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Playing Hooky at Japango

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When I’m at a week long conference, I take the opportunity to skip out for lunch.  I mean, the daily monotony of chafing dish chicken masked with corn and called Mexican or olives and called Greek gets a bit much.  The icing on the cake is when the next day’s soup looks surprisingly like what was on the buffet table the day before. So, when a colleague suggested we play hooky, I jumped on the opportunity to head out of the hotel for a quick bite.

I hadn’t been here for about 10 years.  The last time I went the team I was on had the whole restaurant booked (which isn’t hard to do since the place only holds 20 people or so). I remember my manager, who is one of the whitest people I have ever met (he was kindly referred to as a bag of milk at the beach once), telling us all to meet at “Jap ‘n Go” at 630 for dinner.  Since then, I haven’t had a chance to get back.  This time, we didn’t have a reservation but arrived before noon so we were able to get promptly squeezed into the corner.

The service was quick.  We ordered a mish-mash of sashimi and sushi rolls.  First to arrive was the typical bowl of miso soup.

Miso Soup

                                                                            Miso Soup

Next to arrive was the famous Japango roll ($13) and crunchy spicy tuna roll ($9).  The former signature roll is a California roll with torched salmon and scallop on top.  The fish was noticeably fresh and the mix of sweet and heat plus the slight char of the delicate scallop and fat of the salmon was a delightful mouthful.  The crunchy roll exuded the same freshness but the heat was a little lacking.

Japango Roll ($13) and Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll ($9)

                                             Japango Roll ($13) and Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll ($9)

The sashimi 2 platter ($25) arrived shortly after served with a bowl of rice.  It was a diverse mix of the standards including salmon and tuna and some pleasant surprises including some sort of seared whitefish (I’m not going to pretend I know but it had the taste and texture of halibut . Once again, the freshness was evident and the presentation was simple but impressive, although it was a little tight at the table.

Sashimi 2 $25

                                  Sashimi 2 $25

The final arrival was the dragon roll ($12) which is shrimp topped with eel and avocado. Once again, fresh was the word. The avocado was nicely ripened and the eel was umamic bliss.

Dragon Roll $12

                                Dragon Roll $12

My Take

Japango has all the makings of a great hooky destination.  You can sneak in between class, have a decent lunch and get back in less than 45 minutes.  While there, you are treated to fresh sushi with friendly and efficient service in small, modest quarters all at a price that I would deem “reasonable”.  When I mentioned “hooky” to my daughter, she shook her head and told me to “urban dictionary it fam”. I answered I use urbanspoon, not urban dictionary.  She rolled her eyes.  I guess in her eyes I’m as lame as someone who calls it “Jap ‘n Go”. At least we both like sushi.

Japango on Urbanspoon

Filling my Belly at 1 Love Kitchen

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The fusion of music and food is a fundamental component to the theme of eateries all over. My son works at Five Guys and spends eight hours listening to classic rock while flipping burgers and dropping fries. Grand Electric blasts old school rap throughout the smallish confines while one eats some of the best tacos in the city. Some eateries take it a step further by creating an entire theme around their pop culture icons. For example, take Sky Blue Sky’s odd tribute to indie band Wilco or Fidel Gastro’s  snack shop which pays homage to the Presley family at Lisa Marie.

One of the newer joints to follow this blueprint is 1 love kitchen, a drop in Caribbean place on Queen street.  Not surprisingly, the menu revolves around jerk meats and features all the fixings including rice and peas and plantains.  In a a Toronto twist, they also offer quinoa and beans for fans of the ever popular supergrain.  A sketch of Bob Marley with his famous smile looks down on the modest interior which has seating for a couple of dozen people.    A line of chaffing dishes  housing the menu offerings is staffed by a single employee who was quite welcoming upon my entry from the bitter cold.  I was grabbing take-out for myself and a colleague who was tormented by the hotel down the road’s lame attempt at gluten free/vegetarian offerings and needed some real food in order to get through the rest of the meeting.  I went right for the jerk chicken with a side of rice and beans, cole slaw ($9.45)  and plantains for an extra $1.25.  The chicken was well seasoned and moist and the rice and slaw hit the spot. The plantains were a bit tough and dry.  The portion sizes (especially the chicken) wwer rather large which somewhat justified the ten dollar price point.

