Fring’s: Let’s Just Say I Wasn’t Yelling HYFR Afterwards

Susur Lee has continued to expand his mini empire by securing the old Crush wine bar space.  Instead of opening another Asian-themed eatery, he has teamed up with entertainment icon and fellow sixite Drake to try and bring high end comfort food to the city’s streets.

I’m not sure why this new enterprise has been named Fring’s.  I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Torsten Frings, the German midfileder who played 33 games and scoring 2 goals with the Toronto FC only to retire after requiring surgery and returning to Europe to coach in his home country.  Perhaps it’s an homage to the trademarked side available at Harvey’s, Canada’s own fast food restaurant.  A combination of about 3 onion rings and six or so fries, it is the ideal accompaniment for the indecisive.  Maybe it’s the name is a term coined by Champagne Papi to describe the merging of two fundamental components of Drake’s brand, friends and bling, into one happy milieu.

The decor is also a milieu; in this case a trendy industrial style mixed with a cheesy VIP lounge.  Brick walls and wooden window panels combined with fuzzy if not hairy lounge seats with marble tables means both a downtown ambiance and  a nightclub aura.

After being seated, we were greeted by our waiter. The slick hair, glasses and demeanor screamed hipster but I questioned his authenticity as he was trying way to hard.  Like most other restaurants, he gave us the recited speech explaining the proper process for ordering off a sharing menu.  His entire demeanor seemed scripted as well, especially when we heard him deliver the exact same speech, in exactly the same way, to the table beside us.

I’ll admit part of the reason I came here was to have the ability to report back to my daughter who is a massive Drake fan.  So, it goes without saying that my first question to the waiter was “What would Drake drink?”.  He quickly answered that his the pop icon’s favorite drink was the Tom Skudra ($18), a rum based cocktail with a mix of juices, mint and raspberries. I’ve taken to doing google searches on cocktail names and found that Tom Skudra was a Canadian photojournalist who passed in 2007  and best known for TV series called Programme X in 1970. That said, the drink also went along with the ongoing joke that, whether I try or not, I usually end up ordering the girliest looking  which is usually pink (mostly the result of my affinity for Campari) and this was no exception.  Unlike a Campari drink, however, it was exceptionally sweet and somewhat resembled a daiquiri. I was left wondering whether the waiter was lying through his teeth or Drake has a reeeealllll sweet side I don’t know about.

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Tom Skudra $14

Nothing says comfort food like toast so what better to start with than some homemade ricotta with jalapeno plum jam and pomegranate ($10). It was presented nicely and in Susur fashion, was an explosive blend of flavours and textures.

frings ricotta
Ricotta Toast $10

Next was the steak tartare ($20).  I was expecting a bit more of the aforementioned taste and flavour explosion but it fell a little flat.  The presentation, usually rather extravagant  on a plate that anything to do with Chef Lee, was uninspiring.  Plus, if they put egg on the octopus dish; why not a little on the tartare!

frings tartare
Steak Tartare $20

The southern spicy maple fried chicken ($26) seems all the rave by reviewers across the board but then again, any fried chicken seems to be.  Some will argue that the art of perfecting this comfort food is an intricate as a souffle while others say it’s pretty freaking hard to mess it up since it involves deep frying something.  I adhere to the latter.  I’ve made a few batches in my day and although some have been better than others, none have really been bad.  There was nothing wrong with the chicken at all.  It was crispy on the outside, moist and the middle and adequately seasoned. The sauce was good as well.   All I’m saying is I can get a bucket of KFC with 8 pieces, popcorn chicken, fries, gravy and two salads for about the same price.  Am I saying that KFC is a good as Susur’s fried fowl?  Not at all.  I’m just trying to point out that I might expect a little more for $26.

frings chicken
Southern Spicy Maple Fried Chicken $26

I find a burger an excellent benchmark of a restaurant.  The burger is a canvas for creativity, the variations are endless and the price point can range from a few dollars to a few hundred.  The Susur burger, served with JK fries, comes in at a hefty $24, which is more than other iconic burgers in the city including Richmond station ($21), Marben ($19) and Harbord Room ($19) and wasn’t anyway close to as good.

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Susur Burger with JK Fries $24

At this point, I begged the waiter for a drink a little more manly than the Tom Skudra  and preferably not as pink.  He suggested the Waste Man ($18), a cocktail with brandy, chamomile bitters and peach.  Although one might expect it to be sleepy (get it?..chamomile) this was a good strong drink more reflective of the 6God’s brand.

