Charlie’s Chopsticks Grand Opening

Charlie's Chopsticks Logo

My little brother got the chance to be a part of the creation of a new fresh take out restaurant! How very exciting. I got the chance to go in and sample everything and share my experience with you.

If you have passed 970 Upper James (right near the Linc) recently, you may have noticed this little shop open up in the sex shop plaza. Leading up to their grand opening, they have been giving out samples of all their menu items for everyone who walked in.

Charlie’s Chopsticks is a custom asian open concept kitchen that caters to those who want to eat well, healthy, and quickly.

Sushi Cut

Charlie’s Chopsticks offers three main items: Rolls (Sushi & Summer), Rice Dishes, and Drinks. When you walk into the store, you’ll immediately see the counter with the main ingredients that you can choose to customize your meal.

Sushi roll charlie's chopsticks

The first thing I had was the sushi roll. I really like how you really just get to choose whatever you want to make your own custom sushi roll just the way you like it. I think you can have a maximum of 5 items, which is a ton to fit inside one roll. I chose to put my favourite items: salmon, crab stick, cucumber, sweet egg, and mango. It was pretty cool to watch them roll my sushi.

sushi cutter

This blew my mind the most. They put the sushi roll into this machine and it cuts it all up for you. WHAT?! So cool. Where do I get one for my house? My carrots would be such even sizes.

Charlie's Chopsticks Sauces

This is the part that gets really interesting. In addition to the soy sauce that you usually get with sushi, you have a range of other sauces you can try too. Their spicy mayo is particularly interesting. It’s not just the Kewpie Mayo (or baby mayo, as we call it in my house) & Sriracha combination that you basically get everywhere else, but this has a great hint of ginger to it as well. I loved it. One of the workers encouraged me to try the wafu sauce as well, which is a Japanese sesame dressing, and I’m glad I did because that tasted great with the fresh sushi. I don’t have anything else to compare the wafu sauce to though, but it was great.

There is also a few secret sauces. The two of my favourite being Honey Peach and my absolute favourite: Maple Ginger. I just could not get enough of that Maple Ginger. Just the right amount of sweetness and savouriness.

Custom Summer Roll Charlie's Chopsticks

The next thing I tried were the Summer rolls that they offered. Patrons of Vietnamese restaurants may know them as fresh rolls. They are basically any ingredient you like, wrapped up in a rice paper wrap. It’s light and yummy. Traditionally, in my home, we add vermicelli into it as well, but this way you get more fun stuff and less filler. I had mine with lettuce, mango, sweet egg, cucumber, avocado, ginger beef, and a little slice of clementine, which the employee strongly suggest. I never would have guessed to put the clementine it, but the sweet burst of flavour was a great enhancement.

Charlie’s Chopsticks even offers traditional Vietnamese nuoc mam, or fish sauce. Please don’t let the name scare you away because it tastes NOTHING like fish. It is a fish sauce mixed with garlic, lemon, and a few other things that I don’t know because I haven’t asked my mother how to make it yet. But seriously, this sauce is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine, and the salty lemony garlicky flavour compliments these rolls like nothing else. I think it’s the greatest compliment when I say these rolls taste just like we make them at home.

I won’t lie. I stood there and tried a few other rolls, a few with strawberries for colour, and of course, fresh bacon. The owners order many of the veggies local and the bacon come straight from Mennonite farmers in Hamilton’s Farmer’s Market.

I have never had bacon this good.

I don’t know what it was about it, but dang. It was just crispy enough with a bit of chew, my perfect texture. The taste was beyond anything else. Damn, I was just about ready to hop off the bacon train, but that piece of bacon in one of my many fresh rolls was just BEYOND.

meat dish

Lastly, I tried the rice dish. You get to choose your meat: chicken, beef, or pork, and then you have the piece of meat basted with whatever flavour you like (I got chicken with maple ginger, and beef with teriyaki). It goes through the oven (though I think they might be replacing that with a grill), and gets served with a bowl of rice and your choice of veggies. Again, I highly recommend trying the fish sauce with this dish.

Charlie’s Chopsticks will be serving bubble tea (with choices of grass jellies, fruit jellies, tapioca) and fresh fruit smoothies.

All in all, while the food is not gourmet or out of the box, it is good, wholesome, fresh food, which is definitely hard to find in today’s fast food industry. Their prices are awesome for a quick lunch, or a light, healthy dinner. The best bit is that they’re open late every night (past midnight on Fridays and Saturdays) and they do delivery as well. Who HASN’T sat there thinking, oh, I could totally do sushi right now, but balked at the time, drive, price of sushi restaurants? And who really wants to put pants on to go buy some crappy day old grocery store sushi?

