Once in a while I enjoy going out for dinner. By this I mean dinner versus an new age experience in which food is some part of it. Within an industry dominated by the likes of Charles Khabouth, Oliver and Bonnacini, Jenn Agg or Grant van Gameren, sometimes it’s nice to find a stand alone old school eatery with single site ambition. In essence, I was looking for a place off the hipster path which still has appetizers and mains and serves complimentary bread and tap water without much resistance.
I recently brought a customer out and decided to venture to St. Clair West and visit Fk. I would like to believe that this is a response to the need to make everything an acronym (perhaps to make texting easier) or maybe it’s simply a sassy play on words but i wasn’t sure if I should tell people if I was going to dinner at eff-kay or fuck for dinner. When they called to confirm my reservation which I ensured I booked a few weeks before (because they sure as Fk don’t use open table), they identified themselves with the former pronunciation.
In this case, the “F” is Frank Parhizgar who along with Shawn (nice spelling) Cooper, ran Frank’s Kitchen for a number of years before shuttering and moving a bit north to the current location.
In addition to a less than pedestrian menu, Fk prides themselves on a robust wine list including a small list of exclusive by the glass choices protected with the help of a coravin (I only mention this because it seems to be a big deal). As a result, I was able to indulge in a 5 ounce glass of a small batch Alsatian Pinot Gris which was fantastic. If you are not a wine person, they also offer a couple of delicious albeit expensive draft beer choices including Krombacher Pilsner and an Italian Menabrea Ambrata.
The amuse bouche really is a dying art so it was nice to see the waiter enthusiastically pour cold avocado soup around a small pile of matchsticked cucumber placed in the middle of a hand crafted bowl (apparently Mr. Parhizgar had a hand in this too). It was pleasant reminder that summer wasn’t quite over yet. Afterwards, we were offered Frank’s fresh baked trio of bread which included a rustic crusty bread, an Italian pomodoro and a walnut loaf.
The appetizer menu include a few old school favorites served nouveau. My guest opted for a crafty tuna nicoise which featured sushi grade tuna served linearly across the plate among other classic salad ingredients. I cheated a bit and avoided the appetizer menu all together, instead ordering crab cakes from the side menu. The cakes themselves were crunchy type ( I normally like something a little softer) but the ramp tartar sauce was a phenomenal condiment which I would gladly slather on many foodstuffs, crustacean or otherwise, without much hesitation.
For the main I opted for the lobster ravioli which swam in a tarragon bisque. It came with a modest portion of six pieces but was rich enough to satiate especially after I made every effort to scoop the last drops of the broth out of the bowl which my spoon while lamenting in the fact that I should have save a bit of walnut loaf to ease the task.
I skipped dessert but nonetheless I was treated to a house made chocolate gem to finish the meal. Once again, it was another example of a passionate attention to detail.
In the end, Fk was refreshing…a bit of an oasis in the desert of loud, bustling eateries which cloud food with folly. There is true passion in the dishes coupled with a few cool wines along with the ability to talk about with your party without Richter scale noise. The staff are pleasant and attentive, the wine is unique and the food is pretty fking good.
Susur Lee has continued to expand his mini empire by securing the old Crush wine bar space. Instead of opening another Asian-themed eatery, he has teamed up with entertainment icon and fellow sixite Drake to try and bring high end comfort food to the city’s streets.
I’m not sure why this new enterprise has been named Fring’s. I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Torsten Frings, the German midfileder who played 33 games and scoring 2 goals with the Toronto FC only to retire after requiring surgery and returning to Europe to coach in his home country. Perhaps it’s an homage to the trademarked side available at Harvey’s, Canada’s own fast food restaurant. A combination of about 3 onion rings and six or so fries, it is the ideal accompaniment for the indecisive. Maybe it’s the name is a term coined by Champagne Papi to describe the merging of two fundamental components of Drake’s brand, friends and bling, into one happy milieu.
The decor is also a milieu; in this case a trendy industrial style mixed with a cheesy VIP lounge. Brick walls and wooden window panels combined with fuzzy if not hairy lounge seats with marble tables means both a downtown ambiance and a nightclub aura.
After being seated, we were greeted by our waiter. The slick hair, glasses and demeanor screamed hipster but I questioned his authenticity as he was trying way to hard. Like most other restaurants, he gave us the recited speech explaining the proper process for ordering off a sharing menu. His entire demeanor seemed scripted as well, especially when we heard him deliver the exact same speech, in exactly the same way, to the table beside us.
