Review:Toronto:Entertainment District:Beverley Hotel

There has been much anticipation over the opening of The Beverley, a boutique hotel on Queen just west of university,   Ever since leaving Hawthorne earlier in the year, Chef Eric Wood’s twitter account has counted down to the opening of the inn which features a restaurant and rooftop patio.  I decided to give it a whirl despite the fact it still seems to be in the soft opening phase.

I was greeted outside by a smiling young lady who asked if I wanted some lunch.  It was a little later in the day so seating was ample.  I was seated at a shaky table adjacent to the bar.  Almost immediately a friendly waitress dressed in black came by and asked me if I wanted a drink. There are choices from a snug list of new and traditional cocktails featuring no alcohol in particular.  There’s cognac, bourbon, rye, gin, vodka, tequila, rum and pimm’s. There’s even sangria. I went “Old School” with a Pimm’s cup 335 selling, like most of the other cocktails on the menu, for $12.  It was well done. As I was sipping away, it was apparent I was crashing  a meeting with many of the hotel’s stakeholders (no worries, I had no inclination to listen in and heard nothing other than the occasional bellow of laughter).  Shortly after, one of the gents got up and walked toward me in the bar area.  For a second I pictured a scene from the Sopranos and figured he may throw me out ass over tea kettle.  Well….not really. Instead, he gave me one of those “uncle Fred at Christmas” shots in the arm and said “get the burger”.  Shortly after well…I ordered the burger.

Pimm's Cup #335 $12
Pimm’s Cup #335 $12

Before the burger, however, I ordered the caesar salad which is something I rarely do. What intrigued me, however, was the fact it was made with dinosaur kale instead of romaine lettuce (although I suspect it was in fact baby kale).  It was a good size and served with asiago cheese, smoked tomato chips and rye croutons.  It like a traditional Caesar salad except was a little less crispy because of the kale.  That said, the flavour was better and the risk of sogginess was missing.  The tomato chips were amazing and adequately dobbleganged the traditional bacon.  One suggestion (in my best Obi Wan-Kenobi voice): USE THE LEMON. One squirt of the wedge gave it the acid needed  to cut through the sulphur of the kale.

Kale Caesar $9
Kale Caesar $9 (Dinosaur or baby?)

At first I misread the description of the burger to say “pickled watermelon” instead of “pickle and watermelon”.  One I noticed my error..well it didn’t matter because I ordered it anyway. I’ve told a few people since and they look at me like I’m a nuts. Well, it worked.  Unlike a lot of other burgers, the patty was seasoned very well.  It was a tad tough to eat given the large watermelon and pickle slices and the latter was the prominent taste,  What made the watermelon work was it’s contrast against the tangy cheese (Guernsey is great on a burger) in both taste and texture. In the end, I pictured it as a juicy monstrosity in which the act of biting  would squeeze Bordelaise sauce out of the patty like a sponge, forcing it to drip down my hands with mudpuddle messiness .   Instead, it was a bit overdone, so I missed out on the adventure although it tasted damn good, The fries made me wonder if Eric’s recent trip to the West Coast had an influence on the menu.  Kennebec fries are a staple out there and in my opinion, truly make the best fries.  They also had a shot of crispy garlic chips but surprisingly were not served with any sort of dipping sauce. A house ketchup is available with the starter order, so I’m not sure if the omission with the burger was an oversight or planned that way.  I actually think the house ketchup would have helped the burger too.  Hey, it makes me wonder if the Bordelaise sauce would of worked on the side as an au jus for the fries as well.

Beverley Burger $17
Beverley Burger $17

Dessert seems to be a work in progress. There is no menu as of yet, but the kind waitress provided me with three options: a choice of two homemade ice creams (orange szechuan and malted barley), a couple of in house popsicles (I think pineapple jalapeno was one) and a smores dessert.  With no concept of portion size or price, I asked if I could sample both types of ice cream. She said she would check with the kitchen.  A few minutes later she returned with a defeated look on her face and informed me it was not possible because the ice cream was proportioned when prepared.  A little perplexed, I opted for the orange Szechuan and realized I would have to satisfy my craving for malted barley over a pint later in the day. The ice cream was fantastic.  It had the texture of silk, a rich taste but not an overwhelming heaviness.  The brownie was decent but wasn’t needed because it wasn’t as good as the ice cream itself.

Orange Szechuan Ice Cream. $3.  Charge me $6 and give me two!
Orange Szechuan Ice Cream. $3. Charge me $6 and give me two!