Jerk Chicken with Rice/Peas and Slaw $9.45

Jerk Chicken with Rice/Peas and Slaw $9.45

My intent was to get the channa roti with buckwheat as a gluten free option but I was informed that this option never took off so they don’t offer it anymore.  So, I ordered the veggy lover’s medley ($9.50) instead after finding out it was a chick pea based curry and therefore had adequate protein and was served with rice and peas and a side salad.  The curry was well developed and hit an appealing bite at the end. The texture of the chick peas were spot on.

Veggy Delight with Rice/Peas and Slaw $9.50

Veggy Lover’s Delight with Rice/Peas and Slaw $9.50

Another interesting point is that 1 Love Kitchen is part of Belly, a rather new reward program that allows numerous businesses to be linked to the same account thus cutting down on the need to carry 15 lunch cards around.  With a scan of the Belly app, one will gain points and get rewarded for their ongoing loyalty sometime down the road.

My Take

In the midst of numerous burger joints, sub shops and hot dog carts, 1 love kitchen offers quick Caribbean cuisine for around 10 bucks. Sure, there are a bunch of hole-in-the-wall jerk chicken shacks which might be a bit cheaper, but the proximity of 1 love within the hub of hotels, hospitals etc coupled with the Belly reward program makes it a consideration for a quick lunch or dinner. It’s another example of the fusion of good music and good food.  After all, I left sayin': let’s get together and feel all right. Wo wo-wo wo-wo! before and after I filled my belly. Bet it would taste even better after embarking in some of Marley’s other “talents”.  Too bad they don’t have late night hours.

1 Love Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Ten Predicted Food Trends for 2015

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As usual, I try to predict the wacky world of food trends.  It’s like a horoscope…I get a few right and a few wrong every year but it’s fun nonetheless.  I think there will be a trend toward more interactive dining experiences. From a food perspective, I think extreme tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami) will highlight menus: Here’s what we can expect in 2015:

Tableside Service

Dim sum service doesn’t have to be limited to weekends.  Places like State Bird Provisions in San Francisco and Ma Peche in New York have made tableside service the norm.  A little closer to home, Buca Yorkvile carves branzino crudo while you watch.  Watch this trend to explode in 2015 as diners demand a more interactive dining experience and restaurants see the opportunity for a sweet price mark-up.

I’m a Little Bitter

Look for greens like hickory, endive, dandelion and maybe even radicchio to grace salad plates.  The strong bitterness and varying colours and shapes will be like playing lego for the palates of foodies everywhere. Even better, it might come with a housemade honey/maple vinaigrette for a great contrast.

Getting in the Game

Bison, venison and maybe even elk will compete with beef on menus in 2015.  The strong, gamy flavours will be more in demand than the 86 ounce steaks that graced menus in 2014.  Also, look for rabbit to hop onto menus as a substitute for chicken or pork.

Duck Dynasty

Half the hipsters I see look like these lovable hillbillies, so why not eat the damn stuff too.  I’m surprised duck hasn’t been deemed the other “red meat”.  Although it has never declined that much in popularity, its unique flavour and versatile use makes it a strong candidate to soar up the ranks of fowl in 2015.

Pssst…achios

It’s no secret that the pistachio has been the most aggressive ad campaign to come of the Golden State since the California raisins. Once nothing more than a snack food which left red dye all over your mouth and fingers,  the pistachio’s recent endorsement by the witty, satirical, side-part, spectacle wearing Stephen Colbert coupled with the fact they can used in everything from salads to desserts might result in “pistachio is the new walnut”  t-shirts popping up everywhere.

