Getting Fired at the Farmer’s Apprentice.

The Farmer’s apprentice has burst on the seen in Vancouver with the same intensity that Donald Trump’s apprentice hit the airwaves years ago . Trump’s show tested young and aspiring entrepreneurs on a variety of tasks and had sent their asses out the door if they didn’t make the cut.  I can make the same parallels with this restaurant…let me explain.

The first task is getting a reservation. The small venue’s popularity makes it difficult to get into. I placed a call between their designated hours of 2 pm to 5pm only to get a voice mail asking me to leave my name, party size along with date and time and somebody would get back to me IF a reservation was available. Knowing my time in Vancouver was short, I let them know I would be free anytime Thursday night. I received a call shortly after confirming an 830 reservation.

The second task was finding the place. Perhaps it’s a bit easier on a night that didn’t include a confused cab driver and a heavy rainstorm in the dark, but I imagine it’s still a difficult task on a good night. It’s small and subtle exterior along West 6th street doesn’t stand out.

Task three was getting a seat. The host had the typical “please tell me you don’t have a reservation so I can laugh at you” look. He looked a bit disappointed when I announced my 830 slot but still seemed a bit pleased when he told me I would have to wait a few minutes. Looking around, the place is small and looked like a farmhouse an ambitious hipster got his or her hands all over. There were tiny tables, rural country window panes and a washroom separated by barn doors. The set-up was messy, especially at the door. It was quite crowded, especially with the need for waitstaff to run out to the porch on occasion to serve the tables out there. A large bar/communal table takes up a good part of the middle of the restaurant. As I waited, I always felt like I was in the way. Eventually, we were seated at table in the front corner which was rather quaint.

The fourth task was ordering. This feat was hampered by the fact that the online menu is updated periodically and may not be reflective of the evening’s fare. For example, I had my heart set on the leeks, cat tails, caramelized buttermilk, ramps, watercress (I have childhood memories of eating boiled cat tails which may have triggered my desire for things that grow in a swamp). The menu changed, however, so I was out of luck unless I wanted my cat tail served beside roasted chicken. For about 5 seconds I pondered asking if I could just have a side order but visions of the soup nazi filled my head and figured there was a slight chance I might be asked to leave.

I started with a drink. Since having my first one in Toronto a couple of months ago,  I have developed an affinity for the classic boulevadier. This one was decent for $10 but I still crave the one from east thrity-six in Toronto on a regular basis.

Boulevadier $10
Boulevadier $10

 

Foodwise, I settled for poached egg, first season asparagus, rye bread, mimolette, pea shoots for $11. The egg seemed almost sous vide and had a vibrant orange yolk and with the asparagus was hidden beneath a foam and topped with the grated salty cheese and rye bread crumbs.The taste hit the mark although some some slides of ry would have been nice to mop of the aftermath of my yolk piercing destruction.

Asparagus with poached egg $11
Asparagus with poached egg $11

Next was mackerel, lovage, sea asparagus, celery and ikura. The presentation was beautiful. The mackerel skin was charred and the remaining ingredients were served salsa style on top of the filet which cut through the fatty fish with easy. The marriage of crunchy vegetables and silky fish made for great mouth feel and pings of salt from the ikura bounced around my palate to consummate  the seasoning.

Mackerel $12
Mackerel $12

Finally, I had the 3 weeks dry aged quail, honey roasted carrot, orange, pistachio and cabarnet sauvignon vinegar($18). One again, it was a pretty dish; presented with different colours and textures. The hay-stuffed quail was nicely roasted with the breasts served medium-rare. I was encouraged by the waitstaff to rummage  through the hay in hopes of finding an “oyster”. I don’t think I discovered a gem but part of it had to do with the fact I got little enjoyment from digging through mushy, cooked hay. The carrots served two ways (roasted and pureed) were delicious. The vinegar was deep and rich in colour and added some needed acid. The oranges were irrelevant from both a taste and presentation perspective.

Quail $18
Quail $18

 

For dessert, I opted for sesame ice cream.  The ice cream was overpowered by odd taste of the sesame wafer.  Perhaps I was spoiled by the artistry of the previous dishes because I was a little let down by the bland presentation of the dessert.  Hell, a ground cherry/gooseberry  (although not the season) would have been a colourful and tasty addition to the otherwise boring plate.

