Ben Stiller, Tattoos and an Afternoon at the Museum

Ben Stiller annoys a lot of people.  That said, he has a decent track record when it comes to box office grosses, primarily driven by three successful trilogies; the Fockers, Madagascar and the Museum movies. In addition, one cannot forget his washroom scene in the very successful “There’s Something About Mary”. Ironically, despite being cited as the leader of the brat pack, movies in which he has starred alongside his partners (Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughan, Owen and Luke Wilson and Steve Carell) have been less successful than other Stiller franchises although not total disasters.

The Night at the Museum film series had worldwide appeal. Based on a children’s book, the cast led by Stiller was multi-generational, ranging from the likes of Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney to the late Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt right down to Rami Malek (now of the critically acclaimed Mr. Robot) and that creepy kid from the Vacation remake. The three movies over eight years produced diminishing returns despite bigger budgets although all three could still be considered good return on investments if you looks at the global ticket returns.

Speaking of museums, as anybody hailing from the Toronto knows, it is a city that will not be outdone. Instead of hoping for living reincarnations of a tattooed Atilla the Hun, local hipsters may be intrigued to drop in to the tattoo exhibit which is now showing at the Royal Ontario Museum.  I’m more into bourbon than body art, so after I finished up a conference along Bloor Street and had a couple of hours to kill before dinner so instead of the ROM, I visited another museum, in this case the tavern across the road to indulge in their advertised happy hour. In addition to buck a shuck oysters, one can indulge in a barrel aged cocktail for $11 vs the normal $15 charge ( although when I got the bill I was charged $15).

Choosing between a manhattan, old-fashioned, negroni and sazarac is like choosing which child I love the best.  Alright, maybe not quite but it’s a difficult task nonetheless.  In this case I opted for the first two.  A couple of ounces of both were smartly presented in a funky highball  which housed a thick base of ice instead of a floating ice cube.  The booze itself was smooth, sleek and balanced.

The oysters were fresh and served with a tasty mignonette which I downed them with the aforementioned  barrel aged  old fashioned.

museum oysters
Buck a Shuck Oysters

The Musuem tavern does represent a historical era in the fact that is has that speakeasy feel.  From the decor to the glassware, it screams the 1920s.  The menu is more modern pub fare with what appears to influenced  by a bit of everything.

Since I was grabbing dinner later, I stuck with starters and opted for the fried chicken ($14) and creole crab cakes ($16).  If my intent was to span the spectrum of available snacks I think I succeeded. The four pieces was a hearty serving of chicken which was crispier than greasy , well-seasoned and far from dry.  The crab cakes, on the other hand, can better be described at crab balls.  The dainty, bite sized morsels didn’t lack in flavour what they lacked in size.  Although they were moist, heavy on the crab and served with a decent remoulade., it hardly justified eight bucks a bite…even with pickled onions.

My Take

Viewing history is no longer the exclusive role of a museum.  Many restaurants are now setting up shop with the promise of rewinding the clocks back to the days of prohibition.  The aptly named Museum tavern is no exception and comes complete with swanky decor and a old-school barrel aged cocktail list.  In the end, it had its stars and a decent plot….or at least the trailer (aka. happy hour) suggested so.  The question will be whether the theme resonates past Toronto’s prohibition phase or whether a day at this museum turns out like Ben’s Night at the Museum and overstays its welcome.

Museum Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Advertisements

I’ll Be Frank..I was Disgracefully Slumming it Up on Bloor West

I recently took a road trip to check out the University of Toronto campus with my son.  Part of the plan was to hit up a brunch spot and introduce him to some of the joints he would likely frequent during his post-secondary experience. We came through Bloor West, past High Park and eventually parked around Ossington in search of a brunch spot.  The initial thought was to walk a few blocks and hit Insomnia to choose from their array of eggs benedict but I called an audible when I walked by Disgraceland and faintly remembered reading something about it having the best something in Toronto. Plus, I could envision my son being more likely to frequent a seedy bar than a place that serves martinis called snowball and diva.

The brunch menu is as no nonsense as the restaurant itself. The tables are dingy and the walls are still sweating booze from the night before.  A picture of the man in black reminds you that they are “cash only” and points you in the direction of a historic ATM which comes with a $1.50 service charge.

The service was prompt and friendly and we quickly ordered the heart attack benny and the hangover helper (both $11) with a couple of refreshingly plain coffees.  It was a standard benny with the addition of cheddar and tomato (the latter I omitted because I don’t think tomatoes belong on most things let alone eggs benedict).  The muffin was a bit chewy and the eggs a few seconds overcooked but the hollandaise did its job unifying everything. The brekkie potatoes were crispy and delicious. All in all, not bad.

Heart Attack Benny $11
Heart Attack Benny $11

My son’s hangover helper was an elixir of nastiness which included eggs, bacon and hollandaise on top of a standard poutine.  With those ingredients, I think it would be harder to screw it up than it would be to nail it and my son certainly had no complaints.

