A Tale of Two Palates: Sara Waxman and Adam Waxman dine-out in Toronto’s restaurant scene and share their views.
As the world turns, menus flutter across oceans and lands, and we are the lucky diners. Suddenly, we can travel via our taste buds to some of the world’s great and ancient cuisines. Afghanistan. Morocco. Lebanon. Iran. Enter 70 Down restaurant.
SW: Down a few steps in Yorkville, we’ve entered a modern, beautifully designed restaurant. There is a bar, a main room and a semi-private cocoon-like retreat in the rear. Sumptuous, tufted leather banquets tell us that comfort is key, but the amazing thing that caught my eye is the artwork on the walls: huge photos like the renowned National Geographic image of the Afghan woman with burning green eyes, and panoramic views from the Himalayan Mountains; as well as a mural of
a ruthless game of Afghan polo using a sheep’s head as a ball.
AW: Ornate and lavish. This is a lounge in which to kick back and enjoy exotic cocktails from the illuminated bar. The back section reminds me of a rustic living room with the fireplace and leather couches. I can visualize a romantic couple or group of friends staking claim to this cozy nook. It is not typical of a Yorkville restaurant space, and that is what initially caught my attention. It is downstairs, and it seems to unfold before us. There is a youthful vibe that could easily lend itself to the downtown entertainment district, but without attitude. They also offer hookah with a wide menu of flavours (until April 2016 when the Toronto government will, without any sense of cultural-sensitivity, outlaw it).
AW: While the name does not evoke or give a sense of the kitchen, the menu is exotic and full of words and ingredients that are new and intriguing for me. Our server has tasted them all. They are second nature to her; she speaks of each dish knowingly, proudly sharing, recommending and introducing us to her cuisine. We feel confident with her as our guide.
The Main Event
SW: Naan is unusually light and crispy, and comes hot right from the clay tandoor oven. We use it to scoop up hummus spiced with siracha and red chili garlic drizzle. (Hummus, according to Dr. Oz, is chock full of vitamin B6, a woman’s best friend.) Who can resist a dip called Moosear, especially since our server tells us it’s her favourite. A blend of shallot-pressed yogurt with Himalayan salt, arugula and thyme has it’s rewards.
AW: As successive plates arrive I can’t say goodbye to our luscious dips. They are essential condiments that I am eager to pair with each new dish. Montu, beef and onion dumplings, are like Middle Eastern wontons. Served in spoons and topped with a tangy tomato and beef sauce and a drizzle of yogurt and mint, they are satisfying pop-in- your-mouth bites of zesty flavour. Bolani is reminiscent of a perogi. Crisp dough envelopes smoothly textured potato and caramelized onion. Combined with a savoury dollop of moosear, it is decidedly Afghan.
The chef is from Regina, but his recipes are from his family’s Afghan traditions that he learned from his mother. His menu knows no borders, as he borrows from a variety of Middle Eastern cuisines, and incorporates an array of spices and ingredients that make our taste buds dance.
When I think of Middle Eastern cuisine, kebobs joust in my mind. The kitchen boasts hardwood charcoal that beckons us to sample skewers of chicken and beef. Chicken thighs are typically more tender than breasts. Lemony morsels of chicken are served in a stack for sharing. Ground beef, seasoned and savoury, is threaded on skewers and baked until cooked through and juicy. A hint less salt would persuade me to order a second. Both pair harmoniously with the contrasting notes of refreshing and thick cucumber mint yogurt. My favourite dish is the Moroccan Fish Taco. Laced in vibrant colours, these lightly fried and spiced portions of halibut are enlivened by red cabbage, lime, tomato, onions and cilantro in siracha chipotle aioli and soft tortilla. Scrumptious.
SW: As for me, I enjoyed letting our server select for us, and mindlessly delighting and sharing in all the exotic aromas and flavours, except for one that is mine alone: Bastani. A scintillating house-made saffron pistachio ice cream with fresh pistachio crumble enticed me to cheat on my lactose intolerance, and were it not for my good manners, I would have licked the bowl.
AW: Yorkville has long been known for Italian and Japanese cuisine. This authentic Middle Eastern restaurant is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood.
~70 Down, 70 Yorkville Ave, 416-323-3696~