Fare..Eat..Ales Predictions of 2013 Food Trends.

Each year sees a shift in the direction of the restaurant industry.  I’m going to take a chance and speculate on what food trends will start or continue  in the Toronto dining scene  in 2013. Feel free to agree, disagree or suggest your own trends by commenting here, voting in the poll or tweeting #2013tofoodtrends.

1. Ramen Rage

Arguably the biggest craze in 2012, noodle houses will continue to appear like Starbucks and Subways in the coming months.  Given the versatility of this noodle dish, I suspect new variations will emerge and will not be limited to ramen restaurants  alone.  I expect the big chains and even the small fusion eateries and food trucks to join the ramen rage in some way, shape or form.

2. Offal Offerings

Black hoof has gained international exposure for its offal menu with thumbs up from celebrity chefs including Anthony Bourdain during his lay over visit and  Richard Blais’  endorsement on his list of favorite restaurants on Urbanspoon.  Adaptations of  the nose to tail concept have been adapted by many eateries, even including  a beginner’s lesson in offal  at Skin and Bones in Leslieville. This concept will continue to flourish given the surge in responsible eating as well as those seeking the adventure of multiple organ consumption.

3. In a Jar

I’m not referring to the traditional strawberry jam, pickled cucumber and mango chutney here.  In efforts to use more local ingredients throughout the year, preserving is gaining popularity.  Local and seasonal cranberries, tomatoes, peppers and tree fruit can be used year round when processed into sweet or savory condiments to compliment meats and even cocktails.  Savory and briny condiments are definitely in.  One of the best dishes I had in 2012 was a pickle tray at Sidedoor in Ottawa and it only makes sense that these creative, unique and in many cases  relatively inexpensive foods are housemade to complement  menus and blackboards in 2013.

4. Eat Street

Despite strict downtown by-laws and less than favourable year round weather, Toronto is catching up with other large metropolitan centres regarding  the presence of food trucks offering anything from smoked meats to tacos to cupcakes. More and more private businesses and fundraisers are seeing the potential in these nomadic sculleries as an awareness raising tactic. In addition,  the low overhead, creative license and geographical flexibility are appealing to restauranteurs, ensuring that the fleet of food trucks will continue to grow.

5. Carrying the Torch

The chef’s blowtorch is a cooking method which has typically been reserved for creme brulee and more recently sushi.  The ease of use and aesthetic properties of charred food could expand the use of this handy tool to other areas of food preparation.  Vegetables, cervices, meringues, terrines and even fois gras could be meliorated with a quick singe  of the blue flame.

6. Mexican Mania

Tacos were the rave of 2012 with the success of Grand Electric and  La Carnita taco-heavy menu. Burrito Boyz, Mucho Burrito and Burrito Bandidos are lunchtime and late night hotspots.  Baja fish tacos adorn almost every chain restaurant’s lunch and dinner menu.  Modernized twists on tasty tostadas, multifarious moles and piquant pozole will expand beyond the traditional taquerias, making Mexican fare one of the hot ethnic cuisines across the board in 2013.

7. Soul Train

Soul food has just gotten started.  The success of Barque, Stockyards and new additions such as AAA combined with the Hogtown and Urban Smoke food trucks have put pulled pork and brisket on the must eat food map.  Look for  southern food to dominate  in 2013 with the expansion of  southern-influenced mainstays such as shrimp and grits, collard/mustard greens, gumbos and maybe even a crayfish or two.

8.  Snack Time

Tastebud teasers  including  spiced nuts and other savory snacks have been a complimentary mainstay of bars and taverns for years.  It seems this concept has crossed into the dining room, with a snack menu available offering munchable morsels, such as warm olives at Patria and Campagnolo, even before the appetizers arrive.   In particular, popcorn is gaining popularity, providing a blank slate for various flavors including  truffle at Origin and chipotle-caramel at Cava,

9. Comfort Zone

It appears chefs have dusted off  their old copies of  “They Joy of Cooking” and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.  A return to comfort food is an emerging trend. In 2012,  coq au vin was a staple at Richmond Station and Trevor Kitchen. Chicken Pot Pies were  being baked up traditionally  at C5 and with fois gras gravy at Reds Wine Tavern.  Fried chicken is half the menu at Paulette’s and is available for two at County General.  Old school bourguignon and gamy stews are emerging elsewhere.  Expect a cornucopia of European inspired comfort food in 2013, complete with the use of fresh meats and seafood, rich sauces and homemade, flaky pastries.

