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.


Boralia: Helping Hipsters Forage and Making Canadian History More Exciting Since Circa 2014

Among the many things I remember about my childhood growing up in Sudbury include these three: I was a forager before foraging was cool, I found Canadian history extremely boring and I love pierogies.  From a foraging perspective, I used to make money as a teen tackling the hills of the Canadian Shield and picking blueberries as a young member of my grandmother’s berry cartel, supplying her red hat friends with bad hips with enough substrate to produce jam for the long, cold, northern winters….at a premium price. Second, I’ve always been a science guy and despite my rather trivial mind, I’m not typically a fan of history. I typically scurry around a trivial pursuit board avoiding the yellow pie at all costs.  I’ll get back to the pierogies.

In 2014, Boralia opened along the Ossington strip (well it was called Borealia at the time because I guess one couldn’t avoid lawyers even in the 1600s) promising to pay homage to the new trend of classic Canadian fare.  Hipsters, many of which couldn’t put a tent together let alone provide a synonym for a gooseberry, are flocking here in numbers not to mention that Chris Nutall-Smith listed it as one the top 10 Toronto restaurants in 2015.  Since it was my turn to pick a restaurant for a few colleagues, I thought it was a good call.

The menu is meant to be a bit of a history lesson fused with modern day food trends.  For example, two of the snacks (the Deviled Chinese Tea eggs ($9 for 4) and Chop Suey Croquettes($7.50 for 4) are inspired by the mass Chinese immigration of the 1860s.  As mentioned, I’m no historian, but I can’t imagine groups getting together in Vancouver and having potlucks while passing around deviled eggs. Nonetheless, they were decent starters although nothing that stood out anything more than a good Chinese side dish made fresh at a food court in Sault Ste. Marie or my Gramma’s eggs sprinkled with paprika at Thanksgiving dinner did…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The main menu features a number of less orthodox proteins which requires some imagination although there are some safer choices for those who don’t want to recreate 200 year old Canadiana.  After some negotiation and hints from past patrons we knew (and a bit to my chagrin), we avoided the whelk, elk and pigeon and agreed on the l’éclade (mussels) $17, mushroom salad $14, bison tartare $15 and sweetbreads $15. The mussels, smoked with pine, was a reflection of the early 1600s.  Served in a clear dome with spiraling smoke, the mussels were delicately done to perfection. It’s so hard not to overcook these fussy mollusks and these were a huge success. The mushroom salad looked like a wreath of earthy colours and the hazelnut corn cake hidden in the foliage was simply addictive.  The bison tartare was a twist on the now ubiquitous modern day classic.  Instead of traditional pickles, punchy heat and an egg as a binder, this tartare utilized garlic and ginger , pickled fennel and lardo to add some fat to the otherwise lean bison.  The grilled bread was a delicious vehicle. The sweetbreads (circa 1876) made sense from the perspective of a nose to tail concept which was necessary during pre-war times  as opposed to cool in the modern era of excess wastage that we are now accustomed to.  Even if it’s not a traditional 19th century recipe (it very well may be), the sweetbreads were extremely tendered and seasoned nicely.

After a few drinks down but with some realization we wouldn’t shut the city down, we decided to indulge in the closest thing we could find to street meat…the bane of the spelling bee…the famous pierogi.  Whether you pick up a frozen bag for a few bucks, have a church nearby or are lucky enough to have an Eastern European family member, these delicious dumplings are the ultimate comfort food. In the case of Boralia, they had some foodie flare in that they were served on a bed of red cabbage. They were good dumplings but 3 for $13 was certainly not a price from the 1800s.

boralia pierogy

Dessert was a homey pumpkin cake with corn ice cream and probably the most recognizable  and predictable Canadian dish on the menu.  It was good but not remarkable.

boralia dessert
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Corn Ice Cream $9

My Take

The thought of foraging can take on many meanings. Traditionally, it means to live off the land.  For some, it means erecting an urban garden in a few square feet of back yard or in a flower box on a balcony. Others may perceive it as a trip to the urban Sobey’s  across the street to to buy a few kumquats. Regardless, the concept is alive and well and has trickled into Toronto’s restaurant scene.

At the same time, Canadian food has become synonymous with living on the land.  This countries vast landscapes and diverse climates makes it a cornucopia of all things land and sea.  At the same time, as Canada’s rich multicultural history continues to evolve so does its food to the point where eatables like pierogies are now considered as patriotic as maple syrup.  Put the two concepts together and anything goes. In fact, Parks Canada devotes a component of its website with an app called the Parks Canada Heritage Gourmet App which pays homage to traditional Canadian recipes.


In the end, hipsters can live vicariously as foragers through the Boralia menu. As for me, I may have payed more attention in history class in high school if it hinged on my understanding of the influence of various cultures on what we call Canadian cuisine today.

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

Hearing Stories at Mamakas While Wondering if Mikey, Despite his Ancestry.com Results, Will Like it.

