Boralia: Helping Hipsters Forage and Making Canadian History More Exciting Since Circa 2014

Among the many things I remember about my childhood growing up in Sudbury include these three: I was a forager before foraging was cool, I found Canadian history extremely boring and I love pierogies.  From a foraging perspective, I used to make money as a teen tackling the hills of the Canadian Shield and picking blueberries as a young member of my grandmother’s berry cartel, supplying her red hat friends with bad hips with enough substrate to produce jam for the long, cold, northern winters….at a premium price. Second, I’ve always been a science guy and despite my rather trivial mind, I’m not typically a fan of history. I typically scurry around a trivial pursuit board avoiding the yellow pie at all costs.  I’ll get back to the pierogies.

In 2014, Boralia opened along the Ossington strip (well it was called Borealia at the time because I guess one couldn’t avoid lawyers even in the 1600s) promising to pay homage to the new trend of classic Canadian fare.  Hipsters, many of which couldn’t put a tent together let alone provide a synonym for a gooseberry, are flocking here in numbers not to mention that Chris Nutall-Smith listed it as one the top 10 Toronto restaurants in 2015.  Since it was my turn to pick a restaurant for a few colleagues, I thought it was a good call.

The menu is meant to be a bit of a history lesson fused with modern day food trends.  For example, two of the snacks (the Deviled Chinese Tea eggs ($9 for 4) and Chop Suey Croquettes($7.50 for 4) are inspired by the mass Chinese immigration of the 1860s.  As mentioned, I’m no historian, but I can’t imagine groups getting together in Vancouver and having potlucks while passing around deviled eggs. Nonetheless, they were decent starters although nothing that stood out anything more than a good Chinese side dish made fresh at a food court in Sault Ste. Marie or my Gramma’s eggs sprinkled with paprika at Thanksgiving dinner did…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The main menu features a number of less orthodox proteins which requires some imagination although there are some safer choices for those who don’t want to recreate 200 year old Canadiana.  After some negotiation and hints from past patrons we knew (and a bit to my chagrin), we avoided the whelk, elk and pigeon and agreed on the l’éclade (mussels) $17, mushroom salad $14, bison tartare $15 and sweetbreads $15. The mussels, smoked with pine, was a reflection of the early 1600s.  Served in a clear dome with spiraling smoke, the mussels were delicately done to perfection. It’s so hard not to overcook these fussy mollusks and these were a huge success. The mushroom salad looked like a wreath of earthy colours and the hazelnut corn cake hidden in the foliage was simply addictive.  The bison tartare was a twist on the now ubiquitous modern day classic.  Instead of traditional pickles, punchy heat and an egg as a binder, this tartare utilized garlic and ginger , pickled fennel and lardo to add some fat to the otherwise lean bison.  The grilled bread was a delicious vehicle. The sweetbreads (circa 1876) made sense from the perspective of a nose to tail concept which was necessary during pre-war times  as opposed to cool in the modern era of excess wastage that we are now accustomed to.  Even if it’s not a traditional 19th century recipe (it very well may be), the sweetbreads were extremely tendered and seasoned nicely.

After a few drinks down but with some realization we wouldn’t shut the city down, we decided to indulge in the closest thing we could find to street meat…the bane of the spelling bee…the famous pierogi.  Whether you pick up a frozen bag for a few bucks, have a church nearby or are lucky enough to have an Eastern European family member, these delicious dumplings are the ultimate comfort food. In the case of Boralia, they had some foodie flare in that they were served on a bed of red cabbage. They were good dumplings but 3 for $13 was certainly not a price from the 1800s.

boralia pierogy

Dessert was a homey pumpkin cake with corn ice cream and probably the most recognizable  and predictable Canadian dish on the menu.  It was good but not remarkable.

boralia dessert
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Corn Ice Cream $9

My Take

The thought of foraging can take on many meanings. Traditionally, it means to live off the land.  For some, it means erecting an urban garden in a few square feet of back yard or in a flower box on a balcony. Others may perceive it as a trip to the urban Sobey’s  across the street to to buy a few kumquats. Regardless, the concept is alive and well and has trickled into Toronto’s restaurant scene.

At the same time, Canadian food has become synonymous with living on the land.  This countries vast landscapes and diverse climates makes it a cornucopia of all things land and sea.  At the same time, as Canada’s rich multicultural history continues to evolve so does its food to the point where eatables like pierogies are now considered as patriotic as maple syrup.  Put the two concepts together and anything goes. In fact, Parks Canada devotes a component of its website with an app called the Parks Canada Heritage Gourmet App which pays homage to traditional Canadian recipes.

http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/media/gourmand-gourmet/app-intro.aspx

In the end, hipsters can live vicariously as foragers through the Boralia menu. As for me, I may have payed more attention in history class in high school if it hinged on my understanding of the influence of various cultures on what we call Canadian cuisine today.

