Review:Toronto:Baldwin Village:Kekou Gelato House

I stumbled upon this quiet gelato house while on a stroll along Baldwin Street in Toronto.  It’s hard to find anything online about Kekou other than a humble website which appears hidden among the relics of the Little Video Shop reviews during  a google search. Gone are the copies of John Hughes and Die Hard movies but the gelato remains..this time infused with Asian flavours synonymous with  the Baldwin Street experience.   Take, for example, the variety posted on their website:

Ginger Milk
Cashew
Peanut Sesame
Black Sesame
Jasmine Tea
Vanilla Lotus Seed
Green Bean Coconut
Vietnamese Coffee
Red Bean White Chocolate
Jackfruit
Durian
Lemon Chrysanthemum
Guava Plum Salt
Mango
Spicy Mango
Strawberry-Lychee

The last five are dairy free. I’m unsure if all  (dairy or non) are available all the time but the variety was great when I popped in. Sampling is available, so I tasted the durian, intrigued by whether the stinky fruit would translate into an icy treat. It worked.  In the end, I opted for Spicy Mango and Strawberry-Lychee together in a small cup for  $3.75.  The mango  was creamy despite no dairy (I have a friend of mine who swears no dairy will do wonders for my skin).  It had an ever so subtle spicy kick.  The strawberry-lychee was icy good, well balanced and refreshing.

Strawberry-Lychee and Spicy Mango Gelato $3.25
Strawberry-Lychee and Spicy Mango Gelato $3.25

The store itself is as humble as the website. Hand-written tags and an old school ice cream parlour sign hang in contrast within the otherwise pristine and modern decor. I’d like to witness the Effe Vertical mixer in action in their open kitchen but it was dormant during my visit.

My Take

In a city where the gelato juggernauts seem to reside in midtown, the resurrection of the cold treat is a welcome addition to Baldwin street, this time with an Asian flavour twist.  It’s a quiet recluse and although I can’t walk out with a copy of the Accidental Spy (great ice cream scene by the way) , it might end up a quiet little spot I hit during my regular jaunts up and down University Avenue and if the heat happens to make me a little smelly, I’ll just blame the durian.

Kekou Gelato House on Urbanspoon

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Review:Vancouver:Robson St:CinCin Ristorante and Bar

While in Vancouver, I had a business meeting  in the private room at Cin Cin, an old school Italian eatery on Robson Street. I was shuffled to the private room which housed hundreds of bottles of wines, some at hundreds of dollars.  Speaking of cost, expect to pay a pretty lira here; apps are $13-18, pastas start at $15 and entrees go from $30-45.   Noise was an issue even in the private room. The only thing separating us and the boisterous outside crowd was a thin sheet of glass and a thick wood door that constantly opened and closed, allowing the drone of human banter to roll in like thick fog.There was a four course set menu featuring an array of choices for the appetizers, mains and desserts with a mushroom risotto as a middle dish.
I opted for tuna tartare to start. It was a large portion on the modest side of seasoning and acidity although I got the odd big chunk of salt here and there. The radish was a nice addition to add a bit of crunch to the otherwise silky texture.

Long line caught albacore tuna tartare
Long line caught albacore tuna tartare

The risotto was well prepared and seasoned nicely. The rice had a subtle crunch and there were plenty of tender mushrooms scattered throughout. It was served hot and it held its temperature well.

Mushroom Risotto
Mushroom Risotto

The sable fish was treated with the utmost respect, its delicate integrity preserved in the cooking process. Ever bite melted like butter in my mouth. The mashed potatoes were subtle and allowed the fish to shine. The kale was simply and perfectly prepared and added great colour, texture and a punch of bitterness to the sweet filet and creamy mashed potatoes.

Sablefish
Sablefish

I strayed from my normal tendency to order tiramisu for dessert and opted for a lemon tart instead. It really wasn’t a tart; it was served cold and with a side of strawberry coulis that brought me back to days of scraping the last morsels of baby food off the side of the jar and shoveling it into my kid’s waiting mouth. The tart as a whole had that “sitting there for a bit” taste.

