A limited budget equates to investing more time at home and deploying coupons whenever possible. Of course, standardized bubble tea sessions cannot be forgoed though.
1) CoCo's Brown Sugar Milk with Pearls
Despite having landed in BC since the summer months, the highly raved-about concoction didn't arrive in the province until January 15th.
Truthfully, I am far from being brown sugar's greatest supporter. I kept an open mind towards CoCo's rendition, though the absence of tea in only exaggerated the sweetness of the beverage; it was simply too sugary to be consumed in a Large size. There remains the possibility of deliciousness within a hot variation of the drink, however I honestly can't say I'm itching for another cup.
New to ever-expanding roster of bubble tea franchises in the GTA is Shuyi Tealicious. Its discovery was actually a pleasant mistake: I had been researching a different establishment when its name surfaced in the sidebar.
The chain hails from China and currently has three locations in Ontario: conspicuous coordinates in Agincourt (Scarborough), a shop on Spadina in Toronto's bustling Chinatown, and a Mississauga outpost in a plaza that also houses a pet store and tutoring facility. Needless to say, it was most convenient to venture over to the last location.
I took to a Signature Grass Jelly Milk Tea along with a Mango Pomelo Meet Grass Jelly. Neither permitted ice/sugar adjustments; in addition, the latter was only available in a Regular size.
Price points were higher than CoCo, but less than One Zo. While I cannot speak for its other locations, the Erin Mills spot featured a private parking lot.
No comments can be made towards the bathrooms as a visit was not paid.
Situated directly across from a series of commercial complexes and nestled between more of Markham's Chinese eateries was Inatei. Their operating hours are peculiar: 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM, then 5:30 PM - 10:30 PM. We arrived a few minutes prior to their lunch slot, then wandered into the establishment exactly at the half hour mark.
Upon nearing our instructed seating destination, I caught sight of the status of the chairs. Chipped, peeling, and sunken to reveal the frame - one would have thought investments would have been made to replace the dilapidated fixtures.
Each table featured slippery bamboo makisu (ie. a shrunken maki-rolling mat disguised as a placemat) and two menus: one hardcover and another laminated. The latter listed lunch options in both English and Chinese; the nonexistent Japanese version was a straightforward indication of the eatery's authenticity.
Side salad and mediocre miso soup were served as soon as orders were processed. Topping the salad was a variation of the typical ponzu-and-grated-onion emulsion including pepper and gritty, unidentified chunks.
I had only taken two sips of my soup before one of the waitresses whisked away the cup lid without warning. A simple "May I take this away?" would have sufficed.
The Sushi & Sashimi Set C entailed six pieces of sashimi and two choices of hand rolls. Customers could choose from tekka (tuna), sake (salmon), tamago, kappa (cucumber), and avocado at no extra charge; unagi and tempura hand rolls were an additional $1.50 and $3.50 respectively.
Sashimi cuts from the lunch set were identical to that of the Chirashi. The two tekka temaki were informed to be soggy and crafted with rigid (read: low-grade) nori sheets.
There was nothing spectacular about the cuttlefish, octopus, nor imitation crabmeat. When served with onion and grated ginger, the mackerel was passable. Adjacent to it was a rigid, bitter piece of golden herring roe (kazunoko).
Hidden behind the inelastic piece of tako was a plump piece of scallop, roughly measuring a diameter of 2.5 cm. One would anticipate this addition to taste as rewarding as fresh Digby scallops, but of course, such thoughts should be banished after observing the state of the restaurant's seating apparatus. Besides being limp and flavourless, the piece began to disintegrate upon contact. I had initially assumed this to be due to excessive compressive forces being applied to the specimen, but the salmon and tuna slices revealed similar behaviours.
But there were reasons for this thickness, for the sashimi had been defrosted to oblivion, rendering them soft and weak - distastefully so, if I must add. Never in my lifetime had I been able to unintentionally pierce sashimi with plastic/wooden chopsticks. It was unappealing, unpleasant, and entirely unacceptable.
In what world does a restaurant serve scraps to its customers?!
We don't call the waitress over, however, as our foresight says that she'll simply assure us that all is fine and our bodies will not suffer any harm. I skeptically consume the slice, but rapidly conclude lack of freshness and inadequate capacity to handle sashimi for serving.
Lastly, let's not forget the fingerprint smears along the rim of the bowl. Such unseemly strokes ought to have been removed prior to serving.
The sole redeeming aspect of the Chirashi was the dashi tamago: though not as fluffy as desired, it possessed texture and the appropriate dose of sweetness.
Allow me to provide a parallel: Inatei is one's first impression to a lady donning glamorous attire and gorgeous makeup. At first glance, she appears flawless. Closer examination exposes poorly-maintained skin and mothballs on every millimetre of her ensemble. The lady photographs stunningly, as she knows the specific angles to evade criticism. However, such is all surface-level nonsense. The superficiality fails to camouflage the underlying nature of her true being.
Our tablemate suggested trying Zen next. Is it really better though?
Inatei has hit an all-time new low for me. I'd choose food court maki rolls in a heartbeat if given the option. Good chirashi is a rarity in the east end.
A Cheese Explosion Egglet and Hot HK Milk Tea combo was secured from Eggette Hut. The crispy cheddar shards were great; the cream cheese overload, on the other hand, wasn't so pleasant. The milk tea, which was only two dollars extra, was robust in profile, compensating for its coffee-with-Coffeemate appearance.
7) Late supper of 감자탕 (Pork Bone Soup wtih potatoes) and 계란탕 (Steamed Egg Soup) from Sikgaek.
"Pork bone soup!" replied the male server.
"But is it spicy?" An evident look of concern came across my face.
"A little..." He admitted, but then quickly added, "We can make it less spicy though!"
Gyeran tang was a phenomenal source of comfort - simultaneously tongue-scalding and soul-soothing.
(Bonus points for spill-proof storage of leftovers!)
9) Devouring the last of my Japanese Cheesecake for breakfast (with a side of homemade strawberry jam)
On a delayed course of downtown errands, I paid Chinatown's Shuyi location a visit. It was partially for the purpose of comparison between its suburban outpost, and partially because of the bolded "Washrooms only for customers" sign pasted near the entrance.
Again, it was far from being economic at $5.95 plus tax. Taste-wise, the pineapple syrup was on the bland side, but passionfruit seeds and clear jelly had been great inclusions to enhance texture. I hadn't been made aware of the presence of clear tapioca, so I had allowed the drink to site for a while. The result was soggy but bearable cassava pearls.
A wash of relief passed over me upon discovering the cleanliness of the stalls. Horrid experiences at the likes of Icha and Tika had me braced for the most despicable bathroom situations possible. Thankfully, I was rewarded with glistening white walls and non-existent dust bunnies. Modern flushing facilities and well-stocked toiletries were also appreciated. My only complaint would be the lack of hooks on the back of the door. As there are two locks though, the rigid door handle can double as low-floor hook for light bags.
Those keeping up with this space will know that I have fallen out of love with Little Pebbles since their move. Friendliness of service has hit an all-time low while prices have surged. Had it not been made aware to me that they carried matcha from Momo Tea, I would not have bothered at all.
That said, I probably won't be visiting again regardless. Matsu is marked up to $20 from Momo's original $18; Usucha was subject to a 40% markup - a whopping $35 from the original $25!! Such ridiculous prices, along with lackadaisical, inefficient service do not validate the total transit trip. I'll gladly pay the ten dollar shipping fee and purchase from the source (once Momo's inventory has been replenished, that is).
13) Custard Taiyaki from P.A.T. swoops in to save the day!