10. Icy Indulgence

Frozen desserts have become a common default dessert item for many big name chefs, especically those with a aversion to baking.  Working on the notion that frozen sugar and milk fat make anything taste better,  unique flavours have been incorporated into ice creams, sorbets and gelatos alike.  Whether it be savory flavours such as thyme or balsamic vinegar, sweetness through the use of commercial sodas or fruit nectars or incorporation of tart flavours like yuzu, a good ice cream maker and imagination is all that’s needed for this trend to blow wide open.

What do you think?  Answer the poll and add your comments.  Multiple answers are acceptable!

Review:Toronto:Little Italy:Campagnolo

Campagnolo, a creation of Craig Harding,  sits quietly along the busy Dundas West dining corridor.  Well, quiet if you consider its subtle online presence versus local internet juggernauts  Pizzeria Libretto, Black Hoof and California Sandwiches.  Not so quiet when you consider it was voted one of 10 Toronto restaurants on Mclean’s top 50 in 2012 and has a food, decor and service Zagat rating of 27, 23 and 27 respectively. There was  nothing really fancy about either the inside or outside of this Little Italy venue upon arrival but it gave me a swagger  similar to walking into a queen street consignment store and buying a yellow Lacoste  cardigan.  I was seated right by the window and was subject to a rather annoying draft for a good part of the evening.

The menu is ever changing and based on fresh ingredients but hinges on a few signature items which you can get regularly.  That being said, I was here a few weeks ago so a few of the items may not be available if you go today.

Must

There’s  no doubt about why Campagnolo is known for its roasted beef marrow…because its fantastic.  The buttery, rich flavour of the marrow is sliced by a sweet and sour plum marmalade and spiced up with a tender oxtail stew.  Its primitive presentation made me feel like a modern day carnivorous Fred Flintstone, although I was wearing shoes.

Bone Marrow
Bone Marrow ($13)

The rabbit cavetelli was another gem.  A good portion of  rabbit was braised to perfection and served in a vibrant, light sauce and finished with a few greens, a few pine nuts and salty cheese.  The pasta had the softness of a firm pillow, sending my tongue into a slumberful bliss. On that note, I will mention that my other party member  sent the spaghetti back, finding it too firm. The kitchen quickly made another and “overcooked” it according to the kitchen but importantly made the customer’s desire paramount vs the chef’s wishes.  I appreciated the “nobody’s wrong…we just differ in opinion” mentality and guarantee this would not happen at a few of the other eateries in the area.

Rabbit Cavatelli
Rabbit Cavetelli ($21)
Spaghetti
Spaghetti ($19)

Another signature item is the burrata served with roasted grapes to add some subtle sweetness to the rich cheese.  It was satisfying and simple to the point where the obvious quality of the product is not compromised by too many bells and whistles.

Burrata with Roasted Grapes
Burrata with Roasted Grapes ($14)

Maybe

If you’re going to ask me to pay for bread at the table, it better be good.  The homemade  bagettes and gougeres (cheese pastries) were delicious  but for four bucks were not significantly better than some of the complimentary loaves available at other places.

Bagettes and Gogueres ($4)
Bagettes and Gougeres ($4)

The shaved cauliflower salad was a seasonal offering.  Despite the attractive presentation and array of ingredients, the sulphuric taste of the  cauliflower was too prevalent. Whatever dressing was used in an attempt to unify this adventurous amalgam was off key. That being said,  my table mate disagreed and thought the salad has a fresh and balanced taste.

Cauliflower Salad
Cauliflower Salad ($11)

Mundane

Some restaurants are not known for dessert and don’t have the same passion toward the concluding course.  I suspect Campagnolo fits this bill.  With no dessert menu per se, we were offered a couple of choices and settled on the budino (caramel pudding).  It was a cloying concoction, topped with an ashy tasting sponge toffee.  Two bites were enough.