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Waste Man $18

 

For dessert, I went with the waiter’s recommendation for the overpriced warm plum tart served with creme fraiche and almonds ($14). It was a bit chic and a bit homey, both of which aligned with the general theme of the place but otherwise was average and contained a whole lot of pastry and not enough plum.

frings dessert
Plum Tart $14

My Take

From a pop culture perspective, the marriage of Drake and Susur Lee makes perfect sense.   Much like Chef Lee’s fusion cooking, bringing two variant entities together often results in spawn which are both unique and exciting. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Fring’s.  Instead of being an innovator, it seems like Chef Lee is following trends which include cheese topped toasts , burgers  and comfort foods like fried chicken.  Not only are they average from a taste and presentation perspective, they are astronomically priced. The cocktails, steak tartare, fried chicken and burger are at least $4-5 higher than similar drinks and dishes at comparable Toronto eateries. The service was robotic.

In the end, I just expected two of the most innovative minds in Toronto to dream up something a little more exciting.  The cocktail list is overly fruity and juicy and the drinks have boring names.  I mean, any Drake song would make a cool cocktail name.  Take “Teach U a Lesson”‘ “Worst Behavior” (come Drake..you’re Canadian…add a u) and “Star67″ for example . The food is uninspired.”Big Rings” would be like a great side to a burger that can be bigger, better and cheaper.  Even some “Pound Cake” for dessert would work. There’s no tellin’ what the future holds for Fring’s but it’s too expensive and may get boring really fast. After all, I sure as hell didn’t leave yelling HYFR down King street after I left.

Fring's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ghost Hunters: Five Doors North and why Chris De Burgh Might be Wrong

Ghost hunters has been a show that has been on the air since 2004. Hosted by paranormal experts Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson who are two plumbers who set out to find things more ghastly than clogged sewer pipes.  They have filmed over 200 episodes of the show and have had a number of guest hosts with a calibre that rivals that of Dancing with the Stars including professional wrestlers Kofi Kingston (of New Day Fame), the Miz and CM punk, sci-fi idols and Canadians Colin Ferguson and Amanda Tapping and music umm…superstar Meatloaf.

I don’t claim to be an expert in area of ghosts but I’ve wondered why, with the technology available to us today, we can’t get a better picture or recording of some of our friends from beyond the grave.  I mean, google earth can take a picture of my licence plate from space so would think we could snap a clear picture of at least one ghost.  Beats headphones can pick up Kenny G breathing on a quarter rest during Silhouette but we can’t get an audible account of Father Gus and his unfortunate demise in a church fire.

Anybody with kids know they like to jump on various things to the point of obsession.  Both my youngest son and daughter got a little ghost crazy over the summer.  For my son, it was youtube ghost stories whereas my daughter was keen to explore haunted relics in the hopes of getting spooked by something more than a Tuesday night horror movie with her friends at the theatre.  So on the way down to Allentown to see some family over the summer, I decided to make a pit stop at Andy Gavin’s pub  in Scranton, PA.  According to stories, a resident ghost named George periodically reeks some fun havoc on the place by flipping the lights off and flushing the toilets.

I had some nachos, wings and a few cheap pints of Miller Lite.  The latter was probably the most ghastly thing I experienced that afternoon but for $2.50, I couldn’t complain.  My kids swore they may have heard some high pitched screaming upstairs so I’ll let them believe what they want.

 

From there we proceeded down the road to the Houdini museum which is also rumoured to be haunted. It was quite enjoyable;a makeshift shrine complete with a live show by Dorothy Dietrich who, often called the female Houdini, did the Jinxed Bullet Catch Stunt which was the act that Houdini backed away from.  It is also filled with paraphernalia including posters and pictures honouring the famed escape artist.

Recently, I needed a location to meet a customer outside the downtown core  with good Italian food and ample parking. Based on the reviews,  Five Doors North seemed a good choice.  It is a well established Italian eatery located on Yonge street between Davisville and Eglington.  Although the website is quite primitive, they do take online reservations so I promptly booked a table.

In keeping with the ghost hunter theme, I’m not sure if the true origin of the restaurant’s name. I mean, it could be the fact that it is north of the city and there are five coloured doors on the restaurant’s facade but I think it may actually be a code for a  map to a ghastly burial ground five doors south.

Both the interior and exterior decor is quirky but casual.  There are tiled floors, wooden tables with glass tops protecting random pictures and foodie magazine covers (very reminiscent of the Houdini museum and the first clue that something was amiss) and brick walls showing blackboards containing the day’s specials.  It has a cozy aura and comes without the automatic pretension of some of the downtown enotecas such as  Terroni and Pizza Libretto.

Both the wine and food menus are handwritten on a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of white paper.  The wine choice was not extensive but offered some off the cuff choices that seemed to fit the casual, quirky theme of the restaurant. We opted for a I Muri Primitivo for a respectable $45 which I thought was a fun  and rather preternatural wine to drink.

