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Nana: Daycares and David Bowie

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I was pondering how to incorporate the recent passing of David Bowie into a blog post when serendipity occurred. I went to dinner at Nana and the soundtrack was nothing but the Thin White Duke.  Starman, Heroes, Jean Genie and a number of other classics blasted from the rafters, reminding me that Bowie was truly a chameleon in that a skinny white dude’s music fit perfectly within a crowded Thai restaurant.

Social media has changed the way we recognize dead celebrities.  My facebook was littered with tributes from people telling the world what Bowie meant to them from a fashion and music perspective.  Others credited him for making them feel unapologetic about being different and how they changed his life. Maybe I’m just a clueless moron or a heartless muttonhead (which I think is the perfect insult for a person who writes about food), but his impact on my life was less exciting. That said, I appreciated his quiet and private approach to stardom.  He lived by example and not by sponsored endorsements or fabrications.  From a music perspective, I would always stop on a Bowie song if I was flipping through my Sirius.

I tried to find some sort of relationship between Bowie and Nana and the closest I came was that Nana (along with a whole bunch of other nana’s) were lyrics in a 1968 song called Ching-a-Ling written by Bowie as part of a trio named the Feathers which also consisted of his girlfriend at the time and guitarist John “Hutch” Hutchinson.

Looking for a link between Bowie and anything related to food also proved a dubious task. I did find one interesting story however. Prior to Bowie’s leap to permanent stardom in 1969, Bowie briefly appeared in a rather psychedelic  commercial for Lyons Maid ice cream Luv lollies as a way to make a few bucks. The following clip is worth a watch, but  here are a couple of interesting facts:

        • These treats came with rock star trading cards which included the likes of the Beatles and Davy Jones.  The latter is actually David’s real name but he chose Bowie as his surname to avoid confusion.  A series of trading cards from Mr. Softee in the early 60’s depicted an astronaut named Tom and rumours suggest that this was, because of Bowie’s need to collect, the inspiration behind Bowie’s most famous protagonist Major Tom.
        • The commercial was directly by Ridley Scott. It’s quite coincidental that in the year the rock icon dies, Scott may finally win an Oscar for best picture (he has been nominated for best director thrice in the past but has yet to win) for “The Martian”  which one can argue has a plot similar to “Space Odyssey”.

 

Nana is a spinoff of Khoa San Road, the highly successful downtown Thai restaurant. According to the website, Nana means meeting place.  According to me, it means daycare since the plastic red seats and big tables, looks more like you find them at a babysitting service than an Asian street market . Unlike KSR, Nana takes limited reservations which a least gives you a hope of eating without a wait.The menu offers KSR favorites as well as a spattering of items which represent the Thai street experience.  Each dish is described in detail on the second page of the menu which makes things easier for people who don’t know the difference between pad mama and pad prik.

They offer a small selection of wine, a few unique draughts and a Thai themed cocktail list. I started with a Silom Sour which incorporated Thai flavours such as ginger, lime and chili in a very enjoyable cocktail. It was topped with chili powder which surprisingly numbs the lips in seconds.

nana drink

Silom Sour $12

Tom yum soup is usually my go to measure of a great Thai experience and I thoroughly enjoyed Nana’s version. It was a true testament to intense Thai flavours boasting a great level of heat and plenty of chunky mushrooms and tomatoes. It was one of the better Tom Yum soups I have had in a restaurant.

nana soup

Tom Yum Soup

Our other appetizers included spring rolls and chicken satay but saying por pia tod sai moo sub kub nua pu and sa tay kai kub nam ar jad sounds a lot more fun (although it’s a spellcheck nightmare).Both were good.  The mushroom was a great addition to the rolls and I thought the lightly pickled veggies were a great addition to the normally predictable chicken satay.

We ordered a variety of mains for table including pad mama with hot dog, pad prik king with chicken, pad thai bo lan and pad see ew.  We also tried to get the mi ga ti with pork which looked incredible based on the description but was unavailable.  In general, the dishes are in the $15 dollar range for a slightly skimpy portion size.  The pad mama, supposed the mac and cheese of thailand, was gimmicky and resembled something a creative university student might with make with leftovers.  The pad prik king was the best dish of the night.  The chicken was tender and bursting with heat and extreme Thai flavours.  Both the pad thai and pad see ew were a terrific testament to two of Thailand’s most recognized noodle dishes.

I never get excited about Thai desserts but the roti kuay (buttered roti dough, cooked and folded with banana) was a decent finish to the evening.  The table split an order which was plenty, especially after a mass infusion of rice and noodles. Cutting it was a dubious task, however, since there are no knives available to customers (once again reiterating the fact that this place is probably in fact a daycare).

nana dessert

Banana Roti $8

My Take

Nana is a funkier version of its sister restaurant, Khao San Road.  It is smaller but does entertain the thought of reservations which made it a feasible destination for my group. The draught list is small but good and the cocktails are smartly constructed. The Tom Yum soup is among the best around and the dishes pay commensurate homage to Thai flavours.  I’d highly recommend the pad prik king and you won’t be disappointed with any of the noodle dishes.  The pad mama is a good gimmick but not a great dish.

