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

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

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

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

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

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

boralia pierogy

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

boralia dessert
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Corn Ice Cream $9

My Take

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

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

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

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

Hanmoto: May possibly be the Crown Royal Northern Harvest of New Toronto Restaurants.

The faceless Chris Nuttall-Smith just published his top 10 new Toronto restaurants.  Not surprising, Alo tops the list and other clear favorites including Buca Yorkville and Dandylion made the cut as well.  Perhaps a little more surprising was the inclusion of Hanmoto, the little and unorthadox izakaya joint hidden just outside the intersection of Dundas and Ossington  (it’s on Lakeview Avenue however which, like the Lakeview Diner a block away, doesn’t have a view of a lake).

As Mr. Nuttall-Smith writes (in words much more eloquent than mine), it has no sign and has the aura of a flea market where you are not sure if you will get a great deal, bamboozled  or stabbed with a sushi knife.  The menu is as primitive as the make shift signs you would see advertising dollar persimmons along Spadina avenue.

I went with a few friends a while back as stage one of an Ossington food crawl.  Arriving at 530 or so ensured that there no wait for one of the few makeshift tables scattered among the curio-filled hollow .  The waitress was a pleasantly non-nonsense woman who had a fantastic grasp of the small menu. It seemed fitting to start with the somewhat famous arisaka sour, a gin based cocktail flavoured with yuzu, green tea and cucumber and finished with soda and lime bitters.  It was quite refreshing but a bit flimsy so it was evident I had to switch to beer to avoid downing 8-10 of them before the end of the meal.

2134 - Copy
Arisaki Sour $12

The tiny menu meant little deliberation and the table agreed on the hamachi tartare, the moto bun, the enoki, the masu dengaku, okra and famed dyno wings .

The tartare was nicely balanced from both a texture and taste perspective and was served at the correct temperature.  The moto bun was a fun and flavourful twist on a sloppy joe and was next to impossible to share with the table.  That said, I’m always appreciative of a bun that can withstand the assault of a sloppy filling for the duration of consumption.

The enoki with miso butter was a surprisingly simple take on those mushrooms you see at the Asian food marts and don’t know what to do with.  Their texture with, when combined with the miso butter is somewhat reminiscent of a fat laden piece of steak.

The masu dengaku was an oddly attractive eggplant dish made pretty with fried beets and seasoned with a delicious miso hollandaise.

Each of the previous dishes did not shy away on extreme flavours but the crispy okra blanketed with bonito flakes and asiago (a very saline and odd combination) was a miss.  We casually passed the dish around the table like a hot potato and there were no takers.

Okra $8

Finally, it was time for the fame chicken dyno chicken wings served in the signature take out box.   These wings, stuffed with a pork dumpling, have already attained mythical status in snack food folklore and the label is deserving. The dumpling offers both stark contrast to the crunchy mouth feel of the deep fried wings yet both flavours are married with the sweet and salty sauce.

Dyno Wings $8- A Hot Mess

My Take

I’m a sucker for a good gimmick and there are no shortage of them in the restaurant industry.  I was all over the  Yakatori bar on Baldwin (which now ceases to exist) and I’m the guy who rushes to Harvey’s after not going in years to get my hands on a somehwat revolting pop tart ice cream sandwich.   From the seedy surroundings to the focus on nothing by snack food, Hanmoto itself is a gimmick but one that gone from the exception to the rule in the hipster driven expanse with an Ossington epicentre.

It seems Mr. Nutall-Smith is also enamored by a good gimmick. In his review of Hanmoto, he forgives any hiccups (ie. farmed vs wild salmon) by saying that it’s not that type of bar.  It seems his opinions are driven by the fact that the booze drives the food and not vice versa which I disagree with given the rather sleepy cocktail list and predictable beer choices. Don’t get me wrong..he is brilliant writer and one of the first people I go to for an objective opinion on a new restaurant but I’m left wondering if including Hanmoto on the best new Toronto restaurant list is synonymous with Jim Murray’s choice of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as the world’s best whisky.  Maybe I can meet him halfway but saying the dyno wing is one of the top 10 must-try new dishes in Toronto in 2015 but even in my relatively limited exposure to novel eateries, I won’t go as far as generalizing the dish to the entire experience.

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





Brekkie at Bar Buca: Beyond Bacon and Bad Brew

Bar Buca comes for a pedigree that has gained the attention of the likes of Jamie Oliver among others.  So far, so good for the offspring. It has escaped the mercurial grasp of the Globe and Mail’s Chris Nuttall-Smith as well as gaining praise from seasoned critic Joanne Kates (who I’m convinced is Carmen Sandiego) who recently called it the best thing to open in a year.

In one sense it’s following the lead of the snack bar swing which has taken Toronto by storm.  In another it ups the ante by offerings goods all day including a coffee and breakfast bar as early as 7 am.   The quiet exterior on Portland hides a deceivingly large area with high ceilings, seating which includes wooden high tables, an open kitchen and a coffee/booze bar right inside the entrance. In the morning, each table is equipped with sugar as well as a sugar/espresso paste in a jar which offers an extra kick to the morning coffee. Speaking of which, there are couple of dozen espresso/latte combinations to choose from. After careful deliberation I opted for a Latte Canadese latte style ($5.50). The foundation was maple and brown butter.  Although the size would barely compete with a Starbucks tall, the flavour was far superior.  Not for everybody, it was a bit like drinking melted fudge but the bitterness of the coffee bean balanced it to a degree.

Latte Canadese $5.50
Latte Canadese $5.50

The breakfast menu features everything from savory egg dishes to sweet pastries.   Sensing my indecision, the waiter (yes, I may have forgotten to mention you sit down and they take your coffee order at the table) recommended pane and ricotta; fresh ciabatta bread lathered with fresh ricotta cheese and topped with pear marmalade (honey was an option as well) for $3.50.  There was no shortage of fresh cheese.  The bread was fresh and the marmalade added the contrast of  sweet and clove.

Pane and Ricotta $3.50
Pane and Ricotta $3.50


My Take

Chef Rob Gentile has not only jumped on the snack food bandwagon, he’s added horsepower and a fresh coat of paint.  The deviation from  dinner only hours provides the opportunity to snack on an array of goods anytime of day.  A smart breakfast menu with both sweet and savory items which fills the huge gap between greasy spoons and coffee shop pastries  is sheer genius.  The diversity and quality of caffeinated options rivals any other coffeehouse in the area.  I have every intention of indulging on cicchettis, spuntinis and schiacciatas sometime soon but thankfully I have 15 hours a day and 7 days a week to do so.


Bar Buca on Urbanspoon