Review:Montreal:Beauty’s

With limited time and a hectic schedule in an unknown city, I often rely on the experts (including urbanspoon and yelp writers) to tell me where to go.  In the case of Beauty’s, I relied on Gail Simmons’ recent article in Food and Wine magazine for an over-the-top breakfast. In particular, she recommended the Mish-mash omelette and the banana bread.

I hopped in a cab with a colleague and headed out of the downtown core and into the Mont-Royal area.  Nestled on a corner, Beauty’s sports all the hallmarks of a classic diner including vinyl benches, signed pictures of famous people pledging their love and support and a table of old people sitting near the door engaging in some kind of social event.

The menu is a straight forward mix of diner classics such as burgers, salads, sandwiches and melts.  I stared blankly at the menu pretending like I might order something other than Gail’s suggestion.  So when the waitress arrived with diner coffee in a diner cup I ordered the famous Mish-Mash omelette which is stuffed with hot dog, salami, green peppers and fried onions and a side of home fries for $12. It was served like something called a mish-mash should; with large chunks of each ingredient busting out of the rather crispy egg. An added touch was a messy mound of home fries all over the plate.  It was good and was somewhat enhanced by those secret ingredients called nostalgia and celebrity endorsement although I’m not sure it would win you Top Chef Canada anytime soon.

Mish-Mash Omelette $12
Mish-Mash Omelette $12

I know Gail is a sucker for a good dessert so I purchased a loaf of banana bread for $10. The minute I inquired one of the older gentleman got up from the table by the door and pitched it like he was selling me a car.  It weighed a stone or two but was moist and not greasy.  I brought some back to Ontario and dressed it up with homemade caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream which was ironically the dish which allowed me to meet Chuck Hughes the week after.  I’m surprised Gail forgot to mention the rice pudding which was spectacular. I’m a huge fan of this diner (and hospital) classic and this was one of the better ones I’ve had.  I brought it back to the hotel and when I realized I was spoonless, I resorted to gluttony and consumed half the container using my first two fingers and my thumb with no remorse.

My Take

I get the nostalgia of the place. In addition to being hustled into large dessert purchases by the senior’s table, it has all the components of a classic diner and has been a part of the community since 1942. There’s a relatively inexpensive and diverse menu highlighted by signature dishes which have caught the attention of food gurus like Gail Simmons.  It’s a fun stop and allows you to explore another area of this great city outside of Old Montreal and the downtown core.  That said, if you’re not up for a $15 cab ride for a hot dog omelette,  this may not be your place.  Maybe the beauty of Beauty’s is not in the decor or presentation of the food  but in the fact that places like this, which set the foundation for the future of restaurants from fast food to fine dining, continue to thrive in 2013.

Beauty's on Urbanspoon

Review:Montreal:Garde Manger

There’s one place a food network fan has to go when visiting Montreal; Garde Manger. The charismatic Chuck Hughes heads up this trendy yet rustic eatery in Old Montreal.  Sampling the Iron Chef winning lobster poutine would be on the bucket list of any food porn junkie.

We had dinner reservations elsewhere but decided to hit it up early for an appetizer or two including, of course, the aforementioned iconic dish. Somewhat hesitant to drop in on a Friday with 4 people, I prayed to Julia Child (who in my opinion should be on the list for sainthood) and walked in.  In a squeaky yet deflated voice I explored the possibility of a table.  Without hesitation, the waitress (who in the food porn world would be a dominatrix) pointed to four seats at the bar right by the front door and kindly but firmly said “Sit here but you have to be out by 7”.

One of my first observations was the limited booze list.  Sure, there is no shortage of wine, but the beer and cocktail list is minimal.  One of the signatures was the giant caesar ($15) garnished with clams, steak spice and celery. The caesar itself was good, but just good.  It was easy drinking but didn’t knock me off the stool.

Giant Caesar
Giant Caesar $15

I’m a big fan of the craft beer movement (which is once again in style).  I asked the bartender about local brews and she suggested the bierbrier ale from Montreal.  I thoroughly enjoyed this beer.  It had a traditional ale flavour and was neither too intense nor too weak.

