Bono: Two Degrees from Kevin Bacon but Only “One” from Mark McEwen

I have a love/hate relationship with U2. One can’t help but appreciate the talent of the four Irish boys even if it at times their music is clouded with political mumbo jumbo and the haze of enormous egos.  Perhaps my opinion in this regard  was somewhat softened when it was revealed in 2014 that Bono wears blue-blockers in front of the world’s dignitaries not to look like an assclown or in public in order to qualify for  the Senior rate at the movies but because he suffers from glaucoma which he has for years. That said, it  still doesn’t forgive the fact that they were found guilty of pure arrogance for their “Songs of Innocence” iTunes  fiasco where they made the assumption that the entire world wanted their new album.

If one were to ask me my favorite U2 song from their vast library of music which spans a number of musical decades, I would have to say the live version of “Bullet the Blue Sky” off of the Rattle and Hum album. As far as bad songs, I’d say anything off the Zooropa album.

So what do Mark McEwan and Bono have in common?  Probably nothing.  One’s a singer and one’s a chef.  One is moderately tall and one is moderately short. I imagine the two of them would interpret the word “edge” very differently.  Maybe I can make a case by saying that the title “One” is not only one of  U2’s biggest hits but also the  name of  Yorkville’s contribution to the  McEwan eatery empire and that in fact Bono has been seen dining there during one  of his many stops in Toronto.

I was there with a larger group and the night got started with a cocktail. In my case, it was the paper plane. Made with bourbon, amaro nonino,  aperol and lemon juice and with a staggering price tag of $20, it was supposed named after the song (paper plane by MIA) the creator was listening to at the time. It certainly met my cocktail criteria in that it was pink ( a running joke regarding my normal choices). It came with a small fruit fly as well which I wasn’t overly concerned about given the warm weather.  The waiter took it back with an apology and promptly replaced it.

For my starter I chose the Heirloom carrot salad, pomegranate yogurt, cauliflower, avocado, orange, pistachios, raisin chutney and cilantro vinaigrette.  Despite a mishmash of ingredients you normally wouldn’t expect together on a plate, it has a predominately middle eastern taste and was beautifully presented for a reasonable $16.  The cauliflower was seasoned nicely and the raisin chutney and yogurt were fantastic. The orange and avocado were a little odd but added a nice dimension of texture and flavour.  

one salad
Heirloom Carrot Salad $16

For the main I decided on the Ravioli Duo heirloom squash and ricotta raviolis, short rib ragu and Pecorino Romano for $26.  The pasta was tender and fully stuffed with a nicely seasoned filling.  The short rib, in addition to the pecorino, added a welcomed saltiness to the dish.  I can argue it was a little chintzy for the price but it was reasonably filling and allowed some room for dessert.

one pasta
Ravioli Duo $26

Dessert was banana cream pie with peanut shortbread crust, malted chocolate pastry cream, butterscotch and vanilla chantilly and was a steal at $9.   It was elegant and filthy at the same time. The fresh bananas were a smart addition as was the thin, crispy brittle on top.I also snagged a bite of the white chocolate cheesecake served with a sour cherry compote.  It too was a bit bipolar; the comfort of Sara Lee on one side and a whimsy delicateness on the other.

one dessert
Banana Cream Pie $9

I finished the night with one of the worst americanos I have ever had.  If I’m paying $6 for a coffee, it better be mind blowing and not something that tasted like it came out of a Keurig.

My Take

I couldn’t help but hum a few U2 songs along with the lepers in my had while dining at One.  From the clean and crisp decor to the pristine presentation and premium pricing, it’s a piece that fits perfectly into the Yorkville puzzle where the streets have names although  it can take me a while to find what I’m looking for.  The food and service was quite good highlighted by a really pleasant salad and the sinful dessert which was the sweetest thing. The coffee was bad. Although I couldn’t help but sing “One”  when I got there, after a couple of sips of the paper plane I couldn’t help humming “The Fly” until the appetizer came.

One Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Sweet Jesus: Stupid Conservatives and Singing Brewer and Shipley to Deal with Food Paparazzi and Grade School Art Projects

When it comes to the latest trends in the food world, dessert is never left out.  In fact, it seems to turn over more quickly than vegetables like kale and cauliflower.  In the past few years alone, for example, we have seen the peak and trough of cupcakes and donuts.  With the emergence of any of these trends, you can count on three things; a flurry of such shop openings on every street corner, a simultaneous spike in prices and people lining up to hop on the bandwagon.

