I Just had a Meal that was Pretty Fking Good

Once in a while I enjoy going out for dinner. By this I mean dinner versus an new age experience in which food is some part of it. Within an industry dominated by the likes of Charles Khabouth, Oliver and Bonnacini, Jenn Agg or Grant van Gameren, sometimes it’s nice to find a stand alone old school eatery with single site ambition. In essence, I was looking for a place off the hipster path which still has appetizers and mains and serves complimentary bread and tap water without much resistance.

I recently brought a customer out and decided to venture to St. Clair West and visit Fk. I would like to believe that this is a response to the need to make everything an acronym (perhaps to make texting easier) or maybe it’s simply a sassy play on words but i wasn’t sure if I should tell people if I was going to dinner at eff-kay or fuck for dinner. When they called to confirm my reservation which I ensured I booked a few weeks before (because they sure as Fk don’t use open table), they identified themselves with the former pronunciation.

In this case, the “F” is Frank Parhizgar who along with Shawn (nice spelling) Cooper, ran Frank’s Kitchen for a number of years before shuttering and moving a bit north to the current location.

In addition to a less than pedestrian menu, Fk prides themselves on a robust wine list including a small list of exclusive by the glass choices protected with the help of a coravin (I only mention this because it seems to be a big deal). As a result, I was able to indulge in a 5 ounce glass of a small batch Alsatian Pinot Gris which was fantastic. If you are not a wine person, they also offer a couple of delicious albeit expensive draft beer choices including Krombacher Pilsner and an Italian Menabrea Ambrata.

The amuse bouche really is a dying art so it was nice to see the waiter enthusiastically  pour cold avocado soup around a small pile of matchsticked cucumber placed in the middle of a hand crafted bowl (apparently Mr. Parhizgar had a hand in this too). It was pleasant reminder that summer wasn’t quite over yet. Afterwards, we were offered Frank’s fresh baked trio of bread which included a rustic crusty bread, an Italian pomodoro and a walnut loaf.

 

Avocado Amuse Bouche

The appetizer menu include a few old school favorites served nouveau.  My guest opted for a crafty tuna nicoise which featured sushi grade tuna served linearly across the plate among other classic salad ingredients. I cheated a bit and avoided the appetizer menu all together, instead ordering crab cakes from the side menu.  The cakes themselves were crunchy type ( I normally like something a little softer) but the ramp tartar sauce was a phenomenal condiment which I would gladly slather on many foodstuffs, crustacean or otherwise, without much hesitation.

For the main I opted for the lobster ravioli which swam in a tarragon bisque.  It came with a modest portion of six pieces but was rich enough to satiate especially after I made every effort to scoop the last drops of the broth out of the bowl which my spoon while lamenting in the fact that I should have save a bit of walnut loaf to ease the task.

Lobster Ravioli

I skipped dessert but nonetheless I was treated to a house made chocolate gem to finish the meal. Once again, it was another example of a passionate attention to detail.

Fk Chocolates

In the end, Fk was refreshing…a bit of an oasis in the desert of loud, bustling eateries which cloud food with folly.  There is true passion in the dishes coupled with a few cool wines along with the ability to talk about with your party without Richter scale noise. The staff are pleasant and attentive, the wine is unique and the food is pretty fking good.

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

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Columbus: The Home of Lots of Dumplings, National Pistol Champions and 60000 Nuts

The last leg of my Midwest road trip was a stop in Columbus. It seems I have circled around Ohio’s capital in the past but visiting cities including Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton and Pittsburgh. My understanding of Columbus is limited to its place as state capital, the home of a recently decimated NHL hockey team and of course, the location of THE Ohio State University.