Caramel Pudding
Budino ($8)

The wine menu is quite small and quite expensive.  It’s difficult to find a red under $12 a glass.  The white list is a little more reasonable in price but still limited in choice.  In the end, I opted for mulled wine on the cocktail list which was a more modest $12 and offered welcome relief from the ongoing draft running up my back.

Mulled Wine ($12)
Mulled Wine ($12)

My Take

Campagnolo relies on a moderately sized menu of signature and seasonal  items to fill its modest sized dining area.  It’s trendy, in demand and has received accolades  from critics and diners alike, although it flies a bit under the radar on online social media sites.  The service was top-notch, friendly and informative  other than a moderate delay between starters and mains.  Despite an uncompromising approach to food, there is enough flexibility for the customer to be right despite differences in opinion with the kitchen.  They don’t apologize but make it right which is more important than offering comped drinks I don’t want. Bring your wallet  though; it’s not a cheap evening out.  In the end, Campagnolo is cool, crass and comforting and  does so by adhering  to their country bumpkin philosophy in a classy fashion.

Campagnolo  on Urbanspoon

Fare..Eat..Ales: My Top Canadian Restaurants of 2012

I’ve been to enough restaurants this year to compile a list of  I what I think are the best 10 in Canada.  I am also including a few which I may not have blogged about since I visited them before I started in June or July.  I will begin a daily countdown starting with number 10 and ending with number 1 on New Year’s Eve.

I’m a amateur blogger with a passion for food and this post is nothing more than my personal reflection of a year of eating out.  Feel free to agree or disagree. I encourage your comments!

See the urbanspoon list at the link below.

http://www.urbanspoon.com/guides/5781-my-top-canadian-restaurants-of-2012

10. Union 613– Ottawa

I can still taste the fried okra and Berkshire pork belly to this day.  The environment is best described as  union hall meets hipster joint meets smokehouse.  The staff is courteous, flexible and attentive. The impressive cocktail  list features rotating southern influenced cocktails (usually bourbon) and flavourful local brews.  Some of the traditional dishes were presented with a risky twist; the lemon lime parfait  was a savory rendition of the normally sweet yet tart key lime pie and the beef brisket was topped with an aggressive salsa verde.

The only major flaw was the rather bland oysters.

In the end, it’s great  food and great service in a great environment. I’ll sign the union card.

Check out initial review below and agree or disagree!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/review-ottawa-union-613/

9. Trevor Bar and Kitchen- Toronto

Trevor is a meat and fois gras happy restaurant buried in the architecture of Wellington Street East. Well executed main entrees such as coq au vin and prawn spaghettini  as well as beautiful desserts are examples of the stellar food.  In an attempt to  preserve the integrity of the century and a half old building, the decor still makes me feel like I’m eating in a subway station. Regardless, I’ll buy a metro pass.

Check out initial review below and agree or disagree!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/reviewtorontost-lawrence-market-old-towntrevor-kitchen-and-bar/

8. Table 17– Toronto

Table17 is a quaint place  with a great atmosphere located along Queen St. East.  It’s not too loud but still manages to have a buzzy aura. It offers  an innovative cocktail list and sticks pretty consistently to a well executed menu with large portions and  a focus on signature items including oysters, rillette, hot balls and and beef tartare.  The  polenta, presented table side, was the pinnacle of the meal and the duck entree was done well.   The desserts were not  mind-blowing but you may not need them after the meal.   This is a table I don’t  mind sitting at!

The blog post  is below.  Let me know if you agree!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/review-toronto-queen-east-table-17/

7.  Stoney’s Bread Company– Oakville

Stoney’s Bread Company is the least orthodox place on this list.  It’s not fancy, doesn’t have a stunning decor and isn’t the roaring hotspot like some of the others.  That being said, the food is wicked. The chicken curry sandwich on their own bread is one of the best I’ve had all year.  The pizza had a crust thin enough to allow for delicious origami while thick enough to hold together the fragrant sauce and the other fresh ingredients such as the high quality meats and cheeses which adorn the pies. I’d skip the dessert squares though.  Stoney’s may not be  the place to bring a first date or to impress your new boss…unless of course  they love amazing food and don’t mind taking a trip to a plain jane sandwich joint a bit off the beaten path.

The post is pending. Stay tuned!