Hangover Helper $11
Hangover Helper $11

After a walk down the street and a pit stop at Long and McQuade  (in which I took the opportunity to explain the importance of a good education as he strummed a $2000 Gibson) we crossed the street to “You Gotta Eat Here” alumni Fancy Franks to grab some lunch for later.  If burgers are Batman, then hot dogs are Robin and a number of tube steak eateries have opened in the past months.  Fancy Franks offers dogs topped with anything from peanut butter to kimchi (most in the $7-9 range) along with other pop culture eats such as poutine ($6-12) and made to order mini donuts for $4-5/dozen. We ordered Franks got Seoul (short rib, kimchi, sesame seeds and scallions) and Franks Coney Island (chili, onions and mustard). The dogs are the snappy type and the toppings are rather abundant. My son (who works at Five Guys burgers and fries) was impressed with condiment bar which even offered a mayo dispenser if one is so inclined.  They were tasty (although they start to get quite greasy when they cool down a bit) but I was left wondering what justified the steep price.  Maybe I’m a bit biased knowing I can head to Detroit and grab the same Coney dog Anthony Bourdain raved about for $1.50 or head to any street vendor and grab some street meat with half a dozen toppings including sauerkraut, fried onions and corn relish for $3.50 but $8 for a hot dog makes a vendor at the Rogers Centre scratch his head. I wish I could report on the donuts but apparently the machine is quite volatile and was misbehaving on this day so I was out of luck.

Franks Got Seoul $7.50 or so
Franks Got Seoul $7.50 or so

My Take

I think our expedition to Toronto taught my son a few things:

  1. The University of Toronto campus is massive.
  2. Carry cash so you don’t get slapped with ATM service charges from places who actually profit from your inconvenience given the fact they only take cash.
  3. Gravy and hollandaise are like him and his sister..they are good together in moderation but I wouldn’t do it too often.
  4. If his ultimate goal is saving up for a Gibson, then eating at Fancy Franks frequently won’t help.

These eateries reflect two of the biggest culinary trends to hit Toronto streets in the past couple of years: brunch and burgers. As I’ve said before, brunch may be a french word for “overpriced breakfast” and  Disgraceland succeeds in offering choices that moderately fit this theme.  When I say burgers I’m generically referring to trend that has opened the door for establishments which focus on handheld foods which represent “North Amerciana”, I’m sure one can blame the escalating price of beef (Frank’s dogs are 100% beef) for the inflated prices but I’d lean more toward the social phenomenon which suggests that people will pay more for something trendy and an $8 hot dog sounds mighty trendy.  So, unless I’m watching R.A. Dickey throwing knuckleballs I’ll stick to street vendors.  Even better, maybe I’ll drive to Detroit and watch Verlander pitch on television and eat a Coney dog for every strikeout he gets…it would still be cheaper than a couple of dogs at Franks.

Fancy Franks Gourmet Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Disgraceland on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:The Annex: Guu Sakabar

The dining scene in Toronto has diversified over the past few years. Gone is the choice between snooty white linen, chain restaurants  or seedy local bars. Diners are looking for more than food, they want an experience which will either complement or overshadow the  food itself.

Guu Sakabar is marketed as an experience gone Gangnam style, characterized by loud music, singing cooks and a modernized version of old school  Japanese dining including removing your shoes to sit at a kotatsu (low Japanese table which puts your head at eye level to your server’s knees).  Some may see it as fun, hip and lively, others may see it an adult Chuck-e-Cheese or a glorified Lick’s.  Most of the dishes are simply prepared and presented. 

Must

The Hokke (mackerel) was a simple grilled fish, lightly seasoned and presented bone-in. No instruction was provided on proper boning technique so it may present an annoyance for some.  The fish was cooked perfectly, moist and flaky and it was a good-sized  portion.  The only issue was it came 10-15 minutes after everything else which made it a little less appealing to eat. 

Hokke (mackerel)

Maybe

The Ebimayo (fried prawns with spicy mayo) were decent. The prawns themselves were a good size, cooked right  but were too slathered in the less than impressive mayo which made them a bit soggy. 

There are a number of maybes on the menu depending on one’s personal taste.  The grilled beef tongue (Gyu Tongue) was a unique dish simply seasoned with salt.  It had a good flavour but has challenging liver-like texture which may not appeal to the masses. The Tontoro (pork cheek), is once again simply  prepared  but may be a bit too fatty for some palates, especially if the fat is not rendered enough.

Ebimayo (prawns with spicy mayo)
Gyu Tongue (beef tongue..partially eaten)
Tontoro (pork cheek)

Mundane

Regarding the experience, the environment is loud and the service is sketchy.  It was very difficult to order extra food, get a drink or even the bill.  I’ve already commented about the mackerel. Some may argue that the organized chaos adds to the fun but to me it’s an annoyance especially if it interferes with the flow of the  meal.  In addition, they have a rather ridiculous reservation policy which can be summarized as “We will only accept reservations when it’s not busy”. 

My Take

A visit to Guu is like landing a gig as an extra on a bad Japanese game show or a B-rated film.  The “fun” atmosphere is loud, chaotic and only adequate for conversation if you’re on a bad first date or with your mother-in-law.  The set-up  is not conducive to organized and efficient service.   There is a wide variety of well-prepared  simple and more exotic  foods in reasonable portions for sharing which appeals to a spectrum of diners (including about a dozen vegetarian options if you don’t include the free smiles, passion and cheers). 

In sum, it’s a good place to go if you have a small group with a variety of  taste, if you don’t care about talking to them too much and  if you have a lot of patience.  Just keep an eye over your shoulder in case you spy Psy eating tontoro in Toronto or there is a random attack  from Godzilla  or Mothra.

Guu Sakabar on Urbanspoon