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Pai, Pai, Toronto’s Northern Thai…I ordered Farang Spicy Heat and I Didn’t Cry

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A short, short time ago
I can still remember how good thai used to make me smile
And I knew if I gave pai a chance
That I could make my tastebuds dance
And maybe I’d be happy for a while

The waitstaff made me shiver
With every dish that they’d deliver
After all the food they schlepped
I couldn’t take one more step

I sure remember all I tried
Whether it was a main or a side,
It seemed the yelp ratings didn’t lie
The day I went to Pai.

Pai, Pai, Toronto’s Northern Thai
Drove my Jetta to find parking but the rates were so high
And them good ole boys were serving  two beers that were Thai
The pogues sung Singha beer don’t tell no lies,
That Singha beer don’t tell no lies.

Let me tell you what I did love
The level of spice mentioned above
And the menu told me so!
Now do you believe in good spring rolls?
With a dipping sauce served in a small bowl.
And with a heat that tends to kick in real slow?

Well, I know I’m in love with Tom Yum
Specially when it makes your tongue numb.
The flavours really fused
Man, I dig those good soups and stews

There’s a green curry filled with lots of stuff,
And it’s cleverly served in a coconut
All for the price of 16 bucks
The signature dish of Pai

Pai, Pai, Toronto’s Northern Thai
Drove my Jetta to find parking but the rates were so high
And them good ole boys were serving  two beers that were Thai
The pogues sung Singha beer don’t tell no lies,
That Singha beer don’t tell no lies.

Now for eighteen bucks you can own
A shrimp platter that I can’t condone.
The caesar’s not how I thought i’d be
It was mucky as opposed to light and clean
And the shrimp was rather plain cuisine
although others may disagree

And while the Caesar was going down
I ordered Thai’s culinary crown
It was pad thai I yearned
a good verdict was returned

With flavours complex instead of stark
The sausage really hit the mark
With sauce that deserves good remarks
The day I went Pai

Pai, Pai, Toronto’s Northern Thai
Drove my Jetta to find parking but the rates were so high
And them good ole boys were serving  two beers that were Thai
The pogues sung Singha beer don’t tell no lies,
That Singha beer don’t tell no lies.

My Take

For the most part authentic Thai food in Toronto has been served in places decorated with elephants and Buddha statues but Pai has introduced the concept of serving this popular fare in a Duncan street rabbit hole designed for basement dwelling hipsters. It is small, crowded and hectic. The service was efficient but a little scattered and inconsistent at times. They do take bookenda reservations, however, so planning ahead ultimately avoids a lot of headaches.  The food lives up to the hype by offering authentic recognizable dishes such as pad thai, tom yum soup and spring rolls as well as other favourites such as green curry and Thai sausage.  The rolls (with the kicking dipping sauce), soup and noodles deserve honorable mention but the curry, in particular, was among one of the best I have had.  Maybe it was the cute coconut as a vessel but the consummate flavours and tender beef made it the premier dish of the evening.   The accompanying sauces such as the Thai relish served with the sausage were delicious.  The Thai caesar platter, although an interesting and exciting concept, was disappointing mainly due to the lackluster Caeser mix and boring shrimp sauce.  I loved the option of farang (foreigner) spicy which added a great bite while respecting the other flavours such as kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass.  Price wise, it’s definitely more expensive than Salad King or most hole in the walls but very much in line with other hipster destinations offering noise and chaos as menu options.

They were serving Thai, Thai, at Toronto’s Pai
I liked the food and bevies and my standards were high
Them good ole rolls and curries were worth the buy
So I’d suggest that you give this place a try.

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Bareburger: A Haven for Hipbillys and Hippysters Alike

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There was a degree of fanfare with the opening of Bareburger, the small New York based chain which offers organic and healthier options to the slew of greasy options which fill the streets of every town and city in North America. One of those cities is now Toronto, more specifically the intersection of Bay and Dundas.

The theme is hipster meets hippy meets hillbilly.  The hipster is the fact that there are usually line-ups at mealtimes and the staff is a mix of lumbersexuals, plastic spectacle wearing stylists and guys with man buns as big as those on the burgers. The hippy is the zen focus on clean eating such as vegetarian and vegan burgers, organic pasture-raised, no hormone meats, non-GMO/pesticide free produce and fair trade purchasing practices to appease the moral consciousness of the anti-capitalists.  The hillbilly comes from unique meat choices including duck, wild boar, bison and elk along with the use of recycled barns and wood for the roof and floor respectively no to mention the bear heads (although not real) hanging on the wall.

