The name Sara is fairly prominent in pop culture. On the music side, the name Sara has fronted such singers as McLaughlin and Bareilles although the former is spelled with and H on the end. My sister’s name is also Sarah which gave my grandmother years of difficult since she was never quite sure where the H went. Every year my sister would get a card which read “Happy Birthday Sahra!” or “Merry Christmas Sarha!” or “Happy Graduation Shara!”. I also used to bug my sister in the 80’s by humming the tune “Sara” by Starship which,in addition to “We Built this City”, could the two worst songs released in 1985. I still don’t think she’s forgiven me.
From a food perspective, perhaps the best known Sara is Sara Lee. The company, once called the Kitchens of Sara Lee and opened in 1935, was a small chain of bakeries in Chicago with a man who named his bakeries and a cheesecake within them after his daughter. Both the name and the bakery was purchased and 70 years later was a multinational company with 137 000 employees. Since then, the company has been swallowed up by even bigger fish and is now a subsidiary of Tyson Foods. That said, it still remains a place to pick up a quick cheesecake if you plan to binge watch Animal Kingdom or you forgot it was your turn for dessert once again and a bag of two bite brownies just won’t cut it.
I couldn’t tell you the origin of Sara, the food dudes new culinary experiment in Toronto’s King West area. I can only assume it’s an anagram of Rasa, their other brick and mortar restaurant. I see Sara as Rasa’s more sophisticated but stuffier sister. Rasa hangs out in a basement on Harbord Street, drinking cocktails named after her friends and eating lamb bacon and sticky buns off of wooden tables. Sara, on the other hand, prefers to sip G&T and eat crab dumplings off of marble tables in the vicinity of Lee and Jacob’s steakhouse. I was quite excited for my first date with her.
When I arrived I didn’t recognize her. She is in one of the many recently renovated houses along Portland Street just north of King St so it could easily be mistaken for another person (although she didn’t look like a Jimmy and certainly wasn’t Chubby). After double checking the address, I entered the front door and was immediately impressed with her interior. It was modest but classy with virginal white (damn!) walls and wood accents. Her marble tables were sleek yet practical given the fact they held a chamber for cell phones with the intention of removing texting temptations and force and face to face discussion. She also mentioned they are planning to put chargers in the tables in due time for extra motivation.
It seems Sara likes the hard stuff more than a pint; in particular she’s a fan of a good G&T or a vodka/soda as indicated by the fact that these are the only cocktails formally on the menu. There are 4 combinations using different gins or vodkas along seasonings and house made mixes based on taste preference. I opted for a “spice” G&T ($16) accented with fruit and star anise. In line with the anti-straw movement, she provided an artsy vessel which doubles as a device to muddle the contents. That said, she was full of surprises and produced a solid old-fashioned comparable to some of the best I’ve had in Toronto.
Once Sara got me a bit tipsy, she proceeded to show me a little more of her personality. I quickly realized she was a bit of an uptown girl…a quality vs quantity kind of woman. In addition, she was full of surprises by offering her upscale versions of food I may eat in a roadhouse with a girl named Becky. The chopped salad ($16), fries ($14) ,dumplings ($20) and rice pudding ($15), for example, were hardly pedestrian. The salad was garnished with cashew cheese instead of chunks of marble. The fries were shaped shredded potatoes bathed in schmaltz versus shoestrings in shortening. The dumplings were Prada-like purses darkened with squid ink and overstuffed with seafood and Bearnaise as opposed to generic bags full of ground pork and cabbage. The rice pudding was a rich and savory porridge peppered with corn and bacon and certainly not the senior special with sprinkled cinnamon and a dollop of whipped cream.
Crab and Scallop Dumpling $20
Chopped Salad $14
Rice Pudding $15
Her elegance emerged as the meal progressed. I looked into her (rib) eye ($34) and I felt like a king (salmon) ($25). I couldn’t help but admire her (pork) belly ($22) in my periphery. All were well prepared but the portion sizes were a bit of a tease. The steak went well with the snap pea slaw to balance things out.