I’m fascinated by the latest round of ancestry.com commercials.  In particular, there is one where some middle aged guy, after thinking he was German for 50 years, went onto the website and found out he was Scottish. In addition, he seemed quite happy about exchanging the lederhosen for a kilt.  I have a problem with this.  If I found out that I wasn’t the nationality I thought I was after 5 decades, I’d be pissed.  Immediate questions like “Did we have a Scottish mailman or a nanny?”would pop into my head. I would also have a frank discussion with my parents about the significance  of properly relaying important information, such as where the hell I came from , to my siblings and I.

That said, there are times I wish my family history was a little more exciting.  I’m at least a third generation Canadian so ties to my homeland are as faded as memories of the last time England won the World Cup.  I’ve mentioned before that my mom has always been a good cook but it would be a stretch to say she was authentic.  Her cabbage rolls, for example, are stuffed with precooked hamburger,  minute rice and parmesan cheese.  I have longed to be able to latch onto a culture and call it my own, especially from a food perspective. After a rather boring diet for the first 20 years of my life, I finally was able to experience authentic ethnic food. I remember working with a doctor from Thailand who introduced me to the first Tom Yum soup I’ve ever had.  To this day, it is etched in my brain as one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Most culture’s foods are quite ubiquitous now.  Even in sleepy towns like London, Ontario, there is a surge in the availability of international fare. Toronto is like a diner’s Disneyland, allowing any of us to be Korean, Indian or Jamaican for a day.

In other words, I’m a little jealous of people with well rooted histories and stories from the old world.  Narratives of Sri Lankan perusing markets selling fresh mangosteen or eating carnitas in the alleys of Mexico city sound far more exciting that chasing the Dickie Dee guy down the street to get one of those ghost shapes ice cream bars with the frozen, tooth-cracking gumballs in the middle of a luke warm day in Sudbury.  What overcomes the jealousy a bit is when I dine with them and get to see and experience the pride they have in their culture’s food.

Specifically, when it comes to Greek food, my experience was limited growing up.  The Apollo was the main gig in town and I rarely went. At home, my mom didn’t know what a greek salad was. Since then, I’ve hit a number of Greek places through my triple D expeditions.  Usually, these traditional eateries are pleasantly tacky, often decorated with blue and white colours, flags and pictures of architecture of  the homeland hanging on the wall.  I’ve also come to realize that every second diner, even if it doesn’t serve souvlaki (although it usually does), is owned by a Grecian.  In fact, a Greek friend of mine owns a sports bar in London and I can bet on two things; good food and continuous reminders that, as opposed to England,  Greece has won the Euro Cup whereas England’s World Cup win was even earlier than the last Leaf’s Stanley Cup victory.

I was surprised to hear a Greek place would harbour itself along Ossington, one of the more volatile and finicky streets on the whole Toronto dining map. That said, it keeps getting rave reviews.  I was particularly interested to go since I was with a couple of colleagues who in some way have Grecian ties . I knew I would be treated to  narratives which would nicely compliment some of the dishes that came out and would be a little more exciting than mine which involve the fact that my kids really like my horribly predictable (but decent) chicken souvlaki dinner.

The decor is less tacky than most Greek places and was actually fresh and bright, especially  for an Ossington joint.  It was bustling but there were no worries because they actually take reservations.   It had wine that night so I can’t comment on the cocktails.  Despite the fact that Greek wine is not as renowned as some it’s chest pumping European neighbours,  Mamaka’s stick to their heritage by offering  krasi of all types (about 15 white and red options) and price points ranging from $45 to $120. We opted for the $45 Sofos organic and the $60 Kidonista whites.  Although neither were the best whites I’ve ever had, they were as crisp and clean as the joint itself and well worth the reasonable price.

The first lesson from my table mates was that among the many dips available in a Greek restaurant, taramosalata is a better choice than tzatziki.  Made with fish roe mixed with other traditional Greek ingredients like lemon and oil, it has a pink hue and is quite salty. It was served with cucumber and pita. It’s a bit of a surreal spread and seemed synonymous with marmite from my British roots.

mamakas dip
Taramosalata $7

I didn’t need a lesson to understand the significance of octopus in Grecian cuisine but I did need one to understand Santorini fava.  My knowledge of fava beans include their cameo in a Hannibal Lecter speech in “The Silence of the Lambs” and from my dietitian training in which I learned that they fact they cannot be consumed by segments of the world’s population due to favism, a genetic disorder in which there is insufficient   glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in red blood cells, leading to acute hemolytic anemia.  Ironically, many Greeks carry this genetic abnormality which also protects from malaria . That said, Santorini fava has nothing to do with fava beans.  In fact, it is similar to a hummus made with yellow split peas and flavoured with onions (in this case pickled…soooo Ossington) and capers. This dish was delightful and a nice change from the potato and olive combo which seems to accompany the mollusc everywhere else.

mamakas octopus
Octopus with Santorini Fava $20

Once again, through stories at the table I was transported to a large Greek family dinner featuring Kokoretsi, a lamb offal sausage complimented with skordalia (a garlic potato taste).  I was told stories of a grandmother, who did not want to waste a scrap of food, working meticulously  to season and stuff everything into an awaiting casing with great success.  Although I’m not a lamb fan, I couldn’t complain…it tasted like I was there.

