For Middle Eastern Snacks & an All-season Patio? Go to Bar Reyna.

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Bar Reyna is the one place you want to be nestled away in regardless of the weather. Located in Yorkville, the one-of-a-kind interior presents each of its own feel on both the main, back patio and top floor. Set in wooden panels throughout the space and exposed bricks throughout the space, there are white accent spray pieces along the walls and stringing lights from one side of the patio to the other. It’s almost like a fairytale setting, there has been immense details and thought put into each and every piece, you will need to take a few minutes to take it all in.

And with this, the introduction to Middle Eastern cuisine began. Open from 11AM everyday, a stop in for brunch, lunch or dinner is encouraged. We selected various items to discover the taste spectrums of Bar Reyna’s menu. Although there were a majority of items that needed improvement, for the items that were good, they were ridiculously good.

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CALAMARI — 10
chickpea flour dusted, za’atar, harassa verde aioli, sesame seeds

LAMB SHANK BAKLAVA — 10
kataiifi, lamb shank, saffron and burnt honey aioli

MUSHROOMS ON TOAST — 5
sherry glazed mushrooms, garlic, shallots, 64-degree quail egg

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The two must-try favourites are the Lamb Baklava and Chargrilled Octopus.

I’ve seen Baklava in a flat, phyllo pastry form, but never like this. The savoury Lamb Baklava is definitely a must-try. Wrapped in crispy thin threads, the soft, 3-hour braised lamb was perfectly cooked. Worked very well with the top off of saffron and burnt honey aioli dollops and crushed pistachio.

Octopus is a tough one to achieve. Bar Reyna served the Chargrilled Octopus dish well, it was all you could ever ask for – tender, soft, and complimented with the right tomato sauce and capers.

Bar Reyna has it all, from the gorgeous space, one-of-a-kind interior, excellent service and a very capable Middle Eastern menu. Now all that’s left is to add in that last bit of salt, spice and flavour to really make the food and cocktails shine!

Bar Reyna
158 Cumberland St
Toronto, ON M5R 1A8
website | @barreynato | #barreyna

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REYNA SALAD — 18
beet, cucumber, avocado, fennel, radish, tomato, quinoa, purple kale, fried chickpeas, crispy shallot, serrano tahini dressing

CHARGRILLED OCTOPUS — 22
romesco sauce, fried shishito peppers & capers

VEGETARIAN MOROCCAN BISTEEYA — 14
phyllo pastry, eggplant, peppers, apricot, squash, mushroom, fennel, almonds, date molasses, whipped feta

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OLD FASHIONED — 15
bourbon, angostura bitters, sugar, orange

MEZCAL SMOKESHOW — 18
tromba, mezcal, cointreau, lime, cayenne-pineapple syrup, orange-juniper bitters, hawaiian black salt rim

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In Pictures: Sushi-Making at Ebisu, Toronto + Get your Free Ramen

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Watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi just once did not prepare me for this moment. Be real delicate with the rice, or in my case, the sushi will end up clumped and mushed together with each bite. With the guidance of Chef Tatuka Matsuda at Ebisu, we were each able to take part in forming sushi in three ways: in a maki roll, nigiri and handroll.

My takeaways from the class:

  • Be light on the sushi rice, just enough to cover the seaweed
  • Don’t squish the rice (yikes!)
  • Less rice means more filling!
  • Use a grain of rice to stick the handroll together

The first time I visited Ebisu was last year, and I later returned in December for a few dinner nibbles of takowasa, calamari and gindara. This time, I ate my plate of sushi and tried their ramen.

The ramen at Ebisu surprised me, the broth was fragrant and rich yet light. The Shio was a table favourite, next is the Sho-yu, and for a very fatty broth that holds a lot of spice, try it in Spicy! During lunch time, they have a special deal of $9.95 for each bowl (regular is $13.95).

