Ghost Hunters: Five Doors North and why Chris De Burgh Might be Wrong

Ghost hunters has been a show that has been on the air since 2004. Hosted by paranormal experts Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson who are two plumbers who set out to find things more ghastly than clogged sewer pipes.  They have filmed over 200 episodes of the show and have had a number of guest hosts with a calibre that rivals that of Dancing with the Stars including professional wrestlers Kofi Kingston (of New Day Fame), the Miz and CM punk, sci-fi idols and Canadians Colin Ferguson and Amanda Tapping and music umm…superstar Meatloaf.

I don’t claim to be an expert in area of ghosts but I’ve wondered why, with the technology available to us today, we can’t get a better picture or recording of some of our friends from beyond the grave.  I mean, google earth can take a picture of my licence plate from space so would think we could snap a clear picture of at least one ghost.  Beats headphones can pick up Kenny G breathing on a quarter rest during Silhouette but we can’t get an audible account of Father Gus and his unfortunate demise in a church fire.

Anybody with kids know they like to jump on various things to the point of obsession.  Both my youngest son and daughter got a little ghost crazy over the summer.  For my son, it was youtube ghost stories whereas my daughter was keen to explore haunted relics in the hopes of getting spooked by something more than a Tuesday night horror movie with her friends at the theatre.  So on the way down to Allentown to see some family over the summer, I decided to make a pit stop at Andy Gavin’s pub  in Scranton, PA.  According to stories, a resident ghost named George periodically reeks some fun havoc on the place by flipping the lights off and flushing the toilets.

I had some nachos, wings and a few cheap pints of Miller Lite.  The latter was probably the most ghastly thing I experienced that afternoon but for $2.50, I couldn’t complain.  My kids swore they may have heard some high pitched screaming upstairs so I’ll let them believe what they want.

 

From there we proceeded down the road to the Houdini museum which is also rumoured to be haunted. It was quite enjoyable;a makeshift shrine complete with a live show by Dorothy Dietrich who, often called the female Houdini, did the Jinxed Bullet Catch Stunt which was the act that Houdini backed away from.  It is also filled with paraphernalia including posters and pictures honouring the famed escape artist.

Recently, I needed a location to meet a customer outside the downtown core  with good Italian food and ample parking. Based on the reviews,  Five Doors North seemed a good choice.  It is a well established Italian eatery located on Yonge street between Davisville and Eglington.  Although the website is quite primitive, they do take online reservations so I promptly booked a table.

In keeping with the ghost hunter theme, I’m not sure if the true origin of the restaurant’s name. I mean, it could be the fact that it is north of the city and there are five coloured doors on the restaurant’s facade but I think it may actually be a code for a  map to a ghastly burial ground five doors south.

Both the interior and exterior decor is quirky but casual.  There are tiled floors, wooden tables with glass tops protecting random pictures and foodie magazine covers (very reminiscent of the Houdini museum and the first clue that something was amiss) and brick walls showing blackboards containing the day’s specials.  It has a cozy aura and comes without the automatic pretension of some of the downtown enotecas such as  Terroni and Pizza Libretto.

Both the wine and food menus are handwritten on a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of white paper.  The wine choice was not extensive but offered some off the cuff choices that seemed to fit the casual, quirky theme of the restaurant. We opted for a I Muri Primitivo for a respectable $45 which I thought was a fun  and rather preternatural wine to drink.

The menu is a bit all over the place, offering traditional  Italian dishes as well as a few less orthodox choices like ribs with matchstick potatoes.  Every night they feature a long and short pasta as well.  On this evening, I went with the former which was a pasta primavera which was a perfect al dente, heavy on the garlic and not overly greasy.   For the main, I ordered the branzino special which was served with a hodgepodge of vegetables including a paranormal corn, asparagus, lima beans and a red pepper puree. Although  I found the combination a bit aberrant, the fish was nicely prepared and it worked.  I also ordered the green salad which was very green and even a little purple.

five salad
Green Salad $5
five pasta
Pasta Primavera $9.95
five fish
Branzino $28.95