mamakas sausage
Kokoretsi $14

For a side we had tiganites patates which were fries topped with a little feat, egg and spicy sauce.  In other words, it’s Greek poutine.  As I’ve said before, it’s hard to mess up fries and I will eat an egg on anything so I wasn’t disappointed.

mamakas potatoes
Patates $8

My Take

Mamakas proves that Greek food can be as funky and cool as their Korean, Cuban or Vietnamese neighbours.  This restaurant breaks the mold of predictable,  diner-like atmospheres and instead offers a cool and sleek vibe.  The food includes standard fare such as lamb and spanakopita but also transforms traditional but lesser known dishes into modern small plates which still emphasis the concept of family style dining.

I often go to medical conferences (which would perhaps discuss  glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) but don’t usually participate in the guided poster presentations which provide audio commentary to accompany  the visual data.    When it comes to dining, however, I’m singing a different tune.  Listening to my colleagues reminisce about family gatherings rooted in old world traditions in the context of Mamakas decor, vibe and food makes me want to declare myself a culinary pyromaniac, break dishes and scream “Opa!” at the top of my lungs for at least a few hours before reverting to my sullen, ale-swigging distant English eating habits.

In the end, I’ve realized I don’t need ancestry.com.  Being a United Kingdom mutt allows me to be a bit of an impartial chameleon when it comes to the diversity of  cultural food choices out there.  I think restaurant owners perceive there is as much a benefit in appeasing the clueless white guy as there is members of the ethnicity they represent. I feel I’m kind of like Mikey form the iconic life cereal commercials as many of the chefs anxiously stare at me wondering if, after a short period of consideration,  I will like it.

Mamakas Taverna Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Lessons from Tarantino: Hipster Hyperbole and the Dichotomy of Ossington’s Omaw

One of my favorite films is From Dusk to Dawn, a joint project between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.  I particularly like the fact that the movie has two distinct components. The first half is the cerebral Tarantino and the second  the crude and visual Rodriguez with the switch occurring the minute they enter the Titty Twister.

I just went and saw the new Tarantino film, his eighth feature film aptly named “The Hateful Eight”.  As usual he is the subject of scrutiny, this time accused of misogyny.  Continually criticized for his use the N-word in his films including the latest, New York Times writer AO Scott states that  “At a certain point, the N-word gives way to the B-word as the dominant hateful epithet, and ‘The Hateful Eight’ mutates from an exploration of racial animus into an orgy of elaborately justified misogyny”.

I’ll be the first to admit that Tarantino’s sanity is sometimes up for debate, but I will make the argument that his extreme use of violence and language is a form of modified hyperbole. In Django unchained, for example, the N-word is muttered 110 times (which in some cases is equivalent to a Drake song which seems to be acceptable).  That said, the movie’s protagonist is black and ends up blowing the shit out of everybody and riding into sunset at the end.  I contend that the constant and nauseating use of the word to the point of absurdity creates an immunity that is actually less offensive than if was used only once in a specific situation during the movie. As for misogyny, Tarantino has a history of strong female  protagonists in his movies including Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in the Hateful Eight is far from a victim even is she is shackled for the majority of the three hour film.

Omaw, the newish Matt Blondin on Ossington serves as a tribute to southern snack food. The place is already getting a few nods by the experts so I was keen to test the authenticity of the ode. It was a good start when the menus were presented alongside a a small bowl of a classic southern snack, boiled peanuts.  A little less geographically accurate  was Oregon’s Dead Guy Ale on tap but I wasn’t complaining.  The offerings, served from a very open and central kitchen, ranged from a bit fancy to a bit roadhouse….. all arranged and served in small sharing plate formats.

omaw peanuts
Boiled Peanuts

This is where I get back to my From Dusk to Dawn reference. The first half was Tarantino smart.  We started with the aged waygu with beef fat vinaigrette, onion tops, pea relish and coffee.  Second was cured flounder (which I believe is no longer on the menu) finished flavoured with parsnip milk, horseradish, almond oil and granola of grains. Third was the shredded kale salad with smoked sturgeon, garlic, jalapeno and cornbread vinaigrette. Each of the dishes were dainty and delicate which fit the Ossington St. mold but was a bit off the beaten path in relation to Omaw’s theme of southern fare.

The second part was Rodriquez crude.  This included the fried chicken skin with tabasco, pepper and lime and the kentucky fried squid with white bbq, collard greens, salt pork and watermelon rind.  Neither was remarkable, especially compared to the extravagant cold plates served earlier.  In both cases, any complex flavour to the dish was minimized by the overwhelming taste of the deep fryer.

