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

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