My NFC Divisional Round Cook-Off: Seattle vs Green Bay

I think the excitement in this match stemmed from a few things:

  1. Rodgers vs Wilson- Both QBs are former Super Bowl champions and definite Hall of Fame candidates. Part of their legacy, however, may involve losing the big game as well.
  2. Under most circumstances, Seattle would be overjoyed to add the 12th man to a divisional playoff game but if the regular season was any indication, you could argue that Seattle would have preferred to be on the road given their 7-1 away record. That said, Green Bay’s domination at Lambeau continued this season and they boasted the identical record at home.
  3. With the return of Marshawn Lynch, it would be interesting to see if he even sniffed of his old self and if Pete Carroll would even dream of doing anything other than handing him the ball anytime the Hawks were inside the opposition’s 5 yard line.

With the Seattle hot dog used for the wild card game, I had to renege on a previous post when I stated that I wouldn’t resort to the use of little neck clams to represent Seattle cuisine given my location and questionable freshness. I didn’t mind because I still reminisce about sucking back steamers steps from the Pike market in Seattle. With a quick trip to my local RCSS, I was set although I did cringe a little at the price tag which is always the case when buying seafood in a landlocked city. The advantage of littleneck clams is the simplicity of preparation; you simply soak them in some salt water for a while, steam them up and serve with a little melted butter and a bowl of the juice from the pot which adds a little salt and helps cleans the clam of any residual sand. The physiology of the clam itself even allows for easy dipping….it almost has a natural handle. The only downfall is the tendency for the bivalues to retain sand in all their nooks and crannies despite a good soak and stir.

Littleneck Clams

Green bay is certainly not known for exquisite cuisine. Cheese, brats and fish fries are often on the city’s menu. However, when i did a little digging I discovered the story of booyah, a slow-cooked stew which has become synonymous with Wisconsin tailgating. The story is that a local minister was looking to raise funds for his church and solicited donations from local farmers. Using beef and chicken he received as the protein, he added whatever vegetables he had around, threw it all in a large cauldron and let it simmer for a few days. The result is a thick, hearty soup thickened by the gelatin from the beef bones. Afterwards, when a local reporter asked what it was called, he was told it was bouillon (a traditional Belgian stew) but heard it as “booyah’ and the rest is history. My version did not take a couple of days (I wasn’t feeding the masses after all) but it did require a good part of the day in order to maximize the effect of the beef bones. In addition to the shredded chicken, I threw some rutabaga, potato, cabbage, carrot, peas and a can of tomatoes. The result was excellent and I could see why it would be so sought after on a cold Sunday afternoon in Green Bay.

My Take

The game was one of the more exciting in this year’s post-season docket and unlike most of the other games, relied mainly on a pass and catch strategy between each QB and his favorite receiver while the rest of the team generally spectated. Marshawn Lynch did run for 2 TDs (I guess Carroll learned that regardless of the outcome he had to give Lynch the ball to avoid embarrassment) but only had 26 total yards in total rushing. In the end, Rodgers emerged victorious and removed some of the stigma regarding losing the big game. Honestly, despite my respect for Russell Wilson, I was just happy because the Seattle loss means I don’t have to witness Pete’s buffoonery again until next year. Booyah!

My AFC Divisional Round Cook-off: Tennessee vs Baltimore

In the case of this match-up, I think I was more excited about the cooking than I was about the actual game. Maybe Baltimore is not the most sought culinary destination in the US but it is famous for Old Bay spice and the iconic crab cake. It’s also home to Chap’s Pit Beef (the sandwich stop in the parking lot of an LGBTQ strip club) and Sip and Bite (the greek diner with some of the best feta cheese I’ve ever had) which rank number 8 and 13 on my DDD list respectively.