6. Chambar– Vancouver

This west coast eatery mixes traditional belgian cuisine with tastes from around the world.  Chambar offers an amazing and unique Belgian beer selection and mussels to match.  In addition, there is an array of unique and sinful desserts with a presentation that rival some of the landmarks from the countries they represent.  The entrees were average and it’s almost too loud to have a conversation but the ambiance is pleasant and the edgy yet traditional menu is for the most part one of the better I’ve tried this year. When it comes to the underrated recreation of Belgian cuisine, Chambar is no sham bar.

Read my earlier review!

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/reviewvancouvergastownchambar/

5. Charcut– Calgary

Highlights of this downtown Calgary establishment include a trendy environment in the Hotel Le Germain, a decent booze list and amazing well-prepared yet simple food. In particular, the kitchen pickles and pork belly were most  memorable.   The desserts were decent but limited in choice.  I didn’t blog Charcut because I started writing  a few months after going.  Perhaps it was memorable since it was my first celebrity chef sighting when I chatted with Top Chef Canada contestant Connie DeSousa after dinner. Maybe it was memorable because the food was just damn good.

4. Ursa- Toronto

Ursa is a casual yet elegant eatery which sits quietly on Queen West. Adorned with a long wood bar and open kitchen, it has an intimate environment which is both classic and trendy.  As I mentioned in my review, each dish is a story, whether it be the sourcing of the ingredients or the distinct cooking methods.  Every plate is presented with an artistic flare with fresh,seasonal fare.  The elk tartare was a lesson in leaving good ingredients alone to tell their own tale. In addition, the cocktail list featured quality liquors with fresh ingredients presented in award-winning fashions.   Finally, the deconstructed lemon meringue pie was as tasty as it was visually appealing.  The biggest downfall regarding Ursa is an ever changing and unpredictable small menu which may not appeal to everybody..but I leave you to decide whether that is a major or just a minor issue.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/reviewtoronto-east-ursa/

3. Richmond Station– Toronto

In a few short months, Richmond Station has already established itself as a Toronto hotspot.  Maybe it’s riding the wave of chef/owner Carl Heinrich’s Top Chef Canada 2 win.  With a great open kitchen and a decor that is classy yet trendy, it’s a welcome change from the stuffy French bistros and hipster-centric caverns which straddle the Toronto streets. The food follows the same pattern, offering classic  yet contemporary cocktails, lobster bisque, shucked oysters with fresh condiments and duck two ways. The service, the environment, the chef, the kitchen…all the pieces fit together to make Richmond Station a bitchin’ station.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/reviewtorontodowntownrichmond-station/

2. Grand Electric-Toronto

Grand electric has a feel to it like no other place.  It’s well…electric.    The pozole, the spicy squid and the  tacos (especially the arbol chicken and beef cheek) are some of the better things I have eaten this year.  There’s a great booze list as well.  Despite the long waits and sometimes shady service, the overall feel is hip and cool, catalyzed by loud, hard rap and funky yard sale decor. It’s not clear if the second floor expansion will change the vibe but it shouldn’t change the food on the relatively static  but well executed menu.  In the meantime, there are no surprises.  You’ll  get what you expect with Grand Electric; the “it” factor…but first you gotta put your name on the waiting list.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/reviewtorontoparkdalegrand-electric/

1. Sidedoor- Ottawa

The Sidedoor experience started with impeccable service  the minute I walked in and continued until I left. There was a great cocktail list and the food was even more  impressive. The tuna sashimi might have been the best thing I ate all year and the sinful donuts were a great end to the meal. I was treated to a fantastic pickle tray that wasn’t even on the menu, which contained everything from melon rind to sunchoke to sea asparagus. The tacos were just fine as well. Sidedoor is an example of a perfect storm in which the service, food and environment collide for a truly memorable dining experience. It was so addictive, the next time I went to Ottawa I walked through the cold at 11 pm on a Monday night praying that  by some miracle they’d be open so I could  indulge again.  They weren’t.

Link:

https://fareeatales.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/review-ottawa-sidedoor/

Diners, Drives-Ins and Dives: The List

As mentioned earlier, I’m a big fan of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  The closest I have come to meeting Guy Fieri  was through a window during a recent filming in Toronto.  I also managed to meet his signature red Camaro in a parking lot across the street.

