Oretta: The Importance of Auditory Authenticity: Madonnaism vs Real Accents

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.

oretta salad
Cavoletti $14

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.

oretta gnocchi
Gnocchi $19
oretta risotto
Riso di Ieri $23

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.

oretta dessert
Cocco Bello $9

My Take

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.

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

Advertisements

Foreplay with Eric Wood even though Susur Lee thinks he’s “Chopped” liver

I went to the Beverley hotel yet again for lunch with a colleague. I was going to blog it right away until I heard that chef Eric Wood was going to be on Chopped Canada.  I figure I’d wait to see if I could boast that I dined at the restaurant of a Chopped champion.

Ironically enough was the fact that Wood was taking on Bryan Birch from Barque, another place I managed to hit in the last year.  With two very different styles and figured it would come down to the ingredients and the moods of the judges. What I didn’t expect is how moody they could be…

I’ve reviewed the Beverley twice already. I like it because it’s relatively quiet, has a nice ambiance, takes reservations and has a menu that can appeal to the masses.  I started with the Butternut and Tarro salad.  I enjoyed the balance of the sweetness of the squash and dates with the flirt of acid in the dressing.  The tarro and beans offered a great textural contrast and an earthiness to this unique salad.

Butternut and Farro Salad $9
Butternut and Farro Salad $9

Eric Wood is know for his 4 play; a structural sound square meal; a snapshot of his id and ego on any given day.  Typically, it’s an appetizer, salad, main and dessert.  On this particular day, it was shrimp and mussels in a coconut broth, a sage and sunchoke gnocchi, an heirloom tomato salad with pressed ricotta and a sea buckthorn cheesecake with grape jelly.  Foreplay like this makes me want to put out.  The shrimp were delicious and were cooked to perfection.  The gnocchi was nicely caramelized and was far from boring. Although I’m not a huge tomato fan, the cheese compensated  and I really liked the dressing.  The dessert hit the spot as well although it was a little sweeter than expected.  I wanted to be totally overcome by the delicious tartness of the fruit especially in the midst of the super sweet jelly.

4 Play lunch $16
4 Play lunch $16

My Take

Chopped Canada is a double edged sword.  In one sense it can assign subjective culinary supremacy to any of a number  of aspiring and established chefs.  On the other hand it can be a shot to the ego and reputation if one were to lose.

Eric Wood’s appearance on Chopped Canada was consistent with his restaurant philosophy: respect for ingredients  highlighted with bold flavours. Despite this, Susur Lee couldn’t see the forest (in particular morel) mushrooms through the peas.  From the minute Eric missed the infamous snack cake on the plate, Susur had it out for him.  Perhaps it was some kind of king vs queen street rivalry or maybe a textbook  example of workplace bullying, but it struck me as odd.  After sulking about the snack cake, Susur went off on Eric’s blue rare duck, his accusations of making excuses, missing tahini, roasted morels that had the texture of leather and the inappropriate use of cardamom dust with key lime pie. Meanwhile, he turned a relative blind eye to things like overcooked salmon offered by other competitors.

Three’s a charm at the Beverley. In a sense, it has become my go to for a reliable place with a relevant and diverse menu in a beckoning environment.  In particular, the 4 play is a fun spin on a lunch special, featuring the freshest ingredients used to construct  a tongue-tickling portrait of a complete meal. There is a wide diversity of appetizers including the tasty butternut and farro salad.  Perhaps chef Lee should drop by the Beverley hotel for a little 4 play and if  he’s still grumpy after that, maybe he should just get Bent.

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:Leslievillle:Skin and Bones

Skin and Bones is the newest contribution on the outskirts of the expanding Leslieville dining scene. Quartered in an old warehouse on the outskirts of Queen East restaurant row, the venue is spacious and symmetrical with highlights including a long bar, open kitchen and 16 person communal  table.  Offering a tiny cocktail list and a few microbrews, the focus of the potent potables is the extensive wine list.  Most notable is the array of local and international wines  with equal pricing per ounce  regardless of whether you order the 3 or 6 oz glass. I was told that this was to encourage the enjoyment of multiple wine pairings throughout the meal.  The best I had was the  Pinot Gris François Lichtlé 2010, Alsace, France.  The menu is meant to be shared, set up in a not so unique three tier fashion; snacks, apps and mains.