The drink list offers a select list of microbrews, wines and spirits but what be more unique are the non-alcoholic drinks such as homemade unsweetened ice teas and 10 different sodas including a traditional cola and not so traditional blueberry .  I was on the clock so I opted for the white peach ice tea ($3.25) served a glass which looked like a billboard for clean eating. It was quite refreshing.

White Peach Ice Tea ($3.25)

White Peach Ice Tea ($3.25)

I started with a jar of spicy pickles which is supposedly a 100 year old family recipe.  They had great spice and flavour and were served in the quintessential  hillbilly/hispter glassware…the mason jar.

The burgers are the main event but Bareburgers offers other sandwiches and salads as well.  You have the choice of building your own or trusting the chefs who have devised 14 different choices using a variety of meat, buns and toppings.  I opted for the blue elk ($13.65) which was elk topped with elk, amish blue, back bacon, stout onions and tomato fig jam all served on a sprout bun.  The meat was cooked perfectly but the taste was hidden a little by the intense flavour of the jam and the bun.  All in all, it was a good burger and clearly unique from most of the others in the area and despite the richness of some of the ingredients, didn’t leave that gross feeling in my stomach despite the side of fries and onion rings ($5.70) which I split with my table mate who also ordered the buttermilk buffalo ($10.90).  It was buffalo fried chicken, amish blue, buttermilk ranch, green leaf and a brioche bun. I snuck a piece and was thoroughly impressed.The sauce was not your typical frank’s red.  It was much deeper in flavour.  The chicken itself was moist and delicious and complemented well with the cheese and sauce. The fries were quite good and the rings were among some of the best I’ve had; crispy and well seasoned versus greasy and salty.  Special mention goes to the Sir Kensington’s ketchup available at the table which was much fresher than the Heinz which typically graces the tables of every other burger joint in town.

Blue Elk Burger ($13.85) and Spicy Pickles ($3.85)

Blue Elk Burger ($13.65) and Spicy Pickles ($3.85)

Buttermilk Buffalo ($10.90) and Side Fries/Rings ($5.70)

Buttermilk Buffalo ($10.90) and Side Fries/Rings ($5.70)

Cooked to a Sweet Medium

Cooked to a Sweet Medium

My Take

What do you call a hillybilly, hipster and hippy all in one?  A hillster? Hipbilly? Hiphilly? Hippyster?  Regardless, Bareburger would make any combination of the three feel at home.  The rustic decor, organic meat choices and man buns would appeal to all of their desires at the same time.  I’m not sure if it is the best burger I’ve ever had but it is certainly one of the more unique.  The meat was cooked beautifully and the toppings, although a bit overwhelming resulted in one of the more unique burgers I’ve had, probably because it relied on fresh ingredients instead of grease and salt as the primary means of flavour.  The chicken sandwich was a step above many (I’d put that shit on everything), especially those which usually play second fiddle in a typical burger joint.  The fries held their own (especially with Sir Kensington’s help) and the rings were divine. When all is said and done a burger, fries and drink will run you $20 which can buy you a whole lotta karma, a cocktail at a hipster haven or an official duck commander quack pack duck call so I’ll let you decide.

Bareburger on Urbanspoon

R&D: Rebel and Demon, Research and Development, Rad and Deficient

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In a previous blog, I outlined my Masterchef tryout in some detail.  Despite my failure to impress the producers, I watched the show and was happy to see Eric Chong win.  I was equally happy to see something tangible come from his win;  a new restaurant in the perilous region of Chinatown.  R&D is a partnership with the mercurial Alvin Leung, who’s blue hair makes old ladies and smurfs alike quite envious.  The restaurant’s concept is one of polarity and contrast. Our bubbly waitress promised flavours which ran the gamut of tastes and flavours with every bite.  The name R and D refers to the Rebel and Demon personas of the owners and is a play on the fact they were both engineers before finding their true vocation.  Adding to the polarity is Eric’s calm demeanor coupled with the mad science antics of his partner.

I asked the enthusiastic waitress for menu recommendations.  She recommended pretty much everything on the menu but in particular raved about he CSB buns. They cook them hourly and getting one might be synonymous with scoring a Black Friday deal.  Once out of the oven, the waitstaff wrestle for them in the hope they can secure them for the patrons at their tables. I drank the Kool-aid and insisted that we secure some of this precious loot. Did we manage to get them?????