To me THE Ohio State University has always been a castle in the kingdom of post-secondary folklore. It is loathed especially by Michigan, anybody in the Big 10 and well… pretty much anybody within a 200 mile radius who isn’t a Buckeye or Buckeye fan. In fact, just a few weeks ago, an American colleague (and Indiana native) of mine couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the sheer mention of my presence anywhere the campus. Just the look of Urban Meyer, the celebrated ex-OSU head coach who in his tenure of 8 years scored a national championship, makes most football fans wince. You have to admit, calling yourself “THE” in any context is pretty ballsy, especially in light of the many Ivy league schools which display their pride in less overt ways such a participation in college Jeopardy competitions and high sales of “My kid goes to Harvard” bumper stickers. That said, maybe the OSU claim is justified. Let’s look at 5 reasons why:

  1. The school is in the top five nationally for student enrollment. I guess when 60 000 students think they are the best, they are the best.
  2. Their mascot is a tree nut with a face and a body which has got to be as tough as a wolverine or a badger, possibly through the induction of allergic reactions among those who dare question their authority.
  3. Rumour has it that their reluctance to surpass rival Michigan in stadium attendance is the sheer fact that they don’t want to close off the bottom of the complex and have to think up a nickname other than the horseshoe.
  4. There is something to be said about 100000 people who can spell a four letter word (no it’s not any of the vulgar words coming to mind..it’s O-H-I-O) for 10 minutes before kick off. Thank god Columbus isn’t the capital of Massachusetts.
  5. Screw football…OSU has won 9 national men’s pistol championships since 2000 and 32 national woman’s synchronized swimming championship since 1977. Michigan, on the other hand, has only won 8 men’s hockey championships and none since 1998…losers.
  6. Famous alumni include George Steinbrenner, Jack Nicklaus, Roy Lichtenstein and R.L. Stein…the thought just gives me Goosebumps.

Honestly, part of the reason I have avoided Columbus until now is because until recently it has been void of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives which I find ironic given Columbus is the birthplace of host Guy Fieri.  Of the six DDDs which now populate the capital, I managed to hit half of them during my short trip.  The first was Loops (named after the L-line), a Chicago sandwich shop which pays homage to most the Windy city as well , of course, THE Ohio state.  Among the many sandwich and dog choices on the menu, I opted for two of Guy’s choices from the show; the Italian Beef and the authentic pork gyro “done the right way”.    They came unapologetically wrapped in foil street vendor style.  The beef was loaded with giardiniera (pickled vegetables) and the gyro with the traditional lettuce, tomato and tzatziki.  I much preferred the Italian Beef, possibly because of the promise of Chicago  authenticity (giardiniera atop beef is classic Chi-town). Also, I found the pork a little dry but it was helped by the sloppiness of the rest if the sandwich including the aforementioned sauce.

Stop two was the much anticipated North market (located in a rather surprisingly nice downtown area complete with brick streets and the attractive Nationwide arena). The market houses the second DDD, a Nepalese dumpling house called Momo Ghar which has gained national popularity on social media and other foodie channels.  Nepal (probably less recognized than it’s capital Katmandu which has been a celebrity refuge for many and theme of the Bob Seger song of the same name) is sandwiched between China and India so it’s not surprising that its culinary influences come from both sides of the border. I can best describe Momo Ghar’s offerings as hakka dim sum. Strong Indian flavours of cilantro and cumin filled the Asian style chicken and pork dumplings which were served atop a flavourful sauce resembling a thin curry.  The side of potato salad also had Asian flair..kind of like if Nepal was fused somewhere between India and the United States and hosted a picnic. In addition, the market offered a number of other vendors including Flavor and Fore, a great hot sauce and salsa shop, Penny’s Meats (hey I have to mention a butcher with my last name!) and  Destination Donuts, who sweet offerings and sweeter staff were enticing enough to make a trip back over the border with me back to Ontario.

