkling but not much lemonade to it. However, it was very cool and refreshing to drink.

 

Jump - bread with tomato, garlic and olive puree
Fresh bread and rosemary flat bread – complimentary

Some fresh bread and rosemary flat bread was brought to the table and accompanied with a tomato, garlic and olive oil purée. This is a different take from most places that serve bread with either butter or olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The purée had a light garlic taste and the olive oil worked well when mixed all together. It’s different and I rather liked it.

 

Jump - Andalusian Style White Gazpacho
Andalusian Style White Gazpacho

I started with the Andalusian style white gazpacho. I’ve never had a gazpacho before and had no idea what to expect. Our waiter tells me that traditional gazpacho is made with a tomato base but the chefs at Jump wanted to do their own take on gazpacho and used ingredients such as almonds, grapes and soy milk to make this. The flavour wasn’t anything that I’d ever tasted before. However, it was light and refreshing. It had a complex mix of flavours that worked really well together. Also, this is served chilled so don’t expect it to be hot!

 

Jump - Crab BLT
The Crab BLT

A seafood and bacon lover, Mr. Pixelbunny’s obvious choice was the crab BLT. Two perfectly sized sliders of crab salad, served on butter lettuce and tomato, and topped with a thick cut of smoky bacon. On the side is a mix of vegetable chips, which are reminiscent of Terra chips. I couldn’t resist and ate one of his sliders. To be fair, I gave him half of my gazpacho. There is a generous amount of crab meat in these sliders and they are not weighed down by the sauce it’s mixed with (mayo? some sort of cream?). A perfect intro to our meal.

 

Jump - BBQ Sustainable BC Albacore Tuna
BBQ Sustainable BC Albacore Tuna

For my main, the BBQ sustainable BC albacore tuna, served over a spinach salad. I received four thick cut slices of tuna, ever so slightly seared on the outside, cool and refreshing on the inside. Half of a King Oyster mushroom with criss cross shallow cuts is lightly pan seared, and served on top. The crispy noodles tastes like potato, although it reminds me of a type of rice noodle. The salad is hearty, complete with carrots slivers, beans, celery slices and a light dressing. Very very good and very very tasty.

 

Jump - Tandoori Lamb Sirloin
Tandoori Lamb Sirloin

Mr. Pixelbunny’s main is the tandoori lamb sirloin. I honestly have not had a lamb sirloin that was as melt in your mouth as this one. It is cooked perfectly with a hint of pink, is incredibly juicy and moist. Tandoori sauce is drizzled on top of the lamb sirloin. Served with a jicama, cucumber, and jalapeño slaw, it packs a rather spicy punch. Borderline too much for Mr. Pixelbunny which basically equates to too hot for me. His tolerance for spiciness is quite high. You can also spot two pieces of naan bread under the lamb pieces which were a little on the dry side. Underneath everything was some yogurt to help offset some of the spiciness. A very very good dish, although the slaw may be too spicy for some.

 

Jump - Cannoli
Cannoli

Dessert for me was cannoli, which is an obvious decision for me. Two crispy shells filled with ricotta cream, served with lemon curd and pistachios on the side. You can eat the cannoli alone or add some lemon curd to it. I tried it both ways and they were both amazing. The lemon curd was not too tart but definitely has a strong lemon flavour. An awesome way to finish my meal.

 

Jump - Balsamic Macerated Strawberries
Balsamic macerated strawberries

Mr. Pixelbunny’s dessert was even more impressive. Although it looks like a pretty presentation of ice cream and strawberries, it’s the flavour that really makes this dessert. The ice cream is a vanilla bean, and it has a very heavy vanilla bean flavour to it, more than I am used to. However, the heavy flavour was quite good, and made me think of my jar of vanilla bean paste at home. The strawberries are slightly macerated and mixed with some balsamic vinegar – something I would never think to put together. The sour of the vinegar and the sweet of the strawberries is beautiful and the taste almost dances in your mouth. Add in a little bit of the basil and I would say it’s almost magical – I kid you not. This dessert may not look the most impressive, but it certainly tastes the most impressive.

 

Jump - house made caramels
House made caramels

With our bill came a small plate of two house made caramels, wrapped in tin foil in a way that resembles little individually wrapped candies. The caramels are soft with a very full butter flavour and not at all too sweet.

 

The Verdict

If you’ve never been to Jump before, go while Summerlicious is still on! All the dishes mentioned here taste amazing and you will not be disappointed. With the beautiful renovations, you’ll be dining extra special!