The menu is a bit all over the place, offering traditional  Italian dishes as well as a few less orthodox choices like ribs with matchstick potatoes.  Every night they feature a long and short pasta as well.  On this evening, I went with the former which was a pasta primavera which was a perfect al dente, heavy on the garlic and not overly greasy.   For the main, I ordered the branzino special which was served with a hodgepodge of vegetables including a paranormal corn, asparagus, lima beans and a red pepper puree. Although  I found the combination a bit aberrant, the fish was nicely prepared and it worked.  I also ordered the green salad which was very green and even a little purple.

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Green Salad $5
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Pasta Primavera $9.95
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Branzino $28.95

Despite the pleasant service, funky wine and good food, I had  a vibe that something was amiss beyond the funkiness of the place .  I brushed it off until I went to the washroom.  I did my business and went to wash my hands in the small sink.  I looked in the mirror and an apparition appeared.  At first I was shocked. She was blond and wore red so I immediately dubbed her the “lady in red”. When I got my wits back, I reached for my phone in the hopes I could snap a picture, worried that the quality of my camera was too good to snap a picture of a ghost since the only pictures ever captured have been grainy pictures in bad light. That said,  as demonstrated by my blog posts,  I’m often criticized that I have no understanding of basics of photography such as focusing,  lighting or positioning  so I thought it would be ok.  Although my hands were trembling, I managed to secure the shot.  I tried asking her what she wanted but all she did was smile.  She was holding something white.  At first I thought it was a cloud or a ghost baby but a closer inspection showed me it was Cottonelle toilet paper.   Between her smile and the silent promise of soft hygienic products I was almost lured into the cottony abyss but I managed to break the spell and quickly escape the chasm of temptation which was the men’s washroom.  I returned to my seat likely as red in the face as her shirt and asked for the bill.

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The Lady in Red

My Take

Ghost hunters has been on the air since 2004 and has hundreds if not thousands of followers.  I have a science background and have always been taught to adhere to an evidence based model which means there should be sufficient and  irrefutable proof that a concept is true before I believe it.  I’ll be honest, despite my children’s insistence that they heard screaming at Andy Gavin’s, I was reluctant to believe.  My experience at Five Doors North may have changed that.  I think I will email the show and maybe they can ask  Bear Grylls to co-host and demonstrate some urban paranormal survival skills.

Until then, if you are looking for an Italian eatery outside of the downtown core with a funky environment, decent menu and friendly family service you should consider  Five Doors North.  If you’re walking, however, hit the audio record button on your cell as you approach (let’s say around 5 doors away)  in the event you can detect some electronic voice phenomenon.  One last word of advice, despite the words of Chris Issak, beware the lady in red.

 

Disclaimer:  I do not believe that the woman in the mirror was an apparition. Although odd, I’m quite sure it was advertisement in which a young, happy woman watched me urinate and then offered me some soft toilet paper. The author of this blog does not accept responsibility for consequences of eating at this restaurant including but not limited to hauntings, garlic breath or leaving really full.  

Five Doors North Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hello, Why Alo is the Adele of Toronto’s Dining Scene.

Adele is a refreshing change to the music scene.  In an industry filled with nauseating pop tracks and the flavour of the week singers, Adele’s haunting voice  reminds us that there is still hope, even in 2015.  I’m not one that tried to get concert tickets for the four Toronto shows she sold out in minutes but I’ll admit if I’m flipping through my Sirius radio and “Hello” comes on I’ll leave it and say hi right back.

A common misnomer of the names of Adele’s albums (19,21 and 25) is that they represent her age when they were released. In fact, they reflect her age during production (this may be a way to win a pint during Adele night at your local pub).  For example, her latest album, 25, was released when we was 27.  “Rumour has it” that future albums will not follow this trend.

I listened to a bit of an Adele town hall and was surprised how down to earth she is.  She’s British polite but at the same time could likely hang out with the Gallaghers (the English ones)  from  Shameless.  Her album 21 was inspired as she listened to music her bus driver played as she toured the American south while she chain smoked (a habit she has recently quit).   That said, she cites numerous other influences toher career ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to the Spice Girls (she was apparently traumatized when fellow ginger Geri Halliwell left the group).

I bring up Adele as a metaphor to the Toronto dining scene. Food trends are as volatile as musical ones. People in the 80’s were happy eating bananas foster, cherries jubilee and baked Alaska while listening to Thriller or waiting for the next Madonna single.  In the last couple of years, both music and food have become a bit flash in the pan, probably to appease the minute attention span of those in generation X. Bands are now judged by singles and not albums and it’s hard not to confuse Walk the Moon with the Imagine Dragons. At the same time, Toronto’s dining scene has been driven by spur of the moment snack foods and small plates and  compared to other entertainment-heavy  metropolitan cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York,  and tasting menus are somewhat scarce.

