Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 4: Homemade Okonomiyaki

Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 1
Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 2
Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 3
Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 4

~*~

I'm going to pick it up after the last post...

After we got home, we began to get the munchies. The last thing we ate was a pretty sad (and expensive) platter of veggies and dip at the bar, while watching the men's hockey team bring home the gold in a movie-like fashion. On the menu: okonomiyaki!

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We had already bought all of the ingredients for the okonomiyaki the day before. We found most of the stuff I didn't have at a small Japanese store on Queen Street West called Sanko.

Okonomiyaki batter mix.

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Bonito flakes. I didn't realize it at the time, but this contains 5 individual packages of bonito flakes - which was perfect for us. On a random note, I see agedashi tofu on the package! (On another random note, we haven't blogged about the agedashi tofu we had at Totoya... hmm... going to dig around and try and find those pictures.)

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Okonomiyaki sauce (which, to me, tasted like the same sauce they put on the takoyaki we ate last summer) and Japanese mayo. Do you notice the braille on the top of the bottle of okonomiyaki sauce? Cool!

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The whole process is pretty simple and didn't take too long to make. Lucy and I have never made this before, but it was just a cabbage pancake. Right?

Mise en place was done:
- We took a few cabbage leaves and sliced them into ribbons (after washing them), though we should've shredded it instead of slicing em up.
- Bacon was fried and a portion of the plate of bacon was cut up

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- Green onions were washed and sliced
- Cheese was cut up

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Once we were finished with all of the mise en place, we mixed up the batter; batter mix, eggs, water, the sliced up cabbage, and salt were all added into a bowl.

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For the first okonomiyaki, we decided to add the bacon under all of the fixings instead of mixing it into the batter, so the pancake was cooked on medium heat. And just like making breakfast pancakes, you should flip the pancake when the edges are pretty much cooked and when there's bubbles come from the middle of the batter.

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After we flipped the pancake, the cheese was put on top. We then put a lid on top to make sure the cheese melted and the whole pancake cooked through.

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Now onto the fun part...

We added the bacon on top of the pancake, then added the okonomiyaki, the Japanese mayo, green onions and the bonito flakes.

Tada!

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Lucy and I inhaled the first pancake. I didn't really find anything that exciting about the dish, other than the dancing bonito flakes. On the other hand, Lucy definitely loved it! It was very heavy and salty because of the cheese, bacon, okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo and bonito flakes. I felt the bacon was overpowering and way to heavy. The pancake would've been a lot better if the cabbage was finely shredded, as some of the ribbons weren't uniformly cooked. Most of the cabbage was nice and soft, but some of the other parts were a bit crunchy - which wasn't a bad thing, since it gave a nice texture.

Onto the next okonomiyaki pancake. We mixed the bacon into the batter this time. Here's a step by step picture guide on how we turned a cabbage and bacon pancake into an eye-pleasing okonomiyaki.

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If we were to do this again, I would probably use low sodium bacon (if that was the choice of protein). You'll still get the flavour of the bacon without the sodium. Trust me, I just threw some onto a homemade pizza and it tasted fine. I'd maybe try some shrimp or some slices of fatty pork on the bottom of the pancake (like some people do it in Japan). I need to think about how to make the dish exciting for my palate... please don't hurt me okonomiyaki crazies!

~*~

And this concludes Lucy's EPIC Toronto Vacation. I hope you all enjoyed reading about her visit to Toronto, as we did experiencing it.

Love ya sis! <3

~*~*~

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lucy's Toronto Vacation 3: Dumplings Galore!

Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 1
Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 2
Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 3
Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 4

~ * ~

When Christine started raving about dumplings, I thought she was crazy. Period. I love dumplings, but I’ve yet to swoon over a plate. This restaurant changed my mind with the first bite.

Christine: Cool. Thanks.

Christine’s friend picked us up and drove us to a busy Chinese strip mall, Time Square, in Richmond Hill. The restaurant, Northern Dumpling Kitchen, didn’t stand out at all, and it was only half full when we arrived. Reserving my judgement, I sat back and told the girls to order whatever they wanted me to try. I was an open mind. I was nothing. I was totally zen.

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The first dish we ordered was called Shanghai rice cakes, I think. When they were delivered to our table, my first impression was that they were dduk, Korean rice cakes. Add in the wonderful aroma of a properly heated and seasoned wok, and it was heaven. The rice cakes were just the perfect amount of chewy, and the vegetables tasted fresh. I really enjoyed the light sauce and the slightly crunchy, but tender texture of wood ear mushrooms. My zen mindset started to melt away, and I started to get really excited for the dumplings.

