Astronomy vs Astrology: A Story of Getting Lucky with Mira and Dasha..Two Urban Dictionary Sweethearts

I like astronomy. In fact, it was my favorite elective and turned out to be my best mark in university. It’s a fun combination of three of my favorite things; math, science and trivia. I still remember the order of the stars (OBAFGKM) and my facial haired professor’s challenge to deviate from the sexist “Oh be a fine girl, kiss me” and come up with a more politically correct mnemonic. Mine was “Only Bearded Astronomers Feel Good Knowing Mars”. Not sure he was impressed.

Astrology, on the other hand, is less about science and more about entertainment. I certainly don’t believe in the validity of horoscopes beyond coincidence but it’s at times refreshing to attribute your issues and actions to planetary alignment. That said, it’s really easy to pin my sometimes ridiculous stubbornness on the fact I’m a Taurus and not just an Irish asshole.

The name Mira has a number of meanings and is common in Latin and Slavic cultures, usually meaning admirable, wondrous or related to peace. Urban dictionary calls Mira a extremely lovable girl. Miras are usually the smartest in their class and will go to extreme lengths to show it. Mira’s are loyal people and when given a chance, could grow to be your bff. Mira is also a red giant star in the constellation Cetus and is sometimes visible to the naked eye. In astrology, some cite Cetus as the 14th zodiac sign.

Mira is one of the handful of new Peruvian restaurants which has popped up in the GTA over the last couple of years. Located in an alley between King and Wellington and only identified by a small, worn metal plate, it can be a little tricky to find. Once inside, it opens up into a busy space highlighted by an open kitchen above and a large bar within a narrow space below filled with murals, mirrors and funky flooring.

Drinkwise, I started with the El Manana cocktail, a bourbon based “booze forward” spin on an old fashioned flavored with honey, mint and lime (not pictured). From there it was wine. Truth told it was tough to find a great selection at a price point that less than three digits. First, we decided on a rather disappointing Andover Pinot for $80 followed by a more adventurous and better Portuguese Uivo Vinhas Velhas blend for the same price.

As expected, the menu is a smorgasbord of all sorts of proteins in the form of ceviches, anticuchos and larger mains. From a seafood perspective, the octopus, accompanied with aji and potato, although well prepared, was a bit of a flimsy starter at $22. The tostada morado ($18) was clever collection of classic tuna and central American flavors (corn, avocado and cilantro). The tiradito hiramasa ($21) was the best of the smaller seafood dishes we sampled…fresh kampachi marinated in citrusy tiger’s milk and topped with sweet chili jam. The last fish dish was a fantastic whole branzino ($46) topped with a rich sauce which enhanced the subtle of the fish quickly nicely.

Land anticuchos included costilla (short rib $19) and cordero (lamb $17). The fatty short rib was balanced with sweet, spice and earthy truffle. Admittedly, I’m not a lamb fan so I wasn’t surprised to find the cordero rather unremarkable. In my opinion, the pollo inchacapi ($28) was the STAR of the night. The hen was covered in colourful sauces and garnishes with peanut, chili and tamarind notes which added visual appealing in additional to the incredible flavors. The side corn dish mimicked the flavours of the other dishes and was a nice colourful addition to whole spread.

Dasha is a girl’s Russian name meaning “god’s gift”. According to urban dictionary, Dasha is the sweetest girl in the universe. If u mess with her friends u will have 2 deal with her. She is caring, funny and very talanted. She will always be there 4 u when ur in trouble. If u meet a Dasha, ur life will change and u will always have a smile on ur face. In astrology, Dasha is a Hindi term used to indicate planetary periods. Vimshottari dasha  assumes that the maximum duration of life of an individual human being is 120 years which is the aggregate duration of all nine planetary periods reminding us that Betty White still has a while to go.

Dasha is the newest project of esteemed chef Akira Back and features classic and upscale Chinese food along with traditional karaoke rooms available upstairs. Like Mira, finding it is not intuitive..it a bit off the beaten path tucked down an alley off of King street. It also features a larger bar and an open kitchen. The interior can be described as Chinese market meets the standard Toronto industrial look.

There is a mystic component to the drink menu. I ordered the Iron Fist, Dasha’s take on an old fashioned which pours from a kettle amidst a cloud of dry ice. It was slick and smooth and booze forward of course.

Iron Fist Cocktail

Food wise, we started with a couple of small plates including chicken balls ($9) and wasabi prawns ($14), the latter at the recommendation of the waitstaff. The chicken balls were pretty standard and a lot less bulky than the ones which normally headline your local joint’s family dinner combo and the dipping sauce lacked the fluorescence of the standard sweet and sour sauce but that was made up with the bright green wasabi shrimp which glowed in the surrounding dim light. The crunchy shrimp was surprisingly balanced with sweet accents and heat typical of horseradish.

