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April 4, 2004

A little soft shoe...

So last night was the chowhound dinner at the Tapas bar in Chiado. There were four of us there, Kathleen, Diane, Randy and I.

My first impression of the tapas bar was less than stunning, in that it's not immediately apparent from outside how to get in. It turns out that you have to go through Chiado to get to Senhor Antonio, but it would be nice if that were clearer when you're standing on the street.

We ordered 8 tapas plus bread and olives for the four of us. There was a salt cod salad (interesting, and not at all what I expected), grilled sardines (very good), grilled tiger shrimp with piri-piri (the piri-piri was something exceptional, tangy and smokey and just plain great), a bean and rapini casserole ( decent, but at little red pepper oriented for my tastes, doesn't make it bad, just not my preference), mushroom risotto (excellent, and a healthy portion size for a tapas), grilled chourizo and blood sausage (this was a revelation, I hate blood sausage, but thought this was fabulous), tomato and cheese salad (light and refreshing) and grouper carpaccio (light and flavourful).

For dessert we tried a vanilla pudding (which was very much like a creme caramel) and a squash flan. The squash flan was an exceptionally interesting dish. It had a texture almost like a potato rosti and a delicate sweet taste. It was forky when you tried to cut it, but didn't seem particularly heavy when you ate it. An excellent dish.

It was a fun evening, and I look forward to the next chow gathering.


Restaurant Info:

Chiado Restaurant
864 College
Toronto, ON M6H1A3
Phone: (416) 538-1910
Hours: Mon-Thu 5pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm; Sun 5pm-10pm


Related Links:
Chowhound's Toronto / Ontario board
Chowhound Post
Get invited to Toronto Chowhound Dinners - email the organisor
Chiado and Senhor Antonio's

April 16, 2004

"Superior to what?" is the question

Ultimately, this is what we opted for.

The service was excellent. We were given a choice of tables and chose one in the front window with a view of the street. The waitstaff was pleasant and attentive without being annoying or overbearing. Recommendations were given cheerfully and specifically. Slight irritation when two different people tried to clear away a plate we weren't finished with within minutes of each other, but that was a very minor quibble.

We started with the anti-pasto platter for two which was an interesting and enjoyable mix of things. It would have been nice if there was some indication what the spoonful of sauce was meant to go with, we eventually ate it with the quail. The salad greens were dressed with a light, sweet dressing that was absolutely heavenly.

We both ordered our main plates off the specials menu. I had a butternut squash ravioli, while my dining companion chose the grilled vegetables with cheese and rice balls and salad greens. The cheese and rice balls (she shared) were really amazing. The textures were just lovely and the flavour quite nice. Unfortunately, she said the salad greens were not given the same wonderful dressing as in the appetizer plate. Rather, she barely ate them because the dressing was so puckery and acidic. The ravioli had a nice subtle, nutty flavour and sauce was incredibly flavourful and a bit spicy. Unfortunately, for the dish as a whole, the flavourful, spicy tomato sauce completely overwhelmed the suble flavours of the pasta. The sauce would have carried a dish all on its own with just a plain pasta, while the ravioli would have been far better served with a simpler sauce - a light cream sauce, or maybe butter / white wine.

Though the choices were pretty run of the mill, dessert was quite good. We ordered a chocolate mousse and a creme brulee. I found the creme brulee had been overtorched, but the creme part of it was nicely done. The chocolate mousse was really excellent. It was topped with bits of crunchy hazelnut and chocolate and a thin layer of ganache. My dining companion, on the other hand, much preferred the creme brulee, so I think we can call dessert a toss-up.

The wine list was extensive and offered a significant range of prices from $30-$150. I can't say much really about the variety of wines, since I know little about wine. There were a half dozen by the glass choices. We ordered a half bottle of something or other Shiraz that was good.


Restaurant Info:
Superior Restaurant
253 Yonge St. Toronto, ON M5B 1N8
Phone: (416) 214-0416
Fax:(416) 214-9785
Hours: Mon 11:30am-9pm, Tue-Sat 11:30am-11pm, Sun closed


Related Links:
Chowhound's Toronto / Ontario board
Original Chowhound Post
Superior Restaurant

May 18, 2004

Breakfast + Lunch = Brunch; Brunch + Jazz = Bruzz?


First off, the name memorization test, spelling doesn't count! In attendance were Leah, Leanne, Jacquilynne, Diane, Susan, Judy (aka Erin), Lori, Frederic, Eric and Tess. I think that's everyone but if I forgot your or mispelled you, I apologize.

Brunch was at Lisa's Cafe on Carlaw Street. It's a great space in a very cool neighbourhood. The decor is comfy, lofty and open. A fishtank in an old TV was totally charming.

Brunch is an all you can eat with coffee and tea included. It's served cafeteria style, with different sections for breakfast (french toast, waffles, sausage, bacon and fresh made omelettes), lunch (beef stroganoff, strada, a fish thing and a selection of wonderful fresh salads). There were also fresh pastries, fruit salad and a toasting bar. Large glasses of amazing fresh squeezed orange juice are $2 extra.

The strada, Lisa's signature dish, was a real polarizing element. A layered casserole of bread, cheese and vegetables bound together with egg, some people loved it, some people poked at it suspiciously and declined to eat it. I was on the love it side, but I'm sure those hate it people have good taste in other things.

I can't much comment on the Jazz, since I'm not a jazz person, really, but live music always provides a great atmosphere.

I'll definitely be back at Lisa's cafe for future brunches and am looking forward to the next Chowhound Chow Down.


Restaurant Info:
I believe Lisa's Cafe has since closed but check chef Lisa Shamai's catering website for more.


Related Links:

Chowhound's Toronto / Ontario board
Ask about joining future Chowhound Dinners - email the organisor.
Original Chowhound Post

July 19, 2004

Anatolia

Indeed, the food at Anatolia was a delight.

We started with a mixtizers shared amongst the tables, including a subtle dish of appeof stuffed grape leaves, some wonderful dips (everyone had their own favourite) and excellent spiced beef patties (kefke? I think? My Turkish isn't so hot).

Entrees were mostly ordered individually, but there was a lot of plate passing going on. I tried a variety of interesting dishes, and was especially pleased with the yogurt based sauces, they were yummy. My choice was Yorgurtlu Adana, which was spiced lamb and beef mix, topped with tomato sauce, over bread with yogurt sauce on the side. The bread, which sopped up some of the rich, flavourful tomato sauce, was an excellent change from the expected rice accompaniement.

Finally, though we were all terribly stuffed from dinner, we ordered a couple servings of a special dessert, the name of which I forget entirely, but which consisted of cheese wrapped in pastry shreds, baked and topped with syrup. The cheese was subtle, and salty and contrasted well with the sweet (but not overpowering or sickening) syrup. It was a light and graceful dessert and a wonderful end to the meal.

The service was also very accommodating. They were gracious to our group, and completely understanding about our rather, shall we say, flexible arrival times. I'm not sure if the presence of a reporter and photographer from The Toronto Star had anything to do with that, but the service was excellent.

I understand that on Friday nights they have a special evening with a fixed price menu and entertainment, and I hope to attend that at some point in the future.


Restaurant Info:
Anatolia Restaurant
5112 Dundas St. W.
Etobicoke, ON M9A 1C2
Phone: (416) 207-0596
Hours: T-F 11:30pm-3pm, 5pm-9pm, Sat 12pm-11pm, Sun 12pm-9pm


Related Links:
Chowhound's Toronto / Ontario board
Ask about joining future Chowhound Dinners - email the organisor.
Original Chowhound Post
Anatolia

August 6, 2004

Mixed Messages - Allen's on the Danforth

I did end up eating at Allen's, and as many people noted in the submitted reviews at Toronto.com, the service is really quite slow. The host was marvellous and accommodating, apologetic about the poor options he had for a table when I arrived, but reserved me a seat up near the stage for later on in the evening when the music started. The waitress, however, stopped four times to apologize for not getting to me yet before she actually came by to take even my drink order. I ordered a glass of wine and a glass of water, and was not, at any point in the evening offered any more of either.

For dinner, I decided to use up a few of my flexpoints for the week instead of being a restrained dieter, and ordered the lamb shops with grilled sweet potato and three salads. The salads were greens in a vinagarette, marinated vegetables and a pasta salad. The greens were crisp and lovely, but the dressing was way too heavy on the oil, with little noticeable vinegar content; it seems likely that the whole batch is better balanced, but that they just didn't stir/shake it up enough before dressing my salad. The pasta salad was competent but pedestrian. The marinated vegetables had a lovely flavour and nice crunchiness, they were the clear winner on that plate.

