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Imlil Moroccan Cuisine
East York is far from a destination, but it is home to an incredible little strip of restaurants. Alongside Mexican and Italian spots is Imlil, a new entrant in Toronto’s barren landscape for Moroccan cuisine by husband-and-wife team Tarik and Imane. The restaurant is painted a bright sunset orange, and their sign has “Imlil” sandwiched between the two components of a tajine, Morocco’s famous culinary accessory. Inside is a colourful homage to Moroccan architecture and a mini Moroccan market. Think teas, dates, jumbo bags of mint and even proper tajines.
Here, the lamb tajine is stewed with caramelized prunes, almonds and sesame seeds. Alongside is a small loaf of French bread, which soaks in the olive oil and herb-rich sauce. The lamb is tender without entirely falling apart, and receptive to the flavours around it. Caramelized prunes are almost balsamic-like in taste, and are a dream pairing with the lamb. With the soft textures across the dish, high quality Moroccan almonds provide a satisfying crunch.
There’s a variety of couscous dishes on offer, and the chicken with tfaya is a great place to start. Exceptional couscous with a distinct semolina flavour, cooked to fluffy perfection. The star is the slow-cooked chicken leg, with spices deeply embedded into each bite. It’s topped with tfaya, a next level mixture of caramelized onions and raisins. Imagine a jelly-like texture with hints of cinnamon and honey, but rounded out with a savoury kick that works magic with the chicken. The dish is completed with large pieces of carrot, squash and zucchini.
Make sure to sample some of the drinks before you leave. Freshly steeped Moroccan mint tea will transport you to a souk in Marrakech, and Hawai is one of the most interesting soft drinks you’ll ever try – in name and in taste. Imlil is one of the best new restaurants in Toronto but more importantly, it’s THE spot for Moroccan food in the city, period.
Opening new restaurants in Toronto during COVID-19 is a tall task, but Tamara and Rezo have been well groomed. Their parents run several Georgian restaurants in Ukraine, where they grew up and helped out. Now in Canada to study business, they manage their own in the Beaches. The restaurant is a showstopper, designed from head to toe with various wooden elements. Most decorations are imported from Georgia, such as the traditional jugs and drinking horns made for wine consumption.
Most eye-popping is khachapuri adjaruli, a traditional boat-shaped bread dish like no else. If you’re lactose intolerant, probably best to skip ahead – this baby is loaded with cheese, butter and an egg yolk. While khachapuri is traditionally made with sulguni cheese, its lack of availability in Toronto calls for a substitution. The mix of mozzarella, feta and a hint of cream cheese is their best approximation, and it delivers the cheesy goodness. To eat, mix the yolk and cheese mixture until homogenous, and then rip off an end piece of bread to begin the festivities.
Khinkali is another Georgian classic, and are triple the size of dumplings you find in most other cuisines. The most traditional filling on the menu is a mixture of ground beef and pork, flavoured with a secret Georgian herb and spice mix. There’s a process to eating these as well. To get a good handle, hold the khinkali from the pinched top and turn upside down. Bite into the thick dough from the side and be ready to drink the soup that comes spilling out. Once you’ve spilled a few drops on your shirt, go ahead and finish the rest of the dumpling – pinched top optional.
Wash the meal down with a Haxtapi, an imported Georgian drink that comes in a variety of flavours. Tarragon and feijoa are two of the more unique choices, but you’ll find yourself wanting to try them all.
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