Fat Pasha: Making Cauliflower an Even More Costly Culinary Commodity

I guess there are so many names to go around.  I mean you can’t go to any most towns without finding a sports bar named the Locker Room or a strip bar with some precious or semi-precious metal in the name (Brass Rail, Solid Gold etc).  Then again, I suppose those would be a little more appealing than having pint at Jock Strap or a rye and coke at the Labia Lounge. That said, there can be mast confusion and controversy when names bare too close to each other.  I would certainly hate to get the Verve confused with the Verve pipe if Scott asked me who wrote the song Bittersweet Symphony at question 10 on HQ.  The band Bush was forced to release their first album in Canada under the name Bush X because there was a 70’s band in Canada with the same name.  After lawyers got involved, a donation to the Starlight Foundation and the Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund. cleared things up with allowed the band to simply call themselves Bush (which could also be a name of the aforementioned establishments I suppose).

Fat Pasha is one of a number of restaurants under the Rose banner and should not be confused with Pasha in the Thorncliffe area.  The former is located a short walk from the Dupont subway station and  focuses on middle eastern fare or in their words “Good Jew Food”.  It’s a tight, darkish and dingy space characteristic of many casual eateries around town. I enjoyed being seated at a table facing the small and busy kitchen.  What I enjoyed less was the scattered service that followed.  Once we were seated, it seemed we were more spectators than patrons.  It took a while to order and we had to call them over a couple of times over the course of the night to keep things moving along.

The cocktail list is small and authentic but a bit dainty with accents such as plum wine, hibiscus and apricot brandy.  I opted for a bourbon-based “Make a Mint” which the waiter advised was a “sipping” drink.  I would have considered a pint but was a little turned off by double digit price tag for a Beau’s Lug Tread.   It was smooth and nicely balanced but needed to be nursed to make it through the first course which was the salatim; a plate of salads, pickles, falafel and pita for $29. It was an excellent way to indulge in the multiple smoky and spicy flavors the region has to offer.  In particular the falafel was fragrant and delicious.

fat pasha platter

It’s no secret that the key to success in the restaurant biz is a signature dish that every blogger, critic or reviewer HAS to have. In this case it’s the  roasted cauliflower. Even Maclean’s magazine  shared the secret to the dish on it’s youtube page. It also doesn’t hurt when that item has some type of controversy attached to it.   Heads spun a few years back when cauliflower rocketed to prices similar to natural vanilla or previously mentioned precious metals. This lead to social media outcries suggesting the mainstay might be an endangered species and made me wonder if Dan McTeague might start up “Cauliflower Buddy” to  give us current cauliflower prices from various grocery stores across the GTA.  Since them, it seems cauliflower prices have stabilized and the halloumi, tahini, pomegranate seeds and pine nuts would continue to have a home. With all the fanfare I expected to taste like manna from heaven itself.  It was certainly good but I haven’t stayed up at night obsessing about it since.  It is beautifully presented, however, and reminded me a bit of an edible arrangement- hipster style.

fat pasha caulitflower

The last dish was the lamb shawarma ($30).  It wouldn’t have been my first choice given my general dislike for lamb but I lost the rock, paper, scissors battle and promised myself I wouldn’t let it bias my opinion of the dish in general.  Here’s the thing…it was a $30 shawarma.  I live in London, Ontario and frequent Windsor and Detroit often where there is a huge Lebanese influence and some of the best shawarma on the continent at a fraction of the price.  I quite enjoyed the apricot amba but not enough to justify three John A. Macdonalds/Viola Desmonds.

fat pasha shawarma

My Take

Fat Pasha is a fitting name for this Dupont staple.  You can stuff your face at will with an array of flavours from the middle east provided you have a rather fat wallet. I don’t mind a restaurant’s attempt to elevate ethnic food to a new level but I think it needs to involve more than an apricot amba as an accent. In my neck of the woods, I’m used to $7 shawarmas bursting with pickled turnips, hot sauce, tahini and a pile of toum which often  come with a side of seasoned rice or fries.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not fully equating hipster bar in Toronto with a  mom and pop shop in London but i would be remiss if I didn’t assess the relative value to some degree. In the end, cramped quarters, sippy cocktails, medicore service and a big price tag trumped pretty cruciferous creations.  Perhaps the other Pasha might be a little less pretty but also a little less fat.

