On the grounds of Hong Kong Disneyland I found this small kiosk that sold Korean grilled squid. I could smell it in the air from almost 100 meters away and somehow my bloodhound nose just gravitated towards it.
Posting this photo now, I realized that I was standing a short distance away from the washrooms with the sign TOILETS above my head.
By the way, if they end up becoming the best Korean resto in Iloilo City, I take full credit for being the first person to review their restaurant and putting them on the map with Tripadvisor and Yelp 🙂
Update: My Tripadvisor link is up but they forgot my photos. Oh well!
In the past few weeks, I have been to a few AYCE (All You Can Eat) sushi buffets in the Greater Toronto Area.
Each and every one of these restaurants had their own menu and style that may have included in one way or another different types of asian food such as Chinese, Korean, or Thai. After checking out each restaurant, I found this to be a great opportunity to compare notes on what I look for versus what I am paying for.
1. Sushi vs. Sashimi
What is the difference between the two? Originated from Japan, sushi consists of a special bite-size portion of cooked vinegared rice topped with a slice of raw seafood, vegetables, or even tropical fruits. Makis and Hand Rolls are types of sushi that have the fish and veggies rolled or wrapped inside a layer of rice or seaweed. Sashimi is commonly thin slices of raw seafood.
At many AYCE sushi buffets, I have seen sushi and sashimi served in different sizes, and girth. Yes, GIRTH. My biggest pet peeve is being served with a huge chunk of sushi rice with a small shave of fish. These sort of restaurants overfeed you with rice so they can save more money by holding back on the fish.
The best bang for your buck will always be the sashimis. I always order makis sparingly because I don’t want to fill myself up with rice.
2. Lunch vs. Dinner
At many AYCE buffets, the price is very different during lunch or dinner.
At an AYCE sushi buffet, the standard is having sushi served for lunch while sashimi is served for dinner, but when the price is $10 more per person and you eat the same number of sashimi as you do with sushi, then you might as well eat sushi for lunch.
Although in some AYCE restaurants, dinner menus may be served during lunch but of course, at a dinner price. Only your wallet and stomach will determine which one to choose.
3. Weekday vs Weekend
This comes down to price. The base price is lowest on weekday lunches (Monday – Thursday) and increases at dinner. Some consider Friday lunch as a weekday but Friday dinners are always at a weekend price. At most places, weekend lunch and dinner will skyrocket to a much higher unexpected price.
Other than serving sashimi for weeknight dinner or on weekends, usually there are no special reasons why they are charging more only that they know families and couples are most available to feast at these times.
Go for the weekday lunch if you can make it. You will get better service, pay less, and it won’t be so crowded.
4. All You Can Eat but not All You Can Drink
Better ask if your soda drink refills are unlimited and/or if it’s included in the AYCE price. Otherwise you might be paying much more than you think.
I usually order some Chinese tea or green tea solely because I gave up soft drinks a long time ago and also they refill hot water for free. Besides, carbonated drinks fill up my stomach and I like to consume more of the food than the drink. Most places provide a small pot with loose tea/tea bag steeping in hot water. They either charge one price for the number of pots or the number of people. So if you have a party of 8 and they all want tea, either you will be charged for 2 pots that can serve 8 people or pay the individual price per person even if you are given 2 pots. At one place my wife and I actually paid for our own separate tea bags in separate cups.
If you don’t need anything special, tap water will always be free.
5. AYCE Sushi plus other foods and fusion
Most sushi places are now mixing up their menus by offering Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
With Chinese, I try to stay away or limit my steamed rice or fried rice. I figured if you’re eating sushi, you are already having good portions of rice. Do try their dim sum (steamed dumplings) as they are slowly making their way into the sushi restaurants.
Most Japanese AYCE buffets mixes in several Korean dishes. If they offer kalbi (small strips of marinated short ribs) give them a try. Koreans know that it can be difficult and expensive to make kalbi so make it worth your while to have some. It’s delicious!
Tom Yum Soup is my go-to Thai dish. I have always enjoyed a little sour taste in my mouth to warm me up for a sushi fest. Any noodle dish such as Pad Thai should be ordered with caution because it usually tastes either very bland or very sour.
6. Types of Sushi and Sashimi
I used to eat a ton of red tuna. As time passed by red tuna became less available and salmon started to be the norm. Now I’m hooked on white tuna (or butterfish). Just thinking about the butterfish melting in my mouth makes me want to go out for sushi right now. Yum!
I have also started to love octopus and surf clam sashimi. They have a slightly rubbery texture to it but the flavor is starting to grow on me.
White Tuna Sushi
Some maki rolls make its way onto my plate. I love dynamite rolls (tempura inside), spicy salmon crisp, and Red Dragon with salmon toppings.