In the end, Nana is a place where you can enjoy pretty good food in a communal environment and if you’re lucky, you may even hear some Bowie in the background or get to  play Simon says, I spy or clapping syllables to the names of Thai dishes such as por pia tod sai moo sub kub nua pu.

Nana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kasa Moto: The Golden Globes of Izakaya

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I went to Kasa Moto a few months back and I’ve been struggling a bit with a concept to go along with it.  I’ve pretty much exhausted the Real Housewives so I was in a state of pop culture writer’s block.  Magically, it came to me while I was watching the 2016 Golden Globes because it is a perfect  example of something that is synonymous with hype and phoniness of Yorkville. I’m not a Hollywood zealot but I do love the dynamic and psychology around celebrities.  I’m not talking TMZ; instead I’m referring to the pathological perception that exists in the world of the famous.  I’m no Ricky Gervais, but there are a number of observations I made during the globes that correlate nicely with Avenue and Bloor.

10 “Yorkville Personas” that I saw at the 2016 Golden Globes

  1. The I Can’t Believe it Although I Already Know it Girl- Why the hell does Kate Winslet act surprised when she wins anything?  That ridiculous look on her face is the same look that a trophy wife gets when she recieves a gift she “wasn’t expecting” at a Yorkville soiree.  I think what Kate really wanted to do is strut over to Helen Mirren, look her in the eye, slam down the statue and say “Who’s the Queen now, bitch!?” which in all likelihood would have also solicited an answer from Jennifer Jason Leigh.
  2. Thinks He’s Deeply Philosophical but is Actually Quite  Shallow Guy–  WTF was Tom Hanks talking about when presenting the Cecil B. DeMille award? Even Denzel was looking at him perplexed as hell.  Yes Tom, we know you were incredible in Philadelphia 20 freaking years ago.  It was listening to that dude at the dinner table who name drops and talks to hear his own voice.  Guys like this are usually the only reason I wouldn’t order dessert because it’s sweet to just get away.
  3. The Old Patriarch we Respect Because he still comes to the party Guy– The standing ovation for Sylvester Stallone was almost pathetic.  If you want to honour the guy, give him the Cecil B. DeMille award.  Otherwise, don’t treat him like the guy at the table you need to congratulate because he’s done absolutely nothing  for longer than anybody else.  You want a reason why he hasn’t won a golden globe since 1977? I’ll give you 12; Cobra, Over the Top, Tango and Cash,  Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, Judge Dread, Spy Kids 3D: Game Over and the Expendables One, Two and Three.
  4.  Funny Drunk Guy- Both Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell remind me of the the guys who need a prop to be funny.  What was with the 2016 new year’s glasses.  In the case of the Yorkville funny guy, the prop is usually booze but could also include you tube clips, memes his wing man (see below).
  5.  I’m Better Than you Because I’m not Funny Drunk Guy-Toby McGuire was the guy who missed the “try to be funny” memo or read it and didn’t give a shit. His stunning performance as…umm…spider-man…must allow him to portray  himself as the serious actor and elevate himself above the other Hollywood asshats by presenting with a demenor that makes a eulogy exciting. Look for serious guy to overdress, repeat looks of disapproval and check his phone repeatedly for stock prices even though the market closed hours before.
  6. I Used to be Freaking Crazy but now I’m Normal so now Respect Me Girl-  First, Lady Gaga already has the Kate Winslet “I can’t believe I won” look down to a science.  Then she throws Leo an elbow and proceeds to spew an acceptance speech that makes less sense than her  Rah rah ah-ah-ah! Ro mah ro-mah-mah, Gaga ooh-la-la! Want your bad romance lyrics. In Yorkville terms, she’d be the one who went to rehab, was released and then thought she was better than everybody else because of the experience.
  7. Wing Man- Much like funny drunk guy, the wing man is the life of the party and does his best to take care of his buddies, even if he looks like a jackass in the process. For example, Jonah Hill, along with the bear on his head, was a great wing man for Channing Tatum’s hair which looked like an animal just as wild or just an unfortunate attempt at a comb over.
  8. What do People See in This Guy? Guy- Most Yorkville dinners usually have a guy who people look at and say why? Whether it’s the dude with a table of beauties or the loud, obnoxious guy with a group of friends, it’s a real head scratcher.  I usually fill out a Golden Globe ballot for shits and giggles. Usually I haven’t see 90% of the nominated movies or shows which is an advantage because I can’t introduce my own bias. However,  I started watching Mr. Robot a few months back. I quite enjoyed it with the exception of Christian Slater.  As the title character, his acting is an painful as ever (remember “The Forgotten”?..it’s hard to forget) so there was no way I was scratching his name on my ballot.  I would have rather him nominated for his role as composite Santa Claus in Robot Chicken.  What’s worse is that he won while the creepy kid who actually makes the show lost (albeit it was to Jon Hamm).  It just makes me mad, man.
  9. BFF Girls– The Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer thing was the best example of this. In a way, Schumer is Lawrence’s DUFF (sorry I saw the  bad movie with the same name recently). In this case, DUFF means Designated Undervalued Funny Friend.  Sure, Schumer got a  golden globe nod but it pales in comparison to Lawrence who beat her and has already fetched an Oscar, a previous Golden Globe and numerous teen, people’s choice and MTV awards.  Looking around any Yorkville venue, you can see a classic example of this BFF/DUFF dynamic at a number of tables, especially the loud ones.
  10. Lives As Her Character Girl- I’m sure most people have no idea who Taraji P. Henson is and many would guess she has something to do with the Muppets.  Most people know the name “Cookie” from Empire however.  I found the fact that her acceptance speech was delivered as Cookie as opposed to Taraji quite reminiscent of the Yorkville patron who mimics the role of whatever famous actress, designer or other mogul the band wagon is hauling around at the time.