My Take

Eric Wood is a chef who, in my opinion, is very friendly and open with his customers.  He comments on blogs, answers tweets and is not afraid to make recommendations for other restaurants among other things. His new endevour is a little boutique mixed with a hint of hipster, sprinkled with a bit of West coast and dusted  with a scent of his old gig at Hawthorne. It’s boutique in that it delves into cuisine which is veggie-centric and focuses on choices that include raw and gluten free dishes.  The kennebec fries are very west coast.  With his Hawthorne exodus, he brought the “4 Play for lunch” concept (app, salad, main, dessert) for $16.  Both the drink and food menus have no defined focus which I find highly acceptable in an environment which has been populated with ramen, snack food and  bourbon or tequila bars.  That said, it’s far from a traditional menu as indicated by a watermelon topped burger and steak and potatoes made with beef cheeks.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out.  Will the menu be sophisticated enough to attract a boutique hotel crowd and yet be hip enough to draw in the curmudgeon foodies, especially given the fact they tend to stray away from pretty decor and gravitate toward tiny rooms that look like their parent’s basement apartment or a janitor’s broom closet?  Maybe the rooftop will become the foodie haven as it appears to be focused on grilled meats a la izakaya (although it’s still Paleo I suppose). This paradox even resonates with the waitstaff.  I saw a couple of staff drop in with back-size tattoos, presumably only to jump into sheer black dresses and assume an old school service model free of angst and pretension. Bravo!

In the end, I think the menu hiccups are growing pains associated with any new franchise.  A tweak of the burger, a little ketchup with the fries and an extra scoop of ice cream would make me a happy boy. I know I can say this knowing that next time I drop by, the shot in the arm won’t turn into a punch in the face from anybody from the board of directors, especially uncle Fred.

The Beverley Hotel on Urbanspoon

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Chicago:Day 4:Part 2:After a few pints, riding the Goat to the Pinnacle of Food Supremacy

DISCLAIMER: No cows were harmed in the writing of this blog.  The same can’t be said for snails, goats, ducks, pigs, scallops, crabs, lobsters and rubber monkeys however.

There’s culinary comradery in Chicago.  On day one,  I hit Grahamwich and then hopped the transit up to Metropolis to experience the coffee Graham Elliot serves in his establishment.  The same thing exists along West Randolph St.  In addition to a few award winning restaurants, there are a number of pubs, cafes and diners lining the street…and many of them stick together. I read an article with Stephanie Izard’s favorite joints which included the Haymarket pub.  In addition to their own brews and restaurant, they have worked with the Girl and the Goat to  create a few unique pours using rhubarb and other local staples.  I figured in was a good idea to stop in for a pint..or two…or three….before settling in for dinner at the Goat  a couple of hours later.

It’s a good size brewpub with a good size selection and an affinity for sock monkeys. They not only serve their own pints but have a number of guest drafts from a number of small breweries across the USA.  The selection changes often but there will be something for every palate. Better yet, they have 4 ounce tasters available for all beer for as little as $1.50 each. Finally, the staff were EXTREMELY friendly and knowledgeable.  Our barkeep was clear and recommended the right beer for the right person:

From Haymarket’s own creations, we tried the following:

Oscar’s Pardon Dry-Hopped Belgian Pale Ale
Speakerswagon Pilsner- Heavy Pilsner
Buckledown Brewing Fiddlesticks Belgian I.P.A.
Haymarket Ombibulous Double IPA
Mash Made In Heaven
Rubber Monkey
Mathias Imperial IPA

The range was from light and citrusy wheat (Rubber Monkey) to the hardcore Mathias IPA and everything in between.  I was partial to the Buckledown, an IPA with a tasty twist.  It tasted like a spicy wheat beer on steroids.  The Oscar’s was a safe choice for those with less hoppy ambition.

After running the local taps, I asked for bartender for some suggestions from the guest taps. He seemed to light up with a slightly devious smile when I just said “Bring me three of your favorites”.

He answered with the following trio:

Revolution Crystal Hero IPA
Allagash Curieux
Lakefront 25th Anniversary Series #01 – Imperial Stout

The selections were brilliant.  Each was a lesson in aggressive yet satisfying beer variety.  The Crystal IPA had juicy fruit flavours to counter the traditional hoppiness.  The Allagash was a high alcohol beer which bathed in barrels of JIm Beam bourbon for a couple of months.  Finally, the Lakefront Imperial Stout  from Milwaukee was the highlight of the night, It had double digit ABV, a strong stout flavour which was laced with vanilla flavour.

