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The Irony of Happy Hour at Lee

I’ve met a few celebrity chefs in my travels.   I ran into Lynn Crawford at a food truck festival, met Mark McEwan at a Second Harvest event and snapped a picture of Guy Fieri through the glass at Lakeview diner.  I’m not very bold in these endeavors.  I usually only approach if they are available and usually if somebody else has already asked for a picture before me.  This might explain my reluctance to Susur Lee.  First of all, he scares the hell out of me.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile  and I still remember the way he ripped apart chef Eric Wood during an episode of Chopped Canada.

I was in Toronto at staying in the King and Portland area so I decided to stroll the neighbour in order to grab a bite.  I was thinking Portland Variety, the new menu at Valdez or maybe a sausage at Wvrst.  The last thing on my mind was Lee but as I walked down the sidewalk I looked up and sitting on the patio of his own restaurant was Susur himself.  He was dressed in a burgundy blazer with the same stoic look I have always seen on TV.  He seems engrossed in a business meeting with members of his staff so the last thing I wanted to do was interrupt. Instead I texted a few food geeks I knew  informing them of my discovery.  I attempted to snap a picture but  with my already horrendous camera skills it didn’t go well.

I was still undecided about where to dine until I saw a small sandwich board advertising happy hour at Lee which offered $10 cocktails and a small 1/2 price bar menu.  Sounded good to me.   I walked in and had a seat at the decent size bar.  A friendly bartender was waiting and quickly handed me a food and drink menu.   The drink menu offered 6 cocktails which had an array of spirits as a base.  I started with a burnt orange manhattan (knob hill bourbon, vermouth, grand marnier, cointreau, orange cream citrate).  It had a classic taste with a little twist. The bartender even flamed  the orange peel for extra effect. Although Knob Creek is not my favorite bourbon, it was still a great cocktail, especially for $10.

Burnt Orange Manhattan $10

Burnt Orange Manhattan $10

The half price bar snack menu consisted of 5 items so I went all in and ordered them all.  The first to arrive was the edamame hummus dip ($4) served with sesame crisps, taro root chips and pomegranate.  The silky texture was heavenly and the normal earthiness of a chickpea hummus was replaced with a fresher flavour. The punchy pomegranate seeds and taro chips were great compliments.

Edamame Hummus Dip $4

Edamame Hummus Dip $4

At this point, a buddy of mine joined me.  Shortly after, the spicy tuna tartare and black pepper tuna tataki ($6), spicy jerk chicken ($6) and cheese burger spring roll ($7) arrived.   The tartare and tataki were served on a rice cake and topped with red pepper relish.  The tuna was prepared perfectly but was blunted by the overwhelming rice cake.  The flavours were there, just disproportionate.  The cheeseburger spring egg roll was a brilliant concept, especially with the lettuce wrap and pickled vegetable.  Once again, like the tuna, the main protein was lost among the numerous other things on the plate.  The spice jerk chicken served with the tamarind glaze and chili sauce was phenomenal and easily the best dish of the night.  Moist chicken and a very crisp and aggressive seasoned coating was perfect as a stand alone but the sauces enhanced the flavour even further. It was so good we ordered another one.

Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7

Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7

The last dish on the bar menu was the fois gras and chicken liver pate. Served with ice syrup, ginger mango and ciabatta for $7.  It also had some housemade blueberry compote.  Although pate is rarely my preferred choice on a menu, this worked on all levels. The texture of the pate complimented with the contrasting sweet and  gingery condiments were delightful to the palate.  Ironically, I didn’t eat all the pate but the the rest of the plate didn’t stand a chance.

Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7

Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7

For a second cocktail, I ordered a Mayan Solstice, a tequila and gin based drink with chili infused lime juice, cucumber and green apple (with a little chartreuse).  This was fresh and delightful but the heat from the  chili was adequately present with every sip.  It was a great cocktail.

Mayan Solstice $10

Mayan Solstice $10

Whether it was a few cocktails or an general enjoyment of the food and atmosphere, I saw a couple across bar order Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style Slaw.  I felt that the guy from “The Source” commercial who sees his creepy neighbour dancing, looks at the speaker and says “I want that”.  This $22 salad is one of the most recognized dishes at Lee.  It’s an architectural feat, constructed with 19 ingredients.  After a detailed description. the waitress skillfully destroyed  it into something that could fit in one’s mouth.  As much as it was eye candy, it was alliterative mouth candy as well; sweet, salty, sour, spice, savory and sublime.