The newest dessert trend is ice cream.  Despite the fact it doesn’t travel really well, people are flocking to dairy bars across the city looking for the latest spin on the simple treat.  The latest to throw their cone in the vat is Sweet Jesus. Located at King and John, this small space offers coffee and churros all day (I tried these as well and must say both the coffee and  churros with cajeta was more than acceptable)  and at noon the ice cream insanity begins.  The crowd arrives and cramps into the small space while snapping pictures like they are stalking celebrities on the red carpet at the Bell Lightbox around the corner.  I guess one cannot have too many photos of coffee bags and neon signs.

Americano ($3) and Churros ($4)
Americano ($3) and Churros ($4)

In order to calm my nerves in the midst of selfie sticks and indecisive foodies, I started humming  Brewer and Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line” in my head. This 1971 song cracked the top 10 in the US and Canada and was deemed a gospel song by Lawrence Welk despite the fact vice-president at the time Spiro Agnew called the duo subversive to the youth of America in another example of classic conservative naivety, stupidity and confusion. Regardless…it has a nice melody so I went to my happy place signing “It’s a joke that I am in line at Sweet Jesus” over and over again in my head amidst the chaos.

The menu is pretty simple.  There are 4 kinds of soft serve available (marshmallow, vanilla, chocolate and raspberry lemonade) available for $3.75 in which you can have dipped for a dollar.  There are also a dozen or so jacked-up, fancy cones for $6.  You can also get a $4 Mexican popsicle if so inclined.   I went with the lemon coconut cream pie which is exactly like it sounds.  You order, give your name, pay (cash, debit or credit) and wait in the mob until your name is called. Each cone (the base being the old school cones you would get at any parlour) is carefully constructed like a school art project using squirt bottles (eg. for the lemon curd) and plastic containers (eg. for the coconut). In other cases, marshmallows are hand placed on the ice cream tower like Christmas decorations on a tree.  It’s horribly inefficient and time consuming but I suppose it rumbles up the same internal thrill as watching Giuseppe make you a table side Caesar salad at a outdated  Italian joint.  The product itself was acceptable but far from mind-blowing and six bucks is way too much despite the American-like  portion size.  The soft serve itself was more icy than creamy and the toppings became monotonous quickly.

Lemon Coconut Cream Pie Cone ($6)
Lemon Coconut Cream Pie Cone ($6)

My Take

I don’t know why I partake in standing in line for food.  I think it’s an attempt to try and understand the psyche of a foodie.  I would love to do a brain scan to assess the part of the brain that glows red while one is standing in line waiting for the latest trend.  I have never been a lover of crowds.  Sweaty bars and mosh pits make me cringe as much as selfie sticks.  I suppose if there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as a result it would be worth it but I couldn’t say that somebody’s B minus art project fits into that category.  In the end, Sweet Jesus was not worth the hassle.  The line was long, the setup was inefficient and the product wasn’t mind-blowing.  The staff were nice though and I commend them for continuing to smile while the food paparazzi  made ordering ice cream seem like a Drake sighting.  For now, I’ll leave the soft serve to Costco and the art to my grade school son.

Sweet Jesus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Her Majesty’s Pleasure and Buca Yorkville: A Double Shot of the Real Housewives of Toronto

I was meeting a couple of friends for lunch and we wanted to try out Wilbur, the new Mexican place on King about half way between Portland and Brant.  It was completely unorganized and crazy and since time was of the essence we went next door to Her majesty’s pleasure.  I feel this preamble is important in order to justify why I chose a salon/nail bar for lunch.  I mean, I’ve never had a manicure or pedicure in my entire life and have no problem sitting down for a $20 haircut.

The decor is….well…very white.  I suppose the rationale is the promotion of cleanliness and a glistening that matches the teeth of the smiling patrons who are getting one hand painted with powder rose varnish while using the other to sip perky pink cocktails with mint leaves and raspberries in them.  Sounds of grinding coffee and fake laughs filled the air.  It was a bit surreal and I found myself looking around for the Real Housewives of Toronto camera crew tucked in a corner. I took a trip to the washroom and realized how big the place actually was. I passed numerous stations equipped with mirrors, blow dryers etc. waiting to primp or crimp or whatever the style of the day happens to be.