Fat Pasha Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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My First Date with Sara: Rasa’s Sultry and Sophisticated Sister

The name Sara is fairly prominent in pop culture.  On the music side, the name Sara has fronted such singers as McLaughlin and Bareilles although the former is spelled with and H on the end.  My sister’s name is also Sarah which gave my grandmother years of difficult since she was never quite sure where the H went.  Every year my sister would get a card which read “Happy Birthday Sahra!” or “Merry Christmas Sarha!” or “Happy Graduation Shara!”.  I also used to bug my sister in the 80’s by humming the tune “Sara” by Starship which,in addition to “We Built this City”, could the two worst songs released in 1985. I still don’t think she’s forgiven me.

From a food perspective, perhaps the best known Sara is Sara Lee. The company, once called the Kitchens of Sara Lee and opened in 1935, was a small chain of bakeries in Chicago with a man who named his bakeries and a cheesecake within them after his daughter.   Both the name and the bakery was purchased  and 70 years later was a multinational company with 137 000 employees. Since then, the company has been swallowed up by even bigger fish and is now a subsidiary of Tyson Foods.  That said, it still remains a place to pick up a quick cheesecake if you plan to binge watch Animal Kingdom or you forgot it was your turn for dessert once again and a bag of two bite brownies just won’t cut it.

I couldn’t tell you the origin of Sara, the food dudes new culinary experiment in Toronto’s King West area.  I can only assume it’s an anagram of Rasa, their other brick and mortar restaurant.  I see Sara as Rasa’s more sophisticated but stuffier sister. Rasa hangs out in a basement on Harbord Street, drinking cocktails named after her friends and eating lamb bacon and sticky buns off of wooden tables.  Sara, on the other hand, prefers to sip G&T  and eat crab dumplings off of marble tables in the vicinity of Lee and Jacob’s steakhouse. I was quite excited for my first date with her.

When I arrived I didn’t recognize her. She is in one of the many recently renovated houses along Portland Street just north of King St so it could easily be mistaken for another person (although she didn’t look like a Jimmy and certainly wasn’t Chubby).  After double checking the address, I entered the front door and was immediately impressed with her interior.  It was modest but classy with virginal white (damn!) walls and wood accents.   Her marble tables were sleek yet practical given the fact they held a chamber for cell phones with the intention of removing texting temptations and force and face to face discussion.  She also mentioned they are planning to put chargers in the tables in due time for extra motivation.

It seems Sara likes the hard stuff more than a pint; in particular she’s a fan of a good G&T or a vodka/soda as indicated by the fact that these are the only cocktails formally on the menu.  There are 4 combinations using different gins or vodkas along seasonings and house made mixes based on taste preference.  I opted for a “spice” G&T ($16) accented with fruit and star anise.  In line with the anti-straw movement, she provided an artsy vessel which doubles as a device to muddle the contents.  That said, she was full of surprises and produced a solid old-fashioned comparable to some of the best I’ve had in Toronto.

sara g and t 2
Gin and Tonic $16

Once Sara got me a bit tipsy, she proceeded to show me a little more of her personality.   I quickly realized she was a bit of an uptown girl…a quality vs quantity kind of woman.  In addition, she was full of surprises by offering her upscale versions of food I may eat in a roadhouse with a girl named Becky.  The chopped salad ($16), fries ($14) ,dumplings ($20) and rice pudding ($15), for example, were hardly pedestrian. The salad was garnished with cashew cheese instead of chunks of marble. The fries were shaped shredded potatoes bathed in schmaltz versus shoestrings in shortening.  The dumplings  were Prada-like purses darkened with squid ink and overstuffed with seafood and Bearnaise as opposed to generic bags full of ground pork and  cabbage.   The rice pudding was a rich and savory porridge peppered with corn and bacon and certainly not the senior special with sprinkled cinnamon  and a dollop of whipped cream.

Her elegance emerged as the meal progressed. I looked into her (rib) eye ($34) and I felt like a king (salmon) ($25). I couldn’t help but admire her (pork) belly ($22) in my periphery.  All were well prepared but the portion sizes were a bit of a tease.  The steak went well with the snap pea slaw to balance things out.

I thought it was a little risque when she invited me to the washroom but it was really just to show me the toilet.  Imported from Japan, they come complete with an wall mounted remote with words like pulsating, pressure, oscillating and position.  Needless to say, I was quite excited when she asked me to sit down.  Luckily, the heated seat was a wonderful distraction and took my mind off any potential pulsation.  I must confess I did play with the controls a little before heading back up hoping I might get the dessert I missed out in the washroom…especially with cherries and a party listed on the menu.