Spicy Salmon Maki
Hand rolls are the biggest flop in my book for AYCE buffets. So much rice and veggies are stuffed into the seaweed wrap that you can barely taste any fish at all.
7. Fresh means everything
Once you bite into any sushi, it should not have a fishy taste. Nor should it smell fishy either. Sushi and sashimi is meant for you to enjoy the moment without having any difficulty of forcing it down.
With any fish sushi, not only should it be chilled but it should also be easy to chew. If you find that you are chewing non-stop, then it is far from being fresh.
8. Price can make it or break it
How much are you willing to pay for an AYCE lunch or dinner buffet?
For lunch, I am willing to go between $15 – $20 and that’s if they are offering sashimi for lunch on the higher end of the price range. I find that even with higher prices, the quality is still the same.
Some restaurants will give you a 5% discount if you pay the bill cash. It doesn’t hurt to ask your server before you order if a discount is available.
9. Old style/New style menu ordering
Pen and paper menu ordering is slowly being phased out. Most of these places don’t have a picture what each dish looks like. Unless you have eaten at this sort of place several times and ordered everything on their menu, then you really wouldn’t know what to expect. Also, it is so hard to get your server’s attention if they don’t check up on you from time to time.
iPads now made their way into AYCE sushi buffets. Order the quantities of dishes by tapping away at the pictures on their slide bar menus. Food should arrive within 5 minutes as this system is supposed to increase efficiency. If they don’t serve your food within a good amount of time then either the restaurant is busy or the iPad is broken.
Most AYCE have credit card machines with preset amounts on how much tip to add onto the bill. I will tip depending if I have to go up to get my own food or if they will deliver it to me. Factor in if they bring my food quickly, take away my empty plates before I return from the tables. I always consider if I am treated like a paying customer.
Most importantly, the food has to meet my expectations.
So I hope my list helps all of you decide on what you will look for at any AYCE sushi buffet.
If you love sushi as much as I do, it is always satisfying to walk out of a sushi restaurant smiling saying that I ate well and having that ‘Life is Good’ feeling. If you can say that, then you definitely achieved the most value out of your sushi meal.
When I was a kid, my parents used to take my family to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto. It was the “annual fair” that came to town filled with rides, games, food and entertainment. I always had fond memories of our visits to the CNE.
I remember my parents buying strings of small coupon stubs so that I could ride the merry-go-round or brave the kids swing set. It was one of those special days when we could eat whatever candy or junk food we want. My dad would have this obsession to win the big prize by shooting pellets around a red star printed on a small piece of paper hanging at the end of a long wire. He would never win but we would always be happy that he tried his very best.
They still kept some things the same such as the “midway” where all the food and games are just an arm’s length away. The all famous Food Building still has over a hundred food vendors just footsteps away from the GO Train entrance. Of course, the annual Canadian International Air Show is always ready to perform if you are lucky to find a seat.
We always like to see what’s new and upcoming at the CNE. Since we’re a lot older now, they added a lot more entertainment. Today, there are rock bands entertaining the beer thirsty and pork-hungry Ribfesters, a casino open to the experienced and amateur poker player, a large shopping building full of international goods available for sale, and several updated shows and current events to entertain people of all ages. Two of those shows we wanted to see was the ice skating and SuperDogs show.
The ice skating shows always try to feature a Canadian celebrity skater. In the past they have had Olympians Elvis Stojko and skating duo, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue.
This year we had the pleasure of watching Joannie Rochette, Canadian Bronze Medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Canada Winter Olympics.
After the ice skating show, we decided to take our time doing a lot of shopping inside the Enercare Building. Items for sale ranged from clothes to food, and everything in between. My sister was generous to buy us 1kg of unpasteurized honey. We didn’t realize how heavy it was to carry it around while shopping, we felt like dragging our bag on the ground!
At one time, we were very thirsty so I decided to buy something a little different than the usual bottle of water. It wasn’t a lot but it helped hydrate ourselves from carrying around the honey and other free samples we picked up along the way.
The biggest highlight of our day was the long line of food trucks near the Princes’ Gates entrance. One of my favourites is a truck called Fidel Gastro’s. They own a restaurant on Queen Street, Toronto but has extended their express service to a food truck. We ordered the Porknado sandwich with the owner, Matt. Within minutes, out came this huge sandwich filled with Korean pulled pork topped with two crispy pork dumplings, green onions, and crema. The flavours are unreal compared to any sandwich I have ever tasted. With each bite, the pulled pork melted in my mouth and the dumplings added another flavor of pork. The fusion of Asian and Latin spices gave that extra kick while the crema just tied everything in.
