My Hip Cocktails: Silver Jet

Some cocktails are classics and have stood the test of time. The negroni, for example, was first mixed in 1919 and is the number 2 cocktail in global popularity. The whisky sour (# 4 on the list) supposedly goes back to the 1870s. Others have gained popularity over the last few decades but show no sign of fizzing out like many fads have. Take the paper plane for example. This official IBA cocktail, made with equal parts of bourbon, aperol, amaro nonino and lemon was not introduced to the masses until 2007.

The great thing about cocktails is a simple change or two results in a completely different experience. For example, by simply adding chocolate bitters to a boulevardier, you turn it into the Left Hand. Taking such creative liberties allows you to do things like…well…name cocktails after Tragically Hip songs. I thought the Paper Plane would be an ideal candidate for substitution because there are a lot of variations of amaro available. Nonino is a bit of a gateway amaro which seems fitting for something called a Paper Plane. I figured if I were to elevate it to a Silver Jet, a more potent amaro was necessary and that Fernet-Branca fit the bill. This spirit has a strong menthol character which I thought would still blend nicely with the remaining ingredients ( bourbon and aperol hold their own although after the fact I thought campari would work as well)…although some may argue it might taste a bit like jet fuel (full disclosure…this is coming from a guy who likes the taste of cough syrup).

Silver Jet

0.75 oz bourbon

0.75 oz aperol

0.75 oz lemon juice

0.75 oz Fernet-Branca

Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake for 10-15 seconds and strain into a coupe glass.

Silver Jet

With so many amaro options available (eg. Montenegro, Averno and Cynar) simple substitutions will often work for many popular cocktails without a lot of thought required. Every combination may not be perfect but it allows one to get better acquainted with various flavour profiles in an effort to find that ideal combination you can boast about. Who knows…you might end up becoming the Brian Flanagan of Canada and subsequently recognized as a Canadian hero all the way from Clayquot Sound to Cape Speer.

Silver jet way overhead
Silver jet evergladed grey sheers
Silver jet so far off already
Silver jet Clayquot Sound to Cape Spear

Silver Jet- In Violet Light- The Tragically Hip.

My Hip Cocktails: At the Hundredth Meridian

With about a 140 Hip songs to choose from, some are easier to assign to cocktail names than others. Some are certainly a stretch. When thinking of At the Hundredth Meridian, I was hoping that Crown Royal would fit. Gimli, Manitoba was put on the map in 2016 as the producer of Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest which was named the whisky of the year in Jim Murray’s 2016 Whisky Bible. Using my “Who’s Smarter than a 5th Grader?” skills, I deducted that a small town in Manitoba should be somewhere around the 100th meridian. Google confirmed that it is in fact at 96.9887 degrees west so using the same fifth grade skills I rounded to the nearest hundredth and we had a winner.

At the Hundredth Meridian is a song from the 1992 Fully Completely album which many consider to be the Hip’s quintessential album. It became an instant staple in my university CD rotation. As a Hip fan, I think it was a rite of passage if you could flawlessly recite Gord’s famous mid-song soliloquy if I die of Vanity, promise me, promise me that if they bury me some place I don’t want to be that you’ll dig me up and transport me unceremoniously away from the swollen city breeze garbage bag trees, whispers of disease and acts of enormity
and lower me slowly, sadly, and properly get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy
while under the influence. To this day I can recite it in my sleep.

For the cocktail, I did a simple variation on an old fashioned. I really like triple sec and find it very versatile, even beyond a margarita. I was still trying to bust through a big jar of maraschino cherries from Costco so I thought the juice (almost a simple syrup in itself) would nicely replace the sugar cube. As usual, Angostura bitters are always a good call but I find Dillon’s DSB bitters do just as well.

At the Hundredth Meridian

1.5 oz Crown Royal

0.5 oz Triple Sec

0.25 oz of Maraschino cherry juice

2-3 drops Angostura or Dillon’s DSB bitters

Mix all ingredients together and garnish with an orange peel and a maraschino cherry.

At the Hundredth Meridian

Although “At the Hundredth Meridian” is one of the most recognizable Hip songs, Ry Cooder is surprisingly unknown. In 2003, he was named the number 8th guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine (and 31 by the same magazine in 2015). He has played with numerous comparable and recognized guitarists over his long and illustrious career. In addition to Kingston’s own Tragically Hip recognizing him in the aforementioned song, Queen’s university also awarded him an Honorary doctorate in 2000 leading me to believe that he would be really popular at funerals in the Limestone City.