Bierbrier- Craft Beer from Montreal
Bierbrier- Craft Beer from Montreal

Given the time constraints, the menu choices were a bit limited.  Anything we suggested that fell outside our allotted time was politely shot down by Madame Caesarmaker at the bar. As mentioned, the lobster poutine was a must and available within our time limit.   Interestingly enough, it was the only menu available in three sizes and the only item without a price listed. We took the “go big or go home” mentality and ordered the large and hoped that the credit card wouldn’t get declined when we left (it was a close call at $45).  Was it worth $45?  No.  Was it worth $45 to tell random food geeks and friends and family that you tried the dish that brought down Bobby Flay? Absolutely.  The fries swam with abundant lobster and cheese curds in a gravy  with a good balanced flavour.

Large Lobster Poutine $45
Large Lobster Poutine $45

Don’t ask me why, but I love creamed corn.  It’s one of those comfort foods I crave regularly so I was pleased to see it as part of a clam, speck and jalapeno dish (I think it was $12).  This one was magic, a symphony of land and sea and sweet and spice. The speck added just enough salt and texture to round out the starter.

Clam with Creamed Corn, Jalapeno and Speck $15
Clam with Creamed Corn, Jalapeno and Speck -$12 (I think)

My buddy ordered the lentil and goat cheese bruschetta with sausage ($16).  I only had a few bites due to my dislike for goat cheese.  The lentils were done well and the sausage had a pleasant taste.  All in all, it was a complex blend of flavours that could have as easily been thrown in a bowl with a spoon and called a good soup or stew.

Lentil and Sausage Bruschetta with Goat Cheese $16
Lentil and Sausage Bruschetta with Goat Cheese $16

My Take

Eating Chuck Hughes’ lobster poutine was on my bucket list.  So was meeting him.  I’m not sure how often he actually cooks at his own restaurant (unless it’s his day off of course) so I wasn’t surprised he wasn’t there.  Then a funny thing happened.  Less than a week later I got an email from the gastropost people (it’s a feature in the national post showcasing home cooks by issuing challenges and published results) inviting me to meet Chuck Hughes  in Toronto if was one of the first 20 people to respond.  I quickly hit reply and made the cut.  He was in Toronto to promote the culinary showdown to raise money for Breast Cancer research. It was a catered event at a swanky house in north Toronto. I showed up, mingled with fellow gastroposters, got in line and met Chuck in person.  Yes, I’m a dork.

Chuck and I
Chuck and I

As for Garde Manger, it is an experience. I’m not surprised that reviews are often so polar.  It all hinges on when you go, where you are seated, who serves you and how high your expectations are going in.  The fact that I went before the dinner rush, was seated at a cool spot along the bar, was served by Lady Bierbrier and was intent on stroking “Ate Chuck Hughes’ lobster poutine” off my bucket list, I can’t complain. That and it likely beats a visit to New Jersey to dine at Bobby’s Burger Palace.

Garde Manger on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Downtown:Reds Midtown Tavern

Another addition to the Yonge and Gerrard hotspot is Reds Midtown Tavern; the younger sister of Reds Wine Tavern in the financial district. The decor and set-up is similar.  It has a classy interior, boasting a fresh decor and a large bar as the centrepiece.  There is less emphasis on wine and more on cocktails and craft beer.  The first time I went to Red’s other location, it was shortly after the re-opening when Ryan Gallagher was still at the helm. The menu was heavy on fresh fish and seafood but this concept seems to be on the backburner now in favour of more traditional fare. You can still get a pan-roasted salmon and a cioppino, but the focus now seems to be on a generic mix of favourites such as pan-roasted salmon, steak frites and lamb shank as well as a daily curry hand-crafted by the chef.

For the first little while I felt like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day”.  There was a  repetitive nature of the evening as per the Bill Murray classic.  There was a bit of confusion around the service strategy.  As soon as I was seated some crispy potato flatbread arrived.  Wrong table.  Then a couple of beer came by.  Wrong table.  Finally, a runner carrying a vat of mussels walked toward me.  I just pointed to the adjacent table and said “It’s for them”. In fact, I thought I felt Punxsutawney Phil rub up against my leg once or twice.  There has been a surge of bubbly waitresses in Toronto as of late and this was no exception.  She arrived happy and informed me without breaking a smile that  they were out of the double dip and that “Sri Lankan beef” was the curry of the night. Come to think of it, she did remind me a bit of Andie MacDowell. I put in a drink order and she skipped away.  Sure enough, not two minutes later, I think I felt Phil again as another waiter arrived and told me they were out of double dip and the curry was Sri Lankan beef.