The final DDD was Pierogi Mountain.  There are two locations and both are hidden within the kitchens of Columbus bars which makes understanding where and when to find them a bit confusing.  One is a late night punk bar near OSU and the other is in a cocktail bar called Wunderbar located in the historic German village in central Columbus.  It seems quite a symbiotic relationship as I imagine drunk punks and hipsters would love to scarf down pocket potatoes in the wee hours of the morning after pounding Miller High Lifes and listening to bands named Acid Angst or the Beard Scratchcards. Pierogi Mountain offers a lunch service right in the kitchen while Wunderbar is closed so I had to forego the punk bar scene (in which neither the bar or the kitchen opened until evening anyway) and order alongside a rather adorable old couple who was less than decisive. It’s also cute to watch old people loudly read the menu items to each other and then argue about each other likes and dislikes. “Henry, you won’t like those beer pierogies and I don’t want you drinking before noon”. “Nevermind Margaret…I wouldn’t dare order the meatloaf because it won’t be as good as yours. “Oh, Henry, that’s sweet”. Henry gets beer pierogies…the end. The pierogis were soft, flavourful and nicely pan fried without excessive grease.  The stewed onions were a delicious condiment, sweetened nicely to compliment the sour cream.  I also ordered their special; a meatloaf with a cheese gravy which, despite sounding a little odd, was surprisingly complex and quite satisfying.  

  Honorable mention goes to Rooster’s, a local roadhouse chain with big ass cheap beer and heaps of butter laden wings. I also have to shout to , who was probably the most courteous Uber driver I’ve ever had.

In sum, Columbus is worth another visit which I may plan immediately after the next Michigan game to either relish the win or snicker somewhat in the loss as I read “How I got my Shrunken head” aloud on a street corner or scream “I Don’t Care! I’d rather drown than.. call Brad for help!” over and over as I streak across campus. If not, I’ll just hit the other three DDD and call that a major win.

Symon Says if You Don’t Eat yer Meat you Can’t Have Any Pudding While Waters’ Version of Meat is a Pig named Donald Trump

I’m going to take take advantage of any rock music reference I can make when I’m anywhere in the vicinity of Cleveland. Rest assured, the reference will likely not include the likes of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Pink Floyd, on the other hand, is worth discussing. With a father and uncles who grew up in this era, I was constantly exposed to second hand Floyd mixed among some of the other compounds circulating the air at the time. As a result, I’ve come to appreciate the impact this band (and their individuals) have had on musical progression, politics and my ear drums. Inducted into the hall in 1996, their rather subdued and almost somber performance of “Wish you Were Here” with Billy Corgan made you wish Rogers Waters was there (he refused due to long standing tension between band members).

Waters’ tumultuous personality continues to shine (on you crazy diamond). Since the advent of the Trump administration, he has targeted the POTUS more cynically than Alec Baldwin on SNL. I mean you have to respect a guy who can piss off Trump so supporters so bad that they storm out of the venue after paying a few hundred dollars for a ticket. Just watch the near 11 minute updated video for Pigs (Three Different Ones) to see what I mean.

Day two entailed a lot of walking through the wide streets of downtown Cleveland. Once a victim of a slowing of American industrialism and one of the primary members of the Amercian “Rustbelt”, Cleveland’s recent reinvigoration was due in part to a major investment in the city’s downtown prior to the 2016 Republican National Convention in which Donnie J was elected king of the castle. In addition, there are other city landmarks of note including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Progressive Field (which had just hosted the 2019 MLB all-star game), a waterfront on the south side of Lake Erie which was home to the tall ship festival and downtown’s Soldier’s and Sailor’s monument designed by Levi Scofield (spoiler alert….Mr. Scofield will come up again in the next post). There were also a number of musical venues such at House of Blues ( with Carly Rae Jepsen playing that night) and Sunday Reggae at the Music Box.

Another popular spot in Cleveland is East 4th street in the heart of downtown. Called a shopping and dining experience, this pedestrian way houses the likes of the aforementioned House of Blues as well as celebrity chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon’s flagship restaurant Lola and her sister Mabel’s. I opted for the latter for two reasons; a more casual experience and a huge bourbon list. Living in Ontario, the LCBO tends to strangle imports such as fine American Whiskeys and Mabel’s offers a wide array ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars including private barrel selections. I went for a $16 New Riff 4 year old CBC (Cleveland Bourbon Club) #26 a which was a little smoky a little sweet and a little smooth.