Nashville, on the other hand, is one of the more popular foodie stops which offers a blend of old school southern food outlets and chic eateries. I have had the pleasure of dining at Husk in the Sean Brock days and to this day Arnold’s Country Kitchen and its meat and three remains at the top on my list of all time Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Before getting into the showdown, a few comments about the game:

  1. I was surprised to see that Ryan Tannehill was only 31 so I can’t use my “Lamar Jackson got his ass kicked by his dad” joke…maybe more like his older brother although I often equate QB years to be more like dog vs human. I think it was important for Jackson to taste defeat so he can bounce back in a Patrick Mahomes vs RG III fashion. That said, it should be pointed out that Tannehill only threw for 88 yards with no picks whereas Jackson tossed for 365 but with 2 INTs so it’s hard to say that Ryan was the better QB in the end.
  2. I think the irony is the fact that Baltimore got beat by using the same blueprint that won them Superbowl XLVII…a moderately talented QB and good defense vs a flashy offence lead by a run/pass threat. Similar to this game, Flacco manged to avoid interceptions whereas Kapernick’s balanced offence numbers (including 62 rushing yards himself) was tainted by a pick and a sub 100 QB rating.
  3. Everything said, I can’t get excited about Tennessee. Sure, watching Henry run for almost 200 yards and average 6.5 per carry is somewhat exciting but I can’t help but remember every week of this year’s football pool when I cringed while being forced to choose a winner in any of the painful AFC South interdivisional game.

For the cook-off, I went with the aforementioned crab cake versus Nashville hot chicken. There are hundreds of crab cake concoctions out there but I opted for Andrew Zimmerman’s recipe which is definitely crab forward and uses saltine crackers as its binder. I did take the liberty of throwing in a pinch of Old Bay Seasoning for good measure. They fried up beautifully and really only need a bit of lemon as an accent.

My Tennessee choice was Nashville Hot Chicken, a signature item in many Tennessee eateries including Hattie B’s. Fried chicken is ubiquitous in the US but the uniqueness of this dish is the basting sauce which is a combination of fat, cayenne pepper and sugar. The result is extreme sweet/heat. I used a whole chicken which I cut into 8 pieces instead of quarters allowing for a reasonable frying time of 15 minutes or so. I tempered the heat with a tangy side of slaw, some homemade bread and some lakeside pickles which worked really well.

My Take

Unlike the game, when it came to the cook-off there was no clear winner . I mean choosing between a crab cake and fried chicken is a dubious task especially when the chosen recipes are spot on. Honestly, I think fried chicken holds it own without the Nashville cayenne/sugar topping and I guess I can handle a good crab cake without an aioli although I won’t omit the Old Bay seasoning under any circumstances.

I think Lamar Jackson needs an ass kicking to remind him he’s not quite prime time yet (6 of their games were against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati after all). Next year we will see whether he takes the path of Pat Mahomes or rides (or kneels) away in the sunset like Colin Kapernik. With Marcos Mariota in his prime, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan Tannehill ends up following in the footsteps of the likes of other past and present 30 plusers like Joe Flacco/Peyton Manning and Kirk Cousins/Brett Favre by joining a retirement team such as Denver or Minnesota.

My NFC Wild Card Cook-Off: Philadelphia vs. Seattle

I have had the privilege of visiting both of these American cities during my travels. From a triple DDD perspective, Philadelphia eateries (Honey’s Sit and Eat and Silk City Diner) are in my top 5 whereas my favorite Seattle spot (Voula’s Offshore Cafe) clocks in at a respectable 15th. Philadelphia also historically has a number of celebrity chefs outputs including Morimoto, Jose Garces and Eric Ripert. Seattle, of course, has the original Starbucks and the Pike Market which make it a very competitive culinary destination among many foodies whether Pearl Jam fans or otherwise.

From a pop culture perspective, I think an accurate way to illustrate the differences between these two cities are reflected by the shows “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Frasier”… or in other words…rough and tumble versus plaid wearing pretension. This concept even extends to football; half of NFL watchers can’t even name the Eagles head coach whereas Pete “Peacock” Carroll struts around looking like an emaciated version of the most interesting man in the world.