The menu is small and consists mainly of organicy, vegany, skin cleansing, waist slimming salads (which I’m sure go great with a fruity cocktail), a sandwich or two and a kettle of soup.  As mentioned, you can grab a espresso-based beverage or a number of potent potables. The woman behind the counter took great pride in the offerings, gladly handing out samples of the homemade mushroom soup.  I settled on it  with a grilled cheese made with homemade bacon jam finished in the “we are too small to have a kitchen” panini press. Add a decaf americano and the bill came to $19.

Decaf Americano
Decaf Americano
Mushroom Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon Jam
Mushroom Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon Jam

As I ate in my street clothes with my less than coiffed hair I felt a little like a Bridal Path housekeeper on a lunch break. The soup and sandwich were pretty decent.  The bacon jam was delicious. All in all, it was a satisfying lunch.   The people watching was phenomenal and I’m sure the patrons were wondering what a jagged nailed bum like me was doing in such an environment.    That said, the staff was cordial and played the permasmile supporting role effectively.

A few days later I went for dinner at Buca Yorkville.  I was hosting a dinner for 7 so we had to take a 6 pm reservation.  That said, we were seated immediately and they were patient with the one or two in the party who are chronologically challenged (or couldn’t find the place..it can be a bit tricky). At that point,  we got the family style speech plus the fact that the Yorkville  menu represented fare from the sea vs the terrene focus of their sister restaurant Buca on King.  It’s always a joy trying to reach a shared consensus with 7 very different palates at the table but we eventually decided on an array of offerings:

Wine 

As expected, there was a decent selection of wine.  We started with a very subtle Soave (La Cappuccina-$65) which I enjoyed more than I would a Prosecco.  After a short debate, we ordered Castelfeder Sauvignon Blanc ($75) later in the meal. I almost send it back but after getting a second opinion, we kept it at the table.  It just had a taste  more sour (like passion fruit) and was less crisp and spicy than the New Zealand ones we are more accustomed to.   A few guests at the table commented that the taste grew on them.

Gnocco Fritto ($9)

These squid ink dumplings were served warm.  Although they looked like charcoal briquettes, they were absolutely delicious.  The accompanying tuna n’duja was spicy and seasoned perfectly.  I could’ve eaten a whole lot of these.

Dumplings $9
Gnocco Fritto $9

Nodini ($6)

Bucaites swear by these doughy balls of goodness.  It’s hard to go wrong with garlic, olive oil and rosemary anything so these were not disappointing.

Nodini $6
Nodini $6

Anguilla ($19)

I was really excited for this dish.  Eel prepared “in saor” ( a breaded, vinegar preservation method) and finished with pine nuts and the sweet and sour contrast of sea buckthorn and maple syrup sounded dreamy.  It was better on paper; the eel was lost in the batter and the contrast of flavours wasn’t as prominent as I expected.

Anguilla $19
Anguilla $19

Branzino ($42)

This dish was recommended in advance by a colleague of mine.  I think table side preparation is a growing trend and I was excited to watch a sea bass get transformed into crudo in front of my eyes.  The sexiness of such  an act was somewhat impaired by an equipment malfunction when one of the wheels of the cart flew off in transit.  The recovery was quick and the fish was carved and finished with prosecco, lemon and high quality olive oil.   It was a classic example of the power of good, high quality and fresh ingredients. I saw quite a few of these fish carved throughout the night and was surprised to see how few people paused to admire the workmanship, especially with the steep price tag of forty plus dollars.

Branzino $42
Branzino $42

Pastas

As a table, we ordered three pastas from the group of seven; the spaghetti pomodoro ($19), the famous bigoli ($18) which is one of the few items which made the trip from the king street location and the ravioli doppi ($39) which is stuffed with lobster and parsnip.  The pomodoro (not pictured) was near perfect.  The pasta was a magnificent al dente and I tasted the saltiness of the sea as I dreamed of the server’s story of Italian tomatoes grown 100 meters from the saline waters on Italy’s coast. The bigoli was ducky;literally and figuratively.  The ravioli, which arrived well before the other two, was a bit disappointing.  I found the pasta a little thick especially when it is meant to house the delicate taste of lobster.  I also made the mistake of cutting the ravioli the wrong way meaning I got nothing but a mouthful of parsnip in the first bite (the pasta was stuffed with the lobster on one side and the pungent root on the other).  Even when I corrected by oversight, I still found it disappointing, especially for $39.