Alo has burst onto the scene with the promise of bringing back the tasting menu while at the same time not jeopardizing the foodie’s right to choose.  Stacked with well known names in Toronto’s culinary scene with Patrick Kriss at the helm, it has opened to great accolades including a bold endorsement as the city’s best new restaurant by the Globe and Mail’s Chris Nutall-Smith.

Instead of writing about the minutiae of each of the many dishes, I figure I’d pay homage to the music industry and do a top ten list of things you need to know about Alo complete with the top 10 songs on December 26 2015 vs  Boxing Day 1985.

10. Location (Like I’m Going to Lose You- Meghan Trainor vs Sleeping Bag- ZZ Top)

Hidden between the entertainment district and trendy Queen West, its location is both convenient and a little odd at the same time.When I say hidden, I’m not kidding; I felt like an amazing race contestant looking for Jon Montgomery’s smiling face.   The only way to identify the entrance is a keen eye for a tiny sign or a good GPS. In fact, the first question you are asked upon arrival is “Did you find the place ok?” Plus, you need to take an elevator to get to the dining room.

I find myself humming this in my car one day……”Alo’s on the other side, I must’ve passed it a Thousand Times”.

9. Decor (Same Old Love- Selena Gomez vs Small Town- John Mellancamp)

A short elevator ride up a few floors  opens into a swanky but simple bar stocked with a number of premium spirits just waiting to turned into a number of trendy cocktails.  A few steps forward and the small but open kitchen, cramped with bustling white coats becomes visible. Beyond that is the smallish seating area which has a casual yet classy demeanor. The waitstaff, donning ties tucked into their crisp white shirts are busy circulating the grounds with a fluid flow.  Not quite posh and not quite rustic, the decor is simple and despite the small space patrons have plenty of room as the tables are nicely spaced.   Even the serving dishes were chic and modern but not extravagant.

I will also put clientele under decor as there were definitely an array of patrons present.  I think the couple beside us were on their third or fourth match.com date and she was working really hard to impress him with her culinary knowledge but it fell as flat as a bad souffle.  Equally entertaining was a really angry looking man sitting at the end of the chef’s rail who sat stoic for the duration of the meal. On the way out we saw him speaking to the chef so I suspect he was of the mercurial members of Toronto’s dining scene. Those chefs roll deep you know.

8. Drinks (Here- Alessia Cara vs That’s What Friend’s are For- Dionne Warwick and Friends)

As mentioned, there is no shortage of premium cocktails available at Alo. I started with the Longchamp ($14), a simple and smooth bourbon based creation which hits all the notes of a classic  sipping cocktail.  They also offer a reasonably priced wine list and stick  with the bigger, more recognized brews such as Kronenbourg and Blanc De Chambly as opposed to the numerous and trendy craft beer in the area.

alo drink
Longchamp Cocktail $14

7. Choice (Stitches- Shawn Mendes vs I Miss You- Klymaxx)

Like stated in countless other reviews, Alo features a 5 course tasting menu for $89. Perhaps what’s most unique about this is the fact that there is a choice for each of the 4 savory courses (plus the mid-dessert) as opposed offering either a  standard menu for everybody  or only an option  for the main protein.  They even set the stage for such free will  (maybe it’s a question like when you are testing an audience response system) by  offering a choice of a blue or white napkin .  It was rather odd but memorable.

6. Surprises (The Hills- The Weeknd vs Election Day- Aracadia)

There are quite a few surprises during the Alo dining experience. At this point I will insert my SPOILER ALERT disclaimer in the event you want the true element of surprise:

  •  Deux Amuse Bouche. You are immediately treated  couple of small souffles (I’d call them crackers) garnished with a garlic aioli. With the re-emergence of  the tasting menu comes the resurrection of foam emulsions in the form of the second amuse, fennel, olive oil and citrus. It was a bit heavy on the oil flavour  little light on the citrus.
  • In what I think is a first, the bread is actually served (complete with house churned butter) as a course.  It was rich and buttery and reminded me of a  sinful cousin of a croissant.
  • When I asked for directions to the washroom the waitress looked pleased to be able to assist.  I was somewhat confused as she led me through the bar to a black wall until she pointed to a magic door which opened into the hidden lavatory area. Yes, I am amused easily.
  • I rarely order tea at dinner but for some reason I had the desire to do so.  Once again, the waitress seemed pleased with my request and promised to return with the tea box. When she opened it, I felt like a leprechaun that had just found a pot of gold.  A dimly lit screen confidently describe each tea which was housed in a small, transparent container. It was a little classy and a little cheesy but another example of the incredible attention to detail theme of the evening.
  • In a nice touch, you are provided with a wax-sealed envelope at the end of the night which contains the menu for the evening.