Charlie’s Chopsticks officially opens TODAY (!) October 18, 2014, at 11 a.m. and the first 88 people in the doors will receive a voucher for 30 free items. Spread the word, #hamont, the new take out is here.

Facebook – Charlie’s Chopsticks

Instagram – @CharliesChopsticks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Banh Mi Boys

Banh Mi Boys, the place I’ve oft heard about but never been to. On par with Burrito Boyz and Smoke’s Poutinerie for after-clubbing eats. BMB is situated on Queen West, just west of Spadina and I finally convinced boyfriend to go there for dinner. This proved to be the best decision I could ever make. Having known myself for 22 years now, I should have known walking in, that we would pretty much “accidentally” order everything on the menu.

We started off with two Banh Mi, the restaurant’s namesake. For those who don’t know, an original Banh Mi (which means bread or sandwich in Vietnamese) is a kind of Vietnamese sandwich served on a crusty baguette, has various unidentifiable meats and pâtés in it, topped with pickled radish, pickled carrots, cilantro, and chili peppers if you’re feeling feisty. We got duck confit, and pork belly, and just having one each would have filled us up enough without all the other things we bought. These were really good. Warm and meaty, it’s a nice mix of western and eastern cuisines. I liked them alright, but I think I prefer my original banh mi to these (which you can buy for $2.50 up the street) but that’s okay because they offer some other great things on the menu.

This is the beef cheek steamed bao. I love beef cheek because it is always so soft and moist, and this one had a great smokey flavour to it. Topped with cucumber, cilantro, and pickled radish and carrots, it’s stuffed in a steamed bao pocket. In Chinese, it’s called a “siopao” and in Vietnamese, a “banh bao”. It’s a white steamed bun that’s like a bread, but spongy, airy, and slightly sweet.

We move onto the tacos and I am a sucker for coleslaw. We ordered a squid taco and a kalbi beef taco and it came with all the fixings of a banh mi with the addition of the coleslaw and kimchi. Kalbi beef is a korean style short rib beef. It’s got a sweet flavour which contrasts well with the tanginess of the coleslaw and pickled carrots. Very yummy, very messy to eat. The three types of sandwiches are pretty much the same in fillings, but you can change up how you want it served: as a banh mi, a taco, or a steamed bao.

I saved you the best for last though, because this is what the people really come for:

Kimchi fries.

The perfect french fries topped with perfect pulled pork and perfect kimchi, as well as mayo and a bunch of green onions makes this dish, well, perfect. It’s like a poutine on steroids. The crispy fries compliment the soft, sweet pulled pork compliment the crunchy tangy spicy kimchi that makes this something you must try when you visit Toronto. You won’t find it anywhere else in Toronto, and any imitations  are just that. Imitations. Cause nothing comes close to the perfection of this dish.

Diet Round-Up

And by diet I don’t mean an “I’m-gonna-lose-weight” diet, though I probably should. It’s more like a “this-is-what-I-shove-down-my-guzzle” diet. How long can I go without blogging about food? Not very, evidently.

So, without further ado, what’s cooking over at my apartment??

For one entire weekend, I had these wonderfully thin and crispy crepes thanks to Mr. Alton Brown. I had them with (pictured above) nutella and (fake) maple syrup, I had them with ice cream, I had them with cream soup. I ate them all weekend long. Don’t worry, there was more than one batch. And there were more than one crepe on that plate (they’re hiding underneath. They don’t know that I know they’re there.)

Fry-up.

Maple bacon. Yum. Breakfast sausages. Yum. Scrambled eggs with green onions. Yum. (Cooked in bacon fat) Hello! Taco home fries.

I figured out how to make home fries. Well, not so much figured out as much as used common sense and logic.

  • Step 1: Cube potatoes.
  • Step 2: Boil potatoes a bit.
  • Step 3: Drain potatoes.
  • Step 4: Fry potatoes.
  • Step 5: Pour taco seasoning on potatoes. (Optional)
  • Step 6: Continue to fry potatoes.
  • Step 7: Eat potatoes.

I think I included more steps than is actually necessary.

A creamy primavera (which means spring vegetables) risotto (which means risotto) courtesy of Ree Drummond. That woman is my idol. This was pretty good, but next time, I’ll cook the veggies a little longer, and forgo the goat cheese. I don’t particularly like cheese, and I really don’t like goat cheese. I actually get a lot of recipes from her site, The Pioneer Woman. I like her. Her photos are great, they give a step-by-step and show how things are supposed to look as you’re cooking it. She’s funny. She’s unapologetic. She’s adorable. Her food looks delicious. However, on the butter scale, where 1 is lactose intolerant and 10 is Paula Deen, she’s probably an 8, but I think that just goes along with living on a ranch and cooking for a cowboy.