Guy Fieri at Lakeview in Toronto
Guy Fieri at Lakeview in Toronto
Standing beside Guy's Camaro during DDD filming in Toronto.
Standing beside Guy’s Camaro during DDD filming in Toronto.

In my quest for great food, I have managed  to hit a number of DDDs in a number of different cities over the past couple of years.  My favorites are listed in order below.  Each will be reviewed under its respective city in the not too distant future.  In general, I have thoroughly enjoyed each experience and encourage everybody to support the locally owned establishments which exist along the path in your journey for love and passion on a plate.

The List

  1. Arnold’s Country Kitchen- Nashville
  2. Lucky’s Cafe- Cleveland
  3. Honey’s Sit and Eat- Philadelphia
  4. Dottie’s- San Francisco
  5. Silk City Diner- Philadelphia
  6. Clarkston Union Bar and Kitchen – Detroit
  7. Union Workshop- Detroit
  8. Chap’s Pit Beef- Baltimore
  9. Pastabilties- Syracuse
  10. The Tamale Place- Indianapolis
  11. Tomahawk Restaurant- Vancouver
  12. Bluewater Seafood- San Diego
  13. Sip and Bite- Baltimore
  14. Blue Ash Chili- Cincinatti
  15. Voula’s Offshore Cafe- Seattle
  16. Polish Village Cafe- Detroit
  17. Mulberry Cafe- Buffalo
  18. Red Wagon Cafe- Vancouver
  19. Meat and Bread- Vancouver
  20. El Indio- San Diego
  21. BopnGrill- Chicago
  22. Blue Moon Cafe- Baltimore
  23. Wallace Station- Lexington
  24. Milktooth-Indianapolis
  25. Peaceful Restaurant- Vancouver
  26. Flytrap- Detroit
  27. Lakeview- Toronto
  28. Georgia’s Greek- Seattle
  29. White Palace Grill- Chicago
  30. Hopleaf- Chicago
  31. Marlow’s Rib and Restaurant-Memphis
  32. Terry’s Turf Club- Cincinatti
  33. Jethro’s Fine Grub- Vancouver
  34. Momocho Mod Mex- Cleveland
  35. Kitty Hoyes- Syracuse
  36. Kuma’s Corner- Chicago
  37. Fresh, Local, Wild- Vancouver
  38. Senate- Cincinnati
  39. Falconetti’s- Vancouver
  40. Zest!-Indianapolis
  41. Studio Diner- San Diego
  42. Melt- Cleveland
  43. Blackthorn Restaurant and Pub- Buffalo
  44. The Barking Dog- Indianapolis
  45.  Nana’s- Chicago
  46. Showdogs- San Francisco
  47. Empire Brewing Company- Syracuse
  48. Bakersfield- Cincinnati
  49. Big and Little’s- Chicago
  50. Sophia’s- Buffalo
  51. Panozzo’s Italian Market- Chicago
  52. Steer-In-Indianapolis
  53. South of Beale- Memphis
  54. Yankee Lobster Company- Boston
  55. Tommy’s Joint- San Francisco
  56. Bizarro Italian Cafe- Seattle
  57. Miller’s East Coast Diner- San Francisco
  58. Tioli’s Crazee Burger- San Diego
  59. Good Dog- Philadelphia
  60. Parkette Drive-In- Lexington
  61. Funk n Waffles- Syracuse
  62. Hob Nob Hill- Philadelphia
  63. Lake Effect Diner- Buffalo
  64. Save on Meats- Vancouver
  65. Stockyards Smokehouse and Larder-Toronto
  66. Athens Family Restaurant- Nashville
  67. Alcenia’s- Memphis
  68. Bro’s Cajun Cuisine- Nashville
  69. Saus- Boston
  70. 3 Sisters Café- Indianapolis
  71. Parkview Nite Club- Cleveland
  72. Taste of Belgium- Cincinnati
  73. Joe Squared Pizza- Baltimore
  74. Byblos- Syracuse
  75. Pizzeria Luigi- San Diego
  76. Mike’s Chili Parlor- Seattle
  77. Traffic Jam and Snug- Detroit
  78. Sterle’s Country House- Cleveland
  79. The Ace- Toronto
  80. Memphis Taproom- Philadelphia