Snap Pea Salad $14
King Salmon $25
Pork Belly $22
I thought it was a little risque when she invited me to the washroom but it was really just to show me the toilet. Imported from Japan, they come complete with an wall mounted remote with words like pulsating, pressure, oscillating and position. Needless to say, I was quite excited when she asked me to sit down. Luckily, the heated seat was a wonderful distraction and took my mind off any potential pulsation. I must confess I did play with the controls a little before heading back up hoping I might get the dessert I missed out in the washroom…especially with cherries and a party listed on the menu.
There were only three desserts on the menu and I stuck with my washroom thoughts. The cherry crullers ($12) were rich but modest and nicely flavoured with cardamom and cream. The party sandwich ($12) seems the signature dessert and is Sara’s version of a regular ice cream sandwich. It wasn’t sickly sweet partially due to the sesame and miso flavours.
Cherry Cruller ($12)
Party Sandwich ($12)
I think my date with Sara went well. I mean we got tipsy. ate pub food, locked rib eyes, took a trip to the washroom and had a party after. The date wasn’t cheap though. I think there will some complaints about the price points relative to portion size but as mentioned, Sara is an uptown girl and values quantity over quantity. Personally, I’m more of a Rasa guy with a preference for basement apartments and her sticky buns vs lofty abodes and Sara’s cherry cruller. That said, I wouldn’t turn down a second date as long as it was sometime around a pay day.
My annual summer pilgrimage usually involves a trip to the US to explore everything from geography to good eats. This year, I thought a venture to Maine would be a quaint way to travel the US for over 1100 km and only setting foot in a geography responsible for one Republican electoral vote. Other than Nebraska, Maine is the only state which can split electoral votes and the North part of the state decided to opt for a Trump agenda. I would have gladly avoided it if not for my desire to live my childhood dream of to see Stephen King’s house and many of the inspirations for the many book of his I read as a teenager.
Before trekking too far east, our first stop was the small shopping town of Rhinebeck, New York which was my first indication that every friggin’ person in the Northeast drives a Subaru. Every small town seemed to have a flagship dealership and the inhabitants have Foresters, Outbacks and Legacys crammed in their parking lots. The main purpose was to check out Samuel’s Sweet shop. As a Walking Dead fan, I first heard about this place when Jeremy Dean Morgan (aka Negan) was interviewed on Howard Stern. Morgan, in addition to running a farm which includes rescued alpacas, purchased the candy shop along with Paul Rudd to prevent it from closing. Although it’s tough to find many references to them on the shop’s website, you can purchase a custom made Rice Krispy square with their pictures on a canvas of edible icing. There is also great coffee, many nostalgic treats and my personal favorite, handmade pecan bourbon caramels from local confectioner Lauralei’s kitchen. They were ridiculously addictive, triggering the part of the brain probably related to sex, gambling and/or some kind of drug addiction.
The GPS promised that the trip from Rhinebeck, New York to Bangor, Maine was about 6.5 hours but that was definitely fake news. The next stop was Springfield, Massachusetts. Although many have pulled into town to visit the basketball hall of fame, my interest was White Hut, the iconic burger shack which has been around since the beginning of World War II. Famous for their grilled onions, the burger here has been ranked number three on Thrillist’s top 100. As I waited the woman at the grill said “Listen to me carefully. What do you want on the burger?” It made me wish that all people were that clear and politely blunt as I think it would make restaurant excursions a hell of a lot smoother. I’m not sure it was the best burger in the US but the whole experience made me glad i veered off the highway.
What I wasn’t glad about was my attempt to score some IPA at the Tree House Brewing Company in Charlton, MA. Like most of the ill-fated trip to Maine, this was a bit of a disaster. I was optimistic with the Thrillist promise that “thanks to a recently completed expansion, it has finally become *that much easier* to get your hands on a few cans of their flagship IPA, Julius. What I thought was going to be a quick in and out at 130 on a Friday afternoon turned into a jaw dropping experience. There was a shuttle bringing people from the bottom parking lot to the top one and literally hundreds of people in line. It was like a modern day Woodstock 150 miles further east with long beards instead of long hair, IPA instead of LSD and hops instead of hope.