 

The Place

Jump
18 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON
416-363-3400

Written by Jessica

July 10th, 2013 at 1:07 am

Posted in Events,Food,Restaurant

Dubon Chicken

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I first heard of Dubon Chicken through the Toronto Life and was instantly attracted to it for a number of reasons. First, I love chicken wings. Second, I never knew there was such a thing as Korean fried chicken! Korean fried chicken is twice fried, which gives it an extremely crispy outside but leaving the chicken incredibly moist and tender on the inside. Also, with the twice fried method, the chicken itself isn’t as greasy or oily as other traditional fried chicken.

 

Dubon Chicken - sign
The sign just outside of elle m’a dit

This was a pop-up event, meaning that it was a short term engagement (only 3 days!). There are currently no plans for a permanent location, but hopefully the turnout and response during the pop-up event will be enough to make way for one.

 

The Atmosphere

The event was located at Elle M’a Dit, on Baldwin Street. It’s a very small and intimate place, seating only approx 20 people on the first level. I thought I overheard some of the servers talk about the second floor, so I think there is more seating upstairs. Mr. Pixelbunny and I were seated at a table for two just across from the bar.

 

The Food

Dubon Chicken - menu
The menu

Being a pop-up event, the menu was very limited in its offerings. However, just because the offerings were small didn’t mean that it wasn’t good! I thought it was a great way to get a lot of feedback to perfect the flavourings.

 

Dubon Chicken - soy garlic
Soy garlic wings – $13 (regular size)

I got the soy garlic wings. The soy garlic was tasty. I thought it was a little heavy on the soy (made it a bit too salty for my liking) and the garlic was just enough. My first bite was practically euphoric – I had never had such crispy chicken before! It was incredible. The sides it was served with was mooli-mooli (a pickled daikon radish) and asian style coleslaw. The garnish of white and black sesame seeds and green onion was a nice touch.

 

Dubon chicken - fiery pepper
Fiery pepper wings – $13 (regular size)

Mr. Pixelbunny got the fiery pepper wings, which ended up being my favourite. I’m somewhat tolerable of spicy foods, usually more on the mild side. This was just the right amount of kick for me without causing me to blow my nose after every bite. There’s a slight sweetness to it which balances the spiciness. It was also served with mooli mooli and asian style coleslaw. Also garnished with black and white sesame seeds and green onions.

 

The Verdict

There needs to be a permanent location opened immediately! Or maybe a second pop-up event?

 

The Place

Can’t really give a location since it was a pop-up event. But here’s hoping there will be an announcement about a permanent location!

Written by Jessica

April 12th, 2013 at 11:51 am

Posted in Events,Food

SLURP NoodleFest!

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Today, I was lucky enough to have the chance to check out SLURP NoodleFest. Toronto’s obsession with noodles has been growing steadily with all the new ramen shops, and this event helped to further fuel the love of not just ramen, but noodles in general.

SLURP NoodleFest

Chefs from all over the city create their own interpretation of classic noodle dishes like pho, ramen, and soup noodles. Chefs included were:

  • Cindy Arman (Babi & Co.)
  • Victor Barry (Splendido)
  • Carl Heinrich (Richmond Station)
  • Adam Hynam-Smith (El Gastronomo Vagabundo)
  • Nick Liu (Gwailo)
  • Eric Wood (The Hawthorne)
  • Nuit Regular (Sukhothai and Sabai Sabai)
  • Chris Jang (A-OK Foods)

I managed to go only because a) one of my foodie friends posted something on Facebook about it, and b) I had the day off from work! So how could I say no to noodley goodness? I even brought my own travel set of chopsticks to this event. Luckily, I saw another who brought her own set too. I was not alone in my crazy thinking.

I got there just before it opened. There was already a pretty big lineup to get in. Toronto certainly loves their noodles.

I also need to add that because I tried so many different things, I can’t remember how to describe how everything tasted! I was too busy savouring flavours and stuffing myself silly. Instead, just enjoy the food pictures.

*This post is picture heavy! Try not to drool when you look at them!*

 

Gwai Lo's menu
Gwai Lo’s menu

Our first stop was at Gwai Lo’s table. They had one offering – the hakka soup noodles.

 

Gwai Lo - hakka soup noodles
Gwai Lo’s Hakka soup noodles

Holy cow they were good. I’ve never really had Hakka soup noodles before but this was so good.

Skin+Bones were the next table over.

 

Skin+Bones - deep fried chicken tails
Skin+Bones’ deep fried chicken tails

It even turned a non-chicken tail eater like me into liking it. Sooo tasty!

 

Skin+Bones - deep frying action
They deep fried the chicken tails right there!

 

Skin+Bones - goose broth pho
That yellow piece that looks like a yellow pepper? WRONG!