There were only three desserts on the menu and I stuck with my washroom thoughts.  The cherry crullers ($12) were rich but modest and nicely flavoured with cardamom and cream.  The party sandwich ($12) seems the signature dessert and is Sara’s version of a regular ice cream sandwich.  It wasn’t sickly sweet partially due to the sesame and miso flavours.

My Take

I think my date with Sara went well. I mean we got tipsy. ate pub food, locked rib eyes, took a trip to the washroom and had a party after. The date wasn’t cheap though.  I think there will some complaints about the price points relative to portion size but as mentioned, Sara is an uptown girl and values quantity over quantity.  Personally, I’m more of a Rasa guy with a preference for basement apartments and her sticky buns vs lofty abodes and  Sara’s cherry cruller.  That said, I wouldn’t turn down a second date as long as it was sometime around a pay day.

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

From Massachusetts to Maine: Traffic, Burgers, Unattainable IPAs and Big Ass Desserts all Within an Area with a Single Republican Electoral Vote.

My annual summer pilgrimage usually involves a trip to the US to explore everything from geography to good eats. This year, I thought a venture to Maine would be a quaint way to travel the US for over 1100 km and only setting foot in a geography responsible for one Republican electoral vote. Other than Nebraska, Maine is the only state which can split electoral votes and the North part of the state decided to opt for a Trump agenda.  I would have gladly avoided it if not for my desire to live my childhood dream of to see Stephen King’s house and many of the inspirations for the many book of his I read as a teenager.

Before trekking too far east, our first stop was the small shopping town of Rhinebeck, New York which was my first indication that every friggin’ person in the Northeast drives a Subaru.  Every small town seemed to have a flagship dealership and the inhabitants have Foresters, Outbacks and Legacys crammed in their parking lots.   The main purpose was to check out Samuel’s Sweet shop.  As a Walking Dead fan, I first heard about this place when Jeremy Dean Morgan (aka Negan) was interviewed on Howard Stern.  Morgan, in addition to running a farm which includes rescued alpacas, purchased the candy shop along with Paul Rudd to prevent it from closing.  Although it’s tough to find many references to them on the shop’s website, you can purchase a custom made Rice Krispy square with their pictures on a canvas of edible icing.  There is also great coffee, many nostalgic treats and my personal favorite, handmade pecan bourbon caramels from local confectioner Lauralei’s kitchen.  They were ridiculously addictive, triggering the part of the brain probably related to sex, gambling and/or some kind of drug addiction.

Image result for lauralei's kitchen
Goods from lauralei’s kitchen in the Hudson Valley

The GPS promised that the trip from Rhinebeck, New York to Bangor, Maine was about 6.5 hours but that was definitely fake news. The next stop was Springfield, Massachusetts.  Although many have pulled into town to visit the basketball hall of fame, my interest was White Hut, the iconic burger shack which has been around since the beginning of World War II.  Famous for their grilled onions, the burger here has been ranked number three on Thrillist’s top 100.  As I waited the woman at the grill said “Listen to me carefully.  What do you want on the burger?”  It made me wish that all people were that clear and politely blunt as I think it would make restaurant excursions a hell of a lot smoother.  I’m not sure it was the best burger in the US but the whole experience made me glad i veered off the highway.

White Hut
White Hut Burger Picture (taken from Thrillist Site)

What I wasn’t glad about was my attempt to score some IPA at the Tree House Brewing Company in Charlton, MA.  Like most of the ill-fated trip to Maine, this was a bit of a disaster.  I was optimistic with the Thrillist promise that “thanks to a recently completed expansion, it has finally become *that much easier* to get your hands on a few cans of their flagship IPA, Julius.  What I thought was going to be a quick in and out at 130 on a Friday afternoon turned into a jaw dropping experience.  There was a shuttle bringing people from the bottom parking lot to the top one and literally hundreds of people in line.  It was like a modern day Woodstock 150 miles further east with long beards instead of long hair, IPA instead of LSD and hops instead of hope.

