A plan had been set in place: morning coffee would be substituted with milk tea from Chinatown's most recent lounge spot before grabbing lunch with an alumni acquaintance.
The place in question had piqued my interest on one of my trips on the 510. In contrast to the obnoxiously bold lettering and gaudy colours of its surrounding establishments, Icha Tea calmly distinguished itself with a sleek, earthy vibe that was mostly associated with uptown cafes.
Bowing my head in disappointment, I looked towards the adjacent facilities for an alternative. Adjacent was Sam James Coffee Bar; on its steps were two young, black-tshirt-donning males smoking and looking utterly disinterested in the world and its happenings.
I excused a path of entry for myself and hiked up the steps. The front area of the warehouse-like shop comprised of SJCB's brewing area and cashier, while the back housed a decent selection of Stussy menswear items. The two men had lifted themselves from their resting spot upon seeing me wander into the shop. One greeted me, looking extremely alarmed, before I turned back towards the front for my caffeine fix.
For reasons why SJCB refuses to accept any other form of payment besides cash is uncelebrated. I handed over my $2.75 and was presented a plastic cup subsuming three quarters' worth of product. Presumably, this space had been left for customers to add milk or cream. However, I consume my Cold Brew black, thus requested her to fill the remaining space.
The barista nodded, but only topped off the beverage to the 85% mark, then slid it over.
Sam James is a frequent name spotted throughout various Toronto neighbourhoods, most commonly as a grab-and-go outlet. Service varies across the locations, but I find that The Path ranks highest in terms of friendliness. (Keep in mind that not all members are cheerful).
I haven't had the opportunity of trying Khao San Road after their relocation to the brighter, roomier Charlotte venue. As far as reviews go though, shrinking portions, inflation, and poor service aren't factors I'm particularly keen on witnessing.
Offering similar cuisine in Khao San Road's old spot is Kiin - a destination that boasts intricate decor and ample illumination. Dark walls had been swapped for windows, and dingy yellow lighting for delicate hanging bulbs. Wooden seats were converted to emerald booths and cushioned chairs. Even the bar area appeared more luminous than before.
The single "water-pourer" adopted an interesting role: she ensured that cups were never empty with constant refills, but deferred all menu questions to the waitresses. At times, she would assist with making the waitresses aware of requests, though would not tend to them firsthand. If the position was to shadow a member of higher seniority, I suppose inefficiency is inevitable. On the other hand, additional responsibilites should be assigned for improved productivity, especially during peak lunch hours.
We were later informed that they had only opened for lunch recently, and that most servers were more familiar with dinnertime procedures. I failed to see why customer interactions and speed were adversely affected by this.
Both the waitress and water-pourer provided their recommendations to us, pleasantly so, and heeded the spiciest item before returning eons later.
The waiting game persisted as the neighbouring table of six departed in giggles and members of other parties had all received their plates of noodles/rice. A tall man in a pink button-down finally emerged with our meals after a solid thirty minutes (or even more).
The incredibly lengthy wait resulted in the delivery of dishes comprising of extremely simple presentations. While Gaeng Karee demanded the deep-frying of tofu to order, Gaeng Kua Gai was essentially a pre-made curry dish served with a cup of plain white rice.
To have Gaeng Kua Gai exaggerated as the spiciest dish of the house, it was undeniable that the runny pot of redness brought about a smidgen of disappointment. Reminiscent of tom yum by ways of vivid red appearance and evident separation of layers, the curry was much milder than advertised. Even I, a mortal with insanely inferior tolerance, could ingest it without having my throat set ablaze.
I did find that the red curry would become increasingly less mild with more bites, thus a full dish may not be my personal pick. Compared to Gaeng Karee, it retained slight hints of sourness, making it easier to digest than the richer yellow curry.
All dishes rang in at fourteen dollars and were decent in terms of portion size. The remaining one third of the Gaeng Karee was taken to go, but it had the potential to be demolished entirely with a ravenous appetite.
Two tiny stalls, a single sink and faucet, and one dyson dryer comprised of the bulk of the restroom. Noteworthy design details aside, I did find several flaws in the new arrangement. While hygeinic and unscuffed at this point in time (the renovations are fairly new), the stalls are quite cramped and the panel formation do not provide complete enclosure (<i> read: </i> privacy). Toilet paper rolls are placed on a stand near the ground instead of in a dispenser several feet above; mini disposal cans were exposed as the back corners of the stall. Nonetheless, the sight was worth seeing at least once during the visit.
Our entire meal lasted approximately 90 minutes, one third of which was spent waiting for food and another third in delay for the waitress' attention. The bill remained unsettled until I waltzed up to the bar in request of the bartender's assistance.
Put simply, the potential is present, but be prepared for a lengthy wait.
Thai Iced Tea was sadly not present on the menu (maybe it didn't fit the "Royal Thai" theme?). In its stead were three iced tea offerings of vibrant tones and invigorating ingredients. Hibiscus, pandan, and quince are exotic elements rarely spotted elsewhere, so I would have likely taken one to go had my agenda been empty.
Infuse Cafe is a relaxing spot that I dropped by on three earlier occasions, primarily to purchase takeout drinks.
The cafe is conveniently nestled between McDonald's two-level flagship store on Elm and Dundas station, just across from the Ryerson SLC. In addition to being home to a number of board games, the tea-centred study area also boasts knowledgeable, chatty baristas that identify with indecisiveness and student budgets.
The establishment was a tad dusty in certain spots, namely the bathroom and areas close to the ground. My dining - er tea-sampling partner - remarked about the dire need for a major renovation, utterly unimpressed with the chipped doors and darkened walls. On the bright side, she expressed appreciation for the support of local artwork and carpentry.
Personally, I just found pleasure in the touchless garbage bin near the condiment section.
Frankly, it's of no matter to me, as the ninety-cent brownie with cookie crumble topping was absolutely delicious.
Final errands of the day comprised of quick runs to UNIQLO (for wide-legged linen pants that I couldn't find in the end) and Uncle Tetsu's Angel Cafe. The Black Tea Angel Hat Cake that caught my eye previously needed to be picked up.