If memory serves me right, this was some sort of goose broth pho. I can’t remember what the meat is but that yellow piece was definitely not a yellow pepper. This culinary genius is slowly cooked egg yolk that’s slowly cooked, chilled, then rolled out into a sheet and sliced for this dish. Who knew egg yolks could even be served like this?! Bonus points to Skin+Bones.

 

Chopsticks all lined up for the taking
Chopsticks all lined up and ready for the taking

Skin+Bones also had a whole bunch of chopsticks lined up. It reminded me of piano keys.

 

Hawthorne's menu
Hawthorne’s menu

Hawthorne was our next table.

 

Hawthorne - Tashi's Tibeten Momos and Duck pho
Tashi’s Tibeten momos on the left, duck pho on the right

 

Hawthorne - Tashi's Tibeten Momos
After the first bite

Look at that! It’s a whole chickpea! There’s several chickpeas in each momo too. These were pan fried to golden perfection!

 

Richmond Station's menu
Richmond Station’s menu

Richmond Station was next. Their offering was traditional pho.

 

Richmond Station - Lien's pho
Yes, that’s fresh chili peppers cut just before serving – what a kick!

Umm, yes, that’s got to be one of the most delicious bowls of pho I’ve ever had. Can someone please open up a pho restaurant with this recipe?

 

Dillon's - cucumber julep
Dillon’s Cucumber Julep

After that spicy kick, I needed a refreshing drink. So off to the bar The Director went and came back with a Cucumber Julep. Made with a slice of cucumber, some mint leaves, and Dillon’s own vodka, this was just what I needed to help quell the burning sensation in my mouth. Eating the cucumber and mint leaves after finishing the drink was awesome.

 

A-OK's menu
A-OK’s menu

Seeing a huge lineup at Splendido’s, we skipped over to A-OK’s for the next eats.

 

A-OK - salt cod inari
Salt cod inari

This was one of my favourite eats out of this entire excursion. They were marinated tofu pockets stuffed full with rice and bits of salted cod. Some spicy wasabi mayo(?) smeared on top with a sprinkle of furikake. I wish I could have gotten another but I had to save room for everything else.

 

A-OK - salt cod inari inside
Look at how stuffed it was!

 

A-OK - prepping Sichuan chicken noodles
Prepping the sichuan chicken noodles

 

A-OK - Sichuan chicken noodles
A-OK’s Sichuan chicken noodles

This was a cold dish of soba(?) noodles and pieces of chicken in a spicy sichuan sauce. It had a mild kick to it and very very tasty.

 

Sabai Sabai's menu
Sabai Sabai’s menu

Next up was Sabai Sabai.

 

Sabai Sabai - mango with sticky rice
Mango with sticky rice

This was a steamed sticky rice with coconut sauce and mango slices. I need to orientate myself with Thai food. This was delicious!

 

Sabai Sabai - mango with sticky rice and spicy braised veal medallion with peanut and lime soup
Mango with sticky rice on the left, spicy braised veal medallion with peanut & lime noodle soup on the right

The noodle soup was ok – I think because it reminded me too much of sweet chili sauce so my brain kept thinking back to that. The veal was melt in your mouth good though.

Finally, we made it through Splendido’s ridiculously long line-up.

 

Splendido - pork belly big mac
Pork belly big mac

Mini bun, thick generous slice of pork belly with cheese melted on top. That pork belly is to die for.

 

Splendido - black truffle ramen
Black truffle ramen

I think this is where the hype of the line up came to be. Black truffle ramen. Exceptionally delicious with fantastic aroma. And the egg… oh.em.gee. So that’s why there were sous-vide tubs there!

 

P1100279
Mystery ramen – someone please tell me what it was!

I forgot to ask what was in this ramen, but it was still tasty! And that egg again… yummmm…

 

Babi & Co's menu
Babi&Co’s menu

At this point, I was STUFFED. But I had to try just one more. Off to Babi&Co!

 

Babi & Co - Babi on a bun
Babi on a bun

I had just enough room to eat these. The braised pork belly was melt in your mouth delicious and the fried Chinese bun? Genius! As one of my friends puts it, “it’s like pork candy!”

Sadly, I had no more room to try their noodles.

 

El Gastronomo's menu
El Gastronomo’s menu

I also regret not having room to try anything from El Gastronomo’s fares. A friend did tell me that their Tom Yum soup was really good.

 

This was such a great event and I really hope they make it an annual thing. Maybe even feature different restaurants next time? One thing is for sure though: given how packed the Great Hall was and people continuously trickling in through the doors, Toronto’s love for noodles is not going away any time soon.

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Written by Jessica

March 3rd, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Events,Food