Note to my Toronto readers, you can claim a free Ramen voucher and try Ebisu for yourself! Exclusive to registered Gourmand Club members, sign-up to receive your voucher (useable between March 20th to March 26th).

Ebisu Toronto
204 Queen St W,
Toronto, ON M5V 1Z2

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

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Spicy Ramen – $13.95 

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Chicken Karaage ($6.95), Chowder Pot Pie ($8.95) & Fish Collar (MP)

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Liberty Commons, a brewpub by Big Rock Brewery and O&B in Liberty Village

Liberty CommonsLiberty Commons

Liberty Commons is a modern-day brewpub which serves up the brews of Calgary-based Big Rock Brewery and food pairings by Oliver & Bonacini’s Corporate Executive Chef Anthony Walsh, District Executive Chef John Horne (Canoe, Auberge du Pommier), and newly appointed Chef de Cuisine Ryan Lister (formerly of Canoe).

Oliver & Bonacini, highly recognized as one of Canada’s leading fine dining restaurant companies, has brought to Toronto classics like Canoe, Auberge du Pommier and Biff’s Bistro, Canadian comfort food Bannock and the newest Leña Restaurante.

With over 30 years of brewing experience, Big Rock Brewery is known to step outside of the comfort zone when innovating with beer recipes. One of their first brews was crafted in Calgary in 1985, Traditional Ale, an English style Brown Ale. Today, it remains one of their most popular beers.

As both a gastronomy lover and craft beer fan– I am stoked about this partnership!

Liberty Commons

Here, six beers can be made at any given time!

On a daily basis, Liberty Commons offers eight signature series of Big Rock’s draught beers and two experiential nano taps which are exclusively available to the brewpub. Big Rock’s beers can be enjoyed to-go at their bottle shop by a six-pack or growler (the freshest you can get it!), or enjoyed for dine-in rightfully accompanied with O&B’s food on the lower level. In addition to the Big Rock signature draught beer, beer-based cocktails can also be enjoyed and wine by the glass and bottle. A range of guest bottles and cans are also served specific to Ontario local microbreweries.

Liberty Commons Liberty Commons

The two-level heritage space brings industrial elements of beer production into the design. Featuring fermenting vessels, growlers and barrels featuring Big Rock’s trademark. The bar and dining room are set to seat 140 patrons, whereas two event space rooms, the ‘Barrel Room’ and ‘Drink Tank’ seat 32 and 24 respectively. The patio is also on its way for construction!

The right fit for a new taster of Big Rock Brewery’s beer is the Tasting Flights of Four, four glasses in 6oz each for $10. Guests can select one of three set flights called the ‘classic’, ‘contemporary’ or ‘adventurous’ or completely customize the set of four themselves based on the draught selection.

My favourite of Big Rock’s signature taps is the Cashmere Crooner. Made up of cashmere hops, it’s a smooth and sessionable beer that I could see myself drinking rounds and rounds of…

Liberty Commons

From 11 o’clock: Pork Sausage Roll, eggplant ap sauce – 3pcs for $8, O&B Artisan Pretzel Stick, served warm, br mustard – $7, The Classic Tasting Flight $10 and Beer, Onion + Cheddar Soup, br traditional ale, pretzel croutons – $9

Liberty Commons

O&B Artisan Pretzel Stick, served warm, br mustard – $7

Liberty Commons

Quintana Roo Michelada (5oz), Pilsner, Walter Caesar mix, spice, lime – $9 and Hop Sour (2oz), J.P. Wiser’s Hopped whiskey, lemon, egg, Citradelic float

Chef Ryan Lister sticks true to his promise for rich, uncompromisable flavours. With at least a third of the dishes and condiments on the menu including Big Rock’s beers, this is the type of hearty pub food that should be matched with the brews.

The pretzel ($7) is presented in a long, skinny baguette form with no less flavour, saltiness and chew as a regular pretzel. We also try the no hold barred description of the common burger ($17) by Chef Lister: “It’s the combination of my two favourite things, the Big Mac and the Buddy Burger”. Bringing all of the delicious traits we know: pickle mayo, a juicy beef patty on the softest bun you could bite into.