Despite the pleasant service, funky wine and good food, I had  a vibe that something was amiss beyond the funkiness of the place .  I brushed it off until I went to the washroom.  I did my business and went to wash my hands in the small sink.  I looked in the mirror and an apparition appeared.  At first I was shocked. She was blond and wore red so I immediately dubbed her the “lady in red”. When I got my wits back, I reached for my phone in the hopes I could snap a picture, worried that the quality of my camera was too good to snap a picture of a ghost since the only pictures ever captured have been grainy pictures in bad light. That said,  as demonstrated by my blog posts,  I’m often criticized that I have no understanding of basics of photography such as focusing,  lighting or positioning  so I thought it would be ok.  Although my hands were trembling, I managed to secure the shot.  I tried asking her what she wanted but all she did was smile.  She was holding something white.  At first I thought it was a cloud or a ghost baby but a closer inspection showed me it was Cottonelle toilet paper.   Between her smile and the silent promise of soft hygienic products I was almost lured into the cottony abyss but I managed to break the spell and quickly escape the chasm of temptation which was the men’s washroom.  I returned to my seat likely as red in the face as her shirt and asked for the bill.

five ghost
The Lady in Red

My Take

Ghost hunters has been on the air since 2004 and has hundreds if not thousands of followers.  I have a science background and have always been taught to adhere to an evidence based model which means there should be sufficient and  irrefutable proof that a concept is true before I believe it.  I’ll be honest, despite my children’s insistence that they heard screaming at Andy Gavin’s, I was reluctant to believe.  My experience at Five Doors North may have changed that.  I think I will email the show and maybe they can ask  Bear Grylls to co-host and demonstrate some urban paranormal survival skills.

Until then, if you are looking for an Italian eatery outside of the downtown core with a funky environment, decent menu and friendly family service you should consider  Five Doors North.  If you’re walking, however, hit the audio record button on your cell as you approach (let’s say around 5 doors away)  in the event you can detect some electronic voice phenomenon.  One last word of advice, despite the words of Chris Issak, beware the lady in red.

 

Disclaimer:  I do not believe that the woman in the mirror was an apparition. Although odd, I’m quite sure it was advertisement in which a young, happy woman watched me urinate and then offered me some soft toilet paper. The author of this blog does not accept responsibility for consequences of eating at this restaurant including but not limited to hauntings, garlic breath or leaving really full.  

Five Doors North Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Parenting Palates and Toasting Khaleesi at Woodlot

Dining alone is not for everybody.  I’ll admit it’s not always my favorite thing to do but given my travels I’m up for it when necessary.  Others choose to order room service, sit on the bed and get cozy with the remote.  I find, however, that going out solo usually results in some adventure worth repeating. Take a recent trip to Woodlot for example.   I had just finished an appointment on a Monday and was looking for an early bite  which turned out to be a daunting task given the number of institutions closed on the first day of the week.  I went to woodlot a few years back and enjoyed it, so I figured it was worth another shot.  They take reservations but also seat walk-ins at the bar on the communal table which sits near the open kitchen.  I decided to sit at the table and was soon joined by a family of four who also wandered in.  I pegged the kids at 8 and 6 years old and was curious to see if the routine was the same as what I go through with younger children. For example, my son’s definition of a good restaurant is a good Caesar salad and free refills.  My daughter, on the other hand, enjoys chicken anything as long as it come with a side of  good people watching. Watching this family, I was quickly reminded that excursions with children to restaurants outside those with kid’s menus or clowns have the following characteristics:

  • The father’s main goal is to get their kids to try something so they can later brag about the fact that their offspring has their daddy’s palate. Other than the birth itself or a hockey goal, nothing makes daddy prouder than watching their son suck back a Malpeque oyster.
  • Handheld devices are a must.  Whether a cell phone, Nintendo DS or an iPad, the need to kill the 10 minutes before the food comes is a must. Long gone are crayons and sheets containing mazes, word finds and words which unscramble to spell spaghetti, hamburger or soccer.
  • The key is to verbally deconstruct any complicated dish in hope of fooling the child into believing that it’s not fancy.  For example, “Do you want to try Gnocchi?  All it is is the same pasta you are eating with a little bit of yummy mashed potato in it?”.  This usually results in the child looking back at the parent with a “are you kidding me?” look on their face.
  •  Mom is usually more subtle by ordering something safe instead of the what they really want in the off chance their child just might want to try what they are eating.  It’s a more subtle approach than dad and if he/she complies, it’s a reassurance that the child is still Mama’s little boy or girl.

The cocktail list payed homage to Game of Thrones by offering the Mother of Dragons, Clash of Kings, North of the Wall and Little Finger. Khaleesi aside, I went with the maternal choice which was campari with grapefruit tonic and pastis.  It didn’t go down like dragon fire but instead tasted like a tame negroni.