Mabel’s is called Cleveland barbeque, meshing American smoking with Eastern European influences including kielbasa, sauerkraut and spaetzle. At the time of my visit, the website boasted a Sunday happy hour but this has recently changed to Monday-Friday and wasn’t updated so I was stuck ordering wings and cracklings (puffy pig skin) at full price. I threw a half pound of smoke turkey and some baked beans into the mix which arrived on a metal tray along with pickles, rye bread and chip dip. I felt the four choices were like the cardinal directions on Mabel’s map representing a bit of everything BBQ. In particular, the turkey was a far cry from the normally dry holiday mess and was full of subtle smoky flavour. Personally. the chip dip was unnecessary and the bread was a slightly dry and unneeded touch that weren’t as appreciated as the rest of the condiments. The banana pudding for dessert was spot on but I’m also highly biased based on my unnatural love for nilla wafers. Looking back, Nilla would have been a cool name for my daughter but I would never her tell her she was named after a cookie or that her name was short for vanilla although it may be a compliment given the fact the vanilla bean seems to be the frankincense or myrrh of this millennium.

Now that I think about, Cleveland has become a Mecca for both governmental and musical politics. It did host the nomination of the most controversial president in US history and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has no shortage of politics itself whether it’s the inductees (ie. Bon Jovi), the no shows (Sex Pistols, Thom Yorke) or the numerous failed attempts at reunions between jaded ex-band members (ie. Dire Straits/CCR etc). That said, Pink Floyd’s famous lyrics ” if you don’t eat yer meat you can’t have any pudding” continue to resonate a life time changing from a literal meaning as a child to a figurative one as a adult. Perhaps Trump just sees it as another brick in the wall.

Mabel's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Fat Pasha: Making Cauliflower an Even More Costly Culinary Commodity

I guess there are so many names to go around.  I mean you can’t go to any most towns without finding a sports bar named the Locker Room or a strip bar with some precious or semi-precious metal in the name (Brass Rail, Solid Gold etc).  Then again, I suppose those would be a little more appealing than having pint at Jock Strap or a rye and coke at the Labia Lounge. That said, there can be mast confusion and controversy when names bare too close to each other.  I would certainly hate to get the Verve confused with the Verve pipe if Scott asked me who wrote the song Bittersweet Symphony at question 10 on HQ.  The band Bush was forced to release their first album in Canada under the name Bush X because there was a 70’s band in Canada with the same name.  After lawyers got involved, a donation to the Starlight Foundation and the Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund. cleared things up with allowed the band to simply call themselves Bush (which could also be a name of the aforementioned establishments I suppose).

Fat Pasha is one of a number of restaurants under the Rose banner and should not be confused with Pasha in the Thorncliffe area.  The former is located a short walk from the Dupont subway station and  focuses on middle eastern fare or in their words “Good Jew Food”.  It’s a tight, darkish and dingy space characteristic of many casual eateries around town. I enjoyed being seated at a table facing the small and busy kitchen.  What I enjoyed less was the scattered service that followed.  Once we were seated, it seemed we were more spectators than patrons.  It took a while to order and we had to call them over a couple of times over the course of the night to keep things moving along.

The cocktail list is small and authentic but a bit dainty with accents such as plum wine, hibiscus and apricot brandy.  I opted for a bourbon-based “Make a Mint” which the waiter advised was a “sipping” drink.  I would have considered a pint but was a little turned off by double digit price tag for a Beau’s Lug Tread.   It was smooth and nicely balanced but needed to be nursed to make it through the first course which was the salatim; a plate of salads, pickles, falafel and pita for $29. It was an excellent way to indulge in the multiple smoky and spicy flavors the region has to offer.  In particular the falafel was fragrant and delicious.

fat pasha platter

It’s no secret that the key to success in the restaurant biz is a signature dish that every blogger, critic or reviewer HAS to have. In this case it’s the  roasted cauliflower. Even Maclean’s magazine  shared the secret to the dish on it’s youtube page. It also doesn’t hurt when that item has some type of controversy attached to it.   Heads spun a few years back when cauliflower rocketed to prices similar to natural vanilla or previously mentioned precious metals. This lead to social media outcries suggesting the mainstay might be an endangered species and made me wonder if Dan McTeague might start up “Cauliflower Buddy” to  give us current cauliflower prices from various grocery stores across the GTA.  Since them, it seems cauliflower prices have stabilized and the halloumi, tahini, pomegranate seeds and pine nuts would continue to have a home. With all the fanfare I expected to taste like manna from heaven itself.  It was certainly good but I haven’t stayed up at night obsessing about it since.  It is beautifully presented, however, and reminded me a bit of an edible arrangement- hipster style.