In the main, the grilled sweet potatoes were excellent, and I enjoyed them quite a lot. Thing and delicate with a hint of crispiness and a bit of sweetness, they were simple and delicious. The 3 lamb chops, which I ordered medium well, were quite variously cooked, including one which was still barely rare. I sent that one back for replacement. Though the quality of the lamb itself was very good, it was topped with a peppercorn sauce that appeared to have no actual pepper in it, nor any salt, or really much flavour at all.

The band, on the other hand, was great, and more than made up for whatever other shortfalls the evening might have had.


Restaurant Info:
Allen's
143 Danforth Ave. Toronto, ON M4K1N2
Phone: (416) 463-3086
Fax:(416) 463-3705
Hours: M-F 11:30 am - 2:00 am, Sat & Sun 11 am - 2 am


Relevent Links:
Original Chowhound Post
Allen's

October 18, 2004

350 Farenheit is sometimes more than 360 degrees.

I've been wanting to try this restaurant for awhile, and with my mother in town, and both of us on diets, it seemed like an ideal time. Other plans kept us away all week, but finally on Sunday night we had the opportunity to stop in.

I had only a vague idea of where it was located on Bloor St, so it took me a bit to find it (467 Bloor West, just East of Bathurst by a couple of blocks, best parking is in the Green P lot South of Bloor just East of Bathurst). By the time we got there, we were quite hungry having not really eaten much in the way of lunch, so the excellent, garlicky hummous and toasted pitas that were immediately brought to the table were a welcome nosh.

The waitress was attentive, without being intrusive and helpful with suggestions, though it might have been nice if she had mentioned what they were out of before I tried to order it.

We started with an appetizer of grilled tomatoes and mozarella. Using low acid yellow tomatoes and a pleasantly salty mozarella, this was a flavourful step above the usual caprese. It was served with a side of mesclun green which were nicely and lightly dressed with balsamic vinagarette.

I didn't have the sesame crusted ahi tuna for dinner because they were out of it. Instead, I opted for the almond crusted salmon with quinoa and vegetables, while my mother chose the grilled tilapia and vegetables.

The salmon was a true delight, well cooked and moist, with the crust providing lovely flavour and texture. The quinoa pilaf was flavourful and nutty, like brown rice, but much lighter. The steemed vegetables included the usual green beans and peppers, but also a healthy proportion of both green and white asparagus.

Her tilapia was also well-cooked, but rather on the bland side, with only a bit of balsamic giving it flavour. The grilled vegetables were better fare, with more peppers and asparagus, and also some zucchini.

The dessert menu is surprisingly appetizing for a health conscious restaurant. We opted for the two tortes - one chocolate and one lemon. The chocolate torte was rich and flavourful, but drier than it needed to be, really. The lemon torte, on the other hand, was excellently flavoured, full of lemon with tart and sweet balanced off nicely. The oatmeal crust would have been better served by plating it dry instead of on top of the blueberry coulis, as it got a little mushy, but it was still yummy.

The final bill was $100 with taxes and tip. That included a single, surprisingly inexpensive ($3) bottle of spring water, and a cup of tea (a really nice ginger oolang), but no wine or other beverages. We were amused to note that some of the key nutritional information (calories, carbs, protein) were repeated on the cheque, so you had a record of them for posterity.

If they didn't feature nutritional information so prominantly on the menu (and cheque), 350 Farenheit would still pass muster as an excellent restaurant. The nutritionally balanced approach to the meals is an added benefit.


350 Farenheit is no longer in business.

October 25, 2004

Chowhound Dinner at 93 Harbord

I arrived for the dinner 30 minutes late (because it took me 45 minutes to find parking, in an area that's a mess of one way streets and no left turns), just as everyone was getting ready to order.

I decided relatively quickly on the organic beef kibbeh with a pomegranate jus and the cheese and pear salad. The table also ordered some different appetizers, including beef wrapped asparagus and a mixed seafood plate. Pita with parsley and olive dips was also provided to the table.

The food was excellent. It was certainly middle eastern at its core, but much more than the 'here's a skewer of chicken and some rice' dishes that you get at many restaurants. The salad, with its poached pears and salty cheese was finely balanced. The appetiziers were excellent and accompanied by caramelized, tart apples that were wonderful.

I make a lot of sweet sauces from poemegranate, so it was interesting to taste the flavour in a savory dish. It worked surprisingly well. I was a bit surprised that the dish came with mashed potatoes at its base instead of one of the other, more appropriate grains. I expect it said that on the menu and I just didn't notice. The kibbeh was tender and aromatic and generously portioned.

If I had a complaint about the evening, it would have been related to the service. Arriving late, I couldn't get the waiter's attention to provide a drink order until he arrived to take my food order 10 minutes later. We had to continually ask for additional water throughout the meal, we'd eventually get a few refilled bottles, but it was never enough to even top up everyone's glass.


Restaurant Info:
93 Harbord
93 Harbord St.
416-922-5914


Relevent Links:

Chowhound's Toronto / Ontario board
Ask about joining future Chowhound Dinners - email the organisor.
Original Chowhound Post

January 29, 2005

Red Violin

This month, the Chowhounds invaded the Red Violin (95 Danforth) for a Brazilian BBQ feast. Having lived in Brazil for awhile, it was like home sweet home for me.

Upon arriving (early even!) I noticed that Kathleen was already comfortably ensconced at the table with a glass of Guarana. That got the meal off on the right foot. I love me some Guarana. It's a sweet soft drink, similar to ginger ale but without the pungency. They even had the good kind - Antartica.

The meal started with appetizers laid out buffet style in the middle of the room. An assortment of meats and cheese, salads, and some seafood, plus a particularly delightful rendition of a Brazilian favourite called Pao de Queijo - small cheese buns. I had way too many Pao, and quite a lot of the excellent smoked salmon that was on the buffet. The kitchen had a bit of trouble keeping up with the demand on the shrimp, but otherwise the appetizers were nicely done and elegantly presented.

Side dishes for dinner were served family style. The Brazilian staple rice and beans were first up, followed by a plate of garlicy vegetables. They were almost a bit too garlicy, as the garlic was fresh and pungeant. Unlike many garlic vegetable, they weren't dripping butter or oil, which I appreciated. Also included in the sides was farofa (a dish of crumbs fried with bacon), deep fried plantains and a salsa like side.

There was a bit of confusion with plates in the transition from appetizers to mains that took some sorting to deal with. One of the hounds even had to get up and change her own plate, but that was the only major service gaffe I noticed.

Once we'd had a taste of the sides, the main meat service began. Red Violin is a Rodizio style restaurant, which means the waiters bring out the meat on spits and offer it to the diners. The selection at Red Violin was impressive. I can recall them bringing around:

Pork sausages - juicy and delicious and wonderfully spiced
Turkey wrapped in bacon - a bit pedestrian, relying mostly on the bacon for flavour
Chicken legs - excellently developed skin and nice juicy chicken
Chicken thighs
Garlic beef - more of that fresh, pungeant garlic
Beef ribs - amazing, tender, perfectly seasoned, a real highlight of an excellent meal
Roast tenderloin - another highlight, delightfully spiced and with a choice of doneness to keep everyone happy
Chicken hearts - my favourite in Brazil, a bit chewy in this incarnation, but still pretty good
Leg of lamb - I didn't try this, but it sure looked good
Pork medallions - I didn't try this either, as it looked dry, apparently some of it was, and some of it was quite juicy, so it just depended if you got a bit lucky

I might have missed some of the variety off that list. It was an impressive array.

After the meat courses, they brought around whole pineapples coated with a cinnamon mix and roasted. Slices of dripping pineapple were, I think, everyone's favourite item of the night. I'm pretty sure they used up at least 4 pineapples on our table alone.

Desserts were offered, cheesecake, carrot cake and chocolate cake, but we turned them down in favour of MORE pineapple.

The bill for the evening was only a bit pricy, factoring in the drink prices. $3 for an imported soda wasn't too bad, but $8 for a caipirinha seemed rather a bit much for such a simple drink. The actual meal was $30 a person, plus $10 for the live band they had after dinner. Overall, though, an excellent value.