Ravioli Doppi $39
Ravioli Doppi $39
Budini $19
Bigoli $18

Pizza

At one point I was worried about time.  Most restaurants do two seatings for big tables and I was worried we would be rushed as it was approaching 8 pm and we still hadn’t received pizza or anything else we planned to order.  However, it was quickly evident that there was no need to rush, especially given the huge void of time between courses, especially the pasta and pizza.  The server arrived with a margherita ($17), a nero di seppia ($19) and a pair of scissors. I thought the pizzas were literally night and day.  The night was the dark and disappointing nero pizza.  It looked a bit like a scrambled Italian flag or a Christmas decoration.  There was no adhesion whatsoever; it was a bunch of stuff scattered across squid ink dough.  The day was the light and refreshing margherita which delivered everything it promised.

 Nero di seppia $19
Nero di seppia $19

Meat and Vegetable

We didn’t initially order this, but the consensus at the table was that we needed more food so we ordered the costole di bisonte ($36) and a side of cavofiori ($10). I would have expected them to arrive together but the bison rib was served almost 10 minutes before the cauliflower.  Maybe it’s the English in me, but I would have expected them to be served together for the meat and vegetable experience.  The rib was smart and certainly meaty; the sunchoke and walnuts added a wonderful earthiness to the dish.  The cauliflower was surprisingly simple but delicious. It was served with lardo, and finished with pecorino and duck egg yolk.

Bison Rib $36
Bisonte $39
Cavolfiori $10
Cavolfiori $10

Zeppole ($12)

Dessert was zeppole, otherwise known as an Italian or in this case a roman donut (which may be a bit risque if you were to look up urban dictionary’s definition).  It can best be described as cannoli on steroids. The normal brittle, cookie exterior was replaced with a chewy, bagel-like shell which housed a filling that was a sweet pistachio cream offset by a sour cherry sauce.  It was absolutely delicious and is now on my list of the things I have specific cravings for.

Zeppole $12
Zeppole $12

My Take

During the meal, I had another housewife of Toronto experience. A table of 6 women walked in, apparently celebrating some sort of birthday, anniversary, facelift etc. They would all greet each other with toothy smiles and friendly hugs and then take their jackets off only to replace them a minute later once everybody could get a peak of the wares which lied beneath.   I found myself somewhat entranced by the whole scene and started to understand why people might actually watch these housewife exposes.  I wondered if at least one of them made a trip to her majesty’s pleasure earlier to the day to sip a drink and think about eating something while primping up for a competitive evening with the girls.

Entertainment aside, the experience was pretty good.  The meal started and ended well (I still crave that tuna n’juda and zeppole) with a few up and downs in between. The service itself was incredible.  The timing, however, was a bumpy as the fish cart with the blown wheel.  There were lags between courses and even delays within the courses.  Some of the dishes (the eel, ravioli doppi and the branzino crudo) were rather overpriced.   It seems that the best dishes were the simple ones and the more complex ones were confusing and unreasonably expensive.

Aside from the land versus sea menu, I think there is a bit of a struggle to define how this Buca location will compare and contrast to the King Street location. There is the need to adhere to the old school “everybody is family” Italian philosophy combined with the pretentious demands of the Yorkville faithful.   I think it can work as long as the concept and efforts don’t come across looking as fake as the lips and boobs of the housewives of Toronto.

 

 

 

Buca (Yorkville) on Urbanspoon

Her Majesty's Pleasure on Urbanspoon

A #Zomato Lesson at Portland Variety

I don’t get twitter.  I mean I understand the general premise (most of my tweets are simply links to my blog posts or a picture of a half empty beer that I might think would be cool to post in a drunken stupor) but I can’t get my mind around hashtags. First of all, it’s a pound sign.  I’ve never been asked to enter a hashtag after entering my PIN or a password  during a phone call.  Second, I don’t know which hashtags are correct or incorrect.  Perhaps the strategy is to simply guess in hopes that somebody else has the same thought process as you.  Maybe there’s  a secret directory I could access at #hashtags or that it’s a matter of practice makes perfect. Let’s give it a try.