My plans to reach Bangor with remaining daylight were foiled by horrific traffic jams and a few wrong terms which turned into my most pronounced Clark Griswold moment of the trip. After heading west instead of east at a rest stop in New Hampshire, I bolted back to the Dunkin’ Donuts to let my mom run in and scold them for the baconless croissant sandwich she left with 10 minutes earlier. Better her than me because I would have made a pock hock out of a sausage. As a result of our grueling trek, I had to forgo a couple of planned DDD in order to hit Bangor before dark. The one I did make was the Maine Diner in Wells. Like everything else on the east coast in July it was jammed packed so I squeezed into a small parking space, dodged some old people and begged for some takeout. To keep it easy, I stuck with two of Maine’s mainstays; clam chowder and a whoopie pie. The chowder was less than I expected. The pie was bigger than a softball and weighed over pounds and looked like a Jos Louis on steroids. Although my pictures are notoriously bad, this one is worse and i didn’t take it.
When I finally got to Bangor it was about 4 hours later than I expected but not too late to hit up Brewster’s Fine Food and Drink adjacent to the Brewer Motor Inn to fulfill a promise to find the cheapest wings in town. It will never make a Zagat list but for good food, cheap beer and great service I couldn’t complain. The people watching was almost as good as the whales…if I would have seen of them in Maine. The culinary gems of this place included “name that dip” and “balls on a plate (see below)”..both for under 7 bucks. Combine that with the turkey bomber sandwich (complete with gravy and swiss cheese) and you have a meal for a (Stephen) King.
So after a day of slow Subarus, blissful burgers, beyond reach beer, whopping whoopies and balls on a plate I was ready for a good night’s sleep in the master of horror’s home town but unsurprisingly it ended in nothing but Insomnia.
I’ve only come to realize recently the important role that accents have on pop culture. The attention to detail and need for authenticity has often required actors to hide their native tongues to better represent to the role they assume. Actors like Charlie Hunnan and Hugh Laurie fooled us for years by Americanizing their voices to play the leader of a Charming biker gang and a Jersey cocky doctor respectively. Most recently I’ve heard interviews from the cast of the Walking Dead only to realize that both Rick and Morgan among others are from across the pond and their American grunts and mumbles amidst the zombies are just part of the act. It’s not always English to American either; I recently binged watched season 1 of Fargo and listened to hours of Californian Colin Hanks and Texan Allison Tolman speak in Minnesota and surrounding accents.
On the other hand, bad accents can counter attempts at authenticity. For example, shortly after marrying Guy Ritchie, Michigan native Madonna felt the need to let the world know that she became English overnight driven by a lukewarm British accent. The act was deemed rather inauthentic and lead to a good amount of backlash.
The need for some degree of authenticity seems to exist in the restaurant business. In addition to a decor which reflects a restaurant’s overall concept, some insist on ensuring that the staff are equipped with a lexicon synonymous to the overall theme. It makes sense; I love to grab a Guinness from an Irish barkeep or listen to the proper pronunciation of a great Asian dish. Although the logic and emotion behind this is obvious, I think a couple of rules need to be established:
Let’s avoid Madonnaisms. If you are not from the country, don’t use the accent. A crash course using Rosetta Stone won’t fool anybody except the hipsters who did exactly the same thing to create the appearance that they are more intelligent consumer.
If you are fluent in the language, don’t be arrogant about it. If I order rigatoni, I don’t mind having it repeated back to ensure accuracy but don’t need it done to correct my pronunciation. I’m North American; rigatoni is the same as Reeg-a-tow-naaay.
Make the menu authentic but readable. I can figure out that secondi means second but let’s draw the line at having the ingredients listed in a different language along with a 4 page glossary in the back.
I suppose at some point I should get back to reviewing a few restaurants so this may be a good segue. I went to Oretta a while back. I was looking for a semi-quiet Italian place downtown that didn’t have the name Cibo, Terroni or Mercatto in it. I had strolled by it a couple of times prior and was impressed with the roomy layout and decor of a traditional Italian ristorante mixed with a little King Street cheesiness. Not surprisingly when we were seated we were greeted by a young waiter will a full out Italian accent. I didn’t for a second think it was fake or phony but it did make me ponder the impact it might have on my dining experience.
