Reflections on the The Piano Man and Talking About Rosalinda’s “I”s.

I drive quite a bit so I listen to a lot of Sirius radio.  I’ve been enjoying the limited edition Billy Joel channel which has been on the airways for much longer than expected. It’s quite interesting to hear him discuss his inspirations as well as his unique perspectives on his 40+ year music career even if somewhat entwined with typical rock n roll pretension.   With such an extensive catalog, it goes without saying that I would have a number of favorites tunes as well as a small library of songs I’m not fond of.

My Favorite Billy Joel songs (in no particular order):

We Didn’t Start the Fire

This song makes for a great drinking game.  We used to try and recite the lyrics and drink when we got to the point where all we could remember was “Brooklyn has a winning team” and “JFK…blown away…what else do I have to say”.

Piano Man

The shitty bar I frequent down the road from my house probably has a John, a Davey and a microphone that smells like a beer (especially when Smokin’ Dave shows up for a concert).  It’s easy to follow along… it’s like the Cole’s notes version of American Pie if you don’t have eight and a half minutes to kill.

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

Inspired by the B side of the Abbey Road album, the mini symphony reminds me of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and G ‘n R’s November Rain and is reminiscent of the nights when I had a bottle of red AND a bottle of white and really hoped people like Brenda and Eddie wouldn’t work out in the end.

She’s Always a Woman

Billy Joel has a number of sultry ballads but this has got to be my favorite. First, it was a late seventies testament to the power of feminism. Second, in my late and very confused  teen years  I had a girl tell me over my long-corded phone as I laid on my waterbed that this song was her in a nutshell so it certainly has a little sentimental value.

Pressure

This song is good to help vent after a bad day. In addition, it kicked off the season 2 premier of the quirky show “911” which saw a number of chaotic episodes including a renegade pressure cooking reminding us all that second hand slow cookers aren’t the only appliance to be wary of.

Downeaster “Alexa”

Call me a sucker for songs about peril at sea but this haunting ballad fits in the same category as Gordon Lightfoot’s the Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald and the Hip’s Nautical Disaster.

My Least favorite Billy Joel songs

All for Leyna

Other than a melody I really don’t like, Leyna sounds like a real bitch and brings back memories of Winnie Cooper on the Wonder Years.

Zanzibar

Any song with the same name as a strip bar on Yonge Street needs a lot of substance to get that vision out of my head and this song just can’t do it.

Big Man on Mulberry Street

Despite being inspired by the Bruce Willis/Cybil Shepherd  show “Moonlighting”, I just can’t get into this song.  It’s a little too broadway or something. I think I’d rather listen to Al Jarreau’s theme song instead.

Lullaby (Goodnight, my Angel)

I find this song is far from a lullaby and often thought the hard piano strokes and pensive lyrics would keep me up all night.  Then again, it can’t worse than listening to any rendition of the rather morbid Rock-a-bye baby.

Rosalinda’s Eyes

I find some of his less appealing songs seem to be about women including the aforementioned Leyna as well as Laura, Judy, Josephine and Rosalinda.  Rosalinda also has a song about her  eyes and could be one of the more loungy songs in his whole repertoire.  That said,  I’m sure even  a $15 hotel cocktail wouldn’t make me appreciate it anymore but let’s talk about her “I”s anyway.

Rosalinda is a downtown establishment which focuses on Mexican, vegan cuisine. The bright decor is cross between a cantina and a greenhouse complete with Mexican accents throughout.  Given its convenient location, it makes for a great lunch venue and at night transforms into a place a little more characteristic of a GVG foodie function.