I’ll admit part of the reason I came here was to have the ability to report back to my daughter who is a massive Drake fan. So, it goes without saying that my first question to the waiter was “What would Drake drink?”. He quickly answered that his the pop icon’s favorite drink was the Tom Skudra ($18), a rum based cocktail with a mix of juices, mint and raspberries. I’ve taken to doing google searches on cocktail names and found that Tom Skudra was a Canadian photojournalist who passed in 2007 and best known for TV series called Programme X in 1970. That said, the drink also went along with the ongoing joke that, whether I try or not, I usually end up ordering the girliest looking which is usually pink (mostly the result of my affinity for Campari) and this was no exception. Unlike a Campari drink, however, it was exceptionally sweet and somewhat resembled a daiquiri. I was left wondering whether the waiter was lying through his teeth or Drake has a reeeealllll sweet side I don’t know about.
Nothing says comfort food like toast so what better to start with than some homemade ricotta with jalapeno plum jam and pomegranate ($10). It was presented nicely and in Susur fashion, was an explosive blend of flavours and textures.
Next was the steak tartare ($20). I was expecting a bit more of the aforementioned taste and flavour explosion but it fell a little flat. The presentation, usually rather extravagant on a plate that anything to do with Chef Lee, was uninspiring. Plus, if they put egg on the octopus dish; why not a little on the tartare!
The southern spicy maple fried chicken ($26) seems all the rave by reviewers across the board but then again, any fried chicken seems to be. Some will argue that the art of perfecting this comfort food is an intricate as a souffle while others say it’s pretty freaking hard to mess it up since it involves deep frying something. I adhere to the latter. I’ve made a few batches in my day and although some have been better than others, none have really been bad. There was nothing wrong with the chicken at all. It was crispy on the outside, moist and the middle and adequately seasoned. The sauce was good as well. All I’m saying is I can get a bucket of KFC with 8 pieces, popcorn chicken, fries, gravy and two salads for about the same price. Am I saying that KFC is a good as Susur’s fried fowl? Not at all. I’m just trying to point out that I might expect a little more for $26.
I find a burger an excellent benchmark of a restaurant. The burger is a canvas for creativity, the variations are endless and the price point can range from a few dollars to a few hundred. The Susur burger, served with JK fries, comes in at a hefty $24, which is more than other iconic burgers in the city including Richmond station ($21), Marben ($19) and Harbord Room ($19) and wasn’t anyway close to as good.
At this point, I begged the waiter for a drink a little more manly than the Tom Skudra and preferably not as pink. He suggested the Waste Man ($18), a cocktail with brandy, chamomile bitters and peach. Although one might expect it to be sleepy (get it?..chamomile) this was a good strong drink more reflective of the 6God’s brand.
For dessert, I went with the waiter’s recommendation for the overpriced warm plum tart served with creme fraiche and almonds ($14). It was a bit chic and a bit homey, both of which aligned with the general theme of the place but otherwise was average and contained a whole lot of pastry and not enough plum.
From a pop culture perspective, the marriage of Drake and Susur Lee makes perfect sense. Much like Chef Lee’s fusion cooking, bringing two variant entities together often results in spawn which are both unique and exciting. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Fring’s. Instead of being an innovator, it seems like Chef Lee is following trends which include cheese topped toasts , burgers and comfort foods like fried chicken. Not only are they average from a taste and presentation perspective, they are astronomically priced. The cocktails, steak tartare, fried chicken and burger are at least $4-5 higher than similar drinks and dishes at comparable Toronto eateries. The service was robotic.
In the end, I just expected two of the most innovative minds in Toronto to dream up something a little more exciting. The cocktail list is overly fruity and juicy and the drinks have boring names. I mean, any Drake song would make a cool cocktail name. Take “Teach U a Lesson”‘ “Worst Behavior” (come Drake..you’re Canadian…add a u) and “Star67″ for example . The food is uninspired.”Big Rings” would be like a great side to a burger that can be bigger, better and cheaper. Even some “Pound Cake” for dessert would work. There’s no tellin’ what the future holds for Fring’s but it’s too expensive and may get boring really fast. After all, I sure as hell didn’t leave yelling HYFR down King street after I left.