Christine: I like the fried rice cakes, even though it's not what I'd typically like, which is a more aggressively season dish. The simplicity of the dish was such a nice change. The nappa cabbage, wood ear and shrimp in the dish added a slight sweetness, while the chewy rice cakes had a slight smoky flavour. It's not a heavy dish at all. It was a breath of fresh air.

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The xiao long bao shocked me. They were like little obese dumplings! They were overfilled with soup, exactly Christine’s style. Screw zen, I was freaking pumped to eat these fat dudes! The girls warned me to be extra careful because the soup will come gushing forth at the slightest tear. When I picked one up with my chopsticks, the skin stretched and warped so much, I thought it was going to burst. I stopped to watch how Christine ate the dumplings because I didn’t want to make a total fool of myself. Nothing could have prepared me for this dumpling.

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Christine: Notice how the XLB doesn't fit in the spoon? It's girth was overflowing over the sides!

With a smidgen of red vinegar and a few slivers of ginger, I took a bite. The skin was chewy and soft, but it didn’t stick to my teeth. It was definitely steamed properly. And the juice! Oh, glorious juice! There was almost two soup-spoonfuls of broth in the tiny obese dumplings!!! Ridiculous! I fell in love with the broth because it tasted like my mum’s all-night simmering broths. It tasted like comfort food without having eaten xiao long bao when I was a child.

I accidentally broke one and thought all the juice ran out, so when I bit into the deflated xiao long bao, I did not expect to choke on a gush of broth. It was a learning experience, fo’ sho’.

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The pan-fried chicken dumplings were also awesome. The skin was fried crispy and browned evenly. The flavour was similar to the xiao long bao, and I attribute that to the broth. Delicious! They were excellent when they first came out, but by the end of the meal, they felt supremely heavy and overindulgent. Thankfully, the broth didn’t gel as it cooled. That would have been disgusting.

Christine: These chicken dumplings are 10x better than most pot stickers!

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We asked for two orders, so we ended up with way too much food for three people. Seriously, just look at that pile of pan-fried goodness. All of that rich broth weighed us down, and we were all sleepy by the end of it.

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This lovely lunch cost less than $30, which was a steal. While it may not seem like much, the dumplings and stir-fried rice cakes filled us up quickly. I think I’d skip the rice cakes and focus on the dumplings next time. It’s not that the rice cakes were bad – I just feel the dumplings would be a better investment in stomach space.

As we slowly dragged our feet back to the car, we made plans to meet up with some mutual friends to watch the gold medal men’s hockey game between Canada and the U.S.A. We settled into a small bar in Richmond Hill after fighting traffic for almost 20 minutes on the 404. If you were watching that game, you’d know how intense that game was. And Canada won in overtime (we’ve got a penchant for dramatics), defeating the Americans with a score of 3-2!!!

After the game, we walked over for bubble tea and drove home. Epic day.

Address:

Northern Dumpling Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 15, 2010

*UPDATED* Lucy's Toronto Vacation - Day 2

*UPDATED WITH LUCY'S COMMENTS*

Continuing from the last post...

Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 1
Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 2
Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 3
Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 4

~*~

It was Saturday, February 27th. We were going to Libretto for lunch, and it was going to be amazing!

After taking the TTC to Ossington station, we got on the bus to get to the restaurant. I remember I wasn't that hungry until we transferred to the bus. I was excited to eat an amazing culinary art piece again.

I was expecting the restaurant to be pretty busy, even though it was off hours (we arrived around 2pm). As we walked in, I was eyeing the bar seats at the window facing the street, but people were already occupying those seats. Our server led us towards the back of the restaurant, and he even offered to let us choose our table. All the other tables were dim except for a tiny table by the wall. It seemed as though there was a spotlight on the table. It was a sign.

We chose the more brightly lit table and got comfortable. Looking around, I noticed that the restaurant had a wide variety of customers. Students sat in front of me. There was a young family with a very young baby behind me at another table. The other tables seemed like middle aged Torontonians just enjoying a great lunch. It was a different crowd from what I saw the last time I was here, where there were dressed up business workers and even high ranking sailors (the ones in the while suit, hat and the pins).

