ONARA ONARA (648 Bloor West, at Euclid, 416-536-5908) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a mug of roasted barley tea. Average main $7. Open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 10:30 pm. Closed Sunday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Every culture has its culinary equivalent of Kraft Dinner, a nostalgic dish that sparks distant memories of Mom's home cooking. In Poland it's pierogi, in West Africa fufu. And up at Koreatown's Onara Onara, comfort goes by the name of soo jae bi soup.
Everyone from the students splurging on $6 suppers to the rumpled suits on their dinner breaks who pack this homespun Seoul food joint at all hours seems to be slurping the stuff. Available in seven varieties of milky broth seafood, anchovy, cow bone, mulberry leaf, carrot, spinach and mugwort and ranging in price from $5.99 to $7.99, each oversized bowl comes brimming with hand-ripped wheat noodles known as dough flakes that look like lasagna gone wrong.
The combination of soft, pillowy noodles and deeply flavoured aromatic broth apparently does the trick. Being a fan of the silvery fish, I opt for the anchovy version ($5.99). It's a little bland before I add a generous lashing of garlicky chili oil but quite pleasant overall, though I doubt that those who balk at anchovies on their pizza or in their Caesar salad dressing will appreciate the pair of beady eyes staring back at them from the bottom of the bowl.
Like most Korean restos, Onara serves its mains with an avalanche of banchan side dishes, the most memorable of which are a kick-ass cabbage kimchee, pickled soybean sprouts in sesame oil, and scallion and slippery seaweed strips offset by raw Spanish onion. And if you're not really sure what duck bokee is (hint: fowl-free spicy rice cake, $4.99), pictures of nearly everything are posted on the wall over Onara's very shiny tables.
That's not the case with a dish listed on Onara's laminated card as "steamed pork with special herbal sauce ($12.99/small)." Intrigued, I order it only to find it's a large tray of cool spinach linguine heaped with raw veggies ripped lettuce, cucumber, purple cabbage and carrot as well as strips of apple, watermelon and hard-boiled egg.
At the last moment, this sharable special gets ladled with a thin, medicinal gravy riddled with shredded pork that has the taste and consistency of cough syrup.
Thanks, but we'll stick with soo jae bi soup for our cold comfort.