Since Chowhounds are often concerned with authenticity as well as deliciousness, I'll add that this was an entirely authentic experience. I went to many similar restaurants during my time in Brazil, and the Red Violin is entirely in keeping with the culinary tradition. A truly excellent example of the tradition, even. There were moments in the meal that I almost cried, it made me so "homesick" for my adopted country.


Restaurant Info:
Red Violin Brazilian Steakhouse
95 Danforth Ave.
Toronto, ON M4K 1N2
Phone: (416) 465-0969
Hours: Tue-Sun: 5pm-12am; Sun: 12pm-3pm
Website

February 24, 2005

Chocolate Truffles

The recipe I use is based on some changes I've made to the version described by Kim O'Donnell of the WashingtonPost in her What's Cooking Video Segment.

It's a great resource if you're a visual learner and would appreciate the chance to see the process of making truffles before you try it yourself. The instructions and recipes included below are heavily modified from her original.

Chocolate truffles are a well-set ganache - chocolate and cream (or other dairy), plus flavours. There's a lot of variety to be had in how you play with the flavours and what you add.

The most important element of your truffles is going to be your chocolate. It's possible to make truffles with inexpensive chocolate, and they'll be okay, but they won't be great. It's possible to make truffles with light chocolate, and they'll be okay, but they won't be great. For really good truffles, you need really good chocolate. I have variously used Valrhona, El Rey and Callebaut chocolates to make my truffles. Callebaut is the cheapest of the three, and I don't find the step up to the higher prices really makes a significant difference in the finished product. As long as you're using a good quality chocolate, it needn't be the best quality. You're looking to buy Couverture, it comes usually in blocks, but sometimes in pastilles, which look easier to work with, but aren't, really. Make sure you get something that is at least 50% cocoa solids, but I don't tend to go a lot higher than that, as people prefer slightly lighter chocolates. 50-75% is the range to work with. Good chocolate will tell you what percentage of solids it contains on the original package, if it has been subdivided and repacked in deli wrap and doesn't say, ask. (Whole Foods does this, a lot).

Ingredients are for a single batch. You can make multiple batches, but it gets a lot trickier on the timing. I recommend that if you want to make lots of truffles, you still work with about these quantities at one time, otherwise you'll never get them all rolled before they start to melt, etc.

Ingredients for regular truffles, makes 42-48 truffles at 2 WW pts each:
16 ounces of chocolate
6 ounces of heavy cream
1/4 cup of sugar.
1 ounce butter
1.5 - 2 ounces of liquid flavouring. If you use a powdered flavouring, or something heavily concentrated, then replace this liquid content with more cream.

Ingredients for diet truffles, makes 42-48 truffles at 1 WW pt each:
16 ounces of chocolate
6 ounces of no-fat condensed milk.
1/4 cup of Splenda
1/2 ounce of butter
1.5 - 2 ounces of liquid flavouring.

The instructions are the same for both, just use milk where the instructions say cream for the diet truffles.

Chop your chocolate into a shallow, wide, metal mixing bowl. This doesn't need to be too finely chopped, and will be a mix of shavings and pieces. Try to keep the largest pieces below the size of a large pea. If you don't want to chop that finely, don't worry about it too much, we'll fix the problems the larger grained chop causes later, anyway.

Heat your cream, the sugar, plus flavourings if appropriate (vanilla pods or any dried flavourings, should be included with the cream), until bubbles start to appear around the edges, but not until it boils. Poor this over the chocolate, stirring together with a spatula until the chocolate melts and the ganache is smooth.

If the chocolate hasn't completely melted and the mixture is cooling off, put the metal mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water, as a double boiler, and finish melting the chocolate. This is more likely to be necessary if you didn't chop the chocolate very finely.

At this point, add the butter and any other flavourings and mix together. The ganache should be nice and shiny. Pour this mixture into a medium or large ziploc bag (don't use a small one! you will regret it!), and lay it flat and smooth out into an even layer. Refrigerate until it will hold its shape, but not until it is hard. This will take one to two hours, generally. During this time, I like to periodically smoosh the chocolate around and into itself to promote even cooling, but with the flat layer, it's not strictly necessary.

Once the ganache is holding shape, push it all down towards one corner of your ziploc bag. A rolling pin is useful for this. Cut off the corner of the ziploc bag on the diagonal so that your snip is about an inch in diameter. Squeeze the ganache through the cut, slicing off with a knife when you have a large enough piece (about 3/4 of an inch long for small ones, a whole inch for larger ones) and dropping on a baking sheet lined with waxed or parchment paper. Chill these little bits until they're a little more set than they were when you took them out of the fridge, but still not fully hard, 30-45 minutes.

Pull them out of the fridge again, and roll between your palms until they're round, then dip in your coating of choice and roll around. Return to the lined baking sheet and then return to the fridge overnight. Once they've been chilled this additional time they can be packaged up or whatever and shouldn't melt into each other except in high heat conditions.

Some options for flavourings:

1a. Vanilla: scrape and soak two vanilla pods in the cream while you heat it. Use 2 extra ounces of cream.
1b. Vanilla: add 2 ounces of vanilla extract to the ganache.
For rolling: Pour half an ounce of vanilla extract on 3/4 cup of sugar and mix thoroughly. Do this when you're heating the cream and give the sugar a bit of a stir every time you do something to the truffles (stir them, measure them, round them, etc) to keep it from becoming one big chunk. By the time the truffles are done this should be dry enough to roll them in.

2. Nuts: add 2 ounces of almond or hazelnut extract to the ganache.
For Rolling: Crush 1 1/2 cups of fresh walnuts or pecans. Toss with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 tsp of cinnamon. Bake in the middle rack of the oven, at 350, for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Stir and cool before using for rolling.

3. Pomegranate: add 1 ounce of pomegranate concentrate and one ounce of fresh pomegranate juice to the ganache.
For Rolling: As with vanilla, except use half an ounce of pomegranate juice.

4. Ginger: add two tablespoons of grated ginger (fresh or from a jar) to the cream while heating. Add an extra ounce of cream to this set.
For Rolling: Use plain white sugar, press a small piece of crystallized ginger in the top of each truffle.

5. Chai: Brew extra strong chai (use several tablespoons of tea, with only 3-4 ounces of water), refrigerate overnight in an open container to allow it to evaporate to 2 ounces of chai. Add to cream while heating.
For rolling: Add 2 tsp of cinnamon to 1/4 cup of brown sugar and mix well.

6. Christmas: Add 2 tsp of nutmeg and 2 tsp of cinnamon to the cream while heating. Add 2 ounces extra cream.
For rolling: as with chai. Also, press a small piece of candied peel in the top of each truffle.

7. Coconut: Add two ounces of coconut extract to the cream while heating.
For rolling: mix 1/2 cup finely flaked coconut and 1/4 cup of white sugar.

Other common flavourings can include various liquers, almost any extract can be used. For rolling, anything mixed with sugar is good. Use plain chocolate cocoa, cocoa and cinnamon mixes, etc. Flavouring your truffles is where the fun really comes into play.

I tried rolling the diet truffles in a mix of splenda and cinnamon, and it worked very well, as long as they weren't left out to warm up. As the moisture from the chocolates creeped into the splenda, it sort of disappeared. Still tastey, but not very pretty. If you're going to use splenda to coat the diet truffles, you'll want to do it last minute before you serve them ( a quick re-roll in your hands will warm them back up enough to accept rolling ). Otherwise, cocoa and cinnamon are a nice light coating to choose for the diet truffles.

March 20, 2005

One New Recipe

I have a fair to middling number of cookbooks. Nothing like my Aunt, who has rooms full of cookbooks, but still, more than just a couple of them. I tend to opt for books that are more instructional than recipe collections. I like food porn with high gloss photos, too, but I mostly don't buy them. I also have a subscription to Cook's Illustrated.

In any case, with this collection being what it is, I still find myself ignoring it, and either not cooking at all, or making the same old things all the time. So my goal is to try at least one new recipe every week.

Last week, I made pasta with Cherry Tomatoes from the March/April Cook's. The sauce was lovely. It involves halving and baking the cherry tomatoes to concentrate the flavour, then tossing the pasta in the tomatoes. I didn't, however, find it very saucy. It was more like pasta and tomatoes in oil than a sauce. I think it would be improved by running half of the tomatoes through the blender to create more of a sauce. Of course, that would require owning a blender which, currently, I do not. So, perhaps in the future. The flavours were lovely, though.