At the hundredth meridian
At the hundredth meridian
At the hundredth meridian
Where the great plains begin

At the Hundredth Meridian- Fully Completely, The Tragically Hip

My Hip Cocktails: The Last Recluse

The whole covid-19 nonsense has certainly brought out the good and the bad in many. It has also led to an exaggeration of a lot of the behaviors people already displayed before the world changed. The extroverts have taken to social media reminding us of the dangers of not staying home or the perils of experimental vaccines while the introverts have used the time to hide behind their walls and use these platforms to remind us all how introverted they are. I’ve been called an extroverted introvert by my friends and colleagues so I guess that entitles me to a wider spectrum of behavior, one of which is feeling rather recluse for extended periods of time.

The Last Recluse is a song from the Hip’s We are The Same album. This is arguably one of the Hip’s more somber collections, containing songs like The Depression Suite, Coffee Girl and Now the Struggle Has a Name and the Last Recluse. Although written well before Covid-19 and the explosion of social media, the lyrics of the latter track could lead one to credit the band with a clairvoyant look into 2020. It’s a tale of abandonment and diminished hope which is a feeling a lot of us have had at times given the ongoing indications that things won’t change anytime soon despite one’s efforts. This reality has made me a bit reclusive at times, so I can certainly relate.

Since there are numerous references to the Canada goose in the song’s lyrics, it seemed a fitting name for a cocktail made with gooseberries. There are numerous variations of this fruit but in this case, I used the readily available cape gooseberry (aka. goldenberry or ground cherry) as inspiration. They have a rather sour but complex flavour which makes for an excellent base for almost any spirit. I was in a mezcal mood so I thought a take on a margarita would fit the fruit’s profile nicely. I also wanted to add a little heat to compliment the sourness so I threw in some jalapeno for extra punch.

The Last Recluse

0.5 oz mezcal

1 oz tequila blanco

0.5 oz triple sec

0.5 oz lime juice

0.5 oz simple sugar

6-8 cape gooseberries

5-7 slices of jalapeno

Muddle the gooseberries and 3-5 slices (depending on your preference). Add all other ingredients to an shaker filled with ice. Shake for 10 seconds or so. Fine strain into a cocktail glass with or without ice and garnish with remaining jalapeno slices.

The Last Recluse

Whatever 2021 brings, I can’t see myself going an extended period of time without reverting to transient reclusive tendencies (especially if the covid conspiracy morons continue to spew nonsense). Ironically, if this me the “last of the immune” then so be it…I’ll stay safe and take my chances because I won’t have to social distance from Jack Daniels or Tom Collins anytime soon.

Who are you?
The last recluse?
Who are you?
The last of the immune?

The Last Recluse- We are the Same, The Tragically Hip

My Hip Cocktails: Long Time Running

I’m a firm believer that one of the easiest way to jazz up a cocktail is to use fresh herbs. The taste of even classic drinks like an old fashioned or a whiskey sour can be significantly modified with sprig of thyme or some rosemary simple syrup. When I was thinking about this, my mind wandered to the Hip song “Long Time Running” and the obvious play on words involving one of my favorite herbs. It started as a quiet and misunderstood song from the Road Apples album and eventually became the title of Hip’s critically acclaimed film which documented their final tour following the announcement of Gord Downie’s cancer diagnosis. In this production, the performance of this song was particularly moving, a somber yet satisfyingly reflection of the band’s illustrious career. I equate it to other songs, such as “The One I Love” by R.E.M, in the sense that on the surface it seems to suggest peace or love but a deeper dig uncovers pain and suffering, a fitting theme to a film which some call the band’s visual eulogy.

I initially made this during the summer and is one of the few vodka cocktails I made. That said, I think it would go just as nicely with gin as well. I used green chartreuse for a little spice and some sweet and floral St. Germain to balance it out. I topped it with a splash of Fentiman’s elderflower soda to boost the St. Germain and lighten it up a bit and then finished it with a fresh sprig of thyme.

Long Time Running

1.5 oz Vodka or Gin

0.5 oz St. Germain

0.25-0.5 oz Green Chartreuse

0.5 lemon juice

Fentiman’s Elderflower soda (optional)*

Shake ingredients together in cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a rocks glass and top with elderflower soda.