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A line similar to the one I didn’t get into at Tree House Brewing…taken from Steve Garfield’s Flickr account

My plans to reach Bangor with remaining daylight were foiled by horrific traffic jams and a few wrong terms which turned into my most pronounced Clark Griswold  moment of the trip.  After heading west instead of east at a rest stop in New Hampshire, I bolted back to the Dunkin’ Donuts to let my mom run in and scold them for the baconless croissant sandwich she left with 10 minutes earlier. Better her than me because I would have made a pock hock out of a sausage. As a result of our grueling trek, I had to forgo a couple of planned DDD in order to hit Bangor before dark.  The one I did make was the Maine Diner in Wells.  Like everything else on the east coast in July it was jammed packed so I squeezed into a small parking space, dodged some old people and begged for some takeout. To keep it easy, I stuck with two of Maine’s mainstays; clam chowder and a whoopie pie.   The chowder was less than I expected.  The pie was bigger than a softball and weighed over pounds and looked like a Jos Louis on steroids. Although my pictures are notoriously bad, this one is worse and i didn’t take it.

whop pie med
Maine Diner Whoopie Pie

When I finally got to Bangor it was about 4 hours later than I expected but not too late to hit up Brewster’s Fine Food and Drink adjacent to the Brewer Motor Inn to fulfill a promise to find the cheapest wings in town. It will never make a Zagat list but for good food, cheap beer and great service  I couldn’t complain.  The people watching was almost as good as the whales…if I would have seen of them in Maine.  The culinary gems of this place included “name that dip” and “balls on a plate (see below)”..both for under 7 bucks.  Combine that with the turkey bomber sandwich (complete with gravy and swiss cheese) and you have a meal for a (Stephen) King.

balls on plate.jpg
Balls on a Plate

So after a day of slow Subarus, blissful burgers, beyond reach beer, whopping whoopies and balls on a plate I was ready for a good night’s sleep in the master of horror’s home town but unsurprisingly it ended in nothing but Insomnia.

FDR, CIA and DDD: A Summary of Central NY acronyms

Stop one of my annual summer road trip was to the heart of New York state to check out the Culinary Institute of America  (CIA).  Its flagship campus it located in Hyde Park which also happens to be the birthplace of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Unlike the other CIA, FDR had very little do with the cooking school. Although both CIAs were formed a little more than a year apart following WWII, the school was originally founded in Connecticut and did not relocate to Hyde Park until 1970.  The CIA (the school that is)  has produced some of America’s most notable celebrity chefs including Marcus Samuelsson, Anne Burrell, Michael Symon, Duff Goldman and the late Anthony Bourdain.

We arrived in time for the daily 4 pm tour which is conducted by students within the school.  Our guide, Ezra, showed us many of the ongoing stations and classes within the main building which ranged from fondant to rock candy to baguettes.  We were told of the hours of home practice required to perfect the tournee cut, a skill often used as a screening tool at interviews  all over.  There was an interesting discussion about the differences between the baking  vs cooking stream of students.  The bakers are meticulous (aka boring) while the cooks tend to be quite eccentric. (aka annoying).  It was quite surprising how the tour did nothing to mention the aforementioned celebs and seemed more a recruitment tool in the event I wanted to quit my job and enhance my cooking credentials beyond a “Dad’s grillin’ so everybody’s chillin'” apron.  I’d clearly opt for the cooking side of the curriculum and more specifically the culinary science arm so I could use words like “oxidative enzymatic browning” with an enhanced confidence.

cia campus
Culinary Institute of America Main Campus
cia 2 campus
Culinary Institute of America- Hyde Park Campus

Of note on the campus tour was “Old Diamondsides”, a sculpture representing the Atlantic Sturgeon, a vital species inhabiting the adjoining Hudson River. The life size   depiction is constructed from hundreds of pieces of recycled cutlery  and is meant to represent the struggle of such a magnificent species to survive in spite of over fishing, pollution and other human interference.

cia-fish.jpg
“Old Diamondsides” Sculpture

Although Guy Fieri is not an alum of the CIA, I would feel remiss if I did not venture to the Eveready Diner,  Hyde Park’s lone contribution to the DDD empire.   Characterized by neon lights and chrome finish, this old school diner promises big portions and great desserts and didn’t disappoint on either front.  The spinach dip was a bit watery but flavourful.  The consensus at the table was that the chicken salad, burger and mac and cheese were all quite acceptable although the potato salad was a bit bland. Plus, a sunnyside up egg on a burger can brighten any plate up. My mom (caught off guard in the picture above) is till talking about the cheesecake (which i think she ate before i got snap a pic).