Dining alone is not for everybody. I’ll admit it’s not always my favorite thing to do but given my travels I’m up for it when necessary. Others choose to order room service, sit on the bed and get cozy with the remote. I find, however, that going out solo usually results in some adventure worth repeating. Take a recent trip to Woodlot for example. I had just finished an appointment on a Monday and was looking for an early bite which turned out to be a daunting task given the number of institutions closed on the first day of the week. I went to woodlot a few years back and enjoyed it, so I figured it was worth another shot. They take reservations but also seat walk-ins at the bar on the communal table which sits near the open kitchen. I decided to sit at the table and was soon joined by a family of four who also wandered in. I pegged the kids at 8 and 6 years old and was curious to see if the routine was the same as what I go through with younger children. For example, my son’s definition of a good restaurant is a good Caesar salad and free refills. My daughter, on the other hand, enjoys chicken anything as long as it come with a side of good people watching. Watching this family, I was quickly reminded that excursions with children to restaurants outside those with kid’s menus or clowns have the following characteristics:
The father’s main goal is to get their kids to try something so they can later brag about the fact that their offspring has their daddy’s palate. Other than the birth itself or a hockey goal, nothing makes daddy prouder than watching their son suck back a Malpeque oyster.
Handheld devices are a must. Whether a cell phone, Nintendo DS or an iPad, the need to kill the 10 minutes before the food comes is a must. Long gone are crayons and sheets containing mazes, word finds and words which unscramble to spell spaghetti, hamburger or soccer.
The key is to verbally deconstruct any complicated dish in hope of fooling the child into believing that it’s not fancy. For example, “Do you want to try Gnocchi? All it is is the same pasta you are eating with a little bit of yummy mashed potato in it?”. This usually results in the child looking back at the parent with a “are you kidding me?” look on their face.
Mom is usually more subtle by ordering something safe instead of the what they really want in the off chance their child just might want to try what they are eating. It’s a more subtle approach than dad and if he/she complies, it’s a reassurance that the child is still Mama’s little boy or girl.
The cocktail list payed homage to Game of Thrones by offering the Mother of Dragons, Clash of Kings, North of the Wall and Little Finger. Khaleesi aside, I went with the maternal choice which was campari with grapefruit tonic and pastis. It didn’t go down like dragon fire but instead tasted like a tame negroni.
Woodlot is know for it’s bread. A number of varieties are available for sale everyday starting at noon. The same bread is offered to start the meal for those who dine in. By offered I mean provided free of charge. In fact, a variety ranging from white to whole wheat to multigrain is provided with a small churn of butter. It was quite delicious and nicely complimented the rustic nature of the restaurant itself.
My starter was the ember grilled Hen-o’-the-Woods mushrooms with wild rice, black walnut, beet root and dill ($13). These are one of my favorite mushrooms so I had high expectations. Great textures and smoky, earthy flavours highlighted the dish. My expecations were met.
For the entree, I opted for a small order of hand cut sourdough spaghetti and meatballs with dry aged beef, san marzano tomatoes, basil and parmesan for $16. The meatballs were moist and flavourful, the sauce was fresh and tart and the sourdough pasta was an enjoyable twist. It was a small portion but I guess that’s what I ordered.
I also ordered the warm kale salad with currants, toasted almond and pickled shallot for $7. The kale was nicely cooked and the flavours were quite balanced and enjoyable which I thought it paired nicely with the pasta.
I wasn’t blown away by any of the desserts (in fact there are only four including a cheese plate) but I ordered the vanilla pavlova anyway. Served with blueberry and lemon curd, the pavlova itself had a crispy crust and a soft, fluffy interior. The addition of fresh tarragon was smart and the whipped cream helped to buffer the other components on the dish. That said, the extreme sweetness of the pavlova was not balanced with the minimal tartness of the curd, especially when the blueberry joined the party.
Even as College street near Palmerston becomes increasingly innodated with new and trendy eateries, Woodlot sits quietly around the corner and remains a popular dining destination. The communal table, brick oven and open kitchen make for a fun atmosphere even if though it’s at a lower decibel than nearby La Carnita and Dailo. The fact that they focus on freshly baked bread and a dedicated vegetarian menu in addition to the small but smart standard one is a reminder that the food as opposed to a wild cocktail menu, small plate snacks and loud music is the foundation for Woodlot’s success. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it kid friendly, perhaps the parents at the communal table were smart. After all, what parent doesn’t tell their child that they have to eat everything on their plate and with the small portions at Woodlot, maybe that’s not such a daunting task.
Bread is one of the most powerful foods on the planet. Each region of the world has taken this simple staple and has adapted it to reflect local taste, ingredients and artisan influence. There is spiritual meaning in this staple. Roman Catholics equate bread to the body of Jesus Christ. In the old testament, manna rained from the heavens during times of desert travel. Bread is the focal point of famous works of art throughout many centuries. In 1498, Leonardo Di Vinci finished the last supper which depicted the sharing of bread among Jesus and his apostles. Picasso’s “The Blind Man’s Meal” was a haunting painting featuring a small loaf of bread is characteristic of his blue period. One of the most famous pictures of the 20th century was “Grace” by American Eric Enstrom which simply shows a man saying grace in front of a loaf of bread.
I think bread is the fashion of the food world. I grew up in a post-hippy financially constrained family. My clothes were like my bread….most times I ate Cecutti’s white bread while wearing leisure pants. I was content. It was a simple time. Grocery aisles weren’t lined with designer bread..choices were limited primarily to brown or white.Weekends were more exciting, which included a ride to Golden Grain bakery in Sudbury after church followed by a rush home so butter could be slathered on the loaf of Dark Rye while it was still warm.
One of my most vivid memories of high school was when my grade 13 teacher recited a poem called Revolution: The Vicious Circle by John Nist. He quietly sat and started muttering the word bread, repeating it over an over, raising his voice each time. By the fifth bread he was screaming like a lunatic and suddenly recited the word dead with the speed of a machine gun. After a brief pause he repeated the bread mantra again with the same deliberate crescendo, ending with a BREAD! that even woke up the dude in the back who slept through 80% of every class he ever sat in.
b r e a d !
B r e a d !
B r e a d !
B R E A D !
dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.
dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.
dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.
dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.
dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead - dead.
b r e a d !
B r e a d !
B r e a d !
B R E A D !
I can’t deny that bread, like anything else, is based on a supply and demand model. In our current age of entitlement and need for individualization, it’s not surprising that such a wide variety exists. Choices now range in the dozens but the irony is the vast majority of these are controlled by two companies; George Weston Limited Weston and Canada Bread (who is utlimately owned by Maple Leaf foods). Otherwise, the smaller bakeries are being swallowed up by others. Take for example, Guenther and Son, a Texas company who has recently acquired three Canadian bakeries including one which supplies baked goods to McDonald’s in Eastern Canada and the US Midwest.
Canada’s flawed food guide preaches that we as consumers should eat an abundant amount of baked goods but recommends whole grains to provide the necessary fibre and nutrients necessary for optimal health. Dempster’s for example (yep…owned by Canada Bread) among others have pounced on this by producing the Healthy Way line which includes the Double My Fibre!, Say No To Fat and Sugar! and Boost my Protein! (just a note..exclamation marks must mean it’s good). This whole line is nothing but a feel good means of fooling people into believing that they can rely on a quick and packaged means of providing the necessary nutrients necessary for optimal health. Each designer bread promises exactly what you need. They are surprisingly similar however. For example, Say no to Fat and Sugar! comes with the tagline “helps maintain a healthy body weight” although it has the same caloric content as Double my Fibre!. Boost my Protein! offers the same amount of protein as Double my Fibre! It’s smoke and mirrors..nothing more than disguising a similar product with an ingenious marketing program. Take the following clip for example.
First of all, James Brown must be rolling in his grave. Clearly, the rock ‘n roll icon is being copied as a second rate entertainer you would hire for a birthday party. Second, it’s unclear as to what anything in this entire scene has to do with bread other than the one or two second break the guy takes to gnaw into a sandwich in between his slick dance moves. And who the hell is Jason?
Speaking of James Brown, perhaps his death may have been avoided if Dempster’s Healthy Way with ProCardio recipe bread was available. Nothing speaks cardiovascular health like this ingredient list:
Water, whole grain whole wheat flour including the germ, oat bran, wheat gluten, sugar/glucose-fructose, inulin (chicory root), yeast*, oat fibre, sugar beet fibre, plums, vegetable oil (canola or soybean), vinegar, salt, acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono and diglycerides, calcium propionate, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, sorbic acid, trisodium citrate 2-hydrate, potassium chloride, magnesium carbonate, natural flavour. *order may change. May contain sesame seeds, soybean and sulphites. [L804].
Other than a slightly lower amount of sodium (110 mg vs 150-200 per slice) and a good whack of fibre , I see little to justify the bold claim made on their website: “The only bread uniquely designed for those looking to maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of heart disease”. I’m unaware of any data showing the positive effects of acetylated tartaric acid of mono and diglycerides on cardiovascular health. Some will attempt to link inulin to improvements in metabolic parameters but little data exists. In fact, any benefit from inulin seems to come from ultra-high doses and usually comes at the expense of diarrhea, bloating and other GI upset.
You are What you Eat.
As mentioned, bread is a staple in the diets of many. It is rooted in symbolism and has meaning beyond simple sustenance. Therefore, it makes sense to suggest that the type of bread one prefers says a lot about themselves as a person. Take the following for example.
Owns at least one apron with something like “World’s Greatest Baker” or “Better than Eggspected” written on it. Announces days in advance that they will make bread with the eggspectation that everybody will be in a fasting state come the day. In turn, they consume half the homemade loaf and justifying it by citing the caloric expenditure needed to kneed bread for seven minutes. Prone to criticize any bread that isn’t theirs, especially their rival down the road who uses, gasp!, a bread maker instead of good old-fashioned elbow grease.
Afraid to take chances and probably still lives at home. Likely rejects health professionals and their misguided calls for healthier eating. Extremely stubborn..showers with soap instead of body wash, drives with a stick shift and probably likes bologna.
Tend to think this is the only diet change necessary to sustain optimal help. Enjoys one upping white bread eaters by ordering brown toast with their greasy breakfast followed by the comment “You eventually get used to it”. Parks as close to front door of restaurant as possible.
Always had a secret desire to live off the land but didn’t develop the skills to do so. Owns a Tilly hat. Also wanted to be on the archery team in high school. Likely watches Survivor, Siberia and Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls. Secretly tapes shows on OLN and about Mayan history.
If Caucasian, attributes consuming naan bread to a spiritual awakening resulting in the opening of the third eye chakra which further demonstrates their spiritual superiority over their friends and family. Shakes head at those who block their chakras by eating the European stuff.
Just like the Naan eater but one ups them by claiming a yeast intolerance in addition to the need for chakra cleansing.
Actively seeks and embraces new food trends to justify donning plastic rimmed glasses and vats of hair gel. Biggest enemy is the naan eater who is outdated by following a food trend that is so 2011. Uses wikipedia frequently to remind themselves why they eat injera and to learn at least one other kind of Ethiopian food. Opts for sandals over shoes.
Also appealing to running room enthusiasts who attribute their improved endurance to the consumption of the same carbohydrate as Ethiopian marathon runners. Specifically, they cite the super grain teff not realizing that ironically most injera in Canada is made with wheat, barley and rye, a stark contrast to their belief that wheat belly is the leading cause of sluggishness in North America (also see gluten free).
Thinks that nutritional pundits who equate one bagel with four slices of bread are leaders of a government conspiracy. Rolls eyes at those who fail to match flavoured bagels with the appropriate cream cheese. Swears the best bagels are either in Montreal or New York even though they’ve never been to either city.
Subscribe to Today’s Parent magazine and pat themselves on the back for fooling their children and/or spouse into eating healthy. May not eat this bread themselves since they like real vegetables but have empathy for those who don’t. Like crows, attracted to shiny things like orange bread and scantily clad yoga enthusiasts in television commercials.
Healthy Way- Double my Fibre!
Sees a good day as one that includes at least one bowel movement. Have convinced themselves that orange flavoured Metamucil tastes good. Hobbies include watching the Price is Right, reading Prevention magazine and rushing to the grocery store when toilet paper goes on sale.
Healthy Way- Boost my Protein!
Believes that no amount of protein a day is enough and likely washes it down with a whey shake. May lather with 2 tbsp of mayonnaise because they read somewhere that like protein, liberal consumption of fat at meals makes you feel full….and it’s healthy fat! Could possibly be seen wearing a bandana or a muscle shirt depicting some animal dressed as a human pumping heavy amounts of iron.
Healthy Way with ProCardio Recipe
Reluctant to take medications since they think all health professionals (except Dr. Oz) are in the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies and swear they can reduce their risk of heart disease by eating bread, listening to Cat Stevens and walking their dog Muffy. They smell like garlic, drink 14 cups of green tea a day and take melatonin so they can sleep at night.
Also buy 100 calorie portion controlled chips, chocolate bars and soft drinks. Reads the less than 600 calorie menu at restaurant but opts for the burger promising to return to lean cuisines tomorrow. Watches “The Biggest Loser” while eating frozen yogurt instead of ice cream and thinks Jillian Michaels is an inhabitant of the planet “Awesome”.
Thick Slice/Texas toast
Laughs at any joke or statement containing the words “it’s not the length, it’s the width that matters” or “Everything is bigger in Texas”. Thinks breakfasts with two eggs and Hondas are for sissies. Likely has a tattoo paying homage to either their country or mother. Drives a domestic car or pickup with a bumper sticker which says “If you can’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them”, ” Still have a job? Keep buying Foreign” or “If you can read this, you’re too f@#*ing close”. Either that or they really like french toast.
Stays Fresh Bread
Takes 3 weeks to eat a loaf of bread. Otherwise, likely has built an underground shelter with the belief that Armageddon is imminent and that the only survivors will be themselves, cockroaches and their loaf of Dempster’s Stay Fresh white bread. Not concerned with the fact this bread has less nutritional value than a bag of sugar.
Insists that gluten free bread is delicious even though it isn’t. Uses lines like “Man, I think the sorghum to millet ratio in this bread is fabulous..well worth the $14.50” and then insist they don’t even miss the real thing. Repeats the same behavior with brownies, cake, wraps, muffins, cupcakes, bagels, tarts, squares, pasta, cereal and pancake mix. Those around them smile and nod and binge on anything with gluten at their first opportunity, complete with some sort of lactose and/or caffeine containing beverage.
The once sacred art of making bread has been replaced with the mass production of designer brands with more substance on the package than in the loaf itself. Gone are the days where a table would share a loaf equally among all. If Di Vinci painted the last supper today I wonder if there would be an array of bread to satisfy each palate. Maybe before betraying Jesus, Judas Iscariot would prefer Texas toast while Bartholemew would opt for gluten free. In the end, through devious marketing campaigns, celebrity endorsements and misleading product claims, consumers are left confused when they stroll down the bakery aisle at the local grocery store. This spiritual staple, like other foods, has been bastardized by corporate juggernauts who disguise the bottom line as a commitment to improving the health of consumers everywhere.
The recent surge in food with a middle eastern flare is evident. Shawarma stands and restaurants have popped up all over Ontario. I don’t doubt that at some point a Shawma Wars show will appear on CMT beside the battles between burgers, pizza and tacos. Until then. the battle for the best shawrma has to be left to the likes of numerous Toronto blogs and celebrities like John Catucci.
So, when I was peckish for a pita, Dr. Laffa seemed a logical choice. Although located in an industrial area around Dufferin and Lawrence (actually there is a second location on Bathurst located across from Harold the Jewelry Buyer of commercial fame), it is a bustling joint even on a Sunday. Dr. Laffa has been featured on You Gotta Eat Here and has been crowned with the title of Toronto’s best shawrma by BlogTo a few years back.
Upon entry, I was surrounded by smiling waitstaff and seated in the back corner. I got there just prior to the lunch rush and narrowly avoided the arrival of a large birthday party which filled half of the seats in the modestly sized interior. The menu gives a loose description of the restaurant’s concept which essentially equates laffa bread with manna from heaven itself. Baked fresh to order, It’s sort of a cross between pita and naan bread. It is available with hummus orders as well as an option for any of the sandwiches.
We were immediately treated with a spread of condiments which included pickles, cabbage, corn salad and carrots. My favourite was the cabbage although they were all pretty tasty.
Ordering turned out to be quite the ordeal. The word “shawarma” on a menu can imply a number of different things. Both myself and my daughter are fans but we both have an aversion for lamb. I inquired into the content of the shawarma and after great deliberation by numerous members of the waitstaff, I was told it contained both lamb and chicken and it appeared there was no way to change this fact. Both of us called an audible and ordered the falafel and chicken shish kabob sandwiches respectively. I decided to break the bank and go for the laffa whereas my daughter played it safe with the pita.
I started with the hummus masabaha (chickpeas and tahini). It was a rather large portion served with one piece of laffa. Creamier than most, it had a mild, pleasant flavour. If you like an earthy, garlicky dip you may be a bit disappointed. Be prepared to be left with a whole lot of hummus as well since the amount of bread is not nearly enough.
I decided to take a stroll to the counter to check out the open kitchen. It was at this point I realized that a chicken shawarma was possible (I had initially assumed that the lamb and chicken was stacked on the same stick). I explained to the guy that we were told otherwise and asked if we can switch. He looked at me rather perplexed but reluctantly agreed….or so I thought. Back at the table, I updated the waitress. Sure enough, out come the kabab laffa with the explanation “well, it wasn’t in the computer and he didn’t know which one to switch”. There was no offer to remedy. Furthermore, she didn’t order the laffa to begin with! She was stuck with a laffa instead of a pita (for an extra $3 a pop for chicken laffa I’ll add). I would have almost forgiven the whole ordeal if the sandwich would have been mind blowing. The plaque on the wall boasting Dr. Laffa’s commitment to the importance of pickled turnips, hummus and hot sauce as a key component of a shawarma was misleading because what was sitting in front of us was a sloppy mess of hummus-laden lettuce and huge chunks of onion overpowering the chicken and falafel. Although the chicken wasn’t dry and the falafel was moist and nicely seasoned, the sourness of the pickle and heat of the sauce were near absent.
My son ordered fries for $4.99. They were fresh cut and ample ketchup was available so he was happy.
At this point the birthday party had pretty much arrived and we were left stranded for a while. Eventually, we were asked if we wanted to take the sandwiches home and the waitress carefully wrapped them table side which was a nice touch. After another lengthy wait we were given the bill and navigated our way out.
Despite the dismal dining conditions that exist in London Ontario, there are many great middle eastern choices. I can grab a decent shawarma on almost every corner. If Dr. Laffa is the best shawarma in Toronto, then London wins hands down. I don’t expect Michelin star service in places like this but I get rather annoyed when simple things go wrong. The ability to provide a simple chicken shawarma on a pita to a 13 year old does not seem like an impossible feat but proved to be so on this day. It lacked the fundamental elements of a good sandwich that I though would be automatic in a place raved about on You Gotta Eat Here and Blogto. My falafel was decent but not heads and tails above others I have had. Some patrons have commented that the laffa should not be a dollar and a half to three dollars more than the pita but I suspect it is bigger in general given the amount of filling necessary to stuff the plate-sized bread (this is a theory I never got to test out since I never got a pita to compare it to). Otherwise, the hummus was good and the starting “treats” were a nice touch. Despite everything, the place was packed, so there appears to be no shortage of fans. In the end, I went to the doctor but I didn’t leave laffing.
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.
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.
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.
TIFF is annoying. It’s the time of year when A-listers pretend that they are artists and not actors who hold out for big salaries and insist on the right camera angles to minimize acne breakouts or skin blemishes. Actors like Adrian Brody forget the Gillette commercials they did with Andre 3000 and the other guy nobody’s ever heard of and become humble thespians touting the need to preserve the art of flim. So, I didn’t go to Hudson Kitchen because Brad Pitt had a private meal there (although it would be dreamy to put my ass in the same spot he did). I was more impressed at the fact that the chef had a history at Ursa and Woodlot, two restaurants which pride themselves on quality seasonal food and innovative plating techniques.
Hudson kitchen is a good sized restaurant, an expansion of the old Palmerston cafe which sits on the corner of Dundas West. Like Woodlot and Ursa, the decor was a blend of chic and worn. A small bar tended by a large man with quite the dapper mustache greets you as you enter who, based on the pre-opening hype, foreshadows the possibility of a pristine cocktail. The tables are scattered among hardwood floors. In the front, one wall is plain white and the other displays a plethora of picture frames containing quirky pics like the fork running away with the spoon.
I can just imagine what the A-list celebrity turned humble artist would say:
“Hudson kitchen is like Fight Club meets Interview with the Vampire. It’s a worn yet classic venue’s struggle in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. I was drawn by the evolution from the old Palmerston attitude and grasped the metamorphosis into a modern yet classic eatery for middle aged foodies.”
In fact, I was a little surprised by the crowd, True, it was early in the evening but a number of older couples were filling the place. Whitish hair, sport coats with jeans and the occasional sweater draped over the shoulders of a crisp dress shirt.
The cocktail list is short and sweet (well ironically..it’s not that sweet as most of the drinks gravitate more to the savory side of things).
Back to the artist…
“The Earth to Grapefruit seemed simple enough: beefeater, campari, lemon and cointreau. What’s amazing is the fact that it tasted like grapefruit without any grapefruit… a true demonstration of phenomenal cinematography similar to eating a Jelly Belly which tastes like popcorn and wondering how they achieved such trickery. It had a predominant bitterness (much like myself) that encompassed the struggle between the earth and the fruit it produces.”
“The Innocence Lost was exactly that…the innocence of a fat free cocktail is replaced with a cream based, multi-ingredient concoction reminiscent of a latte. It’s a realistic look at the struggle for identity in a crowded metropolitan cocktail market. The use of albumin is an advancement over the peasantry of mere egg white. There was a good balance and despite the fruit infusions and simple sugar, it lacked an overbearing sweetness.”
“The Covert Slim was the best of the choices. It was a modern day Romeo and Juliet…the brilliance was the conflict between the pre-dinner aperol and the post-dinner amaro to co-exist in something that can be enjoyed during the meal. Once again, the albumin played a key role in unifying these protagonists among a cast of bitter characters including lemon and grapefruit juice.”
“The expectation for people to pay for bread is a painful reminder of the evolution of societal norms. Yet at the same time we can demand that it’s brilliant. The schmaltz was supposed to be the star but was replaced by EVOO from Spain at the eleventh hour. This allowed the spectacular performance of the charred eggplant to shine. It was an absolutely delicious performance and elevated the decent bread to a higher level.”
“Hudson’s mushroom broth could be the new Pulp Fiction $5 milkshake. If you charge $16 bucks for mushroom broth it better be f’ing good. Unfortunately, the performance was similar to that of Jennifer Aniston…..not worth the money. It was a good broth but it wasn’t great. A few pieces of rye bread, some watercress and an extra pouring broth table side doesn’t make up for it.”
“Once again, the highlight of the late summer harvest salad was the supporting actor. The walnut brittle was the star. Although the concept of the harvest was lost (other than a few dollops of earthy paste hidden among the forest of greens), it was a nicely dressed salad rustically served atop a cross-section of a tree trunk.”
“The tagliatelle was the only vegetarian dish available. It was an exploration into the unpredictable sourness of society as demonstrated by the preserved lemon within the confines of the traditions of Parmesan cheese and zucchini. The pasta was a solid al dente performance but a slightly salty interpretation but tasty in the end.”
” The chicken adobo was a disappointing attempt at recreating the underbelly of Filipino cooking. Despite a sinful showing of breasts and thighs, there was a dryness to the performance which hardly created an eroticism among the brussel sprouts, quinoa and eggplant. Her skin was beautiful, however, tanned to a mouth watering crispy perfection. The sultry broth added a bit of sex appeal, it couldn’t cover the prosaic poultry.”
“The pear, gingerbread and caramel dessert was a celebration of all things autumn and symbolic of the growth of a pear…from flower to succulent fruit. The gingerbread and ice cream caressed the fruit, reminding it of the earth from which its tree once grew. Spongy Nougat reminded us that sweetness can come in all shapes and sizes. A truly tasty performance.”
If this truly were a movie cast, the walnut brittle, charred eggplant and chicken skin would be nominated for best supporting actor roles. Perhaps the art direction warrants an Oscar nod since the chicken and dessert plates were beautiful. The cocktails were a mixed bag and had names which sound like summer movie releases (I can’t wait to see Brad Pitt in Covert Slim next year). Otherwise, the main characters fell short in their attempt to elevate Hudson Kitchen to A-list status. Priced like a concession stand at a Cineplex, the salad ($14), adobo ($26), pasta ($22) and especially the broth ($16) just weren’t worth it. Plus, you have to pay for bread and water (if you want still or sparking) which adds to an already inflated bill of fare. The waitstaff seemed to lack confidence which is somewhat forgivable given the fact the place is in its infancy.
If Ursa and Woodlot are Godfather I and II, Hudson Kitchen is Godfather III. Since it was a little disappointing, I can’t give it two thumbs up and since it cost me an arm and a leg to eat there, I couldn’t use both thumbs anyway.