Also enjoyed is the one-of-a-kind rich beer, onion + cheddar soup ($9) topped with pretzel croutons, pork sausage rolls ($8/3 pcs) served with charcoal-roasted eggplant and cottage pie topped with a bone marrow (optional, $15 + $5).

Knowing that the menu was an assembly here and there of Chef Lister’s favourite, I couldn’t turn down dessert! For a sweet ending, a cast iron was served, me mum‘s baked rice pudding. A depth of mixed wild and round rice and spent grains (the leftover after the mashing process in beer-making, which is usually sent back to a farm as feed). Sweet treats were sprinkled throughout, with every mouthful being different. One scoop would hold a melt-away mango bite, another would be full of rich chocolate and another, a crunch of pine nuts. The spent grains added a truly nutty taste, although I was at first surprised, I now wish there was more of the grains to each bite!

Liberty Commons

The Common Burger, nasty processed cheese, onion tomato relish, pickle mayo, sesame bun, dill pickles served with a side of lc fries – $17

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In the center: Cottage Pie, beef mince, peas, carrot, spud mash, br traditional ale gravy with bone marrow – $20

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Me Mum’s Baked Rice Pudding, wild + round rice, spent grains, mango, chocolate, pine nuts – $8

Big Rock Brewery is best known to create brews to satisfy a wide spectrum of palates according to the season. Rightfully so, as the temperature changes, seasonal produce sets the tone for the type of beers that are created. Combining the rich, rooted flavours from the kitchen of Chef Lister with the sessionable beers of Big Rock, I am beyond pleased with the comforting fare within the space and offerings. This opening has been a long-time coming and surely lives to its anticipation. You’ve got to add Liberty Commons at Big Rock Brewery to your list of places to enjoy tasty eats and fresh brews.

Liberty Commons
42 Liberty St, Toronto, ON M6K 0C4
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Big Rock Brewery
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Liberty CommonsLiberty Commons

Liberty Commons at Big Rock Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

An Experience at Toronto Rooftop Restaurant, Lavelle

Lavelle, King WestLavelle, King West

Welcome to Lavelle, the one place that allows patrons to take in one of the best views of Toronto’s skyline. Situated on King West 16 levels above ground, the seating choices are plentiful – during the warmer weather, patrons can seat at the patio surrounding the 155-foot swimming pool, inside the private cabana or get cozy in the lounge while still viewing the glimmering pool through floor to ceiling windows with Toronto’s skyline in the background.

Lavelle is open every day of the week serving French cuisine with global influences by Chef Romain Avril for lunch, dinner and brunch on the weekends.

Executive Chef Romain Avril has experience working in 1 and 2 Michelin-starred restaurants in France and UK before moving to Toronto… After his tenure as Executive Chef at La Societé, he took the reigns at Lavelle since it opened in July 2016. Influenced by his classic French training and his interest in fusion and molecular gastronomy, Chef Avril creates contemporary French dishes, influenced by wild and local Canadian ingredients, for brunch, lunch and dinner at Lavelle.

Here’s a variation of what’s on the menu at Lavelle:

  • Fried Chicken Bao, jalapenos, ponzu mayo, kimchi and coriander $10
  • Tuna Tartare, soy dressing, daikon, sesame cracker, pickled ginger, cilantro $24
  • Thai Consume, duck confit, napa cabbage, chilis, soy $16
  • Agnolotti, hazelnut, feta, butternut squash, sage, lemon balm $21
  • Heritage Pork Tenderloin Choucroute, pork belly, pear & apple mustarda $29
  • Fogo Island Cod, barley noir risotto, matane shrimp, campagne velouté $29
  • Carrot Textures, yoghurt, hazelnut, sea buckthorns $12
  • Chocolate Creme, maple, buttermilk, buckwheat, pear $12
Lavelle, King West

