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The East Ender is no longer in business.
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The East Ender is a moderately priced casual International / global restaurant located by Queen St E and Jones Ave in the Riverdale and Leslieville area of East Toronto.
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Review: How the east was lost

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on May 17, 2012
As sad as it still is to see Tomi-Kro gone, what's even sadder is what's there in its place. And when you consider the combined experience and pedigree of restaurant veteran Hieu Nguyen and chef Greg Argent, our disappointment is doubled. While we root for the warm and...
As sad as it still is to see Tomi-Kro gone, what's even sadder is what's there in its place. And when you consider the combined experience and pedigree of restaurant veteran Hieu Nguyen and chef Greg Argent, our disappointment is doubled. While we root for the warm and welcoming Nguyen and want him badly to succeed - to be brutally honest, the best part about The East Ender is that you don't have to pay for parking after 6pm. Oh, and perhaps its' attractive Leslieville clientele.

Heck, they don't even get ambiance right. Whereas for most neighbourhood eateries it's a funky mishmash of garage sale, Value Village and vintage shop finds, highlights of The East Ender include grease-splattered pendant lighting that looks like it's been hanging over a deep fryer for years, an ill-placed room divider, and some plywood shelving. Ta-dah! And I'm all for reduce, reuse and recycle, but forcing us to reuse our cutlery for each course is an acceptable faux pas that should only be reserved for all-you-can-eat buffets. We can all appreciate the theatrical elements of an open kitchen, but please someone pass me a Tylenol: shouldn't the excessive chopping of herbs be done before not during dinner?

So far, they really don't do much right and that includes an Asian-inflected menu that could be more on point by today's hotter fusion trends. Instead, the fare is pretty predictable and feels painfully dated. Okay, who wouldn't like an order of pork belly sliders ($9), a dim sum-inspired steamed bun classic done sandwich style? Only the moist and doughy outside stuffed with sliced cukes and fatty slabs make this combo too wet and greasy a concoction. Another travesty arrives with a seared B.C. albacore tuna ($11): it's so overcooked, they'd be better off opening a can and serving tuna salad sandwiches. Its accompanying slaw, however, with napa cabbage, carrot, avocado, daikon and tangerine in a vigorous yuzu dressing, is but a brief glimpse into something done spot on. Unfortunately, with an order of pork and black truffles dumplings ($11) filled with ground pork and veal, we're back to Disappointment-ville. It's utterly tasteless, despite the boast that chef uses a 10 per cent black truffle paste.

Then a humongous order of smoked salt and pepper pork dry ribs ($9) arrives wrapped in a banana leaf, coated with both dark and light soy and xo sauces. We fully expect a flavour explosion to wipe out our recent memories. Instead, the antibiotic-free meat is tough and sinewy, a recurrent theme throughout the meal, with the exception of a nicely braised and tender chili and chocolate beef rib ($20). This time the mistake isn't the meat, but a sauce that looks and tastes like a just-add-water packaged mix.

One of the few times the kitchen rises to an acceptable level of competence is with a Moroccan lamb shank ($20). Although unevenly cooked, the fragrant aroma of couscous studded with apricots, raisins and olives ensures this dish gets a passing grade as does skewered maple chipotle bison ($20) that's nicely charred to a medium rare. Now if only the accompanying frites weren't so flaccid.

But the misfires keep on comin': does every main have to be garnished with baby bok choy, sugar snap peas and zucchini? Is there really no other way to decorate a plate with no less than five chefs in that small kitchen? And while the roast garlic taro croquettes on the short rib plate have a beautifully golden exterior, the taro filling is woefully under-seasoned with the density of an unroasted chestnut. A flatter, more latke-type option would make more sense.

Homemade desserts fare only slightly better: a vanilla bean panna cotta ($9) has the perfect jiggle, but lacks any discernible flavour. More puzzling is a crisp pastry round beneath it with the consistency of a Triscuit; too much of a textural contrast for such a delicate dessert.

There really is little to get excited about at The East Ender. Yes, portions are generous and prices are low, but the food lacks inventiveness, not to mention lazy execution. To be fair, a frozen lemon lime parfait with a poppy seed cookie ($9), a fresh take on cookies and ice cream, truly is divine topped with a toasted marshmallow flourish, and really the only culinary joy to be had at The East Ender. For now, the best advice for hungry diners is to go west.
Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
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