Cocktail $13
Mother of Dragons Cocktail $11

Woodlot is know for it’s bread.  A number of varieties are available for sale everyday starting at noon.  The same bread is offered to start the meal for those who dine in.  By offered I mean provided free of charge.  In fact, a variety ranging from white to whole wheat to multigrain is provided with a small churn of butter.  It was quite delicious and nicely complimented the rustic nature of the restaurant itself.

Complimentary Housemade Bread
Complimentary Housemade Bread

My starter was the ember grilled Hen-o’-the-Woods mushrooms with wild rice, black walnut, beet root and dill ($13). These are one of my favorite mushrooms so I had high expectations.  Great textures and smoky, earthy flavours highlighted the dish.  My expecations were met.

Woodlot Mushroom Salad
Woodlot Mushroom Salad $13

For the entree, I opted for  a small order of hand cut sourdough spaghetti and meatballs with dry aged beef, san marzano tomatoes, basil and parmesan for $16.  The meatballs were moist and flavourful, the sauce was fresh and tart and the sourdough pasta was an enjoyable twist.  It was a small portion but I guess that’s what I ordered.

Small Sourdough Pasta $16
Small Sourdough Pasta $16

I also ordered the warm kale salad with currants, toasted almond and pickled shallot for $7.  The kale was nicely cooked and the flavours were quite balanced and enjoyable which  I thought it paired nicely with the pasta.

Warm Kale Salad $7
Warm Kale Salad $7

I wasn’t blown away by any of the desserts (in fact there are only four including a cheese plate) but I ordered the vanilla pavlova anyway.  Served with blueberry and lemon curd, the pavlova itself had a crispy crust and a soft, fluffy interior.  The addition of fresh tarragon was smart and the whipped cream helped to buffer the other components on the dish.  That said, the extreme sweetness of the pavlova was not balanced with the minimal tartness of the curd, especially when the blueberry joined the party.

Vanilla Pavlova with blueberry.lemon curd and tarragon
Vanilla Pavlova with blueberry.lemon curd and tarragon $11

My Take 

Even as College street near Palmerston becomes increasingly innodated with new and trendy eateries, Woodlot sits quietly around the corner and  remains a popular dining destination.  The communal table, brick oven and open kitchen make for a fun atmosphere even if though it’s at a lower decibel than nearby La Carnita and Dailo.  The fact that they focus on freshly baked bread and a dedicated vegetarian menu in addition to the small but smart standard one is a reminder that the food as opposed to a wild cocktail menu, small plate snacks and loud music is the foundation for Woodlot’s success.  Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it kid friendly, perhaps the parents at the communal table were smart.  After all, what parent doesn’t tell their child that they have to eat everything on their plate and with the small portions at Woodlot, maybe  that’s not such a daunting task.

Woodlot Restaurant & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Starring in a Sitcom Called Seven Hills

When I think of Seven Hills, a few things come to mind:

1. It sounds like the name of an ABC sitcom that involves some washed-up actor or actress who chose a TV career for a change of pace instead if admitting their last five movies have made less than 25 million combined in theatre revenues.

2. It might be the title of a country song which describes the trials and tribulations of the contours challenging a John Deere tractor in the attempt to harvest a bumper crop of  wheat.

3. It could describe the geography of the walk from O’Farrell to this Hyde St. eatery in the Russian  Hill district.

In fact, it is a relatively quaint Italian joint located between the pier and the bustling, tourist-ridden O’Farrell street. It doesn’t get the fanfare and hype of the more visible eateries but  regularly sits in the top 25 of the 5000 San Francisco restaurants on tripadvisor.  We booked a table for six which seemed to take up a good portion of the restaurant as we were seated in the back corner.  The menu changes regularly but focuses on classic fare in a classic setting.  It’s evident when you read the menu that the place pledges allegiance to locally sourced food.  The vegetables, herbs and proteins come from a guy named Jim or Bob or Jim Bob and from places like Full Belly and All Star farms.

The service staff was cordial but a bit confused.  They had a couple of waiters taking care of our table who had different levels of understanding.  For example, I was offered a unique white wine by one waiter whereas the other had no idea what I was talking about when I ordered another glass.  That said, there was a definite and rightful pride in their demeanor when describing the rustic dishes.

The table agreed on an array of first plates to share which ranged from $9-15.  First, we were treated to an amuse bouche which was a delicious melon soup.  The duck liver pate was a bit unorthodox in that it was served chunky country style instead of smooth like the surrounding eateries. That said, it was pretty decent.  Other choices were the meatballs, arancini, burrata with tomato and prosciutto and carpaccio.  In summary, none were remarkable but none were bad either. If I had to pick, the meatballs won the battle.

