ERIC'S KITCHEN (2222 Queen East, at Beach, 416-693-2221) With a menu that careens all over the culinary map, this narrow, inexpensive neighbourhood spot combines the tastes of Thailand, Italy, Jamaica and Japan in eccentric digs. Takeout and catering, too. Complete dinners for $30 ($10 at lunch and brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Tuesday to Friday noon to 10 pm, Saturday 10 am to 10 pm, Sunday 10 am to 8 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: one step at door, small washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
I read menus the way others study sports stats. I'm always on the lookout for the unusual, the arcane or the downright weird. So when outside Eric's Kitchen I find a tacked-up laminated list that avoids the unimaginative Cal-Ital and pub-grub-in-a-basket found elsewhere along the Queen East Beach strip, I'm interested.
Eric's two-page card of seemingly incongruous cuisine -- Thai, Japanese, and, yes, even Italian -- celebrates offbeat global diversity.
It lists items like Norwegian smoked salmon, roti pizza (both $6.95), French Canadian grilled cheese sandwiches with garlic ($3.95) and Thai Spicy Meatball Spaghetti ($8.95).
These unorthodox pairings came about during Kitchen couple Eric and Annie So's decade-long catering stint at Skydome and preparing salads for Ziggy's, Loblaws' deluxe deli.
When the two opened their extremely modest Queen East spot two years ago, they kept the quirky fusion philosophy. Though a few tables are scattered about the casual space, much of Kitchen's business is takeout and catering gigs for locals. And since my household remains glued to the tube in a fit of World Cup fever, what better time to bring the world -- via Eric's Kitchen -- home to my coffee table?
This alone hooks me: Jerk Chicken Strudel ($7.99). Imagining Jamaican grannies baking raisin pastries, we discover tasty rectangular turnovers dusted with nutty allspice and pepper and stuffed with brown ground chicken, splinters of red chili and frozen veg, like some wayward empanada. (Insert my usual rant about frozen vegetables here). It comes sided with Spicy Thai Noodle, room-temperature spaghetti tossed with sesame oil, raw carrot threads and green onion.
With its N'awlins leanings, Cajun-style Calamari ($8.95) sees a coil of perfectly undercooked squid lying on a bed of house greens, sprouts and grilled veggies.
Most of Eric's sides multi-task, popping up alongside Sushi Salmon ($13.95), an 8-ounce slab of Bloor West-quality marbled pink fish that's seared outside, and raw within. A pleasant but slightly bitter lemon cream adds undertow. Really, this dish cries out for a boot of wasabi and pickled ginger.
As well as those grilled veggies -- eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, oddly trimmed bell peppers with seeds and membrane still intact -- there's a heap of steamed broccoli, cauliflower, okra, snow peas, bok choy and lotus root, possibly the dullest veg of all. They show up again with the rack of lamb ($21.95, and actually four chops off the rack). Just fatty enough for flavour and cross-hatched from the grill, it's nowhere near as fancy a presentation as you'd find downtown. This foursome of simple ribs gets help from dark, mushroomy jus and red currant relish laced with mint picked from Annie's garden.
Chicken salad sandwich on thick whole wheat -- clumsily named Roasted Creamy Mustard Chicken Chunk Salad ($4.65) -- delivers great hunks of boneless breast mixed with lentils, celery and more Dijon mayo. Messy, but worth it.
Their most popular item at Ziggy's, the pair's quaintly dubbed Mom's Potato Salad is a monochromatic mess of spuds given needed colour by minced shallots in sour cream. But Thai Spicy Cabbage -- a straightforward Asian slaw in a tart lime vinaigrette -- packs some wallop. As does the considerably more impressive Honey Curry Lentil salad, zapped with spices and fresh coriander (all $2.50/8 ounces, $4.50/pound).
CEYLANTROO'S (591 Parliament, at Amelia, 416-413-9979) A terrific takeaway at the rear of a rundown storefront, this Sri Lankan spot might lack decor, but it counters with fiery stuff that detonates the taste buds. And points south. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and tip. Open Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to midnight, Thursday to Sunday 1 pm to 12:30 am. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNNaunties & uncles' russell nichols tells me about an amazing Sri Lankan eatery on Parliament called Ceylantroo's. Can't miss it, he says. East side of the street, just south of Wellesley. There in a flash, I find the address, but the wrought-iron gate that leads down the alleyway is padlocked. Above, a sign with a large pointing arrow promises Sri Lankan and Italian food. Bingo! But it doesn't seem to be open.
Ducking into a nearby phone booth, I speak to a chap who says the joint's open right that minute. Back again, I note the gate's still locked. Then I see the door right next to the gate (turns out the gate leads nowhere), enter and follow a long corridor littered with cigarette butts and discarded Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar wrappers.
At its end waits Ceylantroo's, not the restaurant I expected, but a catering firm. Er, catering to the St. Jamestown community.
A faded yellow countertop faces a tiny space crammed with kitchen equipment.
Owner-chef Justin Manuel spent eight years in the kitchen at swanky Il Posto in Yorkville before opening Ceylantroo's, which explains the Italian connection. Despite the sign's claim, nothing remotely pasta-esque is on the menu. In fact, there is no menu. Instead, Manuel arranges his lineup around his catering jobs. If there are leftovers, we've got the makings of a World Cup take-away feast.
Fabulous Kothu Rotis are made to order. Unlike the East Indian-style roti wraps most of us are familiar with, these are made with shredded pancake-thick paratha flatbread, a splash of curry gravy -- mutton, chicken or veggie (all $5.50) -- scrambled egg, curry leaves, raw onion and quartered but unseeded jalapeños, all quickly stir-grilled. The thing's so incendiary, Fearless Eater's bald spot turns into a pool of perspiration.
Curries ($1 small/$3 large) change every day, but smooth puréed spinach with its raw red onion, mustard seed and hint of licorice makes a regular appearance.
Not everything is hot. Sweet electric-blue Asian eggplant thankfully swims in starchy gravy, and Asian pickled beets soothe. But the heat cranks up again with fiery okra ladyfingers, steaklike jackfish and chewy soy protein that looks and tastes like Hamburger Helper gone to hell. In a very good way.
Though he's nearly as big a fan of Ceylantroo's as he is of his beloved German nationals, the Fearless Eater wonders how anyone could eat this explosive stuff every day.
Easy. But first they have to find it. email@example.com