The cocktail list leans toward traditional with many priced at $10 or less. I asked for a highland old fashioned which came with scotch instead of one of the other traditional whiskies.  An orange slice lined the bottom of the glass, held down by a large ice cube.  It was well balanced, tasty and wouldn’t have been disappointed if I had to drink one over and over again.

Highland Old-Fashioned $10
Highland Old-Fashioned $10

The second cocktail I tried was another classic; the Negroni.  To me, a good Negroni should taste like cough medicine…and not the crappy generic stuff either. I mean extra-strength, cherry flavoured Benylin DM.  Red’s hit the mark with a decent $9 offering, made with gin and enough Campari to give it the taste and colour of a real good expectorant.

Negroni $9
Negroni $9

I’m a sucker for a good New England clam chowder, so I started with a cup of their North Atlantic Seafood  for $6.  There are a thousand interpretations on this classic dish. I quite enjoyed the flavour although it was thin for a chowder, there was more fish than clams and it was a bit on the sweet side.

North Atlantic Seafood Chowder $6
North Atlantic Seafood Chowder $6

Intrigued by the earlier attempt to give me some crispy flatbread, I decided to give it a try.  It was an interesting spin on a traditional flatbread, topped with an array of popular flavours like argula, balsamic and whole cloves of roasted garlic. I loved the crunchiness of the “bread”.  It was like a huge crouton underneath a standard Mediterranean salad. I was more than content with one or two small pieces and definitely would recommend as something you share.

Crispy Potato Flatbread $10.75
Crispy Potato Flatbread $10.75

I decided to venture into Asia and ordered the Thai slaw and the Sri Lankan beef curry, going against my cardinal rule of eating out…”if you’re not in a Thai restuarant don’t order Thai”.  Now I can add “if you’re not in a Sri Lankan restaurant, don’t order Sri Lankan”.  Neither dish was bad but just lacked that punch of  intense South Asian flavours, especially the slaw which was rather boring.  At $18.95, I’m convinced I could get a better curry somewhere else for half the price.

Thai Slaw $5.95
Thai Slaw $5.95
Sri Lankan Beef Curry $18.95
Sri Lankan Beef Curry $18.95

The roast chicken was a safer choice. It had all the fundamentals of a good roast chicken..crispy skin, moist meat and a flavourful au jus.  What lacked were the sides.  There was literally one fingerling potato (cut in half), a few pieces of asparagus and a few mushrooms.  For $18.70, I’ll let you decide.

Crispy Roasted Chicken $18.70
Crispy Roasted Chicken $18.70

My Take

Red’s midtown is a great place to grab a drink after work or meet a buddy for a few apps. It’s fun but also loud and chaotic. They have decent shareables, trendy yet traditional cocktails and a good beer list. I have to say it’s less appealing as a dinner destination given the generic nature of the main courses I sampled. In other words, it’s like a Moxie’s or an Earl’s or a Joey’s. Good atmosphere with average, overpriced food.

I’m reminded of a famous line from groundhog day in a conversation between Bill Murray’s character Phil and MacDowell’s Rita:

Phil: Something is… different.

Rita: Good or bad?

Phil: Anything different is good.

It’s not about whether Red’s is good or bad….it’s just not different.
Reds Midtown Tavern on Urbanspoon

John Nist, James Brown and the Bastardization of Humanity’s Most Beloved Staple.

Bread is one of the most powerful foods on the planet.    Each region of the world has taken this simple staple and has adapted it to reflect local taste, ingredients and artisan influence. There is spiritual meaning in this staple.  Roman Catholics equate bread to the body of Jesus Christ.  In the old testament, manna rained from the heavens during times of desert travel. Bread is the focal point of famous works of art throughout many centuries.  In 1498, Leonardo Di Vinci finished the last supper which depicted the sharing of bread among Jesus and his apostles.  Picasso’s “The Blind Man’s Meal” was a haunting painting featuring a small loaf of bread is characteristic of his blue period. One of the most famous pictures of the 20th century was “Grace” by American Eric Enstrom which simply shows a man saying grace in front of a loaf of bread.