 

Sesame Ice Cream $7
Sesame Ice Cream $7

My Take

The Farmer’s apprentice has blasted up the charts and is cited as one of the best new restaurants in the country for it’s veggiephilic menu which focuses on fresh, local flavours.  The food is creative, intelligent and unpredictable. The dessert wasn’t.   Many other reviews state that the food makes up for any issues around service, the cryptic reservation policy or sitting within the cramped quarters of  a rundown rural oasis within a bustling west coast urban centre. I disagree.

Much like the show with the same name, you enter the unknown and get  exposed to trials and tribulations of trying  to guess the way the ingredients will co-exist based on the loose description or the kinder egg philosophy of searching through soggy hay for a chance at an “oyster”.  Like the apprentice, the fun and funky gamesmanship  is overshadowed by the feeling of being judged. After all, you should feel privileged to be drinking from a enamel cup and opening a barn door to go to the washroom  within one of Canada’s most touted restaurants.  I couldn’t help but feel that with one wrong move or failed mission and the waitstaff would point in my direction and say “you’re fired” before sending me home in a waiting, yellow taxi.

 

Farmer's Apprentice on Urbanspoon

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Winning the Triple Crown at Green Dot Stables

I owed my daughter a trip to Detroit to search for her grade 8 graduation dress.   In order to maintain my sanity, I insisted on lunch at Green Dot Stables.  Green Dots Stables is a well known destination in Detroit famous  for it’s $2 and $3 menu items consisting mainly of sliders with a few soups, salads and sides as well.  In addition, there are a slew of beer and cocktails for under $3, including a few local drafts from Bell’s and other local breweries. Plus,  I found it a bit nostalgic that California Chrome  had just won the second leg of the triple crown, so lunch in a converted stable with jockey-sized burgers and a horse racing theme seemed fitting.

The monotony of a horse owner’s life of sipping mint julips and wearing ridiculous hats or other accessories while watching workers tend to the rolling green hills of their ranches is thrown into chaos for a month during the spring when the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes put their prized equines at the forefront. The four legged athletes with names like Dutch Delicacy or Hoof Him to the Curb are centre stage along with their 5-ft sidekicks who can “stand tall” and not worry about getting beat up despite the fact they are dressed up like pastel leprechauns.

I started with the $3 Chicken Tortilla soup.  It was thick, spicy and hearty and was nicely garnished with slivers of tortillas and sliced hot  peppers. The kale salad with quinoa, lemon and shallot was simple and delicious.  I only had one bite before my daughter laid claim to the rest.

Chicken Tortilla Soup $3 and Kale Salad $3
Chicken Tortilla Soup $3 and Kale Salad $3

With the triple crown on my mind, I ordered a trio of slides which included the mystery meat (wild boar au poivre), fried chicken (with panko sage maple syrup)  and a hot brown (Chicken, monray and bacon) for $3 a piece. Each of them were race winners.   The liberal use of pepper, the sweetness of the fried chicken and the perfectly cooked bacon on the hot brown demonstrated the attention to detail put into the simple slider.

Trio of sliders $3 (Mystery Meat, Fried Chicken and Hot Brown)
Trio of sliders $3 (Mystery Meat, Fried Chicken and Hot Brown)

My daughter ordered le poutine which was quite true to form. Gravy and cheese curds modestly topped the skinny crisp fries to create a tasty $3 snack worthy of partnership with the sliders.

Le Poutine $3
Le Poutine $3

For the home stretch, my daughter went with the corktown smore (with cinnamon, nutella and fluff) while I went with one of my favorite comfort desserts, the ice cream sandwich ($3 each). The warm smore together with the cold sandwich was a blissful end to the meal.

Corktown Smore and Ice Cream Sandwich $3
Corktown Smore and Ice Cream Sandwich $3

My Take

Green Dot Stables is a Detroit icon and rightfully so.  Cheap but delicious food and drink  mixed with a trendy atmosphere and funky staff make for a great experience.  Every slider, although simple, is carefully thought out and the product is a mix of  sweet and savory smarts.  Even the desserts are brilliant, especially the ice cream sandwich which screams local pride with the use of Blue Moon ice cream from the local Guernsey dairy farm stuffed between a Mexican tea biscuit.   As I anxiously await the outcome of the Belmont Stakes, especially among  the controversy surrounding the use of nasal strips by California Chrome (nothing like a good rumpus over performance enhancement among equines), I can’t help but wonder if Blue Moon might edge out Mexican Tea Biscuit by a nose at next year’s Kentucky Derby.