Root, Root, Root for the home team.

Dainty vegetables won’t be able to withstand the assault of extreme tastes of 2015. Potatoes provide a blank canvas for all sorts of flavours. The sweetness of  beets and carrots amidst bitter and spice should be a great compliment. Foodie favorites like sunchokes and salsify should round out a good year for the root.

Squash the competition

The squash is longer reserved for soup. This local fall favorite is emerging as a player across the board.  It’s a great base for vegetarian dishes and pairs nicely with a number of spices including clove, nutmeg and even sage, The regional production should appease the locavores and the diversity of the gourds available make them ideal for salads and even desserts.   

 Korean- More popular than “The Interview”

Although Korean is already enjoying popularity in the GTA, I think there’s more to come.  Twists on bibimbap and hot pots will become options on fusion menus while hole in the wall Korean joints may be chosen over a sushi bar or ramen house for a quick and inexpensive lunch.  Plus, your playstation shouldn’t  crash over a little bulgogi.

Micro Booze

The popularity of 40 Creek whisky within what was once seen as an impenetrable rye market plus emerging players like Gibson’s in the vodka and gin world make the small batch production of potent potables is as lucrative as  micro brews.  Bourbon enthusiasts will gravitate toward micro booze whether in a clever cocktail or even on tap.  Look for tasting flights of infused shots of gins, vodkas and vermouths to wiggle their ways onto bar menus everywhere.

The Dumpling and Pancake: More than a way to describe your ass

The use of either a dumpling or a pancake as a canvas  has limitless possibilities. To date, dim sum and gyoza have been all the rage.  In 2014, we saw the emergence of savory pancakes such as latkes.  Look for both to explode in 2015.  From perogies to beghrir, the possibilities are endless. So will the choices on menus.

My Take

2015 will be a year filled with intense flavours highlighted by extreme taste profiles.  Much of the sweet may in fact come from fruits and vegetables including beets, carrots and squash.  Bitter will come from a resurgence of fragrant leafy greens  and infused alcohols.  Strong flavoured proteins such as game meat and duck will be needed to compliment these extreme tastes. Dumplings and pancakes will provide an ideal medium for many trendy tastes.  Pistachio is the new walnut.  Korean will surpass sushi and ramen as the preferred Asian provision of foodie nation. Regardless of the food, look for more options to be served tableside or in some other type of extravagant fashion. So, bring me a duck pancake atop of bed of mixed greens served under a cloche with a shot of vermouth and a pistachio cannoli pronto!

Fare..Eat..Ales Favourite Canadian Restaurants of 2014

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This year features a steakhouse, a perennial favorite and a couple of new restaurants that have arrived with a splash.  In addition, there are a few veteran restaurants that show no intention of slowing down.

 

10. Wellington 529- Winnipeg, Manitoba

Maybe Winnipeg isn’t known as the Mecca of fine cuisine but I enjoy a good steakhouse.  Aside from what was likely the best steak I had all year, the old school service (including white lab coats) and decor made for a delicous and highly enjoyable dining experience.

9.  Carmen- Toronto

Carmen is one the better and most underrated tapas bars in Toronto.  One dish after another, whether traditional or with a twist, came out thoughtful, well executed and at a decent price point. In particular I still remember the blood sausage and the steak tartare. The service and ambiance were top notch as well.

8.  Pizza Libretto- Toronto

In the competitive world of thin crust pizza, Pizza Libretto is one of my favorites.  Service is good and everything from the anitpasto to the dessert is nicely executed.

7. Le Jambon Gros- Montreal

The perfect greasy spoon.  Although the quarters are tight, the vibe coupled with delightful and innovative grill top provisions makes this a stop for me everytime I’m in old Montreal.

6. Queen and Beaver- Toronto

This long standing British pub serves authentic fare including savory puddings, fish and chips, fine english cheeses and a number of snacks which makes other pubs look like amateurs.  Yes, the service can be a bit crusty at times but once you have a few cask ales in you it really doesn’t matter.