Next were the dasha fried noodles ($12) and steamed har gow dim sum (which I’m told is a traditional way to celebrate Chinese new year) for $14. Neither dish was overly memorable…the noodles were pretty generic and the dim sum was a bit disappointing. Also, I was with a Chinese colleague who literally cringed at the har gow’s price point which she deemed almost insulting given the same offering usually goes for 1/3-1/2 the price at any other dim sum house and one might argue those ones taste even better.

We finished the dinner with the black cod, black truffle duck ($49) and side miso eggplant ($13) both in which I thoroughly enjoyed. The cod and duck was masterfully prepared and presented. The shaved black truffle was delightful. The eggplant was also flavourful and nicely highlighted the proteins with the unami flavour of both the eggplant itself and the miso seasoning.

I’m also reluctant to go too crazy with dessert at most Chinese restaurants because I honestly can’t recall any Asian dessert topping my list of best of all time sweets. Regardless, we tried the banana spring roll with strawberry ice cream as well as the with green tea ice cream. Let’s just say neither cracks the list. The ice cream was quite good but the accompanying pastries were average at best.

My Take

Despite being very nice ladies according to urban dictionary, Mira and Dasha are also two new and highly sought eateries with many similarities. Both are located in hidden spots off of King street west. Both have busy and vibrant interiors with open kitchens and disproportionately large bars. Both offer exciting cocktails and nicely represent their respective culture through traditional yet clever food. You will pay for the ambiance however and may even overpay, especially if you want mediocre wine, dim sum or dessert.

Despite this adventure, I have to admit I’m still a bigger fan of astronomy than astrology. I much prefer red giants and white dwarfs to mercury retrogrades and horoscopes. That said, perhaps my old scientific and stubborn Taurean mind could be changed to better appreciate astrological intervention, especially if my Dasha fortune cookie ever rings true. Where’s Mira and Dasha when you need them.

My Dasha Fortune Cookie

Bang Bang Ice Cream: The New Hipster Apocolypse Serving Up Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve

As I’ve stated before, the hipster movement is a bit like the Walking Dead.  At first you’d see the odd zombie roaming around and next you know you have an apocalypse on your hands. Part of this mass transformation has meant the expansion of  foodstuffs which have undergone hipster domination.  It started with coffee shops and quickly progressed to tacos and burgers.  They have laid claim to kale and cauiflower.  I think what I find most disturbing, however, is their latest attempt at beatnik tyranny; ice cream.  No, the centrefold of the Toronto Life a few months did not show Norm Kelly and Drake in a Yonge 6 Gods gangster embrace but instead summarized a number of ice cream cones available across the city.  It was at this point I knew that  the hipster infection had spread into the medium of one of any person’s fondest childhood memories. The ritual of popping down to a parlour with the fam and watching a disgruntled 16 year old serve my mom tiger tail for the 15th time (I swear she was only person in Sudbury who ate it) while I stood indecisive until a got a good kick in the arse was in jeopardy. I should have seen it coming. It does, after all, involve long lines and serving food out a crawl space which are both predictors of a hipster breeding ground.  It also allows for a more justified use of the cash only policy and certainly would never require a reservation.  Plus, you also don’t have open in the mornings.

I was in the Ossington area and decided to pop in to Bang Bang. It was a Wednesday night around 7:30 pm so the line wasn’t too bad.  Predictably, it looked like a garage.  The line swung around to a counter housing 4 or 5 types of cookies which seemed to be the most popular vessel for the twenty or so flavours of ice cream which were displayed on shelves in a David’s tea store. Against the far wall is a iron which feverishly works to pump out thin Hong Kong waffles which are subsequently folded into cones and stuffed with ice cream.

I wasn’t surprised to see an array of clientele waiting.  In particular, a hipster dad had his hipster kids with him.  Since the line moves at a snail’s pace despite their “one sample only” policy, they have a screen on the wall projecting some sort of video.  In this case, it was some cartoon I didn’t recognize but I thought it would keep the kids occupied for the long haul through the ice cream line. It looked pretty benign until things got heated.  For whatever reason a woman was suddenly naked in the middle of a forest and was greeted by a near naked and very built man.  Soon, enough, he had his large hands nicely positioned on her rather voluptuous ass and soft core animated sex followed.  Daddy hipster was shocked and quickly put his hands over the eyes of his baby hipsters and looked around feverishly hoping that he didn’t have friends or families in the vicinity to witness such an atrocity.  I was going to joke with him and  tell him that it was part of the Ontario government’s new sex ed curriculum but I figure that might resulted in a good shin kick or having my hair pulled really hard.

Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve
Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve

There are many choices including scoops (even an adult snack size for those who normally go for the kiddy cone), the aforementioned cookie sandwiches and Hong Kong waffles as well as macaron sandwiches and ice cream puffs.    When I finally got to the front of the line, I decided on banana ice cream in the waffle cone for $8.  I was told that because of the Hong Kong I could have 2 flavours instead of one so I also ordered Froot Loop as well. Since they are “made to order” there was some wait time involved.  It reminded me of the countless number of Hampton Inn buffets I’ve been to in which the wait for the waffle iron could go into the early afternoon.  It didn’t help when the guy behind the counter looked like he was having more trouble with the waffle iron than I would  trying to assemble an IKEA desk.  I finally got the cone and the waffle was still warm which was a nice contrast to the ice cream.  I’ve made banana ice cream at home and Bang Bang’s was almost the same.  It had a rich custard base and the bananas were quite ripe tasting.  There’s that magic moment when you first combine froot loops and milk.  Not only is the milk still super cold but the flavours of the cereal haven’t yet combined meaning you get two distinct tastes before they become uniform.  The ice cream recreated that magic moment.  Despite the warm waffle, the ice cream did not melt at too rapid rate and it wasn’t overly messy but there was no way I could finish it all.

Hong Kong Waffle with Banana and Froot Loop Ice Cream
Hong Kong Waffle with Banana and Froot Loop Ice Cream

My Take

Bang Bang Ice cream adds hipster to the old ice cream parlor.  Instead of a “Hi!” from Bill behind the counter at the family owned ice cream joint, you get to stand in line in a garage for a long time, watch porn and surround yourself with hipster angst not often associated with this classic summer dessert.  At least they take credit cards. In the end, if you can get over the slow service and prefer soft porn over soft serve (I was wondering why they called it Bang Bang) then drop on by. Good thing they have takeout pints because you might wanna leave the kids at home.

Bang Bang Ice Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Chicago: Day 6: White Palace and Black Sabbath

My final day in Chicago was a race to see how many DDDs I could hit before my 2 pm flight.  After a strategic session with a map, I determined a route that would allow me to hit three; two within walking distance and one on the way to O’Hare.

Having spent most of my time in Chicago on either the Magnificant Mile, the convention centre or West Randolph, it was nice to get off the beaten path a bit.  My first stop was the White Palace Grill.  Opened in 1939, this place is the traditional 24 hour American diner. It has all the classics, from eggs to waffles to Mexican breakfast platters.  I sat at the counter and joined the show as one of the many cast and characters of the Chicago scene.  A very pleasant waitress quickly came to my rescue, offering me the large menu and a newspaper which I much appreciated.  It’s amazing how out of touch one falls when stuck in a conference for 4 or 5 days.  I scanned the menu and ordered a coffee, some strawberry banana french toast with a side of bacon and some grits to try.

The banter in the place  was primarily focused on the Hawks Stanley cup win the night before.  People were walking in and out proudly donning T-shirts and jerseys.  There seems to be a trend among couples to walk around Chicago wearing matching shirts…it’s rather endearing. I was rather amused when another waitress checked in to start working.  I think her name was “Happy” or something like that. If so, the name fit her personality and I quite enjoyed listening to the conversations and laughter that erupted during my breakfast.

Without much of a wait, breakfast arrived. The strawberry sauce was on the side, so some assembly was required. It was classic french toast with classic toppings.  I love grits and I wasn’t disappointment by the Palace’s butter laden offering.

Strawberry Banana French Toast sans strawberry
Strawberry Banana French Toast sans strawberry

Strawberry Banana French Toast
Strawberry Banana French Toast

MMMM...bacon and grits.
MMMM…bacon and grits.

My Take

White Palace grill is an all American 24 hour diner.  It has all the attributes of a good experience; good food, good service and good decor. Although it may not  top the Zagat guide, it’s a place where you eat lots and leave feeling happy, happy, happy.

Verdict: 4 Guyz

White Palace Grill on Urbanspoon

Stop number two was Panzanno’s Italian Market which was about a 10 minute walk from White Palace.  During this time, I got to admire some of Chicago’s downtown architecture from afar while walking over the West Roosevelt bridge. The bridge itself is quite interesting. I snapped a pic of one of the numerous icons which lined the street.  I did a quick internet search to find out the meaning of these depictions but came up empty.

Despite the name, I wouldn’t call Panozzo’s a market.  True, they sell a small array of pastas and Italian staples, but the main attraction is the deli and take out sandwiches.  There are a few “old school favorites” but the signatures are the crescentine sandwiches.  Like the name suggests, they are crescent shaped sandwiches stuffed with all sorts of delicious fare.

