The premise of the column is simple; work with restaurants of all kinds to explore what they have to offer and what makes them unique. In a city like Toronto, the choices are sometimes daunting and the food reviews and critics can be snotty and too complicated for their own good. So why not keep this easy? Drinks. Appetizer. Main Course. Dessert. All along with a bit of information about what makes them my choice for Daniel’s Dish and why you should try them right away!
Little Sister Indonesian Food Bar, 2031 Yonge Street (416)-488-2031
I haven’t had the opportunity to stop and enjoy a Daniel’s Dish visit in what seems like forever. Be it because of my hectic schedule or simply because I have just been too tired, I can imagine that most of you can understand where I am coming from. I’m still baffled that it’s already August and that summer seems to be coming to a close before it’s even started. With press trips in the works for both DoTheDaniel.com & FASHIONIGHTS in the coming months, our little blog family is busy working away to bring you the latest and greatest.
Recently I planned an intimate Daniel’s Dish at one of Toronto’s newest and most adventurous additions to the restaurant world, Little Sister Indonesian Food Bar. Not only was I able to attend, but I was also able to bring along Julio AND Catherine for what was one of my favourite meals of the year.
Located north of that invisible Bloor Street border in the minds of food lovers, Little Sister is a destination that in my mind is worth the trip to one of the city’s midtown neighbourhood. The love child of owners, Jennifer Gittens & Michael van den Winkel, this sister restaurant to Quince Bistro is just a hop and a skip up the road. Little Sister is proving that it won’t stand in its sibling’s shadow and is making waves in the Toronto food scene in new and exciting ways.
It’s decor has something new to look at with every turn of the head. The concept was designed by the Commute Design team and was meant to feel grungy and urban. With a hodgepodge of bright colours, cardboard printed menus, an open concept kitchen with glass awnings, you truly do feel like you have stepped into another part of the world. A Friday night in the neighbourhood of Davisville with many restaurants to choose from — Little Sister is the place to be.
The menu itself combines traditional Indonesian and Balinese dishes in a way that both well versed foodies and beginners can appreciate. With it’s “Food Bar” sizing, which isn’t as small as tapas nor big enough to be considered entrees, this is my favourite kind of dinning. The kind where you order several options and share with good company, drinks and a fantastic atmosphere.
Without further ado, let me tell you about which dishes you absolutely must try and why Little Sister has truly topped my Toronto list of Restaurants to dine at!
The one page menu design with cocktails & drinks on the one side and food on the other makes me very happy. The playful nature of its cardboard printing might seem childish to those white linen silver cutlery “foodies” out there, but it fits the concept beautifully. As I usually do, I asked our server which drink she would recommend if she had to pick one that represents the restaurant and pairs with its varying food items. Without hesitation, she pointed me in the direction of The Little Brother. Combining Tromba Tequila, Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, Ginger-Lemongrass Sumac Syrup, Pomegranate Juice & Lemon Marrakesh Bitters… this sounded interesting.
Mildly flavoured despite it’s strong ingredients, this cocktail truly spoke to the art of balance. Both sweet and tart, it certainly packed a punch after a long day at the office. It’s tropical inspiration and playful tequila base showed the power of Little Sister. Without bragging, this was one of the better cocktails I have sipped on for Daniel’s Dish in a long time.
Although I normally don’t like to mention more then one cocktail, I must also recommend the Tamarind Sour for those of you looking for round two, three and four on your next visit. Tamarind is one of those sweet flavours that you might classically associate with Latino and South American cuisine, but it made a delicious cocktail that continued well into a delicious meal.
Since the menu is mostly designed in a sharing fashion, it’s difficult to find one item that is more “appetizer” in style than others. The Snacks section is definitely a good place to start when you are ready to get the taste buds going. With classically named dishes, I was thankful for the patience of our server when I tried to pronounce the dishes we feasted on. Luckily for us, I don’t think this was the first (and certainly not the last!) time she heard the items mispronounced. At the end of the day, trying out new dishes and cuisines is about learning, growing and laughing. So don’t be scared to give your Indonesian a try!
Of the gluttonous amount of food we ordered, the one appetizer item I’d absolutely recommend would be The Shrimp Lettuce Wrap. Sambal Oelek is a primary flavour in varying intensities throughout the menu and one that spicy food fanatics like myself love. If you’re in the mood for some heat make sure to give the Green Sambal housemade sauce a try; the perfect condiment for my items of choice throughout our dinner. With flavours of Sambal, fresh lettuce, coriander, pickled cucumber and crispy shallots… I was in flavour heaven. The shrimp themselves popped when you bit into them, the tell tale sign of a properly cooked shrimp. For those of you who love to dive in with your hands and get dirty during dinner this is your one way ticket to flavour town. Refreshing, acidic and mildly spiced all at the same time, it was the perfect way to start the night.