5.  Thoroughbred- Toronto

Although there was only a bar menu when I went here, it was an amazing experience. The owners gave me a tour of the chef’s table and soon to be dining room.  The food was fresh and innovative with a focus on vegetables.  The drinks are cleaver. I plan to return early in 2015 to see if my hunch about this place translates to the full menu.

4. Rasa- Toronto

I was probably most excited about the opening of this Food Dude’s industrial looking bricks and mortar location in 2014.  I wasn’t disappointed. Whether the regular menu items like root beer ribs or the mysterious fish board, the food was as creative as I expected.  The drink list was smart as well.  The service was as friendly as that from the food truck itself.

3. Richmond Station- Toronto

Richmond station is a perennial addition to the list.  Their system is simple; a small menu (including one of the best burgers in Toronto) to default to in the event the blackboard specials are either sold out or not to one’s liking.   To finish off the meal, Richmond Station has one of the most creative and visually stunning dessert menus in Toronto.

2. Maison Publique- Montreal

This fringy pub is quintessential Montreal.  The menu consists of sheets of paper written in French and hanging on a bulletin board. That said, the staff are more than helpful in making sure even the English enjoy a good meal.  With menu items like buccins (aka big snails) and seal mortadella, it’s almost a underground, taboo Anthony Bourdain type experience.  This ultimate foodie experience is enhanced by a good beer, cocktail and wine selection.

1. Whalesbone- Ottawa

Any restaurants that starts with a selection of a half dozen oysters and Kenny Rogers spinning on the turntable is good with me.  What follows is a small but impressive choice of draft and a small menu highlighted by fresh sea ingredients presented in a manner that is visually stunning.    The tight but comfortable quarters, great service, amazing vibe and innovative seafood based menu including  oysters served with one of the most impressive condiment carousels I’ve ever seen puts Whalesbone on top of the list for 2014.

 

 

Her Majesty’s Pleasure and Buca Yorkville: A Double Shot of the Real Housewives of Toronto

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I was meeting a couple of friends for lunch and we wanted to try out Wilbur, the new Mexican place on King about half way between Portland and Brant.  It was completely unorganized and crazy and since time was of the essence we went next door to Her majesty’s pleasure.  I feel this preamble is important in order to justify why I chose a salon/nail bar for lunch.  I mean, I’ve never had a manicure or pedicure in my entire life and have no problem sitting down for a $20 haircut.

The decor is….well…very white.  I suppose the rationale is the promotion of cleanliness and a glistening that matches the teeth of the smiling patrons who are getting one hand painted with powder rose varnish while using the other to sip perky pink cocktails with mint leaves and raspberries in them.  Sounds of grinding coffee and fake laughs filled the air.  It was a bit surreal and I found myself looking around for the Real Housewives of Toronto camera crew tucked in a corner. I took a trip to the washroom and realized how big the place actually was. I passed numerous stations equipped with mirrors, blow dryers etc. waiting to primp or crimp or whatever the style of the day happens to be.

The menu is small and consists mainly of organicy, vegany, skin cleansing, waist slimming salads (which I’m sure go great with a fruity cocktail), a sandwich or two and a kettle of soup.  As mentioned, you can grab a espresso-based beverage or a number of potent potables. The woman behind the counter took great pride in the offerings, gladly handing out samples of the homemade mushroom soup.  I settled on it  with a grilled cheese made with homemade bacon jam finished in the “we are too small to have a kitchen” panini press. Add a decaf americano and the bill came to $19.

Decaf Americano

Decaf Americano

Mushroom Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon Jam

Mushroom Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon Jam

As I ate in my street clothes with my less than coiffed hair I felt a little like a Bridal Path housekeeper on a lunch break. The soup and sandwich were pretty decent.  The bacon jam was delicious. All in all, it was a satisfying lunch.   The people watching was phenomenal and I’m sure the patrons were wondering what a jagged nailed bum like me was doing in such an environment.    That said, the staff was cordial and played the permasmile supporting role effectively.