My Take

Whether used as a holding tank while waiting for the Girl and the Goat (hell…why not visit a monkey before you go see a goat) or a stand alone place for a casual dinner , I wouldn’t hesitate to come back if in Chicago again. Although I didn’t try the food, those around me seemed to enjoy it. The menu is filled with pub favorites such as burgers, sandwiches and pizza.  A word of advice..trust the barkeep.  Open your mind to new flavours and take advantage of the 4 oz samples to test new horizons.  Just don’t drive…even 4oz beer catch up to you quickly, especially when some of them approach 10% ABV.  Just a word of advice,,,if the monkeys start talking you should probably stop.

Haymarket Pub & Brewery on Urbanspoon

After the purple pig earlier in the day, I had already experienced an array of carnivorous treats yet I had a long awaited reservation at the Girl and the Goat which I made 4 months prior.  Even since Stephanie Izard’s infectious smile hit Top Chef a few years back, she has received accolades for her Chicago restaurants, most recently winning the James Beard award for best chef in the great lake region.  Having dined at the Little Goat Diner across the street a few days before, I was looking forward to utter (or maybe udder?)  gluttony in this trendy small plate eatery. I checked in an hour before to make sure the time shift on my Microsoft outlook didn’t mess up my timing.  They assured me that my reservation for eight was intact, although they need to know immediately if even one person cancelled so they could make the necessary rearrangements. Hard core!

Luckily all eight showed and we were seated at  a large table with a great view of the kitchen (at least those of us facing the kitchen). Even though it was Sunday, it had the vibe of a Friday night (Stephanie normally takes Sunday off so if you stalk celebrity chefs you may want to consider another night).  The air was filled with a mix of music and the drone of the many voices that populated the other tables.  The menus were handed out and we were given the airline small plate speech, informing us that the V meant vegetable, the F meant fish and the M meant meat and that 2 to three dishes per person would suffice. There was a decent array of beer (eg. three floyds) and a few mainstream wines. We were talked into a eccentric white which I cannot remember the exact name of but according to the receipt it was a smoky Arbois (I think was a Chardonnay mixed with another grape). It was a bit reminiscent of a Gruner.   Given it’s unique taste, it caused  some controversy at the table but I thought it had enough complexity and range to pair well the spectrum of dishes I ate during the evening.  Speaking of food, choosing an array of  plates among 8 people when there are over 25 dishes available is a daunting task, so we agreed on one each and doubling it to ensure enough for the entire table.

There are countless reviews of countless dishes, so I’m doing to try my best to rank the dishes from best to worst. That being said, the whole experience was among the best I’ve had this year.

1. Escargot Ravioli– Yes, the lowly snail vaults to the top of the protein pyramid with this stellar dish infusing tender pasta fused with delicate Asain flavours.

Escargot Ravioli $15
Escargot Ravioli $15

2. Goat Belly Confit with Lobster and Crab– This dish moved me from goat reluctance  to goat indulgence in one bite.  Nothing about mixing goat belly and seafood makes sense until you eat it. I could lick the plate,

Goat Belly with Lobster and Crab
Goat Belly Confit with Lobster and Crab ($19)

3.  Duck tonguesDo chickens have lips?  Who cares because ducks have tongues and they are delicious…snacky and potato chip addictive. Betcha can’t eat just one.

Duck Tongues $16
Duck Tongues $16

4. Wood oven roasted pig faceSounds odd, tastes delicious.  Like bacon and eggs for cool people…or people who think they’re cool.

Wood Roasted Pig Face $16
Wood Roasted Pig Face $16

5. Crispy Baked Ham ShankYou could have served this with mustard, relish and ketchup and it still would have been mind blowing.  That said, the naan,kimchi and sauces elevated this from Sunday roast to trendy feast. Ripping it apart makes you feel like a T-Rex for just a bit.

Baked Crispy Pork Shank $25
Baked Crispy Pork Shank $25

6. Ham Fries- Shoestring fries sprinkled with  smoky and salty intensity.  Could double as porcine crack.

Ham Fries $7
Ham Fries $7

7.  Strawberry Parfait– Just a beautiful and well orchestrated dish.  All flavours and textures combined to produce a symphony of mandible magnificence.

Strawberry Parfait $8
Strawberry Parfait $8

8.  Green Beans– A lesson in what I try to do at home when I make Asian inspired green beans. Simply prepared with fish sauce and cashews.