Lemon tart
Lemon tart

There is pride in the service, characterized but constant wine and water pours by the head waiter who is as well seasoned as the risotto was. The table’s dishes were served  by numerous waitstaff on a way that would make the Canadian synchronized swimming team envious.  I received “Sir, that’s an excellent choice!”  for each and every order I placed, an accolade I’m not sure was entirely deserved, especially in the midst of my tiramisu regret.

My Take

CinCin is a well established and expensive Italian restaurant promising good food, good service and good wine. The sablefish was spectacular and clearly the godfather of the evening. The rest of the food was more Godfather III.   The decor is old school Italian villa; respectfully cheesy while embracing the dwindling art of old school service which is as much choreography as it is  functional. However, there is no music for the dance. Instead there is plenty of noise which could become quite aggravating if you have anything important to say or hear…like how great my dinner choices were.

CinCin Ristorante + Bar on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Little Italy/Portugal Village:The Guild

Guild is a cool and near forgotten word in the English language. It was once a medieval term used  to describe a a pseudo-union of artisan specialists who unified to protect their trade. Secrecy was a prominent component  necessary to protect things like unique trade secrets.  Since then, the word has become a bit dormant. Today, we do see it used in Hollywood. The Screen Actor’s Guild, a group formed in the 1930s to combat deplorable working conditions in the film industry and  has now evolved to over 105000 thousand numbers when it merged to form SAG-AFTRA a few years back. The modern quilt guild (MQG)  is another organization which uses this term. With over 150 worldwide chapters devoted  to the art of making quilts, it appears to be a bit more than it seems.  A  quick check of their blog (http://themodernquiltguild.wordpress.com/) shows members sporting bad ass tattoos and racy pictures from the Quiltcon conference’s 80’s night. It  makes you think they might do more than make pretty blankets. Needless to say, I was intrigued when a somewhat secretive restaurant aptly named “The Guild” opened its doors recent in the Dundas/Davenport area. I guess my question was “Would this eatery be like every other trendy restaurant or might it have some unique attributes like cool menu items you could only consume  if you executed a secret handshake that you learned  from a MQG creation? Let’s start with the set.  It’s a large space with a window front which opens to the street and an open kitchen in the back.  There are centrepieces on the solid wood tables, funky hippie murals painted on the walls and shiny gold ceilings. Think of it as Casino Royale  meets Austin Power’s shag pad.  There is a large bar stocking all sorts of sinful potables. There is an abundant drink list with everything from the standards (eg. old-fashioned) to funkier choices (e.g. cider sours) to non-alcoholic shakes made from almond milk. The cider sour was a special drink they made for a private function the week before and it stayed on the secret menu.  It was tasty although I would have liked it a little more sour.  The shake was refreshing as well; a good example of a grown-up non-alcoholic cocktail other than a virgin daiquiri.

Cider Sour and Chocolate Mint Almond MIlk Shake
Cider Sour and Chocolate Mint Almond Milk Shake

The staff seem to be made up of SAG actors themselves,  sporting nice coifs and good looks.  They knew their lines as well, reciting the menu with expertise and confidence. In fact, my waiter looked like Zachary Quinto.  Even the kitchen staff look the part, wearing mechanic uniforms in the garage-like open kitchen and moving fluidly while adding pinches of salt during food preparation. There is a bit of secrecy around the menu.  The website posts a sample menu but it changes frequently given the availability of local ingredients. The bits and bites menu is like a series of movie trailers.  It offers a morsel of entertainment instead of a whole dish  for just a couple of bucks. guild menu bits I opted for a trailer trio; the white cheddar croquette, the guanciale wrapped cherries and rabbit haunches (a secret menu item available to members of the guild).  The cherry was a delectable little treat and the croquette was ok. The rabbit, which I equate to a dark meat version of a chicken wing, was spiced nicely and cooked well.

Bits and Bites $2
Bits and Bites $2

With the trailers consumed, it was time for feature presentation: guild menu main . The beet salad was kind of like Scream 5… pretty predictable.  Despite the use of the trendy sous vide cooking method , it was a nicely dressed but still a standard salad.