This week, on the recommendation of my brother, I tried the Chicken Teriyaki recipe from the April issue. Where there's a March/April and April issue, I do not know.

I started off badly when I realized that the recipe called for chicken thighs with skin on, while I bought boneless, skinless ones. But that's okay, really, since this was more about the sauce than the chicken, anyway, and taking the skin off reduces the calories by a hell of a lot. I also couldn't find any 'Mirin', which is a type of Japanese rice wine, so I bought Sake, instead. The Cook's writer does specifically address the choice, indicating mirin was better but what I can find is better than what I can't. I'll check out one of the asian supermarkets later to see if I can find it there.

I put the chicken under the broiler and started the sauce, while I threw some asparagus into a pan to grill and sliced some mushrooms for a saute. Too many things going on at once, and I overcooked the chicken a bit. It was nice and roasty though, so the flavour was good. The sauce took a lot longer than the recipe suggested to reduce down and thicken, but my oh my, it was good. Tasty with a nice fresh flavour that you just don't get in most overly sweet teriyaki sauces.


Relevent Links:
Cook's Illustrated

March 21, 2005

Adega Restaurante

For last Friday night, I needed a place for dinner before a show we were seeing later at Club279. I'd been given the task of picking the restaurant by another Chowhound and was visibly wilting under the pressure. With my other, less knowledgeable friends almost any restaurant I pick ends up being better than their chain place usual but this was something more challenging.


The club is right up the street from the Canon theatre, so I trolled through some of the recent recommendations threads for people going to see Wicked. 'Been there, done that' dismissed a lot of the recommendations, but one struck me as some place new for me to try. I made reservations for Adega at 7:30.

When I arrived, I was seated immediately to wait for the arrival of the other chowhound. While the waiter offered a drink, there was no particular pressure in the direction of alcohol, and he was fine with just bringing me a bottle of still water for the table.

The meal opened with the serving of a plate of bread, olives and olive oil. The olives were a bit spicy, and I imagine them to have been very, very good olives, but frankly, I don't much care for olives, so I only had one. The bread on the other hand was much more interesting. There were two kinds, one a light, fluffy loaf that was good, but not particularly interesting. The other was a heavy, darkly roasted loaf, with a thick crust and a sweet, nutty flavour to the bread. That bread was absolutely wonderful and it took much of my powers of self-restraint to keep from eating it all before my dining companion arrived.

With her arrival, there came the listing of the specials. The waiter had some trouble remembering all the little details, but considering how detailed they were, and with four of them to remember, that's not surprising. I opted to order my entree off the menu, but chose the soup of the day, a potato and saffron soup, to start. The other hound chose the bisque from the regular menu as her starter.

My soup was good and well-flavoured, and served nice and hot. Lukewarm soup is one of my restaurant pet peeves, so I appreciated that aspect of it especially. It had swirls of chive cream as a garnish, which were overpowered by the saffron flavour of the soup itself, and actually looked a bit icky once the swirl was broken up into bits, so didn't add much to the experience.

For mains, I ordered the grilled tiger shrimp in piri piri, while she ordered the grilled calamari. The tiger shrimp came with 4 very nicely grilled, and very, very large tiger shrimp served on top of a bed of steamed (properly steamed, not overcooked at all) vegetables and roasted potatoes. The shrimp were succulent and the piri piri sauce was spicy and flavourful. It's not as good as the smokey citrussy piri piri at Chiado, but then what is?

I tried a bit of the Calamari, as well. It had been beautifully presented, curled up like a head of hair. The vinagarette dressing was tasty and a bit sweet without being overwhelmingly puckery or oversugared - and I find one of the two problems with most calamari dressings I encounter.

The dessert menu looked interesting but in the interests of time and waistlines, we passed on it in favour of the cheque which came promptly. With no alcohol, but two litres of bottled water, taxes and tip, the dinner for two came to $90.

As an added note, we were seated in the main room at a table removed enough from other occupied tables to have some privacy, but there were several booths tucked into alcoves where there would be even more privacy. Plus the wine cellar has a party table in it (for 20, I think), and they were seating a group down there while we were there. So lots of different options for the experience depending on what level of intimacy you want to create for your group.

Chowhound Dinner: Pura Vida

This month's Chowhound dinner was at Pura Vida Costa Rican restaurant, at the corner of Bloor and Landsdowne. Pura Vida, from what I gathered in my 11 hours in Costa Rica is the unofficial Costa Rican motto. They use it as a greeting, a rallying cry and a way of life.

Kathleen had helpfully stopped by earlier in the day to make arrangments, which was fortunate as they apparently had to make special plans to have an English speaking waitress available that evening. She was pleasantly accommodating and although English was clearly her second language very helpful and able to explain most things - except why the bread was described as 'naked' on the menu. She made recommendations and accommodations throughout the meal.

The group started with a couple of appetizers to share. Fried plantain with cheese was yummy, and nicely presented, returned to the skin of the plaintain. The naked wheat bread, which turned out to be fully dressed was like bruschetta on acid. Instead of watery tomato and basil, it was covered with a sweet and spicy salsa, melted cheese and jalapeno peppers. The bread itself was thick and tasty. We also ordered a plate of the house Nachos, which came, as the menu described them, 'a lot of goodies'. Covered in a sauce, cheese, and bits of many other things, the nachos were served in a pie plate that contained only some of the mess. The best part about it was that the tortilla chips being used were obviously freshly made. Some of them sogged under the pressure of the mountains of sauce above, which was unfortunate.

We each ordered our own entrees, and there were a few orders for rice dishes, one enchilada and two of the 'married plates', which we determined probably referred to a homestyle meal. The rice dishes certainly looked good and came with a generous amount of seafood.

The 'casado' with fish came with some lovely black beans, a healthy serving of some seasoned white rice, a bit of a salsa styled salad, some potato stew with a lovely flavour of cumin, and a fairly generous piece of white fish, pan fried with simple spicing. It was fairly plain food, nothing fance, no elaborate presentation, but the lack of adornment really let the quality of the ingredients shine through. The fish, while thinly filleted was moist and juicy and flavourful on its own merits. The rice was nicely flavoured, despite looking like plain white rice. The unexpected potato stew was rich and interesting. This very large entree was $9.

When dessert came we opted for some pie and some tres leches cake. The tres leches cake was very sweet. Too sweet for some of the hounds. It was cake, soaked in condensed milk, covered in a milky cream and plated with more condensed milk. I thought it tasty, but the piece they served, which looked small was far more than I would have wanted to eat on my own. The pie was said to be pineapple, but seemed to be apple when it arrived. The filling was nondescript and tasted mostly of cinnamon while the crust was thick and mealy, all in all, not great pie. The fact that we were never entirely certain whether it was, in fact, pineapple or apple was not a great sign.

There was a great deal of confusion when the bill came, as some items had been included twice, and others not at all. I'm not entirely certain we had it all sorted out when we left, as we seemed to all think we owed much more than the actual bill.

Getting to Pura Vida couldn't be much simpler, there's a subway station (Landsdowne) mere feet away, and only a few feet beyond that is a Green P parking lot.

The restaurant is very plain and utilitarian, dominated by a large projection screen for television. They run karaoke on it sometimes, football or boxing others, and Spanish language television still other times. This isn't a fine dining establishment by any stretch of the imagination, but the food is flavourful, generous, and inexpensive. It's a real chowfind.


Restaurant Info:
Pura Vida
685 Lansdowne
Toronto
416-915-0097


Relevent Links:
Chowhound's Toronto / Ontario board
Ask about joining future Chowhound Dinners - email the organisor.
Original Chowhound Post

March 27, 2005

Recipes of the week

I tried two new recipes tonight, one for wheat berry and chick pea stew, the other for a tandoori chicken, both from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook.

Wheat berries being what they are, that required a couple of hours to cook, and I needed to get the marinade going on the chicken, so I did all the prep when I got up this morning to be sure I'd actually get it done in a reasonable amount of time. My usual cooking practice is to vastly underestimate the time for mise en place, thus leaving me to eat dinner at approximately 10PM.

The stew has a vegetable stock base, with mirepoix veggies, garlic and the chipotle chillies and you simmer the wheat berries for twoish hours to soften them up. It's a little spicier than most things I eat, but most people would think it quite mild, probably. I dosed it with some of the plain yogurt left over from the marinade to calm it down a little.

