ROTI UTE BOTI (1196 Bloor West, at Pauline, 416-539-9821) This Pakistani joint whose name translates as Bread and Meat specializes in just that: non-tandoor flatbreads combined with fiery Balti-style meat curries. Lower than usual prices mean modest digs. Complete meals for $25 per person ($12 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a domestic beer. Open daily 11 am to 1 am. Licensed. Cash only. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Ever the intrepid gourmet, NOW's Fearless Eater ventures where lesser palates fear to nosh.Always on the lookout for new foodie frontiers, I've been investigating the intriguing stretch of multiculti cantinas that runs west on Bloor beyond Christie Pits.
As Korea Town fades, more diverse diners hold sway, among them African, Greek, Portuguese and Jamaican joints, and even further along, East Indian eateries. It's here that Pakistani trat Roti ute Boti literally stops me in my tracks.
Although there are several similar Indian boîtes past Dufferin, it's the offbeat name that first grabs me. Once inside the anonymous storefront -- dark grey walls, rhinestoned wall hangings, projection TV tuned to wartime CNN's Wolf Blitzer -- a quick check of the card identifies the usual Subcontinental perps: chicken tikka ($4.99), mattar paneer ($3.99) and pakoras ($1.99). Next to the cash register, stale day-old samosas (3/$1) can only be taken out. And buried.
But a closer inspection of Roti ute Boti's lineup -- the name translates as Bread and Meat -- pinpoints something listed in R&B's Lahori section that's quite possibly the strangest dish on any menu in town: brain masala ($8.99, Sunday only). The mind boggles!
Actually, they're lamb's brains, slow-cooked so they've turned into a viscous gluey gravy with the texture of stewed okra. Then they're bombarded with an artillery of aromatics, chilies and garlic. (I'd say it's interesting at best, not nearly as disgusting as it sounds.)
But let's let the food do the talking. First, a word of caution. Like many low-rent Indian restaurants, Roti goes heavy on the ghee. So if oceans of clarified butter poured over nearly everything is a turn-off, it's probably better to get takeout and drain the stuff once it's separated.
Though most of Roti's customers seem to be locals only interested in the budget-priced thali deals ($3.99 to $5.99), they're missing out on several delicious alternatives. Nearly Thai in execution, Chicken Chilli ($5.99) sees chopped boneless bird mixed with sweet onion and bell pepper as well as a few random dried red chili pods and some fresh green bombs, its thin tomato-based sauce astoundingly hot. Another Sunday special order, succulent steamed chicken ($11.99) finds a small, whole skinless broiler, its flesh slashed deeply to allow maximum spice marinade, legs splayed on the plate.
Pass on rather pedestrian rice pulao ($2.99/$3.99) and opt for vegetable biryani ($4.99). Not the upscale production found at Dhaba or Debu Saha, here it's a more modest mess of annatto-dyed basmati mixed with sweet caramelized onion, carrot and potato-like plantain.
The renditions served at Mr. Mahaaraja and Nataraj appear to be no more than frozen mixed veg, a handful of raisins and cream, but Roti's Navratan Korma ($5.99) is the real deal, an impressive nutty near-mincemeat of sultanas, onion and sweet peppers in thick yogurt-tanged sauce. Like brain masala, Karela ($4.49) isn't for everyone, its sour bitter melon offset by garlicky spice-spiked tomato gravy.
Other vegetarian curries are more familiar: tart tamarind-laced chickpea Chana Pashori, smoky lentil and kidney bean Dal Makhni, very pureed spinach paalak paneer (all $3.99) and mashed eggplant baigan bharta ($4.49). Thin, mouth-puckering coriander yogurt cools the fire somewhat, as does soothing banana lassi ($2.49).
This sometimes innovative kitchen will satisfy west-siders who complain about the area's dearth of decent Indian restaurants -- the Junction's Curry Twist aside. Just hold the ghee.
And brain masala.
It's a Blür
Fond of fondue? those with a predilection for plunging pieces of tropical fruit into molten chocolate will want to know about Blür (549 Bloor West, at Bathurst, 416-535-8965), a new spot in the Annex. The mixing board on the bar gives Blür away as one of those not-quite-a-restaurant restaurants. But despite the DJs, a recent brunch featured not only retro chocolate fondue for two ($8.49) but a more than credible slab of baked phyllo-wrapped brie ($7.99) plated over wilted spinach and accented with tasty currant jam spread on toast points.Blür, owned by Jessup Food and Heritage, the same group that caters corporate events at Fort York (!), is the restaurateurs' first move into the sometimes lucrative trendy bistro game. Figure in $3.99 martini Mondays and contemporary tapas like steamed salmon in Chinese greens with wasabi ($9.99) or jerk chicken with sweet potato fries ($8.49) and this sorta club, sorta resto might just last longer than a blotch. firstname.lastname@example.org
FRESH DISH pillsbury rotis?
Poking through the freezer case at Bangladesh Grocery and Variety (1176 Bloor West, at Dufferin, 416-537-4736), the last thing I expect to find smiling back at me from the front of a pack of frozen flatbread is Pop 'n' Fresh, aka the Pillsbury Doughboy. The pudgy spokesperson now hypes ginger-and-potato paratha rotis ($2.99 for four).
Sparingly stuffed, these crisp crepes make a good substitute for naan when you're eating leftover curries. Forget Pillsbury's cooking instructions; the bread is greasy enough and doesn't need any oil to cook quickly in a stick-free frying pan.
Toronto's best chocolatier, Jenn Stone of JS Bon Bons (163 Dupont, at St. George, 416-920-0274), has whipped up a batch of her pure chocolate Easter Eggs With Heart. They're on sale for $3.50 at her north Annex shop and at All the Best (1099 Yonge, at Marlborough, 416-928-3330, and others) and Caban (262 Queen West, at Beverley, 416-596-0386, and others) until April 22.
And these treats really do have heart -- half the proceeds go to the Daily Bread Food Bank.