The Blind Man's Meal by Pablo Picasso-1903
The Blind Man’s Meal by Pablo Picasso-1903
Grace by Eric Enstrom 1918
“Grace” by Eric Enstrom 1918

I think bread is the fashion of the food world. I grew up in a post-hippy financially constrained family. My clothes were like my bread….most times I ate Cecutti’s white bread while wearing leisure pants.  I was content.  It was a simple time. Grocery aisles weren’t lined with designer bread..choices were limited primarily to brown or white.Weekends were more exciting, which included a ride to Golden Grain bakery in Sudbury after church followed by a rush home so butter could be slathered on the loaf of Dark Rye while it was still warm.

One of my most vivid memories of high school was when my grade 13 teacher recited a poem called  Revolution: The Vicious Circle by John Nist. He quietly sat and started muttering the word bread, repeating it over an over, raising his voice each time.  By the fifth bread he was screaming like a lunatic and suddenly recited the word dead with the speed of a machine gun. After a brief pause he repeated the bread mantra again with the same deliberate crescendo, ending with a BREAD! that even woke up the dude in the back who slept through 80% of every class he ever sat in.

                                    bread!

                                 b r e a d !

                              B  r  e  a  d  !

                            B   r   e   a   d   !

                         B     R    E    A     D   !

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

        dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.

                                   bread!

                                 b r e a d !

                              B  r  e  a  d  !

                            B   r   e   a   d   !

                         B     R    E    A     D   !

I can’t deny that bread, like anything else, is based on  a supply and demand model. In our current age of entitlement and need for individualization, it’s not surprising that such a wide variety exists.  Choices now range in the dozens but the irony is the vast majority of these are controlled by two companies; George Weston Limited Weston and Canada Bread (who is utlimately owned by Maple Leaf foods). Otherwise, the smaller bakeries are being swallowed up by others.  Take for example, Guenther and Son, a Texas company  who has recently acquired three Canadian bakeries including one which supplies baked goods to McDonald’s in Eastern Canada and the US Midwest.

Canada’s flawed food guide preaches that we as consumers should eat an abundant amount of baked goods but recommends whole grains to provide the necessary fibre and nutrients necessary for optimal health.  Dempster’s for example (yep…owned by Canada Bread) among others have pounced on this by producing the Healthy Way line which includes the  Double My Fibre!, Say No To Fat and Sugar! and Boost my Protein! (just a note..exclamation marks must mean it’s good).  This whole line is nothing but a feel good means of fooling people into believing that they can rely on a quick and packaged means of providing the necessary nutrients necessary for optimal health.  Each designer bread promises exactly what you need.  They are surprisingly similar however.  For example, Say no to Fat and Sugar! comes with the tagline “helps maintain a healthy body weight” although it has the same caloric content as Double my Fibre!.  Boost my Protein! offers the same amount of protein as Double my Fibre! It’s smoke and mirrors..nothing more than disguising a similar product with an ingenious marketing program. Take the following clip for example.

First of all, James Brown must be rolling in his grave. Clearly, the rock ‘n roll icon is being copied  as a second rate entertainer you would hire for a birthday party.  Second, it’s unclear as to what anything in this entire scene has to do with bread other than the one or two second break the guy takes to gnaw into a sandwich in between his slick dance moves. And who the hell is Jason?

Speaking of James Brown, perhaps his death may have been avoided if Dempster’s Healthy Way with ProCardio recipe bread was available.  Nothing speaks cardiovascular health like this ingredient list:

Water, whole grain whole wheat flour including the germ, oat bran, wheat gluten, sugar/glucose-fructose, inulin (chicory root), yeast*, oat fibre, sugar beet fibre, plums, vegetable oil (canola or soybean), vinegar, salt, acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono and diglycerides, calcium propionate, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, sorbic acid, trisodium citrate 2-hydrate, potassium chloride, magnesium carbonate, natural flavour. *order may change. May contain sesame seeds, soybean and sulphites. [L804].

Other than a slightly lower amount of  sodium (110 mg vs 150-200 per slice) and a good whack of fibre , I see little to justify the bold claim made on their website: “The only bread uniquely designed for those looking to maintain healthy cholesterol  and blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of heart disease”. I’m unaware of any data showing the positive effects of acetylated tartaric acid of mono and diglycerides on cardiovascular health. Some will attempt to link inulin to improvements in metabolic parameters but little data exists.  In fact, any benefit from inulin seems to come from ultra-high doses and usually comes at the expense of diarrhea, bloating and other GI upset.