The chicken is not bad, but hardly tandoori. The lack of a tandoori oven in my house might have something to do with that. It's got a nice mustardy sauce with cumin, and I added a bit of tarragaon, as well, primarily to dress up the colour a bit, since it was so hideously babyshit brown to start with. Low calorie though, since there's no fat anywhere in it except what little is left in the chicken after you take all the visible fat off.

I also made the roasted asparagus again, and this time successfully managed not to burn it. Yay for that!


Culinary Advice Note: when you're chopping chipotle en adobo, and you accidentally dunk your finger in it, don't lick your finger off. Because that would be stupid. And painful.

April 3, 2005

Recipe: Chocolate muffings

My mother gave me a recipe for chocolate muffins a long time ago. She even made them for me while she was visiting once, but I'd never quite bothered to make them myself so they were this week's recipe of the week.

The recipe itself is pretty simple:

Soak 3 cups of all-bran cereal in 2 1/2 cups to 3 cups of water for 10 minutes
Mix in 1 tsp of baking powder and one box of low-fat chocolate brownie mix.

Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

This makes 12 2 point muffins.

The problem I've always had with her muffins is that they don't really appear to rise. They're kind of cakey and solid, which you'd expect from brownies, but not muffins.

So I decided to try using carbonated water instead of regular water, to give them a little more airiness, and that worked quite well. They rose beautifully. Well, 10 of them rose beautifully and two of them were peaky, but that's not bad odds. I was hoping the fact that it was cherry flavoured carbonated water might add some flavour, but it's only a slight aftertaste, not much to speak of.

April 20, 2005

One new recipe: pan roasted potatoes

Last night, I roasted a chicken in the oven, and tried the pan roasted potatoes recipe from the new issue of Cook's Illustrated. I used a combination of peanut and sesame oils instead of olive oil and made up my own seasoning combination (garlic and basil, with parm cheese), but followed their instructions on the browning and cooking times, which was the part I never get right.

They turned out beautifully. I did find that I had to increase the browning time in the first step - which called for browining for 5-7 minutes' but that was because I was using a large pan on a small element and the ones on the edges were simply not getting browned. I just traded the middle ones for the edge ones and browned for another couple of minutes to get them all even. The rest of the steps worked very well, and the end result was golden brown, perfectly cooked potatoes. Truly a thing of beauty, they were.

Then, completely fucking over my diet, I ate them all.

I tried to eat only half of them (despite it really being four servings), but throughout the night, I just kept going back for more. They were even delicious cold.

All gone now, but I still have most of a five pound bag of potatoes left.

June 13, 2005

TwangFest - a Chowhound perspective

I have much more to say on the subject of TwangFest, but this is the post I made to chowhound regarding the food:

Thanks much to the Chowhounds for offering advice on where to eat in St Louis for Twangfest. As expected, I didn't have a lot of control over the choices, but I did get to drive some dining decisions.

The first day, because I'd just checked into the hotel, I had lunch at the Indian Palace at Howard Johnson's. There was a strong variety of dishes, but they clearly have a much better handle on the vegetarian dishes (aloo beans, outstanding saag, and a really great turnip curry that I forget the name on) than the meat dishes (blah tandoori chicken, a curried meatball dish with no discernable flavour). The quality of the naan was variable, depending on how long it had been sitting in the heat tray. Some of it was quite good, but most of it was truly terrible.

We had dinner that night at the Schlafly Taproom, where they served my burger vastly overcooked - but I believe this to have been a minor error, as it appeared my burger had simply been reversed with that of another person at my table before they applied the toppings. The side dish was a very strange coleslaw that appeared to have been partially cooked. It lacked the flavour that would have been needed to make up for the texture. The foreigners at the table were, at least temporarily, forced to stop mocking American beer during the meal, since Schlafly's does pull a fine pint. Since the music was at the Taproom that night, and I was gifted with an overabundance of free drink tickets by the TwangGang, I was able to continue sampling those drafts all night.

Thursday, we planned to go to Vietnam Star for dinner, since one of my roomies in the Celebrity Dorm Room has a long lived love affair with their Tamarind Tofu, but unfortunately, it had closed - that very afternoon - for a week of reservations. Instead, we ended up at a passable, but non-descript Thai place a couple of blocks from Blueberry Hill. It was so non-descript that I don't even remember what it was called, but it was on the same side of the same street as Blueberry Hill.

Friday lunch was whatever we could find around Saratoga lanes. I pilfered takeout from Cafe Maya from various other Twangfesters, and while I found all of it good and different, none of it blew me away.

Friday dinner was the culinary highlight of the trip. We went to Saleem's for Lebanese and it was outstanding. The mowzaat was exceptionally good. The lamb was braised to perfection, soft and sweet and spicy and lovely. Beef kefta was not as good as my favourite at 93 Harbord in Toronto, but was still wonderful and very generous. The falafel was some of the best I've had - perfect crunch and an excellent balance of flavours.

Saturday events were at another Schlafly venue - the Bottleworks, and let me just take a moment to express my immense appreciation for the concepts that the Schlafly people are working from. The idea of local agriculture, farmer's markets, kitchen gardens, community event spaces, all of that stuff, makes for real deliciousness. I got a chance to try the sticky toffee pudding, which was a real treat. Normally, I find desserts like that sickly and overly sweet, but this one was so finely balanced between sweet and spicy and creamy that you hardly even noticed the sugar content. It was a real gem of a dessert. For my actual lunch, I ordered the most mature and elegant dish I could find on the menu - a grilled cheese sandwich. Schlafly's Grilled Cheese, like everything else, was well worth a look. Grilled on thick cut beer raised bread with a mix of cheese, this is not the kind of sandwich you'd feed your five year old. It was great stuff. I didn't care as much for the green and grains salad that I ordered with it - I found the greens a bit bitter, and that the grain mixture which was supposed to dress them lacked much in the way of flavour at all.

Sunday lunch was at the Indian Palace again, as some of the other TwangFesters had wanted to get up there and hadn't made it yet. The same observation about veggies being better than meat dishes held true, though their goat curry was a step up from most of the meat dishes. The tandoori chicken was even more pointless than I remembered from the first time, and naan almost entirely on the terrible side of too long in the steam tray. The wasn't any saag, but there was a saag like dish, with chick peas in it that was even better.

All that, plus a trip to Penzey's to remember it by. It was a good chow experience.

June 15, 2005

Monster Sushi

I've vowed to try all the restaurants in the T&T Supermarket plaza at Warden and Steeles. Previously, I tried and enjoyed Pho Viet. Tonight, I made a visit to Monster Sushi, a Japanese/Korean resto around the back of the plaza next to the Boston Pizza.

There was nary a customer in the place when I walked in - which is never a good sign. Plus, they offer an all you can eat option - which is generally a worse sign.

I tried the restaurant, anyway.

I decided on the small Edamame appetizer, and the bulgoki/bulkogi/bulkoki/bulgogi (all spelling variants theirs) and sushi combo dinner, which I figured would give me a nice cross section of dishes.

First served was the saddest salad I've ever seen. The lettuce was gloppy and old looking and it was swimming in a vat of salad dressing. Not worth even thinking about eating.

Next came a dish of seaweed in a sweet red pepper sauce. Unfortunately, the seaweed had no flavour to speak of, and the sweet red pepper sauce simply added heat without adding much either. This just wasn't good. I didn't eat much of it, either.

Next came a dish of rice and the sizzling platter of bulgogi (let's just settle on that spelling, shall we?) which was actually quite tasty. While it seems like it must be a fast fry style dish, the beef had the texture of something that had been braised long and slow. It was tender and soft and very, very good. The flavour of the bulgogi was nice - a balance of sweetness and other flavours. It could have been a touch spicier, but otherwise, well done.

Shortly after the bulgogi, my appetizer of edamame arrived. It was a generous portion, but of some of the saddest looking edamame beans I've ever seen. The pods were all scarred and damaged looking. It tasted fine, but it wasn't much for presentation. The untouched salad bowl came in handy for disposing of shells, since I wasn't given anything to put them on.

With the edamame came miso soup, with one piece of mushroom, no tofu, no seaweed, and very little miso for that matter. Another item I didn't bother finishing.