Must

The celeriac gnocchi with uni bottarga was simple, delicious and well executed.  Straying from the ubiquitous potato pasta topped with the  sweet red or rich cream sauce, the earthy taste of the celery root coupled with the salty bottarga  was very prevalent but was complimented nicely by the acidic and chunky tomato “preserves”.

Celeriac Gnocchi
Celeriac Gnocchi

I have a bias for sticky pudding and S&B did not disappoint.   Moist cake with chunks of dates were smothered in a delicious bone marrow caramel and served with a dollop of Chantilly. It was a smallish portion but was quite  reasonably priced and was a fine finish to the meal.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding

Maybe

The burrata with crostini  ( see picture under pickled quail eggs) was a nice start.  The rich cheese atop the crispy bread had good mouth feel  and was balanced nicely by sweet and salty toppings.

I asked if the chicken tails were a play on words or actually chicken tails.  The waiter clarified the latter so I was quite intrigued.  I can best  describe the dish as fatty chunks of  popcorn chicken served on a bed of seasoned potatoes. They weren’t quite finger-licking good but they were pretty tasty. If anything the perfectly prepared potatoes stole the show.  It was quite heavy…so definitely share this one.

Chicken Tales
Chicken Tails

The highly touted beef tartare turned out to be a bit forgettable .  It was fresh and seasoned well, especially with the addition of the  monforte toscano cheese. Call me a traditionalist but maybe I’m a bit biased because it was missing the raw egg I normally adore with this dish.

Beef Tartare
Beef Tartare

Growing up in Northern Ontario, I relished smelt season in the spring  where I would stand in the cold streams wearing rubber boots in hunt of the tasty critters.  Success would mean a plate of crispy, deep-fried salty goodness.  Needless to say, I was excited to see the option of this childhood treat on the menu.   I loved the taste of the smelts  but would of  liked them served crispy (more than the scant amount of fried bone) to counter the  limp swiss chard below. Braised greens are a bit dangerous since they can be a bit soggy and bitter when cold and I found they were a little of both.  That being said, it was a nice balance of salt, sour and bitter flavours.

Smelt Escabeche
Smelt Escabeche

The chicken and wine main was a potato away from a must.  The deconstruction was visually appealing and the  chicken was cooked to perfection.  My only issue was lack of a supporting cast.  The rutabaga puree was delicious velvet and the celery provided an appealing crunch and earthiness  but in scarce amounts.   Increase the sides and throw a bunch of those potatoes in the mix and you have a winner.

Half Chicken with Rutabaga Puree
Half Chicken with Rutabaga Puree

Mundane

The pickled quail eggs and vegetables were one of my most anticipated items and I was left disappointed.  The dish was underpickled and the eggs were inconsistently cooked.  The promised vegetables turned out to be a few cucumbers. The accompanying “white fluff” was almost flavourless and although appealing to the eye, added very little to complement the pickles.

Burrata Crostini and Pickled Quail Eggs
Burrata Crostini and Pickled Quail Eggs

Despite a small menu and a less than capacity crowd, we were told they had run out of the beef cheek bourguigon.  Worse than that, we were informed after we ordered it.  It kind of left a bad taste..actually no taste,  in my mouth.

Beef Cheek Bourguignon
Beef Cheek Bourguignon

My Take

Skin and bones is attempting to take the Queen East experience beyond Carlaw St. I’d summarize it as a introductory lesson for those interested in nose-to-tail dining, offering things like bone marrow hidden in caramel sauce,chicken tails coated  in crispy batter and beef cheeks cloaked in a  bourguignon sauce.  It has a decent wine list and  a safe but somewhat edgy menu with a few gems hidden within a bunch of maybes at a decent price point. The bigness of the restaurant itself  is a deviation from the quaint quarters of other eateries in the area which will  lead to either an astir ambiance with a big buzz or a  cloying cavern with a desolate demeanor. Time will tell but special events such as wine tastings possibly coupled with edgy prix fixe menus may be necessary to draw in the large crowds which will be needed  to fill the seats of this spacious sit-down.

 

Skin + Bones on Urbanspoon