Regarding the game, I think the writing was on the wall almost from the start. As soon as Carson Wentz went down early it was over. I mean, Philidelphia being forced to rely on long time and boring back-up QB Josh McCown to fill in as their potential savior was like adding Nick Tortelli to Frasier to increase ratings. A couple of additional observations:

  1. Pete Carroll is annoying. Watching him coach is like watching a teacher who should have retired 5 years ago trying to herd a group of whiny kindergarten children in from recess. I think if it was wasn’t for the professional nature and skill of Russell Wilson, Carroll would have been looking for a new gig years ago. To this day, he has continued to demonstrate the inability to harness clowns like Sherman and Lynch because all he needed to do was lean on guys like Wilson and Thomas to save his sorry ass.
  2. Philadelphia is one of the most boring teams in football. The only reason they were in the playoffs was because the rest of the NFC east is awful. I think you could even hear the announcer’s voices waiver when they tried to amplify the fortitude of the Eagles while clearly thinking they had no business being there in the first place.
  3. Two games at 17-9 within few weeks of each other? These teams should not be allowed to play each other again for a while if ever again.

For the cook-off, instead of a full menu, I focused on a street food battle for this match-up. Honestly, i was hoping to be able to steam up some clams to pay homage to the Seahawks but living in London, Ontario doesn’t give me the best access to fresh seafood. Instead, I focused on North America’s most ubiquitous street meat to represent Seattle..the hot dog. Allegedly, the concept stemmed from a rogue bagel vendor who thought slathering cream cheese (hopefully not Philadelphia brand of course because that would be weird) and fried onions on a hot dog would be a good idea. In this case, in addition to the cream cheese and onions, other acceptable toppings include jalapenos, sauerkraut and mustard. I opted for everything minus mustard for this battle.

I think when one thinks of Philadelphia street food, the cheese steak is a no brainer. What does require a bit of thought are the toppings. If one were to venture to Pat’s or Geno’s, “whiz” would be the cheese of choice but many hardcore cheese steak fans swear by more prestigious (or even real I suppose) cheeses such as provolone. To keep it cheesy, authentic and pedestrian, I used onions, peppers and whiz as my toppings. You still can’t go wrong…

Seattle Hot Dog vs Phili Cheese Steak

My Take

I’ve had many cheese steaks in my time including both Pat’s and Geno’s but I have never had a Seattle style hot dog as my time there was limited to DDD’s and the Pike market. Both are football worthy snacks accented by cheeses as questionable as Pete Carroll’s goal line decisions and Josh McCown’s playoff experience. As for the food, you can’t go wrong with meat (real or otherwise), cheese (real or otherwise) and onions (raw or cooked) on a bun…ever. I’d say the dog was better than I thought although I don’t think cream cheese will replace my tried and true toppings moving forward. As for the Philadelphia sandwich, whether whiz or provolone plus/minus peppers is your vice, it’s all covered beneath the cheese steak umbrella. The only thing cheesier than both sandwiches is Pete Carroll going Gangnam Style after every questionable call in his efforts to justify his over inflated reputation as a coach.

My AFC Wild Card Cook-Off: Houston vs Buffalo

In celebration of the NFL playoffs this year, I have decided to pay homage for foods well known in the participating cities. Even if I haven’t been to some of the cities, it’s not hard to find a few culinary gems one can recreate in the comfort of their own kitchen.

After watching the game itself, I can draw a few conclusions:

  1. Buffalo is cursed. Josh Allen does appear to have the tools necessary to win a few games but he’s gotta learn how to use them. At 6’5″, he pitches the ball versus throws it which certainly isn’t helped by the fact, as an announcer put it, his receiving core are “smurfs”. His naivety was clear in the 4th quarter where he literally pulled his team out of field goal range and handed Houston the win.
  2. American announcers have a hard-on for JJ Watt. It became nauseating listening to those clowns suggest that JJ’s sack was the turning point in the game and that anybody who could even dream of returning from pectoral surgery so quickly is nothing short of a god. The man love was truly nauseating and a reminder of why I mute sports events at times, especially given the fact they mic’d him up and we all got to hear his Tony Robbins’ motivational crap all game.
  3. Watching DeShaun Watson it like watching a roulette wheel spin and you have the house on red. Events like his Houdini move in this game remind us he’s far from a sure thing and that JJ Watt probably had something to do with it anyway.