5. Food (Love Yourself- Justin Bieber vs Separate Lives- Phil Collins/Marilyn Martin)

Instead of reviewing each individual dish, I will summarize  by saying the food was good but not mind-blowing. I think it can best be described as rich and earthy with proteins which included snails, mushrooms, duck, fois gras and pork.  There were also some options from the sea including halibut, salmon and lobster. Even with those, the earthiness was maintained with the use of ingredients like sunchokes, truffles, potatoes and artichokes. The proteins were cooked beautifully except for the duck which was overdone.  If anything, some of the dishes were lacking acid and seemed a bit unbalanced but some of that may have been the way I ate them.  For example, I found the first bite of the mushrooms very single-noted until they were mixed a little more thoroughly with some of the other ingredients and became a delicious forest porridge.

4. Foie Gras (What do you Mean- Justin Bieber vs Alive and Kicking- Simple Minds)

I would always choose lobster over foie gras but the latter was the standout dish of the night. It was smoked which perfectly balanced with the fattiness of the liver.  I only had a bite and truly regretted not ordering it as my starter.

alo fois gras
Foie Gras

3.  Dessert (Hotline Bling- Drake vs Party all the Time-Eddie Murphy)

There is no dessert listed on the menu so ever before any hint of the final course, you are asked if you would like the optional cheese plate ($15).  In the name of adventure we agreed.  The featured fromage  was Five Brothers, the delicious signature cheese from Gunn’s Hill in Woodstock and was served with fruit, honey and crackers.  We ordered  two plates was plenty for the four of us.  Around the same time, we were asked our choice for the mid-dessert; dark, milk or white chocolate.  We joked that, being the token Caucasian  at the table, I was obligated to order the white chocolate.  I went dark.  Expecting the the chocolate right after the cheese,  we instead received a small bite consisting of parsnip and espresso instead.  It was fantastic. Afterwards the waitress, hearing our earlier conversation, brought both the white and dark chocolate to the table for me.  Each was unique in its own way and even the white chocolate was quite good.  Thinking the meal was done, a third dessert arrived in the form of an earl grey parfait (which retrospectively makes sense since she did say the chocolate would be a mid-dessert) arrived at the table. It was like some of the savory dishes in that it had to be eaten with a game plan.  The ice cream itself was not strongly flavoured with earl grey unless you were sure to include some of the candied bergamot it was garnished with in each bite.

2. Price (Sorry- Justin Beiber vs Broken Wings- Mr. Mister)

When all was said, the price with a few drinks (no wine) before gratuity was $135/head.  The cheese itself was $15/plate. However, given the fact that it took nearly 5 hours and there were technically 11 courses means you if you are on a date you don’t need to worry about doing or spending anything after.  The portions are small and the purists would argue that it is probably overpriced but when I consider the whole experience I didn’t think it was too unreasonable and I left stuffed.

1.Service (Hello- Adele vs Say You, Say Me- Lionel Ritchie)

Although these points are not necessarily in rank order, it would be remiss if I did not put service at number one.  In fact, I cannot think of a time in recent memory when I have had a better service experience in the GTA.  The flow of the meal was spot on.  Among the numerous staff members who served the table, all were highly professional and explained  the components of each dish with great precision.   The addition of the white chocolate based on a short conversation at the table was, well, the icing on the cake.

My Take  

Alo has successfully resurrected the tasting menu in Toronto by offering a combination of good food and incredible service.  Add a few surprises and you are left with a truly memorable experience.  The foie gras and innovative dessert courses were the highlights of the menu. The attention to detail, from the tea box to the take away menu, is unmatched.

In sticking with the music analogy, Alo is like a good album.  Not every song is a blockbuster but collectively it’s great listening.  You feel the experience  instead of just doing it. In other words, in an environment   filled with  countless eateries which mimic the flash in the pan tendencies of  American idols, youtubers and one hit wonders, Alo may in fact be the Adele of Toronto’s culinary scene.

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

Mr. Flamingo, Mr. Featherstone, Mr. Pink and Ms. Sitherwood all in an Avian Mating Dance Orgy

Flamingos are one of the more recognized avian species in popular culture.  Whereas the bald eagle is synonymous with courage and nobility, the flamingo is a bit more mysterious and is often associated much less stoic characteristics.

The Flamingo hotel, for example, is the longest standing (and probably cheesiest) hotel on the famed  Las Vegas strip. Afterall, it is decorated with pink shag carpets and a live wildlife habitat featuring the namesake birds.

“Pink Flamingos” was a low budget movie directed by John Waters, the odd director who brought us the original cult classics “Hairspray” and “Serial Mom” was notorious for working  with even stranger actors and actresses like Divine, Traci Lords and Ricki Lake.

Although not entirely related, when I heard the name of the restaurant I couldn’t help of think of Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs .  In what I would argue is  the most famous Tarantino restaurant scene after the five-dollar milkshake in Pulp Fiction, Mr. Pink, played by Steve Buscemi, goes on a rant about the concept of tipping, arguing that it should not be an automatic gesture (he must have visited a few places in Toronto’s west end along his travels).