STAY TUNED

The drink list comprises of Asian inspired potent potables derived from a collection of traditional cocktails.  The Whisky sour is splashed with  lemongrass, coriander, pepper and yuzu liqueur.  The pina colada is served as boozy bubble tea. The 510 ceasar (which I ended up ordering), was made with garlic and mushroom infused vodka and seasoned with hoison Worcestershire sauce.  Mushroom flavour was prominent and heat from the chili sauce was a little shy. The drink was topped with Nori which added a pleasant element of unami.  All in all, it was a good Caesar but was a little small in volume which probably helped to intensify the aforementioned flavours.

510 Caesar $14

510 Caesar $14

The first dish to arrive was Eric’s Curry.  Beef brisket sat in a pool of curry sauce and mustard greens. It was brilliantly unique.  A little salt and sweet and a lot of sour and heat made this great to eat (that’s poetry for you left brained science types).  At the time, the dish came with no medium to absorb the sauce (a true engineering flaw) which really was shameful considering how good the sauce was. Maybe we can call it an early oversight since  it appears based on the website the dish now comes with coconut rice. Probably the best dish of the night.

Eric's Curry $20

Eric’s Curry $20

Next was the octopus which was served with eggplant and choy sum chimichurri. The presentation was a little sad but the octopus was nicely prepared and finished with a decent char.  The eggpplant was clever as a replacement to the normal routine of potatoes or olives and the chimichurri was  deliciously unorthadox yet had a familiar flavour I couldn’t quite pinpoint but wanted more.

Octopus $14

Octopus $14

Shortly after we received the Tom Yum Little Dragon buns ($6). I imagine that Thai flavours in a Chinese bun may be considered as engineerial as calling a soup dumpling a dragon bun but in the end they hit the mark on flavour and were a pleasant bite.

Tom Yum Dragon Buns $6

Tom Yum Dragon Buns $6

I was a little reluctant to try the lobster chow mein ($25) but my colleague talked me into it. Despite a reasonably sized  portion of lobster, it was horribly predictable and had no wow factor at all.

Lobster Chow Mein $25

Lobster Chow Mein $25

The one platter were ordered was the general saunders’ chicken served with  kung pao sauce, sichuan maple syrup, and HK egg waffles.  The chicken was nicely seasoned and super moist.  The kung pao sauce was delicious and I think the maple syrup is probably an acquired taste but I took the advice of the waitress and mixed the two together which created a mixture which satisfied a number of taste sensations.  The waffle portion was a little skimpy but complemented the chicken well in their spin of this traditional southern dish.

General Sanders' chicken $25

General Sanders’ chicken $25

At this point there a bit of a mad scramble around the kitchen which suggested one thing..the buns were ready.  Although I was getting rather full, I couldn’t resist the urge to indulge and our waitress, like a trooper, emerged with an order.  The pork filling was a bit scant a certainly played second fiddle to the delicious bread.  They were delightfully warm and just a little sweet and filled my need for gimmickry nicely.

CSB Buns $8

CSB Buns $8

At this point I was quite stuffed but another colleague showed up and ordered the beef tartare.  The spin was the son and law egg with the sauce served on top of the beef.  I had mixed feelings about this one, probably beacuse I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to this dish in particular. I think the beef should be the star and thought the sauce, although matching nicely with the egg,  masked the flavour of the beef a little too much.

Steak Tartare $17

Steak Tartare $17

She also ordered the scallop which was served with hot sauce, chinese greens and sichuan hollandaise. It was hard to put my finger on it, but the dish lacked balance.  The heat and bitterness was prominent but it lack sweetness. Maybe the thought was that the scallop would provide enough sweetness to offset the flavours of the hollandaise and Chinese greens. The scallop itself was cooked near perfectly other than lacking a good sear (which affected both its colour and what might have been a necessary caramelization). Personally, I would have kicked up the sweetness of the hollandaise or replaced it all together.