Sauteed Green Beans $9
Sauteed Green Beans $9

9.  Diver Scallops– Perfectly cooked. I enjoyed them but I wasn’t “shell-shocked” over the flavours.

Diver Scallops $17
Diver Scallops $17

10. Beet Salad– Much better than most of the normal offerings which simply throw a few beets on a plate, add some goat cheese and call it a salad.

Beet Salad
Beet Salad $9

11. Goat Cheese Bavarois– Table majority ruled on this one. Since I’m not a goat cheese fan, I’ll give this dish credit for tasting pretty good.

Goat Cheese Bavarois $8
Goat Cheese Bavarois $8

12. Goat Empanadas– I relished the belly but not the empanandas. That said, I’m not an empananda fan for the most part. Plus, I think 16 bucks for a snack food is a little steep.

Goat Empanadas $16
Goat Empanadas $16

My Take

In the last few years, the goat has gone from a can chewing vagrant to a star, due to both a hilarious cameo on the parody of Taylor Swift’s  “Trouble” and due to the focus as a protein mainstay on the menus of  James Beard award winning chef Stephanie Izard.  It’s a bit ironic you can stare at that cute goat rotating atop the Little Goat diner across the street and devour almost every part of one  at the same time.  Although It sounds a bit morbid, there’s solace in the fact that Stephanie respects the animal (and quite frankly every ingredient she touches).

The environment is hip and loud, the service is professional and smart and the menu is diverse and would make Animal Farm’s Napoleon drop to his knees. I’d recommend a reservation well in advance and try and bring a bigger group to experience as much of the menu as possible.  Listen to the waitstaff and take a chance, especially on the goat dishes and any odd wines recommended by the knowledgeable staff (if anything it will be a discussion point). So will duck tongues….

Girl & the Goat on Urbanspoon

Tasty Thursdays:Staring at Hot Bunzz and Liking Babis

Waves were made in the city of Toronto when it was  finally announced that there would be some relaxation of the strict by-laws that have plagued gourmet food trucks for years.  One of the olive branches has been Tasty Thursdays, an initiative “produced” by the city of Toronto. Every Thursday in July and August, Nathan Phillips square comes alive with a variety of tents and food trucks offering an array of snack foods, all for under $7.

By the looks of it, it has been quite successful. There were long lines at each vendor while the regular food trucks and stands lining Queen Street sat there sulking with arms crossed and no lines despite promising the best hot dog in town.  It seems street meat falls by the wayside when hungry diners can choose from Indian, Caribbean, Greek, Indonesian. Thai, Malaysia, Mediterranean, fresh salads, Canadian and food truck favourite the Food Dudes. The vendors will switch up in August but promise an equally diverse smorgasbord.   As mentioned, the lines were long, especially at the trucks. so I strategically maneuvered around the crowds to find something I wanted while still being able to  avoid  rush hour two hours later.  In the end, I opted for a visit to Hot Bunzz (international with Canadian focus) and Babi and Co. (Indonesian).

Tasty Thursday at Nathan Phillips Square
Tasty Thursday at Nathan Phillips Square
Tasty Thursday at Nathan Phillips Square
Tasty Thursday at Nathan Phillips Square

Hot Bunzz

The concept is simple; take freshly cooked  buns and stuff them with something fun. While in line, I had “food truck fear”,meaning as time goes on and you are paralyzed in line, there is the increased risk of diminishing options.  My fear was somewhat realized when the black tape came out and the elk bun was scratched from the menu like a race horse with a last minute injury.  That said, when I reached the front of the line I still had three choices.

Hotbunzz Display 2/$6
Hotbunzz Display 2/$6

I opted for the bison short rib and the Wisconsin three cheese with spinach and mushroom.  The buns have great eye appeal and were  crispy on the outside and soft on the middle, the perfect house for the filling in that it didn’t succumb to possible sogginess. The short rib had a strong coriander flavour and was a tad oversalted but the meat was tender and ample.  The spinach was lost in the mushroom and cheese but the filling worked as a whole.  In the end, these are a bit more than a snack and bit less than a meal but really nicely priced at 2/$6.

Bison Short Rib and Three Cheese. Spinach and mushroom
Bison short rib and Three Cheese, spinach and mushroom Hotbunzz 2/$6

Babi and Co.

