Origin – Tasty Gems

When I was home for the holidays I asked my family a question, “What was the best thing you ate in 2011?”  For my parents it was a tough question since they eat so much good food it’s very difficult to narrow it down.  Responses ranged from pizza in Brooklyn to Lee’s in Toronto.  I started to list off my favorites of 2011, the top coming from NYC while many others coming from various tapas places right here in Toronto.  Origin was first recommended to me by one of my eating companions early in the year saying they have one of the best hand rolls in the city.  I guess a hand roll wasn’t enough to sell me since it took another friend recommending the fior di latte and truffle popcorn before I finally made it over.

I was on a bit of an oyster kick on this particular occasion so we started with the Oysters with Yuzu dressing.  Also pictured is the Spearhead beer from Hawaii.

The oysters were quite good.  The salty, briny-ness was nicely balanced by the sweet yuzu sauce while the other ingredients added a nice floral fragrance.  The oysters themselves were meaty but nothing out of the ordinary from what you would find at any good seafood place.  The beer, very hoppy.  I like Hawaiian brews so this is a nice change from your typical mainland brews which don’t quite have the complexity that micro brews have.  Next we had the smoke cod croquettes with saffron aioli.

Crispy, not too greasy, nice texture.  The croquette itself is a little on the bland side but mixed with the aioli, it’s quite good.  Next, the Spicy beef and spicy tuna hand rolls with apple, shiso, miso mayo and amaranth.

Now this is something I’ve come back for time and time again.  The beef is tender, warm and delicious.  The tuna is fresh and very flavorful.  There is a nice kick that is balanced out with the miso mayo.  The textures are an adventure every bite from the soft meat, to the crisp apple, to the light and flaky amaranth leaves.  The seeds on top also add a nice crunch.  In terms of overall flavor, there is a lot going on here.  Spice, meaty goodness, fragrant flavors, slight saltiness from the nori wrap…soo good.  I’ve ordered one of these every time I’ve come here.  The sizzling beef plate with mushrooms, onions, truffle butter and ponzu sauce was next.

Just reading the ingredients made me think to myself….wait a second…..I love ALL those things.  And you know what, it’s all as good as it sounds.  The beef is hot and super tender, the mushrooms and onions compliment the meat very well and the truffle and sweet ponzu flavors are there but not overpowering.  Its a very well executed dish but a little on the expensive side for the small portion of beef you get.  Next, the Chinois duck on a flour tortilla with cucumber, hoisin, sriacha and sour cream.

At the end of the day, this is really just a fancy spin on Peking duck….but given that Peking duck is already awesome adding a bigger piece of duck, a more flavorful wrap sriracha and sour cream, how can you go wrong?  The duck pieces are quite generous however it doesn’t overpower any of the other strong flavors like the hoisin and sriacha.  The spicy kick tingles that tongue but is cooled by the sour cream.  The combination of sweet, spicy and fatty meat is always a win in my books.  That’s probably why when thinking back to the best things I ate last year, this was definitely on the list.  On another visit, my friend and I started with the Bufala mozzarella with confit tomato, basil and preserved lemon.

I loved this.  Huge dollops of mozzarella is always a win.  The sweet tomato confit is perfectly balanced with the tartness of the preserved lemon.  The basil adds another layer of flavor that compliments the cheese.  The bread underneath was good.  It didn’t fall apart which was nice given the juiciness of the ingredients on top.  Next we tried the Spicy Spanish fries with chorizo and manchego.

After a few bites my friend and I agreed, this is like a Spanish poutine.  Fries were perfectly fried and the manchego cheese is a solid choice.  The chorizo is flavorful.  There were scoops of another pepper-like aioli that mixed well and cut some of the saltiness however the addition of olives pushed it a little on the salty side for me.  Don’t get me know, it’s a tasty dish, but I can only take it in doses.  It’s a good thing it came out the same time as the mozzarella.  Moving back and forth between the two was a nice mix-up so you never got too much of one thing.  Next, Creamed Ontario corn with peaches, smoked bacon and sage.