 

Green Dot Stables on Urbanspoon

El Sol y La Luna sin el Paraguas: Taking a chance at La Loteria Tacqueria

One of my routines is to hit a food truck at the Sony centre on my way back to the train station.  This often means I forfeit the meal on the Via when heading back to London but one can only enjoy so much panko encrusted tilapia. There are different trucks on different days, some of which are difficult to consume, especially if I’m in a rush or don’t want the to burden myself (or the guy beside me) with  a pound of pulled pork poutine before a two hour train ride home. La Loteria is a newer food truck which promises real Mexican tacos, a bold statement in a city which had been so tacophilic for the last few years. The truck pays homage to he  Mexican game of chance  with the same name.  Like bingo, it used pictograms with clever riddles instead of numbers.  One wins when they have a combination of four pictures in a row, square or each corner.

The menu is simple.  You get three tacos for 10 bucks.  As for choices, on this day there was  no pig tail,cauliflower or beef cheek choices.  Instead, it was simply carnita, al pastor and chicken.  I ordered one of each.  They were  served on soft yellow corn tortillas and simply garnished  with cilantro and fresh onions.  Condiments include green and red salsas. The al pastor tacos were delicious, seasoned with fragrant spices and the right amount of heat.  The carnitas were  moist and meaty.  The chicken tacos were tasty as well but my least favorite of the three.  Personally, I like a stringy, dark meat chicken taco and find those made with cubed chicken breast a little bland. I loved the fresh onions and modest use of the cilantro. The limber yet crunchy shells were some of the best I’ve had in Toronto.

 

Tacos Three Ways $10
Tacos Three Ways $10

My Take

Tacos remain one of the staples on many menus and the preferred snack foods of across the GTA.  In many cases, they are filled with unorthadox ingredients, coated with cereal or given names like the Gobernador.  Most of the time these modifications come with an increase in pesos.  If you’re looking for a simple, cheap and delicious taco, this is your place.  The carnita and al pastor tacos are delicious.  Despite the fact that the rooster. heron, shrimp, deer and watermelon are all depicted  on loteria cards (let’s not get any weird menu ideas here), marking a pig card would make me wanna scream  “Loteria” everytime.

 

La Sandia Loteria Card
La Sandia Loteria Card

La Loteria Tacqueria on Urbanspoon

Snack Bar Crawl #1: Frolicking in the Fashion District

A group of friends and I had decided to embark on the first of many snack bar crawls around Toronto. The trend toward small plate menus and relatively geographical proximity allows for a well structured venture to experience a number of tastes and concepts on a given night. What makes this particular group interesting is the diversity of food preferences and aversions.  Instead of the Fantastic Five, we may be better referred to as the Finicky Five.  First of all, none of us are fond of bad food.  In addition, we have one celiac, one gluten intolerant, one fish aversion and a couple of gluttons (yours truly included). That said, I have my own dislikes and aversions, so it made for a bit of a long, tedious decision process at times.   The first target area was Fashion district/Trinity Bellwoods. Starting at 430 pm, we arrived at Bar Buca which made sense considering its day long menu and happy hour in which a few complimentary snacks are provided. The drink menu has an array of wine and a number of cocktails both tradtional and unique.  While my collegaues started with processo,  I opted for a Sicilian Old-fashioned which was true to form.  It was nicely balanced with an aggressive but appropriate amount of bitterness.

Sicilian Old-Fashioned
Sicilian Old-Fashioned

At the same time, we were treated to a nice array of snacks as we decided on the menu.  The small tower had olives, meat, squid, cheese and nodini (bread knots with rosemary and garlic).  It was a nice way to start, especially given the diversity of eaters at the table.

Snacks
Snacks

After careful consideration, we opted for the following four dishes: Ciccioli ($4)– Pork cheek with chili.  Delicious taste and texture with a nice bite from the chili. A steal at four bucks.