The menu was a shortlist of classic Italian salads, pizzas, pastas and “secondis”. In the dead of winter the Cavoletti salad (shaved brussel sprouts, almonds, pickled red onion, pecorino and crispy prosciutto) was a crisp, fresh and balanced reminder that sulfuric and pickled vegetables can nicely bridge our extreme Canadian seasons.
From the pasta menu we opted for gnocchi and risotto (aka. Riso di Ieri). The former was doused with a rich meat sauce which made for a heavier dish, especially with the dense dumplings. The flavours were great but it grew monotonous rather quickly. Regarding the Riso; the normal and often overemphasized creaminess and volume of the risotto itself was de-emphasized. It was hidden in a pan fried crust and served atop a generous portion of mushrooms. As somebody who’s not the biggest fan of risotto, I found this version much more balanced and exciting mainly because the rice was de-emphasized. More traditional risotto fans, however, could easily be left disappointed by this interpretation.
I failed to capture a picture of the Margherita pizza ($16) but it looked like…well..a pizza. It passed the test; simplicity by means of a thin crust and fresh ingredients and would reasonably match the others along the King or Queen street strips.
Dessert was “cocco bello”; a tart with fresh fruit, cream and coconut housed in a nutty crust. Perhaps it was not a standard winter dessert but a few berries when it’s below zero is always a kind reminder that, like the salad and despite a horrendous winter, spring and summer are always on the way.
Deciding where on the spectrum between nouveau cuisine and authenticity one’s restaurant will fall must be a difficult decision. Not only does the food have to fit the bill but the vibe and environment also needs to reflect the theme. This includes the manner in which the staff addresses its patrons. I mean, it goes without saying that Game of Thrones would be ridiculous if the Lannisters sounded like Joe Pesci or Donnie Wahlberg.
Oretta was a happy medium along the spectrum of ignorance and imitation. Everything from the decor to the food to the waiter’s accent was authentic and not arrogant. The menu was smallish but highlighted the simplicity of Italian cuisine. The salad and pizza were the highlights although pasta and dessert were more than acceptable. In the end, I found Oretta a welcome change from the hipster-driven Terroni-like chains that have popped up all over the citta.
By now the dust has probably settled on the instant Pot craze (and I mean that literally as I’m sure about 75% of them are likely sitting on the top shelf beside the slap chops and magic bullets). Although they were hotter than a Hatch’em over the holidays, it goes without saying that it won’t top the list of intelligent gifts on February 14. Valentine’s day, the first commercial aftershock of the Earthquake called Christmas, is hardly about anything practical and it would be an utter disappointment to be so unthoughtful.
When it comes to my feelings about the Instant Pot, I guess the biggest question is whether it’s a good thing for humanity’s relationship with what we eat or just another example of culinary sacrilege equivalent to Nutrigrain bars and TV dinners. On one hand, the Instant Pot has at least refueled an interest in cooking. People are keen to actually purchase raw ingredients even it means throwing them all in a magic pot for a ridiculously short amount of time to see what happens. On the other hand, the demand for needing things completed instantly has almost gotten pathological.
Rosie the Robot Maid
First of all, why haven’t they made a live action Jetson’s movie? I’m sure Emma Stone could team up with Damian Lewis, Seth Green or Benedict Cumberbatch in all-ginger starring cast depending on whether she wanted to pad her acting resume with a drama, comedy or oscar winner film respectively. Perhaps the plot could involve a spine-tingling adventure in which the couple tries to determine how two redheded parents could possibly have blond and silver-haired offspring. Perhaps the role of Rosie the Robot maid could be split cast between the Instant Pot and the iRobot Roomba 980.