* If you don’t have elderflower soda, you can replace with 0.5 oz of thyme simple syrup and club soda. Add the simple syrup to the shaker, strain and add club soda (if desired) to taste.

Long Time Running

Drive-in’s rained out
Weatherman wet-fingers the sky
He pokes it out, he pulls it in
He don’t know why
It’s the same mistake

Long Time Running- Road Apples, The Tragically Hip

My recommendation is to drink this while listening to its namesake sitting in a Muskoka chair with a background of loon hollers or cricket chirps. Otherwise, throw on the documentary and toast a glass to one of the most iconic Canadian bands to ever grace this earth. RIP Gord.

My Hip Cocktails: Presidential Election Edition

One of the many debaucheries of 2020 included the presidential election. The first debate could be equated to a playground spat. I haven’t seen two seniors engage in such nonsense since the infamous spat between CFL legends Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca in 2011. If you recall, that epic fight featured flowers and cane swinging and a sombre reminder us that Canadians are in fact not as polite and we’d like to think.

As a result, I would be remiss if I didn’t celebrate election night with a couple of hip cocktails which reflected my thoughts on the battle to be the leader of the free world (sic). My thoughts went to trying to capture the essence of the many factors that made this such a shit show. I figure I’d use a couple of swing states as my basis.

Let’s start with Ohio. Although I’m writing this after the fact, the Joe King in me suspected that Ohio would go red and I thought that Chagrin Falls would be an ideal hip song to capture the feelings that many have about the Trump administration. Chagrin Falls is a suburb of Cleveland which is where Donald Trump captured the Republican nomination in 2016. I also thought about their volatile NFL team and wanted a drink which reflected the brown and orange. As a result, my mind naturally went to ‘merican whisky for the brown (not to mention that a good bourbon brings up memoires of Mabel’s…Michael Symon’s Cleveland BBQ and bourbon bar) which I mixed with orange flavoured triple sec (which also paid homage to Trump’s Hallowe’en hue) and finished with DSB bitters to reflect the feelings of many over the past 4 years.

Chagrin Falls

1.5-2 oz of bourbon (I used the aptly named Larceny)

0.75-1 oz triple sec

0.5 oz simple syrup

A few dashes of orange of cherry bitters (I used Dillon’s DSB).

Stir all ingredients together and serve with ice and/or orange and cherry bitters. Serve in a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with orange and/or cherry.

Chagrin Falls

Chagrin falls (in Chagrin Falls, Ohio)
Chagrin Falls (where the unknown don’t even go)
Chagrin falls (in Chagrin Falls, Ohio)
So falls Chagrin Falls (where the unknown don’t even go)
So falls Chagrin Falls
So falls Chagrin Falls

Chagrin Falls- Phantom Power, The Tragically Hip

As for my democratic nominee, I headed a bit east to eventually blue Pennsylvania which was fitting given it’s Biden’s birth state and more specifically his hometown of Scranton. Naturally, that brought me to what the city is best known for (other than the Houdini museum of course)….The Office. Among many of Michael Scott’s antics was the Moroccan Chirstmas party and specifically his drink…the one of everything which he described as “equal parts scotch, absinthe, rum, gin, vermouth, triple sec, and two packs of Splenda“. I did my best to make it a little less fictional to avoid inducing my gag reflex. Since it sounded somewhat like a Long Island Iced tea so I went that route (not to mention the irony that Trump was born in NYC and doesn’t drink). In keeping with the Hip theme, I called this “Fully Completely” given the fact it contains a whole shelf on any bar rail. So, I mixed whisky, vermouth, absinthe, rum, gin and triple sec and topped with coke and added the signature two packages of Splenda. I’ll be honest..it was awful mainly because the absinthe (which you normally use in small quantities like a rinse) took over everything. It was like drinking a coke through a piece of black licorice and the addition of the Splenda added a “diet” flavour that made it worse. Nonetheless, it nicely reflected the mess that was and would continue to be the 2020 US election.

Fully Completely

0.5 ounces of each whisky, vermouth, absinthe, rum, gin and triple sec.

Coke

2 packages of Splenda

Mix the spirits together in a highball glass and top with a generous amount of coke. Sprinkle with 2 package of Splenda. Try to enjoy.