You are What you Eat.

As mentioned, bread is a staple in the diets of many. It is rooted in symbolism and has meaning  beyond simple sustenance. Therefore, it makes sense to suggest that the type of bread one prefers says a lot about themselves as a person.  Take the following for example.

Home Baker

Owns at least one apron with something like “World’s Greatest Baker” or “Better than Eggspected” written on it. Announces days in advance that they will make bread with the eggspectation that everybody will be in a fasting state come the day. In turn, they consume half the homemade loaf and justifying it by citing the caloric expenditure needed to kneed bread for seven minutes. Prone to criticize any bread that isn’t theirs, especially their rival down the road who uses, gasp!, a bread maker instead of good old-fashioned elbow grease.

White Bread

Afraid to take chances and probably still lives at home.  Likely rejects health professionals and their misguided calls for healthier eating.  Extremely stubborn..showers with soap instead of body wash, drives with a stick shift and probably likes bologna.

Whole Wheat

Tend to think this is the only diet change necessary to sustain optimal help.  Enjoys one upping white bread eaters by ordering brown toast with their greasy breakfast followed by the comment “You eventually get used to it”. Parks as close to front door of restaurant as possible.

Ancient Grains

Always had a secret desire to live off the land but didn’t develop the skills to do so. Owns a Tilly hat. Also wanted to be on the archery team in high school.   Likely watches Survivor, Siberia and Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls. Secretly tapes shows on OLN and about Mayan history.

Naan

If Caucasian, attributes consuming naan bread to a spiritual awakening resulting in the opening of the third eye chakra which further demonstrates their spiritual superiority over their friends and family. Shakes head at those who block their chakras by eating the European stuff.

Roti

Just like the Naan eater but one ups them by claiming a yeast intolerance in addition to the need for chakra cleansing.

Injera

Actively seeks and embraces new food trends to justify donning plastic rimmed glasses and vats of hair gel. Biggest enemy is the naan eater who is outdated by following a food trend that is so 2011. Uses wikipedia frequently to remind themselves why they eat injera and to learn at least one other kind of Ethiopian food.  Opts for sandals over shoes.

Also appealing to running room enthusiasts who attribute their  improved endurance to the consumption of the same carbohydrate as Ethiopian marathon runners.  Specifically, they cite the super grain teff not realizing that ironically most injera in Canada is made with wheat, barley and rye, a stark contrast to their belief that wheat belly is the leading cause of sluggishness in North America (also see gluten free).

Bagels

Thinks that nutritional pundits who equate one bagel with four slices of bread are leaders of a government conspiracy.  Rolls eyes at those who fail to match flavoured bagels with the appropriate cream cheese. Swears the best bagels are either in Montreal or New York even though they’ve never been to either city.

Vegetable Bread

Subscribe to Today’s Parent magazine and pat themselves on the back for fooling their children and/or spouse into eating healthy.  May not eat this bread themselves since they like real vegetables but have empathy for those who don’t. Like crows, attracted to shiny things like orange bread and scantily clad yoga enthusiasts in television commercials.

Healthy Way- Double my Fibre!

Sees a good day as one that includes at least one bowel movement.  Have convinced themselves that  orange flavoured Metamucil tastes good.  Hobbies include watching the Price is Right, reading Prevention magazine and rushing to the grocery store when toilet paper goes on sale.

Healthy Way- Boost my Protein!

Believes that no amount of protein a day is enough and likely washes it down with a whey shake.  May lather with 2 tbsp of mayonnaise because they read somewhere that like protein, liberal consumption of fat at meals makes you feel full….and it’s healthy fat! Could possibly be seen wearing a bandana or a  muscle shirt depicting some animal dressed as a human pumping heavy amounts of iron.

Healthy Way with ProCardio Recipe

Reluctant to take medications since they think all health professionals (except Dr. Oz) are in the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies and swear they can reduce their risk of heart disease by eating bread, listening to Cat Stevens and walking their dog Muffy.  They smell like garlic, drink 14 cups of green tea a day and take melatonin so they can sleep at night.