The food showdown involved a menu of items representative of the two cities. This one was a bit easy…ribs vs wings. In order to up the ante a bit I added a few other dishes; Texas Caviar and Western New York’s famed sandwich… the beef on weck. I haven’t been to Houston but it’s culinary scene seems to be improving. I also have a good friend there so it’s on my list for 2020. I have been to Buffalo numerous times (the last time to watch the Bills beat the Flaccoless Broncos) and have had the privilege of indulging in a Charlie the Butcher’s beef on weck. I have also dropped by the original Anchor bar to pig out on a platter of wings.

It started with making some Texas BBQ sauce. Although there are no shortage of online renditions of Lone Star sauces, there are a few commonalities which include a good amount of sugar and lots of apple cider vinegar. In the end, I opted for Aaron Franklin’s Masterclass recipe which in the end was a perky and more biting version of many of the sauces sold on store shelves. The back ribs were slowly cooked (275 degrees)for a few hours and the sauces was added for the last 30 and the temp upped a few degrees which resulted in a slight caramelization but a maintenance of the strong vinegar flavour.

Texas caviar is a side dish open to creative interpretation as well. Usually it consists of some combination of the following ingredients: black-eyed peas and/or black beans, peppers, jalapeno, tomato, onion and avocado. Then it is usually dressed with some kind of vinaigrette ranging from Italian dressing to an olive oil with red or white wine vinegar. I used all the above ingredients to maximize taste and texture and finished it with aforementioned olive oil/red wine vinegar combination. The subtle acid nicely cut the fattiness of the other dishes and provided a bit of refreshment similar to smart Josh Allen play in the second half if you happen to be a Bills’ fan.

Texas Caviar

I cook wings all the time and opted for a straight forward oven-baked version sauced with hot sauce and butter in typical buffalo style. When it comes to wings, there are no fancy sides necessary…celery and carrots with a tub of blue cheese works every time. I often go full out deep fry but I was kind of drunk and lazy by this point.

Wings…Carrots and Celery Missing..I was a little sauced myself.

Since wings are pretty easy I tackled the famed beef on weck as well. I seasoned up an outside round and threw in the oven for a few hours (at the same temperature as the ribs) until it was medium. After a rest, I sliced it up and through on some homemade Weck buns (ensuring to leave the polarizing caraway seeds off half the batch). I wasn’t the biggest fan of this recipe which called for almost 25 minutes of bake time at 425 which would have turned them into footballs even Tom Brady couldn’t deflate. They were a little dense for my liking but gives me something to work on for next year..just like Josh. In the end, it was no Charlie the butcher but made for a great pigskin snack.

For dessert I went with a dish from the eventual game winner; Texas bread pudding with a Whisky butter sauce. It was a pretty standard pudding using some old buns and brioche I had kicking around (I wouldn’t recommend the weck buns given the caraway!). I threw in some raisins and pecans for good measure. The whisky sauce called for 1/3 cup of bourbon which retrospectively was a bit much reminding that everything (including the risk of getting drunk off dessert) is in fact bigger in Texas.

Texas Bread Pudding with Whisky Butter Sauce

My Take

Although not a game for the Super Bowl, “wide right” may be tempered somewhat by “don’t get sacked when you’re in field goal range in overtime” or “I don’t give a shit if he’s Houdini…tackle him”. As for the food, both regions represent great party foods. The BBQ sauce was tangier than I’m used to buying and would almost pass as a good wing sauce as well. The Texas caviar would shut the pie holes of any vegan viewers (or you could just slap down some carrots and celery and keep the extra blue cheese for your wings). For dessert, I suspect many Bills fans would have ignored the pudding and lapped up the Whisky sauce as a new way to drown this decade’s new football sorrow.

Sandwiches: Not Only Damn Good but the Possible Key to Better Understanding the Generation Gap

More and more, the news is filled with stories of millennial opinion and influence. I recently read an article in Forbes magazine outlining the pending transfer of wealth from the boomers to the youngest generation and the disaster which may ensue. The #okboomer movement has been plastered all over social media and I even had to watch a news story about millennial preference for mayonnaise versus cranberries as an accompaniment for Christmas turkey. Things were further fueled by a recent discussion/argument I had with my son about the definition of a generation. I adhere to more of a biological definition whereas he looks at it more in a social context. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a generation is “a body of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor” or “a group of individuals born and living contemporaneously” so by definition we are both correct. However, I find it hard to define a generation by an arbitrary range of years endorsed by Wikipedia. For example, I have a daughter born in 1995 and my aforementioned son was born in 1997. Depending on the day of the week, both exhibit varied levels of millennial qualities such as entitlement, cluelessness and a hands-off but highly opinionated concept of social justice. However, despite having the same parents and being born 2 years apart, the are supposedly of a different generation since the most agreed upon cut-off for Generation Y (aka. millennial, echo boomers) and Generation Z (who avidly insist they are NOT millennial) is 1996.