Bonus: Ben Mulroney’s post Golden Globe commentary was ridiculous.  Maybe bragging about the fact that J Lo actually stopped to talk to him makes him feel a little better about being the less popular of the two silver spoon fed sons of a former Canadian Prime Minister.

Kasa Moto sounds more like a Victor Hugo character than a fancy Yorkville destination but I’m sure many of the area’s regulars were thrilled that it brought a face lift to the namesake street after Remy’s had become so passe. This renovation  has resulted in a big, bustling and oddly laid out dining room that in some cases gives you a surprising amount of privacy in the midst of a few hundred other people, especially if you are seated on the bottom level. Although it is generally Japanese, it is less sushi (although there is a small selection) and more izakaya without the need to remove shoes or deal with happy people and an artificially  loud environment.  The menu is divided into numerous sections including hot, cold, robata, large plates and ends with the sushi/sashimi platters and maki rolls.

While perusing the menu,  I ordered  the Origami in Flight, a bourbon based cocktail finished with chartreuse and citrus.  It was respectable cocktail at a relatively acceptable price of $14.  This was followed with a carafe of one of the many sake choices available from the bar.

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Origami in Flight $14

We started with some edamame $7 which was served with nanami  and hoisin sauce on the side. The hoisin sauce itself was delicious and the extra heat was a  brilliant  spin on this traditional staple.

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Edamame with Hoisin $7

From the cold menu we agreed on the hamachi ponzu ($18).  The crispy carrot seemed a little odd but added a nice contrast to the fish. The quality of the hamachi itself was good and it was seasoned nicely.

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Hamachi Ponzu $18

From the hot side, the kinoko salad ($13) was really only a salad because it was in a bowl. Otherwise, it was more a spin on a  mushroom tempura than anything.

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Kinoko Salad $13

Robata is one of many words which describe Japanese barbeque.  The literal definition is slow-cooking using  charcoal.  From this menu, we ordered shrimp ($16) and pork belly ($12). I’m not sure if the shrimp is still on the menu but it was bland and overpriced.  The pork belly on the other hand, was nicely rendered and melted in my mouth.  It was nicely complimented with a ume glaze which added a great sweet flavour and caramelization to the dish.

The kamameshi ($18) is a rice dish mixed table side. In hindsight, it was probably the wrong dish to order since the flavours were very similar to the kinoka salad.  Regardless, I wouldn’t have been a fan even if I didn’t have the precursor.  It was a greasy bowl of overpriced mushroom rice.

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Kamameshi $18

Another favorite at many Japanese drop-ins  is the hot stone as a table side cooking vessel. Normally, an advantage of this cooking style is the ability to use less expensive meats such as tongue since you can use really thin cuts.  In Yorkville style, however,  Kasa Moto glamourizes it with either a 4oz Amercian Waygu cut for $24 or 5oz of Japanese Waygu for $80. We opted for the cheaper of the two which was served with a house made ponzu and steak sauce.

I couldn’t leave without trying the sushi, so I reverted to my standard choice of spicy tuna rolls.  They were average at best and overpriced at $12.

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Spicy Tuna Rolls $12

My Take

Izakaya restaurants are the rage in Toronto but have typically opened as boisterous and inexpensive destinations.  Kasa Moto is like the golden globes of these trendy eateries.  It smartly glamourizes the experience in Yorkville fashion by offering a classy decor, professional service and upgraded ingredients at a premium price.  (eg. Waygu beef instead of a cheaper cut for the hot stone).  In many cases the food was prepared nicely.  The pork belly was rendered and seasoned with brilliance and the simple twist on the edamame was divine.  On the flip side the shrimp was bland and the kamameshi was mushy and oily. Most of the menu was rather overpriced but this is to be expected in the heart of Yorkville.

In addition, if you go there is a good chance you will see one of many of the aforementioned Yorkville personalities in full action.  The BFF girls are almost a guarantee and I had the privilege of being within earshot of  “thinks he’s deeply philosophical but actually shallow guy” whose ridiculous banter was lapped up by”lives as her character girl”.

In the end, it was a decent dining experience but if you want true izakaya there are cheaper choices in the GTA that will give you food just as good. That said, a visit to Kasa Moto  will give you countless opportunities to witness the best of Yorkville personalities even if you if you only end up being  a seat filler.