Susur's Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22

Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22

My Take

I stumbled across happy hour at Lee by chance.  It started with a chance sighting of Susur itself and lead to an enjoyable meal. Although it is not your typical cinq a sept joint, the staff are welcoming and treat you as well as somebody who might be dropping a few hundreds bucks for dinner. The cocktails were above average and a great value at $10.  The bar food was a nice representation of Susur’s intense and diverse flavour profiles although I found the tuna and spring rolls  a bit  disproportionate. I’d order two jerk chicken right off the bat just to save yourself a wait. If you like pate,  Susar’s is a must.   The hummus was excellent as well.

The King and Portland area has become the epicentre for the snack food movement in Toronto and Lee has jumped on board (at least between 5 and 7 anyway). The result is a successful menu which offers a sample of Susur’s bold flavours.   Both the cocktails and food are a great value but be warned, you may be tempted to indulge in things like the signature slaw or other dishes which cross your path. In the end, although Susur didn’t look overly happy during his own happy hour, I sure did.

Lee on Urbanspoon

Rich Table:The Last Supper, Dan Brown, Exodus 16 and Foodieism as a Religion

The fact that Rich Table was my last supper in San Francisco (this was from my trip back in June..I’m a little slow these days)  made me wonder what the famous last supper was like.  I mean, the biblical account by each of the disciples was fairly uniform.  Jesus took bread, gave it to his disciples and ate it as a symbol of his body.  He then took wine, proclaimed it as his blood and passed it around.  Sounds pretty simple but I wondered what would happen if Jesus was a foodie.  I mean, what if he wasn’t happy with a 21 Herod’s Fury Merlot and send it back or got upset over the fact the bread wasn’t served with EVOO and a crisp balsamic vinegar.

These thoughts made me realize that being a foodie is like a religion if not a cult.  Think about it….can you not picture the foodie couple getting the kids ready in their little plaid shirts from the Gap so they can go to the 11 am seating at Sunday Brunch.  Instead of the Eucharist, they break and share aged cheddar scone and wash it down with french pressed coffee or a mimosa, Caesar or some other potent potable deemed acceptable on a Sunday morning. Any alms are already included in the inflated brunch prices

Ironically,  I stumbled across a website which used a scientific ranking system (science and religion don’t mix) for San Francisco restaurants based on a statistical formula which took into consideration everything from San Francisco Chronicle reviews to eateries awarded Michelin stars.  Rich table was ranked number 1, beating out bay area juggernauts such as Coi, Saison and Quince.  It’s another one of these places with a one month reservation policy but they were very polite in answering all my email questions and promptly booked me a big table when the time came. Due to the size of my group, I was told via email we would have a $65/person menu served family style.

Fast forward a month.  We had a short wait as the table before us was finishing up the earlier reservation.  It was buzzing for a Monday night and the small place was full of fragrant and savory smells.   After being seated, I realized I had a great view of the open kitchen. A friendly waiter soon arrived and handed us a few copies of the gospel according to Rich and I was reminded that it was a preset family style menu.  The menu contained 14 items divided by starters, pastas, mains and dessert.  I asked the waiter how many of each we could order and he politely informed me we were getting them all.

The flip side of the menu featured the beverage offerings which included almost a dozen beers, red and white wines and half a dozen cocktails.  I started with an El Jeffe which is a mezcal based drink with grapefruit, tarragon, aperol and bitters.  It was a refreshing summer drink with a nice amount of bitterness.  Throughout the remainder of the meal, the table developed an affinity for the Bobby Burns, a potent elixir of a holy trinity of scotch, vermouth and benedictine  and finished with bitters.  It started rough but finished smooth and a few of them went down as the night went on.

Genesis (starters):

Sardine chips, horseradish, creme fraiche- A thin slice of potato slitted,”stuffed” with a sardine and deep fried.  Served with a horseradish chip dip. Spectacular!

Douglas fir levain, house cultured butter-  Heavy, moist and extremely flavourful bread.  I had to limit consumption because  wouldn’t have had room for anything else.