The key lime pie was also dichotomous; a combination of old and new. The pie itself was a classic example of this southern staple.  It was complete with a tart curd and crumbly crust. It was topped with that crispy, wafer lkie meringue, something that still hasn’t grown on me.

omaw pie
keylime $14

My Take

I think many Toronto restaurants, including Omaw, exhibit elements of hipster hyperbole which I define as the use of gross exaggeration in any or all of the Zagat trifecta; food, decor or service to hipsterize the overall experience. Examples include application of the iconic Kentucky fried concept to squid, interiors which overemphasize the arts of parquetry and masonry, the lack of capital letters on menus and waitstaff who carry as much angst as they do ink.

As much as the Tarantino/Rodriguez divide makes sense in From Dusk ’til Dawn, it makes less sense in the case of Omaw’s menu. Sure, cold was served before hot but the fact the greasy snack food was saved for  the latter half of the meal made little sense.  It was a bit like going to a house party and after the homemade apps are done, the guests bring out the M&M party pak to finish things off.  It was far from the Wedding at Cana.

In the end, Omaw is as authentic a southern eatery as The Hateful Eight is an bone fide Western.  That said, through other projects, both Matt Blondin and Quentin Tarantino respectively have earned the creative licence to bend the rules a bit. In addition, Omaw fits the blueprint of an Ossington addressee and therefore some flexibility to do whatever it wants regardless of the theme.

This got me thinking that if Mr. Tarantino decides to do another feature film maybe it can called “The Wining Nine”. Nine hipsters can sit around a table talking nonsense for a couple of hours until Leonardo DiCaprio’s character says something Jake Gyllenhaal’s doesn’t like, resulting in Ryan Gosling’s hitting him in the head with an empty bottle of Zinfadel.  The ensuing blood storm attracts Samuel L. Jackson as a shot gun toting anti-urban zombie who, after reeking  havoc, recovers his bad mother fucker wallet from a pool of hipster blood.  Or course with this would come with media allegations of hipster hatred (dogmatry or dogmogyny perhaps?) in addition to the bigotry and misogyny Tarantino supposedly exhibits already. It’s clearly fictitious, however, because nobody could possibly dislike a hipster, right?

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

Hanmoto: May possibly be the Crown Royal Northern Harvest of New Toronto Restaurants.

The faceless Chris Nuttall-Smith just published his top 10 new Toronto restaurants.  Not surprising, Alo tops the list and other clear favorites including Buca Yorkville and Dandylion made the cut as well.  Perhaps a little more surprising was the inclusion of Hanmoto, the little and unorthadox izakaya joint hidden just outside the intersection of Dundas and Ossington  (it’s on Lakeview Avenue however which, like the Lakeview Diner a block away, doesn’t have a view of a lake).

As Mr. Nuttall-Smith writes (in words much more eloquent than mine), it has no sign and has the aura of a flea market where you are not sure if you will get a great deal, bamboozled  or stabbed with a sushi knife.  The menu is as primitive as the make shift signs you would see advertising dollar persimmons along Spadina avenue.

I went with a few friends a while back as stage one of an Ossington food crawl.  Arriving at 530 or so ensured that there no wait for one of the few makeshift tables scattered among the curio-filled hollow .  The waitress was a pleasantly non-nonsense woman who had a fantastic grasp of the small menu. It seemed fitting to start with the somewhat famous arisaka sour, a gin based cocktail flavoured with yuzu, green tea and cucumber and finished with soda and lime bitters.  It was quite refreshing but a bit flimsy so it was evident I had to switch to beer to avoid downing 8-10 of them before the end of the meal.

2134 - Copy
Arisaki Sour $12

The tiny menu meant little deliberation and the table agreed on the hamachi tartare, the moto bun, the enoki, the masu dengaku, okra and famed dyno wings .

The tartare was nicely balanced from both a texture and taste perspective and was served at the correct temperature.  The moto bun was a fun and flavourful twist on a sloppy joe and was next to impossible to share with the table.  That said, I’m always appreciative of a bun that can withstand the assault of a sloppy filling for the duration of consumption.

The enoki with miso butter was a surprisingly simple take on those mushrooms you see at the Asian food marts and don’t know what to do with.  Their texture with, when combined with the miso butter is somewhat reminiscent of a fat laden piece of steak.

The masu dengaku was an oddly attractive eggplant dish made pretty with fried beets and seasoned with a delicious miso hollandaise.

Each of the previous dishes did not shy away on extreme flavours but the crispy okra blanketed with bonito flakes and asiago (a very saline and odd combination) was a miss.  We casually passed the dish around the table like a hot potato and there were no takers.

Okra $8

Finally, it was time for the fame chicken dyno chicken wings served in the signature take out box.   These wings, stuffed with a pork dumpling, have already attained mythical status in snack food folklore and the label is deserving. The dumpling offers both stark contrast to the crunchy mouth feel of the deep fried wings yet both flavours are married with the sweet and salty sauce.

Dyno Wings $8- A Hot Mess

My Take

I’m a sucker for a good gimmick and there are no shortage of them in the restaurant industry.  I was all over the  Yakatori bar on Baldwin (which now ceases to exist) and I’m the guy who rushes to Harvey’s after not going in years to get my hands on a somehwat revolting pop tart ice cream sandwich.   From the seedy surroundings to the focus on nothing by snack food, Hanmoto itself is a gimmick but one that gone from the exception to the rule in the hipster driven expanse with an Ossington epicentre.