Kasa Moto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Midmost Rating of Bar Raval and Why Justin Trudeau Would Make A Promising Food Reviewer

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I think food blogging is a bit like being a  member of parliament.  First, you have the liberty of being able to say whatever you want but with the knowledge that somebody is going to publicly disagree with your opinion.  In fact, some of them will just be nasty about it.  I remember writing a rather negative review of Hudson Kitchen shortly after all the TIFF sightings a couple of years back only to have a reader tell me how wrong I was (for the record I need to point out that Hudson Kitchen is now closed so I wasn’t that far off) and suggesting that I was not a blog to follow.  Second, like politics,  there is an element of responsibility with any kind of blogging.  I’m not saying what I write is going to make or break a restaurant, but what I say is very public and readily accessible so I try to be extremely careful even if I don’t like a place.  It is never my intention to shit on a chef or their restaurant because it’s like shitting on their character. At the same time, however, I shouldn’t be crapped on as a patron either.  Third, I have to consider not only my opinion but also the opinions of friends and colleagues I respect much like a politician has to respect his or her constituents.

For these reasons, I think Justin Trudeau would be a good food reviewer.  Consider the following:

  1. He has a sizable following on social media . For example, he has 1.2 million twitter followers which means his omnipotent opinion would be read (and maybe even retweeted)  by the masses.
  2. Many of those who read food blogs are his target audience…the entitled generation.   His election win was driven by, among others, those who believe that social injustices of the world can be solved by T-shirts, tattoos and that eating ethnic food is a symbol of global solidarity.
  3. He can post his pretty profile pic along with his reviews because that face can’t lie, right?
  4. Since both yelp and zomato use a 5 point Likert scale to rank restaurants, he can rate everything 4. That way we could count on his nauseating neutrality knowing he doesn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or show favouritism, even if they deserve it.
  5. He can change his opinion whenever it’s convenient.  Even if his initial review makes absolutely no sense and sounds like it came out his ass, he can always revisit things under different circumstances and use reasons beyond his control  to justify changing his mind…again and again.

So how does all of this relate to Bar Raval? I have two colleagues who I respect as good judges of restaurants.  That said, they differ on a few  and Bar Raval is one of them.  One found it charming and delightful and other thought it was crowded, over hyped and served marginal food. Keeping in mind that one experience doesn’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of a place, I felt like I was going to be the tie breaker.

One of the early criticisms I heard about Bar Raval was its tiny size and no reservation policy which obviously makes it difficult to ensure a spot upon arrival.  A few months ago, when patio season was still feasible, I decided to go in the mid afternoon to grab a drink and an early dinner.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because viewing their menu online is more difficult than playing Myst.

Having secured a corner patio seat, I did a quick survey of my surrounding and realized I was in hipster haven.  In fact, one of the many hipsters ended up being my waitress for the afternoon. Drink wise, I was drawn to the Gothic quarter ($13).  I was a bit excited because, although I’m far from a world traveler, I HAVE been to the Gothic quarter in Barcelona and thought I was REALLY cool to have this namesake drink.  As scripted, however, it was pink ( I have this habit of ordering pink drinks regardless of what the description is). I can swallow my manhood and say it was a decent and despite its appearance, even a little bit manly.

Gothic Quarter $13

Gothic Quarter $13

Since I was solo that afternoon and most of the  came in pairs,  I spent a good amount of time wondering how I was going to spend my finite gut capacity yet still get a good flavour of the place. The problem was solved when the waitress indicated I could order singles of any of the pintxos on the menu.  As I was deciding, I ordered some delicious aged Mahon cheese ($8) with some bread ($2) which I easily consumed while deciding on the rest.

Aged Mahon Cheese $8 with Bread $2

Aged Mahon Cheese $8 with Bread $2

I ordered singles of the tuna pickle gilda, the stracciatella with boquerones, the morcilla with egg and the cojunado.  As an afterthought, I’ll admit they were not the most diverse choices but I love tuna, lovingly remember the boquerones from Bar Isabel and can’t turn down an egg on anything. Plus, I wasn’t about to crack a can or sardines without somebody else helping me. Ranging from about $3.50 to $4.50 per piece, each dish was representative of what I remember from both Barcelona and other Spanish tribute restaurants such as Coqueta in San Francisco and Amada in Philadelphia.  My favorite had to be the morcilla. Flavourwise, it was balanced and seasoned nicely and had an enjoyable, crumbly texture which complimented the perfectly cooked quail egg.

 

My Take 

Many factors dictate a good or bad experience and n=1 is not always indicative of a restaurant’s overall semblance which is a big reason that the opinions of others are important.  My experience was in between bad and terrific.  In other words,  it was good. On one hand, I’m keen to come back and admire the Gaudiesque interior while sipping coffees or signature cocktails while eating pastries, pintxos, the raw bar or some other type of tapas  I didn’t get to try this time.  On the other hand, the thought of being crammed shoulder to shoulder with hipsters in close quarters like the sardines I’m eating is far from appealing. However, in the end, I will side with optimistic  neutrality give Bar Raval a very Justinesque “4”. This wishy-washy, indecisive and up the middle denouement  leads me to conclude that not only do I sound like a politician…I also sound like  a liberal.

Bar Raval Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hearing Stories at Mamakas While Wondering if Mikey, Despite his Ancestry.com Results, Will Like it.