fat pasha caulitflower

The last dish was the lamb shawarma ($30).  It wouldn’t have been my first choice given my general dislike for lamb but I lost the rock, paper, scissors battle and promised myself I wouldn’t let it bias my opinion of the dish in general.  Here’s the thing…it was a $30 shawarma.  I live in London, Ontario and frequent Windsor and Detroit often where there is a huge Lebanese influence and some of the best shawarma on the continent at a fraction of the price.  I quite enjoyed the apricot amba but not enough to justify three John A. Macdonalds/Viola Desmonds.

fat pasha shawarma

My Take

Fat Pasha is a fitting name for this Dupont staple.  You can stuff your face at will with an array of flavours from the middle east provided you have a rather fat wallet. I don’t mind a restaurant’s attempt to elevate ethnic food to a new level but I think it needs to involve more than an apricot amba as an accent. In my neck of the woods, I’m used to $7 shawarmas bursting with pickled turnips, hot sauce, tahini and a pile of toum which often  come with a side of seasoned rice or fries.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not fully equating hipster bar in Toronto with a  mom and pop shop in London but i would be remiss if I didn’t assess the relative value to some degree. In the end, cramped quarters, sippy cocktails, medicore service and a big price tag trumped pretty cruciferous creations.  Perhaps the other Pasha might be a little less pretty but also a little less fat.

Fat Pasha Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My First Date with Sara: Rasa’s Sultry and Sophisticated Sister

The name Sara is fairly prominent in pop culture.  On the music side, the name Sara has fronted such singers as McLaughlin and Bareilles although the former is spelled with and H on the end.  My sister’s name is also Sarah which gave my grandmother years of difficult since she was never quite sure where the H went.  Every year my sister would get a card which read “Happy Birthday Sahra!” or “Merry Christmas Sarha!” or “Happy Graduation Shara!”.  I also used to bug my sister in the 80’s by humming the tune “Sara” by Starship which,in addition to “We Built this City”, could the two worst songs released in 1985. I still don’t think she’s forgiven me.

From a food perspective, perhaps the best known Sara is Sara Lee. The company, once called the Kitchens of Sara Lee and opened in 1935, was a small chain of bakeries in Chicago with a man who named his bakeries and a cheesecake within them after his daughter.   Both the name and the bakery was purchased  and 70 years later was a multinational company with 137 000 employees. Since then, the company has been swallowed up by even bigger fish and is now a subsidiary of Tyson Foods.  That said, it still remains a place to pick up a quick cheesecake if you plan to binge watch Animal Kingdom or you forgot it was your turn for dessert once again and a bag of two bite brownies just won’t cut it.

I couldn’t tell you the origin of Sara, the food dudes new culinary experiment in Toronto’s King West area.  I can only assume it’s an anagram of Rasa, their other brick and mortar restaurant.  I see Sara as Rasa’s more sophisticated but stuffier sister. Rasa hangs out in a basement on Harbord Street, drinking cocktails named after her friends and eating lamb bacon and sticky buns off of wooden tables.  Sara, on the other hand, prefers to sip G&T  and eat crab dumplings off of marble tables in the vicinity of Lee and Jacob’s steakhouse. I was quite excited for my first date with her.

When I arrived I didn’t recognize her. She is in one of the many recently renovated houses along Portland Street just north of King St so it could easily be mistaken for another person (although she didn’t look like a Jimmy and certainly wasn’t Chubby).  After double checking the address, I entered the front door and was immediately impressed with her interior.  It was modest but classy with virginal white (damn!) walls and wood accents.   Her marble tables were sleek yet practical given the fact they held a chamber for cell phones with the intention of removing texting temptations and force and face to face discussion.  She also mentioned they are planning to put chargers in the tables in due time for extra motivation.