Sardine Chips and Levain Bread

Sardine Chips and Levain Bread

Burrata Cheese, Strawberry Gazpacho, Chicken Skin and Almond-  This was one of the table favorites.  Elevated burrata to  a new level.  The sweet/sour gazpacho would have succeeded as a stand alone in a big bowl, especially if it was sprinkled with some of the chicken skin.

Burrata and Strawberry Gazpacho

Burrata and Strawberry Gazpacho

Little Gems, Bottarga, Dill, Crispy Onion- An ingenious skin on a caesar salad that held it’s own against the other innovative starters on the table.  The balance of bitter/salt and cream/crunch was phenomenal.

Little Gems Salad

Little Gems Salad

Crispy Potatoes, Grilled Raddicchio, Garlic Chive and Comte- These went quick.  Once again, near perfect from a taste and texture perspective.

Crispy Potatoes

Crispy Potatoes

Dried Porcini Doughnuts, Raclette Cheese- I’m convinced that the manna which spilled from heavens in the Old Testament  may have been these donuts.  They were amazing as a stand alone but became a religious experience when the cheese dip was added.  A table of grown adults looked like a group of kids attacking a family pack of timbits or Homer Simpson hitting a Krispy Kreme when the red light is on.

Porcini Doughnuts

Porcini Doughnuts

The Pasta of Pastas

Pappardelle, Crayfish Oil, Goddess Melon, Pickled Jalapeno, Shiso- The pasta itself was done perfectly.  The array of flavours was a bit much for some but I thought it worked well.  The melon provided a surprising burst of sweetness which I admit was a bit odd but in the end the dish worked.

Pappardelle with Goddess Melon

Pappardelle with Goddess Melon

Garganelli, Housemade Sausage, Tomato Gravy, Basil- Once again, the pasta was spot on.  The flavours were very traditional which was almost surprising considering the uniqueness of all the other dishes at the table.  That said, it left you with that rustic, home-cooked feeling.

Garganelli with Sausage

Garganelli with Sausage

Tagliatelle, Braised Duck, Aged Sake and Almond-  This was my favorite of the bunch.  The use of sake reminded me of a penne alla vodka and the almonds nicely complemented the rich flavor of the duck.

Tagliatelle with Duck

Tagliatelle with Duck

The Gospels (Mains)

Summer Squash Gratin, Kale, Local Gouda, Mixed Herbs- Beautifully presented, this dish was a cross between scalloped potatoes and a mac and cheese with greens.  The abundant use of the herbs and crispy kale added a great punch to this common yet uncommon offering.

Summer Squash Gratin

Summer Squash Gratin

Pork Loin, Toasted Wheatberries, Cherries and Wildflower Honey- I’m a big fan of using cherries with most meats and pork is no exception.   The balance of the flavours was great and I really enjoyed the wheatberries. I wish the pork was cooked a little longer. I’m not adverse to a cut of pork cooked medium but I felt the slight undercooking of the loin affected the texture.

Pork Loin with Cherries

Pork Loin with Cherries

Alaskan Halibut, Corn Grits, Chanaterelles, Bouillabaisse, Pistachio- This was my least favorite dish of the evening. The halibut was a bit limp which didn’t lend well to the fact that the surrounding ingredients has the same texture.  It was like a bit plate of mush.

Halibut and Grits

Halibut and Grits

Revelation (Dessert)

Coconut Panna Cotta, Toasted Meringue, Lime Crumble- Nice texture and nice flavours. This was a fresh way to end a large and rich meal.  I could have taken or left the meringue.

Coconut Panna Cotta

Coconut Panna Cotta

Salted Chocolate Sable, Milk Ice, Mint-Chocolate Mousse-  This one had mixed reviews at the table.  It was very minty and very chocolaty so those who aren’t extremists thought it was a bit much.