I recently agreed to meet a staff member of #Zomato, a new foodie site set to launch in Canada in the coming weeks.  Legend has it Zomato started in India by an entrepreneur who was tired of not having access to the most #currentmenus at local restaurants. Since then, it has evolved to a information/social network designed specifically for #foodies .  The staff work vigilantly with local eateries to ensure that the information is up to date and accurate.  Sites like #urbanspoon and #yelp rely on the customer who often can’t tell time, have a odd definition of the phrase average noise and assumes a place has take out if they see styrofoam containers stacked in the #openkitchen. You can also form networks and bloggers can link their #nonsensicalrants  directly to the site.

I figured#portlandvariety would be an ideal place to meet for a coffee.  Located at the esteemed corner of #KingandPortland, Portland Variety is following the lead of places like #barbuca by opening all day.  During the day, it is a haven for #coffee and #pastries and transforms into #smallplates as the day goes on.  The front of the place has high marble-topped  tables and glass cases displaying cookies, pastries and other #sweettreats. The back of the house has  some yellow bench seating #againstthewall (wait….I have a feeling  this hashtag would solicit comments that have nothing to do with comfortable seating) and tables scattered throughout the open space. There is also a large bar which promises #libations once the party starts around 5 pm.

After a brief introduction to #zomatogirl, I ordered a decaf #amerciano and a shrimp salad sandwich. The coffee was made quickly but they had to verify that the sandwich was still possible before ringing me in.  After getting the #thumbsup, we had a seat in the back.   I wasn’t sure if they would bring the sandwich out or if I had to head back to the front to pick it up.  After I waited #whatseemedlikeaneternity, I walked up to inquiry.  I was able to witness the final assembly and watched it sit on the counter for a bit before I finally #waveddown a staff member to get it.

The americano #hitthespot and the sandwich was decent as well.  In particular, the croissant was #lacedwithbutter, resulting in a flaky and  moist #breadstuff (I’m convinced I can make up words with hashtags).  The delicate texture of the well prepared shrimp were not dulled  by the sweet dressing.

Shrimp salad on a crossiant
Shrimp salad on a crossiant

 

Shortly after the meeting, she posted a picture of her sandwich to twitter, copied me and included the hashtags #inmytummy and #sandwich me!. I have no idea where she got these hash tags from but I almost wanted to ask if she just made them up.   I mean…why not #betweenthebread or #lunchplate? I’m still confused.

My Take

Although I can’t comment on the #dinnerrush, Portland Variety is a comfortable place to grab a pastry and a coffee, both of which are much better in quality than what you might get at #overratedcoffee jaggernaut.  I can’t confirm the wifi situation, but yelp tells me they dont…so #whatashame.  I would easily sit here for an hour and get some computer work done as opposed to the cramped quarters of #seattlesfavourite.

I plan to come back for #whatsfordinner sometime soon.  In the meantime, Portland Variety will be #topofmind for a #daytimepitstop, especially if I can confirm they  have or decide to get a wifi connection for customers. Ironically, this is one of those places that doesn’t post their menu on their website which is #annoying.  Maybe Zomato will help.

Portland Variety Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

 

Review:The Annex:Bickford Flexitarian

When I was looking for a place to grab some breakfast, I came across the Bickford Flexitarian, a relatively new cafe on Harbord St. When I heard the name, it reminded me of a classic novel synonymous with Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte or Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence.

The Bickford Flexitarian
A Fare..Eat..Ale about Flax Seed and Forgiveness

It was a sweltering summer day. Two figures emerged from a vehicle amongst the modest laden cyclists who painted the roads. The contrasting ideologies of the two made  choosing a venue difficult. Although both shared an affinity for fine fare, a conflict emerged. He was a portly porkivore; she a gluten intolerant pescatarian. They shared a very similar yet different passion for food. Rumours of the Bickford Flexitarian had filled the air and these pilgrims were on a maiden journey to this haven in which communal eating could occur regardless of where they choose to eat on the food chain.

As they approached the air seemed barren. There was a eerie stillness which bled into the uneven sidewalks. The pit in their stomachs grew as they walked toward the inevitable. The doors were locked, the counters were bare. No warning was provided; both the website and facebook betrayed them. After the tedious journey through traffic and the descent toward their destination, the harvest was nil. He clenched his hands in frustration as they turned in unison and returned alone the same trail they had just carved. He was scorned and promised himself that some retribution would occur. Perhaps an ill-tempered tweet or a cantankerous comment to those who would listen would remedy his angst.