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Ciccioli $4

Vongole alla Carbonara.($9)- Little neck clams, guanciale,   egg yolk and amido.  These tasty morsels were packed with flavour and were prepared without the use of pasta water, making them gluten free.  Too bad..because  I could have had more than one.

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Vongole alla Carbonara $9

Polpette di Capra ($14)- Goat and Ricotta meatballs.  Fantastic texture and moisture.  Definitely tasted like goat.  The tomato sauce cut nicely through  the richness of the meatball.  A little pricey.

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Polpette di Capra $14

Arrosticini ($7)– Ewe’s meat, salmoriglio, aged ricotta and lemon.  The meat was not dry and the salty ricotta and acid of lemon created a nice harmony….despite the fact I’m not a fan of lamb.

Lamb
Arrosticini $7

 My Take This is my second visit to Bar Buca and my first for dinner.  Like breakfast, I remain impressed by the diversity of food and drink offered at reasonable price points.  The service is professional and knowledgeable. The complimentary snacks are a great touch and make you feel part of the family.  Despite the fact I don’t know a stitch of Italian, there is no pretension attached to the description of the menu items and they are very willing to accommodate diet restrictions.  A nice start to the snack crawl, even at 430 in the afternoon.  I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to try a few of the more adventurous choices such as immature smelts, offal sausage or  beef heart or even stick to one of the stuffed fococcia or cold plates.

Bar Buca on Urbanspoon

 

416 snack bar has been a thorn in my side for a while.  I have attempted to go a few times but the waiting crowds have kept me away.  Part of the reason is the small quarters and limited seating.  Having arrived around 6, we were able to secure 5 seats around the bar before the dinner crowd arrived. I grabbed a local pint as we once again huddled to decipher what we could eat as a collective whole. Moroccan Vegetable Skewers ($6)– The safest choice on the menu, they were also pretty boring.  Very modest seasoning atop cauliflower with a token olive here and there. Gluten-free and flavor-free.

Moroccan Vegetable Skewers
Moroccan Vegetable Skewers $6

Korean Fried Chicken ($5)– Tasty, crispy morsels topped with fresh green onions.  More batter than chicken but delicious flavour.

Korean Fried Chicken
Korean Fried Chicken $5

Steak Tartare ($7)-Ordered gluten free version atop lettuce instead of crostini.  Asked for crostini after.  Fresh and nicely seasoned, the bread worked a heck of a lot better than the lettuce.

Steak Tartare
Steak Tartare $7

Pork Steam Bun ($5)– Bread was soft and the pork was crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and nicely seasoned. However, they have been utensil free since 2011 which made for difficult sharing since I couldn;t get a knife. At the same time, the couple beside me was using a spoon to ladle sauce onto something.  Isn’t that a utensil?

Steamed Bum-Pork
Steamed Bum-Pork $5

The churrasco quail for 2 ($13) was by consensus the best thing we had on the menu (partially due to the fact is was something we could all eat).  The sauce was a great compliment to the nicely cooked bird.  In a world where a  2 pc KFC dinner in considered a snack, don’t be alarmed at the definition of a snack for two at 416.

Currasho Quail for 2
Churrasco Quail for 2 $13

My Take

I never know whether to respect or roll my eyes at gimmicks such as “no utensils since 2011”.  It’s cute but proves a bit cumbersome at times.  Perhaps I’m still annoyed by buddy beside me taunting me with a spoon while I tried to break a pork bun like the Eucharist. Maybe I’ll pull a John Catucci and pull a fork out of my shirt pocket and watch all hell break loose.  416 snack bar is loud and crowded but has a fun vibe and decent food. The price point is low but you really don’t get a lot of food.   Wait, am I allowed to put this on urbanSPOON?

416 Snack Bar on Urbanspoon

 

This was my second visit to Lisa Marie. Memories of my first visit included the pork belly cheese thang and the getaway car (a Ceasar with a beer chaser). Needless to say, I was a bit dismayed to see the former missing from the  menu.  So, I put in faith in some of the other dishes that were offered on the menu. Pad Thai Fries ($12)-  People rave about these fries.  I expected a gloppy mess that I could spill on my shirt as I ate them poutine style.  Instead, they were a dry,seasoned fry that resembled the coated fries from Cavendish.  I suppose a few sprigs of cilantro, a dozen bean sprouts and a lime wedge was supposed to increase the authenticity, but I didn’t get it.