Thin Slice

Also buy 100 calorie portion controlled chips, chocolate bars and soft drinks.  Reads the less than 600 calorie menu at restaurant but opts for the burger promising to return to lean cuisines tomorrow. Watches “The Biggest Loser” while eating frozen yogurt instead of ice cream and thinks Jillian Michaels is an inhabitant of the planet “Awesome”.

Thick Slice/Texas toast

Laughs at any joke or statement containing the words “it’s not the length, it’s the width that matters” or “Everything is bigger in Texas”.  Thinks breakfasts with two eggs and Hondas are for sissies. Likely has a tattoo paying homage to either  their country or mother.  Drives a domestic car or pickup with a bumper sticker which says “If you can’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them”, ” Still have a job? Keep buying Foreign” or “If you can read this, you’re too f@#*ing close”.  Either that or they really like french toast.

Stays Fresh Bread

Takes 3 weeks to eat a loaf of bread.  Otherwise, likely has built an underground shelter with the belief  that Armageddon is imminent and that the only survivors will be themselves, cockroaches and their loaf of Dempster’s Stay Fresh white bread. Not concerned with the fact this bread has less nutritional value than a bag of sugar.

Gluten Free

Insists that gluten free bread is delicious even though it isn’t. Uses lines like “Man, I think the sorghum to millet ratio in this bread is fabulous..well worth the $14.50” and then insist they don’t even miss the real thing.  Repeats the same behavior with brownies, cake, wraps, muffins, cupcakes, bagels, tarts, squares, pasta, cereal and pancake mix. Those around them smile and nod and binge on anything with gluten at their first opportunity, complete with some sort of lactose and/or caffeine containing beverage.

My Take

The once sacred art of making bread has been replaced with the mass production of designer brands with more substance on the package than in the loaf itself. Gone are the days where a table would share a loaf equally among all.  If Di Vinci painted the last supper today I wonder if there would be an array of bread to satisfy each palate.  Maybe before betraying Jesus, Judas Iscariot would prefer Texas toast while Bartholemew would opt for gluten free.  In the end, through devious marketing campaigns, celebrity endorsements and misleading product claims, consumers are left confused when they stroll down the bakery aisle at the local grocery store. This spiritual staple, like other foods, has been bastardized by corporate juggernauts who disguise the bottom line as a commitment to improving the health of consumers everywhere.

Review:Toronto:Entertainment District:JaBistro

Sushi is one of the more polar cuisines in Toronto.  One can opt for one of the hundreds of cheapish hole in the wall places which line the streets or Toronto or splurge on a handful of the more luxurious and expensive spots which are becoming more prevelant especially within the highly competitive downtown scene.

JaBistro has a mysterious store front highlighted by blackened windows and a picture of “An-Chan the footballfish” greeting you at the door. I wasn’t surprised to open it and find a pristine and well decorated sushi bar…brightly lit and accented with modern wooden panels. As expected, there is bar seating and a slew of tables lined up along the long but narrow confines.  A little less expected was the hostess, who was warm and friendly and had a strong resemblance to Gwen Stefani. We were seated along the wall and  quickly greeted by our waiter who startled me a bit as he appeared out of nowhere about an inch from my face.  He provided a very nice explanation of the types of sake available which ranged from junmai to junmai ginjo to junmai daijingo (which reflect the degree the rice is polished resulting in different flavors and cleanliness).  Since I was just finishing a conversation about scotch, the ryozeki yamahai ($36 for 10 oz), described as having a smoky flavour seemed the most appropriate.

I was told in advance to go for the tasting menu.  With 24 hrs notice, they will set you up with some of the best sashimi and sushi they have to offer and were more than happy to accomodate the garlic and onion restriction of my guest. Four courses are offered for $77 which left me thinking this better be hella good.

Course one was an array of sashimi.  Tuna cuts such as belly, roe,  Japanese octopus, sweet shrimp, urchin and sea bream graced the plate.  The sashimi was of excellent quality and variety and the presentation was extraordinary. Both a traditional and housemade soy sauce was offered, the latter a sweet escape from the traditional tang and saltiness of regular sauces.

First Course- Sashimi
First Course- Sashimi

Course one and a half was a lobster miso soup, complete with a large claw.  The addition of a hunk of lobster meat is never a bad thing so it was rather delicious.  The broth itself was delicate like spiderwebs, lacking the intense saltiness characteristic and fermented taste of the more generic soups served at other places.  That said, some might argue that underneath it all the broth lacked the expected intensity resulting in something more bland than complex.