It seems Sara likes the hard stuff more than a pint; in particular she’s a fan of a good G&T or a vodka/soda as indicated by the fact that these are the only cocktails formally on the menu.  There are 4 combinations using different gins or vodkas along seasonings and house made mixes based on taste preference.  I opted for a “spice” G&T ($16) accented with fruit and star anise.  In line with the anti-straw movement, she provided an artsy vessel which doubles as a device to muddle the contents.  That said, she was full of surprises and produced a solid old-fashioned comparable to some of the best I’ve had in Toronto.

sara g and t 2
Gin and Tonic $16

Once Sara got me a bit tipsy, she proceeded to show me a little more of her personality.   I quickly realized she was a bit of an uptown girl…a quality vs quantity kind of woman.  In addition, she was full of surprises by offering her upscale versions of food I may eat in a roadhouse with a girl named Becky.  The chopped salad ($16), fries ($14) ,dumplings ($20) and rice pudding ($15), for example, were hardly pedestrian. The salad was garnished with cashew cheese instead of chunks of marble. The fries were shaped shredded potatoes bathed in schmaltz versus shoestrings in shortening.  The dumplings  were Prada-like purses darkened with squid ink and overstuffed with seafood and Bearnaise as opposed to generic bags full of ground pork and  cabbage.   The rice pudding was a rich and savory porridge peppered with corn and bacon and certainly not the senior special with sprinkled cinnamon  and a dollop of whipped cream.

Her elegance emerged as the meal progressed. I looked into her (rib) eye ($34) and I felt like a king (salmon) ($25). I couldn’t help but admire her (pork) belly ($22) in my periphery.  All were well prepared but the portion sizes were a bit of a tease.  The steak went well with the snap pea slaw to balance things out.

I thought it was a little risque when she invited me to the washroom but it was really just to show me the toilet.  Imported from Japan, they come complete with an wall mounted remote with words like pulsating, pressure, oscillating and position.  Needless to say, I was quite excited when she asked me to sit down.  Luckily, the heated seat was a wonderful distraction and took my mind off any potential pulsation.  I must confess I did play with the controls a little before heading back up hoping I might get the dessert I missed out in the washroom…especially with cherries and a party listed on the menu.

There were only three desserts on the menu and I stuck with my washroom thoughts.  The cherry crullers ($12) were rich but modest and nicely flavoured with cardamom and cream.  The party sandwich ($12) seems the signature dessert and is Sara’s version of a regular ice cream sandwich.  It wasn’t sickly sweet partially due to the sesame and miso flavours.

My Take

I think my date with Sara went well. I mean we got tipsy. ate pub food, locked rib eyes, took a trip to the washroom and had a party after. The date wasn’t cheap though.  I think there will some complaints about the price points relative to portion size but as mentioned, Sara is an uptown girl and values quantity over quantity.  Personally, I’m more of a Rasa guy with a preference for basement apartments and her sticky buns vs lofty abodes and  Sara’s cherry cruller.  That said, I wouldn’t turn down a second date as long as it was sometime around a pay day.

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

Medieval Times, #metoo and Mourning the Way we Eat

After being hyper-vigilant for a few years, i fell off the blogging bandwagon for most of 2017.  I can probably blame a universal shift or some other cosmic phenomenon but it’s mostly because I got jaded and lazy. I won’t spend much time on the laziness but will focus my efforts on the former.  I’m prone to jadedness…some say it’s in my DNA.  Perhaps it’s that I’m a disciple of Darwin and his theories of natural selection and the theory doesn’t seen to working at the moment.

I’m not about to go off on a general social commentary but I will bring my observations and feelings back to what I love to write about…food.  What we eat and the industry surrounding it has not been immune to the utter stupidity that has infected the world over the past half decade.  Whether it be social media, the deprioritization of what we eat as part of a dining experience or the utter ignorance of everything wrong in one of the most corrupt industries in current society, the relationship between who are and what we eat is at an impasse. Unless we really evaluate what we are doing and rethink things, we may end up severing a relationship that has been evolving for thousands of years.

