Opened less than a month ago on 181 College Street is Teara Lab, the first Japanese fusion sandwich shop in Toronto. Helming the kitchen is chef Frank Liu, who is also responsible for the menu at KAKA All You Can Eat, a popular AYCE restaurant located in Markham.
The modern and casual sandwich shop is conveniently situated across the street from University of Toronto, making it an ideal spot for students, whether it be quick grab-and-go lunches or sit-down meals in between classes.
Which is your favourite ramune flavour? Mine are "Original" and "Melon" :)
At Teara Lab (Twitter: @TearaLab, Facebook: Teara Lab), diners have the option of getting a sandwich or a sandwich combo, which comes with seasoned fries and a drink. Teara Lab's drinks selection is pretty impressive so don't go for just soda. Customers can choose from a variety of fruit teas (passion fruit green tea, mango green tea, fresh watermelon juice), slush (mango or match red bean), milk teas and creamas.
My friend and I ordered a Hokkaido Milk Tea ($5) and a LemonDada ($5). Both were fantastic! I would actually consider just dropping by the sandwich shop for a drink if I'm ever in the area.
The two of us tried four sandwiches:
TERIYAKI CHICKEN BURGER ($9.49)
Ace Bakery classic burger bun with iceberg lettuce, wasabi mayonnaise, tomatoes, baked teriyaki chicken with havarti cheese, crispy onions and seaweed powder.
I enjoyed this burger. The teriyaki chicken was tender, juicy, and not dry at all. I liked that the crispy onions and chopped iceberg lettuce added different textures and crunch to the sandwich. The sandwich was a bit sloppy and wet, which was probably due to the combination of tomatoes, juices from the teriyaki chicken and the wasabi mayo (I don't mind sloppy sandwiches at all, it's part of the fun!) I think the wasabi mayo really pulled all the components together here. Actually, the mayo was so delicious I wish I can bottle some up to take home. I couldn't taste much of the havarti cheese but I believe it contributed to the overall creaminess and buttery-ness of the sandwich. I couldn't taste the seaweed powder at all.
YUZU TERIYAKI FISH BURGER ($9.99)
Ace Bakery black bun with mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce, herb mayonnaise, baked basa fish with yuzu teriyaki sauce and havarti cheese, tomatoes, crispy onions and dry seaweed powder.
This was my least favourite sandwich at Teara Lab. I was pretty disappointed since I was really looking forward to trying it (the black bun looked really appealing and I'm also a sucker for fish burgers). Sadly, the entire burger lacked flavour. Firstly, the bun, with its jet black colour coming from a hint of powdered bamboo charcoal, was completely tasteless. Secondly, I also did not care for the yuzu teriyaki sauce, nor the fact that fish is baked (I much prefer fried fish in a burger). Lastly, I personally do not think havarti cheese, tomatoes or crispy onions complement fish in general (just imagine having fish with those toppings or as sides). Ironically, this is the one sandwich on the Teara Lab menu that does not have mayonnaise, but one which I think would benefit from mayo the most (think tartar sauce, wasabi mayo, on fried fish).
SOY GLAZED PORK BELLY SANDWICH ($9.99)
Ace Bakery hot dog bun with mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce, kimchi, soy glazed tenderized pork belly, avocado, tomato, onion and seaweed.
This was my favourite sandwich. The pork belly was just right in terms of its fat-to-meat ratio - not too fat nor too lean. At the time, I was surprised that the avocados complemented the pork belly so well, but later on I realized a lot of pork tacos have avocados in them too! What I love most about this sandwich is the kimchi. The fermented veg, with its bold seasoning and spice, cut the richness of the pork impeccably. Perhaps this is why I love buta kimchi :) Anyway, this time I could taste the seaweed because it wasn't in powder form.
RED WINE BRAISED SHORT RIB SANDWICH ($13.99)
Ace Bakery hot dog bun with mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce, red wine braised short rib with sautéed onion, mushroom top with havarti cheese, tomatoes, crispy onions and seaweed powder.
This is one fancy sandwich. Even though this is not my favourite sandwich, it still ranks up there because the red wine braised short rib was really flavourful, juicy and tender. If the short rib was served with a sauce and side, it could easily be a great entree at a restaurant. For once, I could actually taste the cheese! And it went really well with the mushrooms (melted cheese and mushrooms is always a hit). Again, I couldn't taste the seaweed powder. By the way, this is the only sandwich on the menu that has no real "Asian" ingredient in it.
Teara Lab is still in its opening/testing phase. Chef Liu will be tweaking and perfecting his sandwiches for the next little while so don't be surprised if you no longer see the same sandwiches that I had during your visit. From my experience, there were undeniably some hits and misses, with some sandwich combinations working better than others. I really hope that Teara Lab will continue to improve their menu by 1) Using a variety of different toppings, 2) Ensuring that those toppings actually complement each other and the protein, 3) Ensuring that each component actually contributes in flavour (*ahem* seaweed powder *cough*), and 4) Showcasing a unique punch in flavour for each sandwich (i.e. I'll always remember the wasabi mayo in that Teriyaki Chicken Burger). On the whole, Teara Lab is a fun concept, and I am looking forward to going back and trying their other sandwiches.
I actually visited Teara Lab again last night in hopes of trying their Japanese Curry Pork Burger and Tonkatsu Pork Burger so that I can say I tried all their sandwiches. Unfortunately, I found out that the two sandwiches were no longer offered. Good news is their Korean Kalbi Sandwich launches today!
As an extra incentive for you to check them out, Teara Lab is offering a 10% soft opening discount to all customers until June 20th. Still five more days, friends!
*This meal was complimentary. The opinions and views expressed on this post are my own*