Scallops $23

Scallops $23

My Take

The Asian fusion concept of R&D is certainly a better fit for Spadina than Strata 241 was. It is a well calculated project with all the fixings of a nouveau Toronto eatery; celebrity chefs, old school rap “fusion food”.  I was surprised a bit by Eric’s kitchen demeanor.  He was extremely stoic and methodical, focusing more at the task at hand than shining in the limelight as Canada’s first masterchef winner. It’s like he was in a 2 hour mystery box challenge.  Like the show, there was a combination of great and not so good dishes. The curry was hands down the best dish of the night.  The chicken, octopus, buns and tartare were more than acceptable and the lobster chow mein and scallops were a bit of a train wreck.  Also like the show, there was gimmickry and hype lead by the promise of extreme flavours with every dish that didn’t always come to fruition.  Much like a television show, the success of R&D will depend on loyalists who will continue to go after trying it once for the novelty, Eric’s ongoing commitment and whether or not people will be able to tolerate Alvin Leung for anymore than a season of Masterchef.

R&D Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

I’ll Be Frank..I was Disgracefully Slumming it Up on Bloor West

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I recently took a road trip to check out the University of Toronto campus with my son.  Part of the plan was to hit up a brunch spot and introduce him to some of the joints he would likely frequent during his post-secondary experience. We came through Bloor West, past High Park and eventually parked around Ossington in search of a brunch spot.  The initial thought was to walk a few blocks and hit Insomnia to choose from their array of eggs benedict but I called an audible when I walked by Disgraceland and faintly remembered reading something about it having the best something in Toronto. Plus, I could envision my son being more likely to frequent a seedy bar than a place that serves martinis called snowball and diva.

The brunch menu is as no nonsense as the restaurant itself. The tables are dingy and the walls are still sweating booze from the night before.  A picture of the man in black reminds you that they are “cash only” and points you in the direction of a historic ATM which comes with a $1.50 service charge.

The service was prompt and friendly and we quickly ordered the heart attack benny and the hangover helper (both $11) with a couple of refreshingly plain coffees.  It was a standard benny with the addition of cheddar and tomato (the latter I omitted because I don’t think tomatoes belong on most things let alone eggs benedict).  The muffin was a bit chewy and the eggs a few seconds overcooked but the hollandaise did its job unifying everything. The brekkie potatoes were crispy and delicious. All in all, not bad.

Heart Attack Benny $11

Heart Attack Benny $11

My son’s hangover helper was an elixir of nastiness which included eggs, bacon and hollandaise on top of a standard poutine.  With those ingredients, I think it would be harder to screw it up than it would be to nail it and my son certainly had no complaints.

Hangover Helper $11

Hangover Helper $11

After a walk down the street and a pit stop at Long and McQuade  (in which I took the opportunity to explain the importance of a good education as he strummed a $2000 Gibson) we crossed the street to “You Gotta Eat Here” alumni Fancy Franks to grab some lunch for later.  If burgers are Batman, then hot dogs are Robin and a number of tube steak eateries have opened in the past months.  Fancy Franks offers dogs topped with anything from peanut butter to kimchi (most in the $7-9 range) along with other pop culture eats such as poutine ($6-12) and made to order mini donuts for $4-5/dozen. We ordered Franks got Seoul (short rib, kimchi, sesame seeds and scallions) and Franks Coney Island (chili, onions and mustard). The dogs are the snappy type and the toppings are rather abundant. My son (who works at Five Guys burgers and fries) was impressed with condiment bar which even offered a mayo dispenser if one is so inclined.  They were tasty (although they start to get quite greasy when they cool down a bit) but I was left wondering what justified the steep price.  Maybe I’m a bit biased knowing I can head to Detroit and grab the same Coney dog Anthony Bourdain raved about for $1.50 or head to any street vendor and grab some street meat with half a dozen toppings including sauerkraut, fried onions and corn relish for $3.50 but $8 for a hot dog makes a vendor at the Rogers Centre scratch his head. I wish I could report on the donuts but apparently the machine is quite volatile and was misbehaving on this day so I was out of luck.

Franks Got Seoul $7.50 or so

Franks Got Seoul $7.50 or so

My Take

I think our expedition to Toronto taught my son a few things:

  1. The University of Toronto campus is massive.
  2. Carry cash so you don’t get slapped with ATM service charges from places who actually profit from your inconvenience given the fact they only take cash.
  3. Gravy and hollandaise are like him and his sister..they are good together in moderation but I wouldn’t do it too often.
  4. If his ultimate goal is saving up for a Gibson, then eating at Fancy Franks frequently won’t help.