Fully Completely

Exonerate me
Then forget about me
Wait and you’ll see
Just wait and you’ll see

Fully Completely- Fully Completely, The Tragically Hip

Despite early jitters, my clairvoyant cocktails came through..Ohio went red and Pennsylvania eventually went blue. I was also reminded in drink form of how asinine Michael Scott and his antics on “The Office” were. Regardless, a six booze drink was a nice way to take the edge of an otherwise stress filled evening. If and when I travel to the US again, I think I’ll try and invent a Joe King narrated GPS that only directs me through blue counties..it may add a few hours to the trip but it least it means there’s a lesser chance I will have to sip coffee with somebody who’s still sporting a MAGA hat they picked up in a big box discount bin.

My Hip Cocktails: In Sarnia

When the summer was coming to a close, I decided to mettle with cocktails which used beer as mix. With the re-emergence of countless numbers of craft beer, the possibilities are endless. One of my favorite Ontario microbreweries is Refined Fool in Sarnia, so it was a no-brainer to try and construct a beer based refreshment using their Canatara!, a Berliner Weisse named after one of Lambton county’s more well known beaches. With low bitterness and hints of passionfruit, I thought it would be perfect to finish off a beer cocktail.

The song “in Sarnia” was featured on the Hip’s last album…Man Machine Poem. It’s a bit of a haunting tune, especially when you watch Gord bellow out the lyrics during the farewell tour. Rumour has it the song was initially called “Insomnia” and the name was changed much to the delight of inhabitants of the Imperial City.

I tried a few versions of this cocktail using gin and bourbon and surprisingly felt that it worked best with the latter. I used a bit of peach nectar to complement the passion fruit and balanced it with some fresh lemon juice. Unlike most drinks where the mix is meant to compliment the booze, I would say in this case the booze is there to compliment the beer. Don’t get me wrong…a Canatara! on its own is just fine but I think beer-infused cocktails are an underappreciated art…much like Man Machine Poem album itself.

In Sarnia

1 oz of bourbon

0.5 oz peach nectar

0.5 oz lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a glass with ice and mix. Transfer to a highball glass without the ice and top with chilled Refined Fool’s Canatara! beer. Serve with a lemon slice.

You’re in my heart
And in my pocket and in my eye
In my blood
Sarnia
You’re on my mind

In Sarnia, Man Machine Poem- The Tragically Hip.

My Hip Cocktails: The Darkest One

One might call a traditional Dark ‘N Stormy a seasonless drink. The ginger beer gives enough lightness for the summer and the dark rum can make it’s consumption in the colder months justified. I thought I’d modify the classic to make it even darker and stormier and at the same time pay homage to one of the most iconic tragically hip songs (or at least videos) in their long lineage of musical Canadiana (see below).

“The Darkest One” is a track from the underrated “In Violet Light” album and as mentioned is probably more well known for the video. It’s cast includes the band, a clowder of cats, the trailer park boys, and Don Cherry as a chicken delivery guy years before Uber eats. The boys trade the other boys 2 buckets of chicken (which I will assume was Mary Brown’s) for a car engine only to have the plethora of felines dine feverishly on the delivery. It’s a Canadian tragedy so to speak.

I started with the foundations of the dark n’ stormy…dark rum and ginger beer. In order to up the ante, I added lime and balanced it with a coffee simple syrup I made from Detour coffee roasters out of Hamilton. Finally, I added a little Amaro Sibona, an underated digestif (which has tastes of vanilla and root beer) which collectively made the cocktail both darker and stormier. I was happy with the result..it offered a little more dimension than the traditional drink yet kept its diversity as a year round option.

Although Gord is no longer with us, Don has been shunned and some of the cats may have succumbed by eating too many “little bones”, the Darkest One will forever be an example of all things Canadiana.

The Darkest One

1.5 oz of dark rum

0.5 ounces of Amaro Sibona

0.5 ounces of lime juice

0.5 oz of coffee simple syrup (1/2 brewed coffee, 1/2 sugar)

Mix above ingredients in a Collins or highball glass and top with ginger beer (I used fever tree)

Lime Garnish

Where the wild are strong
And the strong are the darkest ones
And you’re the darkest one
Oh you’re the darkest one
And if that’s what you want
Oh then you’re the darkest one

-The Darkest One, In Violet Light, The Tragically Hip

If You're Hip Read This Because This Restaurant Just Might Become One of Yer Favorites

I’m a big Tragically Hip fan. In fact, I recently was informed by spotify that I was one of the top 1% fans worldwide so I figured it was time to write about them. I spent many university days spinning Road Apples, Fully Completely and Day for Night over and over while doing everything from drinking to…ummm….studying. The release of their greatest hits album, “Yer Favorites” solidified the age old argument of whether the slang for yes should use the letter “e” or “u”. Yep..I was right all along.