A few days later I went for dinner at Buca Yorkville.  I was hosting a dinner for 7 so we had to take a 6 pm reservation.  That said, we were seated immediately and they were patient with the one or two in the party who are chronologically challenged (or couldn’t find the place..it can be a bit tricky). At that point,  we got the family style speech plus the fact that the Yorkville  menu represented fare from the sea vs the terrene focus of their sister restaurant Buca on King.  It’s always a joy trying to reach a shared consensus with 7 very different palates at the table but we eventually decided on an array of offerings:

Wine 

As expected, there was a decent selection of wine.  We started with a very subtle Soave (La Cappuccina-$65) which I enjoyed more than I would a Prosecco.  After a short debate, we ordered Castelfeder Sauvignon Blanc ($75) later in the meal. I almost send it back but after getting a second opinion, we kept it at the table.  It just had a taste  more sour (like passion fruit) and was less crisp and spicy than the New Zealand ones we are more accustomed to.   A few guests at the table commented that the taste grew on them.

Gnocco Fritto ($9)

These squid ink dumplings were served warm.  Although they looked like charcoal briquettes, they were absolutely delicious.  The accompanying tuna n’duja was spicy and seasoned perfectly.  I could’ve eaten a whole lot of these.

Dumplings $9

Gnocco Fritto $9

Nodini ($6)

Bucaites swear by these doughy balls of goodness.  It’s hard to go wrong with garlic, olive oil and rosemary anything so these were not disappointing.

Nodini $6

Nodini $6

Anguilla ($19)

I was really excited for this dish.  Eel prepared “in saor” ( a breaded, vinegar preservation method) and finished with pine nuts and the sweet and sour contrast of sea buckthorn and maple syrup sounded dreamy.  It was better on paper; the eel was lost in the batter and the contrast of flavours wasn’t as prominent as I expected.

Anguilla $19

Anguilla $19

Branzino ($42)

This dish was recommended in advance by a colleague of mine.  I think table side preparation is a growing trend and I was excited to watch a sea bass get transformed into crudo in front of my eyes.  The sexiness of such  an act was somewhat impaired by an equipment malfunction when one of the wheels of the cart flew off in transit.  The recovery was quick and the fish was carved and finished with prosecco, lemon and high quality olive oil.   It was a classic example of the power of good, high quality and fresh ingredients. I saw quite a few of these fish carved throughout the night and was surprised to see how few people paused to admire the workmanship, especially with the steep price tag of forty plus dollars.

Branzino $42

Branzino $42

Pastas

As a table, we ordered three pastas from the group of seven; the spaghetti pomodoro ($19), the famous bigoli ($18) which is one of the few items which made the trip from the king street location and the ravioli doppi ($39) which is stuffed with lobster and parsnip.  The pomodoro (not pictured) was near perfect.  The pasta was a magnificent al dente and I tasted the saltiness of the sea as I dreamed of the server’s story of Italian tomatoes grown 100 meters from the saline waters on Italy’s coast. The bigoli was ducky;literally and figuratively.  The ravioli, which arrived well before the other two, was a bit disappointing.  I found the pasta a little thick especially when it is meant to house the delicate taste of lobster.  I also made the mistake of cutting the ravioli the wrong way meaning I got nothing but a mouthful of parsnip in the first bite (the pasta was stuffed with the lobster on one side and the pungent root on the other).  Even when I corrected by oversight, I still found it disappointing, especially for $39.

Ravioli Doppi $39

Ravioli Doppi $39

Budini $19

Bigoli $18

Pizza

At one point I was worried about time.  Most restaurants do two seatings for big tables and I was worried we would be rushed as it was approaching 8 pm and we still hadn’t received pizza or anything else we planned to order.  However, it was quickly evident that there was no need to rush, especially given the huge void of time between courses, especially the pasta and pizza.  The server arrived with a margherita ($17), a nero di seppia ($19) and a pair of scissors. I thought the pizzas were literally night and day.  The night was the dark and disappointing nero pizza.  It looked a bit like a scrambled Italian flag or a Christmas decoration.  There was no adhesion whatsoever; it was a bunch of stuff scattered across squid ink dough.  The day was the light and refreshing margherita which delivered everything it promised.