It seems Mr. Nutall-Smith is also enamored by a good gimmick. In his review of Hanmoto, he forgives any hiccups (ie. farmed vs wild salmon) by saying that it’s not that type of bar.  It seems his opinions are driven by the fact that the booze drives the food and not vice versa which I disagree with given the rather sleepy cocktail list and predictable beer choices. Don’t get me wrong..he is brilliant writer and one of the first people I go to for an objective opinion on a new restaurant but I’m left wondering if including Hanmoto on the best new Toronto restaurant list is synonymous with Jim Murray’s choice of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as the world’s best whisky.  Maybe I can meet him halfway but saying the dyno wing is one of the top 10 must-try new dishes in Toronto in 2015 but even in my relatively limited exposure to novel eateries, I won’t go as far as generalizing the dish to the entire experience.

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





Bang Bang Ice Cream: The New Hipster Apocolypse Serving Up Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve

As I’ve stated before, the hipster movement is a bit like the Walking Dead.  At first you’d see the odd zombie roaming around and next you know you have an apocalypse on your hands. Part of this mass transformation has meant the expansion of  foodstuffs which have undergone hipster domination.  It started with coffee shops and quickly progressed to tacos and burgers.  They have laid claim to kale and cauiflower.  I think what I find most disturbing, however, is their latest attempt at beatnik tyranny; ice cream.  No, the centrefold of the Toronto Life a few months did not show Norm Kelly and Drake in a Yonge 6 Gods gangster embrace but instead summarized a number of ice cream cones available across the city.  It was at this point I knew that  the hipster infection had spread into the medium of one of any person’s fondest childhood memories. The ritual of popping down to a parlour with the fam and watching a disgruntled 16 year old serve my mom tiger tail for the 15th time (I swear she was only person in Sudbury who ate it) while I stood indecisive until a got a good kick in the arse was in jeopardy. I should have seen it coming. It does, after all, involve long lines and serving food out a crawl space which are both predictors of a hipster breeding ground.  It also allows for a more justified use of the cash only policy and certainly would never require a reservation.  Plus, you also don’t have open in the mornings.

I was in the Ossington area and decided to pop in to Bang Bang. It was a Wednesday night around 7:30 pm so the line wasn’t too bad.  Predictably, it looked like a garage.  The line swung around to a counter housing 4 or 5 types of cookies which seemed to be the most popular vessel for the twenty or so flavours of ice cream which were displayed on shelves in a David’s tea store. Against the far wall is a iron which feverishly works to pump out thin Hong Kong waffles which are subsequently folded into cones and stuffed with ice cream.

I wasn’t surprised to see an array of clientele waiting.  In particular, a hipster dad had his hipster kids with him.  Since the line moves at a snail’s pace despite their “one sample only” policy, they have a screen on the wall projecting some sort of video.  In this case, it was some cartoon I didn’t recognize but I thought it would keep the kids occupied for the long haul through the ice cream line. It looked pretty benign until things got heated.  For whatever reason a woman was suddenly naked in the middle of a forest and was greeted by a near naked and very built man.  Soon, enough, he had his large hands nicely positioned on her rather voluptuous ass and soft core animated sex followed.  Daddy hipster was shocked and quickly put his hands over the eyes of his baby hipsters and looked around feverishly hoping that he didn’t have friends or families in the vicinity to witness such an atrocity.  I was going to joke with him and  tell him that it was part of the Ontario government’s new sex ed curriculum but I figure that might resulted in a good shin kick or having my hair pulled really hard.

Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve
Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve

There are many choices including scoops (even an adult snack size for those who normally go for the kiddy cone), the aforementioned cookie sandwiches and Hong Kong waffles as well as macaron sandwiches and ice cream puffs.    When I finally got to the front of the line, I decided on banana ice cream in the waffle cone for $8.  I was told that because of the Hong Kong I could have 2 flavours instead of one so I also ordered Froot Loop as well. Since they are “made to order” there was some wait time involved.  It reminded me of the countless number of Hampton Inn buffets I’ve been to in which the wait for the waffle iron could go into the early afternoon.  It didn’t help when the guy behind the counter looked like he was having more trouble with the waffle iron than I would  trying to assemble an IKEA desk.  I finally got the cone and the waffle was still warm which was a nice contrast to the ice cream.  I’ve made banana ice cream at home and Bang Bang’s was almost the same.  It had a rich custard base and the bananas were quite ripe tasting.  There’s that magic moment when you first combine froot loops and milk.  Not only is the milk still super cold but the flavours of the cereal haven’t yet combined meaning you get two distinct tastes before they become uniform.  The ice cream recreated that magic moment.  Despite the warm waffle, the ice cream did not melt at too rapid rate and it wasn’t overly messy but there was no way I could finish it all.