These eateries reflect two of the biggest culinary trends to hit Toronto streets in the past couple of years: brunch and burgers. As I’ve said before, brunch may be a french word for “overpriced breakfast” and  Disgraceland succeeds in offering choices that moderately fit this theme.  When I say burgers I’m generically referring to trend that has opened the door for establishments which focus on handheld foods which represent “North Amerciana”, I’m sure one can blame the escalating price of beef (Frank’s dogs are 100% beef) for the inflated prices but I’d lean more toward the social phenomenon which suggests that people will pay more for something trendy and an $8 hot dog sounds mighty trendy.  So, unless I’m watching R.A. Dickey throwing knuckleballs I’ll stick to street vendors.  Even better, maybe I’ll drive to Detroit and watch Verlander pitch on television and eat a Coney dog for every strikeout he gets…it would still be cheaper than a couple of dogs at Franks.

Fancy Franks Gourmet Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Disgraceland on Urbanspoon

I Got Invited to a Somewhat Lame Toca Party

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At least once a year I get roped into a fancy dinner at a place I normally wouldn’t go.  This year it was Toca, the restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto. Boasting the fact they have Rome and Michelin star Chef Oliver Glowig on retainer, Toca promises a unique take on Italian cuisine.  One can choose from the 4 course tasting menu for $89 or order a la carte.  I’m a firm believer that ninety bucks should get you at least 5 or 6 courses so I chose my own adventure and opted for the menu.

The last time I had a $16 bowl of soup I pointed out that it better change my life since it was nothing more than a mushroom broth. Well, I’m still sitting here talking about food so I guess it didn’t work. This time the same price tag offered me zuppa di sedano e patate (celery and potato soup, lobster, peas, green beans, croutons), a soup with an ingredient list which appeared more French than Italian. Once again, it won’t make me beg the Huffington post to print an article I wrote or quit my job and apply at Zomato, but it was more rewarding than the broth.  The flavours of the individual ingredients were not dulled by butter or cream or fat but instead expressed a mouth-popping individuality with every bite.

Soup

                                            Zuppa di Sedano e Patate $16

The wine list is comprehensive and offers choices from around the world at a wide spectrum of prices, many of which are triple digits and above.  We took a new world followed by an old world approach, sharing a 2009 Hamelin Bay Rampant Red Aussie Shiraz for $75 followed by a 2010 Château de Montmirail from  Rhône Valley for $95.

At the advice of the waitstaff, I split an order of the scialatielli (homemade with clams and mussels) with another dinner guest.  I thought the pasta itself was fantastic even if the fruits de mer were a bit stingy.  There seems to be this growing trend to group clams and mussels in with some of the more illustrious seafood options out there for the purposes of jacking up the price.  I mean, I can still buy about 6 pounds of mussels for the price of a small lobster so $26 for 4 or 5 clams is a bit of a stretch.

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             Scialatielli with Clams and Mussels (half a $26 dollar order) 

For my entree I went with the half galletto croccante;Lemon and rosemary roasted cornish hen for $26.  I felt a bit friendless in my inability to secure a whole hen but my table mates were sold on the tasting menu, black cod and filet mignon. Normally, I’m all over black cod but I think I’ve begun a formal protest against the combination of seafood and olives/tomatoes, so I avoided it on this occasion. So, I was left alone to dine on the simple yet nicely prepared fowl. The skin was crispy and well seasoned and the hen itself was moist although I didn’t care much for the tomato stack sidekick. The gnocchi (pictured on back of plate) was cooked in butter and sage and  available as a side for $9 for 4 pieces.

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Galletto Croccante (Lemon and Rosemary Roasted Cornish Hen $26)

Dessert was a Cachi Melograno (yogurt mousse with pomegranate sorbet and persimmon) for $14.  This combination of ingredients could have produced either an overly tart or sickly sweet confection but it was light, fragrant and balanced, ending the meal with some palate cleansing pleasure.

Dessert $14

Cachi Melograno $14

My Take

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I have high expectations when it comes to restaurants whose quality is assumed by the prices they charge for their food.  This is the case with eateries within many of downtown Toronto’s luxury hotels.  Even when I travel abroad, I frequently reconsider visiting  a restaurant (even when associated with a reputable chef) when I find out it’s attached to a hotel.  That said, the food was quite acceptable but fell a little short if you approach it from a value perspective.  For example, although I didn’t have the tasting menu myself, for $89 I would have expected something a little more creative (eg. more small dishes)  instead of a sampling of something I can get off the menu anyway. Come to think about it, it was more prix fixe than it was tasting.