Review:Toronto:Leslievillle:Skin and Bones

Skin and Bones is the newest contribution on the outskirts of the expanding Leslieville dining scene. Quartered in an old warehouse on the outskirts of Queen East restaurant row, the venue is spacious and symmetrical with highlights including a long bar, open kitchen and 16 person communal  table.  Offering a tiny cocktail list and a few microbrews, the focus of the potent potables is the extensive wine list.  Most notable is the array of local and international wines  with equal pricing per ounce  regardless of whether you order the 3 or 6 oz glass. I was told that this was to encourage the enjoyment of multiple wine pairings throughout the meal.  The best I had was the  Pinot Gris François Lichtlé 2010, Alsace, France.  The menu is meant to be shared, set up in a not so unique three tier fashion; snacks, apps and mains.

Must

The celeriac gnocchi with uni bottarga was simple, delicious and well executed.  Straying from the ubiquitous potato pasta topped with the  sweet red or rich cream sauce, the earthy taste of the celery root coupled with the salty bottarga  was very prevalent but was complimented nicely by the acidic and chunky tomato “preserves”.

Celeriac Gnocchi
Celeriac Gnocchi

I have a bias for sticky pudding and S&B did not disappoint.   Moist cake with chunks of dates were smothered in a delicious bone marrow caramel and served with a dollop of Chantilly. It was a smallish portion but was quite  reasonably priced and was a fine finish to the meal.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding

Maybe

The burrata with crostini  ( see picture under pickled quail eggs) was a nice start.  The rich cheese atop the crispy bread had good mouth feel  and was balanced nicely by sweet and salty toppings.

I asked if the chicken tails were a play on words or actually chicken tails.  The waiter clarified the latter so I was quite intrigued.  I can best  describe the dish as fatty chunks of  popcorn chicken served on a bed of seasoned potatoes. They weren’t quite finger-licking good but they were pretty tasty. If anything the perfectly prepared potatoes stole the show.  It was quite heavy…so definitely share this one.

Chicken Tales
Chicken Tails

The highly touted beef tartare turned out to be a bit forgettable .  It was fresh and seasoned well, especially with the addition of the  monforte toscano cheese. Call me a traditionalist but maybe I’m a bit biased because it was missing the raw egg I normally adore with this dish.

Beef Tartare
Beef Tartare

Growing up in Northern Ontario, I relished smelt season in the spring  where I would stand in the cold streams wearing rubber boots in hunt of the tasty critters.  Success would mean a plate of crispy, deep-fried salty goodness.  Needless to say, I was excited to see the option of this childhood treat on the menu.   I loved the taste of the smelts  but would of  liked them served crispy (more than the scant amount of fried bone) to counter the  limp swiss chard below. Braised greens are a bit dangerous since they can be a bit soggy and bitter when cold and I found they were a little of both.  That being said, it was a nice balance of salt, sour and bitter flavours.

Smelt Escabeche
Smelt Escabeche

The chicken and wine main was a potato away from a must.  The deconstruction was visually appealing and the  chicken was cooked to perfection.  My only issue was lack of a supporting cast.  The rutabaga puree was delicious velvet and the celery provided an appealing crunch and earthiness  but in scarce amounts.   Increase the sides and throw a bunch of those potatoes in the mix and you have a winner.

Half Chicken with Rutabaga Puree
Half Chicken with Rutabaga Puree

Mundane

The pickled quail eggs and vegetables were one of my most anticipated items and I was left disappointed.  The dish was underpickled and the eggs were inconsistently cooked.  The promised vegetables turned out to be a few cucumbers. The accompanying “white fluff” was almost flavourless and although appealing to the eye, added very little to complement the pickles.

Burrata Crostini and Pickled Quail Eggs
Burrata Crostini and Pickled Quail Eggs

Despite a small menu and a less than capacity crowd, we were told they had run out of the beef cheek bourguigon.  Worse than that, we were informed after we ordered it.  It kind of left a bad taste..actually no taste,  in my mouth.