Hong Kong Waffle with Banana and Froot Loop Ice Cream
Hong Kong Waffle with Banana and Froot Loop Ice Cream

My Take

Bang Bang Ice cream adds hipster to the old ice cream parlor.  Instead of a “Hi!” from Bill behind the counter at the family owned ice cream joint, you get to stand in line in a garage for a long time, watch porn and surround yourself with hipster angst not often associated with this classic summer dessert.  At least they take credit cards. In the end, if you can get over the slow service and prefer soft porn over soft serve (I was wondering why they called it Bang Bang) then drop on by. Good thing they have takeout pints because you might wanna leave the kids at home.

Bang Bang Ice Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


I was driving down Ossington looking for a lunch spot and noticed a sandwich board advertising a Cuban lunch.  Intrigued, I parked and dropped in for lunch at Delux, which focuses on this side of the Atlantic during the day as a deviation from the French-inspired dinner service at night.I was quickly seated and found som irony in the fact that I was seated facing a wall size pictur of the alphabet in a plac that can’t spell th word Delux.

A menu offering on a clipboard was provided to me quickly.

Bottles of water served Ossington-style* were readily available.

Conch fritters were ordered as an appetizer. They were very good and served piping hot.

Dessert was not an option since I got the bill before I was even asked if I wanted any.

Expensive cocktails….$14 for a 2 oz mojito?

Fried ripe plantains were spiced nicely but were oversalted.

Guava juice for $3 was a refreshing option.

Ham on the cubano was abundant.

Indigestion ensued.

Jalapenos were served with the Cuban to spice it up.

Kicking myself for not ordering the rice and beans.

Lackluster dipping sauce served with conch fritters.

Mustard on the cubano was delicious and not overbearing.

Nice amount of melted swiss on the cubano sandwich.  Served at a great temperature.

Oysters are available for a bit over two bucks each.

Pressed cubano sandwich was quite good but not remarkable.

Questionable service.  She made no suggestions, was slow and somewhat apathetic.

Roast pork on the cubano was moist and delicious.

Salads looked good.  They were ordered by other tables.

Takes credit card! Woohoo!

Underwhelming decor.

Vegetarian choices include avocado, cheese and tomato sandwiches as well as salads and sides.

Wine list focuses primarily on Canadian and French with a few US, Spanish and Italian choices thrown in.

X is not the last letter in Deluxe.

You might want to share the conch fritters.  There are too many and they are too rich for one person.

Zagat ranking of 23 for food.  Lower for service and decor.

*-Ossington-Style water service usually involves a continuous supply of tap or still water served in some sort of glass vessel or carafe.

Conch Fritters $8
Conch Fritters $8

Cubano Sandwich $10
Cubano Sandwich $10

Delux Ripe Plantains $4
Delux Ripe Plantains $4

My Take

I must admit I was a bit let down after raising my hopes with the thought of an exotic Cuban  lunch.  The food was authentic enough but the service made me feel like I was JFK in a Cuban restaurant during the Bay of Pigs invasion.

This experience may have been an anomaly from a place which normally promises a favourable dining experience, but for now the absent E in Delux may represent “excellence” because it was definitely missing on this particular day.

Delux on Urbanspoon


The retro tribute that adorns Parkdale continues with the introduction of Oddseoul, the newish street food joint serving Asian inspired snacks.  Only identified by a red, white and blue barber’s pole, I entered a long, narrow room only lit by a glowing red “prescription” sign and two white signs that looked like they were stolen from an 80s drive-in theatre which display the modest sized food and drink menu. I was seated against the wall and had a  clear view of the kitchen where 3 or 4 cooks were busily buzzing around. It was steady for late on a Monday night, but the service was  like trying to get a haircut the week before school.

In addition to the signs which likely once announced the arrival of “ET” back in 1982, a  printed menu was handed to me on a crinkled sheet that  looked like  a few dozen people had spilled something on it earlier in the night….or week.

Elusive Odd Seoul Menu
Elusive Odd Seoul Menu


The squash poutine ($7) was such a refreshing change from for others which grace most menus.  The cubed squash was the perfect base in both size and texture to complement  the salty, sour and tangy toppings. The subtle sweetness offered a foundation that  rounded off the dish.  The curry gravy added spicy dimensions that just worked.  Lastly, it was served mouth-burning hot, a refreshing change from most poutine which arrive at the table in a semi-congealed state before you take the first bite.

Squash Poutine ($7)
Squash Poutine ($7)


Bourbon drinks are the fad right now and I equate a good one to the experience of jumping in a cold pool.  It should hurt a bit at first (I find a first sip of bourbon like a slap in the face) but once you get used to it, you don’t wanna get out. The Bulleit Smash fell a bit short on both fronts and was more like jumping in a luke warm pool. It lacked shock value.  In other words,  I didn’t bond with the drink in a love/hate relationship…it was more like an amicable friendship.

Bulleit Smash ($11)
Bulleit Smash ($11)

The “loosey” ($5) was a saucy, small burger in sandwich form topped with kimchi.  It was a tasty and  messy few bites.  I was hoping for more of a punch with the kimchi but it tasted more like a a Wendy’s quarter pounder in the sense that it had some predominant ketchup and mayo type flavours so I was left buzzing with a fast foodish high.