 Nero di seppia $19

Nero di seppia $19

Meat and Vegetable

We didn’t initially order this, but the consensus at the table was that we needed more food so we ordered the costole di bisonte ($36) and a side of cavofiori ($10). I would have expected them to arrive together but the bison rib was served almost 10 minutes before the cauliflower.  Maybe it’s the English in me, but I would have expected them to be served together for the meat and vegetable experience.  The rib was smart and certainly meaty; the sunchoke and walnuts added a wonderful earthiness to the dish.  The cauliflower was surprisingly simple but delicious. It was served with lardo, and finished with pecorino and duck egg yolk.

Bison Rib $36

Bisonte $39

Cavolfiori $10

Cavolfiori $10

Zeppole ($12)

Dessert was zeppole, otherwise known as an Italian or in this case a roman donut (which may be a bit risque if you were to look up urban dictionary’s definition).  It can best be described as cannoli on steroids. The normal brittle, cookie exterior was replaced with a chewy, bagel-like shell which housed a filling that was a sweet pistachio cream offset by a sour cherry sauce.  It was absolutely delicious and is now on my list of the things I have specific cravings for.

Zeppole $12

Zeppole $12

My Take

During the meal, I had another housewife of Toronto experience. A table of 6 women walked in, apparently celebrating some sort of birthday, anniversary, facelift etc. They would all greet each other with toothy smiles and friendly hugs and then take their jackets off only to replace them a minute later once everybody could get a peak of the wares which lied beneath.   I found myself somewhat entranced by the whole scene and started to understand why people might actually watch these housewife exposes.  I wondered if at least one of them made a trip to her majesty’s pleasure earlier to the day to sip a drink and think about eating something while primping up for a competitive evening with the girls.

Entertainment aside, the experience was pretty good.  The meal started and ended well (I still crave that tuna n’juda and zeppole) with a few up and downs in between. The service itself was incredible.  The timing, however, was a bumpy as the fish cart with the blown wheel.  There were lags between courses and even delays within the courses.  Some of the dishes (the eel, ravioli doppi and the branzino crudo) were rather overpriced.   It seems that the best dishes were the simple ones and the more complex ones were confusing and unreasonably expensive.

Aside from the land versus sea menu, I think there is a bit of a struggle to define how this Buca location will compare and contrast to the King Street location. There is the need to adhere to the old school “everybody is family” Italian philosophy combined with the pretentious demands of the Yorkville faithful.   I think it can work as long as the concept and efforts don’t come across looking as fake as the lips and boobs of the housewives of Toronto.

 

 

 

Buca (Yorkville) on Urbanspoon

Her Majesty's Pleasure on Urbanspoon

Now Playing…Wahlburgers: Identity Crisis…Starring Mark, Donnie and the Other Guy.

I suppose if you have the last name Wahlberg, it makes sense that you throw your at into the burger business, especially where you are backed by two pop culture icons who have graced the big and small screen as well as the music business for 25 years.

Wahlburgers recently opened its first Toronto franchise along side the SOHO hotel on Blue Jays Way.  I immediately thought a few things when I entered the place for the first time:

  1. This place is pretty big.
  2. What a hideous shade of green.
  3. Why are the staff acting like I’m in a Parkdale eatery instead of a downtown tourist trap? A black shirt or a cardigan should not make one better than me.