Pad Thai Fries
Pad Thai Fries $12

Moroccan Beef Rib ($15)-  I had visions of he beginning of the Flintstones when this hunk of meat was delivered.  I thought the table was going to tip over like Fred’s car. It was huge.  The rib was fall apart tender but  its sheer size made the seasoning almost undetectable.  A crust would have been ideal to create some texture contrast to the hunk of beef.  We all agreed that some kind of sauce (tomato based?) to cut through the richness would have a nice addition.

Yabba Dabba Do Beef Rib
Yabba Dabba Do Beef Rib $15

We put our innovative minds together and ended up adding the beef to the pad thai fries which added some moisture to the fries and some flavour to cut the monotony of a whole lot of meat.  Bulgogi Ravioli ($11)–  This was a smart dish that was ok.  The beef was nicely marinaded and stuffed fusion style into pasta.  The presentation was kind of sad and underwhelming for the price.  Once again, a little sauce poured over or served on the side might had added a little punch despite the fact the filling was well seasoned.

Bulgogi Ravioli
Bulgogi Ravioli $11

Deep Fried Pizza ($9)- After getting the Flinstone rib, we weren’t sure what to expect with the pizza so we were a little surprised to get a tiny piece of pizza dough with a couple slices of duck and a bit of slaw.  The flavours were there but the portion size wasn’t.

Deep Fried Pizza
Deep Fried Pizza $9

My Take

After voting Lisa Marie one of my favorite restaurants in 2012, I was a little disappointed.  The crafty, brilliant snacks I had before have been replaced by inconsistent dishes from the perspective of size, value and flavour. The pad thai fries were generic and the rib was monotonously large.   The vibe was different too. I’m not sure if it was an off night, but it lacked the energy of the previous two venues.   The service was mediocre.  The getaway car was still delicious and they had a few bottles of wine under $25 on the menu.  I guess even Elvis had a bad album or two.

Lisa Marie on Urbanspoon

The final stop was Fonda Lola, the recently Queen St. stop promising fresh Mexican fare.  We arrived around 930 to find the place still full.  It’s a small venue which maybe seats around 30 or 35 including the bar. The decor had hints of Mexican influence but also had metal blinds covering the windows. The bar was a good size and had knives and forks fused into the covering.  After a short wait, we were seated together and it was margarita time. I was intrigued by the kombucha (a new and emerging food trend) margarita.  It was easy drinking although not what I would call traditional other than the 2 ounces of tequila. The menu, like the restaurant itself, was rather small, offering a dozen items including dessert. It offered a mix of traditional Mexican dishes combined with some dishes more indicative of the Queen Street dining scene.

Trout Aguachile ($8.5)- A nice example of the combination of a trendy fish prepared in the style of a traditional Mexican ceviche.

Trout
Trout Aguachile $8.5

Frijoles and Cinnamon Chile Rice ($8)- Disappointing dish.  The runny beans were confusing and the rice was unspectacular.  I was hoping for popping Mexican flavour that wasn’t there.

Rice and Beans
Frijoles and Cinnamon Chile Rice  $8

Panela Popper- ($7.5)- An attempt at a jalapeno popper, they were gluten free so there was some excitement at the table.  The jalapeno was almost undetectable and in the end they tasted like blandly battered cheese sticks. The sauce on the bottom created a bit of a punch but nothing really memorable.

Poppers
Panela Popper $7.5

Taco al Pastor-Pork ($11)- The pork was decent but there were no condiments other than the pineapple which seemed seperate from the meat as opposed to the  pator package.  For $11 you got 3 or 4  shells full of boring.

Tacos al Pastor
Tacos al Pastor $11

My Take

The concept of fresh is great, especially with Mexican cooking but it can’t come at the expense of flavour.  The margaritas were fun and delicious even if not traditional.  From a food perspective, the trout ceviche was smart..the rest wasn’t.  The tacos were substandard, especially when compared to others which have graced the palates of hipsters over the last couple of years.    The fried cheese was a poor attempt at healthy bar food and the rice and beans were a sad interpretation of the traditional Mexican dish.   I can’t say I was Fonda Fonda Lola.