The "Loosey" $5
The “Loosey” $5


I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of pork buns.  It’s a dish where the bun is as important as the filling.  The Oddseoul’s offering was  anemic and sticky. Inside was a whole lot of filling. It was almost impossible to eat.  The  barbeque sauce was perfectly spiced but overwhelmingly tangy which  took over the rest of the dish. Throw that sauce on a chicken wing and now we’re talking.

Steamed  Bun ($5)
Steamed Bun ($5)

My Take

What’s with Steigl? It’s popping up quicker than a Han brothers restaurant itself.  I missed the memo announcing it was the new foodie beer of 2013 much to the dismay of past foodie bandwagon favorites including  Heineken, Stella, Dos Equis  and of course, Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Oddseoul is another invention by the Han brothers.  It’s prescription is for aggressively flavoured asian inspired street food and modern cocktails in a vibrant  setting.  The ambiance features  loud hip-hop music and equally old school decor in the form of bear heads and drive-in movie signs.  Although the food was tasty, most of the dishes had  a monotonous yet “polar” and unbalanced flavour profile (that’s my witty reference to the barber’s pole).  On that note,  I’m not sure whether I’ll be coming back for a trim every eight weeks or so.

Oddseoul on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Little Italy/Portugal Village:Rock Lobster

As far as twitter goes, Rock Lobster is a busy community.  Every night I get numerous tweets and retweets from happy people raving about their recent experience. I must admit I was quite excited for a piece of the action. Walking through the door, I was looking for a place to happen and was greeted by three friendly, plaid wearing barkeeps who quickly sat me at the bar. Looking around, I felt like I was an extra in a Tragically Hip video.  Nostalgic Canadian paraphernalia  filled the walls and the menu followed suit, offering a near coast to coast menu.  It only made sense to salute the flag and partake in the cross country adventure.


Nothing signifies the start a Canadian road trip like a classic caesar.  It followed all the rules including celery and steak spice with the luxury of half a lobster tail  for 12 bucks.  It wasn’t bland nor watery and didn’t require a fire in the hole warning either.  It was yummy and spicy and good.   The tail didn’t hurt either.

Classic Caesar with Lobster Tail
Classic Caesar with Lobster Tail

Ironically, the best item on the menu wasn’t lobster. A trip over the hundredth meridian offered a grilled flank steak  served with homemade hickory sticks, a soft yolked duck egg and a side of homemade tangy dipping sauce  for $14.  The steak was grilled to absolute perfection. The egg was served with a shiny, runny yellow which would trickle down onto the crispy and smoky version of delicious of the Canadian classic snack. Despite the richness of each of the ingredients it was far from a greasy jungle; I would describe it more as hearty small plate presented with skill and determination….and grace, too.

Flank Steak with Hickory Sticks and Duck Egg
Flank Steak with Hickory Sticks and Duck Egg

I stayed out west for my second drink of the night. I ordered an “Iginla Fizz”, a  $10 modern spin on a rye and ginger.  It was simple but delicious. Maybe it was the drink itself or the fact that  I’ve always felt so hard done by as a Calgary  fan and drinking a cocktail named after the Flames captain in Leafs nation was final  and just retribution for the Gary Leeman/Doug Gilmour trade.

The "Iginla Fizz"
The “Iginla Fizz”

One of the showcases of Rock Lobster is a cooler displaying the restaurant’s namesake as well as other things born in the water.  The fresh PEI malpeque oysters drew my attention, especially at a price of two and a quarter each.  One of the bartenders pulled three out, shucked them and served with all the fixings including fresh horseradish she ground with a box grater right at the bar. It was a great offering  other than the mignonette sauce, which I found a little off. She didn’t know for sure what she regularly shucks in a shift  but figured she may do a 20o plus on a good night.

Rock Lobster Oysters
Rock Lobster Oysters

I was told the  lobster roll is the mainstay of the restaurant concept  itself. It had all the fireworks of the classic east coast sandwich.  Chunks of lobster were coated in a rich but not overbearing mayo and served on a fresh and lightly toasted roll. Normally served with fries and a McClure’s pickle, I asked if  they could sub the fries and they gladly doubled the pickle.  This may not sound that exciting, but these pickles have been considered some of the best in the business for a long time running.

Lobster Roll
Lobster Roll


Rock Lobster’s Quebec contribution was a lobster poutine.  The fresh fries hit the mark, the cheese curds were authentic but the bisque gravy fell a bit short.  Although full of flavour, the bisque was a little scarce and  served luke warm which prevented the heart of the melt, a bit of a cardinal sin in the poutine world. I know it didn’t blow my mind but I couldn’t figure out if it left me yawning or snarling.

Lobster Poutine
Lobster Poutine

I have a confession.  One of the twitter feeds bragged about diners enjoying whale tails which left me wondering if this was a taboo spin on the Parkdale offal movement.  Much to my relief, the “whale tail” was instead a spin on the classic Canadian beaver tail pastry. It was a crispy and nicely presented, coated in cinnamon sugar and served on a chuck of tree with a shaker of maple sugar.  It came with a few irrelevant trickles of creme anglaise.  It was good enough but wasn’t too hard puttin’ down.