The day ended with a hotel stay in New Paltz, New York. All  I can say is that it is one of the more interesting U.S. towns I have stayed in.  I should have known when I checked into the Hampton which was recently built directly adjacent to the Put Corner historic graveyard which houses the remains of 120 residents of the town placed between 1801-1880.  Two celebrity graves, that of heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson and Oscar Tschirky, inventor of the Waldorf salad, are also buried in town but not in the plot hugging the Hampton. A visit to the really creepy dollar store down the road was surely a foreshadow for my visit to Bangor the next day and easily could have been the setting of supernatural anarchy in a Stephen King novel. Who needs Pennywise when you’ve experienced the horrors of a New Paltz dollar store.

 

R.I.P Anthony Bourdain: Trying to Understand the Real Parts Unknown

The sudden death of Anthony Bourdain by suicide hit me hard.  I’m the last guy to get on facebook and overblow what the death of a celebrity meant to me. I didn’t lose my virginity while reading Kitchen Confidential or become a half ass blogger because of him..I just respected the hell out of him.

On the heels of Kate Spade’s suicide this week, it is clear mental illness has no limitations and does not affect any specific phenotypes.  Anthony was the manliest of men and Kate the girliest of girls and I would almost argue that 90% of humanity falls somewhere in between. In other words, we are all targets of this malicious disease.

In comparison, Gord Downie’s cancer was another tragedy which hit me hard. Gord filled my ears while Anthony filled by belly.  Unlike depression, however,  Gord was given some time and allowed to close out his life with an epic concert series and the ability to say goodbye to his friends, family and fans.  They raised thousands for cancer research and the whole Canadian musical community came together in a full blown and multi-city memorial.  What happened to Gord was not his fault…for whatever reason cancer picked him and made him the weak member of the pack just like a lion would target and attack the injured antelope in a slow and methodical way.

Anthony, on the other hand, didn’t get to celebrate his life; he just took it.  There were no celebrations or unification of the culinary community; he was alone except for the darkness that told him the best solution was to take his life.  He was the head lion in the pride; successful, confident, respected and almost invincible but unlike the slow and methodical hunt that is called cancer, he was taken out by depression in one swift and ruthless attack.

It seems then that cancer and depression are not much different but last time I checked, there is no chemo for the soul. However,  reactions continue to be very different.  We empathize for Gord’s loved ones and ask “Why did the cancer do this to him?” and yet with Anthony, Kate and others the first reaction is “How could he/she do that to them?”. Depression is not a fake disease made up by pharmaceutical companies to make money.  It’s not treated with St. John’s Wort or ignorance.  It doesn’t go away when things in life get better nor does it prey on the weak alone.  It’s not classified in stages and doesn’t come with a ominous prognosis like “he only has 3-6 months to live”.

Like many, I perused the net while reflecting of Anthony’s life and found an article from US weekly called Anthony Bourdain: 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me facts that struck me:

7. I haven’t worn an earring or thumb ring since my daughter was born. Dads shouldn’t have earrings. Or thumb rings.

12. I love nothing more than cooking with my daughter.

13. I recently bought her her very first chef’s knife.

23. It’s really me handling my Twitter account.

24. I am afraid of clowns, nurse’s shoes and pressure cookers.

25. I have very rigid criteria for what makes a good burger. And a brioche bun is not part of it.

I always thought Anthony was invincible and if anything, his fate would be at the hands of a venomous scorpion or a stray bullet striking his Achilles tendon during a trip in a war torn country on the other side of the planet.  Instead, he was killed by something much more global than the slums of Vietnam and something much more lethal than the sting of an arachnid.   I think I will celebrate his life eating a greasy smash burger on a Wonder bun that I made with my daughter while watching “It” or Nurse Jackie and thanking the Lord i don’t live with a disease scarier than a floating red balloon that might pop at any second.  RIP Anthony.