 

On the small screen, flamingos,  along with other Florida vestiges such as fancy cars, jai alai, dog racing, beaches and boobs were prominent in the iconic opening credits of Miami Vice.  Speaking of televisions shows, the short lived prime-time soap opera called Flamingo Road starred Morgan Fairchild and Mark Harmon dealt with the frantic and fast-paced lives of elite Floridians.

All of this said, perhaps the most recognizable use of the pink flamingo in popular culture is the plastic lawn ornament.  Primarily used to signify key life events (like a 50th birthday let’s say), this tacky accessory was first produced by Don Featherstone , an employee of the union plastic company in Massachusetts.  This achievment was significant enough to have him recognized  in a New York times obituary the day after his June 22, 2015 death.  Here are a few interesting facts about the pink flamingo:

  • They were initially offered in the late 50’s sold for $2.76/pair in the Sears catalog.
  • In 1999, the city council of Madison, Wisconsin voted the plastic flamingo, coined Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus by Featherstone himself, as the city’s official bird.
  • In the 2011 Disney film “Gnomeo and Juliet”, there is a flamingo named Featherstone which is an interesting twist given the well- established competition between the gnome and the pink bird for cheesy lawn ornament supremacy.

Probably the oddest use the Flamingo is the Quebec food company whose catch line is “an excellent source of fun”.  First, the primary foodstuffs produced by the Flamingo company are poultry products which is just weird.  Second, I don’t equate the consumption of chicken burgers as fun, yet alone an excellent source of it.

All of this said, I can only speculate as to the rationale behind Mr. Flamingo’s name.  I think some would  speculate that the bird symbolizes the simple yet swanky theme of the restaurant.  The menu consists of small plates which in many cases contain upper echelon foods such as oysters, fois gras and truffles.

Although, I would almost expect a cocktail to be named after Mr. Featherstone ,I couldn’t find one so I ordered the bourbon based Ms. Sitherwood ($14) instead.  The first page of a google search identified Ms. Sitherwood as the  Chief Executive Officer of The Laclede Group although I have no idea if that’s relevant at all.    It was served in a dainty glass adorned with mint leaves. The general vibe of the drink was a sophisticated but not mind-blowing  long island ice tea ($14).

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Ms. Sitherwood $14

Before I go into the food choices, let me say that the staff were extremely accommodating.  The menu prices listed on the web are for a specific portion but they were more than happy to modify the portions and prices in some cases (eg. oysters and scallops) so that everybody had at least one piece.  Futhermore, they split the bill in 5 and printed one out for each of us.  These things seem simple  but can be surprisingly hard to find among  many Toronto eateries.

Since we had a fairly large table, we were able to order most of the menu.  First on the list was the steak tartare ($14) served with a quail egg and chips.  It had a symmetrical and pretty appearance and its moderate spice was driven more by pepper than other heat sources.

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Steak Tartare with chips $14

The burrata ($16) was served with a gorgeous  tomato salad. The cheese was seasoned nicely and had a beautiful texture similar to that of a soft boiled egg; firm on the outside and runny in the middle.

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Burrata $16

The lobster based oysters ($3.50/piece) wouldn’t have been my first choice but they fit the swanky theme of the place.  The lobster hollandiase had a sweetness and creaminess which nicely offset the salty and not over-cooked oyster, making  it a decent bite.

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Lobster Baked Oysters $3.50 each

Based on other reviews, the scallops with popcorn puree and sea asparagus ($22.50 as shown) could very well be their signature dish. It hit all the elements of such a dish; the scallops were cooked properly, the puree was divine and the sea asparagus added the colour, texture and taste needed to balance everything out.

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Scallops with popcorn puree and sea asparagus ($4.50 each)

The trout  was another tasty dish but  at this point the menu was getting a bit monotonous as many of  it’s elements were near identical to the previous two (oysters and scallops), adhereing to the theme of well cooked protein plus rich sauce plus green vegetable.

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Trout

On paper, the mushroom risotto topped with shaved truffle may have been the  pinnacle of Mr. Flamingo’s swanky small plate experience.  Although I’m not generally a risotto fan, I appreciated the avoidance of truffle oil as an excuse for fancy flavoring.  It was a nicely prepared dish but was still highlighted by rich flavours similar to many other items on the menu.

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Mushroom Risotto

The duck and steak were both nicely prepared but not unlike anything you can get at any other restaurant in the area.  It seems almost mandatory that these dishes appear on menus, prepared and seasoned the same way and served alongside the rather predictable sides.

After a meal in a place named after a suave and sexy bird serving oysters and  truffles,  I expected some kind of lavish desert. Instead, the sole offering was a donut with a sparkler in it.  It was a rather carnival ending to an otherwise posh meal.