Fried Chicken Bao, jalapeno, ponzu mayo, kimchi and coriander – $10

Lavelle, King West

Fogo Island Cod, barley noir risotto, matane shrimp, campagne velouté – $29

Lavelle, King West

Agnolotti, hazelnut, feta, butternut squash, sage, lemon balm – $21

Lavelle, King West

Heritage Pork Tenderloin Choucroute, pork belly, pear & apple mustarda – $29

Lavelle, King West

Tuna Tartare, soy dressing, daikon, sesame cracker, pickled ginger, cilantro – $24

Lavelle, King West Lavelle, King WestCarrot Textures, yoghurt, hazelnut, sea buckthorns – $12

Lavelle, King West

Chocolate Creme, maple, buttermilk, buckwheat, pear – $12

From black risotto to parcels of agnolotti, Chef Avril introduces French-style cooking with global influences through local Canadian ingredients. Each dish shone through a variant of textures adding crunch, savouriness and sweet. My favourite was the tuna tartare which was dressed in soy sauce and garnished with a fried sesame rice paper. Each dish was a representation of a deconstructted style of sweets which truly gave me the opportunity to appreciate each flavour on it’s own.

Lavelle
627 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1M5
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Lavelle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Photo by Igor Aldomar

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Photo by Igor Aldomar

Meet: The Sushi-Burger-Doughnut, “DOSHI”

Square Fish, Queen West

Previous to my Square Fish experience, I imagined a lot to go wrong with novelty shaped sushi. The rice would fall apart, ingredients would be dry and what is so hard about getting fresh sashimi! But… very wonderfully, there was nothing out of place with these sushi-doughnuts “doshi” and squares “mosiac” – learn the terminology, people! Square Fish has opened up on Queen Street West, the hippest place to be just by Spadina Street. The small space is adorned with paintings of whimsical coloured fish of all shapes, with unique food items to match. The freshness of the fish at Square Fish should not be a surprise as this venture is not a new landscape of business for them – with locations of AYCE sushi in various cities, they have their fish shipment and maintenance down pat.

Square Fish
461 Queen Street West,
Toronto, ON, M5V 2A9

Square Fish, Queen West

“Doshi” ($8), a sushi in the form of a doughnut. What was spectacular is that the bottom bun is deep-fried, giving a crunchy and sticky savoury flavour (like banh chung chien for my the Vietnamese food eaters)! It was very difficult to eat, but the mess came with any other novelty sushi, you better be seated when consuming it!

The mega rolls, or “burritoscome in two sizes with different price points ($7.50 and $14). I find that the biggest struggle with sushi burritos for me is being way too full half way. Thankfully, the solution is making smaller rolls! The half portion, a doshi each and 4 squares was a perfect lunch bite for each of us.

Square Fish, Queen WestSquare Fish, Queen West

The “mosaic” sushi squares ($12) were as tasty as they were pretty. A nigiri in a square form! In salmon, beet, tuna, shrimp, cucumber and kani salad, these contained the right amount of sandwiched protein. I’d like the see a portrait being made of these perfectly square sushi – and I’d also like to be there to help eat it afterward.