Innovative

Mexican cuisine is usually known for simplicity more than innovation but Rosalinda’s commitment to veganism other than beans and rice forces thought outside the box. Perhaps the best example was the young coconut ceviche $14 finished with with apple, celery, pickled shallot and herb leche de tigre.  The tender coconut could have easily been mistaken for a scallop and the pleasant acidity was a great palate cleanser.

rosalinda ceviche
Young Coconut Ceviche $14

Another innovative dish was the jackfruit pibil taco ($12) with crispy taro root and slaw.  Jackfruit is a spot-on substitution for this traditional pork dish which was topped with fragrant slaw and a faux crema sauce.

rosalinda jackfruit
Jackfruit Pibil Tacos $12

Inspired

Rosalinda digs a little deeper into the tradition of  Mexico than nachos with salsa and guacamole. Instead, sikil pak served with totopos is the preferred dip and vessel of choice. Sikil pak is a thick dip made from pumpkin seeds and was offered verde vs rojo in which I preferred the former.

topoto rosalinda
Totopos and Sikil Pak

Another inspired dish was the roasted heirloom carrots sitting atop mole, Mexico’s national culinary treasure.  Subtle yet complex, it paired nicely with the carrots which provided a vessel with both textural and flavour contrast.

rosalinda mole
Carrots with Mole $13

Inventive

To be honest, before reading the menu I don’t think I could tel you exactly what Tijuana-style broccolini ($14) was. According to Rosalinda it was served with grilled baby gem lettuce, jalapeno caper salsa, Caesar aioli and crispy garlic.  It seemed a little like the Godfather meeting  Pancho Villa over a salad.

rosalinda broccilini
Tijuana-Style Broccolini $14

My Take

Rosalinda offers a central lunch spot or what I presume is a more lively night in an authentic environment.  Although advertised as a vegan spot, the emphasis is much more on authenticity rather than glorifying the anti-meat movement. Seasonal and local ingredients get transformed into traditional Mexican inventions that are both innovation and inspired. It’s fresh and fun. In the end, these Scenes from a Mexican restaurant reminded me that Rosalinda is always a woman despite the fact her “I”s turned out to be better than her eyes…or at least Billy’s loungy account of them.

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

Home of the Brave: A Celebration of the American Culinary Trinity of Cheese, Gravy and Sauce

Perhaps it’s fitting I’m typing this as I fly over the Western plains toward San Francisco.   Home of the Brave are the four words which tell you the Star-Spangled banner is over and is usually held for about 16 bars while some celebrity exercises their creative right to make the song their own. It is also the title of a 1988 Toto song, perhaps a patriotic attmept to recreate the success they had in the early 80’s with the Grammy winning album IV featuring the song of the year Rosanna as well as Africa.  The phrase is synomonous with the USA, so it seems an appropriate name for a snack bar which celebrates Amercian culture and cuisine. Such a concept may be a daunting task however. There is nothing universally consistant with American food. Each region adheres to a philosophy and a stubbornness which is much an identity as an local accent. That said, gravy is pretty close.

Toronto’s homage to our southern neighbours sits hidden among King Street favourites Lou Dawg’s, Lee and Wurst.  Relative to other eateries, it about the size of Vermont, boasting a reasonably sized bar, a number of tablesand booths and even a few “patio” seats which overlook the King Street scene.  I was quickly greeting by the bartender who offered me a bar seat.  I sat and looked around.  A bustling open kitchen was nestled in the corner.  The bar area was decorated with American paraphernalia including references to many of the urban centres which make the USA the diverse and interesting country it is. From a drink perspective, they adhere to the American way.  They feature beer, wine and cocktails all produced or inspired by America. There are even a few cocktails created through feedback from the guestbook of American visitors. I was in the mood for a pint, so I opted for an $8 Sam Adam’s Boston lager which was frankly the only palatable beer on the draught list.  They do carry a few bottles from the historic Anchor brewery in the city I was in flight towards. The vibrant beer scene in the USA is misunderstood by so many Canadians who simply say “All American beer is water” and HOTB reinforces this misconception by offering crap like Coors Light  and Rolling Rock as essential American suds.

The menu is everything you would expect in a stereotypical American eatery, offering eats like Philly steak sandwiches, chicken and waffles and Maryland Crab Cakes.  In addition, almost every dish, including vegetables, contains one of the three components of the America culinary trilogy: Gravy, sauce, cheese or a combination of two or three.  In celebration of Napoleon Dynamite and his home state of Idaho, I was obliged to try the tater tots complete with the obligatory cheese AND gravy.  They were nasty, delicious chunks of what seemed like deep fried mashed potatoes which sitting in  a shallow pool of fat.