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Donut with Sparkler $6

My Take

I may have missed my calling as an ornithologist so I’m never upset when I can eat at a place named after a feathered friend (yes I must admit I like eating some of them as much as I like watching them). After my dining experience, I can’t say I was as excited as the majestic flamingo during its mating ritual but it was still a decent meal.

 

Mr. Flamingo offers a mix of the standard sharing plates seen in a lot of the area’s eateries with the addition of a few unique ones, in particular the scallops with popcorn puree. In general, the majority of the menu is a bit monotonous in flavour though. Overall,  it was a good experience, highlighted by above average service starting with the fact they will actually split a bill, a fact that may even convince Mr. Pink to throw a few bucks on the table after all is said and done.

Mr Flamingo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hanmoto: May possibly be the Crown Royal Northern Harvest of New Toronto Restaurants.

The faceless Chris Nuttall-Smith just published his top 10 new Toronto restaurants.  Not surprising, Alo tops the list and other clear favorites including Buca Yorkville and Dandylion made the cut as well.  Perhaps a little more surprising was the inclusion of Hanmoto, the little and unorthadox izakaya joint hidden just outside the intersection of Dundas and Ossington  (it’s on Lakeview Avenue however which, like the Lakeview Diner a block away, doesn’t have a view of a lake).

As Mr. Nuttall-Smith writes (in words much more eloquent than mine), it has no sign and has the aura of a flea market where you are not sure if you will get a great deal, bamboozled  or stabbed with a sushi knife.  The menu is as primitive as the make shift signs you would see advertising dollar persimmons along Spadina avenue.

I went with a few friends a while back as stage one of an Ossington food crawl.  Arriving at 530 or so ensured that there no wait for one of the few makeshift tables scattered among the curio-filled hollow .  The waitress was a pleasantly non-nonsense woman who had a fantastic grasp of the small menu. It seemed fitting to start with the somewhat famous arisaka sour, a gin based cocktail flavoured with yuzu, green tea and cucumber and finished with soda and lime bitters.  It was quite refreshing but a bit flimsy so it was evident I had to switch to beer to avoid downing 8-10 of them before the end of the meal.

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Arisaki Sour $12

The tiny menu meant little deliberation and the table agreed on the hamachi tartare, the moto bun, the enoki, the masu dengaku, okra and famed dyno wings .

The tartare was nicely balanced from both a texture and taste perspective and was served at the correct temperature.  The moto bun was a fun and flavourful twist on a sloppy joe and was next to impossible to share with the table.  That said, I’m always appreciative of a bun that can withstand the assault of a sloppy filling for the duration of consumption.

The enoki with miso butter was a surprisingly simple take on those mushrooms you see at the Asian food marts and don’t know what to do with.  Their texture with, when combined with the miso butter is somewhat reminiscent of a fat laden piece of steak.

The masu dengaku was an oddly attractive eggplant dish made pretty with fried beets and seasoned with a delicious miso hollandaise.

Each of the previous dishes did not shy away on extreme flavours but the crispy okra blanketed with bonito flakes and asiago (a very saline and odd combination) was a miss.  We casually passed the dish around the table like a hot potato and there were no takers.

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Okra $8

Finally, it was time for the fame chicken dyno chicken wings served in the signature take out box.   These wings, stuffed with a pork dumpling, have already attained mythical status in snack food folklore and the label is deserving. The dumpling offers both stark contrast to the crunchy mouth feel of the deep fried wings yet both flavours are married with the sweet and salty sauce.

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Dyno Wings $8- A Hot Mess

My Take

I’m a sucker for a good gimmick and there are no shortage of them in the restaurant industry.  I was all over the  Yakatori bar on Baldwin (which now ceases to exist) and I’m the guy who rushes to Harvey’s after not going in years to get my hands on a somehwat revolting pop tart ice cream sandwich.   From the seedy surroundings to the focus on nothing by snack food, Hanmoto itself is a gimmick but one that gone from the exception to the rule in the hipster driven expanse with an Ossington epicentre.

It seems Mr. Nutall-Smith is also enamored by a good gimmick. In his review of Hanmoto, he forgives any hiccups (ie. farmed vs wild salmon) by saying that it’s not that type of bar.  It seems his opinions are driven by the fact that the booze drives the food and not vice versa which I disagree with given the rather sleepy cocktail list and predictable beer choices. Don’t get me wrong..he is brilliant writer and one of the first people I go to for an objective opinion on a new restaurant but I’m left wondering if including Hanmoto on the best new Toronto restaurant list is synonymous with Jim Murray’s choice of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as the world’s best whisky.  Maybe I can meet him halfway but saying the dyno wing is one of the top 10 must-try new dishes in Toronto in 2015 but even in my relatively limited exposure to novel eateries, I won’t go as far as generalizing the dish to the entire experience.