One of the fundamentals of a Ritz-Carlton experience is an exceptional, if not slightly nauseating level of  service.  Fortunately or not (depending on your take), this didn’t occur. It was cordial and efficient but not over the top.  The general ambiance made me wonder whether a woman who showed up with her dog Cuddles in her Prada handbag would leave satisfied that her ego got stroked as much as her dog does.  Speaking of which, the people watching was a bit disappointing.  The rather sterile crowd was not nearly as entertaining as the fur shawl wearing couple I saw at the Trump a year or two ago, making for a rather lame Toca party.

TOCA on Urbanspoon

I Know I’m as White as the Adrak Duck but Cut Me Some Quack

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I was meeting a customer for a dinner in the North and since we both agreed on Indian, he suggested Adrak in Richmond Hill.  So, I hopped on Open Table and made a reservation for the following week.

I’m not overly familiar with Richmond Hill so I needed to type this one into my iPhone.  With the help of Siri I was directed into an abandoned parking lot with a small sign stuck in the ground  indicating that the restaurant was somewhere in the vicinity.  After parking, I walked around to the front of one of the buildings and found the entrance rather easily.  It’s quite spacious, complete with a glassed off area housing tandoori ovens pumping out meat and bread at a feverish rate.  There is a unique cocktail menu which brings flavours of the Southeast into a potent potable.  Although I was tempted, I was deterred by the need to drive back to airport area afterwards.

Although  Adrak means ginger in Hindi, the minute I heard the name of this restaurant I thought of the Aflac duck. This mischievous water fowl made headlines when the absolutely obnoxious Gilbert Gottfried was fired as the voice for making a series of inappropriate jokes related to the tsunami in Japan years back..  Since then, the duck has continued to get in trouble in commercials  by most recently attending a yoga class so he can shamelessly stare at women’s asses in tight pants.

Since the Alfac duck is really white and the name sounds like Adrak, I would like to propose that the term Adrak duck refer to any really white person that walks into a ethnic restaurant and either gets questioned about their food choice or their level of spice.  I have been the victim of this practice numerous times and just think I’ll start belting out “Adrak!” in a duck voice whenever this happens. Consider the following examples.  I recently walked into a Thai restaurant with my daughter and we ordered fresh spring rolls with pork rind in it.  The waitress raised an eyebrow and asked if we were sure we wanted pork rind because  it was skin.  Although I was tempted to yell “Adrak!”, as much as I hated to do it, I had to resort to a foodie look while stating “Yes, I’m aware”.  I also have a Sri Lankan friend I will meet for lunch on occasion.  Whether we go for East Asian or Indian, the level of spice is a discussion between the waitstaff and I with frequent glances at my friend with a “is this guy for real?” quizzical look on their face.  The assumption is the level of heat needs to be tailored to me since I’m the wimpy white guy.

ADRAK!

I’ve read reviews questioning the service at Adrak.  Maybe it was the fact that it was a Wednesday night but I found it prompt and courteous.  The night began with a decent amuse bouche reminiscent of arancini with saffron accents and served atop a tangy tomato sauce.

Amuse Bouche- Arancini

Amuse Bouche- Arancini

Tandoori Temptations

We started the night with a trio of protein from the tandoori oven; salmon tikka, bhatti da murgh (chicken legs) and chaamp taajar (lamb chops).  Each was seasoned with an array of spices, fired up and attractively served.  Before putting in the order, however, it happened.  Totally ignoring the Indian guy at the table, he looked at the two white guys at the table and asked about the spice level.  We agreed on spicy and he proceeded to inform us that Indian spice is hotter than normal spice.

ADRAK!

Even for a white guy, everything was nicely spiced and didn’t require copious amounts of water nor a call to Telehealth to digest.  Despite the extreme heat of the tandoori oven, the meat kept its interior moisture and the traditional sauces were a nice complement.

Salmon Tikki $18

Salmon Tikka $18

Bhatti Murgh $16

Bhatti Murgh $16

Chaamp $25

Chaamp Taajar $25

Next, we decided on a few curries. At the recommendation of my guest, we ordered the Dal Makhani (lentil) and the less traditional Adraki mushroom dishes.  He also recommended the Romali Roti as opposed to Naan.  I added the Matter Paneer (pea and cheese) and the smokey Bangain Bharta (eggplant).   Quite confident with our dominance of the tandoori, I figured spice wouldn’t be an issue this time but in sitcom fashion, the waiter reminded us the spices are more prominent in curries so we should might want to bring it down a notch.