North of the border, they have had countless cult and commercial hits. Many tell stories of Canadiana or human struggle (which in many cases seem synonymous) . Others are poetic recounts of important historical moments. People like Tom Thomson, Jacques Cartier and Bill Barilko became household names because we sung them out loud while reciting songs like Three Pistols and Fifty Mission Cap while trying not to fuck with the 401.

During their farewell tour, CBC ran a poll to determine the favorite hip songs of Canadians. Not surprising, many of the mainstream classics topped the list including Fully Completely’s Locked in the Trunk of a Car, Courage and the number one fan favorite Wheat Kings, a haunting ballad about the false conviction of David Milgaard. It also cited Day for Night’s Grace, Too and Nautical Disaster which were the songs they performed during their only SNL appearance in 1995. Also on the list was Ahead by a Century which was later resurrected as the theme song to CBC’s Anne with an E.

Instead of reiterating the obvious, I thought I would focus on my favorite but less mainstream Hip songs (you can’t become top 1% in the world only listening to New Orleans is Sinking). Here are my top 10 lesser known buy favorite tracks (in chronological order):

10. Cordelia- Road Apples

It starts with Angst on the planks, spittin’ from a bridge…Just to see how far down it really is. ..a vision that brings me back to days when I would guesstimate height using my own saliva at various Sudbury landmarks. It’s a little angry with fantastic sound and was often overshadowed by more pop-like and popular songs like Little Bones and Twist my Arm.

9. Put if Off- Trouble at the Henhouse

While many default to Gift Shop and Springtime in Vienna, this is one of my favorites. In fact, I usually listen to this album backward, not for satanic purposes but it makes Put it Off the lead track. This song speaks of many dichotomies in which I can relate given my documented and less than adorable moodiness. I often either hum the mantra Put it on or Put it off depending on my state of mind at the time.

8. Emperor Penguin- Phantom Power

I never understood why this song isn’t more popular. It pops into my head constantly, especially when I’m watching Atypical because of Sam’s love for Antarctica and penguins in particular. Plus, given the devotion to the egg, it reaffirms that the fact that not all males in a given species are complete assholes.

7. Sharks- Music@Work

Sharks don’t attack the Irish, It’s mostly Australians. Whew, I’m safe. I just love Gord’s mumbling chorus in sync with the brilliant guitar.

6. The Dire Wolf- In Violet Light

I had no idea who Tallulah Bankhead and Canada Lee were before this song but their story of strong friendship in an era of racially motivated social nonacceptance was impressive and inspiring. They costarred in the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat. This song is another example of excellent songwriting with a great story.

5. The Dark Canuck- In Violet Light

If this song came out before my kids were born, it might have considered naming them apple, zippo or metronome. I love the rather radical change in tempo partway through this song. It goes from a classic Hip ballad to a uptempo and haunting tune reminiscent of Nautical Disaster or Locked in the Trunk of a Car.

4. World Container- World Container

The poetic lyrics of this song combined with the crescendo of angst in Downie’s voice makes for a great listen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “How’d it get so late so early?'” in my own life so I karaoke that lyric in the car every time I listen to the song.

3. Last Night I Dreamed you Didn’t Love Me Anymore- World Container

This is a song about an exaggerated paranoia about falling out of love which can also serve as a great breakup song. Gord’s singing which escalates from frustration to desperation as the song progresses gets me every time.

2. The Depression Suite- We are the Same

This song reminds me of a Day in the Life by the Beatles and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel. Sure, it doesn’t tell a story quite the same but does give one a rather decent lesson in geography and is a near 10 min experience with a few different and equally enjoyable melodies.

  1. Queen of the Furrows- We are the Same

This is just a good old farming song with a great beat and a signature Hip sound with nothing so deep that it’s meaningless. There’s even mention of a toasted Western..can you ever go wrong with a toasted Western.