I think many people dream of one day having their own Rosie in the future and the Instant Pot is a surrogate. Perhaps as we get closer to a Rosie in every home we will see a closed loop system in which Alexa (who based on what I’ve heard from some is not the most intuitive of virtual friends) tells the Roomba 980 what to throw into the Instant Pot so one can arrive home with a delicious meal waiting. As I mentioned, such an automatic process makes me question what we are doing with our relationship with food. It seems to me that using the Instant Pot might be more important than what comes out of it, especially when you have the ability to use annoying hashtags like #instantpotential or #instantpotoninstagram to brag to your instagram friends. Making spinach dips, stir frys or roasted chickens in the Instant Pot, however, seems a bit counterintuitive to me as preparing them are normally quick and/or easy anyways.
You’ll have to wait a minute cause it’s an instamatic.
The words above are one of the many brilliant lyrics penned by the late Gord Downie. From the song “So Hard Done By”, I think it speaks of the ongoing conflict humanity has with time and the need to wait for anything. Just like money, time is a commodity and we decide how to spend it. I get irritated at people who tell me they don’t have time for the gym or television or buying their own groceries. Like money, how you use your time is a choice and there is usually enough for most things so let’s no don’t disguise choice, good or bad, as a by-product of not having enough time in a day.
What does this have to do with the Instant Pot? Simple…people crave any perception that they are saving their precious time even if they aren’t. You can’t tell me that roasting a chicken in an Instant Pot actually saves any time. You still need to prep the bird and clean up the pot after. The only variable is how long it takes. These are two different concepts. It’s kind of like Amazon prime. It takes the same amount of time to order regardless of which means we use; the difference with prime is we get it earlier. Let’s not mistake saving time with a lack of patience or the desire to get something immediately. They are two difference concepts.
The Dan Brown Phenomenon
Dan Brown burst onto the scene in 2003 with the Da Vinci code, his sophomore effect in the successful Robert Langdon series. I’m not a huge fan of Dan Brown’s writing per se but I think his brilliance was taking the concept of religious symbolism and instead of writing a textbook what would sit on a shelf (likely beside an instapot), he transformed his theories into a fictional novel. Despite a weak plot and poorly developed characters, the Da Vinci code has sold around 80 million copies and has people looking at their dollar bills a little more closely. I call the ability to disguise something as another for the purposes of increased exposure and/or profit the Dan Brown phenomenon.
Let’s be real…the Instant Pot is nothing more than a glorified pressure cooker. This technology has been around since the 17th century and the science really hasn’t evolved much since. It is the sole reason, after all, why Top Chef contestants can cook short ribs to near perfection in under an hour; a process which usually takes at least three. Despite the fact the ability to cook food faster by simply adding pressure has been around for almost 350 years, all of a sudden people are fascinated at the fact they can cook a chicken breast easier and faster than microwaving a hungry man dinner.
The Instant Pot: The Universal Remote Outside the Family Room
Maybe proponents of the Instant Pot will argue that it’s not the ability to pressure cook that makes it the best thing since sliced bread (although I believe the Lux model might actually slice bread as one of the features). They will instead argue that its multi-functionality is the key to its brilliance. The ability to steam rice, warm soup, saute veggies, set the pot to porridge setting and even make yogurt all in the same device seems revolutionary. This has likely lead to kijiji sites across the country lighting up with hundreds of only-used-once crock pots on sale due to “downsizing” for $20 o.b.o. My only issue is, much like losing the universal remote, you are screwed if anything happens to the all-in-one device and you may end up in a situation where you may actually have to remember how to turn on an element to boil some water….providing you have any pots or pans left in your dwindling reservoir of kitchen items.
I’m still on the fence about the Instant Pot. On one side, i think it has sparked a re-interest into getting people back into the kitchen with the intention of trying to cook using raw ingredients. This has been coupled by a sizable social media community posting cool and innovative ways to use the device suggesting that cooking may actually be fun again. The device has infused a sense of pride in both those with curious culinary minds who want to truly play with their food and those who are kitchen amateurs and can take pride in the fact they cooked spaghetti with “homemade” sauce in one pot.
On the other hand, the Instant Pot is another example of the constant propaganda intended to give us immediate satisfaction with minimal effort. It’s a glorified vending machine and another step toward Rosie the robot and the near complete automation of food preparation.