I was seated quickly and ordered a pint.  At this point I realized it’s quite hard to get a pint from the burger based joint and be able to watch a tv at the same time. The adhere to a list of local brews on tap and also feature the Wahlbrewski North which is brewed on contract by a local brewery.  The price range is $7-7.50.  I really had no interest in the $12 adult cocktails (although I will give them credit for using clamato instead of tomato juice in their Caesars..it looks like they did their homework).  Their $15 adult frappes look sickly sweet and look as if they would appeal to teens with fake IDs and those who feel comfortable drinking as many calories as they are about to eat (what the hell is whipped cream liquor anyway).

The menu is mainly burgers with the typical sides (salads and fries) but you can also get a portobello burger, a sandwich made of turkey with all the fixings and typical offerings off a kid’s menu if necessary.  I ordered the BBQ bacon burger with the sauce in the side.  In addition I ordered a side of famous Wahl sauce which is normally served with some of the other burgers on the menu. As a side, we split the fries and an order of tater tots.

While you’re waiting you can watch a montage to the Wahlberg brothers (Donny, Mark and the other guy) on a loop (including new and old footage and plenty of references to the A&E show) which runs on the televisons in strategic positions set throughout the restaurant.  Otherwise, you can also read the wordle-like large poster which lists all of Mark’s movies in the event it’s a trivia question or a dinner party conversation starter sometime in the future.

The burger was decent.  The patty was not overcooked although I would have been happy if it was closer to medium.  The bun/patty ratio was good. I enjoyed both sauces but was glad I didn’t ask for either directly on the burger since I think a little too much would have cut into the taste of the burger overall.  The clothespin was a bit woody….but probably better than the fries (see below).

BBQ Bacon Burger $9.95

BBQ  Bacon Burger $9.95

Wahl Sauce

Wahl Sauce

The sides were horrible.  The “naturally cut” fried clearly didn’t mean freshly cut and the tater tots were “just like I remember them”…over salted and greasy potato sponges.  Given the fries I get can get at other joints for about the same price, these were an embarrassment at $3.50 each.

Fries and Tater Tots $3.50 each

Fries and Tater Tots $3.50 each

My Take

I will be interested to see the fate of Wahlburgers in Toronto. It has a bit of an identity crisis.  I mean, where else can you grab a $7.50 pint to go with your slice of government cheese?   Despite the celebrity endorsement, it sill likely be more geared toward a sports fan than it will a patron of the SOHO itself.  It’s saving grace may the fact you can get a decent burger at a decent price in a place where dad can have a beer, mom can ogle Marky Mark’s abs and the kids can eat hot dogs and shitty french fries (I swear as long as there’s ketchup there’s no such thing as a bad fry to a child) and wonder why they can’t have a $15 drink called blueberry pie…all at a location within walking distance of a Jays game.  Otherwise the tricky parking and popularity of numerous other burger joints in the area may make it an ongoing struggle.

Personally, I  I think I could replicate my experience at Wahlburgers with a green sharpie highlighter, a  pound of decent ground beef, a Kraft single, a bag of McCain fries or tater tots and a toaster oven; all while watching Muchmusic retro while I talk to my annoying hipster cousin on speaker phone.

With other burger joints like Burger’s Priest, P & L burger and other options like Hero and Five Guys in town, I think this new kid will get knocked off the block pretty quick.

Wahlburgers on Urbanspoon

Whalesbone: Kramer’s Conundrum, Pickerel vs Walleye and is Kenny Rogers Malaysia’s David Hasselhoff?

Whalesbone: Kramer’s Conundrum, Pickerel vs Walleye and is Kenny Rogers Malaysia’s David Hasselhoff?

Growing up I was very familiar with Kenny Rogers. Not only did my grandparents have it in the rotation on the 8 track in between ABBA and Neil Diamond, but mom was a rather obsessive fan. I remember her travelling down to Toronto to see him in concert and returning with a huge, glossy souvenir book which sat in a rack for months afterwards.  His gleaming face on the front cover would greet me at the front door every time I got home from school.   I knew all about Ruby, Lucille and Reuben James. I knew that somebody believed in Kenny and that the Gambler could not possibly outrun the long arm of the law.