Favorites is a newish Thai BBQ joint which opened on the Ossington stretch. It’s secretly tucked behind a Sam James coffee bar. Once you enter, you are brought into a surprisingly spacious area with a variety of seating options. It’s unique among many Thai places in Toronto for a couple of reasons: first it focuses more on grilled items versus standard noodle rice dishes or spring rolls and second it suggests wine as the main alcoholic companion to the food as opposed to Singha beer or cocktails. According to the restaurant, the key is smart whites and lighter, chilled reds to compliment but not drown to the more intense Thai flavours. We complimented our meal with la Cuvee du Chat, a fantastic French Gamay which makes me want to head to the SAQ in Quebec to grab a few bottles.

La Cuvee Du Chat

Food wise, we selected a variety of dishes from each section, all of which was served sharing style of course. First was the Betel leaf wraps (nope..not shrimp fresh rolls) with smoke trout, roe and galangal caramel. The edible leaf housed a variety of flavours and textures which will well rounded and a great indicator of what was to come.

Betel Leaves with Trout

Next we had the octopus salad complemented with pomelo and banana blossoms. The octopus, although hidden under a copious amount of greenery, was well prepared and the flavours once again were bursting with classic Thai sweet and salty notes.

Octopus Salad

Since the whole concept of favorites is Thai BBQ, we ordered a trio of options from the grilled menu which included Chiang Mai style pork sausage, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and grilled duck. The mushrooms were the star, full of smokiness and subtle heat from the BBQ and chili vinegar respectively. The raw cabbage leaves, which were served with all these items, best complimented this dish the best, both in flavour and texture. The duck was nicely rendered and served a stunning medium rare which was nicely complimented with classic thai flavours in the form of a tamarind dip. The sausage was decent but the least thrilling of the three. I just didn’t find it as abstract and entertaining as the other grilled dishes.

The last dish, the curried prawn pineapple fried rice, was the most recognizable dish on the menu by traditional Thai restaurant standards. It was as good as the others I have had at places like Pai but after the rest of the dishes I had, maybe a little too normal.

Curried Pineapple Rice with Prawn

The dessert choices were small but still represented a return to the bold, vibrant and unique flavours of the rest of the menu featuring a passionfruit and chocolate parfait as well as coconut pannacotta. Thankfully, neither were extreme on sweetness but both were bold on contrasting textures and flavours.

Coconut Pannacotta and Passionfruit and Chocolate Parfait

My Take

I’ve always thought if I ever open a restaurant I might name it “Whatever” or “Not Sure” since that’s the answer I usually get when I ask the family where they want to go. That’s why I like the name of this place. If a friend comes up to me and asks where I want to go I can simply say one of my favorites. It deviates from the noodle heavy tendencies of most Thai joints and offers the same balanced flavours in the form of more protein heavy BBQ choices. Even the wine and desserts, two aspects normally less anticipated in Thai cuisine were some of my favorites, much like listening to songs like Sharks or the Depression Suite on the same playlist as New Orleans is Sinking.

Astronomy vs Astrology: A Story of Getting Lucky with Mira and Dasha..Two Urban Dictionary Sweethearts

I like astronomy. In fact, it was my favorite elective and turned out to be my best mark in university. It’s a fun combination of three of my favorite things; math, science and trivia. I still remember the order of the stars (OBAFGKM) and my facial haired professor’s challenge to deviate from the sexist “Oh be a fine girl, kiss me” and come up with a more politically correct mnemonic. Mine was “Only Bearded Astronomers Feel Good Knowing Mars”. Not sure he was impressed.

Astrology, on the other hand, is less about science and more about entertainment. I certainly don’t believe in the validity of horoscopes beyond coincidence but it’s at times refreshing to attribute your issues and actions to planetary alignment. That said, it’s really easy to pin my sometimes ridiculous stubbornness on the fact I’m a Taurus and not just an Irish asshole.

The name Mira has a number of meanings and is common in Latin and Slavic cultures, usually meaning admirable, wondrous or related to peace. Urban dictionary calls Mira a extremely lovable girl. Miras are usually the smartest in their class and will go to extreme lengths to show it. Mira’s are loyal people and when given a chance, could grow to be your bff. Mira is also a red giant star in the constellation Cetus and is sometimes visible to the naked eye. In astrology, some cite Cetus as the 14th zodiac sign.

Mira is one of the handful of new Peruvian restaurants which has popped up in the GTA over the last couple of years. Located in an alley between King and Wellington and only identified by a small, worn metal plate, it can be a little tricky to find. Once inside, it opens up into a busy space highlighted by an open kitchen above and a large bar within a narrow space below filled with murals, mirrors and funky flooring.