This pop-up offers snack food with an Indonesian spin. On this day, it was Mami’s Sate Babi and Babi on a bun.  Normally six bucks each, there was a 2 for $10 special. The sate was safe…well marinated strip of pork synonymous with what you would find in most izakaya bars in Toronto. The Babi was well constructed with nicely seasoned pork belly, a crispy yet light bun, sambal mayo for a  little kick and pickled cucumber to round it out.  Once again, it was safe but struck all the elements of a well-balanced snack.   From a value perspective, I think, even with the multibuy discount, the price sits on the upper cusp of acceptable especially when compared to Hot Bunzz.

hhhh
Mami’s Sate Babi and Babi on a bun $10

On another note, the vendors at both tents were very pleasant and the passion was relayed in their food.  It was a pleasure to watch the meticulous yet jubilant execution of each snack despite the tight confines of the makeshift shelter.

My Take

In a city that prides itself on diversity, the presence of a variety of  ethnic street food is noticeably absent.  Tasty Thursdays seems to be an effort  to address this discrepancy. At the same time, it recognizes the long term battle  food trucks have had with the Toronto politicians over selling their wares on city property; a battle which will have some resolution starting August 1st when trucks will be allowed in 5 parks across Toronto. I still chuckle over the fact that this event is produced by the city of Toronto, making it sound like it’s some sort of self-promoting documentary starring the fine folks in city hall who sit on their collective asses stalling on decisions which promote free enterprise (hell, it will even keep food inspectors busy).  In a way, maybe it is like a film, with the ultimate intention being an increased awareness of small business and the cornucopia of food they have to offer beyond hot dogs, burgers and big gulps. If anything, when Torontonians hear the term “Hot Bunzz”, they may recognize it as something other than a name Rob Ford may have used to describe Sarah Thomson during a drunken stupor at any given  city event.
Hot Bunzz on Urbanspoon

Babi & Co on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Baldwin Village:Kekou Gelato House

I stumbled upon this quiet gelato house while on a stroll along Baldwin Street in Toronto.  It’s hard to find anything online about Kekou other than a humble website which appears hidden among the relics of the Little Video Shop reviews during  a google search. Gone are the copies of John Hughes and Die Hard movies but the gelato remains..this time infused with Asian flavours synonymous with  the Baldwin Street experience.   Take, for example, the variety posted on their website:

Ginger Milk
Cashew
Peanut Sesame
Black Sesame
Jasmine Tea
Vanilla Lotus Seed
Green Bean Coconut
Vietnamese Coffee
Red Bean White Chocolate
Jackfruit
Durian
Lemon Chrysanthemum
Guava Plum Salt
Mango
Spicy Mango
Strawberry-Lychee

The last five are dairy free. I’m unsure if all  (dairy or non) are available all the time but the variety was great when I popped in. Sampling is available, so I tasted the durian, intrigued by whether the stinky fruit would translate into an icy treat. It worked.  In the end, I opted for Spicy Mango and Strawberry-Lychee together in a small cup for  $3.75.  The mango  was creamy despite no dairy (I have a friend of mine who swears no dairy will do wonders for my skin).  It had an ever so subtle spicy kick.  The strawberry-lychee was icy good, well balanced and refreshing.

Strawberry-Lychee and Spicy Mango Gelato $3.25
Strawberry-Lychee and Spicy Mango Gelato $3.25

The store itself is as humble as the website. Hand-written tags and an old school ice cream parlour sign hang in contrast within the otherwise pristine and modern decor. I’d like to witness the Effe Vertical mixer in action in their open kitchen but it was dormant during my visit.

My Take

In a city where the gelato juggernauts seem to reside in midtown, the resurrection of the cold treat is a welcome addition to Baldwin street, this time with an Asian flavour twist.  It’s a quiet recluse and although I can’t walk out with a copy of the Accidental Spy (great ice cream scene by the way) , it might end up a quiet little spot I hit during my regular jaunts up and down University Avenue and if the heat happens to make me a little smelly, I’ll just blame the durian.

Kekou Gelato House on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Roncesvalles:Barque

After walking up and down Roncesvalles during a festival, I looked at my phone and realized it was close to five.  Knowing that Barque opened then and they hold a percentage of the place for walk-ins, I grabbed the kids and trekked to the front doors. I felt like I was trying to get a wristband for the MMVAs.  It did change my assumption that the only people who eat at 5 pm are kids and senior citizens. I broke a mild sweat as the place  gradually filled.  When it got to my turn, I mustered up my request. She looked apologetic and informed me that the only seats left were those at the bar facing the kitchen.  I couldn’t stifle the smile and said  “Done!” as we were directed to our seats.