Beef Cheek Bourguignon
Beef Cheek Bourguignon

My Take

Skin and bones is attempting to take the Queen East experience beyond Carlaw St. I’d summarize it as a introductory lesson for those interested in nose-to-tail dining, offering things like bone marrow hidden in caramel sauce,chicken tails coated  in crispy batter and beef cheeks cloaked in a  bourguignon sauce.  It has a decent wine list and  a safe but somewhat edgy menu with a few gems hidden within a bunch of maybes at a decent price point. The bigness of the restaurant itself  is a deviation from the quaint quarters of other eateries in the area which will  lead to either an astir ambiance with a big buzz or a  cloying cavern with a desolate demeanor. Time will tell but special events such as wine tastings possibly coupled with edgy prix fixe menus may be necessary to draw in the large crowds which will be needed  to fill the seats of this spacious sit-down.

 

Skin + Bones on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:St Lawrence Market & Old Town:Trevor Kitchen and Bar

Trevor Kitchen and Bar is a hidden underground cave nestled among the established Wellington Street restaurant row just east of the financial district promising  an anti-elitist fine dining experience.   Normally,  Trevor offers a meat heavy, fois gras filled , rich menu which is a bit on the pricy side.  However, they actively participate in winter- and summerlicious  and surprisingly offer a prix-fixe lunch menu during December for only $25. I couldn’t resist taking advantage of this great offer.

Must

The prawn spaghettini in cognac and chive was divine.  An abundant number of  juicy prawns were scattered within a large portion of  tasty al dente noodles.  It was seasoned perfectly and lacked the greasiness and over saltiness  of many other oil based pasta sauces.

Prawn Spaghettini
Prawn Spaghettini

The coq au vin was what you dream of coming home to on a dreary winter day.  Highlighted by fall-off-the-bone chicken atop stick-to- your-ribs mashed potatoes and served at a perfect temperature, it brought that toque and mitts right off the heater feeling to my insides and the lack of the cliche parsley garnish was so refreshing.

Coq au Vin
Coq au Vin

The dessert was magic. The chantilly brought a light texture and subtle saltiness to the moist and rich torte topped with  sparkly caramel  sauce and a solitary gooseberry…yes…I love gooseberries.   There’s no way I could finish it after the rich entree but the few bites I had were a fit conclusion to a great meal.

Dark Chocolate and Caramel Torte with Peanut Butter Chantilly
Dark Chocolate and Caramel Torte with Peanut Butter Chantilly

Maybe

The starter salad  is quite large for a lunch salad and was good enough although the dressing was a bit too acidic.  It lacked the punch and visual appeal I was expecting; a whole lot of greens with a few sliced pears, some small pumpkin seeds and a few pickled onions.

Bitter Greens
Bitter Greens

Mundane

I appreciate the attempt to respect  the original architecture of the building but the atmosphere and decor is a bit lack lustre. The layout is odd, the kitchen is distant and the reddish tiled floor looks like you’re in the Queen Street subway station . That said, I wouldn’t trade it in for a bright, overdecorated room to distract patrons from sub-par food  but I think some inroads could be made to increase the visual appeal just a bit.

My Take

Trevor’s Christmas gift is a great December lunch menu for a great price.  On the flip side, it’s kind of like getting a great gift wrapped in newsprint instead of pretty paper.  Maybe it’s the fact I was seated in the same area twice, but I looked at the comfy gallery pics online but just don’t get that feeling. If you don’t care for bows and ribbons, however,  the food is well worth the trek into the underbelly of  aged Wellington St. architecture.

 

Trevor Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Review:Vancouver:Gastown:Chambar

When asked about Belgium, most people will associate it with two things: waffles and chocolate.  Others may also cite mussels, Stella Artois and Jean-Claude Van Damme .  Belgium is a bit of a misunderstood country sandwiched in between the more recognized entities of France, Germany and the Netherlands. It’s no surprise that its culinary influences which include rich saucy foods and hearty stews originate from its neighbours except for Holland…there’s no good food in Holland.

Chambar is a evening hot spot bordering Gastown in Vancouver.  Commandeered by well-trained chef  Nico Schuermans, one could consider Chambar’s menu an “Amazing Race” of world flavours, complete with fast forwards, detours and road blocks.