A handful of fortnights later he was on a solo mission in the vicinity of the Bickford. A whisper of distain returned as the memories filled his head. Once again, cyclists were weaving and ringing their bells along the Harbord St paths in efforts to alert irate drivers and unaware squirrels  to their presence. With a renewed swagger, he proceeded to the front door to find it ajar. The Bickford was open.

As promised, the list of fare was diverse, ranging from raw and vegan to blackened chicken omelettes. The proprietor was a pleasant lass. Perhaps out of an increased curiosity for the raw food movement or perhaps out of homage to his missing partner, he inquired about the walnut banana “french toast.” Without pretension, she beamed that the toast was the creation of her own hands but subtly questioned his commitment, likely the result of his phenotype which suggested a probable affinity for all things ham. He assured her he was of sound mind and that he wasn’t nuts; he just wanted to eat them, along with an Americano of course.

As he was waiting he confessed his frustration over his previous fruitless endeavour.   He was told the Bickford  was closed on Tuesdays during the summer months, a practice which was common among many establishments.  Her pleasant demeanor filled his heart and he had an instant need to forgive the oversight.

The delivery of the goods was prompt.   As promised, it was a bit of an adventure off the beaten path. The “toast” itself was dense and full of earthy flavours.   The cashew cream made butter seem like an ex-girlfriend and the date syrup was sultry to the tongue.  The walnuts, blueberries and pollyanna fruit cup were perfect accessories.  He deemed the  Americano delicious as well.  It was true, he somewhat longed for some salty swine to complete the dish but there was solace in  the fact that he was able to adhere to the philosophy of his missing travel mate and the other tree hugging cyclists he carefully avoided on his way into the Bickford to begin with.

Walnut Banana 'French Toast' $10.50
Walnut Banana ‘French Toast’ $10.50

As he ate, other patrons ventured inside with many interested in the  baked goods which lined the shelves.  In particular the gluten free muffins seemed to be a hit.  Since he had a work rendezvous with this travel mate the next day, he asked the lass to hold one for him. She gladly complied and wrapped it for the pending trip. Upon his departure he produced his means of payment only to be told to put it away and accept the muffin as an apology for the previous confusion.

He ventured back to his vehicle with a new found admiration for the Bickford Flexitarian. True, all it took was a muffin but it was more than that. It was about respect, acknowledgment and remedy.

By the way, she enjoyed the muffin.

My Take

The Bickford Flexitarian has plunged into the competitive cafe/coffee shop market.  Although located a bit off the beaten path, there is plenty of bike traffic as well as those who take Harbord to avoid the clogged arteries of College or Bloor streets.  Speaking of clogged arteries, Bickford offers hearty breakfasts that spare the heart and are more creative than the glass enclosed baked goods a lot of the others offer.  They also realize that serving healthy food doesn’t need to come with a side of self-righteousness.

The story of Bickford Flexitarian is one of betrayal and forgiveness which, unlike a story such as Jane Eyre, has a happy ending. Ok…that’s a bit much but I often longed to spend my days drinking coffee  and writing about my interpretation of the state of society.  The irony is it took the consumption of a raw walnut banana  flax bread for me to do so.

Bickford Flexitarian on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Riverdale/Leslieville:Ruby Watchco

Lynn Crawford is arguably one of the most recognizable Canadian chefs on network TV.  Not only is she is a local icon, consulting for shows like Marylin Denis and  starring in shows like Pitchin’ In and Restaurant Makeover, she has become a household name across the border by tackling Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America  and recently competing  on Top Chef Masters.   I’ll also argue she is a sorceress.

I had the opportunity to meet her and chef Lora Kirk at a food truck fund raiser a while back.  At this point I had been to Ruby Eats, her retail outlet featuring pickles, jams, specialty foods and take out lunches. On the other hand,  I hadn’t yet ventured to Ruby Watchco, her single  menu, set price family style venue  a few doors down on Queen East.  I’d had intentions and I’m not fussy in general (other than tomatoes, olives, goat cheese and lamb) but the latter seemed to the be main course every time I had the chance to go.

Finally, the stars aligned.  I was in town, loved the look of the menu, called and was greeting by a pleasant voice who booked me  a “half eight” reservation (I think old school UK accents are so cool…I suddenly had Ruby Tuesday by the Stones in my head..after all it was a Tuesday and I was going to Ruby).   After verifying with my translator, I confirmed that this indeed meant 830 and I was good to go.