 

Why Antler may end up Being the Fort Sumter of the Hipster Civil War

There is a hipster civil war a brewing.  You need to look no further than the recent antics around Antler restaurant for proof.  In recent weeks, the vegan movement has come head to head with knife wielding carnivores who’s expression comes more from what they make look pretty on a plate. This battle has received widespread media attention and has polarized the otherwise unified youth movement. In a nutshell, Antler has been scrutinized about their claims regarding the ethical treatment of animals.  Farmed game meats and the abhorrent appearance of fois gras on the menu seems in stark contrast to the restaurant’s statement.  As a result, on some of the busiest dining nights of the week, protesters have periodically riddled the streets in front of Antler donning signs and chanting sayings defending our four-legged friends. In retaliation, owner Michael Hunter (I mean with the name Hunter can you blame him???)  decided to first take one of those friends and demonstrate his butchery through the front window, cook it up and down it in front of the crowd using the same medium.  Understandably, the vegan protesters “were in shock”.   The subsequent social media comments have been as polar as opinions towards Trump. Some are posting that they are planning to make a reservation ASAP while others are speaking out and calling for a full out ban of the Dundas St. eatery.  I can’t confirm whose winning the battle other than noting that blogTo reports that reservations have soared in the days following the latest standoff. Personally, although I’m off meat at the moment, I’m tempted to book one myself.

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/03/27/protesters-say-restaurant-owner-made-show-of-eating-meat-in-response-to-animal-rights-demonstration.html

The clash between those trying to save animals and those who would rather  grave them  is nothing new.  Humanity’s position on the food chain has always been up for much interpretation. This situation, however, goes well beyond this argument alone. In other words,  the ongoing battle is more than just the fundamental rights of an individual to behave and function within societal laws; it’s the morality around why they do it.

I’m not sure where I sit on this issue. Do we have the right to disrupt a legal business because we don’t like their philosophy?  On the flip side, do businesses have the right to brand themselves using, in the eyes of some,  ethical pretenses?   Finally, regardless of the action, was the owner justified in his actions given they occurred within his own establishment? To me, it’s not an argument about meat;it’s merely the scape”goat” (God..that joke was baaaad) or maybe more appropriately, the catalyst which accelerated  the aforementioned hipster civil war.  You see, what we have here if a battle between two entitled groups who believe their own righteous philosophies trump the other.   I can’t say it’s much different that the American civil war…minus the guns and widespread fatalities of course. Instead, Antler may in fact be the Fort Sumter of this millennial battle, with placards, tweets and deer limb replacing muskets and knives. Perhaps entrepreneurial carnivores are deemed the south in the sense that they support slavery; but in this case that of our avian, mammalian and piscine friends.

So how do we end the standoff? Perhaps we can halt the mean-natured posts and public displays of gluttony by drafting a constitution of hipster behaviour.  It would outline acceptable behavior yet have room for amendments based on the ever changing trends of a millennial’s world.   This document could be posted on facebook, reddit or other social media channels and come complete with amendment suggestions from the likes of @dontmeatmefordinner or @nosetotailneverfails. Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:

  • The right to bear meat.  Conditions would include the right to carry concealed meat but public displays would be reserved for grocery stores, butcher shops or display windows along Spadina avenue. Otherwise, animal foodstuffs could be displayed in private spaces providing the windows are opaque or have sufficient glare during dinner hours.
  •  The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects , restaurants against unreasonable searches and seizures  protesters and  placards shall not be violated, and no Warrants  really mean social media posts shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath  instagram or affirmation  twitter, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. challenged. 
  • Just don’t lie about shit including claims about ethical treatment of anything or things like GMOs, free range, fair trade, farm to table, organic, natural, sugar-free, gluten free, omega-3, air-chilled, low carb, high carb or no carb. Also, no absurd claims about cocktails (ie that vodka martinis are better than gin ones or that old fashioneds should be made out of rye instead of bourbon) should be made.

My Take

Regarding the Antler situation, I think I’ll exercise my constitutional right and plead the fifth. I see both sides of the story but will  stick to the fact that this issue is bigger than the safety and welfare of animals.  It’s an egotistical battle fueled by self-righteousness and entitlement on both sides.  It will be interesting to see how this one “pans” out…but perhaps the affected parties can sit down and resolve it over a plate of GMO-free gnocchi in an agreed upon neutral restaurant which is not owned by a conglomerate of course.

Oretta: The Importance of Auditory Authenticity: Madonnaism vs Real Accents

I’ve only come to realize recently the important role that accents have on pop culture.  The attention to detail and need for authenticity has often required actors to hide their native tongues to better represent to the role they assume.  Actors like Charlie Hunnan and Hugh Laurie fooled us for years by Americanizing their voices to play the leader of a Charming biker gang and a Jersey cocky doctor respectively.  Most recently I’ve heard interviews from the cast of the Walking Dead only to realize that both Rick and Morgan among others are from across the pond and their American grunts and mumbles amidst the zombies are just part of the act.  It’s not always English to American either;  I recently binged watched season 1 of Fargo and  listened to hours of Californian Colin Hanks and Texan Allison Tolman speak in Minnesota and surrounding accents.