Wow I kind of want her life. Just for a second, though.

Risotto always reminds me of the lovely David Tennant and it makes me very very happy. Skip to 2:55 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, but you should, because it’s very funny.

A split yellow-bean and cane sugar soup/che/dessert/thing that my mother told me to make this for my stuffy nose. Now, I don’t know how it works, or if it works, or if correlation equals causation, but all I know is that after I ate this soup, my horrible stuffy nose was gone in under 36 hours. Juss sayin’.

All it is is boiling some yellow bean things that I got at the asian supermarket. The beans are yellow on the inside, with a green shell on the outside. After the beans boiled up and absorbed all the water (20-30 minutes), I stirred in two big ass sticks of cane sugar. They’re brownish and come in blocks. It’s super sweet, super yummy, but I only like drinking the water (which has bean nutrients and a shit ton of sugar). You see, it’s all very scientific.

I’m lying.

._.

It’s Vietnamese voodoo.

Another Ree Drummond recipe. This cauliflower soup is TO DIE FOR. It is so good. So good that I made it twice in two weeks. The second time, I made 3+ litres of the stuff.

I kind of got sick of cauliflower after that… but really, it’s amazing. :) Unless you have some sort of deathly allergy to the ingredients, you NEED to eat this soup.

So after the cauliflower soup fiasco, I had so much broccoli leftover. Well, I had about half a head of broccoli leftover, but for one person, that’s a lot! No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get rid of it all and I didn’t want to just toss it in the trash. So, as a last ditch effort, I just chopped it all up with no plan.

I pulled out some other stuff that I needed to get rid of and got to work. Threw the broccoli in with some butter, got some onions in there, cooked it all up until the broccoli went soft a bit. Got my eggs together, whisked it up with milk, leftover goat cheese and green onions and a tiny bit of paprika and ground pepper. I poured the egg mixture into the broccoli mixture and made some sort of fake frittata/omelette/scrambled egg concoction.

Not bad.

Momma made home-made burgers! I followed this recipe, as it was my first time making burgers at home, ever. However, I only used about a third – half the salt that she used. Way too much! But my burgers turned out super juicy and super amazing. I also made the patties a lot bigger than she said (which is 2 pounds of ground chuck divided into 8 patties).

Doesn’t it look great? It tasted great too. I put a ton of garlic into those patties. Come take me now, Edward. MWAHAHHAHHAHAHHA.

More soup! Potato-bacon soup! I got one of those dime-a-dozen recipes. Doubled the onions. I love onions. It was really simple. Dice up the bacon and onions. Cook. On the side, boil some cubed potatoes. Drain. Add potatoes to bacon and onions. Then pour cream of chicken soup into the bacon-onion mixture. Pour in some milk and some water. Pour in some heavy cream if you’re feeling frisky. Heat to serving temperature.

Manger. Mange et soyez heureux. <3

Greetings from Hai Phong!

Ahh, this is my third day here [I lied, I abandoned the post and came back to it 3 days later], and it’s been great. Just one bout of jetlag, but everything else has been going swimmingly.

We flew out at 12pm on Sunday, and after an intense tweeting session, our cell phones turned off. Sad. I haven’t received a call or text message in too long. I’m starting to feel a little lonely. First thing I notice on the plane is that overseas flights have gotten a lot better from the last time I saw them. USB ports for charging, a/c adapters, touch screens, and the movie selections are pretty good. They even played Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, Entourage, and even a selection of documentaries. Lots of stuff to choose from, which is great. I finally ended up watching Avatar (the blue people, not the arrow guy) and also “Going the Distance” with Justin Long and Drew Barrymore, which turned out to be a pretty funny movie.

Ahh, airplane food. Beef slop on top of rice, with one tofu, one pepper, and one bean. Corn and bean salad, which was pretty good for the first few bites. Bun, I hate. So gross. And a brownie, and well, it's hard to fuck up a brownie so this one was aight.

Instant noodles, turkey sandwich, and crackers for a snack.

Farty cheese omelette with mango chutney and shitty potatoes. THAT FUCKING BUN. At least the melon was good.

So, we flew out at 12pm Dec 12, and landed in Tokyo at 4:45 December 13. A 13-hour-ish flight took us 26 hours to do. Hahahhahahah. I found this rather amusing.

Japan was pretty cool. I wish I could have left the airport and caught a flight a week later, or at least had more time in the airport, but I only had about 40 minutes. Enough time to buy duty free gifts on behalf of my cousin to her parents, and postcards for Fah Nah Nah. Being thirsty, I picked up a tiny bottle of “Yuzu” juice, which is some kind of asian citrus, I’m assuming. Yummy yummy.