We looked over their simple menu. One side listed a few antipasti, salads, pastas, and of course, pizzas. Flip the menu over and you'll be faced with an impressive list of wines. There was also their " Lunch Prix Fixe" menu for only $15. You get to choose one starter, one pizza, and a dessert:

Primi:
Beet Caprese
or
Mixed Green Salad
or
3 Bruschette (Chef's Choice)

Pizze:
Margherita D.O.P
or
Marinara D.O.P
or
Piadina of the day

Dolce:
Affogato
or
Biscotti


I chose to have the lunch special: 3 Bruschette and the Margherita D.O.P. Lucy ordered the Ontario Prosciutto and Arugula pizza.

Complimentary bread and olive oil, balsamic vinegar and pepper arrived at the table. The last time I had this, there was something amazing about it. Since then, I've had this many times and I didn't find anything that great. The oil was tasty and was not stale and the balsamic vinegar was very sharp. Yum. To ensure we didn't fill up on bread, Lucy and I chose to only eat one slice each. We needed to save our stomachs for what was to come.

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The trio of bruschette arrived. So pretty! Starting at the bottom, going clockwise: spicy eggplant caponata, Ontario prosciutto with goat cheese, and an onion jam with fresh ricotta.

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We tried the onion jam first. The cool and sweet onion jam, with the creamy cheese and the slightly crunchy slice of bread was the perfect match. Lucy and I both looked at each other and just smiled. It was so good that we were both giddy! I was shocked at how well all the components matched. The onion jam was slightly sweet with a mellow onion flavour, which I wasn't expecting. I thought the onion was going to be a punch in the face, while the creamy ricotta was going to be like a cool wet cloth wiping my face clean. It turned out to be a balanced dish.

Lucy's note: It was a really well thought out dish. The creamy, textured ricotta played off the sweet onion jam nicely. There was a balance of sweet and savoury. It was fantastic!

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Up next was the Ontario prosciutto. I was intimidated with the amount of prosciutto that was on it, but because the prosciutto wasn't very strong in flavour, there was more packed on. I didn't mind the milder prosciutto used, but I'm sure it would've tasted a lot better with thicker slices or a stronger flavoured prosciutto.

The gossamer-thin shavings of prosciutto failed to wow my tastebuds. The thinness was pleasant because the prosciutto melted the moment it touches your tongue. I can't remember what the creamy stuff was, but it didn't contribute much to the flavour or texture as a whole. It was good, but not memorable.

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The stewed eggplant one took a bit of time to register. It's not that it was bland, but it just took me a while to figure out if I liked what I was eating or not. I'm not sure if Lucy had the same feeling about it because we both stared at each other at first. I finally decided that it wasn't bad. Lucy commented on how it was a great bridge to the pizzas. Not long after we finished, the pizzas arrived.

The caponata was very tangy and had a nice medley of flavours. There was a gradual heat, but it wasn't super spicy. It was a familiar taste, and that worked well. Overall, it stimulated our appetites before the pizzas arrived.

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The Margherita came first, followed quickly by the Ontario Prosciutto and Arugula pizza.

The first things that came to mind when I saw my pizza: there were more basil pieces than I expected (a good thing), I hoped that the charred bits of the crust didn't ruin the pizza, and I couldn't wait to tasty that tangy and bright sauce.

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I was mentally prepared for this moment. My first bite... The joy that flooded over me and the delicious balance of flavours dancing around in my mouth, was not followed by my mouth spazzing this time. The first bite of the pizza was a piece I cut from the middle, which had some basil, mozzarella, sauce and the thin dough. My second bite was just as tasty; it was a piece of the crust with some basil, mozzarella, and sauce. It was a better experience than the first, only because it had the fluffy, light and slightly sweet crust. Oh, how I missed thee!

The sauce was incredible! It was so bright and tangy, you would swear that there was some sort of citrus in it. The basil perfumed each bite, even if you took a bite without basil. The sauce on the edges of the crust had this amazing concentrated tomato flavour. I enjoyed the simplicity of this pizza.

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Lucy's pizza:

The very first thing I noticed was the arugula--it was a freaking mountain of it! Again, the prosciutto was shaved paper-thin, but it worked better on this pizza than on the bruschetta. The parmigiano was grated instead of shaved, and I was a little skeptical as to how that would play with the other elements.

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There is also a hidden element that gave me a pleasant surprise--tiny slices of garlic hiding beneath the prosciutto. These little guys packed quite a punch! They were my favourite bites, and the garlic helped to tie in all of the flavours and balance the arugula. Each bite was different because of the varying ratios of toppings. I felt it was a more subtle and sophisticated version of the ones I ate at the Grand.

