Ben Stiller, Tattoos and an Afternoon at the Museum

Ben Stiller annoys a lot of people.  That said, he has a decent track record when it comes to box office grosses, primarily driven by three successful trilogies; the Fockers, Madagascar and the Museum movies. In addition, one cannot forget his washroom scene in the very successful “There’s Something About Mary”. Ironically, despite being cited as the leader of the brat pack, movies in which he has starred alongside his partners (Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughan, Owen and Luke Wilson and Steve Carell) have been less successful than other Stiller franchises although not total disasters.

The Night at the Museum film series had worldwide appeal. Based on a children’s book, the cast led by Stiller was multi-generational, ranging from the likes of Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney to the late Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt right down to Rami Malek (now of the critically acclaimed Mr. Robot) and that creepy kid from the Vacation remake. The three movies over eight years produced diminishing returns despite bigger budgets although all three could still be considered good return on investments if you looks at the global ticket returns.

Speaking of museums, as anybody hailing from the Toronto knows, it is a city that will not be outdone. Instead of hoping for living reincarnations of a tattooed Atilla the Hun, local hipsters may be intrigued to drop in to the tattoo exhibit which is now showing at the Royal Ontario Museum.  I’m more into bourbon than body art, so after I finished up a conference along Bloor Street and had a couple of hours to kill before dinner so instead of the ROM, I visited another museum, in this case the tavern across the road to indulge in their advertised happy hour. In addition to buck a shuck oysters, one can indulge in a barrel aged cocktail for $11 vs the normal $15 charge ( although when I got the bill I was charged $15).

Choosing between a manhattan, old-fashioned, negroni and sazarac is like choosing which child I love the best.  Alright, maybe not quite but it’s a difficult task nonetheless.  In this case I opted for the first two.  A couple of ounces of both were smartly presented in a funky highball  which housed a thick base of ice instead of a floating ice cube.  The booze itself was smooth, sleek and balanced.

The oysters were fresh and served with a tasty mignonette which I downed them with the aforementioned  barrel aged  old fashioned.

museum oysters
Buck a Shuck Oysters

The Musuem tavern does represent a historical era in the fact that is has that speakeasy feel.  From the decor to the glassware, it screams the 1920s.  The menu is more modern pub fare with what appears to influenced  by a bit of everything.

Since I was grabbing dinner later, I stuck with starters and opted for the fried chicken ($14) and creole crab cakes ($16).  If my intent was to span the spectrum of available snacks I think I succeeded. The four pieces was a hearty serving of chicken which was crispier than greasy , well-seasoned and far from dry.  The crab cakes, on the other hand, can better be described at crab balls.  The dainty, bite sized morsels didn’t lack in flavour what they lacked in size.  Although they were moist, heavy on the crab and served with a decent remoulade., it hardly justified eight bucks a bite…even with pickled onions.

My Take

Viewing history is no longer the exclusive role of a museum.  Many restaurants are now setting up shop with the promise of rewinding the clocks back to the days of prohibition.  The aptly named Museum tavern is no exception and comes complete with swanky decor and a old-school barrel aged cocktail list.  In the end, it had its stars and a decent plot….or at least the trailer (aka. happy hour) suggested so.  The question will be whether the theme resonates past Toronto’s prohibition phase or whether a day at this museum turns out like Ben’s Night at the Museum and overstays its welcome.

Museum Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lachey’s: If Only the Meatballs Were 98 Degrees

Maybe it was a dare or maybe I was curious but I felt it necessary to drop into Lachey’s bar while in Cincinnati.  The show Lachey’s: Raising the Bar was an expose of the trials and tribulations of opening a sports bar in the US midwest.  Of course, the Lachey brothers gained notoriety as two members of 98 degrees. Although hailing from Ohio, the quartet fled to west coast to gain fame as one of many cookie cutter boy bands that were prominent at the time. After a decade’s hiatus,  they joined  NKOTB and Boyz II Men as members of “the package” tour in 2013.  I neither watched the show nor listened to the music (now or then) but I felt compelled to visit to see if the bar warranted the hype.

1376
Lachey’s Bar

One of the first thing I noticed about the website (other than Nick’s glistening teeth) was the fact it had a rather long happy hour.  One could enjoy a couple of bucks off any draft beer, wine or cocktail until 8 pm on weeknights. Although it was a Monday, I had no idea what to expect crowd wise, so I rushed my daughter so we wouldn’t arrive too late.  We probably got there around 630 to a nearly empty bar.  The decor was nice enough (my daughter specifically asked me point out how nice the washrooms…err…restrooms were) and we waited and watched one of the many televisions before a  somewhat disgruntled waitress came by to take our order.  There was no mention of the happy hour or any half price appetizer.  I asked about a specific beer and she had no idea where it was from although she did look it up later.

Food wise, we ordered Not Your Nana’s Meatballs ($9), the chicken tenders ($9 plus $2.50 for the tots) and the hair of the dog burger ($12.50 plus $2.50 for the tots).  The meatballs were dry and cold (so they clearly were not my Nana’s.  The chicken tenders were a bit overdone and the sauces (honey mustard and house BBQ) were mediocre and although I didn’t try the burger, reports from the table were that it was pretty good.  The tots were ok.

When I got the bill, there were $2 off my pints as promised although I felt there was a bit of souvenir pricing for the food.

My Take

I came to Lachey’s with an open mind and free of any angst caused by exposure to boy band music in my younger years. Despite this, I was generally disappointed by the experience. The chicken tenders with accompanying sauces were average and the meatballs weren’t even 98 degrees. The happy hour beer was a steal but the food  was a bit pricey. Service wise, the waitress might as well sung “Was it something I didn’t say?” because she didn’t say much.   Unfortunately, in the end,  I didn’t leave the place humming  “Thank God I Found You”.