Again, this is one of those dishes where you read the ingredients and think to yourself, I love ALL those things.  Each ingredient tasted as good as I would have imagined.  I had to laugh after though because I had previously told the friend I was dining with that the secret to cooking is adding fat to an otherwise normal or bland dish.  In this case, it was all cooked in butter…..and they added bacon.  So good and so artery clogging.  Well, if you’re going to only live once, you might as well enjoy it.  Bangkok beef salad with peanuts, mint, mango, fried shallots and nam jim dressing was next.

Nuts and beef, sounds like the beginning of a dirty joke.  This dish has a lot going on.  The individual components were well executed, the beef was delicious, the nuts were nicely toasted and added a tasty but not overpowering nutty flavor and the mango salad underneath was sweet and fresh.  In hindsight, I like all the components individually but wasn’t quite sure how it all came together.  Beefy, nutty and sweet…maybe I need to try it again.  The Crispy calamari in a caramelized peanut sauce with pineapple was next.

Now this really wasn’t what we were expecting.  Normally when you see calamari it’s breaded and deep fried or the (for lack of a better term) slimy and chewy meat is grilled.  This was somewhere in between.  It wasn’t breaded but had a nice crisp layer on the outside and a meaty inside.  The sweetness and nuttiness came through nicely.  The pineapples were nuggets of sweetness that made this feel more dessert like than an entree.  Given that it was our last dish of the evening, it was a nice way to finish but perhaps its a little too sweet if you are expecting a more traditional squid.  On a recent trip, we started with the Fior di latte with mushrooms, truffle oil and spinach (I did take pictures on this trip but they didn’t turn out so I borrowed these from the internet…thank you internet).

If you like mushrooms and truffles, this is the dish for you.  Very strong hints of truffle, meaty chunks of mushroom all under the large scoops of mozzarella.  It’s like mini fungi pizzas….but better.  Next we tried the Japanese style tuna salad with asian pears, avocado, puffed rice and spicy ponzu dressing.

We asked our waiter what his favorite dish was and he immediately said this Japanese tuna salad.  And I can see why.  The tuna is fresh and delicious.  The sweet and spicy ponzu compliments the sweet pears and works really well with the tuna.  The puffed rice bits spread throughout the disk adds a nice crunch to the otherwise smooth and soft ingredients.  I’m convinced avocado goes well with almost everything so it’s a welcome addition.  Come to think of it, this dish is probably in my 2011 top ten as well.  Next, the Miso glzed black cod served on a soba noodle salad with a ginger vineigrette and miso broth.

The cod is soft, smooth and flakes apart ever so nicely.  Perfect.  The miso broth is tasty and is slurped up quickly with the fresh soba noodles.  This dish is a win.  I feel like I’ve had something very similar at Foxley (truffle miso cod).  Both are delicious, I’m going to have to eat both of them again to determine which one I prefer…a welcome taste-off.  My father being a big beef eater had to try the Origin beef burger, served with Avocado, smoked mayo and arugula.

As far as burgers go, it’s quite good.  Thick, well cooked ball of meat.  The avocado and smoke mayo are nice compliments to the beef.  The bread might be one of the best things about the burger.  With burgers this juicy, the bun normally disintegrates.  Well done Origin.  The burger also came with Cream soda and soft serve float.

Nothing extraordinary.  Reminds me of my childhood  when I was able to make these myself.  Considering no one ever serves these anywhere, I’m happy to see it on the menu.  For dessert we tried the Banana cream pie with chocolate sherbert and mango.

This was nice.  Sweet fruit flavors on a nice light cream pie.  I also like how they caramelized the bananas on top.  I was pretty full at this point so I only had a couple bites but from what I did have, I like what I ate.

Origin has quickly become one of my favorite places in the city.  There are a lot of dishes that are just good, again nothing is bad but not everything is outstanding either.  They do have a handful of gems that ARE outstanding though, many of which were some of the best things I ate in 2011 and trust me when I say I ate a lot of stuff in 2011.


~ by jlowjlow on January 22, 2012.

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