 

Melon Soup Amuse Bouche
Melon Soup Amuse Bouche
Arancini, Duck Liver Pate, Meatballs, beef carpaccio and burrata with proscutto.
Arancini, Duck Liver Pate, Meatballs, beef carpaccio and burrata with prosciutto ($9-15)

In the meantime, as more people crammed into the small quarters, the temperature rose to the point of slight discomfort.  With more of a crowd the service got a little choppier.  For the main I ordered the squid ink (or neri) pasta. Like the Italian cliche, it was delicious in it’s simplicity but became a little monotonous even with the addition of a generous amounts crispy breadcrumbs.  I found the portion size quite ample and of good value for the price.

 

Neri (Squid Ink Pasta)
Neri (Squid Ink) Pasta

My Take

Seven Hills is the quintessential small family run bistro within a very diverse and vibrant dining scene.  It’s simple in it’s theme, decor and food.  There are no major surprises and I imagine no major inconsistencies. There’s a true commitment to partnerships with local farmers which comes out in the food.  If you’re looking for adventure, there’s a hundred other places.  However, if you want a safe haven for traditional fare or have a table full of people  who thinks Joe Bastianich should be canonized and lament the fact that Mario Batali will never open a restaurant in San Francisco, this could be your place.  Sure, there are service hiccups but it lacks the phoniness of chains and smiling hostesses who seem way too excited over the fact you might have a coat to check. After dining at Seven Hills, I think it can be described as a sitcom about an all American small Italian ristorante  frequented by Al Pacino and Tony Danza with cameo appearances by Ray Romano and Robert DeNiro (playing local farmers Jim and Bob) and lovable yet confused waitstaff including the likes of Joey Tribbiani.

Seven Hills on Urbanspoon

Two Six {Ate}! Who do we appreciate?: Gaining Respect in Little Italy

I took another trip to Ottawa recently. It’s becoming progressively more difficult to choose places to dine given the huge explosion of interesting destinations all over the city. Take two six {ate} in Little Italy  for example. It has all the foundations of a foodie haven:

1.  It’s named after its address.

2.  They use cliche words like “nose-to-tail” and “snack foods made with local, fresh sustainable products” on their about us page.

3. They are closed Tuesdays.

4.  Decor includes a stash house rusticness and clever, tongue and cheek depictions  of Darth Vader, Uncle Sam, Mickey Mouse and Beethoven.

5.  Uses small letters and punctuation in name  {in this case brackets I forget the significance of}.

That said, Ottawa waitstaff and barkeeps rarely adhere to the Toronto rule that you have to be a pompous ass since you know how to measure an ounce and a half of bourbon using a shot glass. Maybe it’s the fact that any restaurant in Little Italy adheres to some kind of Godfather or Sopranos code of respect.  I was immediately greeted by a pleasant duo who sat me at the bar.  I was given a quick description of the menus which includes a daily sandwich and pasta special.  In this case it was beef tongue and goose confit ravioli respectively.

I went on the heels of  FreBREWary, an exciting promotion by Beau’s in Ottawa which involves the near weekly release of of an innovative beer  surrounded with exciting hoopla.  Since two six {ate} was a participant, I was looking forward to a pint of Wag the Wolf, a heavily hopped wheat beer which was due to be released that day. It was a tad delayed, so I was treated to an Beau’s  Ellsmere’s Regret instead.  It was an absolutely delicious chocolate-marshmallow hemp stout.  It was served on a warped Beau’s promotional  wooden coaster {a FeBREWary promotional flaw which was the result of not letting the wood dry before final production}.

I started with an order of the shrimp and pork pogos {$10} which sound more Asian/American than something from the 1Italian Motherland.  Served on a bed of crisp and delicious slaw with the faint heat of a chili gastrique, I can best describe them as deep fried Dim Sum.  They were nicely seasoned and the flavours of the filling burst in my mouth.  I’m not convinced the batter enhanced the taste of the dish {not to mention the fact the batter pretty much seperated from the filling at the first bite} but it certainly was  a merry concept.