Tater Tots
Tater Tots $7

It was wing night (which means they serve wings…not the fact you get them for $0.36 each or whatever the going discount rate is) and I thought nothing could be more American than sucking back a pound of chicken parts.  The flavour of the night was Tex-Mex mole, a celebration of the Mexican influence on United States cuisine.  They came out quickly, doused in the promised spicy chocolate sauce and yes….topped with another sauce (sauce on sauce is Amercian food porn at its best).  The taste was quite acceptable and manged to marry the two southern flavours quite effectively. My only issue was the heavy breading on the wings.  Perhaps it’s a dedication to American art of deep frying everything, but I would have prefered the naked wing approach, especially with the rich flavour  of the abundant sauce.  My plasma might have been a little happier with me without the breading as well.

Home of the Brave Tex-Mex Mole Wings $12
Tex-Mex Mole Wings $12

 

I was feeling a little guilty so decided to try and balance things out with a little dose of a vegetable. Asparagus was in season, so I got an order.  Surprise… it was served with cheese and mushroom gravy.  I can’t complain about the taste or the cook on the asparagus..both were terrific but my guilt was hardly stifled as the nutritional value of the green spears  was negated by the other ingredients. The portion size, however, was not American because there was no way I could feed 4 people with this serving of “veggies”.

Asparagus with cheese and gravy
Asparagus with cheese and gravy $7

I passed on dessert even though two of my biggest vices were being offered; ice cream sandwiches and funnel cakes. I also passed on a very intriguing cobb salad served with a whole egg served in a half avocado, a concept I have since adopted into my homemade Cobb.

 

My Take 

Despite horror stories I had heard about the service being similar to the treatment of a gay couple at a misguided and ignorant Rick Perry rally, I found the service prompt and friendly.  The atmosphere was fun and vibrant and I loved the open kitchen concept.  Given the shitty beer selection and the pledge of allegiance  to cheese and gravy, I’m still trying to figure out if the owners intend  HOTB to be an reasonable facsimile of the American eatery or a parody of the plated gluttony which plagues our neighbours to the south. If it’s the latter I think it’s a brilliant joke.  If it’s the former, it’s a stereotype worse than Canadians living in igloos. I mean, not everybody in American puts added fat on everything, right?  Sure, a rib-sucking Texan may cherish the menu but  I’m sure a clean eating Californian would cringe at the fact that this place even manages to make asparagus unhealthy.    In the end, Home of the Brave is a fun rendition of American food.  I wouldn’t, however, bring your vegan sister, a skinny first date or your dad if he’s on a statin. I would, however, bring a good old Ontario health card just in case. I don’t think Obamacare is ready for this place.

 

Home of the Brave on Urbanspoon

My Favorite American Restaurants of 2013

Please keep in mind that I have been to select cities throughout the US this year so this list is far from comprehensive.  I have, however, been to enough to warrant a list paying homage to restaurants  which stood out during my travels.

10. Voulas Offshore Cafe– Seattle

This cute, old school diner is not far from the University of Washington’s beautiful campus.  The staff are friendly and courteous. Watching them set up the coffee station for the line of people who couldn’t get there early enough to beat the lines is endearing.  It has a great feel with an amazing biscuits and gravy you wouldn’t expect on the West Coast. The greek omelette was a reflection of good old fashioned family values.

9. Bop ‘n Grill– Chicago

Featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, this joint has burgers and bop plates (essentially rice plates topped with a number of choices). I went with asian flare and tried the umami and kimchi burgers although other unique combinations are available. The deep flavours lovingly punch you in the mouth while filling it with bite after bite of moist, meaty goodness. This ain’t McDonald’s.

8.  Tamale Place– Indianapolis

You wouldn’t expect Indianapolis to be a hotspot for Mexican food but the aptly named Tamale place is amazing.  The passion and care in the preparation of each one is clear with every bite.  If you can, try one of the dessert tamales. The nachos and salsa are brilliant too.  It’s clean but not fancy but with those tamales, it doesn’t need to be.

7. Pastabilities- Syracuse

A pasta lunch set up like a cafeteria in downtown Syracuse doesn’t sound like a top 10 candidate…until you eat there.  The place is always packed for a reason.  First, the food is amazing.  Whether it is the pasta bowl doused in their famous hot tomato oil, the moist and flavourful meatball sub, the freshly made side salads or the delicate but delicious pizza, this place would appeal to anybody from age 1 to 100. Second, the prices are terrific.   It’s open for a more formal sit down dinner at night which I imagine is just as good.