Drinkwise, I started with the El Manana cocktail, a bourbon based “booze forward” spin on an old fashioned flavored with honey, mint and lime (not pictured). From there it was wine. Truth told it was tough to find a great selection at a price point that less than three digits. First, we decided on a rather disappointing Andover Pinot for $80 followed by a more adventurous and better Portuguese Uivo Vinhas Velhas blend for the same price.

As expected, the menu is a smorgasbord of all sorts of proteins in the form of ceviches, anticuchos and larger mains. From a seafood perspective, the octopus, accompanied with aji and potato, although well prepared, was a bit of a flimsy starter at $22. The tostada morado ($18) was clever collection of classic tuna and central American flavors (corn, avocado and cilantro). The tiradito hiramasa ($21) was the best of the smaller seafood dishes we sampled…fresh kampachi marinated in citrusy tiger’s milk and topped with sweet chili jam. The last fish dish was a fantastic whole branzino ($46) topped with a rich sauce which enhanced the subtle of the fish quickly nicely.

Land anticuchos included costilla (short rib $19) and cordero (lamb $17). The fatty short rib was balanced with sweet, spice and earthy truffle. Admittedly, I’m not a lamb fan so I wasn’t surprised to find the cordero rather unremarkable. In my opinion, the pollo inchacapi ($28) was the STAR of the night. The hen was covered in colourful sauces and garnishes with peanut, chili and tamarind notes which added visual appealing in additional to the incredible flavors. The side corn dish mimicked the flavours of the other dishes and was a nice colourful addition to whole spread.

Dasha is a girl’s Russian name meaning “god’s gift”. According to urban dictionary, Dasha is the sweetest girl in the universe. If u mess with her friends u will have 2 deal with her. She is caring, funny and very talanted. She will always be there 4 u when ur in trouble. If u meet a Dasha, ur life will change and u will always have a smile on ur face. In astrology, Dasha is a Hindi term used to indicate planetary periods. Vimshottari dasha  assumes that the maximum duration of life of an individual human being is 120 years which is the aggregate duration of all nine planetary periods reminding us that Betty White still has a while to go.

Dasha is the newest project of esteemed chef Akira Back and features classic and upscale Chinese food along with traditional karaoke rooms available upstairs. Like Mira, finding it is not intuitive..it a bit off the beaten path tucked down an alley off of King street. It also features a larger bar and an open kitchen. The interior can be described as Chinese market meets the standard Toronto industrial look.

There is a mystic component to the drink menu. I ordered the Iron Fist, Dasha’s take on an old fashioned which pours from a kettle amidst a cloud of dry ice. It was slick and smooth and booze forward of course.

Iron Fist Cocktail

Food wise, we started with a couple of small plates including chicken balls ($9) and wasabi prawns ($14), the latter at the recommendation of the waitstaff. The chicken balls were pretty standard and a lot less bulky than the ones which normally headline your local joint’s family dinner combo and the dipping sauce lacked the fluorescence of the standard sweet and sour sauce but that was made up with the bright green wasabi shrimp which glowed in the surrounding dim light. The crunchy shrimp was surprisingly balanced with sweet accents and heat typical of horseradish.

Next were the dasha fried noodles ($12) and steamed har gow dim sum (which I’m told is a traditional way to celebrate Chinese new year) for $14. Neither dish was overly memorable…the noodles were pretty generic and the dim sum was a bit disappointing. Also, I was with a Chinese colleague who literally cringed at the har gow’s price point which she deemed almost insulting given the same offering usually goes for 1/3-1/2 the price at any other dim sum house and one might argue those ones taste even better.

We finished the dinner with the black cod, black truffle duck ($49) and side miso eggplant ($13) both in which I thoroughly enjoyed. The cod and duck was masterfully prepared and presented. The shaved black truffle was delightful. The eggplant was also flavourful and nicely highlighted the proteins with the unami flavour of both the eggplant itself and the miso seasoning.

I’m also reluctant to go too crazy with dessert at most Chinese restaurants because I honestly can’t recall any Asian dessert topping my list of best of all time sweets. Regardless, we tried the banana spring roll with strawberry ice cream as well as the with green tea ice cream. Let’s just say neither cracks the list. The ice cream was quite good but the accompanying pastries were average at best.