ADRAK!

The lentils were delicious but extremely rich driven by the background taste of lots of butter.  One of my favorite characteristics of a curry is the consistency and I found the mushrooms  a bit disjointed.  The flavours were fine but just didn’t blend as nicely as I hoped.  The peas were spot on; a nicely balanced mix of sweet and tangy with a perfect texture.  I thought the eggplant was decent as well although not as good as the dal or matter.  Once again, the spice level was quite acceptable, even for a tongue flexing Caucasian.

While waiting for the curry, I watched the chef toss the roti dough like a pizza and delicately place each piece on a heated globe of stone and wait a mere few seconds for it to heat up and then skillfully fold it into a basket for the table.    Now I can barely eat with a fork, so using the roomali roti ($5) as a vessel  is always a fun adventure which usually ends up with me spilling something on my shirt or lap.  I’d probably be safer with some basmati and a fork but what’s the fun in that and plus, I’m not a huge fan of rice.

mushroom

Adraki Mushroom $14 and Bangain Bharta $14

Dal Makhani $12 and Matter Paneer $13

Dal Makhani $12 and Matter Paneer $13

My Take

I’m not suggesting that Adrak did anything wrong by questioning the spice levels for a couple of white dudes but I find this is a common occurrence in a slew of ethnic restaurants.  I’m sure it is quite common to have complaints from some clown who thinks he is scary spice come in only to be brought down to baby spice level with one bite of a samosa.  At the same time I should point out that I’m not interested in spice that kills the flavour of the food for the purposes of bragging rights but I do like things which are authentic. That said, I’m tempted to stand up and yell “I did it in two minutes and thirty-seven seconds” hysterically as I rip off my shirt and reveal my “I survived the Blazing Wing Challenge Buffalo Wild Wings Shirt” tee to silence the critics.

Adrak was a decent experience in modern Indian food. The service was good and prices were not ridiculous but a little on the high side  From the open kitchen in which one can witness dough tossing and hot tandoori ovens to the large variety of  traditional and not so traditional curries, any fan of Indian food will find something to satisfy their palate whether your tastes could be better described as  baby (Adrak!) or scary spice.

Adrak!

Adrak!

 

Adrak on Urbanspoon

Why Making a Reservation in Toronto Reminds me of an Anchorman Melee

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There has been a definite evolution in the process behind making a restaurant reservation over the past decade.  Years ago, you either showed up live or called ahead and a friendly person on the other end would scratch your name into a book.  Now, the lucrative online reservation systems has blossomed  and many restaurants are left to choose which system fits their business needs the best.  In the end, the choice appears relatively seamless to the patron, but there are some interesting observations to make about this cutthroat business.

Some restaurants have gotten rather creative with the reservation process. State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, for example, offers reservations for dates two months later.   The reservation process starts at midnight and  I will admit I woke up at 3 am to try and secure a spot but was left unsuccessful and had to stand in line with the rest of the peasants.  Others restaurants are asking for credit cards in advance and threaten charges if there is a cancellation too close to the reservation time.

No Reservations

Congratulations, you are a successful restaurant who is either relishing in the fact that people line up to get in or your establishment is so tiny that  you have no problem hitting your capacity on a nightly basis and don’t need a system.  You’re a pain in the ass because if you are looking to entertain clients, have a birthday or plan to propose to your girlfriend, you have to hope to hell that the stars align and you can get a seat without having to wait two hours.  You probably will only seat people once the whole party arrives and you likely take cash only as well.

Reservation by Phone 

Yes, there are restaurants which still see a phone as something you talk on as opposed to checking in, tagging friends and taking pictures.  This system is not conducive to those who have a whimsical desire to make a reservation at 3 am.  In all likelihood, restaurants who subscribe to phone only reservations are:

  • long-standing eateries that have been using a reservation book since 1960 and damn well won’t change now.
  • owned by control freaks who don’t think a computer could never do what a human can.
  • likely to still hand-write bills and frown when you insist that the stub on the bottom is not a sufficient receipt for business purposes and begrudgingly copy one by hand upon request.