Chocolate Sable with Milk Ice

Chocolate Sable with Milk Ice

My Take

Although Rich Table hasn’t been blessed with a Michelin star by the food gods, it’s cumulative acclaim ranked it number one in San Francisco and statistics don’t lie.  It’s interior is somewhat humble but not overly crowded.  The large table beside the open kitchen makes for a great dining experience, especially if you are in a big group.  The service was professional and smart.  The cocktails were heavenly and wine list is reasonable including a reasonable corking policy which allows for the waiving on one corking fee if you buy a bottle there.  As for the food, there was a huge selection for a very reasonable $65 per person served family style.  The offerings were brilliant although the entrees were somewhat anti-climatic compared to the starters and pastas.  The porcini doughnuts (as well as the fowl at State Bird Provisions) are biblical, suggesting that if Foodieism is in fact a religion, San Francisco is definitely the Mecca of the foodie movement given these modern day  interpretations of manna and quail first mentioned by Moses in Exodus 16.  When thinking of my last supper at Rich Table, I couldn’t help but think of “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown and hoped that my dining experience wouldn’t be like the book; overhyped and lacking substance. Instead, it was much more “enlightening”, perhaps suggesting that if the Illuminati did exist, they would eat like this.

Rich Table on Urbanspoon

 

Fabbrica; Fizzy Wine and Free Parking

There are many reasons to choose a restaurant.    In most cases, I have an extravagant formula that combines a number of factors including who I’m with, what’s trending, what my friends or websites suggest, how much I want to eat and whether or not booze will be involved.  Others are less calculating. I’ve had guests who have requested vegetarian, clean and/or gluten free food. I have one who avoids garlic and onions  and pork can be a sore spot. One of my most recent requests was simple:a place uptown with easy parking. Oddly, this proved to be a daunting task.  I could hope for the best and  try a place along Bayview or Yonge but parking availability is so random.  Knowing my guest liked Italian food, Fabricca immediately came to mind.  Located in the shops on Don Mills plaza, this member of Mark McEwan empire offers complimentary valet parking in addition to a parkade only a short distance away.

The spacious restaurant is complete with an outdoor patio, a full bar and a dining area with a view of an open kitchen which includes a wood fired pizza oven.  Despite the pseudo-casual atmosphere,  Fabbrica has all the components of a fine dining experience.  The waitstaff are classically trained and a nicely dressed expediter quarterbacks the kitchen team, ensuring that a salad is neither under- or overdressed or that a parsley leaf is not out of place.  I felt a bit like I was on an episode of Top Chef Canada for a second.

Picking a wine is always a bone of contention for me, especially when a table’s worth of palates are on the line.  I wouldn’t classify myself as a connoisseur but I can tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon so I could get by in a pinch.  However, I’m not the guy to go to as a spokesperson when it comes to the dreaded taste test.  Sure, I can speak in front of a room of 200 people but having to take the inaugural sip of pinot gris in front of a half dozen people is a daunting task.  That said, I have never seen a bottle sent back.  In fact, I was thinking it was more of a formality.  Not tonight though.  We order a bottle of Conundrum from California.  My guest took the honours and had a sip.  A perplexed look was followed by a second sip and an exclamation that the wine was fizzy. The waiter carried it away and returned shortly with a fresh bottle and an agreement that his call on the wine was correct. In the end, the conundrum was a great choice.

On this night I was in the mood for a salad and pasta.  I started with the misticanza salad consisting of  seasonal lettuce, fennel, celery, herbs and house dressing ($11).  It was delicious in it’s simplicity.  The dressing was refreshing and a perfect compliment to the fresh ingredients in the salad.

Salad

Misticanza Salad $11

For the main I ordered the fettuccine with sweet peas, artichoke, pancetta, and crotonese ($20).  The pasta was nicely cooked but the dish was too oily and the artichoke pieces were rather large and took away from the taste of the rest of the dish.

Pasta

Fettuccine (Partially eaten) $20

For dessert I couldn’t resist the rice pudding  with arborio rice, strawberry rhubarb compote and aged balsamic ($11).  Oddly enough, I’m not a rice fan but put it in a pudding and I’m a happy camper. In fact, it would likely be one of the five foods I would choose as a desert island choice.   The rice maintained its firmness among the creamy base.  The compote was hidden in the bottom but once accessible added a nice tartness to the sweet pudding. I thought the addition of the balsamic was brilliant and something I will do when I make rice pudding at home.