Beet Salad $7
Beet Salad $7

The local mushrooms, pine nut puree and egg emulsion was like a remake of a classic flick. It was a twist on a classic mushroom omelette except it was deconstructed so that the mushroom was the prominent ingredient. It was a pleasant starter as it strongly resembled  the taste of the original it was based on.

Local mushrooms, pine put puree and egg emulsion-$9
Local mushrooms, pine put puree and egg emulsion-$9

Unfortunately, the octopus was sold out (kind of like trying to get a ticket for a marvel comic film on opening night), so I opted for the quail and scallop dish.  It was a tale of two proteins.  The scallops were cooked wonderfully and seasoned well.  The quail, on the other hand, was overcooked and rather dry. I’d equate it to seeing a movie with a great and no so great actor (eg. any Lethal Weapon, Good Will Hunting  or Rush Hour).

Quail and Scallops $19
Quail and Scallops $19

I’m always intrigued as to whether or not a place with a small menu can accommodate various food requirements including vegetarian options.  In this case, a “not on the menu” gnocchi with a tomato sauce was the offering.  Like the beet salad, it was fairly routine and fairly predictable but tasty nonetheless.

Not on the menu gnocchi $16
Not on the menu gnocchi $16

The dessert menu offers a half dozen reasonable priced options.  I opted for the bruleed fennel, rum kumquat ice cream and coffee panna cotta.  I expected the brulee to be a fennel flavored custard, but instead it was a knife and fork requiring  caramelized piece of fennel . The apple and chocolate accompaniments were perfect although the kumquat was a bit odd.  The oddity of the kumquat continued in its matching with the rum in the main flavouring of the ice cream which in itself had  a great texture. The coffee panna cotta had an intense, almost overwhelming flavour that was somewhat offset by the condensed milk  ice cream.  The hazelnut crumble was pretty chewy and a bit too sticky, making for difficult eating from a dental perspective.

Bruleed Fennel $6
Bruleed Fennel $6
Rum Kumquat Ice Cream $3
Rum Kumquat Ice Cream $3
Coffee Panna Cotta $6
Coffee Panna Cotta $6

My Take The Guild follows most of the rules, but offers some uniqueness in the bits and bites and relatively inexpensive dessert menu.  There is a good, diverse cocktail menu and the decor is funky and current.  In general, the food is predictable and gets one thumb up and one thumb down. It’s still early in production, but I can see the potential of this place.  Fixing the simple problems, removing their infatuation of kumquats and promoting their uniqueness will no doubt make me a guild member moving forward. Speaking of guilds…I think I’ll approach SAG with an idea.  I’m going to propose a spinoff called “Daughters of Anarchy” starring Charlize Theron.  The premise is that the MQG is no doubt a secret organization with the intention of sending messages on behalf of  the Illuminati via the fabrication of Hello Kitty and Holly Hobbie  quilts.  In episode one, Toronto calls on the Cleveland MQG chapter to complete the patch over of rival quilters the Sassy Scarborough Stitchers, lead by Mabel MacKinnon (played by Betty White). After succeeding, the group is on “pins and needles” and must devise a “cover-up” to stay out of the limelight. Then again, maybe I’ll just stick to stuffing my face and blogging about it. The Guild on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:King West:Weslodge

Behind the Yellow Door- A Western Romance

A Novel by Gary Tayles

Introduction

If you ask any foodie for an opinion (which they are willing to give) , I think they would compare a Charles Khabouth restaurant empire to a romance novel. Romance novels are pretty on the outside, using  bare-chested, robe wearing, chiseled men with flowing manes who embrace buxom babes with their eyes closed and mouths open.  The interior, however, often lacks substance, with predictable themes of forbidden love and turgidity. The Khabouth empire, on the other hand, have beautiful decors, characterized by trendy themes, hardwood accents and big, well-stocked bars. Yet, in the opinion of some, the menu is often overpriced and lacks taste and substance.

Chapter 1- I Must Have Her

I opened up the large door and entered the saloon called Weslodge.  Smiling damsels greeted my group and we were sat beneath the watchful eye of a stuffed ptarmigan.  The holster wearing waitstaff were rag proper;  with coifs and pressed shirts who asked me to choose my lotion.  There were 4 or 5 pints of purge available on tap   but I opted for an orange spiced old-fashioned. The bourbon was nicely complemented by strong bitters which flirted with my eager tongue.