The decor is a mix of modern and rustic.  It’s long and narrow, with a large bar on the left and a semi-open kitchen in the back.  Laura was front and centre and Lynn was buzzing around in the background.  The waitstaff were dressed with a professionalism Charles the Butler would approve of.

Here’s where the sorcery comes in.  Looking at the menu, you think you’re going to get off easy.  I mean, $49 for a 4 course meal orchestrated by one of Canada’s most recognizable chefs seems like a steal.  What you’re not told is the series of temptations that await once you are seated. Take for example, the Red Derby, Ruby’s spin on the Caesar.   I was warned by a friend who was there the week before that  the Caesar was addictive.  It looked innocent enough, served without the bells and whistles such a side of charcuteire or a lobster tail.  It was a straight up Caesar served with Charlie’s pickles (of which I have purchased a few jars in the past and thoroughly enjoyed at home) which hit all the elements of the classic Canadian cocktail. At $14 a pop, I gave in and had a couple over the course of the meal.

Red Derby $14
Red Derby $14

The evening’s menu started with “Barrie Hills Farms’ Watermelon Salad”. It was a slew of everything from feta to prosciutto to radish.  The watermelon was not as abundant as i predicted but  added enough  sweet to balance the diversity of salty and bitter flavours which were abundant in the other ingredients.  The dressing was delicate and catalyzed instead of drowning  the salad’s fresh ingredients.

Watermelon Salad
Watermelon Salad

Temptation two from Lynn’s bag of tricks was Lora’s lobster BLT.  $16 gets you half a sandwich served with cocktail sauce.  Using my primary math skills means a whole sandwich would equate to $32, but it’s lobster! and worth it.  It’s one of the better things I’ve eaten this year.  The bread stayed crisp despite housing a concoction of chunky lobster meat and avocado. The debate was the use of the cocktail sauce.  In one sense I didn’t want to mask the flavour of the lobster.  On the other hand, the tangyness was a great compliment to the sweet sandwich filling.

Laura's BLT ($16)
Lora’s BLT ($16)

The cheddar biscuits were a nice addition to the meal.  Nothing speaks to family dinners  like the smell of freshly baked biscuits and Ruby’s were fluffy and delicious.

Biscuits
Biscuits

With the main course , my head was filled with memories of old  family dinners  which featured overcooked pot roast, lumpy potatoes, soggy greens and carrots which disintegrate with the touch of the fork.  Ruby’s, on the other hand, redefined the meal with an offering of grilled flank steak with sweet hot pepper sauce served with potato salad, charred broccoli and roasted heirloom carrots.  Each component was well executed, the sauces were delicious and the portions were a good size.  Sure, the broccoli could have used a little more char and the carrots an extra minute cooking, but it was a rewarding meal that didn’t need to be salvaged by a ladle full of trio gravy.

Flank Steak, Potato Salad, Broccoli and Carrots
Flank Steak, Potato Salad, Broccoli and Carrots

Damn you goat cheese! I loathe you so! Despite the beautiful presentation, I couldn’t finish it.  I could have easily eaten a bowl of the honey and peaches though. I asked my colleague his thoughts; he enjoyed the cheese and would have even liked more of the peach/honey mix.

Ruby's Cheese Course
Ruby’s Cheese Course

Dessert was a maple pot de creme topped with strawberries.    My biggest problem was the portion size (it was probably adequate but the dessert was so good it just wasn’t enough). I could have eaten three of them. My colleague suggested a sprinkle of salt (or bacon) may have been a nice touch although I think Lynn would have something to say about that.

Maple Pot de Creme
Maple Pot de Creme

Once again,   I succumbed to the wizardly of Lynn and ordered an Americano afterwards.  It wasn’t very good and I was charged $5 (which is one the highest prices I’ve paid for one). It was a bit of a bitter end to the night (primarily because coffee is bitter I suppose).

My Take

Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watchco employs a concept few chefs could get away with…one menu at one price (but in the words of Mick Jagger.. “Who could hang a name on you? When you change with every new day.”…damn that song is still in my head).  The nightly menu is generally traditional (brick chicken, fish on Fridays etc…)  and may not appeal to everybody on a daily basis, especially those looking for pulled pork tacos or a bowl of ramen.  I will admit the single menu choice has kept me away a few times.  Once there, however, you are thrown into an environment which combines the modernism of Toronto eateries with the tradition of a sit down Sunday dinner (although they are closed on Sundays).