Rice Pudding $11

Rice Pudding $11

 

My Take 

Fabbrica is set up to appeal to the masses.  It has a bit of the old school Italian eatery mixed with a modern day spin, so it wasn’t  surprising to see an array of patrons filling the tables.  There was a delightful older couple who may have been celebrating an anniversary, a large table of businessmen laughing incessantly at their own jokes, a table of younger mothers (one of which began breastfeeding her child which raised a few eyebrows among the traditionalists) and even a suave young guy hoping to get to third base by treating his date to dinner including the sundae designed for two.   Then again, maybe the other patrons looked at our table as the pretentious one which actually had the nerve to send back a bottle of wine because it was fizzy. In the end, the Fabbrica experience was pretty decent although I was a little disappointed given Mark “Mercurial” McEwan’s high standards on Top Chef Canada.  The salad and dessert  were fresh and vibrant although the oily pasta was average at best. In the end, I think there are better options in the city for fine Italian fare but if the thought of parallel parking on a busy downtown street or dishing out $20 to jam into a makeshift lot makes you cringe then this may be your place.  Plus, you can mingle with “the haves” and get that Coach bag, Solomon jacket or go to across the way to McEwan for that expensive olive oil you always wanted.

Fabbrica on Urbanspoon

Burger Bar: McMillan and Wife Villains, Fleur de Lys Sauce and Drops of Jupiter in my head

San Francisco is known for a number of things including:

1. TV- It has been the setting for a number of TV shows, past and present.  Notable shows have included Full House, Hotel, Party of Five, and Dharma and Greg.

2. Music- Some of the more notable bands in American History hail from the San Francisco area.  Classic rock bands like the Grateful Dead, the Steve Miller Band, Santana and Jefferson Airplane, modern day rockers Third Eye Blind Train and even one hit wonders 4 Non Blondes began in the Bay  area.

3. Food- Everything from bakeries to renowned food trucks  to some of the most famous restaurants in the country reside in San Francisco.

That said, I realized that after 5 days in San Francisco that I hadn’t had a burger yet.  Like any other city with any sort of food scene, there were numerous choices. After a quick scope of burger research in the Bay area, it only made sense to go to the Burger Bar.  Not only was it across the street from my hotel, it was the creation of Hubert Keller, one of the most respected chefs in the US.  According to his website, Chef Keller was the first great chef to give burgers the haute cuisine treatment, from freshly ground, hand-shaped burgers to a menu of innovative toppings in a hip, casual setting.  Sounded good to me.

The hip, casual setting started with a 6 floor ride  up the Macy’s elevator. We got to hang out with a portly businessman who was obviously heading to the place I was and a couple of old ladies who got off at the 4th floor to hunt down some red tag sales.  The elevator opened to reveal a bright,open restaurant with bar and table seating.  We quickly ordered a beer from a reasonable selection of draught and examined the menu.  The burgers ranged from $10-$60, the latter being a Remixed Rossini Burger which was kobe beef stuffed with short rib topped with lobster tail and shaved black truffles and truffle sauce on an onion bun (doesn’t quite flow as well as the Big Mac song but I’m sure Train could sing a song about it in the style of “50 Sides to put on a Burger”..funny thing is there are exactly 50 sides available at the Burger Bar).  I went middle of the road and order the peppercorn burger for $17.25.  In particular I was interested in the famous Fleur de Lys peppercorn cream sauce.  I also liked the option of skinny vs fat fries…..I  like the fatties when it comes to fries and these didn’t disappoint.  The burger hit the mark. The well seasoned patty wasn’t overwhelmed with pointless toppings.  Even the famous sauce was served on the side so as to not  disrupt the precious patty.

 

Peppercorn Burger with Fat Fries $17.25

Peppercorn Burger with Fat Fries $17.25

My Take

I have plenty experience with San Francisco television and music set in San Francisco. I grew up in the mid-eighties wanting a new drug while I didn’t stop believing and felt sorry for my sister for having to endure Sara by Jefferson Starship.  I scratched my head wondering how Jessie from full house scored Rebecca Romijn, saw the Olsen twins before they were tramps, witnessed the fact that Thomas Gibson actually had the ability to crack a smile  and tried to figure out why people thought Jenna Elfman was funny.

 I can now go to bed knowing I have experienced my share of San Francisco’s trinity of Americana; television, music and food. Not only did I have a burger, I had it with the same sauce served at the iconic and now historic Fleur de Lys.  Hubert Keller seemed the perfect guy to provide it (not only is he a renowned chef but he looks like a villain from McMillan and Wife).It was an expensive but delicious taste of the Bay area. I must say I also enjoyed the steak fries which are as difficult to find as a “Sister Christian” 45.  I’m glad I left though because a few more Keller burgers and I’d probably end up with a unplanned visit to Trapper John MD and “Drops of Jupiter” in my head for the next six months.

Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

SPQR (Senātus Populusque Rōmānus): King Herod Prices And Pasta as Bloody as the Assassination of Caesar

SPQR had me fooled.  Given it was awarded a Michelin star for fine Italian food, I expected a stuffy, polite, quaint restaurant filled with overdressed waitstaff who pour wine with one hand behind their back. My first suspicion that I was wrong is when I walked past it a few nights before on my way from State Bird Provisions to Altier Crenn. From the outside, the vibe seemed more hipster than a classic Italian joint with the presence of surprisingly pounding, quaky rhythms as opposed to uncle Vito playing the violin table side.

I emailed quite a bit in advance to see if I could secure a table of 6 for a group I was with at a conference.  They told me such as table was not available but when I got on open table I was able to secure two tables of 4 at the same time.  It seemed odd to me…sorta pretentious;quite risible in fact.   On the day of, I was a real nuisance and called to see if we could combine of two tables of 4 into one table of 5 due to a few last minute cancellations.  They hesitantly accommodated us but once I walked in, I understood the issue. The restaurant is not designed for large groups. Small tables are crammed into every square foot of the smallish dining area.  When seated, one of us ended up stuck in a  swelling, protruding, quillon-resembling seat which blocked the path of everybody walking by.

The menu changes frequently but usually focuses on a decent array of appetizers, a number of pasta dishes and a few mains. There is no doubt the pasta is the cornerstone of the menu given the fact there are usually a dozen or so smart, piquant, quirky rations available at any given time.  I started with the octopus garnished with kale sprouts, panissa (a lemon chick pea cake) and a vibrant puree laced with pistachio.  Chick peas and octopus work so well together and the panissa was a creative and enjoyable way to marry the flavours .  The octopus was tender and the subtle use of lemon accented everything well.

Octopus $20

Octopus, kale sprout, panissa, chickpea, pistachio and preserved lemon $20

Although I didn’t opt for the pasta, members of my dining party did and I had the opportunity to try a few bites of each.  The bucatini “straw and hay”, california blue cheese, linden walnut, kale and sage brown butter ($26) was a delightful interpretation of this popular combination.  Whole walnuts and sage leaves  along with large pieces  of kale made it a visually appealing dish which was able to balance the intensity of the rich cheese sauce.

Buc

Bucatini “straw and hay”, california blue cheese, linden walnut, kale and sage brown butter ($26)

Another tablemate chose the famed and in the eyes of some, risky blutnudlen which sounds more horrific than the assassination of  Julius Caesar.  This popular dish mixes blood pasta with blood sausage ragu and pig’s foot breadcrumbs ($25).  I must admit it was a novelty to try but beyond a few bites  a sanguine pasta queming  ravenous hipsters is not my cup of tea.  It was rich and flavourful and reminded me why, as a pseudo-Catholic,  my consumption of blood tends to stop at transubstantiation.  I couldn’t imagine finishing the whole plate.

Blood

Blutnudlen $25

Instead of pasta, I opted for the Guinea hen “rosticceria style”, wild rice porridge, roasted strawberry, turnip and pink pepper ($36).  The presentation was a pleasant mess. The delcious hen was almost hidden among the colours of the Italian flag.  The  texture was somewhat reminiscent of a good shawarma. The meat was crispy but held in its moisture.  The wild rice porridge was vibrant and the strawberries sweetened the pot.  The sulphur of the turnip rounded the plate out.

Guinea Hen $36

Guinea Hen “rosticceria style”, wild rice porridge, roasted strawberry, turnip and pink pepper ($36)

 

We decided on a family style approach to dessert and ordered a trio which included 1. fried blueberry pie, butterscotch, lemon curd and burnt sugar gelato, 2. hibiscus bombolini, cherry vanilla, cherry bark vanilla and fior di latte gelato and 3. peanut and milk chocolate pudding , malt and chocolate gelato.  The consensus at the table was that the bombolini was the best followed by the pudding and the fried blueberry pie (all $14).  The blueberry pie was the one I was most excited about but there were too many flavours and the butterscotch didn’t really fit.  The pudding was boring looking and tasted almost the same.  It was very predictable which was kind of odd given the dishes which led up to dessert.