This is how I spent my 6-hour Japan-to-Hanoi ride.

We landed in Ha Noi at quarter to 11 to my momma and pappa and uncle picked us up and we drove to Hai Phong, arriving home at close to 1am. Even at that time of night, it was at least 25 degrees celsius with the humidity. Heaven!

The next morning, my uncle took us out to eat breakfast. Most restaurants (which are not at all like the restos y’all are used to in Canada, there is no fine dining here) are much like the places pictured above. Street vendors lined up and down the street, each selling one specialty dish. Much like the Vietnamese personality and lifestyle, it’s all very informal, rushy rushy, and wary of other patrons but friendly at the same time.

This place served “Bun Tra Ca” (Or is it Cha Ca? I always mix up the Tr and Ch spelling in Vietnamese because it sounds the same to me.) It’s vermicelli noodles with a kind of fish sausage, which are the little brown discs you see floating there, and they do not taste at all like fish, just a slight hint of dill if anything. There are those crunchy vegetables and some tomatoes, and some fresh onions. Soooo yummy. If there’s one thing that I’ve assimilated into my character, growing up in a Vietnamese family, is that if something is served to you, you don’t ask what it is, you just eat it.

A bowl like this I think costs about 10,000$ Vietnam money, or “dông.” Yes, have your laughs now, we Vietnamese deal in dongs. -_- Anyway, 100$ CAN is equivalent to about 2.1 million dongs, (I can hear you laughing now, especially you, Estaban) but we just round it off to 2 million, for easy calculations. So, 10,000$ for that bowl, actually comes out to about 50 cents. A steal, I’d have to say. My brother and I have started to joke around, saying things like… I bet you I can do A, B, or C. I’ll bet you *dramatic voice* one hundred. Thousand. Dollars. Something along the lines of Austin Power’s Doctor Evil, when he asks for a trillion dollars or whatever ridiculous amount of money. But, anyway, it’s fun to pretend we’re ballin’.

“If you lick the sidewalk, I’ll give you one hundred. Thousand. Dollars.”

Some fruit that we like to buy from the market vendors -> cut up sugar cane and a small type of Vietnamese apple. I love these apples, but I looove sugar cane juice the most, which I haven’t been able to have just yet. Not a lot of places serve it now because it’s wintertime.

View from the sixth floor

Because land is so expensive in Vietnam, they’d rather buy a small plot of land and build upwards. My uncle/grandmother’s house has seven floors. Awesome. Except they put us on the fifth floor, so it’s a trek and a half to get to our room to grab things and go to bed. Most of the time, we just end up passing out in our parent’s room on the second floor. The second floor also happens to be where the only internet wire and my laptop is kept. No wi-fi up in hurr.

I swear, everytime I turn around around here, there’s another meal for me to consume. This is a home cooked meal. I love these tiny shrimps. They’re a little salty and you eat them with rice. Well, everything here, you eat with rice. The yellow-orange dish is breaded shrimp, the two brownish dishes at the top are “thit bo co” which is basically sautéed short beef ribs, and the bottom green thang is a kind of lettuce soup that you eat with your rice. The brownish water thing is probably a shrimp/beef stew. So much variety to eat for what’s supposed to be a small lunch.

Later that day, we went to “Big C” or the “sieu thi” which is a department store that is not unlike WalMart. The biggest culture shock is that because hardly anyone drives a car, and everyone has bikes or a moped/scooter, this is what the mall parking lots look like. Intense, eh? Or should I say, they are in tents. HAHAHHAHHA. Just kidding, they’re just in a little enclosure. But seriously, I’ve never seen so many scooters in one place, not even at RHS.

But that’s about the end of Day 1 ish. More updates to come about Cat Ba, Xam Bo, more food, and other things. We’re going to La Vang, in Hue, which is the middle part of Vietnam, in a few days, and after Christmas, we’ll be going to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in the south of Vietnam.

My finger is bleeding now. Good day.

Oh yes, and this is how they cross the street in Hai Phong (or maybe in all of Vietnam). That's my uncle there, strutting his stuff in the middle of the street like a mad man.