Finally, they sent out the sushi component of the combo. Three pieces of nigiri, three maki. The nigiri were salmon, tuna, and a white fish that may have been halibut, but it's hard to say for sure. The salmon was pretty good, the tuna was a bit slushy and the white fish was practically floating on its own water content. The fish had clearly been frozen and thawed poorly. The maki were california rolls with a bit of style - a little panko on the outside for crunch and a nice presentation. California rolls aren't my favourite, but these were nice.

Once dinner was over, they brought out the nicest touch of the evening - a pre-cut orange in an elegant presentation. It was a lovely alternative to the expected green tea ice cream. I enjoyed that quite a lot.

With tax and tip, the bill came to $24. For quite a bit less money, you could get quite a bit better food at the Sushi Hut one shopping mall over.

[[Note: Monster Sushi has since closes]]

August 24, 2006

Summery recipe

Ever week my organic box includes a bunch of bananas. Every week I do not eat them all before the point at which I consider bananas too ripe to be edible. (Note that this is the same point at which most people begin to consider bananas sufficiently ripe as to be edible.)

So what I do with them is break them up into small pieces and throw them in a plastic contain with 1/3 of a cup of milk per banana and toss them in the freezer. When that's frozen together, I bring it out and add some splenda (though sugar would work just as well for people who aren't trying to lose weight) and throw it all in the food processor (though, blender would work better for those who, you know, have one) until it's creamy.

Insta-banana milkshare, practically guilt free since it's made of things like bananas and skim milk and not things like ice cream.

September 26, 2006

Taste you back...

Some people have a sweet tooth, and some people prefer to snack on more salty snacks. While I enjoy an ice cream sundae as much as the next person, I count myself amongst the latter.

Give me salty, meaty, fatty goodness over simple carbs anyday and twice on Sunday. Or, in the case of a recent trip to Los Arrieros restaurant, twice on Wednesday.

After a previous aborted visit (they were closed due to mechanical difficulties) I started with low expectations - I was pretty pleased just to make it in the door.

A gruff greeting from the Pop of this Mom & Pop operation, and we sat down to examine the menus. They may be more of a historic list of possible dishes and charming mispellings (who ordered the grilled pork lions?) than a current menu of what's available on the night, as we hit on a couple of 'out ofs'.

Charming Mispelling Interlude

I'm prone to the occasional fit of pedantry, but I make an exception for restaurant menus.

One of the things I look for when searching out good ethnic restaurants is a few mispellings and mistranslations on the menu. Perfect English isn't necessarily a bad sign - they might have had it proofread - but a few charming errors of spelling or Engrish is almost a guarantee that the people you're dealing with are, at minimum, not Canadian, which increases the odds that the food you're about to receive is their daily bread, and not a recipe they ripped off from Rick Bayless.

First up was the Big Pork Candy Mountain (listed on the menu as Picada Colombiana). This $16 appetizer was a heaping platter of meat in various forms, with some starches thrown in for balance. The chicharron was separated into handy bite sized morsels, just right for snacking on. The platter also marked the first appearance of the Potatoes of Fantasticness.

Potatoes of Fantasticness Interlude

Potatoes are not gourmet. They're a staple on every dinner table. They're plain. They're simple. And sometimes, they're fantastic.

Very often, potato fantasticness is a fraud - the result of smothering, dressing and spicing them, costuming them in other sources of deliciousness. The best kind of potato fantasticness comes from treating them as a worthy food unto themselves - using great potatoes and letting them form the basis for the flavour.

Los Arrierros' Potatoes of Fantasticness can be mainly credited to not standing in the way of superior produce. Dense, firm, waxy potatoes (like the best new red potatoes, but with a white skin, so obviously a different varietal), lightly fried and salted.

Our hard won entrees (we had to smash through a language barrier just to convince our host that we wanted something other than the Big Pork Candy Mountain) arrived and we reluctantly stopped mining our appetizer. I had ordered the Lengua Criolla which, for those of you who don't speak Spanish, (or, don't speak Portuguese and thus pretend to be able to read a variety of Romance languages) is tongue.

I've long lived by my Uncle Dennis's rule of never tasting anything that can taste you back, but I decided that having tried raw, oysters, sweet breads, foie gras, hearts, kidneys, livers, feet, brains and assorted other body parts, I could probably face up to the tongue. Still, it's one thing to be brave while looking at a menu, and quite another thing to be brave while looking at taste buds on a plate.

I poked at the slabs and decided to start with the cassava and potatoes on the side. Everything was smothered in a dense tomato sauce with so much compressed flavour that a mere drizzle would have been sufficient. I left most of the sauce on the plate to avoid overpowering everything else (especially phase two of Potatoes of Fantasticness) but then had to resist the urge to gobble it up with a spoon.

After putting it off for as long as I reasonably could, I finally tried a tiny sliver of the tongue (making an exception and drowing it in the sauce, just in case). It was soft. Tender. Beefy.

Not entirely unlike pot roast, really, and certainly nothing to be afraid of. I worked my way through two slices of tongue before the sheer volume of food caught up with me and I was forced to concede.

Restaurant Info:

Los Arrierros Restaurant

752 Wilson Ave

Toronto ON M3K 1E2

Phone: 416 636 2318

Site: losarrierosrestaurante.com (watch for sound)

Related Links:

Phoenikia's Blog - she took the lovely photos.

Phoenikia's review of Los Arrierros

October 3, 2006

Look, Ma! No Jar!

Since I started working from home, I tend to cook my lunches (rather than nuke them), but I still want them to be fast and easy. Pasta's great for that, since it takes about 10 minutes to make, but any sauce that doesn't come out of a jar tends to be more of a production than I want to deal with at lunch.

I've been working on a pretty simple technique for a nice tomato sauce that doesn't need to come out of a jar, but which tastes like an actual sauce, takes very little time to cook and is suitable for single portions.

Food to stock:
1 clove of garlic
1 medium tomato or 2 roma tomatoes if available
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 parmeggiano to taste
1 tsp of sugar (optional)
2 pinches of salt
pinch of pepper
100g of pasta

Dishes to wash after:
1 largish pot for pasta
1 very small pot for sauce - not non-stick
Cutting board
Serrated knife
Metal fork
Slotted spoon
Regular spoon

Things to do:

  1. Fill the large pot with water, add a pinch of salt and set it on high heat to boil.
  2. Set the small pot over medium heat to warm.
  3. Peel and finely slice the garlic.
  4. Throw the garlic in the small pot and add the olive oil. Stir and leave to sizzle.
  5. By this point, the water in the large pot should be near boiling. Score an X on the bottom of your tomato and use the slotted spoon to lower it into the water in the pot.
  6. Count to 20.
  7. Remove the tomato using the slotted spoon and put it on your cutting board.
  8. Add pasta to the boiling water (stir it occasionally), turn the heat down to medium and let it boil.
  9. Turn the heat under the small pot up to high.
  10. By the time you've put the pasta in the boiling water, the tomato is cool enough to touch. Peel off the skin from the score marks you made. It should come off easily.
  11. Dice the tomato into a small dice.
  12. Add half of the tomato to the small pot, which should be sizzling, but not yet burning. Instant steam should spring up.
  13. Add salt and pepper and optional sugar and stir vigorourly with the metal fork for about a minute. Mash the tomatoes up as you stir to help break them down.
  14. Add the rest of the tomatoes, lower the heat to medium-high and let the sauce boil together until the pasta is done, stirring occasionally. If the sauce starts to get dry (that's actually a good sign!) add some water from the pasta pot to thin it out again, a soup spoon or two at a time.
  15. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, return it to the pot, then pour the tomato sauce over it from the other pot. Toss them together.
  16. Sprinkle parm to taste
  17. Taste

The pasta sauce comes together pretty well, with the broken down tomatoes from the first mushing and sauteeing blended in with the chunkier tomatoes from the second bunch. It develops a nice, fresh flavour. And most importantly, the whole thing takes about 12 minutes, start to finish.

October 10, 2006

Hungry? Hungary?

My 30th birthday is rapidly approaching and I fear that I may soon lose the ability to think myself as young. I'm reassured slightly that I still have a lot of years to be young compared to the clientele at Country Style. When seeking authentic deliciousness, that's either a really good sign, or a really terrible one. Old people either know where to find the good stuff, or stick with the $8.99 early bird special at the Chainatorium.

Authenticity Interlude

Authenticity is the red herring of chowhoundism. In the phrase 'authentic deliciousness', the important word is 'deliciousness', not 'authentic'. Authentic ethnic restaurants are but one possible source of deliciousness - just like Grandma used to make it is no guarantee. My grandmother had her moments, but in general, she wasn't much of a cook.