So instead of using the letters XYZ or trending hashtags to categorize generations and since this is a food blog, maybe I can explain my thoughts using an analogy more in my wheelhouse…the sandwich.

Boomers– Boomers are the upper part of the sandwich. Historically, they have protected the rest of the sandwich from things like aggressive cling wrap, flies and other sandwich predators and generally are seen as crusty. These days, many see the upper crust as unnecessary as indicated by preferences for open faced concepts like avocado toast or tuna melts.

Generation X- Gen Xs are the sandwich filling. They touch both the upper and lower parts of the sandwich and are the most necessary for the total functionality of the sandwich. Although sometimes feeling a bit smothered by the upper crust, there is a general appreciation of the role they play (and played). Tuna is tuna and turkey is turkey…there is much less of a need to acutely define themselves.

Millenials/Gen Y, YZ etc. aka Echo Boomers. The base of the sandwiches. Feel as if they are burdened by bearing the weight of anything above them. As a result, they probably eat Big Macs upside down (after ordering on Skip the Dishes) to feel a sense of entitlement. Unlike the boomers who admit they are simply bread, it is important for millennials to sub divide themselves into categories like gluten/dairy free, organic, thin, texas toast, spelt, 12 grain, brioche, rustic, artisan, olive, vegan, panetonne or sourdough.

Speaking of sandwiches, I’m a huge fan of sandwiches and figured this would be a good time to review some of the better ones I’ve had this year. First, a few observations:

  1. I sadly did not eat enough sandwiches last year. Lunch is a meal I’m often likely to skip so it usually means the chance at a good sandwich is sacrificed.
  2. In some situations, a sandwich can be enhanced with a good side, vibe or concept so I also take this into consideration.
  3. Tacos and burgers are not sandwiches….they are…well…tacos and burgers.

Charlie the Butcher– Buffalo

I love regional foods and Western New York’s Beef on Weck in one of the best. Charlie the Butcher in Buffalo offers one of the best. The combination of the salted bun, tender beef and quick dip in the au jus makes for a near perfect sandwich. In addition, the sides are incredible (try the slaw) and if you are lucky enough you might even see Charlie himself slaving away in the kitchen..hard hat and all.

Good Friend Sandwich Company-Brantford

I stumbled across this place after a quick google search and have been back a few times since. It is a house converted into a homey sandwich shop owned and operated by aboriginals. While waiting you can peruse the shelves and look at language books or have a fun conversation with the woman behind the counter who is super friendly. There are a dozen or so choices including an apple and brie cheese panini with an addictive caramel dipping sauce (pictured below), the bacon butty (bacon on buttered buttermilk bread) and classics like pulled pork and beef dips. A small handful of chips is mandatory with every sandwich based on the simple logic that you can’t have a sandwich without a simple side…works for me.

Good Friends Sandwich Company- Apple and Brie Cheese Panini

Larder– Cleveland

Larder comes with great fanfare as it was a James Beard semi-finalist for best new restaurant in 2019. Set up in an old firehall, the space is adorned with old stoves, shelves of pickles and elixirs. The pork shoulder Reuben was a solid sandwich and is available with plenty of deli sides and served by very pleasant staff.

Larder’s Pork Shoulder Reuben

Deli Board-San Francisco

San Francisco is a haven for overpriced but great food and Deli Board is no exception. You’ll pay close to $20 US for a sandwich but it’s well worth it. There is a core menu plus daily specials so there is no shortage of choice. I went with a special called the Bubba (roast beef, bacon, cheddar, provolone, cherry pepper, slaw and 1000 island) served on their garlic dutch crunch bread. The space is clean and the service is efficient but this sandwich was so good you could have served it out of a Coleman cooler on a street corner and I’d still be happy.