6. Roast– Detroit

Michael Symon offers a fine dining experience in downtown Detroit, especially for the carnivorous at heart. One highlight is the wood fired grill which, despite the volatility and unpredictability of the open flame, produced a fantastic medium rare new york strip. There’s something about slurping bone marrow and eating sweetbreads while watching a pig spin around on a spit that just works for me.  Oh, they have naughty deep fried brussel sprouts too.

5. Union Woodshop– Clarkston (Detroit)

Union woodshop in Clarkston (just north of Detroit) was featured on triple D in the Kid Rock episode. Although somewhat reluctant to take advice from somebody who wears fur coats yet married PETA-happy Pam Anderson, I was excited to try it. My best advice is to act like your parents and show up for dinner when this place opens at 4 pm.  There are two reasons for this.  First, you may have a chance at the sauce laden burnt ends (brisket) which are delicious but when they’re gone, they are gone.  Second, good luck getting a seat after 430 without having to wait an hour. Sorry, no reservations.  It has everything you would expect in a smokehouse and more.  It produced some of the best pulled pork I’ve had in while.  Otherwise, everything from the sauces (try the Chinese Char Siu) to the butterscotch pudding are delicious.  They also have a gluten free menu, pizza and even a steak if you want it. The price is right too.

4. Clarkston Union– Clarkston (Detroit)

Kid Rock also brought Guy down the Road to the Clarkston Union.  Built in an old church, it comes complete with church pews, a bingo board and yes, huge lines.  It sports one of the best craft beer menus in Detroit, offering regional and national brews in taster sizes if you want a variety. It has a gastropub menu with its famous mac and cheese (with or without lobster), sandwiches, burgers with  pot pie and meatloaf specials.  Even the plowshare platter, a delicious array of meat, cheese and veggies is abundant and delicious. This church offers the holy trinity of a great dining experience: Great service, great food and great atmosphere.

3. Lucky’s Cafe– Cleveland

I do not go to Cleveland without going to Lucky’s.  In fact, I think once I went to Cleveland to go to Lucky’s.  Also featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Michael Symon showed up to promote this local gem. It’s all about fresh.  The front is filled with fresh baked goods and the staff is busy picking ingredients out of the garden you see through the window during the summer months. The “biscuits” is one of the best breakfasts I have ever eaten.  From the fluffy cheddar biscuits and eggs to the sensual sausage gravy, it is complete nirvana.  In fact, I awake craving it at times.  In addition, there are great beverages and lovely lunch items like a delicious curried chicken sandwich and a made from scratch Reuben that’s to die for.

2. Topolobampo– Chicago

Rick Bayless is considered one of the best Mexican chefs in North America.  Now I know why.  Once you navigate through the loud and hectic sister restaurant Frontera, doors open and you enter the serenity of Topolobampo.  From the minute you are seated you are treated like royalty.  Hands down the best service I had all year.  The waitstaff part like the red sea when you walk through the front of the kitchen to get to the washroom. The sommelier was informative and not pushy.  Our waiter knew everything about every dish. The menu changes frequently but you can always count on a delicious selection of nouveau Mexican dishes with bold, explosive flavours. Even better is everybody at the table can order what they want without the need to have a complete consensus in order to opt for one of the many tasting menus ranging from vegetarian to one dedicated to mole, Mexico’s most prized dish. Topolobampo is proof that not all eateries run by celebrity chefs are overrated…some are just “increible”!

1. Girl and the Goat– Chicago

Stephanie Izard in many ways has redefined what a great chef is.  Her infectious smile, lovely attitude and commitment to working vigorously within the walls of her two West Randolph restaurants have been rewarded with numerous accolades including a James Beard award.  The menu is a mosaic of tastes and textures which tickles every sense.  Whether it’s the escargot ravioli,  the pig face which gets smothered in egg yolk or the goat belly confit, the attention to detail from both a visual and taste perspective were amazing.  Translating passion to a plate is an art and Izard is Picasso.  I’d tour this gallery anytime.