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I’m fascinated by the latest round of ancestry.com commercials.  In particular, there is one where some middle aged guy, after thinking he was German for 50 years, went onto the website and found out he was Scottish. In addition, he seemed quite happy about exchanging the lederhosen for a kilt.  I have a problem with this.  If I found out that I wasn’t the nationality I thought I was after 5 decades, I’d be pissed.  Immediate questions like “Did we have a Scottish mailman or a nanny?”would pop into my head. I would also have a frank discussion with my parents about the significance  of properly relaying important information, such as where the hell I came from , to my siblings and I.

That said, there are times I wish my family history was a little more exciting.  I’m at least a third generation Canadian so ties to my homeland are as faded as memories of the last time England won the World Cup.  I’ve mentioned before that my mom has always been a good cook but it would be a stretch to say she was authentic.  Her cabbage rolls, for example, are stuffed with precooked hamburger,  minute rice and parmesan cheese.  I have longed to be able to latch onto a culture and call it my own, especially from a food perspective. After a rather boring diet for the first 20 years of my life, I finally was able to experience authentic ethnic food. I remember working with a doctor from Thailand who introduced me to the first Tom Yum soup I’ve ever had.  To this day, it is etched in my brain as one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Most culture’s foods are quite ubiquitous now.  Even in sleepy towns like London, Ontario, there is a surge in the availability of international fare. Toronto is like a diner’s Disneyland, allowing any of us to be Korean, Indian or Jamaican for a day.

In other words, I’m a little jealous of people with well rooted histories and stories from the old world.  Narratives of Sri Lankan perusing markets selling fresh mangosteen or eating carnitas in the alleys of Mexico city sound far more exciting that chasing the Dickie Dee guy down the street to get one of those ghost shapes ice cream bars with the frozen, tooth-cracking gumballs in the middle of a luke warm day in Sudbury.  What overcomes the jealousy a bit is when I dine with them and get to see and experience the pride they have in their culture’s food.

Specifically, when it comes to Greek food, my experience was limited growing up.  The Apollo was the main gig in town and I rarely went. At home, my mom didn’t know what a greek salad was. Since then, I’ve hit a number of Greek places through my triple D expeditions.  Usually, these traditional eateries are pleasantly tacky, often decorated with blue and white colours, flags and pictures of architecture of  the homeland hanging on the wall.  I’ve also come to realize that every second diner, even if it doesn’t serve souvlaki (although it usually does), is owned by a Grecian.  In fact, a Greek friend of mine owns a sports bar in London and I can bet on two things; good food and continuous reminders that, as opposed to England,  Greece has won the Euro Cup whereas England’s World Cup win was even earlier than the last Leaf’s Stanley Cup victory.

I was surprised to hear a Greek place would harbour itself along Ossington, one of the more volatile and finicky streets on the whole Toronto dining map. That said, it keeps getting rave reviews.  I was particularly interested to go since I was with a couple of colleagues who in some way have Grecian ties . I knew I would be treated to  narratives which would nicely compliment some of the dishes that came out and would be a little more exciting than mine which involve the fact that my kids really like my horribly predictable (but decent) chicken souvlaki dinner.

The decor is less tacky than most Greek places and was actually fresh and bright, especially  for an Ossington joint.  It was bustling but there were no worries because they actually take reservations.   It had wine that night so I can’t comment on the cocktails.  Despite the fact that Greek wine is not as renowned as some it’s chest pumping European neighbours,  Mamaka’s stick to their heritage by offering  krasi of all types (about 15 white and red options) and price points ranging from $45 to $120. We opted for the $45 Sofos organic and the $60 Kidonista whites.  Although neither were the best whites I’ve ever had, they were as crisp and clean as the joint itself and well worth the reasonable price.

The first lesson from my table mates was that among the many dips available in a Greek restaurant, taramosalata is a better choice than tzatziki.  Made with fish roe mixed with other traditional Greek ingredients like lemon and oil, it has a pink hue and is quite salty. It was served with cucumber and pita. It’s a bit of a surreal spread and seemed synonymous with marmite from my British roots.

mamakas dip

Taramosalata $7

I didn’t need a lesson to understand the significance of octopus in Grecian cuisine but I did need one to understand Santorini fava.  My knowledge of fava beans include their cameo in a Hannibal Lecter speech in “The Silence of the Lambs” and from my dietitian training in which I learned that they fact they cannot be consumed by segments of the world’s population due to favism, a genetic disorder in which there is insufficient   glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in red blood cells, leading to acute hemolytic anemia.  Ironically, many Greeks carry this genetic abnormality which also protects from malaria . That said, Santorini fava has nothing to do with fava beans.  In fact, it is similar to a hummus made with yellow split peas and flavoured with onions (in this case pickled…soooo Ossington) and capers. This dish was delightful and a nice change from the potato and olive combo which seems to accompany the mollusc everywhere else.

mamakas octopus

Octopus with Santorini Fava $20

Once again, through stories at the table I was transported to a large Greek family dinner featuring Kokoretsi, a lamb offal sausage complimented with skordalia (a garlic potato taste).  I was told stories of a grandmother, who did not want to waste a scrap of food, working meticulously  to season and stuff everything into an awaiting casing with great success.  Although I’m not a lamb fan, I couldn’t complain…it tasted like I was there.

mamakas sausage

Kokoretsi $14

For a side we had tiganites patates which were fries topped with a little feat, egg and spicy sauce.  In other words, it’s Greek poutine.  As I’ve said before, it’s hard to mess up fries and I will eat an egg on anything so I wasn’t disappointed.

mamakas potatoes

Patates $8

My Take

Mamakas proves that Greek food can be as funky and cool as their Korean, Cuban or Vietnamese neighbours.  This restaurant breaks the mold of predictable,  diner-like atmospheres and instead offers a cool and sleek vibe.  The food includes standard fare such as lamb and spanakopita but also transforms traditional but lesser known dishes into modern small plates which still emphasis the concept of family style dining.

