Little Sister has been offering up Indonesian-Dutch cuisine at 2031 Yonge Street (between Eglinton and Davisville) in Toronto's midtown neighbourhood, since the summer of 2014. Owners Jennifer Gittins and Michael van den Winkel, who also own Quince Bistro, opted to open up Little Sister inspired by van den Winkel's stint cooking for the Dutch navy and the popularity of the rijsttafel, a weekly Dutch naval tradition, and its renaissance here in Toronto in recent years.
In a room designed by local design house Commute Home, Little Sister features ample wooden tables and chairs and a light marble wall sits behind expansive dark wooden shelving behind the bar, housing a plethora of spirits and wines on its shelves. Large shiny beer taps dispense several different suds into waiting glasses. Large picture windows allow unobstructed views out onto the bustling Yonge streetscape. The kitchen is open to the rest of the restaurant through paned glass (with several panes open) reminiscent of a food truck, and you can see and smell your food being prepared in real time. Funky wallpaper, hanging pot lights and high ceilings complete the picture, giving this place a cool urban aesthetic.
The atmosphere was inviting, friendly and comfortable. From the cordial staff to the small but open concept dining area, the opened up kitchen bestowing the sounds and smells of food preparation to the pleasant hubub of laughter and conversation, this place feels like a home away from home.
The menu is divided into several sections; skewers, traditional, snacks and sides. Skewers will run you from $6.25 to $7.50, traditional will cost $12.75 to $15.75 (except for the Ikan Bekar Belado, their fish dish, which is listed at market price), the snacks are $2 to $10.75, and the sides are $3 to $7.50.
Little Sister features a menu modelled on the rijsttafel (rice table); a mulititude of dishes served in small portions accompanied by rice. Originating during the Dutch presence in Indonesia, the Dutch introduced this tradition to be able to enjoy a wide variety of dishes at one setting but also to impress visitors with the exotic abundance of their colony. Emphasis is placed on an array of flavours, colours, spiciness and textures.
This is echoed by my server Brandon, who explains;
The menu is kind of done in smaller shared plates, so it's not like a la carte, so you might need more than one thing. My recommendation would be to start small and you can always order more.
"Depending on what you order, some of the dishes are kind of saucy, need rice, so if you need help I'm here to help," offers Brandon.
I would start with two dishes, the traditional are a bit heartier. You could probably go up to three if your appetite is a bit heartier.
I had the Satay Sapi (beef, kecap, limeleaf and lemongrass) and the Pangsit (Jakarta wontons, beef, green onion, with a chili lime sauce) which are classified as skewers and snacks respectively. Other skewers available are the Satay Lilit (Balinese spiced chicken) and the Satay Ayam (chicken, peanut sauce). Other snacks to tempt your palette are the sweet spicy peanuts, Krupuk (prawn crackers, peanut sauce), Atjar Tjampour (Little Sister house pickles), Sumatra spiced beef croquettes, Shrimp salad (Asian pear, pickled celery radish, pickled chili ginger vinaigrette), Babi guling (Balinese roasted pork, pickles, peanuts, iceberg wedge), Balinese shredded chicken taco (lettuce, pickled cucumber, crispy shallot sour cream), and the Rendang taco (beef, coconut crema, lettuce, pickled red onion).
There are also several sides to choose from, that could also be characterized as an appetizer. Beginning with the White rice, you can also get Nasi goreng, Grilled mustard greens (sambal oelek (Indonesian hot sauce), ketjap manis (Indonesian soy sauce)), Urab (Balinese vegetable salad, coconut, sambal goreng (soya bean cake), lime leaf), Watermelon salad (chili, fresh herbs, sambal vinaigrette), Fried cauliflower salad (rujak (Indonesian fruit or vegetable salad), green onion, puffed rice).
For the main course, and taking Brandon's advice to get a third dish, I had the Ikan Bekar Belado (grilled fish, tomato, sambal trassi (shrimp paste) banana flower pickle). Being a larger portion than the other dishes correctly labels this item a main course. It was quite tasty and full of flavour. It is listed at market price on the menu, but on that particular evening, it cost $15.95.
Other traditional dishes on order are the Babi kecap (soy and ginger braised pork shoulder), the Ayam panggang (sweet chili grilled chicken, bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro), the Udang kari (shrimp coconut curry), the Semur java (Javanese dark spiced braised beef, crispy potato, green onion) and the Babi panggang (roasted pork belly, pickled bean sprout, fresh chili sauce).
Ikan Bakar Belado (grilled fish), ayam panggang (sweet Chili grilled chicken), nasi goreng by Pylin C.
While not on the menu itself, Brandon informed me of the two dessert options available that evening.
I have the Coconut Pudding which is served chilled with some liquefied palm sugar on top and some coconut flakes. I also have a homemade Coffee and Ginger ice cream sundae topped with whipped cream, a little drizzled chocolate sauce and finished with a little crumbled toffee.
Decisions, decisions. I finally go for the latter option, the sundae, and was not disappointed. It was amazing, its sweetness a nice counterpoint to the spiciness of the food I'd just eaten. It was a fitting end to the meal.
I was offered either still or sparkling water when I arrived as well (I chose the still water). It arrived in a large carafe with an accompanying glass. Other kinds of soda pop, juice and water are available upon request.
Little Sister offers a wide variety of wine, beer and cocktails.
For wine, they offer up whites, reds, and sparkling varieties, in a listing created by Master Sommelier John Szabo. They run from $11 to $14 a glass, and $48 to $65 a bottle. Selections hail from around the globe, including Canada, Spain, the U.S., Argentina, Austria, Italy and South Africa.
For beer, they have Amsterdam Blonde, Muskoka Cream Ale, Beau's Lug Tread and Brimstone Sinister Minister which will set you back $8 for a 16 oz glass.
For cocktails, they have concoctions with names like Kaffir Me Gently (vodka, cocchi americano, elderflower liqueur, lemongrass kaffir lime syrup), Gula Melaka (gin, fernet branca, palm sugar, lime), and Ubud Hangout (gin, fresh cucumber, cilantro, black pepper jalapeno syrup, lime, orange bitters) among others. They cost between $12 to $18.
My only gripe is that they didn't have any coffee available to go with my dessert, which would have been great. Instead I opted for the second Coke, but a coffee would have been preferred for sure.
My server Brandon was excellent, from greeting me at the front door like an old friend, allowing me to sit and dine even though I was quite early for my reservation, and his great product knowledge. Food and drink were delivered in a timely fashion, he was full of good cheer and interesting stories, and it was a good experience overall.
I felt great afterwards, full but not too much so. The fresh ingredients and spices used to prepare the dishes I ordered left me feeling healthy and refreshed as I exited the premises.
Little Sister is open from 4:45pm to 9:30pm Sunday and Monday, 4:45pm to 10pm Tuesday and Wednesday, and 4:45pm to 11pm Thursday to Saturday. Reservations are recommended. Takeout can be procured by calling directly or through ypdine.com. You can reach them at www.littlesisterto.com, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and at 416-488-2031.
As they might say to you in Indonesia as you begin a meal, Selamat makan!