Fonda Lola on Urbanspoon

In the end

The fashion frolic faded as the night went on.  Things went south as we headed west.  Bar Buca was the best of the night, offering good food and good service.  416 snack bar had a great vibe but no utensils.  Lisa Marie has become less fashionable since my first visit.  Fonda Lola was kinda mala…and that’s not the tequila talking.  I look forward to taking a summertime schlepp down Ossington.

A Noodle Face in the Crowd not as Pretty as Dirk Benedict or Bradley Cooper

There are a number of references to famous faces (and maybe not so many) I have come across in my travels:

• Two-face is a notorious villain in the Batman franchise.

• Faceman (the Face), played by Dirk Benedict and later Bradley Cooper, was a member of the quartet which made up the A-team.

• My Brave Face was Paul McCartney’s attempt to import and adapt his immense musical talent into the mundane late 80’s pop scene

• Furnace Face was a 90’s Canadian Indy band who put out such songs as “We Love you, Tipper Gore” with an anti-censorship theme and “She Thinks She’s Fat” which addresses the body image image which plagues to this day.

The newest addition to the list is Noodle Face, the recently opened Chinese restaurant in Baldwin Village.  Like many of it’s neighbours, it’s a no frills eatery with relatively inexpensive meal choices served with the ethnic flare of the far east. The hand-drawn sign is almost invisible among the other makeshift ones lining the street. Inside is no different.  Concrete brick walls on one side and a hand drawn mural on the other, plywood counters and a large, messy blackboard highlight the 40 seat interior.  I arrived around lunch and managed to get a seat by the window (in fact probably the only seat by the window). I was offered a tea which was served in an aged enamel cup as a ratty menu was presented containing all sorts of traditional Chinese noodles and soups as opposed to the more common ramen and pho.  There is also a list of signature and specialty dishes ranging from pancakes to perfect chicken legs and secret buns you have to drop in and try.

Noodle Face Subtle Signage
Noodle Face Subtle Signage
Tea at Noodle Face
Tea at Noodle Face

The “Chef Q handmade dumplings” is a broth soup made with seaweed,  scallions, a few glass noodles and the aforementioned dumplings.  It was very different from the ramen and pho  in that the broth was predominately sour versus salty. It was a bit of an acquired taste that got rather pleasant as you ate more of it.  When you ate something else and went back, however, you were caught off guard again because of the sourness.  The soup dumplings were thick and tasty and  filled with flavourful, seasoned pork. The plentiful onions added a nice bite.

Chef Q Dumpling Soup
Chef Q Handmade Dumpling Soup $6

 

The dummy salad came with a choice of green beans or broccoli with no description other than that. I had no idea what a dummy salad was so I ordered it. Basically it was a plate of cold beans dressed lightly and topped with sesame seeds.  The beans were not the freshest I have had but the dressing was subtle and refreshing.  Otherwise, it was rather unremarkable.

Dummy Salad (Green Beans)  $4
Dummy Salad (Green Beans) $4

The menu is in no way modest.  Case and point is the Rou-Jai-Mo, which is described as follows:  “Is mo a bread? Bun? Bao or Nann? Figure it out yourself for our top-rated small food.”  Intrigued, I ordered one. I expected a soft pork bun but instead got something that I would describe as a cross between a crunchy english muffin and a tea biscuit. It was  stuffed with meat which resembled canned flakes of ham seasoned with cilantro in both appearance and taste.  It wasn’t unpleasant but it  a was secret that wasn’t as juicy as anticipated.

Rou-Jai-Mo
Rou-Jai-Mo $3

 

My Take

Noodle face co. is a new joint with a no frills appearance that fits well with the Baldwin Street scene.  Instead of duplicating the numerous ramen and pho houses, it offers unique fare more indicative of China than Korea or Japan. The menu is diverse and cryptic which either offers no description of items or very detailed warnings, precautions and promises.  Although nothing blew my mind, I wasn’t too disappointed.  If anything, the food is unique and the price point reasonable.   Noodle Face isn’t pretty like Templeton Peck.  It doesn’t aim to conform to the popularity of everybody else like at a late eighties Paul McCartney song. If anything, it’s kind of like Furnaceface; refreshingly unpredictable while making  bold statements on a budget…but not for everybody.

 

 

Noodle Face Co on Urbanspoon