Lachey's Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Irony of Happy Hour at Lee

I’ve met a few celebrity chefs in my travels.   I ran into Lynn Crawford at a food truck festival, met Mark McEwan at a Second Harvest event and snapped a picture of Guy Fieri through the glass at Lakeview diner.  I’m not very bold in these endeavors.  I usually only approach if they are available and usually if somebody else has already asked for a picture before me.  This might explain my reluctance to Susur Lee.  First of all, he scares the hell out of me.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile  and I still remember the way he ripped apart chef Eric Wood during an episode of Chopped Canada.

I was in Toronto at staying in the King and Portland area so I decided to stroll the neighbourhood in order to grab a bite.  I was thinking Portland Variety, the new menu at Valdez or maybe a sausage at Wvrst.  The last thing on my mind was Lee but as I walked down the sidewalk I looked up and sitting on the patio of his own restaurant was Susur himself.  He was dressed in a burgundy blazer with the same stoic look I have always seen on TV.  He seemed engrossed in a business meeting with members of his staff so the last thing I wanted to do was interrupt. Instead I texted a few food geeks I knew  informing them of my discovery.  I attempted to snap a picture but  with my already horrendous camera skills it didn’t go well.

I was still undecided about where to dine until I saw a small sandwich board advertising happy hour at Lee which offered $10 cocktails and a small 1/2 price bar menu.  Sounded good to me.   I walked in and had a seat at the decent size bar.  A friendly bartender was waiting and quickly handed me a food and drink menu.   The drink menu offered 6 cocktails which had an array of spirits as a base.  I started with a burnt orange manhattan (knob hill bourbon, vermouth, grand marnier, cointreau, orange cream citrate).  It had a classic taste with a little twist. The bartender even flamed  the orange peel for extra effect. Although Knob Creek is not my favorite bourbon, it was still a great cocktail, especially for $10.

Burnt Orange Manhattan $10
Burnt Orange Manhattan $10

The half price bar snack menu consisted of 5 items so I went all in and ordered them all.  The first to arrive was the edamame hummus dip ($4) served with sesame crisps, taro root chips and pomegranate.  The silky texture was heavenly and the normal earthiness of a chickpea hummus was replaced with a fresher flavour. The punchy pomegranate seeds and taro chips were great compliments.

Edamame Hummus Dip $4
Edamame Hummus Dip $4

At this point, a buddy of mine joined me.  Shortly after, the spicy tuna tartare and black pepper tuna tataki ($6), spicy jerk chicken ($6) and cheese burger spring roll ($7) arrived.   The tartare and tataki were served on a rice cake and topped with red pepper relish.  The tuna was prepared perfectly but was blunted by the overwhelming rice cake.  The flavours were there, just disproportionate.  The cheeseburger spring egg roll was a brilliant concept, especially with the lettuce wrap and pickled vegetable.  Once again, like the tuna, the main protein was lost among the numerous other things on the plate.  The spice jerk chicken served with the tamarind glaze and chili sauce was phenomenal and easily the best dish of the night.  Moist chicken and a very crisp and aggressive seasoned coating was perfect as a stand alone but the sauces enhanced the flavour even further. It was so good we ordered another one.

Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7
Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7

The last dish on the bar menu was the fois gras and chicken liver pate. Served with ice syrup, ginger mango and ciabatta for $7.  It also had some housemade blueberry compote.  Although pate is rarely my preferred choice on a menu, this worked on all levels. The texture of the pate complimented with the contrasting sweet and  gingery condiments were delightful to the palate.  Ironically, I didn’t eat all the pate but the the rest of the plate didn’t stand a chance.

Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7
Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7

For a second cocktail, I ordered a Mayan Solstice, a tequila and gin based drink with chili infused lime juice, cucumber and green apple (with a little chartreuse).  This was fresh and delightful but the heat from the  chili was adequately present with every sip.  It was a great cocktail.

Mayan Solstice $10
Mayan Solstice $10

Whether it was a few cocktails or an general enjoyment of the food and atmosphere, I saw a couple across bar order Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style Slaw.  I felt that the guy from “The Source” commercial who sees his creepy neighbour dancing, looks at the speaker and says “I want that”.  This $22 salad is one of the most recognized dishes at Lee.  It’s an architectural feat, constructed with 19 ingredients.  After a detailed description. the waitress skillfully destroyed  it into something that could fit in one’s mouth.  As much as it was eye candy, it was alliterative mouth candy as well; sweet, salty, sour, spice, savory and sublime.

Susur's Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22
Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22

My Take

I stumbled across happy hour at Lee by chance.  It started with a chance sighting of Susur itself and lead to an enjoyable meal. Although it is not your typical cinq a sept joint, the staff are welcoming and treat you as well as somebody who might be dropping a few hundreds bucks for dinner. The cocktails were above average and a great value at $10.  The bar food was a nice representation of Susur’s intense and diverse flavour profiles although I found the tuna and spring rolls  a bit  disproportionate. I’d order two jerk chicken right off the bat just to save yourself a wait. If you like pate,  Susar’s is a must.   The hummus was excellent as well.

The King and Portland area has become the epicentre for the snack food movement in Toronto and Lee has jumped on board (at least between 5 and 7 anyway). The result is a successful menu which offers a sample of Susur’s bold flavours.   Both the cocktails and food are a great value but be warned, you may be tempted to indulge in things like the signature slaw or other dishes which cross your path. In the end, although Susur didn’t look overly happy during his own happy hour, I sure did.

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