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

 

 

 

 

Han Ba Tang- Still Drawing the Short Straw Years after Toughskins and Crooked Haircuts

I had a dismal month of blogging in November, primarily due to the fact that my real job gets in the way when it’s busy.  I hope December is better. Speaking of busy, the every day trails and tribulations of life lead one to fall into rhythms of the present.  Aided by facebook, which has seemingly rewound time and made friends of the past friends of the present, I made a commitment to myself to reconnect with some of these friends and personally I see no better way to do it than over a bowl or plate of something.

I was a small, quiet kid who had a crooked haircut and wore Toughskins, which were corduroy pants with reinforced knees meant to withstand the harsh treatment an 8 year old had to offer.  I didn’t understand why people laughed at “Taxi” and why that old man Edward Woodward was scary as “The Equalizer”.  I liked when my mom brought me to the hotel bar down the road from my grandmother’s house because I could eat all the maraschino cherries I wanted. I went to a tiny school in Sudbury so whether I liked it or not, I had to hang out with a small group of people…in Sudbury. I got the hell out as soon as I could and somewhat lost track of 90% of those in my past life until Facebook. Now, I have reconnected with historical figures in my life ranging from elementary school to university.

It seemed totally logical to meet a friend I haven’t seen in almost 30 years at Han Ba Tang, A Korean joint in North York (I keep thinking it’s called Hang Ten after the company with the big foot slogan that kids cooler than me wore although we lived no where near waves bigger than those made from a 20 HP motor on Lake Ramsey). What drew me to this place was not the easy to remember name ( I forget it every time) but the fact that it scores one of the highest ratings on Zomato. That and the fact that 2015 appears to be the year of Korean food in Toronto and I wanted to compare it to Korean Cowboy and other similar eateries scattered across the GTA.  Plus, we both decided that we should have something that didn’t exist in our Sudbury days where Asian food was limited to sweet and sour chicken balls at the Pagoda.

I arrived, went to the bar and ordered the Caesar on fire. The twist was the addition of jalapeno soju.  I was tempted to ask the bartender for ID since he acted like a teenager.  This perception was aided by the fact that he opened up a recipe book and meticulously measured every ingredient into a Steamwhistle pint glass only to realize after the fact that he had no straws long enough for the glass.   It was good but a full pint of caesar makes for a big drink so the flavours were somewhat diluted even with a short straw.

Caesar on fire with Jalapeno Soju $11
Caesar on fire with Jalapeno Soju $11

Dish one was the Kalbi salad ($10) which highlighted the short ribs in a forest of romaine, onions, bell peppers and an onion dressing. It was topped with some deep fried onion as well.

Kalbi Salad
Kalbi Salad $10

One cannot go to a Korean restaurant withour sampling the tacos so I ordered the spicy pork, kalbi and unagi trio.  The shells were oddly shaped and the fillings was flimsy for $4-6 bucks each.  Flavourwise, they were ok but overall the touted tacos were a bit of a let down.

Spicy Pork, Kalbi and Unagi Tacos
Spicy Pork, Kalbi and Unagi Tacos

The kimchi pancake was fantastic.  Laced with bacon, mushroom and pepper it was browned perfectly which maximized both taste and appearance.  It had great textural contrast as well.

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I love rice cakes and Han Ba Tang’s were no exception.  These were filthy good and reminded me of days of warming up a can of Campbell’s mushroom soup after school which was well in line with the evening’s theme of reminiscence.

Creamy Rice Cake $10
Creamy Rice Cake $10

Finally, we ordered the black calamari which was coloured with a roasted seaweed sauce,further seasoned  with baby dried shrimp  and garnished with cucumbers.   The calamari was cooked well but it was little too much fish on fish flavour.

Black Calamari $11
Black Calamari $11

My Take

Before fall foraging became cool, Korean was all the rage which saw Han Ba Tang and other snack/bar food joints vault up the charts. Traditional soups, rice cakes, pancakes,  tacos and wings are served with both a taste and an environmental twist. Instead of the flat surroundings of some the College street eateries, most of the new places offer fancy drinks, loud music and a very North American vibe. There’s a fun, thoughtless innocence to these places which is often exemplified by…let’s say naive bartenders who need a manual to make a drink.  One can only imagine what would happen once the Karaoke machine goes full throttle and  “Crystal Chandeliers” by Charlie Pride fills the air.

In the end, Han Ba Tang is a bit quirky, a bit trashy and a little fun.  The tacos were a bit of a mess but otherwise the food was good and not too silly of a price. Although I don’t think it’s a 4.7 on zomato, it sure as hell beats heading to the Pagoda with a crooked haircut.

 

Han Ba Tang Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato