The Good Son: Macaulay Culkin Nightmares and Memories of Norman Rockwell

I have keen to go to the Good Son since it opened.  It’s on the fringes of the Ossington strip which means by geographical location they are mandated to incorporate some of the hipster doctrine into their existence ( in other words “embracing the local Queen street culture” as stated on their website). Good Son is a project of Vittorio Colacitti who gained national attention for his appearance on Top Chef Canada 4. His also has a biography page which, designed a bit like a dating site, outlines his many culinary achievements as well as telling us he is a rooster according to the Chinese Zodiac.

The restaurant’s  website presents Good Son as a surrogate for an old time family experience.  The landing page depicts three generations of a family sitting around the table for dinner which brings back my own family members for very different reasons. Since my family resembles the Lamberts from Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” more than the Cleavers, I think my mom disguised this dysfunction by hanging Norman Rockwell pictures all over the wall to create the illusion that we all sat down and ate mashed potatoes together.  Mr. Rockwell was a 20th century American painter who best described his own art by saying “without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed”.  Quite often this involved very normal families in very normal situations which was a far cry from my life.  The closest I got to a Rockwell painting were the shards of glass in the back of my neck after a sibling spat.  My sister narrowly missed hitting me in the head with a stuffed animal and smashing the glass in the frame of  “The Doctor and the Doll” painting instead. I don’t think he ever painted that.

Norman Rockwell's Doctor and the Doll
Norman Rockwell’s Doctor and the Doll

The name of the restaurant itself also stirs up a few memories. Macaulay Culkin took the world by storm as the cute kid in “Home Alone”. He further stole the hearts of America by starring in the tearjerker “My Girl” followed by a Home Alone sequel.  Things went downhill from there. Perhaps in a effort to expand his acting range, he teamed up with Elijah Wood (who at the age of 12 had the same impish look as he does now) in “The Good Son”, a so called psychological thriller which currently sits at 24% on rotten tomatoes.  Culkin plays a disturbed child who some would argue was a foreshadowing of some of his woes to come.  Wood, on the other hand, went on to fight spiders, orcs and other middle earth creatures to great fanfare in Lord of the Rings. In the end, I couldn’t help thinking that the creepy looking kid at the table on the Good Son’s homepage would eventually take the Macaulay versus Wood path and would likely ponder a “skating accident” as a fate for some loved ones a couple of years down the road.

good son
Life Before Hobbits and Michael Jackson

Despite this irrational fear of the website, I was keen to go because of  the fanfare over the food and drink menu.  I got to experience the latter at a Lucky Rice event I attended a few weeks before.  I remember the well dressed bartenders slinging gin filled concoctions garnished with things like pickled dragon fruit and other foodie furbelows.  I took a seat at the bar and scanned the cocktail menu.  I have no idea who Tony is but I went with “That Thing for Tony” which featured gin, citrus fruit, Campari and some fresh basil. My issue is always the fact that a gin and fruit drink shows up looking like something Mary Poppins would make.  This drink didn’t have the umbrella but did rock the orange slice which served as a  vessel to hold up the straw and combined with the pink was a bit of a kick in the nuts. Nonetheless, gin and campari is always a great combination and a whole lot of fresh basil added a garden vibrancy.

Have you met Tony?
That Thing for Tony $13

I started with the sweet pea tortellini ($18) and it didn’t disappoint.  The pasta was as tender as the peas themselves  and stuffed with a tasty filling which paid homage to this great summer legume.  The tortellini sat atop a sauce laced with citrus and butter flavours and was finished with some grated cheese. At first the portion size looked a little dainty but it was deceptively filling.  Overall, it was a smart and suave dish which honoured  fresh and available ingredients.

Pea Tortilllini $18
Pea Tortellini $18

At this point I needed another drink and since they take as much pride in their bar program as they do their food, I challenged the barkeep to do some alcoholic improv.  He gladly accepted the challenge and began the alchemy.  After a pinch of this and a dash of that he tasted, adjusted and presented his take on a basil smash while profusely apologizing for the brownish appearance but he promised it would taste good.  I wasn’t at all offended and in my head quickly named the drink “Look at my Divot” to reflect the fact it looked like busted up sod after a pathetic attempt with my five iron.  That said, it was a little more manly than drinking through a straw wedged in an orange slice.

“Basil Smash” or “Look at that Divot” $14

For the main, the barkeep suggested the bulgogi short ribs served with kim chee fried rice and a quail egg ($18).  Unlike the smallish pasta portion, this dish was huge. Although the ribs were a little tough, they were flavourful. The rice was equally tasty but a little greasy.  I loved the chucks of kimchi (or kim chee).  The quail egg was cooked perfectly..I just wish there was more of it.  Both the hot and the garlic sauce smeared on the plate were fantastic and removed any monotony of repeated bites of meat and rice. I also liked the abundance of the scallions on the dish from both a taste and appearance perspective.   All in all, a very satisfying (and large) dish in which I could only finish about a third.

Bulgogi Short Ribs $18
Bulgogi Short Ribs $18

My Take

The Good Son succeeds in offering high quality food and drink in a fashionable environment.  Given the creepy family on landing page,  horror movie buffs may fear that many of the plates hanging on the wall may become projectiles in a poltergeist rage.  In fact, I credit the web designers  whose family dinner masterly predicted the movie “The Visit” in which old people finally become the homicidal leads as opposed to the first victims in most other horror movies (just ask Mrs. Deagle in the Gremlins).  It is welcoming with a partially open kitchen and a very visible prep area.  As described on the site, the Good Son’s menu is “a reflection of the melting pot of cultures that has gentrified the Queen West neighbourhood in Toronto”. I agree….I had a little Korean, a little Italian and a little hipster.  One of the questions I always ask myself after a dining experience is “Would I come back?”.  I think this place has one of the most intriguing menus in the city and I felt I only scratched the surface meaning I’d definitely come back in a second to try something like the steak tartare (which I have heard is incredible), jerk shrimp or the burger. In the end, it’s much better than a Macaulay Culkin movie and  as inviting as a Norman Rockwell painting not to mention it’s oddly dreamy that Vittorio’s Chinese astrological sign is compatible with an ox.

The Good Son Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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What About Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu When The Donger Need Food?

When one mentions Korean food in Toronto, Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu is on the top of this list.  Not to be mistaken with Long Duk Dong of Sixteen Candles fame, Buk Chang is a College Street mainstay. It is part of my quest to tackle Korean food this year and having a colleague craving bibimbap in a hot stone bow, it seemed a logical stop.  Luckily, it was just past the lunch hour so we easily secured a table in the back corner and were handed the one page menu.  The decor was rather plain but not uncomfortable. Boasting a menu of 9 items with only 2 of them over $7, I ordered the seafood soon tofu with the hot pot of rice for $8 while she ordered the bibimbap for a little under $10.

One of the things I love about the Korean experience is the banchan, which is an array of side dishes which compliment the main dishes.  These are somewhat open to interpretation but usually include kimchi, steamed vegetables (called namul) and other things like pancakes which can contain any number of ingredients.  In the case of Buk Chang, we were treated to some bean sprouts, kimchi, radish and some Kuromame black beans.  The beans were the best part of the banchan and although the rest of the offerings were good, they were far from mind-blowing.

Banchan
Banchan

 

I’m a little stubborn when I go out and eat in an environment that is somewhat foreign to me.  There have been numerous instances where I have been faced with questions like “Should I eat this hot pepper or is it just garnish?” or “Which sauce goes with which dumpling?”.  Today was no different.  I cautiously spied patrons at other tables for hints on proper conduct although I’m not sure there is a particular science in eating Korean food.  I mean, you don’t have to have a Michelin star to conclude that an shelled egg placed on the table should eventually end up cracked in my soup.  What confused me a little more was the reason why the server poured water in my bowl of purple rice after he scraped most of it into another bowl.  Was it to help out the dishwashers?  To cool the bowl down in case I forget and burn myself?  Was I supposed to do something with it to complete my meal?  In the end, I never got the answer despite watching  an older Korean lady who ordered the same thing as me. She didn’t give the rice bowl a second glance which did nothing to answer my question.

The seafood soon tofu arrived bubbling. I dropped the egg in and watched the protein denature like I  was presenting a grade 8 science project.   The tofu itself was amazing; it’s texture hit that part of my brain that made me fall in love with things like rice pudding and tapioca.  The broth was punchy but delicate. Understanding that this is a restaurant with a significant devotion to tofu, I still found the seafood contribution nothing short of measly.   Two tiny unshelled, head-on shrimp and one mussel were absolutely lost in the big bowl of tofu. I’m not really a fan of rice but I enjoyed a few bites from the bowl of the purple grain that was served with the soup.

Seafood Soon Tofu $7.97
Seafood Soon Tofu (with hot pot rice) $7.97

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge fan of bibimbap mainly due to the fact that it’s mostly rice.  That said, if you crisp up some rice against a hot stone bowl and add a fried egg among other things  you can at least peak my interest. It was a decent $10 bowl of rice.  The egg was nicely done and other condiments were used in good proportion.

Bibimbap $9.74
Bibimbap $9.74

My Take

Most white people will confess that their experience with Korean food has been limited to bulgogi beef and bibimbap, a statement which is possibly as stereotypical as the gong which sounded every time Long Duk Dong entered a scene during  Sixteen Candles more than thirty years ago.   Buk Chang’s  focus on soon (soft) tofu opens another page in the Korean cookbook.  Other than the mystery of the water pitcher, this place offers a straight forward experience in a no frills fashion. That said, when I ponder the scant amount of seafood in the soup,  I need to remember that in the end I’m getting a filling meal for about $8 although I think calling it seafood soon tofu is a tad deceiving.

In many good lunches and dinners you only ultimately  remember every perfect ration eaten,  great nosh and  nectarous thrill. Coming here and nibbling inferior kimchi and bland namul prevents me from calling this the best Korean experience I’ve ever had but based on the tofu soup and the bibimbap, I understand why it’s become a staple for many ethnic food enthusiasts in the GTA.

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Baldwin Village:Yakitori Bar

A fedora and a pink cardigan.  That’s how owner Sang Kim is depicted on the website and that’s exactly how he appears in person as he stands behind the bar as music fills the air at the boisterous Yakitori bar in Baldwin village. I half expected to see a karaoke machine and wouldn’t have  surprised if Mr. Kim himself were first up with  a stunning rendition of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start the Fire” or “Mr. Roboto” by Styx .

Yakitori is a fusion of the izakaya and pop-up restaurant concepts taking Toronto by storm.  The drink menu includes 10 or so types of sake, some of which are also offered in a number of cocktails. I opted for a jubilee (sake/gin/muddled berries).  It’s nice to see a well conceived and tasty drink for less than $8 which can rival cocktails up to twice the price in other places.   There are a few beer on tap and some wine choices as well.

Jubilee Cocktail ($7.96)
Jubilee Cocktail ($7.96)

As for the food, the menu is presented in the format of a  Bad Boy furniture ad.  Daily specials and notifications of kimchi battles are plastered throughout the one pager.  As for content, the mainstays are bbq meats typical of the yakitori concept with a few korean infusions including bibimbap,  kimchi and mundoo.

Must

I skirted over the fact that the cheeseburger came with soup and salad and was pleasantly surprised to see a bowl of pumpkin carrot soup arrive.  It was presented at “perfect soup temperature”*. Despite the main ingredients, the soup was not over sweet, was seasoned beautifully and managed to keep the integrity of the fresh ingredients through both texture and taste.

*- Perfect soup temperature is defined as not mouth-burning yet hot enough to endure the time it takes to consume the last bite.

Pumpkin soup (served with cheeseburger)
Pumpkin soup (served with cheeseburger)

The  kimchi flight (see picture below) features 3 generations of kimchi (1 day, 2 weeks and 3 months old)  appeared to be a bit of a gimmick until you tried it.  Like a grandfather, father and son, each had similarities yet definite differences in taste.  The elder kimchi’s flavour  was smoky and full.  The middle offering had a modest bite but was still juicy and ripe.  The youngin’  was fresh and crispy yet still intense.  Despite the small quantities, the taste intensity made it next to impossible to finish all three even despite  my attempt to scatter it among my other dishes.

Maybe

In a city where burger shops seem to outnumber Starbucks, this mainstay needs something to stand out. Yakatori’s attempt is bulgogi (Korean beef)  served on a fresh roll and topped with a bit of caramelized kimchi and the more traditional, as far as burger’s go,  lettuce, tomato and cheese.   It wouldn’t rank among the best burgers in Toronto but it’s a solid sandwich.  The accompanying salad was pleasant although the dressing was a little flat.  A little more acid might have helped.

Kimchi Flight ($3.95) and Bulgogi Cheeseburger ($9.95)
Kimchi Flight ($3.95) and Bulgogi Cheeseburger ($9.95)

The BBQ eel off the grill was a nice few bites. It was moist and covered with a sweet sauce that nicely complemented the powerful taste of the eel.  I found it a little pricy at $6.25 but for a solo diner the quantity was sufficient.   Throw this in front of a group however, and the next thing you know singing battles to Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” may settle who gets the last piece.

BBQ Eel ($6.25)
BBQ Eel ($6.25)

My Take

 I like the vibe of Yakitori bar.  It maintains the ethnic flare of Baldwin village but not at the expense of drab and downtrodden decor.  It is fresh and clean and the food is fun. Although I went at down time, I imagine the night crowd can bring some energy without the need for half-naked wasabi fights or singing line cooks.   There is a variety of snacks that will appeal to most palates. There’s even some decent choices for vegetarians and gluten free eaters.  Cheapish cocktails, choices for the peckish and starving alike and kimchi older than Psy’s shelf life makes Yakatori a place with staying power….which may be more than I can say about a pink cardigan. Gun Bae, Mr. Kim!

Yakitori Bar and Seoul Food Co. on Urbanspoon