In the end, it’s not really about saving time but instead about feeding our need to satisfy our ever increasing impatience. The Instant Pot will eventually join the graveyard of kitchen gadgets with the likes of Gotham pans and George Foreman grills. Until then, people will continue to exercise creativity in efforts to abandon primitive cooking practices including using a stove top and a skillet, ultimately saving a few minutes while only washing one pot. Personally, I’ll continue to roast chickens, make stirfrys in a wok and buy my yogurt for $1.99 in a tub at the grocery store. If I do ever get an Instant Pot, it will likely be on kijiji, partially because I can feed my impatience knowing I can get it right away. Even Amazon prime would take a day or two …even if I eventually figured out how to use Alexa to help me order it.
As I’ve stated before, the hipster movement is a bit like the Walking Dead. At first you’d see the odd zombie roaming around and next you know you have an apocalypse on your hands. Part of this mass transformation has meant the expansion of foodstuffs which have undergone hipster domination. It started with coffee shops and quickly progressed to tacos and burgers. They have laid claim to kale and cauiflower. I think what I find most disturbing, however, is their latest attempt at beatnik tyranny; ice cream. No, the centrefold of the Toronto Life a few months did not show Norm Kelly and Drake in a Yonge 6 Gods gangster embrace but instead summarized a number of ice cream cones available across the city. It was at this point I knew that the hipster infection had spread into the medium of one of any person’s fondest childhood memories. The ritual of popping down to a parlour with the fam and watching a disgruntled 16 year old serve my mom tiger tail for the 15th time (I swear she was only person in Sudbury who ate it) while I stood indecisive until a got a good kick in the arse was in jeopardy. I should have seen it coming. It does, after all, involve long lines and serving food out a crawl space which are both predictors of a hipster breeding ground. It also allows for a more justified use of the cash only policy and certainly would never require a reservation. Plus, you also don’t have open in the mornings.
I was in the Ossington area and decided to pop in to Bang Bang. It was a Wednesday night around 7:30 pm so the line wasn’t too bad. Predictably, it looked like a garage. The line swung around to a counter housing 4 or 5 types of cookies which seemed to be the most popular vessel for the twenty or so flavours of ice cream which were displayed on shelves in a David’s tea store. Against the far wall is a iron which feverishly works to pump out thin Hong Kong waffles which are subsequently folded into cones and stuffed with ice cream.
I wasn’t surprised to see an array of clientele waiting. In particular, a hipster dad had his hipster kids with him. Since the line moves at a snail’s pace despite their “one sample only” policy, they have a screen on the wall projecting some sort of video. In this case, it was some cartoon I didn’t recognize but I thought it would keep the kids occupied for the long haul through the ice cream line. It looked pretty benign until things got heated. For whatever reason a woman was suddenly naked in the middle of a forest and was greeted by a near naked and very built man. Soon, enough, he had his large hands nicely positioned on her rather voluptuous ass and soft core animated sex followed. Daddy hipster was shocked and quickly put his hands over the eyes of his baby hipsters and looked around feverishly hoping that he didn’t have friends or families in the vicinity to witness such an atrocity. I was going to joke with him and tell him that it was part of the Ontario government’s new sex ed curriculum but I figure that might resulted in a good shin kick or having my hair pulled really hard.
There are many choices including scoops (even an adult snack size for those who normally go for the kiddy cone), the aforementioned cookie sandwiches and Hong Kong waffles as well as macaron sandwiches and ice cream puffs. When I finally got to the front of the line, I decided on banana ice cream in the waffle cone for $8. I was told that because of the Hong Kong I could have 2 flavours instead of one so I also ordered Froot Loop as well. Since they are “made to order” there was some wait time involved. It reminded me of the countless number of Hampton Inn buffets I’ve been to in which the wait for the waffle iron could go into the early afternoon. It didn’t help when the guy behind the counter looked like he was having more trouble with the waffle iron than I would trying to assemble an IKEA desk. I finally got the cone and the waffle was still warm which was a nice contrast to the ice cream. I’ve made banana ice cream at home and Bang Bang’s was almost the same. It had a rich custard base and the bananas were quite ripe tasting. There’s that magic moment when you first combine froot loops and milk. Not only is the milk still super cold but the flavours of the cereal haven’t yet combined meaning you get two distinct tastes before they become uniform. The ice cream recreated that magic moment. Despite the warm waffle, the ice cream did not melt at too rapid rate and it wasn’t overly messy but there was no way I could finish it all.