Shrimp and Pork Pogos ($10)
Shrimp and Pork Pogos ($10)

 

The scallops {$16} were highly recommended by the waitstaff.  I didn’t need much convincing when I read the description.  I think brussel sprouts and seafood are terrific partners on a plate. Sweet/sulphur, soft/crispy and white/green coexist quite nicely.  I also love the thought of boozy raisins  sprinkled all over a nicely cooked scallop.  The dish was true to from. The aforementioned ingredients combined with silky sunchoke puree and crunchy pumpkin seeds mapped my taste buds  tongue-tickling  topography.

Scallops $16
Scallops $16

 

The pasta special of the evening was interesting.  I have to admit I have limited experience with goose. I’ve eaten a flock of ducks but not their larger cousin so much. The fact that it was stuffed in ravioli and topped with yellowfoot and hedgehog mushrooms sounded even better.  The goose filling was very gamy which was was oddly coupled with by the strong earthiness of the mushroom medley.   The pasta was a little thick.  I think a blast of sweet or acid {other than the spray of pomegranate seeds I seem to remember} might have helped.   In the end, it was a pleasant dish.

Goose Ravioli
Goose Ravioli {$15}

During the meal I also had a Broadhead Wild Card, a subtle pale ale from Ottawa and another example that the craft beer movement is alive and well in Eastern Ontario.  It was very well balanced with a subtle but cogent  hoppy blast.

For dessert I seemed to have no choice. As far as hype, online comments have elevated the fried p b and j {$9} to the status of Pulp Fiction or Breaking Bad. The question was whether it was worth it. It took two hands to lift each half given the incredible density. It had a soft, creamy centre and a crispy crust on the outside.  It was not overly sweet, even with the aggressive dusting of powered sugar and sweet ice cream next door.  It was more like a good brunch item rather than a dessert.  In fact, I took half home for breakfast the next day.

My Take

Most Ottawa residents are blissful over the recent emergence of high quality and trendy restaurants congruent to those in nearby Toronto and Montreal. Two six {ate} is one of these.  It has many of the fundamental features of a hipster haven {see above} with the additional of friendly, authentic service.  The food is solid although the presentation is a bit monotonous. Two six {ate} has a code. You leave feeling like a dinner guest of Tony Soprano or Vito Corleone. In fact, Tony may have stated  it best when he said …{“Those who want respect, give respect”.} The food is respected. The drink is respected. You are respected.

 

Two Six {Ate} on Urbanspoon

 

DDD:Syracuse:Pastabilities

Every city has at least one pasta place. Some boast an array of homemade pastas and sauces. Some boast “mama’s meatballs” or “Aunt Gina’s special sauce” since 1482.  In the end, some are tremendous, others are generic clones of East Side Mario’s. I was unsure about Pastabilities in Syracuse. I mean, it seemed like a bit if a gimmick with it’s predictable play on words, striped awning, red neon sign and shameless promotion of their famous “spicy hot tomato oil”. At the same time, it was featured on DDD and celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2012, so there must be something to it.

I expected the lunch to be a typical sit down event but arrived to find that the hostess was replaced by a sign instructing diners (in not so many words) to grab a seat, get in line, grab a tray, read the specials and you’re on your way. There are piles of food; cold salads, multiple pasta choices, stacked sandwiches and personal pizza (based on the size..personal if you are Guy Fieri, Adam Richman and Rob Ford combined). All pastas were under $8 and pizzas were $4.50. You can even snatch a glass of wine at the end of the line if so inclined.

Is it a gimmick?  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

"Side" Salad and Pasta
“Side” Thai Beef Salad and Hot Tomato Oil Pasta
Pasta and Tomato Sauce and
Pasta and Tomato Sauce and Greek Pasta Salad
Personal Pizza with Broccoli Salad
“Personal” Pizza with Broccoli Salad
Meatball Sub
Meatball Sub

My Take

Is the food as good as it looks?  Well….yes.  The salads were abundant and delicious. The pasta was al dente and delicious. The bread was crusty and chewy.  The pizza crust was divine. The toppings, whether on the pasta, pizza or sandwich, hit the mark.  I wanted to do unmentionable things with that spicy hot tomato oil.   The entire bill was lower than a loss to Georgetown.

I loved the lunch concept.  The serve yourself idea is casual yet sophisticated; fun yet frugal. It’s hard to explain but it just worked.  It’s no wonder the place was lined up out the door.

Ridiculously good food in ridiculous portions at ridiculously low prices is always a winning combination. With a plethora of lunch choices, this place has ultimate pastabilitites….there…I said it. Sounds as cheesy as the meatball sub.

Verdict: 5 Guyz

Pastabilities on Urbanspoon