OpenTable

OpenTable is the patriarch (or matriarch) of online reservations systems. Once a monopoly, they were known for offering bonus points and a lack of a 7 pm slot on almost any night of the week at some restaurants. Although they still own the lion share of the business (but still only have 322 accounts in Toronto proper), they have responded to recent competition by  undergoing  a major rebrand focused on pillars which include warm and welcoming, inspired and reliable and fresh and current although it would be naive to think that all restaurants they work with have the same philosophy.You still get the opportunity to review the restaurant after and get the subtly threatening email if you don’t show up threatening that you might get banned if such indiscretions continue (even if the restaurant fails to record your attendance).  Open table restaurants tend to include:

  • those who fare better on tripadvisor than yelp.  Tripadvisor uses open table as their reservations system.
  • conglomerates such as O and B and The Khabouth empire since you can refer to affiliated restaurants in the event your first choice isn’t available.
  • those whose names start with numbers or the letter a since they are listed in alphabetical order when searched by region.
  • pricey restaurants in expensive hotels and those who wish they were pricey restaurants in expensive hotels.

 Seatme

Now owned and operated by yelp, this reservation system is less centralized.  Seatme does not have a master website like OpenTable but is meant to attract small business owners  who either find open table too difficult, expensive or cumbersome.  Unlike urbanspoon and tripadvisor, the yelp site itself does not pimp their online reservation system by embedding it in the reviews.  Instead of going to a central site, one gets prompted to reserve via seatme when they go to the restaurant’s site looking for a table.  On the consumer side, it is hardly distinguishable from other reservation systems but  on the vendor’s side it promises a better and cheaper experience than Open Table.

Bookenda

At the end of 2014, yellow media (the yellow pages people) announced the acquisition of both bookenda and dine.TO.  Bookenda is a online reservation that is gaining steam in pockets across Canada including the GTA.  It’s membership is impressive; Pai, Thoroughbred, Rasa, People’s eatery, Ruby Watchco and Edulis are among the hot destinations under the bookenda umbrella.  Like OpenTable, there is a reward program. Instead of saving points in the hope of someday attaining an elusive dining certificate, bookenda offers a variety of reward opportunities for as little as 400 points.  Points are not only awarded for booking online but also if you post your reservation on facebook or make a comment about your experience on their site afterwards.

My Take

Long gone are the days of picking up the phone and dialing a rotary phone during business hours in the hope of securing a 7 pm reservation at your favourite eatery.  Now, you can simply go on a smart phone, tablet or computer at anytime of day and secure anything but a 7pm reservation at any number of establishments.  In some cases, you can be recognized for your loyalty with points which may lead  to a glass of wine, a free appetizer or the ultimate prize of an OpenTable dining certificate.

I picture that scene from Anchorman when the rival broadcasters including the likes of Vince Vaughan and Tim Robbins assemble in the parking lot for a good old-fashioned brouhaha.  In the restaurant world, the clans would be divided based on their reservation system.  In one corner would be the no reservation group who ironically would need to wait outside the lot until space in the lot became available and the whole group was there.  Their main artillery would be dirty looks and ignorance.  The reservation by phone group may sport tin foil hats to prevent satellite interference and carry archaic weaponry  reminiscent of  Game of Thrones. The OpenTable entourage (although they would not likely show around peak dining hours) would be the largest, led by Michael Bonacini and includes fans of tripadvisor and urbanspoon wearing “Keep Calm and Use Opentable” T-shirts. Seatme peeps would be scattered throughout the parking lot like lone vigilantes. The bookenda bevy would likely be led by Lynn Crawford with patrons wearing red t-shirts symbolizing Canada which spell out “Bookenda is the New OpenTable” scrawled across the front in large white writing as they sipped free wine they got for 400 points.

"I said I wanted a 7pm Reservation!"

“I said I wanted a 7pm Reservation!”

 

In the end, the competitive world of online reservations has made it easier than ever for patrons to plan in advance when eating out.   Of course, there are still a number of restaurants who feel that it is an honour and privilege to dine there and don’t mind making people wait for the experience. Otherwise, with some flexibility, one can plan a dinner without too much of a headache regardless of the system.  A quick call to the restaurant might be necessary to secure the elusive 6-8 pm time slot but otherwise it is a pretty easy to book, show up and reap the rewards of a completed meal.  You even have the opportunity, good or bad, to enlighten fellow diners about what you ate and how the experience was….without the need for pitchforks.

 

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