Big Rock Brewery brings Big Brews to Liberty Village

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Big Rock Brewery has made its debut in the Ontario market with two big splashes. In September, Big Rock opened the doors of its new brewery in Etobicoke. And now, the brewer has opened its brand spanking new brewpub in partnership with Oliver & Bonacini in Liberty Commons. The brewpub houses freshly brewed beer by Big Rock and food pairings by Oliver & Bonacini’s Corporate Executive Chef Anthony Walsh, District Executive Chef John Horne (Canoe, Auberge du Pommier), and newly appointed Chef de Cuisine Ryan Lister (formerly of Canoe). Overseeing the brewing program at Liberty Commons are Big Rock Brewmaster Connor K. Patrick and brewer Dan Ellis. And as both a gastronomy lover and craft beer fan– I am stoked about this partnership! With over 30 years of brewing under its belt, the Calgary-founded craft brewer has a lot to offer Ontarians. Brewmaster Connor is using the brewpub as his home for experimental brews.  This means he will be producing special beers that will be exclusive to the brewpub. Big Rock is best known to create brews to satisfy a wide spectrum of palates according to the season. So, as the temperature changes, seasonal produce sets the tone for the type of beers that are created.  I’m most excited about the exclusive and seasonal brews that Connor will be crafting! So, add Liberty Commons at Big Rock Brewery to your list of places to enjoy tasty eats and fresh brews! Make your reservation here: libertycommons.ca.

This past summer, Big Rock Brewery surprised everyone at Session Toronto 2016 with a Lip Sumac-er, a collaboration with O&B’s Executive Chef Anthony Walsh’s food pairing of pork tacos. This was the first time that Toronto saw the two wonders together. The gose style beer had a taste like no other and was a true summer-pleaser. I could only rightfully compare it to a juicy lemon – it was salty, sour, tart and so refreshing. It’s unique winners like these that I’m excited to drink at the brewpub!

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My favourite of Big Rock’s signature taps is the Cashmere Crooner. Made up of cashmere hops, it’s a smooth and sessionable beer that I could see myself drinking rounds and rounds of…

Looking for something to do on the weekend? Head down to the Big Rock Brewery in Etobicoke. Everyone is encouraged to come explore the space and indulge in the seven signature beers at the growler bar. Tap room and retail store hours are Mondays, Tuesday, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Book your reservation for a learn & taste session with a beerologist here.

bigrockbeer.com/
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17 Things to do in Montreal (in 4 Days!)

The desire for a visit to Montreal began in 2013 when I first heard of duck served from a can at Au Pied Du Cochon. The next big ping was discovering the selection of Dieu Du Ciel on tap at (now closed) BarVolo. Arthur surprised me with Montreal as our 1-year trip (the previous year was Kitchener, where we had a marvelous time mind you – yes you can laugh at this).

If I’m in a new city for a limited number of days, I’m all about living the “Carpe Diem” motto. I am not the sort to simply go out and walk through the city hoping to come across a gem. I will research the city’s highlights and make a path to it, then those other sighted gems can come along the way.

Our stay was from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon. We stayed by St. Laurier Station, very comfortably within 13-minute walking distance from our favourites! We purchased a Friday – Sunday pass for the Metropolitian which gave us unlimited access for $13.50 each at the time. The pass started from 6PM on the Friday night.

I would love to go into elaborate detail with a blogpost on each place I visited and loved, but I think it would be most efficient skimming-wise with a paragraph + photos of each instead. I’ve also provided external links to Zomato to see more details + other reviewer’s feedback at the end of this post.

Here’s what we did over a course of 3.5 days in Montreal:

(1) Devour a medium-fat smoked meat sammie.

When in Montreal… You eat a smoked meat sandwich for lunch! A smoked meat sammie can be enjoyed from two places in Montreal, Schwartz or Main Deli Steakhouse. There’s a battle between the city-folk deciding which is the best, but I say, just head to the one which is on the way to your next destination.

We tried a sandwich at Schwartz but we made the mistake of not asking for the fatty meat. Who would have known there was an option between fatty or lean? We got the lean without questions and by default. The recommended combo from passing servers is a Smoked meat sandwich ($9), housemade pickles ($2), coleslaw ($3) and a Black Cherry Cola. The pic Fairly pricey, but it only makes sense to be since it’s a top tourist destination and the best-acclaimed spot for a bite of smoked meat in Montreal.

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Let’s Eat: Brown Rice Mushroom Pilaf

Brown Rice Mushroom Pilaf - USA RiceBrown Rice Mushroom Pilaf - USA Rice

All About Rice

There are very many types of rice: long, medium and short, each can be used in many different ways, from a savoury pilaf, to a creamy risotto, to a dessert rice pudding!