To this day, one of the most important books I have ever read has been “You Eat What You Are; People, Culture and Food Traditions” but Thelma Barer- Stein.  I first read it during a university course as part of my nutrition degree.  It opened my eyes to the wedded yet delicate relationship between humanity and what we eat.  It used to be quite simple; you ate what was around and developed a culture around that.  With the advent of transportation, increased exposure to foods from all over the earth and a rapid fusion of many cultures in a span a few decades that strong cultural history is being forgotten, opening the doors to those with creative business minds to redefine and reinforce new ways for consumers to belong to their definition of food culture.  Unfortunately, Dr. Barer-Stein left us in 2017 but I would have loved to sit down with her just for a few minutes to get her reaction to how, in a matter of a few years, managed to destroy our relationship with what we eat in the same fashion as what we have done to our precious environment.

Social Media

Social media has been one of the biggest catalysts in the destruction of our relationship with food. At one point establishments survived based on word of mouth and quality of their menu as opposed to their elaborate social media platforms which are endorsed by hipster zombies who know how to use hash tags.  Speaking to a friend, reading a review in a newspaper by a food critic (with proper prose and complete sentences) or getting you hands on a hard copy of a Zagat review has been replaced with uncensored bias reviews written in broken English by people revered for the quantity as opposed to quality of what they post.  Yelp, for example, rewards those who post glowing reviews about every Tim Horton’s in town, citing things like “The coffee was priced similar to the other Tim’s across town” or “I saw they had maple dip donuts which is amazing because we live in Canada”.

Instagram is probably worse. True..a picture does speak a thousand words but unfortunately these photos are usually selfies representing  “look what I have and how cool I am” versus “look at how good this looks”.  Take the Starbucks unicorn frappuccino for example.  Anthony Bourdain called it “the perfect nexus of awfulness. Just add pumpkin spice to that mix, and you can nuke the whole county”. I couldn’t agree more. In addition, I would argue it was one of the biggest reasons for truancy in 2017. High school students flocked to their local Starbucks instead of math class to get their hands on one and the main driver was bolstering their social media status.  Being one of the first to post yourself looking like a giraffe sucking back heavily dyed 400 calories (complete with 10 g of saturated fat..the same as a Big Mac) and adding a clever hash tag like #iskippedschooltodrinkthisshit or #sweetthensourjustlikeme elevated your profile to new heights (at least for a few hours or until somebody posted a new puppy or something).  In other words, food has become an accessory in a fashion similar to a designer purse or a pair of Hunters.

bourdain frapp
Unicorn Frappuccinos and Social Media- The even more perfect nexus of awfulness.

Medieval Times

In the restaurant industry, food has slowly fallen from the centre of attention.  At one point, people went out to have a good steak or the best eggs benny in town and actually communicated with those around them.  Now it seems an experience out has become synonymous with heading to the CNE for Medieval Times in which you enter a rambunctious environment and watch a bunch of costumed knights put on a show while you wear a crown and slurp cold tomato soup from an iron bowl before tearing dry chicken off a leg bone with your teeth. Now, instead of jousting horses, you can go to most restaurants and be surrounded by similar barnstormers.  Whether you are into pretentious aristocrats with fake accents or sullen hipsters with the menu tattooed on their arm, you can choose your own adventure.  What’s even better is that in most cases the environment is so loud that you don’t even have to have a conversation with the person or people you are with. This is a definite advantage when you have to hang with annoying friends or family members or maybe with a match.com date that just isn’t working. Listen, I not saying that I don’t appreciate spending my money on a good overall experience which includes great service and a cool vibe but it can’t come at the experience of the food.  I don’t think too many people have left medieval times saying the show sucked by the food was great.  We can’t be lead to believe that the reverse mentality should exist for a place where sustenance should be the primary objective. Furthermore, we have succumb to the mentality that, unlike medieval times when servers were servers, it is acceptable for us as patrons to accept and encourage the sadistic attitude of those we pay as part of our bill.  In other words, the acceptance of the current culture puts yet another barrier in the  longstanding and evolutionary relationship between humans and the food we eat.