The decor strays  from the traditional smokehouse and resembles something you would expect in the west end of Toronto. I was a bit relieved to see a number of children peppered throughout the smallish venue and on the decent sized patio out back. As soon as we were seated, the show began.One of the sous chefs wheeled out about 150 lbs of brisket and methodically prepared it for the smoker.  He pulled out a chunk of brisket and infused each with a large syringe filled with some magic elixir and transferred it to a tray.  He looked like a cross between Bruce Lee and Dr. Frankenstein.  Upon completion, he set the smoker at 175F and threw it in. I was surprised at the low temperature and it made me think I could have thrown a brisket on my porch last week with this summer weather and had the same result.

Oddly enough, they feature four or five beer from the McAuslan line which is a bit of an oddity considering the possibilities in the GTA alone.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent brewery to hang your hat on and I started with a pale ale.

The menu features standard starters and mains but also a number of sampler options, so there is a bit a science to ensuring you get the right amount of food. I was rather intrigued by the Barque plate, which is sample of some unique dishes made each evening.  On this day, it was a tagliatelle with bison meatballs, fried calamari, pulled pork tacos and crostini.  The highlight was the pasta. The rest was decent.   Ok…I confess, I didn’t inform the kids of the bison until afterwards  but they found the dish delicious.

Barque Sampler $16
Barque Plate $16

Next I opted for the Barque Sampler for 2 and chose ribs, brisket and sausage as the mains with caesar salad, slaw and fries as the sides. The brisket was the highlight, a testament to the meticulous process we witnessed earlier. It was crazy tender and seasoned well.  I’ll give props to the remainder of the platter as well. The ribs were well seasoned and the sausages were not dried out and had a good flavour. The asian slaw (which does not look like it’s on the menu anymore) was delicious.  I left  the caesar salad to my son who reported it was good although the bacon “tasted kind of different” perhaps because it’s not my standard practice to serve candied bacon at home.  My daughter’s report on the fries were a resounding thumbs up although she’s not a fan of dipping sauces in general.

Barque Sampler for 2 $35
Barque Sampler for 2 $35 (with 3 sides)
Fries with Aioli
Fries with Aioli
Asian Slaw
Asian Slaw

I have a hard time turning down smoked chicken (both from a taste and having to have the serving staff reassure me that pink chicken is cooked perspective) and this night was no exception. This time I went with the cuban corn and pickles  as the sides.  The chicken was smoky and tender and the corn, although a little overcooked, was spiced nicely. A decent array of pickles were presented which included beets, asparagus, cucumber, cauliflower and onion.I think pickles are a smart side to add a little acid and crunch to an otherwise rich and chewy meal.

Smoked Chicken and Cuban Corn $19
Smoked Chicken and Cuban Corn $19
Side of Pickles
Side of Pickles

Some smokehouses pride themselves on an array of sauces but Barque less so.  There are two offered in a ramekin with a sauce brush. One was a standard tangy red BBQ sauce and one a carolina style mustard sauce.  I found both tasty although I sort of forgot about them in the midst of everything else.

The dessert menu featured a few southern inspired sweets fused with a little Toronto trendiness. The key lime cheesecake was surprising light and laced with a subtle amount of cardamom that worked well. The mango was a bit irrelevant but added some nice colour. The gelato, coupled with a couple of homemade cookies, looked with a nouveau, deconstructed Neapolitan but with cappuccino replacing the chocolate.  I hated chocolate ice cream as a kid, so a dead give away of my freezer mischief was a container of Neapolitan with only the strawberry and vanilla missing. I was often caught pink and white handed.

Key Lime Cheesecake $9
Key Lime Cheesecake $9
Barque Gelato and Cookies $9
Barque and Gelato Cookies $9

My Take

Barque has succeeded in bringing the smokehouse into the Roncesvalles realm. It appeals to atmosphere seeking hipsters as much as it does those who crave carnivorous  delight.  The price point is decent although if you fall prey to the numerous choices, it can push up the final bill rather quickly. The highlight  is clearly the brisket (which was outstanding), followed by the ribs and chicken which would compete in any neighbourhood cook-off.  There’s the token fish and vegetarian dishes for the pescas and vegans respectively. The  barque plate (4 small bites for $16) is a smart idea but hinges on the creativity of the chef on a given night and on this night it was a bit boring.  I’ll give an A for the tagliatelle, a B for the pork belly tacos and maybe a C for the squid and crostini. The single line beer (McAuslan) is a bit confusing given the array of options that would fit with a smokehouse. There is ample wine and a few cocktails which, like Barque itself, are inspired not only by the south but by Toronto itself. There are a lot of smarts about the place including sampling platters to taste either the signatures or the daily inspirations of the chef  or the Sunday night feature which reintroduces the concept of sharing family style. In the end, Barque is a chic smokehouse with Toronto flair serving among many things candied bacon that may not meet the standards of a 10 year old pork traditionalist.