Bang Bang Ice cream adds hipster to the old ice cream parlor. Instead of a “Hi!” from Bill behind the counter at the family owned ice cream joint, you get to stand in line in a garage for a long time, watch porn and surround yourself with hipster angst not often associated with this classic summer dessert. At least they take credit cards. In the end, if you can get over the slow service and prefer soft porn over soft serve (I was wondering why they called it Bang Bang) then drop on by. Good thing they have takeout pints because you might wanna leave the kids at home.
This year features a steakhouse, a perennial favorite and a couple of new restaurants that have arrived with a splash. In addition, there are a few veteran restaurants that show no intention of slowing down.
10. Wellington 529- Winnipeg, Manitoba
Maybe Winnipeg isn’t known as the Mecca of fine cuisine but I enjoy a good steakhouse. Aside from what was likely the best steak I had all year, the old school service (including white lab coats) and decor made for a delicous and highly enjoyable dining experience.
9. Carmen– Toronto
Carmen is one the better and most underrated tapas bars in Toronto. One dish after another, whether traditional or with a twist, came out thoughtful, well executed and at a decent price point. In particular I still remember the blood sausage and the steak tartare. The service and ambiance were top notch as well.
8. Pizza Libretto– Toronto
In the competitive world of thin crust pizza, Pizza Libretto is one of my favorites. Service is good and everything from the anitpasto to the dessert is nicely executed.
7. Le Jambon Gros- Montreal
The perfect greasy spoon. Although the quarters are tight, the vibe coupled with delightful and innovative grill top provisions makes this a stop for me everytime I’m in old Montreal.
6. Queen and Beaver– Toronto
This long standing British pub serves authentic fare including savory puddings, fish and chips, fine english cheeses and a number of snacks which makes other pubs look like amateurs. Yes, the service can be a bit crusty at times but once you have a few cask ales in you it really doesn’t matter.
5. Thoroughbred– Toronto
Although there was only a bar menu when I went here, it was an amazing experience. The owners gave me a tour of the chef’s table and soon to be dining room. The food was fresh and innovative with a focus on vegetables. The drinks are cleaver. I plan to return early in 2015 to see if my hunch about this place translates to the full menu.
4. Rasa– Toronto
I was probably most excited about the opening of this Food Dude’s industrial looking bricks and mortar location in 2014. I wasn’t disappointed. Whether the regular menu items like root beer ribs or the mysterious fish board, the food was as creative as I expected. The drink list was smart as well. The service was as friendly as that from the food truck itself.
3. Richmond Station- Toronto
Richmond station is a perennial addition to the list. Their system is simple; a small menu (including one of the best burgers in Toronto) to default to in the event the blackboard specials are either sold out or not to one’s liking. To finish off the meal, Richmond Station has one of the most creative and visually stunning dessert menus in Toronto.
2. Maison Publique– Montreal
This fringy pub is quintessential Montreal. The menu consists of sheets of paper written in French and hanging on a bulletin board. That said, the staff are more than helpful in making sure even the English enjoy a good meal. With menu items like buccins (aka big snails) and seal mortadella, it’s almost a underground, taboo Anthony Bourdain type experience. This ultimate foodie experience is enhanced by a good beer, cocktail and wine selection.
1. Whalesbone– Ottawa
Any restaurants that starts with a selection of a half dozen oysters and Kenny Rogers spinning on the turntable is good with me. What follows is a small but impressive choice of draft and a small menu highlighted by fresh sea ingredients presented in a manner that is visually stunning. The tight but comfortable quarters, great service, amazing vibe and innovative seafood based menu including oysters served with one of the most impressive condiment carousels I’ve ever seen puts Whalesbone on top of the list for 2014.
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.