Once again, Lynn Crawford is a sorceress.  Her promise of a $49 dinner gets clouded by a spell of choice cocktails and seductive sandwiches. The next thing you know. the bill inflates to triple digits but you can’t help but leave feeling pretty satisfied.    In addition, you can avoid the pitfalls of a family dinner: there is no need to pretend like your annoying niece is cute or that you care about the cyst on your Aunt’s cat Fluffy’s paw. Ya, it costs a bit more but maybe I can offer to pitch in and shuck some oysters or pick some peaches for a few bucks off.

Ruby Watchco on Urbanspoon

Where’s Salty?:The Case of the Missing Culinary Clan

There’s an ongoing marketing campaign looking for salty, a cute little salt shaker who went missing when Knorr cut salt by 25% in their Sidekicks side dishes.  His buddy pepper searched the earth looking for him and Knorr went as far as to offer the consumer 25K to find him.

Missing- Salty

Honestly, I don’t know where salty ended up but I think he is stuck  somewhere on the island of misfits  with a bunch of other items that have mysteriously disappeared from restaurants tables over the past few years.  Long, long ago there used to be a carousel of condiments glued to tables containing recycled bottles of Heinz ketchup with a questionable upper crust and a peeling label, a half-empty squeeze container of mustard that magically never empties and a token three packages of tartar sauce with faded yellow edges and no expiry date. Instead, this contraption has been replaced by a floating candle, house made hot sauce or a centrepiece expressing the sadness and lament toward those who do not adhere to a locovore diet.

In all seriousness, salt and pepper shakers have gradually faded into oblivion like molten lava cakes and dandelion greens. Salt went first and despite a tough fight, pepper followed after a spell of confinement in large wooden mills controlled by smiling food servants keen to add the perfect amount to your pasta or salad. Chefs have taken the liberty of seasoning food perfectly, eliminating the need for table dwelling peasants to finish the dish based on their personal preferences. 

Tap water has also vanished, replaced by “still or sparkling” or something identified only by Q water which flows from a draught tap, usually at a cost of three or four bucks a person.  Fountain pop is almost extinct as the pednulum has swung from environmental protection to reliving the nostaglia of yesterday by selling premium sodas in bottles reminiscent of the thick horn-rimmed glasses worn by Uncle Fredrick  and popularized again by the  server cracking the top open with his tattoo-riddled forearm. 

Bread baskets have had the biscuit…literally….replaced by baked goods full of buttermilk, jalapeno/cheddar or black olive and sundried tomato. Gone are the overly hard butter packets and  ramikins of whipped butter.  Instead, shallow bowls of organic oils with droplets of Modena balsamic vinegar grace the tables now.

A suggestion of brewed coffee after a meal often raises an eyebrow or two followed by a response along the lines of  “Sorry, sir, we do not serve brewed coffee but I would be happy to get you an Americano”.  I just shrug my shoulders and dream of the days when the Bunn machine was pumping out half-ass coffee much to the pleasure of Timbucktoos and ICCs (see Argueing with Venti Caffiends post for more details).  I just can’t picture Phyllis the waitress of times yonder whipping up frothy vanilla lattes instead of ripping open a portion pack of coffee grounds and slamming the filter into the reinforced steel basket. Equally as sad is the removal of triangular desserts such as pies and cakes; they have been “deconstructed” or sentenced to death by consumption out of a mason jar.

The endangered Bunn coffee machine

In 1994, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Ficton unleased a pletheria of memorable quotes into pop culture.  One in paticular was Vincent’s (played by John Travolta) proclamation about a milkshake, stating  that “I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars but it’s pretty f”ing good”. Urbanspoon now defines a five-dollar shake as ” something that’s more expensive than its worth; even if its pretty damn decent”.  Almost 20 years later, the five-dollar shake mentality reigns supreme and is rooted in the philosophy of many eateries.  In other words, sell the customer something that is more expensive  than it’s worth by using a combination of personal testimony (I order the fois gras gravy with everything on the menu…it’s especially great with the nicoisse salad) and creative vocabulary (aioli vs mayonnaisse, gherkins or cornichons vs pickles, tomato jam vs ketchup etc.).

Five-Dollar Shake

I understand that the restauranteering  is a competitive business and that upselling is a necessary evil to ensure maximal profit margins and prosperity, but the alienation of the fundamentals of traditional dining (eg. salt shakers and complimentary bread and not messing with Grandma’s apple pie) is saddening.