Must (Fast Forwards)

As it should, the culinary adventure begins in Belgium with offerings of mussels and over 50 Belgian beer ranging from witbier (wheat) to blondes to darks to trappists to table beer (served in 750 ml bottles) that you drink like wine. At the recommendation of the staff,  I ordered  the Duchess de Bourgnogne, a deep ruby lambic with intricate flavors synonymous with a fine European wine.  My choice was  the Boon Gueze, an aggressive but beautiful sour  lambic, which paired nicely with the mussels. Speaking of mussels,  the Coquotte Moules Frites (pictured below) were mind-blowing.  They were meaty and fresh and swimming in a philter of wine and cream with teases of bacon and garnished with fresh green onions.

Coquotte Moule
Coquotte Moule

With due diligence paid to the homeland, Chambar  turns its attention to other parts of the globe. The lapin a la moutarde (rabbit cannelloni) pays respect to the French neighbours while fusing with the middle-eastern flavours of dates and pistachios. The filling was decedent and encased in a perfectly cooked pasta which would even make a few Italians nod with approval.

Rabbit Cannollii
Rabbit Cannelloni

Steak and sausage are staples all over the world.  The Chambar’s Grillade be Boeuf and Chorizo adds a Spanish/South American flare to these two carnivorous staples by grilling the sausage and serving the beef seasoned with  lime and chili atop a fragrant chimichurri.  The fingerling potato chips added an  additional earthiness and subtle crunch to the plate.

Chambar's Grillade be Boeuf and Chorizo
Chambar’s Grillade be Boeuf and Chorizo

For dessert, the Mama Rizk goes back to France with a mille feuille pastry with a rosewater twist. It has an french renaissance architecture that I almost didn’t want to tear down.   The mint sorbet  harmonized the dish from a taste and texture perspective.

Mama Rizk
Mama Rizk

The tarte au citron was another French influenced dessert which payed homage to traditional lemon meringue pie.  Fluffy coconut cake is the foundation for the the tart lemon curd and souffle accents.  As tasty as it was visually appealing, it was a brilliant spin on a classic dish.

Tarte au Citron
Tarte au Citron

Maybe (Detours)

Chambar’s next stop is Asia by offering the ubiquitous  tartare de thon rouge (tuna tartare), flavoured with wasabi, pickled veggies and served with rice crackers.  It was an average dish with decent  flavour but can’t compete with others I have had elsewhere.

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Tatare de Thon Rouge (Tuna Tartare)

Chambar goes Canadian next with its rendition of grilled local octopus, seasoned with soy, maple and bacon flavours and topped with fresh kale.  The  octopus was prepared nicely and the flavours were…well….nice.

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Poulpe Geant Grillee (octopus)

Both the Le Nico Fume and Le Cafe Belge were both highly recommended cake by the waitstaff.  Both were nicely presented but a bit monotonous in flavour. Le Nico Fume was chocolate scotch cake with caramel and ice cream served in a glass (at least it wasn’t a mason jar).  Le Cafe Belge was coffee flavour cheesecake with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate on top.  Both would be a fitting end to a good meal but lacked the edginess I had come to expect based on the offerings earlier in the evening.

Le Nico Fume
Le Nico Fume
Le Cafe Belge
Le Cafe Belge

Mundane (Road Block)

The thought of sitting on the Pacific coast and enjoying a local, roasted halibut loin swimming in a fragrant broth made my mouth water but I was left a bit confused by the cassoulet de poisson (halibut). Sometimes its better to keep things simple and clean, especially with the availability of a  great eating fish like halibut but there were too many competing  flavours that ironically “drown” the halibut’s subtle flavour.

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Cassoulet de Poisson (Halibut)

From an ambiance perspective, the noise level is off the charts. I equate it to having a window seat near a jet engine so loud you can’t hear the person in the aisle seat beside you. If that’s your scene it works; otherwise it’s quite a distraction.

My Take

Chambar is an edgy eatery which lays its foundation in its Belgian roots but experiments with cutting edge international flavours reflected through  frequently changing menu items  (in fact some of the items reviewed here are no longer available) .  A fascinating Belgian beer selection and world class mussels  served by knowledgeable waitstaff  makes every trip worth it.  In a manner similar to the Amazing Race, the plates offer some wonderful scenery, however, this aggressive style is bound to lead to some winners and losers during the noisy travels along the way.

Mulling Moment- Please comment!

 

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