Barque Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

DDD:Vancouver:Jethro’s Fine Grub

Dispatch: Hello, may I help you?

Me: Yes, I’d like to report a UFO sighting.

Dispatch: A UFO sir? Where are you?

Me: I’m at Jethro’s.

Dispatch: Jethro’s?  Are you in a trailer park somewhere, sir?

Me: No, I’m on Dunbar Street in Vancouver.

Dispatch: OK.  Why don’t you tell me what you saw?

Me: Well, I dropped into this DDD for breakfast and ordered some biscuits and gravy to start.  The gravy was out of this world. Hahaha…get it? Anyway, the gravy was rich and tasty and had a nice spicy kick which took a minute to materialize in my mouth. The biscuits weren’t quite cloud-like.  Well, maybe a heavy cloud.  Anyway, suddenly these two UFOs landed right at my table.

Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and Gravy $5

Dispatch: Sir, have you been drinking?

Me: No, they don’t serve alcohol. I had a coffee though.

Dispatch: Ok.  Please describe the UFOs.

Me: They were about 12 inches in diameter and a couple of centimeters thick.  Light brown in colour and filled with strawberries and frosted flakes.  They were also covered in some sort of white  material. I’ll send you a pic.

Grrrreat Cakes $12
Grrrreat Cakes $12

Dispatch: White material?  Could it be whipped cream sir? What did you do next sir?

Me: Hmmmmm…ya whipped cream sounds right. Well, they looked good so I ate them. Or at least I tried.  I only managed to get through three quarters of one of them.

Disptach: Were they grrrrrreaaat!? (slight snicker).

Me: Well yes, that’s what they are called. Grrrreat cakes.

Dispatch: Oh.  Do you think it’s an isolated incident?

Me: No.  The staff were way too friendly.  And most of them have a lot of ink so I think they are actually maps that may in fact identify where the mothership is. I forgot my iPad at the table and they ran out after me to make sure I got it back.  Maybe they bugged it…

Dispatch: Ok sir.  So let me summarize.  You went to Jethro’s in Vancouver, ordered really good biscuits and gravy and what sounds like large pancakes stuffed with strawberries and frosted flakes.  They were both grrrreat. The staff is friendly and most are heavily tattooed and they chased you out the door to return the iPad you foolishly left at the table.

Me: Yes, that sounds right.

Dispatch: Well sir, I don’t believe they are UFOs.  They just sound like big, tasty pancakes. Pancakes don’t fly sir.

Me: Oh, the F stands for flying.  I thought it stood for fluffy.

Dispatch: You sure they don’t serve alcohol?

Me: Positive.

Dispatch: OK, I’m going to close this file sir.  I think we have all the information we need.  I suggest next time maybe you order an omelette, one of the benedicts or maybe the massive breakfast burrito. The variety is insane and the portions are huge.

Me: Ya, I think I saw the burrito.  It looked like a bus. The lunch sounds good too.  Thanks.

Dispatch: No problem sir.

Verdict:  5 Guyz

Jethro's Fine Grub on Urbanspoon

Chicago:Day 4:Part 1: A Medieval Feast at the Purple Pig

Stop #1– The Purple Pig

I happened to be staying across from the Purple Pig, the now iconic tapas style restaurant on the Magnificant Mile.  It has a large menu featuring a variety of animals  in different shapes and sizes.  It is a collaboration of chefs Scott Harris, Tony Mantuano, Jimmy Bannos and JImmy Bannos Jr. and promises cheese, swine and wine…but not beer.

We were seated outside without much delay on a high table set up in communal fashion.  They was plenty of room and were shortly joined by three girls who sounded like the Chipettes. I even named them Brittany, Jeanette and and Elenor while I was waiting for my food and moved over a little in case Alvin, Simon and Theodore dropped by too.

The waiter came quickly and was happy to boast the fact the focus on the menu was Mediterranean food.  He spouted off the predictable verbatim used at almost every tapas or small plate restaurant in North America in a manner synonymous with a stewardess’ safety banter on an outgoing flight….