Lobster Miso Soup
Lobster Miso Soup

Course two was a fried hamachi cheek coupled with strips of tender angus beef.  The cheek was an adventure, offering everything from crispy skin (although a bit crispier would have been better)  to tender meat nestled between the jawbone.   The beef was yummy, cooked to a perfect medium rare and seasoned nicely. The fact the two were served together was rather appealing as the contrasting tastes and textures made for an enjoyable course.

Course 2- Hamachi Cheek  and Angus Beef
Course 2- Hamachi Cheek and Angus Beef

My interm review was  “So far, so pleased”. The third course was a quintet of regular and blowtorched sushi  including the one of the signature JaBistrolls.   Personally, I would have enjoyed a few more rolls instead of the sushi but that said, like the sashimi, it was fresh and delicious.

Thrid Course- Sushi Platter
Third Course- Sushi Platter

The fourth course was dessert. .  My one criticism of Japanese cuisine is the lacklustre desserts, so  I was quite excited to experience the pastry chef’s daily choice, hoping for more than a couple of frozen grapes or an orange slice. A duo of vanilla ice cream (complete with corn flakes) and a panna cotta type dessert were offered, both odd choices for an early winter night. Sigh.  Neither was memorable.  In fact, my colleague did not even finish the panna cotta, citing an off taste she wasn’t fond of.

Course 4- Dessert
Course 4- Dessert

My Take

JaBistro entered the higher end sushi market a year ago to no doubt throw come competition at the likes of Blowfish and Ki.  It has had a chance to settle down and become competitive.  It offers a bright, clean and non-pretentious envioronment (although I had to chuckle when the guy beside me asked for soy sauce for one of the dishes and the waiter tried to politely tell him the dish was good the way it was).  The sashimi  and sushi was fresh and the variety was exciting.  The hamachi cheek/angus beef combination was ingenous.  Don’t speak of the dessert however. The service was prompt and courteous and the meal flowed well.  The biggest question is whether the whole experience was worth the $77. When you add the 10 oz sake and a couple of $4 green teas, it’s a hefty bill.  For that price, I’m hope at least Gwen would at least show up with the Harajuku girls.

JaBistro on Urbanspoon

Review:Montreal:Old Montreal:Brit and Chips

I was in Montreal for a conference and had a bit of a lunch break.  I’m not much for the generic cafeteria food that fills the convention centre, so I decided to talk a stroll into old Montreal to see what kind of lunch options there were.  I had a few glasses of wine the night before, so some grease and a little hair of the dog was on the menu.

So I found it rather ironic when I stumbled across Brit and Chips. I mean, as an anglophone with a pedigree from the British Isles, I felt rather naughty seeking out such an ethnocentric joint in Old Montreal.  At the same time, I knew nothing would appease my needs better than a greasy piece of fish and some kind of ale to wash it down.

The place was  small and was extremely crowded although it was at the tail end of lunch hour (part of me highly suspects that lunch is rarely limited to only an hour in Quebec) but luckily there was a table available in the make shift patio which was set up outside the front door. I was quickly greeted by a server  was quick to take my beer order.  I opted for a Fuller’s London Pride ($7.50) to further flex my anglo chest muscles amongst those who may otherwise opt for a Kronenbourg or something like that.

The menu is simple.  You choose a fish and whether you want fries or not (all the choices are $10 and $12 respectively).  What’s interesting is that each fish is matched with a particular batter so it’s the first time I had to weigh the type of fish against the batter and decide which I wanted more.  I’m not sure to this day if you can mix and match, so maybe my dilemma was a moot point. I was torn between the cod and the maple syrup batter on the haddock.  In the end, I chose the latter and went with the batter.  For a downtown Montreal restaurant, it was pretty good…at least enough to forgive the fake newspaper which lined the serving vessel.  The batter was crisp enough  and was well proportioned to the moist fish within. I thought the tartar sauce, which is often overlooked, was a solid companion to the main.

Haddock and chips in maple syrup batter $12
Haddock and chips in maple syrup batter $12

Going along with the theme of the the British pub, there are also pasties, pies, sausage rolls and even some Indian influenced tandoori popcorn shrimp and curry fish cakes. I couldn’t help but order up a sausage roll and pork pie as my colleague shook his head at the amount of grease that was put in front of me.  Both the roll and pie were authentic, even down to the nasty (in a good way) mustard. I could only “mustard” up the courage to eat about a quarter each as my colleague watched in utter horror.