I ordered two sandwiches to go; the porchetta crescentine and the meatball sandwich. It was hot as hell outside, so I was also drawn to the ice cream freezer which was sporting an array of Zarlengo’s Gelato.  There was an article hanging on the wall touting the frozen treats, so I grabbed a Rum and Raisin  for the walk back to the mile. It was smooth and creamy with lots of raisins and lots of rum flavour filled the cup.

Porchetta Crescentine
Porchetta Crescentine

Meatball Sandwich
Meatball Sandwich

Zarlengo's Rum and Raisin Gelato
Zarlengo’s Rum and Raisin Gelato

I like when thought is put into things, even simple things. Sometimes the difference between a good sandwich and a great sandwich is one ingredient.  There is always the opportunity to push the boundaries just a little and I feel Panozzo’s does that.   Both sandwiches were delicious. I think the pickled fennel and chilis  in the porchetta and meatball respectively added enough to make these sandwiches stand out.  The bread was fresh and the fillings were ample.

My Take

Although the decor is a little barren and the vibe a little flat the sandwiches were delicious. The offering of Zalengo’s at Panozzo’s is another example of the comradery that exists between restaurants and other vendors in Chicago.  Like Metropolis coffee and Graham Elliot’s eateries, it’s a win-win and refreshing concept.

Verdict- 4 Guyz

Panozzo's Italian Market. on Urbanspoon

Zarlengo's Soft Serve on Urbanspoon

After I devoured the gelato I walked through the park, took a few pictures of Soldier field from afar, made a wish in a fountain, admired some more Chicago architecture and got soaked in a short but intense downpour.  I did a quick change into some dry clothes, repacked, hailed a cab and proceeded to my third DDD of the day, Kuma’s Corner, which is located on the way to O’Hare.

Kuma’s corner prides itself on a fantastic concept;  the fusion of burgers and head banging metal.  This is not a superficial claim.  Everything from the decor to the staff to the name of the burgers scream the theme.  I see metal this way….stubborn and abrasive on the outside but with a core of justice and determination in the middle.    Take their beer philosophy for example.  One may attribute the “No Bud and Miller” philosophy to a pretentious and elitist attitude.  Consider the possible lyric:

“Drink no Bud, drink no Miller,

I’m a commercial lager killer.”

Sounds a little nasty, but the foundation in rooted in supporting the small guy, a concept as important to the brewing industry as it is for food. To this point, I started with a Three Floyd’s Robert the Bruce Scottish ale on tap and was later hypnotized by a bottle of  Apocalypse Cow  housed within one of the the many bar fridges and brewed by the same Indiana brewery.  Although it came with a $20 charge, it was a fantastic IPA . Rich and citrusy, almost sour and intensely hoppy , it was a wonderful complement to the burger.

The menu itself is burger-centric with a spattering of bar food available as well.  The three guys beside me were indulging on an order of mac and cheese which looked divine (mind you when does mac and cheese not look divine).  There are almost 20 burgers available, each with a combination of standard and not so standard toppings such as avacodo, smoky and spicy cheeses, wing sauce, poached pears and yes, a fried egg.  I went Ozzy and ordered the Black Sabbath burger which was a patty seasoned with blackening seasoning, spicy jack, chili and red onion.  I chose a salad as the side which turned out to be pretty good.  My colleague went with the burger of the month which in this case was the Stranglehold, an 8 oz buffalo patty garnished with aged cheddar, arugula and habanero mustard.

Kuma's Side Salad
Kuma’s Side Salad

Black Sabbath burger
Black Sabbath burger

Black Sabbath burger..Take 2
Black Sabbath burger..Take 2

There’s a whole lotta burger.  The bun was delicious and the toppings worked well together.  I had a nibble of my colleagues bison burger which hit the mark as well.  If anything, I wish there was a little more liberty to choose the wellness of the burger because a patty cooked medium would have been over the top.  Instead, the patty was a bit on the dry side although far from inedible.

My Take

Kuma’s concept is a fun one.  I may have seemed out of place hauling a week’s worth of luggage into this tiny joint and sitting among biker types and foodies who were embryos or twinkles in their father’s eyes when the majority of the metal playing in the background came out.  Needless to say, I received the same rugged yet considerate service despite the fact I don’t sport a tattoo, two inch spacers or a permanent chip on my shoulder. The food was good, the gimmick works and the beer selection was amazing.

The first line of Metallica’s Fuel is “Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire”.  Big burgers, plenty of local beer and whisky on tap do just that.

Verdict- 4 Guyz

Kuma's Corner on Urbanspoon