Whale Tail
Whale Tail

My Take

Rock Lobster has rapidly become a  lionized addition to the Ossington strip. The service was friendly, attentive and didn’t take forever.  I can’t explain the exact feeling, but it has a modern spirit that so many foodies crave  as much as the grub itself.  The ironic coupling of  extensive twitter hype with a certain degree of secrecy, the dark canuck ambiance and most importantly the solid execution of a cross-section of Canadian classics from hickory sticks to lobster tails define this eatery as a  pelagic pinnacle as opposed to a nautical disaster.


Rock Lobster on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Parkdale:Grand Electric

Grand Electric is a place you wanna hate.  No reservations,  long lines, cash/debit only and no split bills not to mention an irrelevant website  makes planning a dinner with friends a bit cumbersome.  Nonetheless, once you’re in you become one of the cool kids, even if for a short time.  Loud old-school rap cuts the air amongst the touque-wearing animal heads as you stare at a  blackboard scratched with nouveau-Mexican fare and double take when you see tacos for only 3.5 each.  You get sucked into the gluttony and place order after order from the kitchen as you succumb to  the communal rave of taco nirvana. It’s nothing short of a tongue-tickling trance.


The tacos are terrific.  Whether you opt for a safer arbol chicken (slightly spicy), basa fish (battered and flaky) or vegetarian taco (crunchy corn) or  a more adventurous choice such as beef cheek (tender and rich) or pig tail (crispy and flavorful), there is little disappointment.  Each choice is stuffed to the point where it is a hot mess; accompanied with variety of condiments, whether it be the abundant guacamole with the beef cheek or the salty cheese with the chicken. From a value perspective, they are head’s and (pig) tails above the competition considering other moxy establishments ask $10-12 for a pair of clearly inferior products.

Corn and Pork Belly al Pastor Tacos

Basa Fish, Beef Cheek and Chicken Arbol Tacos

The blackboard menu describes the pozole as dope. After the first bite, I couldn’t argue. Each spoonful offered  tender hominy and pork suspended in a fragrant broth which was addictive like liquid nicotine.  It was spiced perfectly, offering an edgy punch with every bite. In the end, it was heart-warming and addictive dish well worth of the dope proclamation.

Pork Pozole (Dope Soup)

The spicy squid redefines calamari which has unfortunately become a generic term for spongy rings of breaded squid served with some kind of generic dipping sauce.  Grand Electric offers a mountain of tender hoops sprinkled with peppers, green onions and a spicy red coating which eliminates the need  to be masked by seafood sauce or garlic aioli.  You’ll wanna share this one although be warned that  a few fork fights may ensue, even among good friends.

Spicy Squid (not calamari)


Not surprisingly, desserts include anything that can be shoved into a mason jar. In this case, it was a key lime pie and a dulce de leche cake.  Served together, there were in total contrast; one was tart, smooth and cold and the other was sweet, crumbly and served piping hot.  In the end, they were both average for what they were but provided a very satisfying end to a terrific meal, although some may not enjoy the extreme sweetness and tartness of these finishing touches.

Key Lime and Dulce de Leche Dessert


The hang-up is the utter pretension that characterizes many of the restaurants in Parkdale.  There’s a “my house is bigger than your house” or maybe “my hole-in-the wall is less inviting than yours” mentality which resonates throughout the neighbourhood like cracks in the sidewalk.  Case and point….I have a friend of mine who has been there at least a dozen times. She does the 60-90 minute wait like everybody else and brings new people almost every time.  On her last visit, she was cut off. So was her table of four. Why?  Too much bourbon?  No,  she was informed by the hostess that, after less than an hour of sitting, their “time was up” and they would not be served further.  They were given the bill without further discussion.  She attempted to call the owners on three occasions, has left messages and no calls have been returned.

Personally, I found the service pretty good once I went through the mandatory waiting period (even at 1045 at night). I did, however, feel a little inferior.  Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t sport a raven tattoo or know all the lyrics to 2 Live Crew.  Either that or I don’t have a fetish for social sodomy…afterall, I haven’t read 50 Shades and probably never will.  Hey, maybe the next restaurant in Parkdale (providing the ban is lifted)can offer moderate asphyxiation in between the appetizer and main course.

My Take

The food is amazing!  I do, however, heed a warning penned beautifully by Dr. Seuss over 20 years ago  in “Oh, the place you will go!”…..

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

The food is grand, the atmosphere is electric and this joint  may be topping the rest and is the best of the best according to many pundits, critics and self-proclaimed foodies.  The hang-up is self-righteous attitude that one receives in atttempt to get some good squid.   On the heels of an expansion, consideration should be given to modernizing the approach to improved service that will maintain and even enhance the electricity. In a world where people show less attitude starting revolutions against social injustice or going from rags to riches to make millions, Grand Electric should put things into perspective; they make tacos…..although they are pretty freaking good.

Grand Electric on Urbanspoon