I often go to medical conferences (which would perhaps discuss  glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) but don’t usually participate in the guided poster presentations which provide audio commentary to accompany  the visual data.    When it comes to dining, however, I’m singing a different tune.  Listening to my colleagues reminisce about family gatherings rooted in old world traditions in the context of Mamakas decor, vibe and food makes me want to declare myself a culinary pyromaniac, break dishes and scream “Opa!” at the top of my lungs for at least a few hours before reverting to my sullen, ale-swigging distant English eating habits.

In the end, I’ve realized I don’t need ancestry.com.  Being a United Kingdom mutt allows me to be a bit of an impartial chameleon when it comes to the diversity of  cultural food choices out there.  I think restaurant owners perceive there is as much a benefit in appeasing the clueless white guy as there is members of the ethnicity they represent. I feel I’m kind of like Mikey form the iconic life cereal commercials as many of the chefs anxiously stare at me wondering if, after a short period of consideration,  I will like it.

Mamakas Taverna Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Lessons from Tarantino: Hipster Hyperbole and the Dichotomy of Ossington’s Omaw

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One of my favorite films is From Dusk to Dawn, a joint project between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.  I particularly like the fact that the movie has two distinct components. The first half is the cerebral Tarantino and the second  the crude and visual Rodriguez with the switch occurring the minute they enter the Titty Twister.

I just went and saw the new Tarantino film, his eighth feature film aptly named “The Hateful Eight”.  As usual he is the subject of scrutiny, this time accused of misogyny.  Continually criticized for his use the N-word in his films including the latest, New York Times writer AO Scott states that  “At a certain point, the N-word gives way to the B-word as the dominant hateful epithet, and ‘The Hateful Eight’ mutates from an exploration of racial animus into an orgy of elaborately justified misogyny”.

I’ll be the first to admit that Tarantino’s sanity is sometimes up for debate, but I will make the argument that his extreme use of violence and language is a form of modified hyperbole. In Django unchained, for example, the N-word is muttered 110 times (which in some cases is equivalent to a Drake song which seems to be acceptable).  That said, the movie’s protagonist is black and ends up blowing the shit out of everybody and riding into sunset at the end.  I contend that the constant and nauseating use of the word to the point of absurdity creates an immunity that is actually less offensive than if was used only once in a specific situation during the movie. As for misogyny, Tarantino has a history of strong female  protagonists in his movies including Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in the Hateful Eight is far from a victim even is she is shackled for the majority of the three hour film.

Omaw, the newish Matt Blondin on Ossington serves as a tribute to southern snack food. The place is already getting a few nods by the experts so I was keen to test the authenticity of the ode. It was a good start when the menus were presented alongside a a small bowl of a classic southern snack, boiled peanuts.  A little less geographically accurate  was Oregon’s Dead Guy Ale on tap but I wasn’t complaining.  The offerings, served from a very open and central kitchen, ranged from a bit fancy to a bit roadhouse….. all arranged and served in small sharing plate formats.

omaw peanuts

Boiled Peanuts

This is where I get back to my From Dusk to Dawn reference. The first half was Tarantino smart.  We started with the aged waygu with beef fat vinaigrette, onion tops, pea relish and coffee.  Second was cured flounder (which I believe is no longer on the menu) finished flavoured with parsnip milk, horseradish, almond oil and granola of grains. Third was the shredded kale salad with smoked sturgeon, garlic, jalapeno and cornbread vinaigrette. Each of the dishes were dainty and delicate which fit the Ossington St. mold but was a bit off the beaten path in relation to Omaw’s theme of southern fare.

The second part was Rodriquez crude.  This included the fried chicken skin with tabasco, pepper and lime and the kentucky fried squid with white bbq, collard greens, salt pork and watermelon rind.  Neither was remarkable, especially compared to the extravagant cold plates served earlier.  In both cases, any complex flavour to the dish was minimized by the overwhelming taste of the deep fryer.

The key lime pie was also dichotomous; a combination of old and new. The pie itself was a classic example of this southern staple.  It was complete with a tart curd and crumbly crust. It was topped with that crispy, wafer lkie meringue, something that still hasn’t grown on me.

omaw pie

keylime $14

My Take

I think many Toronto restaurants, including Omaw, exhibit elements of hipster hyperbole which I define as the use of gross exaggeration in any or all of the Zagat trifecta; food, decor or service to hipsterize the overall experience. Examples include application of the iconic Kentucky fried concept to squid, interiors which overemphasize the arts of parquetry and masonry, the lack of capital letters on menus and waitstaff who carry as much angst as they do ink.