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

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Ten Predicted Food Trends for 2015

As usual, I try to predict the wacky world of food trends.  It’s like a horoscope…I get a few right and a few wrong every year but it’s fun nonetheless.  I think there will be a trend toward more interactive dining experiences. From a food perspective, I think extreme tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami) will highlight menus: Here’s what we can expect in 2015:

Tableside Service

Dim sum service doesn’t have to be limited to weekends.  Places like State Bird Provisions in San Francisco and Ma Peche in New York have made tableside service the norm.  A little closer to home, Buca Yorkvile carves branzino crudo while you watch.  Watch this trend to explode in 2015 as diners demand a more interactive dining experience and restaurants see the opportunity for a sweet price mark-up.

I’m a Little Bitter

Look for greens like hickory, endive, dandelion and maybe even radicchio to grace salad plates.  The strong bitterness and varying colours and shapes will be like playing lego for the palates of foodies everywhere. Even better, it might come with a housemade honey/maple vinaigrette for a great contrast.

Getting in the Game

Bison, venison and maybe even elk will compete with beef on menus in 2015.  The strong, gamy flavours will be more in demand than the 86 ounce steaks that graced menus in 2014.  Also, look for rabbit to hop onto menus as a substitute for chicken or pork.

Duck Dynasty

Half the hipsters I see look like these lovable hillbillies, so why not eat the damn stuff too.  I’m surprised duck hasn’t been deemed the other “red meat”.  Although it has never declined that much in popularity, its unique flavour and versatile use makes it a strong candidate to soar up the ranks of fowl in 2015.

Pssst…achios

It’s no secret that the pistachio has been the most aggressive ad campaign to come of the Golden State since the California raisins. Once nothing more than a snack food which left red dye all over your mouth and fingers,  the pistachio’s recent endorsement by the witty, satirical, side-part, spectacle wearing Stephen Colbert coupled with the fact they can used in everything from salads to desserts might result in “pistachio is the new walnut”  t-shirts popping up everywhere.

Root, Root, Root for the home team.

Dainty vegetables won’t be able to withstand the assault of extreme tastes of 2015. Potatoes provide a blank canvas for all sorts of flavours. The sweetness of  beets and carrots amidst bitter and spice should be a great compliment. Foodie favorites like sunchokes and salsify should round out a good year for the root.

Squash the competition

The squash is longer reserved for soup. This local fall favorite is emerging as a player across the board.  It’s a great base for vegetarian dishes and pairs nicely with a number of spices including clove, nutmeg and even sage, The regional production should appease the locavores and the diversity of the gourds available make them ideal for salads and even desserts.   

 Korean- More popular than “The Interview”

Although Korean is already enjoying popularity in the GTA, I think there’s more to come.  Twists on bibimbap and hot pots will become options on fusion menus while hole in the wall Korean joints may be chosen over a sushi bar or ramen house for a quick and inexpensive lunch.  Plus, your playstation shouldn’t  crash over a little bulgogi.

Micro Booze

The popularity of 40 Creek whisky within what was once seen as an impenetrable rye market plus emerging players like Gibson’s in the vodka and gin world make the small batch production of potent potables is as lucrative as  micro brews.  Bourbon enthusiasts will gravitate toward micro booze whether in a clever cocktail or even on tap.  Look for tasting flights of infused shots of gins, vodkas and vermouths to wiggle their ways onto bar menus everywhere.

The Dumpling and Pancake: More than a way to describe your ass

The use of either a dumpling or a pancake as a canvas  has limitless possibilities. To date, dim sum and gyoza have been all the rage.  In 2014, we saw the emergence of savory pancakes such as latkes.  Look for both to explode in 2015.  From perogies to beghrir, the possibilities are endless. So will the choices on menus.

My Take

2015 will be a year filled with intense flavours highlighted by extreme taste profiles.  Much of the sweet may in fact come from fruits and vegetables including beets, carrots and squash.  Bitter will come from a resurgence of fragrant leafy greens  and infused alcohols.  Strong flavoured proteins such as game meat and duck will be needed to compliment these extreme tastes. Dumplings and pancakes will provide an ideal medium for many trendy tastes.  Pistachio is the new walnut.  Korean will surpass sushi and ramen as the preferred Asian provision of foodie nation. Regardless of the food, look for more options to be served tableside or in some other type of extravagant fashion. So, bring me a duck pancake atop of bed of mixed greens served under a cloche with a shot of vermouth and a pistachio cannoli pronto!