This week, I had the opportunity to go a different route with rice. I’m very familiar with the good ol’ medium grain white rice, I’ve eaten a bowl for a day for at least 3/4 of my life. My choice between white or brown rice? White, please! I’ve never cooked brown rice for myself and can’t count more than 5 times that I’ve voluntarily eaten it.  It may be because of the difference in look, texture and taste, but with a quick search, there’s nothing lose, but all to gain with brown rice! U.S. Rice describes brown rice as:

Brown rice has the outer hull removed but still retains the nutrient-dense bran layers that give it a tan color, chewy texture and nutty flavor. Brown rice is a 100% whole grain, rich in minerals and vitamins, especially the B-complex group.

In variants of either long-grain or short-grain rice, the colouring you see is simply nutrients! The flavour profile is nutty with more of a bite than white rice. Once cooked, brown rice can keep in the fridge from 3 to 5 days and up to 6 months in the freezer.

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Let’s Make: Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce with Zwilling & Ballarini

Zwilling, Ballarini @ Arcadian CourtChef Jonathan Collins - Ballarini

Deep pasta sauces are a dream. I never thought that this type of flavor could be achieved without meat! Stepping into Chef Jonathan Collin’s cooking class with Zwilling and Ballarini, I knew I was in for a treat. We began with getting to know our tools and ingredients. Using the Ballarini Positano 11” Wok (found at Home Outfitters, The Bay and zwilling.ca), I discovered it to be a very versatile size to simmer our sauce and mix in our pasta.

Tonight’s pasta dish would be entirely focused on creating Chef Jonathan Collin’s Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce. As a peek for everyone else who wants to recreate it for themselves, see below! Roast heads of garlic ahead of time and take 15 minutes to cook the sauce, and you have dinner!

Zwilling, Ballarini @ Arcadian Court

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Down at Piggy’s for Authentic Korean BBQ

I love it all about Korean BBQ: sharing platters of foods, the endless sides of pickled radish and the after-eating smokey stench in my clothes. I haven’t been such a fan of Korean BBQ until I tried Little Piggy’s in Koreatown, but I’ve witnessed an even more grand experience at the Piggy’s Thornhill location.

Piggy’s pride themselves in using the very best traditional ingredients in Korea within their chili powder, cold noodles, soybean paste and red pepper paste. I knew that I was going to be in for a treat coming in this evening.

Here’s what we ordered:

  • Steamed Egg “Gae Ran Jjim”, steamed egg with vegetables ($6.95)
  • Chilled Steamed Pigs’ Trotters Salad & Mussel Soup “Naengchae Jokbal & Honghap Tang”, served with mussel soup ($29.95)
  • Boneless Beef Rib “So Gal Bi Sal”, non-marinated boneless Korean-style beef rib (400g, $57.90)
  • Sweet Bulb, Grapefruit Soju ($8.95)
  • Korean Rice Wine “Mak Gul Li”,  semi-sweet Korean traditional milky rice wine made with nuruk (Jinro 750ml, $16.95)
  • Spicy Chicken with Vegetables and Rice Cake ($34.95)

After agreeing with a meat item, it began with charcoal wood very quickly lit up and tossed and turned. Our server Peter was with us from the start, explaining the process to us as he heated up our tabletop and cooked and cut the meats. Even other servers jumped in time to time to check in on our cooking progress! But if we did need something, we made use of the service-call button at our table. As for utensils, check the side of your table – there may be a hidden latch.

Piggy's, ThornhillPiggy's, Thornhill

At the same time as our raw meat order arrived, so did the plentiful array of side dishes. We had pickled onion and celery, kimchi, pork ear jelly,  pancake, mashed potato, two salads and seaweed + broccoli in red pepper paste. In addition to all of those sides, there were also two types of dipping sauces and raw garlic and pickled onion to add into our meaty bites. Continue reading