The Bubba

Loops-Columbus

The Italian beef sandwich at Loops in Columbus was memorable. One of Guy’s DDD choices, the star of this Chicago-style sandwich was the giardiniera which provided a tangy and spicy punch to otherwise normal roast beef.

Loops’ Italian Beef Sandwich

Mermaid Avenue Sandwich Factory– Kingston

Any place that hinges its entire concept around a music group is cool with me. In the case of Mermaid Avenue sandwich company it’s Wilco, the Chicago based alternative band. They have a nice variety of offerings and while you wait you can get your fill of all things Wilco. My choice was the “How to Fight Loneliness ( Deli chicken, honey mustard, apple slices, cheddar cheese & bacon). I’ll admit, the protein was a little scarce but overall it’s a fun place to pop into for a quick bite.

Cake and Loaf-Hamilton

This bakery usually puts out 1-2 sandwiches a day on rotation and it’s first come first serve. However, I did call in advance and they were able to hold me a couple for pick up. In particular, the chicken jalapeno in incredible as is the tuna melt. While there, the bakery itself is amazing as well. You can score everything from scones to a take home pulled pork and mac and cheese pie.

My Take

First, I think I need to eat a few more sandwiches because there is no shortage out there. Second, I think I will start to refer to generations in the context of foodstuffs especially since I’m convinced my generation is the exciting stuff. Soon enough things will change and the next generation can take over the filling and stress the keto, oceanwise, free range or whatever makes a good hashtag or social cause. In the meantime, wait for your #okboomer inheritance, #stayinyourlane and remember #cranberriesarebetterthanmayo.

Skippa's Dippa or No Dippa..My Amazing Race to the Most Exciting Game Since Howie Mandel Called the Bank

I’m a big game show fan and I’ve certainly fallen under the spell of many gimmicky ones over the years. In my early years, I learned how to count on the Price is Right and had many arguments with my mom about the reasons why Bob Barker shouldn’t be a father figure (and for the record mom…both my dogs are spayed or neutered). I have had dreams about destroying the Clock Game in 14 seconds ($891..892..893…894) or purposely giving up the trip to Aruba to watch the hiker slip off the edge in Cliffhanger.

My obsession didn’t stop there. I tolerated Regis Philbin on Who wants to be a Millionaire and actually wore a monochrome dress shirt and tie on at least one occasion. I longed to be a game show masochist at the expense of Anne Robinson on the Weakest Link. I even tolerated Howie Mandel’s scrubbed down stand up as he demanded that a bunch of women a third his age “open the case” on Deal or no Deal.

Since Skippa has opened, it’s been on my list but I rarely have the fortitude to haul my ass all the way up to Harbord Street. The irony is when I finally did make the trek, I severely underestimated the restaurant’s distance from the subway. For some reason I assumed it would be in the cluster of other restaurants between Spadina and Bathurst. In fact, I had no idea that Harbord stretched all the way to Ossington so I felt like I was on the Amazing Race as I darted an extra 2 km with the clock ticking in order to get there within some acceptable proximity of my reserved time.

When I made the online reservation I had the choice of communal seating (nope..I’m antisocial), the bar (would be cool but I was meeting a few others) or a comfortable booth a few steps up and away from the kitchen…bingo! When I finally arrived after my trek we were quickly greeted by a very pleasant member of the waitstaff who politely explained the restaurant’s concept. Choice one is the “Trust Skippa” which is a $130 opportunity to sample the entire menu. The option was a la carte but within that list was a $45 today’s sushi option which allows one to sample of piece of each of the evening’s featured fish. The three of us decided to go for the sushi flight and share most of the remaining dishes on the menu.

After ordering some warm sake ( one of the first examples of attention to detail was having ability to choose your own sake glass from all sorts of shapes and sizes), the meal started with an unorthodox bread service featuring a seaweed sourdough accompanied but house made butter which had been fermented for 6 months. Brilliant.