Pho Nam

So, as quickly as my trip to Montreal began, it had to end and I began packing my car full of more junk to bring to Ontario. I first made sure that my dog was to stay in the house and not run outside as he often likes to do. He doesn’t run away, but enjoys exploring the area unsupervised. He always (save one time) makes his way back home though. I began piling boxes into my car along with some a bookshelf and a bunch of books to pile into that bookshelf, mostly design manuals etc. Brought my printer with no ink, and some fish for the uncle. My family has this thing with fish. They go fishing, catch too many, and then give them away. As I was packing my trunk, I come back to the front of my car only to find this:

My damn puppy sitting in my front seat just to make me sad. I could have sworn he wasn’t there when I passed before, but there he was, just sitting there, waiting to take a 6 hour drive with me to a new home. BAWWWWW. Goddamnit. So I had to pick him up and bring him inside and leave him standing at the window of the front porch to watch me leave.

Anyway, before I leave, my parents take me to this pho place that just opened up, Pho Nam. They had begun advertising in the Vietnamese newspaper before the restaurant even opened so along with that method getting their name out their, they also had people talking about it, and most people heard about the place through word of mouth. I guess it’s not that hard because Vietnamese people love to talk. So much. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the store front so I can’t show you what it looks like. It’s not even on Google Maps.

The restaurant is located on the corner of Shelley and Cremazie, which is right beside the 40 (on the south side) and Saint Michel, next to Bogey’s Billiards. Now, I’ve eaten at many a Vietnamese restaurants in my day just because that’s what my family eats when we go out, pho or dim sum, my entire life. Though I’m not a picky eater, I know the difference between good pho and bad. I judge a Vietnamese restaurant on two menu items, because that’s what I eat:

“Pho” (Beef noodle soup, soupe tonkinoise), and “bun thit nuong” (vermicelli, grilled beef, vegetables).

I usually get “pho chin”, which is pho with cooked beef, but this time had “pho tai sach bo vien.” Don’t let the long name fool you, it’s just listing what’s inside the pho. “Tai” is thinly sliced raw beef that gets put into the noodles before the boiling broth is poured in so that the hot broth cooks it as it’s going out to your table. “Sach” is beef tripe, which I believe is either stomach lining or intestinal lining; sounds gross but is actually very delicious. “Bo vien” means quite simply, beef balls.

I don’t usually expect presentation to be very important at a Vietnamese restaurant, but they seem to have done well with it on this bowl, not that there’s much you can do to it, exactly. But, I received this bowl, put in the lime, mixed it up a bit, and then added some sriracha hot sauce and hoisin sauce. Many pho puritans (ahem, my mother.. and basically the Vietnamese from my parents’ generation) insist that hoisin sauce just makes your pho taste like dessert because it’s too sweet, but no, I like it. It’s a dark sauce that’s very similar to oyster sauce.

Anyway, to put it simply, Pho Nam’s pho is damn delicious. Easily one of the best I’ve eaten at a restaurant that I can remember. (Home cooked will always remain the best though.) The broth was balanced, not too salty, nor was their too much MSG or oil. The pho noodles were the perfect size, small. I always loved smaller noodles compared to their larger counterparts with both pho noodles and vermicelli noodles.

Not bad for photos from my phone, eh?

Mothafuckin’ bun thit nuong. I love this shit so much. “Bun” = Vermicelli or rice noodles, “thit” = meat, “nuong” = grilled. It’s always served with vegetables and “nuoc mam,” fish sauce that’s mixed with some garlic, sugar, and sometimes hot peppers.It’s hard to mess up this dish, but when it goes bad, it goes really bad. There were some things missing in this dish, but I’ll get to that later.

The meat was the right thickness, so that it wasn’t so thin that there’s no flavour, but not so thick that it’s hard to eat with all the other ingredients. It was a little sweet but it was evened out with the slightly smokey flavour of the grill. This dish is super simple and super refreshing to eat. My only gripe about this particular one is that they put too many mint leaves, which I don’t particularly like, and they opted out of putting in pickled daikon radish with the pickled carrots. Pickled daikon radish adds another level to the slightly sour pickled carrots and most of the time, they are served together.

Aside from that, it was delicious, and as always, despite it looking like barely a meal, it fills you up pretty quickly. Oh, and a quick note with this, if you’re allergic to peanuts, make sure you specify that they do not add peanuts in because they will if you don’t, and then you will die. Or get very sick, as you well know. Actually, it’s not like the peanuts are hidden, you’ll just end up sending it back, and then no one will be happy.

Another thing that’s lacking is their selection of smoothies that all viet restaurants seem to have. The avocado shakes, mango shakes, etc are pretty much staple, but I assume that it’s because they’re new, they haven’t implemented these menu items yet, and after they do, the bubble tea will surely come soon after. For drinks, they have other simple drinks like soda, iced coffee, tea, and the traditional “Che Ba Mau,” 3 colour rainbow drink, or however you call it in English.

tl;dr: I would recommend Pho Nam to my friends and family.