Review:Montreal:Mezcla

I have a colleague who I trust immensely when it comes to recommending excellent restaurants.  In some cases, they have gained fame through great online reviews or features in newspapers or magazines.  In other cases, they fall off the beaten path and offer a unique culinary experience. For example,  I followed him to Carnitas Don Pedro to suck back some pork brain tacos in Chicago.  So when I was in Montreal in October, I had no worries when he recommended Mezcla, an upscale Latino place that serves dishes  a bit more sophisticated that Don Pedro’s.  Located in the the middle of what appears to be a mainly residential street a short cab ride out of the downtown core, it has a modest storefront which blends in nicely with the surrounding residences.

The decor had sort of a dark beauty to it and was somewhat reminiscent of a cleaner version of the cave Indiana Jones yanked the Chachapoyan fertility idol from in Raiders of the Lost Ark (although there was no sign of the idol anywhere).  The waitstaff were cut from pages of Vogue Peru (if there is such thing) with gleamy smiles and pristine manners.  We were seated near the window and offered a decent wine list featuring a sampling from Europe and South America.  We opted for a nicely priced Lorca Fantasia Argentinian Malbec ($54). I find they can be either really good or really bad and this one was on the good side.

The menu stratifies land and sea by offering fresh seafood and hearty meat dishes sourced locally and prepared with traditional South American flavours and techniques. The size of the dishes ranged from sharing plates to large hunks of meat meant for romantic yet carnivorous sharing.  According to the Spanish to English dictionary, Mezcla (not to be mistaken with Mezcal..the red headed stepsister of tequila) is Spanish for mixing which makes sense given the fusion concept.  However, it may also mean “meat” because if you are vegetarian you are basically limited to fingerling potatoes with an egg on top (there may be alterations the kitchen can make for vegetarians but I didn’t ask).

From the sea we chose the ceviche mixto, cazuelita de pulpo (octopus) and almejas y yucca (clams). The ceviche was a perfect balance from both a flavor and ingredient perspective.  Each bite had uniform contrast with the odd explosion of intensive flavour. Simply delicious.  The octopus was reasonably tender and seasoned with a magical mezcla of Peruvian and Quebec traditions  with the panca and maple respectively.  The clams were decent but lacked the punch of some of the other dishes even with the smart addition of the small wire basket of yucca fries.

$27
Ceviche Mixto $27
$18
Bad picture of Cazuelita de Pulpo  $18
$19
Almejas y Yucca $19

From the land I chose the tiradito de venado and fois gras and the courte cote de bison briase.  The first, which loosely translates as deer carpaccio, is paired with a fois gras torchon and seasoned with Peruvian hot peppers and peaches.  This dish could start a fight at a table over the last piece if  you’re not careful and at the same time be used to strengthen international relationships between North and South America. Luckily, my dining partner is not a fan of red meat and I got to enjoy the whole thing myself. I carefully watched the preparation of the bison ribs.  A glass dome was placed over them and heavy smoke was infused and they were delivered to the table like that. I was allowed to stare for a moment until the waiter skillfully lifted the lid and swirled the smoke in a confident manner. The ribs appeared out of the smoke like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson at Wrestlemania and were equally meaty and buff but tender at the same time (now if you don’t think the rock is tender go and rent the Tooth Fairy).  Thankfully, the mushroom and vegetable medley were a much better side kick than Seann William Scott in the Rundown.

 $22
Tiradito de Venado and Fois Gras $22
$39
Courte Cote de Bison Briase. with Smoke  $39
mezcla ribs2
Courte Cote de Bison Briase. after Smoke $39

For dessert we ordered the glace lucuma, a earthy yet sweet blend of nuts, cocoa bean and caramel.  It didn’t push the boundries of the rest of the menu (maybe I was expecting it to be strewn in bacon flavoured maple syrup or something) but it was a fitting end to a great meal.

$9
Glace Lucuma $9

My Take

Mezcla is a new joint ultimately making  a loud and avant-garde impression on Montreal’s dining scene. The fusion of the relatively untapped tastes of South America with more common European methodologies produce dishes with bold yet refined flavours. It’s as if Jacques Cartier blew by the St. Lawrence and busted down to South America and threw down the gauntlet in an Inca Chef showdown. The service is impeccable; classy and attentive.   Water glasses are never empty and the smiles never stop. The staff are exciting, knowledgeable , and exude pride instead of pretension.

The impact of the robust flavours that hit your mouth are synonymous with getting cold cocked by the Rock. In fact, I can summarize the experience of this amazing restaurant in the words of Dwayne Johnson himself… “Can you smmmellll…what Mezcla..is cooking?!”

Mezcla on Urbanspoon