Matt was very generous to come back out and give us a free sample of their CNE Specialty called the Cubano. What a treat! This was a deep fried sandwich filled with pork brisket, onions cheese and pickles. Oh boy, the calories! Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. Cheese and pickles are my favourite toppings so I could not hold back on having that extra bite. This sandwich did not disappoint and it was an instant hit in my books.
We were so impressed with Fidel Gastro’s that I wanted to take my picture with him. I even asked him to promote his food truck for me to post on my blog.
Some time later, we had to treat ourselves to something sweet. It just so happens there was a food truck that sold Churros. Nothing better than eating a sweet, deep fried pastry sprinkled with sugar and injected with caramel syrup.
At the end of the day, we were exhausted from all the shopping and pigging out on food. If you can make the trip to Toronto while the CNE is opened, you must try the experience of walking throughout the entire grounds. Make a second day trip if you can’t finish it all. Even as I get a little older, it makes me feel like a little kid all over again.
Heart Sushi Unit 2, 815 Britannia Road West, Mississauga, Ontario
Want to get your sushi on? If you feel the need to satisfy your appetite for Japanese food then I know the place.
In one of the west buildings in Mississauga’s Heartland area is an AYCE (All You Can Eat) restaurant named “Heart Sushi”. They share the building with a few other tenants but if you find the Heart logo you can see they are placed at the very end. Grab a parking spot as quickly as possible because spaces are very limited on the weekends.
Like most AYCE sushi places today, their pen and paper ordering system is replaced with the iPad menu. Make your choices from a range of edamame beans to red dragon rolls or Korean kalbi slices to Chinese fried rice.
What I like about this place is the sushi and sashimi are fresh. For lunchtime sushi, they don’t stuff each piece with a fistful of rice. The same can be said for all of their maki rolls. At dinner, the thickness of each sashimi is cut just right. The best part is the presentation. When your appetizers arrive one dish at a time, you can’t wait to sink your teeth into some sashimi. But when it arrives in an illuminated bowl of ice with some fancy decor, it totally makes the experience so much more enjoyable. I used think “meh, just feed me the sashimi on a plate and serve it to me as quickly as I order it” but my outlook changed when you see all your sashimi light up! And when you sink your teeth into a cold fresh piece of fish doused with soy sauce and wasabi? Whoa!!! You cannot help but order more!
Like many other asian restaurants, there are some minor downsides. Sitting down in the booth seats often leaves feeling the impact of the person moving around behind you. Some of the Chinese dishes are a little bland. Besides, why would I stuff myself with rice or noodles when I’m there to eat sushi??? For the most part your dishes come quickly, but even the iPad system might leave one or two items lagging behind.
There are a few unexpected dishes I particularly like. Available during lunch and dinner, order up the Tom Yum soup. It has a piece of simulated crab, slices of mushroom and one shrimp swimming in a slightly tangy soup base with a small garnish. No coconut milk, so it will never taste like the original in Thailand. White tuna for sushi or sashimi melts in your mouth and tastes far better than other types of fish. Available for dinner only, you must try the chopped spicy salmon sashimi on top of a Pringle chip! I ordered it thinking how crazy it was to eat but surprisingly it was really good! Just think, fish and chips right?
I’ve eaten at several sushi restaurants but this one surpasses a lot of them. Some have their own unique features, much like Heart Sushi, that makes them different from other places like their service or their decor.
So after eating here, I have a pretty good idea how to satisfy my cravings. Stay tuned for my next blog about the DO’s and DON’Ts on eating at AYCE sushi restaurants.
190 University Avenue, Third Floor
I will probably write shorter reviews in the future but since this is my first review on an upper casual fine dining asian restaurant, I wanted to spend some time to share the full experience both my wife and I had at Momofuku Daisho.
My wife has offered a couple times to dine with her at Momofuku Daisho. Unfortunately living on the west end of the GTA doesn’t give us much opportunity to travel into downtown, find parking then feed the meter or ticket machine, then walk to the restaurant. With Toronto’s Summerlicious program hitting the urban cuisine life, this was the perfect opportunity to give Momofuku Daisho a try.
I didn’t know much about what Momofuku Daisho had to offer so I checked out their website and also searched them on Google. New York’s top-rated chef, David Chang, opened Momofuku’s three-storey, four-in-one restaurant building in 2012 next to the prestigious, five-star Shangri-La hotel. Daisho’s theme is based on a steakhouse: burgers, steaks, salads, and seafood. They do not specifically serve Asian dishes, however some of their dishes do have some asian ingredients unlike the other two restos in the building: Noodle Bar and Shoto (“Nikai” is a bar and lounge while “Milk Bar” sells baked goods shipped in from their New York kitchen. Both are on the second floor). The concept design of Daisho is simple: a glass cube on the 3rd floor. I heard at night the lights illuminate the exterior of the entire building and showcases Daisho’s interior. Maybe next time I might drop in for dinner just to see it.
