COO café bread or rice is a new Japanese restaurant (opened December 2015) located at 1049 Bloor St. W (Bloor & Dovercourt) serving home-style Japanese cooking with some European flair. It first caught my eye when I was reviewing Hogtown Vegan just across the street and a little West. I thought the signage was eye-catching but the name also made me raise an eyebrow. It’s a very… Asian name? Haha. I am a fan of how literal it is. Their menus feature mains that are all served with either bread or rice.
I love the façade here, the large red letters read COO and the café bread or rice are a nice font, on what looks almost like lined paper in the background. It’s pleasant on the eyes. Inside, it’s got a comfortable atmosphere… a narrow space where you can see Executive Chef Nagisa Hashimoto work his magic in the kitchen as soon as you walk in. The tables are very clean and modern looking with lovely red wooden chairs accompanying them. The place seats about 30 at capacity. On the walls are little windowsill/fireplace top counters where homemade art and little trinkets reside. It’s really nice!
I must also comment on the music played here. It’s wonderfully relaxing, with a mix of classic tunes from Sinatra and Dave Brubeck, along with some interesting chill lounge covers of classic hits like We Built This City and Pretty Woman. It’s quirky and distinct.
The Food (all items were tried during their lunch menu hours)
Vegan Lentil Soup ($5)
I love soup. I quite enjoyed Maha’s Lentil Soup and I figured I’d give this one a shot too! It was good but to be honest, it paled in comparison to Maha’s incredible soup. The first thing I noticed was the texture… it wasn’t as smooth. The lentils were still there in a finely blended but still slightly grainy way. The other negative was that the flavour, while still tasty, was perhaps a little too plain. I think I was spoiled by Maha’s.
Chicken Dumpling Soup ($5)
SOUP! I love soup, I love dumplings… this couldn’t go wrong, right? RIGHT. This soup was a delicious mix of basically chicken matzah balls, a tasty broth, a drop of hot sauce, bok choy, and scallions. I thought it was going to be similar to Chinese dumplings, but these were fantastically soft and tasty chicken balls (made of chicken and I believe chopped onions?) that paired well with the soup. Would definitely recommend this one!
Shrimp Croquettes ($7.50) — served with a side of mixed salad and homemade pickled vegetables
YES! I love croquettes, which is a fried roll with mashed potato and meat and usually béchamel sauce. MMM. This appetizer does not disappoint! It’s got a delicious filling with great panko (I think?) batter served with homemade tartar sauce. The side salad is wonderful, with elements of sweetness (mandarin slices, tomatoes) and crunch (radish) and a simply delicious soy balsamic vinaigrette. The pickled vegetables were strong but not overwhelming. A nice plate with items that all complement each other well!
Karaage is another one of those appetizers, that much like Saganaki is something I will almost certainly order if it’s on the menu. It’s one of the greatest appetizers that you could eat at a restaurant. Karaage is Japanese fried chicken. It’s lightly battered and so juicy. My biggest complaint about regular fried chicken is that sometimes the meat gets too stringy and chewy… that doesn’t happen with karaage. The dish comes with a side of two homemade mayo dips… both delectable!
Gyu Don ($9.50 + $1 for poached egg) — Japanese pulled beef, homemade pickled ginger, green peppercorns and shishito peppers served on rice
This is a dish that I believe many would love, but just doesn’t quite do it for me. I like the bok choy, shishito peppers, and poached egg but the beef is just too chewy for me. I also found the sauce on the beef to be a bit lacking in the flavour that I like. It wasn’t a bad dish by any means, but I just felt disappointed. Maybe I’m just not a pulled meat fan.
Chicken Breast Schnitzel Sandwich ($8.90 + $1 for cheddar cheese) — homemade tomato sauce, grainy mustard and lettuce, with homemade pickles and mixed salad on the side
Upon taking my first bite of this sandwich, I notice that the chicken is extremely tender and delicious (much like the karaage). The bun is nice and firm yet still fluffy. The toppings work really well, the combination of tomato sauce with mustard seed-filled mustard, coleslaw, mayo and melted cheddar blend together for a delicious mix. Big winner here.
Chestnut Crème Brûlée ($5.50)
I love crème brûlée (I feel like I say this about a lot of foods, ha!). The presentation here was great, with powdered sugar sprinkled on top and some berries on the side. Let’s start with the positive: the crispy sugar top layer was excellent. It had the proper crunch and flavour. However, the chestnut-flavoured custard layer was disappointing. I felt that the chestnut flavour didn’t punch through in the same way a normal vanilla base does. In addition, the custard base’s texture was a little bit grainy (likely due to the coarseness of the ground chestnuts). That being said, it was still decent and worth trying if you’re a big chestnut fan.
Again, the presentation here was awesome! The side cream was shaped kinda like an elongated football, cool stuff. As for the cheesecake, the texture was more cake-like, being fairly coarse, which kind of sets it apart from both Japanese-style and NY-style cheesecake. I think it works! I liked the flavour a lot, it was very much like a NY-style cheesecake but not nearly as heavy. The cream on the side was fantastic, and the berry sauce was great as well.
Overall, I really enjoyed my visits to COO café bread or rice, and look forward to going back to try other items on their menu. They have a wonderful restaurant with a comfortable atmosphere, great music, and excellent food from a creative chef! It is absolutely worth the visit to try out their karaage and chicken breast schnitzel sandwich. Yum.