 

Blueberry pie $14

Fried blueberry pie, butterscotch, lemon curd and burnt sugar gelato $14

Hibiscus Bombolini $14

Hibiscus bombolini, cherry vanilla, cherry bark vanilla and fior di latte gelato $14

Peanut Dessert $14

Peanut and milk chocolate pudding , malt and chocolate gelato $14

My Take

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to  critique SPQR, not to praise it.
The dishes that men eat lives after them;
The good is oft inferred with their Michelin star;
So let it be with SPQR. The noble bloggers
Hath told you the menu was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a hipster’s demand,
And graciously  hath SPQR answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Accarrino and the rest–
For SPQR is an honourable place;
So are they all, all honourable chefs–
Come I to speak in Fareeatales.

SPQR is a perfect fit for Fillmore Street in San Francisco.  It ignores the traditional concepts of fine Italian dining by presenting beautiful dishes but throws away the spacious room filled with white linen in favour of a labyrinth of small table scattered throughout a broom closet. The service was characteristic of the latter with the staff dressed in black as opposed to a shirt and tie.   The food was delicious and deserves the accolades it has received over the years.  That said, I have to agree with many that say the food is somewhat pricey; quasi-ridiculous in fact.  Perhaps Herod had a role in charging  $25 for pasta and $14 for dessert. Despite this, the place is always jam packed so it doesn’t seem to deter the masses.  In the end, when I polled my guests to see if they majority enjoyed the experience they agreed that it was stupendously polished;quorum reached.

SPQR on Urbanspoon

 

 

A #Zomato Lesson at Portland Variety

I don’t get twitter.  I mean I understand the general premise (most of my tweets are simply links to my blog posts or a picture of a half empty beer that I might think would be cool to post in a drunken stupor) but I can’t get my mind around hashtags. First of all, it’s a pound sign.  I’ve never been asked to enter a hashtag after entering my PIN or a password  during a phone call.  Second, I don’t know which hashtags are correct or incorrect.  Perhaps the strategy is to simply guess in hopes that somebody else has the same thought process as you.  Maybe there’s  a secret directory I could access at #hashtags or that it’s a matter of practice makes perfect. Let’s give it a try.

I recently agreed to meet a staff member of #Zomato, a new foodie site set to launch in Canada in the coming weeks.  Legend has it Zomato started in India by an entrepreneur who was tired of not having access to the most #currentmenus at local restaurants. Since then, it has evolved to a information/social network designed specifically for #foodies .  The staff work vigilantly with local eateries to ensure that the information is up to date and accurate.  Sites like #urbanspoon and #yelp rely on the customer who often can’t tell time, have a odd definition of the phrase average noise and assumes a place has take out if they see styrofoam containers stacked in the #openkitchen. You can also form networks and bloggers can link their #nonsensicalrants  directly to the site.

I figured#portlandvariety would be an ideal place to meet for a coffee.  Located at the esteemed corner of #KingandPortland, Portland Variety is following the lead of places like #barbuca by opening all day.  During the day, it is a haven for #coffee and #pastries and transforms into #smallplates as the day goes on.  The front of the place has high marble-topped  tables and glass cases displaying cookies, pastries and other #sweettreats. The back of the house has  some yellow bench seating #againstthewall (wait….I have a feeling  this hashtag would solicit comments that have nothing to do with comfortable seating) and tables scattered throughout the open space. There is also a large bar which promises #libations once the party starts around 5 pm.

After a brief introduction to #zomatogirl, I ordered a decaf #amerciano and a shrimp salad sandwich. The coffee was made quickly but they had to verify that the sandwich was still possible before ringing me in.  After getting the #thumbsup, we had a seat in the back.   I wasn’t sure if they would bring the sandwich out or if I had to head back to the front to pick it up.  After I waited #whatseemedlikeaneternity, I walked up to inquiry.  I was able to witness the final assembly and watched it sit on the counter for a bit before I finally #waveddown a staff member to get it.

The americano #hitthespot and the sandwich was decent as well.  In particular, the croissant was #lacedwithbutter, resulting in a flaky and  moist #breadstuff (I’m convinced I can make up words with hashtags).  The delicate texture of the well prepared shrimp were not dulled  by the sweet dressing.

