EASTERN TWIST (505 St. Clair West, at Bathurst, 416-531-9305. Other location: 501 Passmore, at Markham, 416-332-8082) Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a mango lassi. Average main $8. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday 11 am to 11 pm, Saturday 11 am to 10 pm, Sunday noon to 9 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It could only happen in Scarborough, Canada's most multiculti nabe. That's where Sadia Cazranee launched Eastern Twist 18 months ago, a tiny take-away in an obscure industrial park that calls its specialty "great food with a twist."
How twisted? Cazranee's idiosyncratic card filters traditional Indian, Persian and Burmese dishes through a Caribbean sensibility to create a hybrid cuisine that's uniquely Toronto.
It's the most intriguing culinary collision to hit Hogtown since New York Subway's Indo burrito or Ghali Kitchen's rasta pasta.
And now that Eastern Twist has opened a second outlet on the southeast corner of Bathurst and St. Clair, downtowners no longer have to trek to the farthest reaches of the burbs to experience it.
As clouds of dust rise from jack-hammers ripping up the road out front to make way for the new street-car right-of-way, Cazranee greets new customers who enter her spotless fast food joint as if they were long lost friends.
If they're unsure about what to order from the lineup posted on the wall McDonald's-style, she offers newbies samples of some of the more unfamiliar items a Dixie cup of pickled veggie achar, say, or, on a toothpick, a cube of the tikka-like chicken that finds its way into one of the 10 paratha wraps that make up the bulk of the menu.
Part South Asia via Guyana roti and part San Francisco Mission District burrito, these devilishly delicious two-fisted hybrid subs come wrapped in house-baked parathas think thicker naan, bigger pita and stuffed with any of a number of grilled and/or curried combos.
In addition, all get optionally garnished inside the wrap with yogurty raita, iceberg, tomato 'n' red cabbage salad, Spanish onion and chopped coriander as well as a choice of two sauces, one sweet mango, the other tart tamarind.
Feeling suicidal? Order your paratha wrap spicy and the kitchen adds enough hot sauce, Thai bird chilies and aforementioned achar to make heads explode.
Although it's billed as chicken and potato kebab ($7.95), the spud content of this particular wrap is minimal, leaving a wealth of sweetly curried chicken to interact with the crisp raw veggie toppings. Gandhi's benchmark butter chicken roti now has a viable contender for Toronto's best: Eastern's take ($8.95), all cubed white meat and smooth tomato sauce.
Pescophiles will appreciate the fish cutlet's ($6.95) finely minced minty tuna and cod patties, while veg heads can pig out on the vegetable curry version ($5.95), a whopping 20 ounces of carrot, cabbage, green bean and squash.
Pure comfort food, Khaw Sway ($5.95 small/$8.95 large) could be the Kraft Dinner of Burma: long udon-style noodles and chunks of well-done beef swimming in a sweet coconut gravy spiked with a last-minute blast of red chili flakes, lime juice, coriander leaf, hard-boiled egg and crunchy deep-fried Chinese mein.
Described as Coconut Rice Meal ($8.95), what appears to be an unappetizing mound of plain ol' basmati turns out to be surprisingly rich with coconut cream and laced with slightly sour boneless chicken, bamboo shoots and pickled cauliflower. A shake of crispy garlic chili adds yet another layer of intoxicating flavour.
A Persian element comes into play with Zafrani Palau, a moist chicken tandoori-esque leg and thigh sauced with nutty gravy over biryani basmati that sadly tastes more of turmeric than saffron. Sided with more of that terrific coconut rice for an extra buck, Cazranee's tangy sweet and sour chicken breast (both $6.95) gets baked before being grilled and splashed with the house mango sauce.
Only the house vegetable rolls disappoint ($1.39), an unremarkable pair of Chinese-style egg rolls packed with bean sprouts, carrot threads and soya.
Finish with delicate squares of sesame halwa studded with walnuts and candied fig ($2.59 for two), then wash the lot down with a thick mango shake ($3.95) that's guaranteed to cause brain-freeze.