med evil
The Supporting Actor of the Show

#metoo

I want to clarify that I’m not against all social media.  In many cases it can be used to unify like minds, promote a business or allow for free expression.  The #metoo movement has been one of the best examples of an important use of social media…sort of.  The core of the movement is long overdue as sexual harassment by whatever definition you choose to use has been running rampant for years.  Part of the magic of facebook and other outlets is to allow the unification of people with commonality regardless of their position on the social ladder. A 50 year-old business executive who hit a glass ceiling because she wouldn’t engage in relations outside her job description has as much clout as a 19 year-old waitress who was inappropriately touched or verbally by a restaurant manager. Unfortunately, special interest groups (including Hollywood and yes, I do refer to Hollywood as a special interest group) have hijacked the cause. I’m not suggesting that making millions of dollars is an invitation to be sexually harassed.  My point it that turning the Golden Globes into a funeral for the male species fueled by speeches of presidential intention don’t speak for the thousands of men and woman who may live in a constant environment of exploitation not to live in a mansion on the hills but instead in order to  pay their rent in a one-bedroom apartment above a convenience store.

I have a 17 year-old daughter who worked for a local restaurant.  A number of months ago she discussed a sexual  harassment issue with management.  A cook in the kitchen easily 40 years her senior continuing made references about how he would like to have babies with her.  When it didn’t stop she brought it up with management and the solution was “he was warned”. The behaviour stopped but she was fired 6 months later. It was shortly after she was promoted to a serving position by one of the managers although she was not yet of the alcohol serving age.  She was doing well until the owner came in and complained.  The pattern continued…every time he would come in he would complain and harass the staff about an underage server right in front on my daughter. I still remember the night she came home and told me she was fired.  I asked her why and she said they told her she was moved to a job she couldn’t handle and her old spot wasn’t available.  When I went in to discuss it was a manager I was told it was because she missed work too many times (she called in sick once because she was…ummm…sick and other the time was because our dog of 5 years acutely went blind, fell down the stairs, shattered his front leg and had to be put down).  The termination letter stated even a different reason for her dismissal.  My point is, sexual harassment or not, employees in food service are treated like cutlery and other inventory and it has to stop. In general, they are at the highest risk of exploitation given the history of the industry, the need for gratuities to survive and the hierarchy and balance of power that exists. Simply making Mario Batali a celebrity sacrificial lamb and wearing black designer suits and gowns while you sip expensive champagne while ignoring the hundreds of other who wear short black skirts because they are pressured to and SERVE expensive champagne speaks to the Hollywood hypocrisy that plagues most social moments that exist. I really hope we see a dedicated movement in the restaurant business which recognizes harassment and even goes as far as to promote a harassment free menu and environment with the same awareness and passion that has been used for gluten and peanuts.

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Season 75
And get Oprah Winfrey to sing my euology….

My Take

Much like our relationship with the environment, if we do not reevaluate our interconnection with what we eat in short order (pardon the pun) then good food will become as scarce as clean air and water.  We need to show some gratitude for the food we eat and the people who serve it to us. I’m not suggesting we bow our heads and say grace (although I’m sure some marketing genius will find a hipster way to do it soon),  I certainly didn’t take a selfie of me gorging on Grandma’s jelly salad or give her a slap on the ass on the way past the Thanksgiving table.   Maybe we can use social media presence to promote the businesses and people who work hard to respect the food we eat and the people who make and serve it instead of using it to pad our inflated virtual egos.  Maybe it’s time to realize that Hooter’s was founded in 1983 and yes, things have changed since then. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that hikes in minimum wage and automatic 18% gratuities do not give us permission to treat food service staff like subordinates (although I’d ask the same in return). Finally, in the words of the late Thelma Barer-Stein, maybe  it’s time to think about eating what we are and not whatever the output of the latest, flashy marketing campaign tells us to.