On the other hand, bad accents can counter attempts at authenticity.  For example, shortly after marrying Guy Ritchie, Michigan native Madonna felt the need to let the world know that she became English overnight driven by a lukewarm British accent. The act was deemed rather inauthentic and lead to a good amount of backlash.

The need for some degree of authenticity seems to exist in the restaurant business.  In addition to a decor which reflects a restaurant’s overall concept, some insist on ensuring that the staff are equipped with a lexicon synonymous to the overall theme. It makes sense; I love to grab a Guinness from an Irish barkeep or listen to the proper pronunciation of a great Asian dish. Although the logic and emotion behind this is obvious, I think a couple of rules need to be established:

  • Let’s avoid Madonnaisms. If you are not from the country, don’t use the accent. A crash course using Rosetta Stone won’t fool anybody except the hipsters who did exactly the same thing to create the appearance that they are more intelligent consumer.
  • If you are fluent in the language, don’t be arrogant about it.  If I order rigatoni, I don’t mind having it repeated back to ensure accuracy but don’t need it done to correct my pronunciation. I’m North American; rigatoni is the same as Reeg-a-tow-naaay.
  • Make the menu authentic but readable.  I can figure out that secondi means second but let’s draw the line at having the ingredients listed in a different language along with a 4 page glossary in the back.

I suppose at some point I should get back to reviewing a few restaurants so this may be a good segue.  I went to Oretta a while back.  I was looking for a semi-quiet Italian place downtown that didn’t have the name Cibo, Terroni or Mercatto in it.  I had strolled by it a couple of times prior and was impressed with the roomy layout and decor of a traditional Italian ristorante mixed with a little King Street cheesiness.  Not surprisingly when we were seated we were greeted by a young waiter will a full out Italian accent.  I didn’t for a second think it was fake or phony but it did make me ponder the impact it might have on my dining experience.

The menu was a shortlist of classic Italian salads, pizzas, pastas and “secondis”. In the dead of winter the Cavoletti  salad (shaved brussel sprouts, almonds, pickled red onion, pecorino and crispy prosciutto) was a crisp, fresh and balanced reminder that  sulfuric and pickled vegetables can nicely bridge our extreme Canadian seasons.

oretta salad
Cavoletti $14

From the pasta menu we opted for gnocchi and risotto (aka. Riso di Ieri).  The former was doused with a rich meat sauce which made for a heavier dish, especially with the dense dumplings. The flavours were great but it grew monotonous rather quickly. Regarding the Riso; the normal and often overemphasized creaminess and volume of the risotto itself was de-emphasized.  It was hidden in a pan fried crust and served atop a generous portion of mushrooms.  As somebody who’s not the biggest fan of risotto, I found this version much more balanced and exciting mainly because the rice was de-emphasized. More traditional risotto fans, however, could easily be left disappointed by this interpretation.

oretta gnocchi
Gnocchi $19
oretta risotto
Riso di Ieri $23

I failed to capture a picture of the Margherita pizza ($16) but it looked like…well..a pizza. It passed the test; simplicity by means of a thin crust and fresh ingredients and would reasonably match the others along the King or Queen street strips.

Dessert was “cocco bello”; a tart with fresh fruit, cream and coconut housed in a nutty crust.  Perhaps it was not a standard winter dessert but a few berries when it’s below zero is always a kind reminder that, like the salad and despite a horrendous winter, spring and summer are always on the way.

oretta dessert
Cocco Bello $9

My Take

Deciding where on the spectrum between nouveau cuisine and authenticity one’s restaurant will fall must be a difficult decision. Not only does the food have to fit the bill but the vibe and environment also  needs to reflect the theme.  This includes the manner in which the staff addresses its patrons. I mean, it goes without saying that Game of Thrones would be ridiculous if the Lannisters sounded like Joe Pesci  or Donnie Wahlberg.

Oretta was a happy medium along the spectrum of ignorance and imitation.  Everything from the decor to the food to the waiter’s accent was authentic and not arrogant.  The menu was smallish but highlighted the simplicity of Italian cuisine.  The salad and pizza were the highlights although pasta and dessert were more than acceptable. In the end, I found Oretta a welcome change from the hipster-driven Terroni-like chains that have popped up all over the citta.

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