Some of us would go to any lengths for the best local cheap eats. Even if it means running in circles in an attempt to find a restaurant that has no sign and no phone. Toronto restaurants, more mysterious than a first date.
Luckily it’s easy to dine out when you’re a party of two. You can get a table almost immediately at a restaurant with very few seating. As long as you’re the first party to arrive just before the restaurant opens and risk looking like two desperate customers to have an early dinner.
The restaurant is a cozy yet eccentric izakaya with a lively atmosphere that could fill a room bigger than just 30 people at a time. They operate without reservations, so if you arrive at 5:30 that will ensure that you get a table without waiting for long periods.
I was intrigued to try Hanmoto; one, it’s headed by Leemo Han who is also the chef and co-owner of Oddseoul, a Korean-American dive that I’ve frequented many times in lieu of the Loosey Philly-style burger and mouthwatering O.S. wings.
And second, Leemo Han’s style of cooking is a unique Japanese take on classic junk food.
Hanmoto’s crispy chicken-skinned uni bomb ($15) is literally the bomb. It’s a bowl of sushi rice and four large sea urchin gonads, with salmon roe that pops like boba. The creamy uni is balanced out with a spicy kick of wasabi, chopped scallion, and sprinkles of arare rice balls that give it a delightful crunch. Then you have sheets of nori (seaweed) to wrap it all up.
The salmon aburi ($12), one of Hanmoto's signatures, is my personal favourite by far. It's rich with tobiko (tiny fish eggs) and scallions. The blowtorching technique seals it up nicely with a crisp on sushi rice.
The nasu dengaku Japanese eggplant ($8) is a sizzler. It's cleverly deep fried and broiled to the texture of melted bone marrow by Chef de cuisine Joe Kim (ex-Electric Mud, Momofuku). This is eggplant taken to the next level, topped with miso hollandaise and a heap of deep-fried angel hair made from beets. The presentation is stunning.
Dyno wings ($10) are an example of the novelty of an Asian take on an All-American classic. After all, who can pass up boneless chicken wings stuffed in dumpling fashion with ground pork, ginger and Portuguese smoked bacon? Even more, they're deep-fried and coated in tare sauce, the reduced soy, mirin and roasted chicken bone glaze.
The Katsu bun ($7) is a modern Japanese burger made with a slab of pork belly that's been cooked in ginger beer for 24 hours. The pork belly is crusted in panko giving it a light, flaky texture, then deep-fried and glazed in miso and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Finally it's dressed with iceberg lettuce and “soy remoulade” in a coco bun, which gives it the flavour of a levelled up Big Mac.
The miso ice cream ($7) is an umami explosion, yet not for the faint hearted. It's densely rich and comes in an Indian kulfi-style with condensed milk, frozen in rectangular blocks and dusted with nori powder. The texture is akin to cheese more than ice cream. As delicious as it is, the miso ice cream is incredibly savoury and is better off shared between at least two people.
Gone are the days when our midnight munchies are limited to pizza or poutine. If you're ever in the "hip" west end of Dundas and Ossington and hungry for something really great really late, Hanmoto is worth a try. For a party of two, we ordered enough for the bill to come to $35 per person. This will surely satisfy your craving for something adventurous.