My Take

Despite being very nice ladies according to urban dictionary, Mira and Dasha are also two new and highly sought eateries with many similarities. Both are located in hidden spots off of King street west. Both have busy and vibrant interiors with open kitchens and disproportionately large bars. Both offer exciting cocktails and nicely represent their respective culture through traditional yet clever food. You will pay for the ambiance however and may even overpay, especially if you want mediocre wine, dim sum or dessert.

Despite this adventure, I have to admit I’m still a bigger fan of astronomy than astrology. I much prefer red giants and white dwarfs to mercury retrogrades and horoscopes. That said, perhaps my old scientific and stubborn Taurean mind could be changed to better appreciate astrological intervention, especially if my Dasha fortune cookie ever rings true. Where’s Mira and Dasha when you need them.

My Dasha Fortune Cookie

My AFC Divisional Round Cook-off: Tennessee vs Baltimore

In the case of this match-up, I think I was more excited about the cooking than I was about the actual game. Maybe Baltimore is not the most sought culinary destination in the US but it is famous for Old Bay spice and the iconic crab cake. It’s also home to Chap’s Pit Beef (the sandwich stop in the parking lot of an LGBTQ strip club) and Sip and Bite (the greek diner with some of the best feta cheese I’ve ever had) which rank number 8 and 13 on my DDD list respectively.

Nashville, on the other hand, is one of the more popular foodie stops which offers a blend of old school southern food outlets and chic eateries. I have had the pleasure of dining at Husk in the Sean Brock days and to this day Arnold’s Country Kitchen and its meat and three remains at the top on my list of all time Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Before getting into the showdown, a few comments about the game:

  1. I was surprised to see that Ryan Tannehill was only 31 so I can’t use my “Lamar Jackson got his ass kicked by his dad” joke…maybe more like his older brother although I often equate QB years to be more like dog vs human. I think it was important for Jackson to taste defeat so he can bounce back in a Patrick Mahomes vs RG III fashion. That said, it should be pointed out that Tannehill only threw for 88 yards with no picks whereas Jackson tossed for 365 but with 2 INTs so it’s hard to say that Ryan was the better QB in the end.
  2. I think the irony is the fact that Baltimore got beat by using the same blueprint that won them Superbowl XLVII…a moderately talented QB and good defense vs a flashy offence lead by a run/pass threat. Similar to this game, Flacco manged to avoid interceptions whereas Kapernick’s balanced offence numbers (including 62 rushing yards himself) was tainted by a pick and a sub 100 QB rating.
  3. Everything said, I can’t get excited about Tennessee. Sure, watching Henry run for almost 200 yards and average 6.5 per carry is somewhat exciting but I can’t help but remember every week of this year’s football pool when I cringed while being forced to choose a winner in any of the painful AFC South interdivisional game.

For the cook-off, I went with the aforementioned crab cake versus Nashville hot chicken. There are hundreds of crab cake concoctions out there but I opted for Andrew Zimmerman’s recipe which is definitely crab forward and uses saltine crackers as its binder. I did take the liberty of throwing in a pinch of Old Bay Seasoning for good measure. They fried up beautifully and really only need a bit of lemon as an accent.

My Tennessee choice was Nashville Hot Chicken, a signature item in many Tennessee eateries including Hattie B’s. Fried chicken is ubiquitous in the US but the uniqueness of this dish is the basting sauce which is a combination of fat, cayenne pepper and sugar. The result is extreme sweet/heat. I used a whole chicken which I cut into 8 pieces instead of quarters allowing for a reasonable frying time of 15 minutes or so. I tempered the heat with a tangy side of slaw, some homemade bread and some lakeside pickles which worked really well.

My Take

Unlike the game, when it came to the cook-off there was no clear winner . I mean choosing between a crab cake and fried chicken is a dubious task especially when the chosen recipes are spot on. Honestly, I think fried chicken holds it own without the Nashville cayenne/sugar topping and I guess I can handle a good crab cake without an aioli although I won’t omit the Old Bay seasoning under any circumstances.

I think Lamar Jackson needs an ass kicking to remind him he’s not quite prime time yet (6 of their games were against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati after all). Next year we will see whether he takes the path of Pat Mahomes or rides (or kneels) away in the sunset like Colin Kapernik. With Marcos Mariota in his prime, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan Tannehill ends up following in the footsteps of the likes of other past and present 30 plusers like Joe Flacco/Peyton Manning and Kirk Cousins/Brett Favre by joining a retirement team such as Denver or Minnesota.