Shrimp salad on a crossiant

Shrimp salad on a crossiant

 

Shortly after the meeting, she posted a picture of her sandwich to twitter, copied me and included the hashtags #inmytummy and #sandwich me!. I have no idea where she got these hash tags from but I almost wanted to ask if she just made them up.   I mean…why not #betweenthebread or #lunchplate? I’m still confused.

My Take

Although I can’t comment on the #dinnerrush, Portland Variety is a comfortable place to grab a pastry and a coffee, both of which are much better in quality than what you might get at #overratedcoffee jaggernaut.  I can’t confirm the wifi situation, but yelp tells me they dont…so #whatashame.  I would easily sit here for an hour and get some computer work done as opposed to the cramped quarters of #seattlesfavourite.

I plan to come back for #whatsfordinner sometime soon.  In the meantime, Portland Variety will be #topofmind for a #daytimepitstop, especially if I can confirm they  have or decide to get a wifi connection for customers. Ironically, this is one of those places that doesn’t post their menu on their website which is #annoying.  Maybe Zomato will help.

Portland Variety Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

 

Yank Sing: A Tale of Sheldon, Cam and the Bites of the Long, Rectangular Table

Dim Sum is always an adventure.  In many ways it’s a sitcom at a table, especially when you have a big crowd.  It is the perfect time for an alpha personality to take full control of a situation while one or two wheat belly people stare curmudgeonly at all the food they can’t eat.  The combination of white starches and deep-fried morsels with the odd taboo food thrown in makes for a true social experiment.

Yank Sing is one of San Francisco’s most recognizable Dim Sum palaces.  With two locations (I went to the Stevenson one), it is often quoted as not being the best Dim Sum in town but certainly is among the most popular.

The Cast:

I booked a table of 10 with the following demographics:

2 Asians- only one of which knew what they were doing.  The other is essentially whiter than I am.

1 Shameless Glutton (that would be me)

3 Nurses whose conversation about past clinic experiences was far more awkward than anything which came along on the trolley

2 Pseudo Gluttons who fold to peer pressure like a bad suit but look much better than one doing it.

2 “I don’t eat simple starches but don’t want anybody to know and plus I’m only here for business anyway” people

1 “I’ll be there after my other lunch” followed by “Sorry I didn’t make it man..my other lunch went late” colleague (thus the reason I booked a table for 10 and not 11. Plus, I think zeros are luckier than ones in the Chinese culture).

The Plot

It’s quite simple.  The cart comes by and a conversation in Chinese ensues.  The three nurses are too busy having a discussion about emergency room wounds or the biggest boil they have ever seen  to notice.  I sound like Dave Hester yelling “Yeeeeeeep!” every time I’m offered anything from a dumpling to a bun stuffed with some type of protein.  The two wheat bellies stare at the vegetables hoping they make the cut while the pseudo gluttons secretly wish the weirdest thing on the tray doesn’t. In the end, there was an array of fare which came to the table. Their famous Shanghai soup dumplings which burst with subtle salt goodness. The potstickers were a tender and classic interpretation of this classic. The deep fried Phoenix tailed shrimp reminded me of why pseudo-Chinese food is permanently ingrained in the grease-loving palates of North Americans.  The beans were quickly consumed by token herbivores.  There were other tasty morsels passed around the table; some of which seemed to get a bit camera shy during the communal feast.

Various Yank Sing Offerings

Various Yank Sing Offerings

Another signature was the Peking duck served with a stuffable bun and some hoisin sauce. Once assembled, it was a pleasant few bites and scoring a couple of them was not a huge feat given the dynamics at the table.

Yank Sing Peking Duck

Yank Sing Peking Duck

My Take

Group dinners are usually sitcoms and this one was no exception. I’ll admit that there may be a few exaggerations about the dynamics but it makes for a good story.  As for Yank Sing itself, I was a little surprised about how safe the offerings were. I’ve been for Dim Sum in Montreal and Toronto and the choices there are a lot more diverse and even a little risky.  This place isn’t cheap either. The bill for the table was $370 which was a little steep for what we got.  In the end, Yank Sing is like a tourist attraction; overpriced, a little overrated but fun nonetheless, especially when you go with a cast of characters that’s a cross between the Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.

Yank Sing on Urbanspoon

 

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