As much as the Tarantino/Rodriguez divide makes sense in From Dusk ’til Dawn, it makes less sense in the case of Omaw’s menu. Sure, cold was served before hot but the fact the greasy snack food was saved for  the latter half of the meal made little sense.  It was a bit like going to a house party and after the homemade apps are done, the guests bring out the M&M party pak to finish things off.  It was far from the Wedding at Cana.

In the end, Omaw is as authentic a southern eatery as The Hateful Eight is an bone fide Western.  That said, through other projects, both Matt Blondin and Quentin Tarantino respectively have earned the creative licence to bend the rules a bit. In addition, Omaw fits the blueprint of an Ossington addressee and therefore some flexibility to do whatever it wants regardless of the theme.

This got me thinking that if Mr. Tarantino decides to do another feature film maybe it can called “The Wining Nine”. Nine hipsters can sit around a table talking nonsense for a couple of hours until Leonardo DiCaprio’s character says something Jake Gyllenhaal’s doesn’t like, resulting in Ryan Gosling’s hitting him in the head with an empty bottle of Zinfadel.  The ensuing blood storm attracts Samuel L. Jackson as a shot gun toting anti-urban zombie who, after reeking  havoc, recovers his bad mother fucker wallet from a pool of hipster blood.  Or course with this would come with media allegations of hipster hatred (dogmatry or dogmogyny perhaps?) in addition to the bigotry and misogyny Tarantino supposedly exhibits already. It’s clearly fictitious, however, because nobody could possibly dislike a hipster, right?

OMAW Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bar Fancy: Bohemian Burlesque Beyond What Alanis Morrisette Says

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I still remember the backlash from the community when Alanis Morrisette continuously misused the word ironic on the hit song with the same name of the “Jagged Little Pill” album. They argued that things like rain on your wedding day and a fly in your chardonnay are not ironic but in fact nothing more than shit luck.  Bar Fancy, on the other hand,  is a basic example of irony. Everything about the place fits the blueprint…I mean, the bar is far from fancy. In fact, it’s a bit of a visual atrocity; a mix between a garage and a bachelor apartment.  I would take it a step further and argue that what this Queen West eatery does is beyond irony and actually is more burlesque. Often associated with extravagant and over the top entertainment antics in movies like Moulin Rouge!, the word burlesque encompasses general exaggeration and ridicule. Bar Fancy  has a stupid website that has no copies of the menu and gives you nothing more than an address, hours and a picture of a neon tiger which shows you the way to the semi-hidden entrance.  Once inside,  they have a potluck menu (along with the token extra-large and stupid expensive steak) hand written on a sheet of paper.

I arrived for happy hour  and sat at the kitchen rail with a good view of the kitchen.  A couple of hipster guys were behind the counter, dressed in no way like executive chefs, waiting to prepare menu items to order. The beer and wine menu is intentionally small.  I asked for a cocktail list and was told they really didn’t have one but all the classics were available. I asked for a recommendation and a black manhattan came my way.

Although not the largest happy hour menu, I’ve concluded that half price oysters and $2 a piece fried chicken are a good way to spend the pre-dinner hours.  The chicken met all the criteria of a good bite. While I was there, I watched the kitchen with great interest. Each dish was meticulously prepared from scratch by plaid dressed peons with decent knife skills and obvious culinary comprehension.

bar fancy chicken

$2 Fried Chicken

My Take 

I remember doing a project in university where I had to interview a restaurant whose ironic tag line was “warm beer.lousy food”. Since then, the use of irony has evolved in the food industry.  Hipsters bars have embraced irony and have raised the bar by making things burlesque by exaggerating all the elements of the experience beyond just a simple catch line.

Bar Fancy is an example of a bohemian burlesque. You feel you are at a house party in somebody’s bachelor apartment. Hipsters prepare potluck foods while offering you a small array of beer and wine.  They have no cocktail menu but can whip up any of the classics upon request. Fancy additions like egg whites and lavender shrubs are absent.

Although I’m generally adverse to the silliness of the concepts around hipster havens, I like Bar Fancy. During happy hour, I can grab an old-fashioned, half a dozen oysters and a couple of pieces of chicken for under $30.  I love the lack of a complex cocktail list  and appreciate the simple concept around their  casual, made to order menu.  I’ll have to give it a shot late at night even if it’s after a free ride when I’ve already paid.

Bar Fancy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fring’s: Let’s Just Say I Wasn’t Yelling HYFR Afterwards

Susur Lee has continued to expand his mini empire by securing the old Crush wine bar space.  Instead of opening another Asian-themed eatery, he has teamed up with entertainment icon and fellow sixite Drake to try and bring high end comfort food to the city’s streets.

I’m not sure why this new enterprise has been named Fring’s.  I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Torsten Frings, the German midfileder who played 33 games and scoring 2 goals with the Toronto FC only to retire after requiring surgery and returning to Europe to coach in his home country.  Perhaps it’s an homage to the trademarked side available at Harvey’s, Canada’s own fast food restaurant.  A combination of about 3 onion rings and six or so fries, it is the ideal accompaniment for the indecisive.  Maybe it’s the name is a term coined by Champagne Papi to describe the merging of two fundamental components of Drake’s brand, friends and bling, into one happy milieu.