Orange Spiced Old-Fashioned ($15)
Orange Spiced Old-Fashioned ($15)

Of the number of tantalizing smalls offered on the bill of fare,  the  scallops were anything but tiny. I was seduced by the ample cleavage which was  accented with iberico crumbs and placed atop tender, firm lentils.  They were  tender and had a taste as fine as cream gravy.

Scallop ($14)
Scallop ($14)

As I did at Patria, Weslodge’s equally attractive sister (I musn’t tell her to avoid the family drama), I gambled and opted for shishito peppers; each was breaded and salted delicately.  This dish was flirtatious in that one out of every 10-15 are extra hot.  It took only two to find the spicy vixen I was seeking.

CRISPY SHISHITO PEPPERS $6
Crispy Shishito Peppers
$6

My search for a sweet piece of calico succeeded in the form of a sticky pudding.   She was traditional, with a simple beauty and a presentation that was highly desirable.

weslodge pudding
Sticky Pudding

Chapter 2- Maybe Baby

I liked her buns…they looked nice beside my pickle.  The burger itself was decent (I would call it average among the many burgers in the area) and a few more of the delicious  fries (to go with the tomatillo ketchup) would have been nice.

Weslodge Burger $18
Weslodge Burger $18

The chickpea panelle is one of the only truly  vegetarian items on the menu (many things are sprinkled with chorizo or iberico).  This bella donna is a sexy side with the mouth feel of a voluptuous  set of  lips.

Chickpea Panelle
Chickpea Panelle

The dessert  menu is elusive, so I inserted a pistareen to get a look at the Weslodge peepshow. Two sisters emerged; one was a prim and proper chocolate toffee bar donning  gold (well..gold leaf). The other was a bit more a hot mess, speckled with  meringue pieces (I really don’t get this trend), strawberries and sweet biscuits and cream.  I can’t remember the exact name of these two lasses (I didn’t write them down in my black book), which is ok because what happens at Weslodge stays at Weslodge.    In the end, after the sticky pudding, I felt a bit adulterous consuming these sweeties anyway.

Elusive Weslodge Dessert
Elusive Weslodge Dessert
Weslodge Gold Donning Dessertn($10 I think()
Weslodge Gold Donning Dessert($10 I think)

Chapter 3– Ugly as a Mud Fence

The Squash taters tots arrived as cold as an unpaid wag-tail. They were sent back and the second batch arrived only slightly warmer.  Regardless, they wouldn’t have  been that good even at the right temperature.

The arctic char  was a bit flimsy, underseasoned and wasn’t exactly charred.  I had to look up Henry Moore (to ensure he was not some sort of jilted lover who would come back carrying a peacemaker and a frown).  It turned out it’s a South Carolina plantation which grows rice and other grains.  Whew!  The grits were tasty and creamy but a bit mismatched with the oils and the char itself. The $26 price tag was steep. Honestly, I would have liked to see the grits without the char on the sides menu for a more reasonable price.

Squash Tots ($& Squash Tots ($7) and Charred Arctic Char ($26)
Squash Tots ($7) and Charred Arctic Char with Henry Moore Grits($26)

Afterward

In the previous western romance, a group of  schrunchers enters the yellow doors of Weslodge looking for sheconnery. The decor, from the large central bar to the quincy, is adorned with trinkets and taxidermy that would appease Ernest Hemingway.  The bar is without any sheephearder’s delight and instead offers high end and often house made firewater. The service had fits and starts, but the holstered staff were welcoming and the flow of food was reasonably steady.

 Weslodge possesses a definite culinary sexuality which relies on attractive decor combined with  delicate feminine dishes and desserts coupled with the masculinity of  3o+ ounce chucks of bone-in meat to feed testosterone-driven cravings. Charles Khabouth may in fact be the equivalent of Fabio in the restaurant world.  Nobody will admit they like him but his popularity remains unquestionable.  I would be remiss if I said that Weslodge had the substance of a Harlequin romance (or let’s say 50 shades for those who have no idea what I’m talking about) but  it does have a few things that left me a bit mitten.

Weslodge on Urbanspoon