Seaweed Sourdough Bread

You will rarely near me say that pictures speak louder than words, especially given my notorious reputation as a shitty shutterbug. That said, I think these pics are half decent and that said, they don’t have to be great to emit the quality of the offerings.

The opener was a clever amberjack sashimi dish garnished with kumquat and fresh wasabi. Beautifully balanced.

Amberjack and Kumquat

Immediately after finishing, our place settings were cleaned off and reset in anticipation of the next dishes; local shitaake mushroom and daikon in a soy milk bath BC scallops served with in shell and complemented with sunchoke.

Next was a kinoko salad made with maitake mushroom and seasoned with miso and topped with watermelon radish. I found it a little on the salty side but the texture of the mushroom and the contrast of the radish made me a little less salty about it.

The quail dish was accompanied with seasonal persimmons and citrus which put together was a nice contrast to the seafood. It was intense and hearty yet delicate at the same time.

Quail with Persimmon

Once again the dishes were cleared in preparation for the sushi course. Fresh ginger and a beautiful soy sauce were laid on the table but were instructed that the chef would indicate whether it was needed. To dip or not to dip?..that was the question. We waiting in anticipation for direction as each dish was presented:

Retrospectively, there was a bit of a code to the dip or no dip question. The tuna sushi tended to be left alone as as the whitefish that were already seasoned with other sauces. The rest were fair game for a soy dunk. Regardless, all were stellar. Nonetheless, it was a fun game with an anticipation reminiscent of finding out if somebody blew it on Deal or no Deal.

Given the quality the meal, there was no way I was declining dessert. I went with the oba, a simple yogurt based dessert flavored with meyer lemon, sorrel and pomegranate seed atop some crumble. The balance of tart, savory and sweet flavours was perfect but the contrasting textures and temperatures of the creamy yogurt, iced sorrel and crunchy base were even better. In fact, after finding some meyer lemons at Costco the next day, I’ve been searching the city (to no avail) for sorrel in an effort to recreate this dish at home…I may have to use mint or upland cress instead #firstworldproblems.

My Take

Skippa provided a spectacular dining experience and the “Dip or No Dip” game show was an added bonus. From the salads to the dessert, each dish was meticulously thought out and hinged on brilliant contrast in either temperature, texture or taste. The sushi was fresh and vibrant. The service was impeccable and the attention to detail was immaculate. Personally, I don’t think you need the whole $130 “Trust Skippa” menu..I was adequately satiated with the sushi flight and sharing the rest of the dishes with my table mates. Even then, compared to many other sushi joints, Skippa may be big bucks but I promise…no whammies.

Mad Magazine, Joanne Kates and why GVG and Jen Agg may be the Spy vs. Spy of Toronto's Culinary Scene

There is no argument that the world has changed substantially in the past two decades and media is no exception. One by one, longstanding publications are disappearing from the shelves and being replaced by virtual articles and snippets on online platforms. The latest fatality is Mad magazine. It can be argued that this iconic rag lead the way in political satire and was the blueprint for magazines like the onion some 35 years later. In addition, I can remember the tactile stimulation of delicately folding the inside of the back cover to reveal a picture hidden within the printed chaos. I remember it being more exciting that cracking open a kinder egg. It can also be argued that the magazine’s figurehead, Alfred E. Neuman, is the origin of the concept that gingers have no souls well before Trump proved it. Finally, Mad magazine may have foreshadowed today’s over the top fair play movement through the Spy vs. Spy comic. Unlike the Coyote and Road Runner, both were protagonists and equally alternated wins back and forth in a fashion similar to giving every kid a “thanks for coming out medal” in modern day youth athletics despite their performance.

Food media has changed as well. For example, it wasn’t long ago that people eagerly scoured a hard copy of the Globe and Mail in anticipation of the latest Joanne Kates Toronto restaurant review. Times have changed and now Ms. Kates is posting her thoughts online. Today, there are no shortage of critics…any google search now reveals a plethora of self-proclaimed experts (including myself) adding their two cents on blogs, snapchats or platforms like yelp… nowadays all you need is a tongue, a catchy handle and a general understanding of the English language to be an elite food writer.