The crust was heavenly. It was thin and crispy, and yet still very chewy and pliable. I was a little worried that the thinness would translate to soggy crust, but it definitely held its own. My only complaint about the crust would be the charred bits. I know that some people like that, so I'll chalk it up to personal preferences.

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I felt that I was reaching my limit when I was down to the last half of the pizza. After trying to decide if I would be able to finish it and still be able to walk afterwards, I chose to wrap it up.

I wasn't sure if our good-looking servers (all tall, tanned, handsome guys) forgot about my dessert, but then one came over and asked which dessert I wanted. Trying not to stare at him, I asked him what the affogato was (hot espresso poured on gelato). We had a choice of vanilla or chocolate gelato. Vanilla please!

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One of the other waiters brought over the vanilla gelato and while he was going to grab some espresso at the bar (where they have espresso machines), I quickly took a picture of the gelato.

He came back and playfully asked if I wanted an action shot while he poured the gelato. Hehee! (I should've shot from a lower angle... bah!)

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The first half of the affogato was mainly espresso - a very tasty espresso with a bit of melted vanilla gelato. The last half was mainly vanilla gelato with a bit of espresso. What an awesome dessert. It was a perfect way to end an amazing lunch!

The gelato was velvety rich as it melted into the espresso. I loved the way it started off strong with the espresso, but by the end, it was all sweet gelato. It was a great evolution of flavour as it melted. It was a grown up version of a mocha. Definitely recommended!

My lunch special was only $15, which was the same price as Lucy's pizza.

After we had lunch, we started walking down Ossington and towards Queen Street West. The destination was a Japanese store: Sanko. Our shopping list consisted of things to make okonomiyaki.

Once everything that we needed was purchased, we headed back up to Ossingston Avenue, where we dropped by the same Portugese bakery for some coffee and dessert. We were tired at this point and just relaxed. I don't think we brought out the camera, although we should've - just because Lucy enjoyed her pastry very much.

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Lucy's note: Found some grainy pictures on my cell! I ordered a canudo--a flakey horn-shaped pastry filled with custard. The pastry shattered into a million pieces as I started to cut into it. Oh, it was goooooooooood. The sticky custard wasn't very sweet, but as I chewed, I noticed that the pastry itself sweetened the custard. I really loved this.

Canudo with custard filling

Christine had a chocolate mousse. It was very dense, and I felt like I was eating velvet (not in a good way). It was too sweet, and there wasn't enough chocolate flavour. I prefer eating mousses that have the texture of fluffy clouds that melt. I think it was entirely cream-based because I didn't see the tell-tale bubbles of beaten egg whites.

Super dense chocolate mousse

Out of all this, I enjoyed the coffee the most. It was a flavourful, medium-bodied coffee. I drank it black, and it had sweet, nutty flavours. It matched beautifully with both desserts, sweetening the canudo and tempering the mousse.

We popped into an LCBO to pick up Japanese plum wine and then headed to a small grocery store across the street to buy green onions and cabbage. We had everything we needed, so we headed home for some sleep. The trip home felt even longer this time, for some reason, but we got home safely, watched a bit more Olympics and then crashed.

What a day!

~*~*~

Address:

Pizzeria Libretto on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

*UPDATED* Lucy's Toronto Vacation - Day 1

*UPDATED WITH LUCY'S COMMENTS*

After many reschedulings, Lucy finally came down to Toronto for a visit last week. Helped along by Canada's amazing results during the Winter Olympics, held in Vancouver, I vowed to make it an epic weekend.

I've blogged about my amazing experience at Libretto and the very juicy yummy dumplings at the Northern Dumpling Kitchen. I keep telling Lucy about how amazing these two places are, and now, she has experienced them herself.

Lucy's Toronto Vacation - 1

~*~

I left for Ottawa last Thursday and came back the next night. Lucy and I planned for us to both arrive at the bus station around the same time. Once we both met up, we headed towards Spadina station in hopes of having some dumplings in Chinatown. I forgot to double check the address of the restaurant, so we couldn't find it. Instead of walking up and down Spadina looking for the restaurant, we just headed to the House of Gourmet instead since we were so hungry.

We had to have my noodles with "mo sauce." You see, whenever I ask for "extra sauce," the waiter or waitress often mistakes it for "XO sauce." Now when I order the plate of noodles, I always ask for "more sauce" and for some reason, the waiter/waitress always repeats it as they write it down: "mo' sauce? Okay. Mo' sauce." *Face palm*

Unsure of what else to order, we settled on the braised salted fish, tofu and chicken in a clay pot. We were also in the mood for some sort of soup. Scanning through the soup secton, we ordered BBQ pork and wonton soup because all of the other types of soup were expensive!

The soup arrived without too much of a wait. It was a simple bowl of broth with four wontons and some tiny chopped up bits of BBQ pork. The broth tasted like Mom's broth when we were young'uns. Some of the BBQ pork pieces didn't have much flavour, while others exploded with flavour. Ah well.

Lucy's note: If we get this next time, we'll definitely opt to share one small bowl. There was a lot of MSG in it, so it was fairly filling. I also detected lotus root in the broth, giving it a nice, meaty flavour.

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I really enjoyed the dish, but I was extremely hungry and the last time I ate the noodles was during the summer. They were so deliciously smoky and saucy. The sauce was blander than usual, but the freshness of the rice noodles made up for that. I love the bouncy texture of fresh rice noodles.

Just as I was finishing my bowl of soup, my noodles with "mo sauce" arrived. The plate of noodles was pretty yummy. You can smell the smokiness of the noodles once it was placed on the table. The only thing I'd complain about is that I didn't taste any sesame oil. They usually add a touch, but there wasn't any in this plate. I'm just being picky though. And just to add to Lucy's comment about the sauce being "blander than usual", she's just saying that the sauce is usually spot on here. I'm pretty sure this "blander than usual" sauce is on par with a great rendition of this dish in Ottawa. I think it's that good here.

Lucy's Toronto Vacation2

The salted fish, tofu and chicken hot pot arrived. It smelled very good (read: stinky!). I didn't detect much of the salted fish in the dish, but the chicken and tofu were delicious. They were stingy with the salted fish, and I'm sure Lucy was disappointed. I didn't mind because there was so much chicken and tofu to make up for that. Tasty!

It definitely wasn't stinky enough for me. The ideal claypot would have SUPREMELY foul fish in every bite.

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Because we had a bowl of soup to start our meal, and maybe because we were so hungry when we arrived at the restaurant, we were full after one small bowl of noodles each with bites of the hot pot. We packed half of the noodles and most of the hot pot.

We stopped by Tea Shop 168 for bubble tea before climbing onto public transit. I ordered a watermelon milk tea with tapioca pearls. It was nasty, and it tasted like bubblegum. Christine ordered a regular black milk tea with tapioca. I can't remember how hers tasted.

My black milk tea was a bit watery. The tea was either not as strong or it was watered down. My bubble tea felt like it was watered down a bit. It was as smooth and silky as it usually is, but it was still good.

We had a very slow ride back to my house, watched some Olympics and then got some sleep before a busy Saturday.


~*~*~



House of Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 07, 2010

*UPDATED* A Tale of Blah at Arisu – May 30, 2009

*UPDATED*

Jimmy and I went back to Arisu not too long ago, and we actually loved it! Just wanted to add to this post because a lot people have been stumbling upon our post about Arisu recently. New post (as of July 17th, 2010) can be found here!

~ * ~

Once upon a time, Lucy and Jimmy heard that the owners of Mr. Dumpling were opening a new sushi restaurant across the street. Excited by this idea, they decided to visit the new place, Arisu.

Though the menu was completely different from Mr. Dumpling’s, they were expecting to get the same type of food. Lucy ordered the bulgogi bento box (not pictured), and Jimmy ordered the kalbi bento box.

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First came the salad. It was an iceberg lettuce salad with shredded carrot and light, citrus dressing. Both Lucy and Jimmy agreed it tasted okay—not bad, not good, just okay.

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Next came the soup. This was a plain miso soup was made with only white (shiro) miso. Again, Lucy and Jimmy agreed it tasted okay—not bad, not good, just okay.

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Last came the bentos. Both of the bentos looked exactly the same, except Lucy’s bento had bulgogi (not pictured) and Jimmy’s had kalbi. Both of the bentos came with tempura (shrimp and vegetables), tofu, a California roll, and a large scoop of rice. Lucy and Jimmy agreed all of the items tasted okay—not good, not bad, just okay.

After paying their bill, they walked home and talked about their meals. Because nothing was good, nothing was bad, and all the dishes were just okay, Lucy and Jimmy decided that they would never return. Lucy and Jimmy agreed that they would go back to Mr. Dumpling, the original restaurant. After crossing Arisu off their restaurant list, they lived happily ever after.

The end.

~ * ~

Arisu on Urbanspoon

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