The decor is also a milieu; in this case a trendy industrial style mixed with a cheesy VIP lounge.  Brick walls and wooden window panels combined with fuzzy if not hairy lounge seats with marble tables means both a downtown ambiance and  a nightclub aura.

After being seated, we were greeted by our waiter. The slick hair, glasses and demeanor screamed hipster but I questioned his authenticity as he was trying way to hard.  Like most other restaurants, he gave us the recited speech explaining the proper process for ordering off a sharing menu.  His entire demeanor seemed scripted as well, especially when we heard him deliver the exact same speech, in exactly the same way, to the table beside us.

I’ll admit part of the reason I came here was to have the ability to report back to my daughter who is a massive Drake fan.  So, it goes without saying that my first question to the waiter was “What would Drake drink?”.  He quickly answered that his the pop icon’s favorite drink was the Tom Skudra ($18), a rum based cocktail with a mix of juices, mint and raspberries. I’ve taken to doing google searches on cocktail names and found that Tom Skudra was a Canadian photojournalist who passed in 2007  and best known for TV series called Programme X in 1970. That said, the drink also went along with the ongoing joke that, whether I try or not, I usually end up ordering the girliest looking  which is usually pink (mostly the result of my affinity for Campari) and this was no exception.  Unlike a Campari drink, however, it was exceptionally sweet and somewhat resembled a daiquiri. I was left wondering whether the waiter was lying through his teeth or Drake has a reeeealllll sweet side I don’t know about.

frings drink

Tom Skudra $14

Nothing says comfort food like toast so what better to start with than some homemade ricotta with jalapeno plum jam and pomegranate ($10). It was presented nicely and in Susur fashion, was an explosive blend of flavours and textures.

frings ricotta

Ricotta Toast $10

Next was the steak tartare ($20).  I was expecting a bit more of the aforementioned taste and flavour explosion but it fell a little flat.  The presentation, usually rather extravagant  on a plate that anything to do with Chef Lee, was uninspiring.  Plus, if they put egg on the octopus dish; why not a little on the tartare!

frings tartare

Steak Tartare $20

The southern spicy maple fried chicken ($26) seems all the rave by reviewers across the board but then again, any fried chicken seems to be.  Some will argue that the art of perfecting this comfort food is an intricate as a souffle while others say it’s pretty freaking hard to mess it up since it involves deep frying something.  I adhere to the latter.  I’ve made a few batches in my day and although some have been better than others, none have really been bad.  There was nothing wrong with the chicken at all.  It was crispy on the outside, moist and the middle and adequately seasoned. The sauce was good as well.   All I’m saying is I can get a bucket of KFC with 8 pieces, popcorn chicken, fries, gravy and two salads for about the same price.  Am I saying that KFC is a good as Susur’s fried fowl?  Not at all.  I’m just trying to point out that I might expect a little more for $26.

frings chicken

Southern Spicy Maple Fried Chicken $26

I find a burger an excellent benchmark of a restaurant.  The burger is a canvas for creativity, the variations are endless and the price point can range from a few dollars to a few hundred.  The Susur burger, served with JK fries, comes in at a hefty $24, which is more than other iconic burgers in the city including Richmond station ($21), Marben ($19) and Harbord Room ($19) and wasn’t anyway close to as good.

frings burger

Susur Burger with JK Fries $24

At this point, I begged the waiter for a drink a little more manly than the Tom Skudra  and preferably not as pink.  He suggested the Waste Man ($18), a cocktail with brandy, chamomile bitters and peach.  Although one might expect it to be sleepy (get it?..chamomile) this was a good strong drink more reflective of the 6God’s brand.

frings drink2

Waste Man $18

 

For dessert, I went with the waiter’s recommendation for the overpriced warm plum tart served with creme fraiche and almonds ($14). It was a bit chic and a bit homey, both of which aligned with the general theme of the place but otherwise was average and contained a whole lot of pastry and not enough plum.

frings dessert

Plum Tart $14

My Take

From a pop culture perspective, the marriage of Drake and Susur Lee makes perfect sense.   Much like Chef Lee’s fusion cooking, bringing two variant entities together often results in spawn which are both unique and exciting. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Fring’s.  Instead of being an innovator, it seems like Chef Lee is following trends which include cheese topped toasts , burgers  and comfort foods like fried chicken.  Not only are they average from a taste and presentation perspective, they are astronomically priced. The cocktails, steak tartare, fried chicken and burger are at least $4-5 higher than similar drinks and dishes at comparable Toronto eateries. The service was robotic.

In the end, I just expected two of the most innovative minds in Toronto to dream up something a little more exciting.  The cocktail list is overly fruity and juicy and the drinks have boring names.  I mean, any Drake song would make a cool cocktail name.  Take “Teach U a Lesson”‘ “Worst Behavior” (come Drake..you’re Canadian…add a u) and “Star67″ for example . The food is uninspired.”Big Rings” would be like a great side to a burger that can be bigger, better and cheaper.  Even some “Pound Cake” for dessert would work. There’s no tellin’ what the future holds for Fring’s but it’s too expensive and may get boring really fast. After all, I sure as hell didn’t leave yelling HYFR down King street after I left.

Fring's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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