Kates recently reviewed the newest Grant Van Gameren project and it hardly emerged with flying colours. Her argument was even if she is there for the wine, the food needs to be good because she is paying for it. She proceeds to complain more about the service than the grub itself and seems particularly concerned with the lack of kitchen hardware. On the other hand, in her review of Bar Vendetta, she acknowledges the food is less than stellar but you gotta go because of the vibe that only Jen Agg can create.

I’ll be the first to admit that Toronto’s food experience has drastically changed in the past 15 years. Things like three course meals and personal space have gone by the wayside and have been replaced with small plates and tight spaces plus/minus communal tables. Creative versus classic backdrops are the new norm and both GVG and Jen Agg lead the charge. Establishments like the Black Hoof and Bar Isabel were trendsetting and fundamental backbones of the Toronto food movement today. That said, here’s my take..backed up by a few followers and a willingness to pay 25 bucks a year to keep my cleverly named web domain.

Vibe

Both spaces are understandably loud and filled with hipster zombies and the odd #okboomer trying to fit in.

Bar Piquette– Small and bright with white tables and blackboards indicating the current and rather extensive wine by the glass choices along with a handful of accompanying food options. Instead of a hidden cellar, bottles adorned with “The Price is Right” tags are stored in a rustic cabinet teasing patrons within plain sight.

Bar Vendetta– Dark environment with mismatched tables and chairs and walls plastered with classic music posters and a Spy vs Spy mural featuring a broken wine bottle and a corkscrew as weapons…clever. Wine choices are less extensive and indicated on spotty and crinkled paper menus which are near impossible to read in the murky surroundings. It’s a place reminiscent of Eric’s basement hangout in that 70’s show.

The Food

Bar Piquette– Limited menu of cold choices. We opted for a classic beef tartare, a tomato salad intertwined with guanciale and a simple cheese toast. Admittedly a little pedestrian but the ingredient were of stellar quality and each dish paired nicely with the one the many exciting selection of unique vinos.

Bar Vendetta– The menu focuses on pasta at peaks hours and gimmicks like muffuletta sandwiches and nachoes pre- and post-prime time respectively. My trio of dishes included the tuna diavolo, eggplant and trecce pasta. The tuna was vibrant and fresh and balanced nicely with a little heat courtesy of some fresh chilis. The eggplant and pasta on the other hand were pretty substandard. There was the odd bite of brilliance in the eggplant but overall it was rather bland and uninspiring, The pasta, which I assumed would be the pinnacle of the experience, was the biggest letdown mainly due to the fact it was uncooked and almost crunchy.

The Drink

Bar Piquette– The wine selection was bold and unique with plenty of by the glass offerings from all over the place. Temptation came screaming from the custom cabinet but I mainly stuck to glasses of skin-on organics and other fun libations.

Bar Vendetta– We made of the mistake of ordering cocktails in a wine bar and paid dearly. I’m always nervous to trash cocktails based on my own odd booze-forward tastes but after playing sharsies with the Dry Clean, Provocateur and Fade Out, my trusted table mates and I concurred that none of them where anywhere close to stellar. These were followed with a decent glass of Pearl Morisssette Irreverence and an Italian Valdibella Nero d’Avola chosen from what was quite frankly a less than impressive list, especially from a place touting itself as a wine bar.

My Take

Maybe Jen Agg and Grant Van Gameren are the Spy vs Spy of Toronto’s culinary scene. Each dream up a culinary scheme and see how it flies. Given their entry into the realm of wine bars, it’s not too far off to suggest that they may in fact have a rivalry similar to the corkscrew and broken bottle mural on Bar Vendetta’s wall. In most cases, both emphasize the vibe of their establishments and the polar nature of their latest projects will certainly lead to each patron picking a different winner. Personally, I like a brighter, wine forward place where Bob Barker could pop in any minute and ask me the price of a skin-organic wine without going over. On the other hand, people like Joanne Kates seem to prefer a venue where you could squint as you listen to Zeppelin and smoke up with Kelso. I’m also much less concerned about kitchen hardware and would prefer a decent beef tartare and other quality meats versus a head-scratching eggplant and under cooked pasta even when using a stove. If it came down to it and I had to choose between the two, I’d Piquette over Vendetta any day.