And as anyone who has tried Jack Astor's panfried garlic bread can tell you, pockets of deliciousness can exist in even the shlockiest of homogenized corporate chains. It's just that you'll have to endure several renditions of the corporate approved, royalty free, staff sung version of Happy Birthday in order to find it.

Unfortunately, I erred in my search for authentic deliciousness. I was entranced by something called a 'wooden platter' which, at $32.95, featured most of the menu. I couldn't bring myself to spend that much, but I was still captivated by the thought of a sampler. I allowed myself to be seduced by the appetizer menu instead.

I chose breaded mushrooms, a cabbage roll and sausage and pierogi (or, rather more accurately, chose to omit fried cheese as too rich and sausage alone as repetitive). Not exactly amongst the most authentic of Hungarian dishes. Still, after realizing my poor strategic ordering, I held out hope for deliciousness.

The first dish to arrive was the pierogi with sausage. I was briefly disappointed when I saw the small piece of sausage nestled on top of the pile of fried onions. Then I realized that the onions were more of a mountain than a pile, and the sausage only looked small in contrast. It was mild, but tasty, and a reasonable size. The pierogi buried under the onions were generous and nicely textured but otherwise not very interesting - better than storebought, but not much.

Next up was a cabbage roll, that appeared to be about the size of the head of cabbage it was made from. Generosity, like authenticity, is not guarantee of deliciousness, and indeed, the cabbage roll was dull and flavourless, despite the densely packed filling.

Finally, came the platter of mushrooms. Once again, huge. But at least, this time, there was some flavour to go with the portion size. The mushrooms themselves were large and lightly breaded, and they were served with a sweet creamy dipping sauce that was a good accompaniement. The same of it was, having wasted appetite on the pierogi and cabbage roll, I was only able to eat a small number of the two dozen mushrooms presented.

As I tasted my way through my self-selected array of mediocrity, I watched platter after platter of golden brown schnitzel walk by. That, of course, is where the deliciousness was likely located. Few restaurants do everything well, especially outside their core specialties, and in this case, ordering poorly got me a poor meal where a great one was a distinct possibility.

My bad.

Restaurant Info:

Country Style Hungarian Restaurant

450 Bloor West

Toronto, ON

Phone: 416-537-1745

November 14, 2006

Dolce Gelateria

It's Food Tuesday on Acho Que Não! (Did you know Tuesdays were dedicated to food? As opposed, to say, dedicated to being left blank most of the time like all the other days? That's the theory, anyway.) And while I have some older restaurant visits to write about, I want to take this week to talk about everyone's favourite winter treat: Ice Cream!

First of all, I was incredibly excited to discover that La Paloma, the stalwart gelateria of the St. Clair Italian strip, has followed the Italian migration up to Woodbridge and opened a branch in the otherwise uninteresting Vaughn Mills mega-mall. So while a medium dish of ice cream will still set you back $6, the chance of it being accompanied by a $30 parking ticket is drastically reduced. It's not very accessable for the downtown crowd, but we of the suburban wastelands are thrilled.

Back down in more traditional gelato territory, there's a somewhat new spot on College. Dolce offers a nice selection of both water and milk based flavours, all with richness and intensity and none suffering from the sickly sweetness that sometimes overwhelms gelato.

Behind the counter is owner Ivonne Ramirez, and she's justifiably proud of the product she's dishing up. She was happy to offer multiple tastes and nothing disappointed.

Hazelnut Donatella is something I only sampled after I'd already had my flavours scooped, but it's going to be my reason to go back all on its own. I stole bites of mango from others at my table was struck by the intensity and authenticity of the flavour - frozen chunks of mango don't approach the level of mangoness this gelato displayed. Rather than cloying and heavy, as most chocolates are, Dolce's is light and frothy, almost mousse-like with a touch of bitterness.

My favourite, though, of the many varieties we tried was Limone. With the creamy, fluffy consistency of meringue and the sharp tartness of lemon curd, it was like lemon meringue pie in a singly scoop. Truly a delight.

The usual coffees are available, along with some great hot chocolate. Pastries mainly look to be from Dufflet, so they're probably good, but the same as you can get in 10 other places on College St. For the lunch crowd, there are some nice looking sandwiches available.

Prices were reasonable compared with, say, La Paloma, with a larger dish for a smaller price, at $5.75 for 3 flavours.

Dolce blends the perfect textures of La Paloma with the intense flavours of Soma (though, sadly, no cassis option) into a truly excellent product.

Restaurant Info:

Dolce Gelato

697 College St.

Toronto, ON

Phone: 416-915-0756

June 2, 2008

Top 5 of Deliciousness

I've been trying to make a mental list of the top five most delicious things I've ever eaten. It's a tough call since, of course, I've eaten a whole lot of very delicious things. I've also eaten a lot of very mediocre things that kind of all run together. In no particular order, I would choose the following:

Miso Black Cod at Colborne Lane. I was there for the kitchen table tasting, and this was approximately dish 6 out of 15 very interesting dishes. It was without a doubt the standout. It was perfectly cooked, lightly sweet and totally wonderful.

Ricotta, spices and honey at the home of a friend. The ricotta was bought fresh on Arthur Avenue in New York city, and topped with a bit of fleur de sel and herbs de provence and some single origin honey. Despite the fancy description, it was relatively basic food, but so much subtlety in the flavor really set it apart.

Fresh pineapple, Maui. We had some really fantastic fresh pineapple in Dominica, but the stuff in Hawaii was even better. So fresh, so juicy, so sweet.

Grilled pineapple, Red Violin. Apparently I really like pineapple. They lightly grill it with cinnamon and sugar, so the juices are really flowing. It gets just a little bit caramelized on the outside, as well.

Nutella on crusty buns, my Oma's house. This was a childhood favorite, before you could commonly get Nutella in North America. When we'd visit her in Germany, we'd go in the morning for fresh crusty buns from the nearby bakery, and then slather the still warm buns with runny, melty, chocolatey goodness.

June 17, 2008

5 Food Moments

I mentioned the top 5 best things I've ever eaten, now not necessarily the best foods I've eaten, but some fun food related moments and my favorite food anecdotes.

In no particular order:

Kitchen Table Tasting Menu at Colborne Lane. Yes, this also made the top 5 food list, but it was more than just one truly mind blowing bit of cod. Even though not every dish was fantastic, the evening was. A mix of great, foodie friends, really excellent service, fine food and jokes about the women at the top of the stairs made this a perfect birthday.

Some random chocolate shop in Queens. We were on our way from one place to another place when Jim decided that we needed to try this chocolate shop he loved. He called them, and they weren't open, but since they were in the shop making chocolates anyway, they opened up. They had no idea who we were, just random people who wanted to try the chocolates. In we went, ducking under the metal gates and bought out chocolates and went on our way.

The Bear Lake Hag Days (I'm not even going to try to explain Hag Days. I don't think I could do it justice.) when I won 5 cakes in the cake walk. My mother was appalled. But we had a freezer full of cakey goodness for months!

Jamie, Linda, Louise and I, residents of the celebrity dorm room at Twangfest 9, were driving back from Twangpin when we passed the St. Louis Penzey's. 'Oh my god! Penzey's!' Jamie, Linda and I shouted in unison, as Jamie slammed on the brakes. 'What's a Penzey?' Louise (who is British, and can't be expected to know these things) asked, amidst the whiplash. We stopped and introduced her to one of the great spice stores ever.

The SF chowhound picnic was a real highlight of my year last year. Dozens of hungry hounds all chowing down on the best of the best that each of them could come up with. And after an entire afternoon of nibbling and noshing, we followed that up with a post-picnic dinner. But because we had time to kill between the picnic and dinner, we inserted a pre-post-picnic-dinner dinner. SF chowhounds really know how to work meals into their day.

July 31, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

A Chow Pick entry reminded me of another food 'moment' that I remember with fondness.

I was flying home for the holidays and it was a hell of connecting flights (as it always was in the early days of WestJet) and weather and staffing delays (as it usually is at Christmas), and after being on planes and in airports all day, I wasn't going to make it home. They were offering two choices -- I could overnight in Calgary and catch a 6am home the next morning, or I could fly on to Vancouver that night, overnight there, and catch an 8am flight home.