Calling into Momofuku for reservations was easy especially since they offered a separate connection specifically for Summerlicious. What I liked about their reservation line is that they called me the day before to confirm my reservation. Traffic was light and easy heading into T-dot late morning and my wife saved us a ton of money finding us street parking across the street from the underground parking entrance.
A short 5 minute walk around the corner to University Avenue and we made it. We weren’t entirely sure where the main entrance to the building was. We knew it was beside the Shangri-la hotel but not part of it. We saw the large entrance door behind the what appeared to be a large tree sculpture made out of stainless steel. Later I learned that the sculpture is reminiscent of a headless dragon adorned with doves to resemble world peace. Although it is placed in front of Momofuku’s megaplex, it was actually designed for the Shangri-la hotel.
We arrived early for our reservation and when we entered the small waiting area, my wife and I were a little confused as to where we needed to be. After a little walking around, we realized that the entrance to Momofuku hasn’t opened yet and so we sat down on the few benches until we were ready to go in. The restaurant promptly opened at 11:30am and the hostess at Noodle Bar directed us to the 3rd floor for Daisho by giving us a choice of using the stairs or elevator. I wanted a smooth ride so we took the obvious choice.
The hostess immediately greeted us as soon as we stepped out of the elevator and she sat us down at what my wife and I thought was the best table. Seated in the corner of the glass cube resto, my wife had the view of the restaurant and outside south of University Avenue while I enjoyed my view of my wife and north of downtown. Everything was clean and well-polished. The windows and ceiling stretched high and gave the entire restaurant so much natural light. Our waitress, Jasmine, gave us the time we needed to look over their Summerlicious menu. We talked for awhile and built up the questions what we needed to ask:
“What are these ingredients?”
“How large are these portions”
“If we wanted to try dishes on top of the three-course meal, is the option available?”
I have to tell you, she answered every single question with the fullest description but brief and to the point. It just made our ordering that much easier. We decided to hold off on ordering extra dishes in case we weren’t able to finish our prix fixe lunch.
For appetizers, my wife ordered the BBQ Pork Bun stuffed with red cabbage, bread and butter pickes, and avocado. I decided to try the roasted carrot soup with almond, crab, and chive. For the main/entrée dish I had the Pork Secreto SSam with pickled green papya, fish sauce and bibb lettuce while she had the Grilled Trout with roasted buckwheat, chanterelle mushrooms, and arugula. The desserts, a humble blueberry cheesecake and a shortcake for me.
We made our order and sipped on our hot green tea and had a delightful conversation about how excited we were to try our food. Within 10 minutes, our appetizers arrived. I have to tell you, we were absolutely impressed with the presentation. The BBQ Pork Bun was a hit. Everything was neatly packed inside the bun. Something so simple looked delicious! Although mine was a simple soup, it was presented to me with the ingredients inside the soup bowl while the actual carrot soup was inside a ceramic bottle with an open spout. The server place the bowl in front of me then poured the soup around the ingredients so that it wouldn’t drown and get soggy. Very smart!
Shortly after we finished our apps, our entrees arrived. We were both equally impressed with the presentation. The Grilled Trout was seasoned very well without any fishy taste. Roasted buckwheat was a complete surprise. We found ourselves using our fork to figure out exactly what else was inside it. The roasted buckwheat looked like couscous but tasted nothing like it.
My Pork Secreto SSam is similar to what I used to eat when I was a kid. The plate arrived with several slices of pork and bibb lettuce piled on one side, fish sauce and sticky rice in separate small bowls. Either you could take the pork and rice then place it inside the lettuce then spoon the sauce on top and eat it like a burrito or simply use your cutlery and let it ride. All the ingredients for this asian dish was subtle but very tasty.
The desserts: The cheesecake was not thick or dense as how you would normally buy or make. It was light but not runny and it was paired with a scoop of sorbet. The two combined made for a cream and tangy flavour that cleaned the palette. I could not finish my strawberry shortcake. My wife had to help me as shortcake is usually a little dense. I’m not saying that it wasn’t good, it was very good but I just couldn’t finish everything.
From beginning to end, our foodie experience at Momofuku Daisho did not disappoint. Although we came here during Toronto’s Summerlicious venue, I would definitely come back here and try some of their other dishes on their regular menus. I heard their Roasted Rice Cakes are worth trying. If you ever find your way into downtown Toronto, drop into Momofoku Daisho. I highly recommend their food and their service.