Indonesian cuisine, I came to learn, is the pairing of many layers of flavour. Not only do most of the dishes on the menu take anywhere from 3 to 4 DAYS to prepare, but they offer a layer of complexity in a subtle way. I love that every dish was the combination on contrasting flavours, balance and satisfied every taste bud. Catherine looked at me and said “This makes me want to travel.” while Julio said “There’s nothing I don’t like.” Coming from two very discerning palettes, I couldn’t help but agree. And if you can get Catherine Sugrue, the most avid of onion haters on this earth, to eat AND enjoy onions, you must be doing something right!
Speaking again to the sharing style of the menu; when it came time to enjoy our main courses we simply chose to order several items with sides. With hands reaching across the table while we exchanged stories of our day and our opinions on the flavours, I stopped to smile and realize that this to me is heaven. Good food, good drinks, good atmosphere along with a good laugh. I dare you to not feel the same when you visit Little Sister.
Of the items that we chose to order, my absolute favourites were the Babi Panggang & Grilled Mustard Greens. Babi Panggang is a roasted pork belly with pickled been sprouts and fresh chili sauce. Of all the dishes I was pleasantly surprised that this one was both sweet and spicy. The pork fell apart under the weight of my fork and the pickled vegetables helped to cut through the decadent fattiness of the meat. And it was stunning in it’s presentation. As silly as that sounds, in most cases we eat with our eyes before we enjoy with our mouths.
Paired with the hearty flavours of Grilled Mustard Greens complimented by sambal oelek and ketjap manis (an Indonesian Soy Sauce), I loved the intense green flavours of this side dish. As strange as that sounds, there is no better way to describe the flavour which I would compare to that of dark leafy greens or broccoli. You could taste the freshness, which when paired with spice and salt set this dish on fire.
An honorable mention goes to the Semur Java. The reason I didn’t photograph this dish is simply because of its dark brown sauce-like consistency which wouldn’t do it justice. Similar in flavours to a mole, this dark spiced braised beef spoke when you tasted it of cloves, onion, sweet and spice. Combined in it’s balance, it quite literally had me licking the bowl by the last bite. Although it might not be the most photographic of dishes, it certainly was one of the table’s favourites.
Those weary of sharing this may not be the best style of cuisine for you. But you can take your anti social self out to the fast food place down the street as far as I am concerned. And those of you looking for an experience and not just a delicious meal, the Traditional & Sides menu have a whole new world of flavours waiting to be loved.
By the end of the meal I thought I couldn’t possible enjoy another bite. And then The Homemade Coffee Ice Cream with Skor Bits & Chocolate Sauce was put in front of me. In my mind, one of the best ice cream flavours ever invented is coffee because of my love for the caffeinated elixir of the gods.
For those of you who might disagree, the traditional Coconut Pudding might be a delicious option to satisfy your sweet tooth. More in line with the concept of the menu and it’s quasi tropical flavours, this was a hit with Catherine & Julio. I myself don’t fancy coconut all that much so luckily for us there were no arguments at the table.
Secret You Should Know:
As many of you already know, this is probably my favourite part about my Daniel’s Dish posts aside from the delicious food I get to enjoy and write about. There is something about learning a fact about these restaurants that no one else knows and then sharing it with you… It’s that special something that, if you’re like me, will stick in your mind when you visit the space each and every time and will make you smile.
My #DoTheDaniel secret for Little Sister Indonesian Food Bar is as follows… “Don’t listen to your parents” says Chef and co-owner Michael van den Winkel. Wait a second… what? Yes, you read that right. In his early years, Michael’s education was already leading him down the path to becoming a great chef. When it came time to attend his stage (also known as co-op or placement here in North America), he has a five star hotel all lined up and ready to go thanks to his parents. But Michael had other plans.
He decided instead to join the Dutch Navy. It is in his service and time spent in the navy that he learnt to cook traditional Indonesian dishes and developed a passion for food that was far more worldly then that of classic training. So you could say that his disobedience of his parents is the exact reason why we today can enjoy Little Sister Indonesian Food Bar. A little disobedience and a lot of worldly lessons have made him the man he is today and for that I am grateful! So I guess what he says is true in his particular instance and speaks to the concept of believing in yourself and chasing your dreams.
Make sure to follow @LittleSisterTO on Twitter & Instagram to inspire the adventurous foodie in you with their latest culinary concoctions. Make sure to use the #LittleSisterTO hashtag to join in on the social media conversation during your next visit and tag @DoTheDaniel to bring me along with you!
For more behind the scenes of this and other Daniel’s Dish visits, follow my Instagram!
Please remember to enjoy responsibly and never drink and drive.
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