Since I was already exhausted, not to mention starving as I'd eaten nothing but snack packs of nuts for about 12 hours, and kind of upset since I'd planned to be home that day, I opted to stay in Calgary. Another flight that night I didn't need, and while a 6AM airport run wasn't exactly my idea of a good time, at that point, I didn't care. Plus, 6AM in Calgary is 8AM in Toronto, so it wasn't quite as early as it sounded.

The airline agreed to put me up in a hotel as a distressed passenger, and distressed was surely the right word for it. I was on the edge of tears as I gathered my luggage and headed out to catch a shuttle to the Hilton Garden Inn.

As I got into the shuttle, the driver turned to me with a friendly smile, and asked me if I'd like a chocolate chip cookie.

If you'd asked me a minute before what I wanted most in the world, I probably would have said sleep, but as it turns out, no. Chocolate chip cookie was definitely the answer. Still warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. He could have offered me a million dollars instead, and I think I'd have taken the cookie.

The Hilton Garden Inn did several other wonderful things that night that helped make one distressed passenger a whole lot less distressed (including keeping their restaurant open late to serve one last cover) but the thing I remember most is the chocolate cookie. I don't think I've ever cried over food before or since.

August 21, 2008

Banning Bottled Water

London, Ontario, has banned bottled water sales on city owned property.

It's limited to places that have other sources of water (fountains) and thus, at first blush, seems like a grand idea. People will still be able to get water, and they won't have to pay for it, and it won't come in a bunch of waste plastic.

A second thought, though, reveals the unmitigated dumb of it. Water fountains? That's the alternative?

Water fountains can't be taken to your seat. Water fountains don't give you 500ml of water at a time. Water fountains aren't particularly hygienic given the way people tend to use them. The water in water fountains is very often nasty and warm.

If I'm buying lunch and I can't buy a bottle of water, I'm not going to think 'well, let me run off and find a water fountain that I may or may not actually be willing to drink out of once I see it', I'm going to buy a diet coke.

The end result of banning bottled water sales isn't going to be less plastic, it's going to be more caffeine, and, since most people don't drink diet coke, more calories.

July 12, 2010

2 times 50 is a 100, right?

When this NYMag story about Del Posto's 100-layer lasagna first crossed my desk, it immediately caught my imagination. Nearly anyone on my IM contact list who has even a passing interest in food got an OMG! type IM from me with the link, because I love lasagna and that photograph is something else.

Without having a recipe or a sous chef, I set about to see if I could at least partially recreate the experience.

The first problem was pans. There's no scale in that NYMag picture, so it's hard to say how thick that lasagna actually is. I looked around at a few kitchen stores, and finally settled on some Wilton long loaf cake pans, which at 4 1/2 inches, were the deepest pans I could find without ordering something in special. There are 6 inch deep cake pans out there, but nobody seems to actually carry them routinely.

Having bought pans I will probably never use again (if anyone has suggestions for other things to use these pans for, please do let me know), I was committed to the project, and started looking around for sauce recipes. The article mentions Marinara, Bechamel and Ragu. I don't really need a recipe for marinara sauce, but while I can make a passable bechamel without a recipe, I wanted to get the proportions right for this lasagna.

I eventually settled on a Wild Boar Ragu recipe from Frank de Carlo at Peasant, but decided to use regular pork instead of Wild Boar, because, well, Wild Boar is expensive and pain-in-the-assy to acquire, and the things that make it great weren't likely to shine through in a dish as complicated as this lasagna.

For a bechamel, I opted to use the Cooks Illustrated recipe from their spinache lasagna, since I figured it'd me the right thickness for lasagna.

Even with recipes in hand, what I didn't have was any idea how much of anything I'd really need. The pans each hold 4 liters of water, so I estimated 2 liters of each sauce plus pasta. Then wildy overshot those marks in actually making the sauces, but what the hell. It's sauce. It freezes. Plus, I didn't think one giant can of San Marzano tomatoes was going to be quite enough, once I'd opened the second giant can of San Marzano tomatoes, I figured I should use more than a cup or two of them.

lasagna can

The lasagna was needed for a Saturday afternoon potluck, and would need most of Saturday to cook and congeal, so it was clear it had to be ready to go in the oven by end of day Friday. Calculating back through all the things that needed to be done, I started on Wednesday night, by prepping the pork and getting it in the marinade.

lasagna marinade

Thursday night, I didn't have a lot of time due to other commitments, but I did take an hour and a half to prep 8lbs of fresh pasta dough. I had a feeling that might be overkill, but one carton of eggs worth of dough (4lbs) didn't seem likely to be enough, and I don't really eat eggs anyway, so saving half of the second carton of eggs didn't seem all that useful. Plus, as with the sauces, I was far more worried about running out than having too much.

lasagna noodles

Friday morning, I got up early and browned the pork, added the other ingredients for the ragu and set it in the oven to braise away while I was working.

lasagna fry

lasagna ragu before

I also threw a pot of marinara on the stove to bubble merrily throughout the morning.

lasagna marinara

I took both the marinara and the ragu off heat around lunch time to give them a chance to cool down a fair bit before I had to work with them. Took advantage of the giant vat of ragu, rolled out a smidgen of the pasta and tried it for lunch. Needed salt. Glad I tasted it.

I knocked off work about 5pm, at which point the two red sauces were cool. I fished all the pork out of the ragu, shredded it with a couple of forks, blended the rest of the sauce, and returned the pork to it.

lasagna ragu after

As I was doing that, I was also making the bechamel. As with every single other time I've ever tried to multi-task while making bechamel, I came to regret it.

lasagna burnt

Sigh. Fortunately, I burnt that before the grocery stores closed for the evening. I ran off to get new ingredients, my mental list comprising milk, garlic and caffeine. The caffeine wasn't so much for the recipe as for the chef. I probably should have drank some at the grocery store, and I wouldn't have forgotten the garlic. Fortunately, I had double forgotten the garlic, because in adding it to my mental list, I had forgotten that I had chopped way too much of it for the first batch, and that there was still more than enough in a ziploc baggy in my fridge. Yay for my lousy short term memory!

The new bechamel was much better, in so far as it didn't taste like carbon. It was a little garlicky, but garlic > carbon.

lasagna bechamel

A little trial and error determined that 1.5 ounces of pasta dough rolled to the lowest setting on my machine almost precisely filled my pans, and I was off with the layering -- marinara - pasta - bechamel - pasta - ragu - pasta - repeat. I managed to fit 8 iterations of that in my pan, finishing off with a layer of marinara, and then planned to add cheese for the 50th layer half way through baking. I could have added a couple extra layers to each pan, but 50 seemed like a much nicer number than 53 or 57 or whatever it might have eventually worked out to.


By the time the second pan was layered and nestled in the fridge, it was a little after midnight.

lasagna before

The next morning, I got up, popped both pans into the oven under tin foil and left them alone for awhile. With an hour left in my totally guesstimated bake time, I took them out and applied fresh mozarella.

Or, to be more precise, I applied fresh mozzarella to the first pan, in my usual manner of doing these things: a little for the pan, a little for the chef, a little for the pan, a little for the chef.

As I started the second pan, I was going through the same motions. A little for the pan, a little for the ... blech ptooey! The second ball of mozza was definitely bad. I pulled off the slice I'd already applied and finished the second pan with a layer of parmegiano reggiano instead.

Another hour in the oven, and they were ready for their glamour shot:

lasagna oven

I mean to get an action shot in the pan at the potluck, but I was otherwise occupied with scoping out everyong else's food. Once the first slice came out, it was a lot easier to serve than I'd expected. A long metal spatula did the trick quite readily.

Here's what it looked like on the plate:

lasagna plate

The NYMag article also mentions that they pan fry the leftovers for the lunch menu at Del Posto, and there were leftovers, so, hey. Refried lasagna? What's not to love?

lasagna fried

And plated with some leftover ragu and bechamel:

lasagna sauce

I actually liked it much better re-fried and covered in sauce than I did when it was fresh. My overall impression is that there was too much pasta and not enough sauce in my version. It ended up being kind of brickish and heavy. I think the pasta needs to be much thinner (but my machine doesn't go any thinner, so I'd have to have done that manually) and the sauce layers thicker to give it more balance. I also think I'd use a much thinner bechamel, to make those layers less gluey, as well.

Still, it was a fun little project. Now what else can I make in these pans?

About Food

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to acho que não in the Food category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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