Kenny’s legacy continued when I moved to London. There was a Kenny Rogers’ Roaster’s a few blocks from my house. I went once but was more impressed with Canadian chicken juggernaut Swiss Chalet which was located a block closer. The chain’s popularity likely hit it’s peak in the mid-nineties after an episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer reluctantly falls in love with the chicken despite the fact its annoying red neon sign lights up his apartment. Despite the publicity, the company eventually declared Chapter 11 and is now owned and operated out of Malaysia with franchises scattered throughout China, the Philippines and Cambodia.   Maybe Kenny is to Malaysia what Hasselhoff is to Germany.

Kramer in the Kenny Rogers' Glow

Kramer in the Kenny Rogers’ Glow

During a recent trip to Ottawa, I was craving seafood more than I was chicken, so I decided to grab dinner at Whalesbone. The oyster house has become a staple among many Ottawa foodies and is known for its innovative menus and bar side turntable which bellows the output of spinning vinyl throughout its tiny confines. I arrived in time to grab a bar seat before the place got too full.  I sat down and had flashbacks when I saw Kenny’s bearded mug staring at me from behind the bar while his voice serenaded me with the suggestion that I decorated his life.

I was greeted by a pleasant barkeep who quickly sliced some bread (served with a delicious maple butter), passed me the daily menu and eagerly explained the daily catch of oysters in great detail.  Finding it difficult to decide, I opted for one of each of the mollusks from the likes of Colville Bay PEI, Foxley River PEI, Eel Lake NS and Simon NB and Deep Bay BC. Equivalent to the variety of oysters was the carousel of condiments that came with it which included the standard horseradish, lemon and Tabasco in addition to the  housemade seafood,hot sauce and mignonette and even a shaker of blended scotch. The variety of both the oysters themselves and the additions made for a very enjoyable start to the evening.

Oysters 3/$16

Oysters $3.15-3.25 each

All of the half dozen starters looked incredible but I settled for the scallop ceviche ($20) which was served with grapefruit, red onion, jalapeno, crisps, cilantro and fraiche.  It was presently beautifully and had a crispy acidity which nicely coddled the tender scallop.  I was hoping for a little more heat from the jalapeno. The radish, which wasn’t listed on the ingredients, was a bit like an uninvited guest whose powerful presence was a little too dominating in the midst of the others party goers.

Scallop Ceviche $20

Scallop Ceviche $20

For the entree, I was fascinated by the walleye and clam combination flavoured with bacon, beans, radish, potatoes and herbs ($30).  As a side note, some of us get rather annoyed by the use of the word walleye instead of the much more Canadian pickerel but I suppose I should pick my battles.  Once again, the dish was picturesque. The pickerel fillet was nicely browned and served atop a fragrant broth which housed the remaining ingredients.  This time the radish was a welcome guest, adding some crunchy bite to the dish.

Walleye $30

Walleye $30

For dessert, the banana cream pie ($11) was calling my name. It was served in a mason jar and served sprinkled with a graham crust.  Those who are not extremists may be a bit turned off since it was heavy on the sweet side but despite this, I enjoyed the taste and texture, highlighted by  fresh cream and chunks of ripe banana.

Banana Cream Pie $11

Banana Cream Pie $11

My Take

From start to finish, I enjoyed the Whalesbone experience.  Whether it was the fresh bread, the array of available oysters, great service or the other innovative dishes, it had all the components of a great but expensive meal. Each offering was well thought out and attractively presented with an array of textures and flavours by pleasant and knowledgeable waitstaff.

I rarely tweet while at a restaurant but the combination of the oysters and Kenny’s crooning put me in the mood to proclaim my sultry experience to the world.  My message was quickly retweeted by somebody at the restaurant and one clever follower asked me if I counted my oysters when I was sitting at the table; I said there’d be time enough for counting when the eatin’s done.

Whalesbone Oyster House on Urbanspoon

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