Sausage Roll $4
Sausage Roll $4
Pork Pie $6
Pork Pie $6

When I went inside to pay, I noticed a soft serve ice cream machine promising an authentic chunk of a Cadbury Flake if you ordered one.  I couldn’t resist and found it a nice end to a decent meal.

Ice Cream with Cadbury Flake $2.49
Ice Cream with Cadbury Flake $2.49

My Take 

If I ever chose to film “An Anglophone in Montreal”, I would definitely film a scene here.  The fish and chips and even the environment rival any chipper in English Canada. From the fish to the mustard to the greasy yet flaky crust of the pork pie, the place screams authentic even when they infuse a little maple syrup into the mix.  There is no shortage of chic cafes, adorable bistros and fine dining in this fantastic city but if you want to be a limey for an hour, this is the place to go. Not only is the food good, there is little risk of getting a sabot in the back of the head for ordering fish instead of poisson.

Brit & Chips on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Downtown:Ramen Raijin

I was at a conference at a nearby hospital and decided to sneak out in order to avoid the generic wraps which graced the lunch table.  It was a frigid day, so a bowl of ramen sounded divine.  I trekked to the Corner of Yonge and Gerrard, hoping I could get a prime time seat at Ramen Raijin.  It was about 80% to capacity so I didn’t have to wait in line.

The first thing I noticed was the set-up.  I found it a lot roomier than some of the other ramen houses nearby.  I was seated along a counter facing away from the kitchen with a side view of a large and attractive sculpture of what I perceived to be some sort of mythical Japanese idol. On the counter sat a menu held together by a clipboard.  One part of the menu was a lunch combo flyer which presented like a grade 8 art project, complete with pictures of a disproportionate chicken and a pig that kind of looked like a cat.  Of greater interest was the offering a small bowl of one of 5 types of ramen and 4 types of rice with a salad for $11.95.  I tend to gravitate toward Shio Ramen and an order of Gyoza and today was no different.  I chose the Soboro Don as the rice dish as part of the combo.

Menu which got an A in art class
Menu which got an A in art class

The starter salad was fresh and well dressed.

Starter Salad
Starter Salad

The gyoza was terrific.  The dough was tender and fried to perfection and the filling with robust with flavour. The dipping sauce was pleasant. They lacked both the greasy or watery nature that I’ve experienced with these dumplings elsewhere.  They were also priced well at less than $3 for 5 dumplings.

Gyoza (less than $3)
Gyoza (less than $3)

I kind of expected a very small bowl of ramen as part of the special but both the soup and rice were quite a reasonable size.  Raijin’s interpretation of the shio included pork shoulder, green onion, Kikurage mushroom, cabbage, egg and black garlic oil.   The shoulder was tender, the egg cooked to a perfect soft boil, the broth was rich and tasty and the noodles were firm and delicious.  This is likely one of the more polar bowls of ramen I’ve tasted mainly because of the distinct flavour of black garlic oil. It has a strong and distinct flavour which could easily take over some of the delicate flavours of the soup itself.  If you love it..great.  If not, you may be a bit disappointed.

As for the rice dish,  The nori was a nice touch but for some reason the bowl was missing the green onions advertised on the lunch combo flyer. As a result,  it was a safe dish with no contrasting taste or contrast.  It was missing any soft and sweet, missing  the crunch and bites the onions would have provided.

Shio Ramen and Soboro Don (part of $11.95 lunch special)
Shio Ramen and Soboro Don (part of $11.95 lunch special)

My Take

Ramen Raijin offers a roomy and comfortable environment with good service and good food. It has a simple yet attractive decor (I like the sculpture) and lots of room to think or eat or people watch…whatever your fancy.  The lunch special is a good value and allows somebody to try an array of flavours whether a fan of pork or chicken. The gyoza are among the best I’ve had at a ramen house. As mentioned, all the components of the ramen were well executed but the liberal use of the Mayu black garlic oil may not appeal to the masses. I wouldn’t hesitate to return on a cold winter day, but I may bring a bunch of green onions just in case.

Ramen Raijin on Urbanspoon