“Let me take a minute to explain the menu. This is a small plate restaurant meant for sharing so we don’t recommend you order individual dishes but instead order dishes to share as a table.   The menu is constructed from light to heavy.  We recommend 2-3 dishes per person.  Personally, I like the asparagus as a starter and the pork belly for something a little richer, but be sure to save room for our award winning house made dessert..haha!”

Another great thing is pointing out an intolerance or allergy after the recital is over. For example, asking  “Does the pork shank have any garlic or onions, leads to  a perplexed and slightly pained face and  the standard line “I don’t believe so but I’ll check with the chef”.

After the speech, he asked if we wanted a drink.  Our group are beer drinkers, so I politely asked if they had any local beer.  He looked astonished.  Instead of the simple answer of “No”, I got the “this is a Mediterranean restaurant so we only serve beer from that region” in the same tone and manner one would proclaim that San Marzano tomatoes are the only tomatoes  you can use in Italian cooking . Fair enough, but heaven forbid I ask if they have a beer or two from one of the most vibrant microbrew regions in North America. Better yet, the menu features such favorites as Brasserie Dupont “Saison Dupont” from BELGIUM and Belhaven “Scottish Stout” from SCOTLAND.  I’m not a geography expert, but I don’t think ships cruising the Mediterranean make port stops in Brussels or Glasgow.

One of the appeals of the purple pig is the huge menu, although it can be a bit burdensome when trying to decide amongst 4 people an appropriate “course” of action.  After a lengthy discussion, they all  looked at me and said “Well, you just order!”. So I did…

Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg- Not the best I’ve had but the egg was cooked perfectly. The pig’s ear lacked a little integrity.

Pig Ear Salad
Pig Ear Salad $9

House Cured Lardo Iberico- Don’t mistake it for cheese! This salume was very pleasant with a subtle saltiness and silky texture.

Lardo Iberico
Lardo Iberico $8

Greek Yogurt with Mango Chutney- Arguably one of the best dishes I had on this day.  The yogurt was thick and rich and seasoned wonderfully, The chutney had enough acid to cut through the intense creaminess of this oil laden spreadable delight.

Greek Yogurt with Rhubarb Chutney
Greek Yogurt with Rhubarb Chutney $11

Octopus with Green Beans, Fingerling Potatoes & Salsa Verde- Octopus was cooked well and worked with the beans.  A little oily however.

Octopus
Octopus $16

Wagyu Sirloin Tip with Fingerling Potatoes, Cippolini Onions, Olives & Bone Marrow Vinaigrette- Cooked just to medium rare, the meat was tender and the potatoes were crisp and delicious. A safe dish for those not invested in snouts, jowls or tails although they do manage to sneak in a bit of bone marrow.

Waygu Steak Tips
Waygu Steak Tips $19

Mussels with Pancetta, Crème Fraîche & Marjoram- Decent but by no means the best mussels I’ve ever had.

Mussels
Mussels $12

Meatball Slider with Parmesan & Arugula- Moist, tangy and salty, it was a blissful few bites.  Really messy to eat given the meat to bun ratio!

Meatball Slider
Meatball Slider $6

Pork Secreto with Roasted Red Pepper, Leeks & Pickled Watermelon Rind- This was another divine dish.  This amazing cut of  pork had an incredible sear and maintained it’s moistness.

Pork Secreto
Pork Secreto $14

There was too much food so dessert was not an option.

My Take

The purple pig is a Chicago icon, a magical creation of a handful of some of Chicago’s most prominent chefs.  It’s a true nose to tail, small plate menu.  The outdoor seating area is nice but be prepared to seat communally with all sorts of folks (maybe you’ll get lucky and have Fred and Daphne from Mystery Inc. show up). Inside, it’s loud and crowded and getting into the small washroom can be as difficult as getting into the restaurant itself. The menu is large and diverse but don’t go with indecisive people because it might be as painful as watching my dad try to pick out a birthday card.  My choice of the various fare had some good and some not so good but the highlights were definitely the pork secreto and the Greek yogurt with rhubarb chutney although the lardo and steak tips also get honorable mention. That said, there’s at least another 20 things on the menu (including dessert) I’d want to try.

The only question that remains is “Can one have a medieval feast at a Mediterranean restaurant?” Based on the waiter’s logic, the answer is a resounding yes! After all, I can order a Scottish stout or a Belgian beer.  Hell, maybe Game of Throne’s Winterfell may have been saved and the Red Wedding massacre may have been prevented if they knew an attack through the Mediterranean was a possibility. Damn beer drinkers.

The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon