New Orleans Day 2: Getting Surrey, Them Feeling Toup of the World and Grabbing a Few Groceries to End it All Off

Day two started with another trip down Magazine Street but instead of ending up in the core of the Garden district I stopped a bit early at Surrey’s cafe, another of the 10 or so DDD in the New Orleans area.  Surrey’s is a breakfast/lunch juice bar. The menu items include some of the standard fare for both meals plus a few choices with a Latin flare.

The place is rustic or run-down depending on what side of the foodie line you stand on.  You know what I mean… wobbly tables on an uneven floor with mismatched chairs and confusing art on the wall.  That said, the waitstaff was attentive and the dude was quick to recommend a few of his favorites.  He talked me into the $11 corned beef hash.  The spin was the addition of both boudin and andouille sausage. It was a delicious and hearty portion which I finished off with a few liberal splashes of hot sauce.

In the end, Surrey’s is your cookie-cutter hipster breakfast joint characterized by a seemingly necessary shottiness.  In this case, there is a Latino flare added…kind of like Corona’s as opposed to Cora’s.  Decent food and a decent vibe providing you go at off-peak times.  Otherwise, you’ll be waiting a while.

Food- 4/5 Guyz

Service- 3.5/5 Guyz

Vibe- 3.5/5  Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

Lunch was another example of me living out my PVR fantasies.  Instead of a DDD, I opted for Toups’ Meatery in the Mid-City.  Not only had Issac Toups been nominated for numerous James Beard awards (including 2016 in which he lost out to the chef of my dinner destination), but he also was a finalist on the popular competition show Top Chef.  Toups’ promises a meat heavy experience with a Cajun twist served  in saloony type scenery. Armed with a carnivorous attitude, I delved into the lunch offerings while doing my best to avoid anything related to salad which meant a smorgasbord including  a cheese board, meatery board, Louisiana crab claws and a side order of cracklins. All were quite satisfying but I really enjoyed the crab claws.  They were served so they could be eaten hand held like artichoke leaves.  The sweet and sour of the pickled pineapple and the heat of the Thai chilis made for a number of exciting bites.  They had a bit of that mindless shoving popcorn in your face effect. With a copious amount of  fat and sodium, the cracklins were a complete exercise in arterial challenge.  I would have been surprised if they were anything short of tongue-tingling.

In the end, Toups’ was a good example of a charcuterie shack with a southern spin. I would be naive to think the small amount of omega-3 in the crab claws offset the saturated fat but the Cajun flare they added certainly increased the NOLA authenticity and reminded me I was in the general proximity of the Gulf Coast.

It was back to the garden district for dinner.  The destination was La Petit Grocery who’s chef, Justin Devillier, was the 2016 James Beard winner for the South region.Unlike the industrial look, the interior of this Magazine Street eatery looks like a place where you might court a southern belle.  The cocktail, appetizer and main I ordered are no longer menu (a reflection of the tardiness of my blogs) but these items were still a good representation of what to expect at La Petit Grocery which is New Orleans first flavours with a little Europe thrown  in.  The alta cocktail, which was a combination of booze from Italy to Mexico and accented with citrus flavours, resulting in a refreshing summer drink.  The fresh green garlic spaghetti was the perfect bed for the sweet crawfish tails and the crispy pork confit was teamed with modernized southern classics including pickled collard greens and dirty rice with a mustard jus which brought it all together.   The wine list is diverse and tackles all price ranges including the middle of the road ones we indulged on such as the Domaine Jean Collet & Fils “Montée de Tonnerre ” Chablis 1 er Cru 2009 for $70 and Oregon’s Moises Wahle Vineyards Willamette Valley 2008 Pinot for a few bucks less.

In the end, day 2 was a bit of everything; from rustic and run down to carnivorous and classic chic James Beard favorites which speaks to the fact that New Orleans has evolved into a scene beyond Cajun and creole.  That said,  they seem to ensure they protect the cuisine of Louisiana’s unique culture and history as well. I would need day 3 to see if this is always the case.

La Petite Grocery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

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This is a Blog as Lame as the Service at Kwan Dim Sum and Chinese Cuisine

It is 1051 pm and I realized I have not yet blogged in June.  Not doing so would end my streak of writing at least one blog a month since June 2012.  So, a few months back I went to Kwan Dim Sum and Chinese cuisine at Yonge and St. Clair for lunch. I was a little worried because I used to work with a guy with a last name Kwan who was rather annoying.  I arrived around 1145 to a rather empty restaurant.  I looked around and admired the decor which was full of shelves and jugs. I’m sure lucky I booked early because by 1215 it was jam packed. Whew!

We ordered an array of dim sum including steamed dumplings (Har Gow), Sui Mai, deep fried shrimp dumplings, savory crepes and soup for $5-8.  Retrospectively, it wasn’t that original of an order but a good representation of a dim sum lunch. The food was well executed and well presented.

 

Unfortunately, the service was slow and a little rude.  Getting a glass of water was hard and getting tea was even harder.

My Take

This is the most boring blog I have ever written but the clock is ticking and I need to keep the streak alive.  I liked the decor at Kwan.  The dim sum was quite good.  The service, however, was unenthusiatic. It’s a safe and pretty place for those who enjoy dumplings et al. and don’t want to worry about whether the shady signs and run down decor of other dim sum restaurants in the area translate into either bad or overly “authentic” food. In the end, it’s very CaucASIAN.

Jogging and Benching to Burn off Ice Cream and Grilled Cheese in Cincinnati

While researching Cincinnati’s scene, I came across an article from Cincinnati’s travel site telling me about 5 things to do for under $5.  They included observation towers, castles and conservatories  but I was particularly interested in food related activities which included  Graeter’s ice cream and Tom and Chee grilled cheese.

Graeter’s was started by the family with the same name in Cincinnati in 1870.  Since then, it has grown into a 50 million dollar enterprise with around 50 stores and numerous celebrity endorsements.  Since it was an above average night from a temperature perspective, the Over the Rhine location was buzzing.  Normally I’m a sloth when it comes to ice cream choices but the website instructed me to indulge in the black raspberry chocolate chip, their signature and best-selling flavour.  It was well worth a few bucks highlighted by big chunks of dark chocolate mixed within the rich and not sickly sweet raspberry ice cream.

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Black Raspberry and Chocolate Ice Cream

Graeter's Ice Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Tom and Chee’s started in a tent in downtown Cincinnati. Short for Tomato and Cheese, this grilled cheese eatery has steadily grown in the Midwest boosted by endorsements from a couple of  Shark Tank investors as well as a pre-weight loss Adam Richman on man versus food nation. It’s  smart concept for a number of reasons.  One, who doesn’t love a grilled cheese and better yet 16 different ones?  Two, they have a great gimmick with their spin on this classic; using a donut instead of bread with almost 10 different filling combinations. Three, the restaurant decor is fun, fresh and clean.  Bright red and yellow colours highlight the simple interior.

 

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I opted for the same item as Adam…the Blueberry Bleu consisting of blueberry compote, blue cheese and lemon mascarpone within a donut.  It certainly removed the stigma that a grilled cheese is a simple, handheld American snack. This one needed a knife and fork. It was salty and sweet and crunchy and smooth with every bite.  I loved the abundant blue cheese against the marscarpone and the blueberry compote was excellent.

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Blueberry Blue Donut Grilled Cheese Donut (may be a little more than 5 bucks)

Tom+Chee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I made up a few of my own cheap excursions that didn’t involve any eats.  For example, I took a 6k jog and was able to hit three bridges, two states, two rivers and pass both an NFL stadium and an MLB stadium.  Speaking of the latter, the Great American Ballpark is a spectacle. The outside has a recreation of an infield complete with a pitcher, catcher, batter and base runner. The entrance to the stadium bring you into the top of stadium meaning you have to walk down instead of up to get to your seat.

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Johnny Bench Statue Outside the Great American Ballpark

My Take

I’m always interested in the snack scene of a city as much as I am the James Beard nominees or triple D destinations.  In the case of Cincinnati, some of the highlights include an ice cream shop nearly 150 years old and a grilled cheese joint in its infancy.  Both are cheap indulges you can help burn off with a jog through a couple of states or a stroll through a modern ballpark which is the centrepiece of an interesting midwest American city.

 

 

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.

http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/media/gourmand-gourmet/app-intro.aspx

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

Kasa Moto: The Golden Globes of Izakaya

I went to Kasa Moto a few months back and I’ve been struggling a bit with a concept to go along with it.  I’ve pretty much exhausted the Real Housewives so I was in a state of pop culture writer’s block.  Magically, it came to me while I was watching the 2016 Golden Globes because it is a perfect  example of something that is synonymous with hype and phoniness of Yorkville. I’m not a Hollywood zealot but I do love the dynamic and psychology around celebrities.  I’m not talking TMZ; instead I’m referring to the pathological perception that exists in the world of the famous.  I’m no Ricky Gervais, but there are a number of observations I made during the globes that correlate nicely with Avenue and Bloor.

10 “Yorkville Personas” that I saw at the 2016 Golden Globes

  1. The I Can’t Believe it Although I Already Know it Girl- Why the hell does Kate Winslet act surprised when she wins anything?  That ridiculous look on her face is the same look that a trophy wife gets when she recieves a gift she “wasn’t expecting” at a Yorkville soiree.  I think what Kate really wanted to do is strut over to Helen Mirren, look her in the eye, slam down the statue and say “Who’s the Queen now, bitch!?” which in all likelihood would have also solicited an answer from Jennifer Jason Leigh.
  2. Thinks He’s Deeply Philosophical but is Actually Quite  Shallow Guy–  WTF was Tom Hanks talking about when presenting the Cecil B. DeMille award? Even Denzel was looking at him perplexed as hell.  Yes Tom, we know you were incredible in Philadelphia 20 freaking years ago.  It was listening to that dude at the dinner table who name drops and talks to hear his own voice.  Guys like this are usually the only reason I wouldn’t order dessert because it’s sweet to just get away.
  3. The Old Patriarch we Respect Because he still comes to the party Guy– The standing ovation for Sylvester Stallone was almost pathetic.  If you want to honour the guy, give him the Cecil B. DeMille award.  Otherwise, don’t treat him like the guy at the table you need to congratulate because he’s done absolutely nothing  for longer than anybody else.  You want a reason why he hasn’t won a golden globe since 1977? I’ll give you 12; Cobra, Over the Top, Tango and Cash,  Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot, Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, Judge Dread, Spy Kids 3D: Game Over and the Expendables One, Two and Three.
  4.  Funny Drunk Guy- Both Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell remind me of the the guys who need a prop to be funny.  What was with the 2016 new year’s glasses.  In the case of the Yorkville funny guy, the prop is usually booze but could also include you tube clips, memes his wing man (see below).
  5.  I’m Better Than you Because I’m not Funny Drunk Guy-Toby McGuire was the guy who missed the “try to be funny” memo or read it and didn’t give a shit. His stunning performance as…umm…spider-man…must allow him to portray  himself as the serious actor and elevate himself above the other Hollywood asshats by presenting with a demenor that makes a eulogy exciting. Look for serious guy to overdress, repeat looks of disapproval and check his phone repeatedly for stock prices even though the market closed hours before.
  6. I Used to be Freaking Crazy but now I’m Normal so now Respect Me Girl-  First, Lady Gaga already has the Kate Winslet “I can’t believe I won” look down to a science.  Then she throws Leo an elbow and proceeds to spew an acceptance speech that makes less sense than her  Rah rah ah-ah-ah! Ro mah ro-mah-mah, Gaga ooh-la-la! Want your bad romance lyrics. In Yorkville terms, she’d be the one who went to rehab, was released and then thought she was better than everybody else because of the experience.
  7. Wing Man- Much like funny drunk guy, the wing man is the life of the party and does his best to take care of his buddies, even if he looks like a jackass in the process. For example, Jonah Hill, along with the bear on his head, was a great wing man for Channing Tatum’s hair which looked like an animal just as wild or just an unfortunate attempt at a comb over.
  8. What do People See in This Guy? Guy- Most Yorkville dinners usually have a guy who people look at and say why? Whether it’s the dude with a table of beauties or the loud, obnoxious guy with a group of friends, it’s a real head scratcher.  I usually fill out a Golden Globe ballot for shits and giggles. Usually I haven’t see 90% of the nominated movies or shows which is an advantage because I can’t introduce my own bias. However,  I started watching Mr. Robot a few months back. I quite enjoyed it with the exception of Christian Slater.  As the title character, his acting is an painful as ever (remember “The Forgotten”?..it’s hard to forget) so there was no way I was scratching his name on my ballot.  I would have rather him nominated for his role as composite Santa Claus in Robot Chicken.  What’s worse is that he won while the creepy kid who actually makes the show lost (albeit it was to Jon Hamm).  It just makes me mad, man.
  9. BFF Girls– The Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer thing was the best example of this. In a way, Schumer is Lawrence’s DUFF (sorry I saw the  bad movie with the same name recently). In this case, DUFF means Designated Undervalued Funny Friend.  Sure, Schumer got a  golden globe nod but it pales in comparison to Lawrence who beat her and has already fetched an Oscar, a previous Golden Globe and numerous teen, people’s choice and MTV awards.  Looking around any Yorkville venue, you can see a classic example of this BFF/DUFF dynamic at a number of tables, especially the loud ones.
  10. Lives As Her Character Girl- I’m sure most people have no idea who Taraji P. Henson is and many would guess she has something to do with the Muppets.  Most people know the name “Cookie” from Empire however.  I found the fact that her acceptance speech was delivered as Cookie as opposed to Taraji quite reminiscent of the Yorkville patron who mimics the role of whatever famous actress, designer or other mogul the band wagon is hauling around at the time.

Bonus: Ben Mulroney’s post Golden Globe commentary was ridiculous.  Maybe bragging about the fact that J Lo actually stopped to talk to him makes him feel a little better about being the less popular of the two silver spoon fed sons of a former Canadian Prime Minister.

Kasa Moto sounds more like a Victor Hugo character than a fancy Yorkville destination but I’m sure many of the area’s regulars were thrilled that it brought a face lift to the namesake street after Remy’s had become so passe. This renovation  has resulted in a big, bustling and oddly laid out dining room that in some cases gives you a surprising amount of privacy in the midst of a few hundred other people, especially if you are seated on the bottom level. Although it is generally Japanese, it is less sushi (although there is a small selection) and more izakaya without the need to remove shoes or deal with happy people and an artificially  loud environment.  The menu is divided into numerous sections including hot, cold, robata, large plates and ends with the sushi/sashimi platters and maki rolls.

While perusing the menu,  I ordered  the Origami in Flight, a bourbon based cocktail finished with chartreuse and citrus.  It was respectable cocktail at a relatively acceptable price of $14.  This was followed with a carafe of one of the many sake choices available from the bar.

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Origami in Flight $14

We started with some edamame $7 which was served with nanami  and hoisin sauce on the side. The hoisin sauce itself was delicious and the extra heat was a  brilliant  spin on this traditional staple.

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Edamame with Hoisin $7

From the cold menu we agreed on the hamachi ponzu ($18).  The crispy carrot seemed a little odd but added a nice contrast to the fish. The quality of the hamachi itself was good and it was seasoned nicely.

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Hamachi Ponzu $18

From the hot side, the kinoko salad ($13) was really only a salad because it was in a bowl. Otherwise, it was more a spin on a  mushroom tempura than anything.

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Kinoko Salad $13

Robata is one of many words which describe Japanese barbeque.  The literal definition is slow-cooking using  charcoal.  From this menu, we ordered shrimp ($16) and pork belly ($12). I’m not sure if the shrimp is still on the menu but it was bland and overpriced.  The pork belly on the other hand, was nicely rendered and melted in my mouth.  It was nicely complimented with a ume glaze which added a great sweet flavour and caramelization to the dish.

The kamameshi ($18) is a rice dish mixed table side. In hindsight, it was probably the wrong dish to order since the flavours were very similar to the kinoka salad.  Regardless, I wouldn’t have been a fan even if I didn’t have the precursor.  It was a greasy bowl of overpriced mushroom rice.

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Kamameshi $18

Another favorite at many Japanese drop-ins  is the hot stone as a table side cooking vessel. Normally, an advantage of this cooking style is the ability to use less expensive meats such as tongue since you can use really thin cuts.  In Yorkville style, however,  Kasa Moto glamourizes it with either a 4oz Amercian Waygu cut for $24 or 5oz of Japanese Waygu for $80. We opted for the cheaper of the two which was served with a house made ponzu and steak sauce.

I couldn’t leave without trying the sushi, so I reverted to my standard choice of spicy tuna rolls.  They were average at best and overpriced at $12.

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Spicy Tuna Rolls $12

My Take

Izakaya restaurants are the rage in Toronto but have typically opened as boisterous and inexpensive destinations.  Kasa Moto is like the golden globes of these trendy eateries.  It smartly glamourizes the experience in Yorkville fashion by offering a classy decor, professional service and upgraded ingredients at a premium price.  (eg. Waygu beef instead of a cheaper cut for the hot stone).  In many cases the food was prepared nicely.  The pork belly was rendered and seasoned with brilliance and the simple twist on the edamame was divine.  On the flip side the shrimp was bland and the kamameshi was mushy and oily. Most of the menu was rather overpriced but this is to be expected in the heart of Yorkville.

In addition, if you go there is a good chance you will see one of many of the aforementioned Yorkville personalities in full action.  The BFF girls are almost a guarantee and I had the privilege of being within earshot of  “thinks he’s deeply philosophical but actually shallow guy” whose ridiculous banter was lapped up by”lives as her character girl”.

In the end, it was a decent dining experience but if you want true izakaya there are cheaper choices in the GTA that will give you food just as good. That said, a visit to Kasa Moto  will give you countless opportunities to witness the best of Yorkville personalities even if you if you only end up being  a seat filler.

Kasa Moto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Midmost Rating of Bar Raval and Why Justin Trudeau Would Make A Promising Food Reviewer

 

I think food blogging is a bit like being a  member of parliament.  First, you have the liberty of being able to say whatever you want but with the knowledge that somebody is going to publicly disagree with your opinion.  In fact, some of them will just be nasty about it.  I remember writing a rather negative review of Hudson Kitchen shortly after all the TIFF sightings a couple of years back only to have a reader tell me how wrong I was (for the record I need to point out that Hudson Kitchen is now closed so I wasn’t that far off) and suggesting that I was not a blog to follow.  Second, like politics,  there is an element of responsibility with any kind of blogging.  I’m not saying what I write is going to make or break a restaurant, but what I say is very public and readily accessible so I try to be extremely careful even if I don’t like a place.  It is never my intention to shit on a chef or their restaurant because it’s like shitting on their character. At the same time, however, I shouldn’t be crapped on as a patron either.  Third, I have to consider not only my opinion but also the opinions of friends and colleagues I respect much like a politician has to respect his or her constituents.

For these reasons, I think Justin Trudeau would be a good food reviewer.  Consider the following:

  1. He has a sizable following on social media . For example, he has 1.2 million twitter followers which means his omnipotent opinion would be read (and maybe even retweeted)  by the masses.
  2. Many of those who read food blogs are his target audience…the entitled generation.   His election win was driven by, among others, those who believe that social injustices of the world can be solved by T-shirts, tattoos and that eating ethnic food is a symbol of global solidarity.
  3. He can post his pretty profile pic along with his reviews because that face can’t lie, right?
  4. Since both yelp and zomato use a 5 point Likert scale to rank restaurants, he can rate everything 4. That way we could count on his nauseating neutrality knowing he doesn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or show favouritism, even if they deserve it.
  5. He can change his opinion whenever it’s convenient.  Even if his initial review makes absolutely no sense and sounds like it came out his ass, he can always revisit things under different circumstances and use reasons beyond his control  to justify changing his mind…again and again.

So how does all of this relate to Bar Raval? I have two colleagues who I respect as good judges of restaurants.  That said, they differ on a few  and Bar Raval is one of them.  One found it charming and delightful and other thought it was crowded, over hyped and served marginal food. Keeping in mind that one experience doesn’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of a place, I felt like I was going to be the tie breaker.

One of the early criticisms I heard about Bar Raval was its tiny size and no reservation policy which obviously makes it difficult to ensure a spot upon arrival.  A few months ago, when patio season was still feasible, I decided to go in the mid afternoon to grab a drink and an early dinner.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because viewing their menu online is more difficult than playing Myst.

Having secured a corner patio seat, I did a quick survey of my surrounding and realized I was in hipster haven.  In fact, one of the many hipsters ended up being my waitress for the afternoon. Drink wise, I was drawn to the Gothic quarter ($13).  I was a bit excited because, although I’m far from a world traveler, I HAVE been to the Gothic quarter in Barcelona and thought I was REALLY cool to have this namesake drink.  As scripted, however, it was pink ( I have this habit of ordering pink drinks regardless of what the description is). I can swallow my manhood and say it was a decent and despite its appearance, even a little bit manly.

Gothic Quarter $13
Gothic Quarter $13

Since I was solo that afternoon and most of the  came in pairs,  I spent a good amount of time wondering how I was going to spend my finite gut capacity yet still get a good flavour of the place. The problem was solved when the waitress indicated I could order singles of any of the pintxos on the menu.  As I was deciding, I ordered some delicious aged Mahon cheese ($8) with some bread ($2) which I easily consumed while deciding on the rest.

Aged Mahon Cheese $8 with Bread $2
Aged Mahon Cheese $8 with Bread $2

I ordered singles of the tuna pickle gilda, the stracciatella with boquerones, the morcilla with egg and the cojunado.  As an afterthought, I’ll admit they were not the most diverse choices but I love tuna, lovingly remember the boquerones from Bar Isabel and can’t turn down an egg on anything. Plus, I wasn’t about to crack a can or sardines without somebody else helping me. Ranging from about $3.50 to $4.50 per piece, each dish was representative of what I remember from both Barcelona and other Spanish tribute restaurants such as Coqueta in San Francisco and Amada in Philadelphia.  My favorite had to be the morcilla. Flavourwise, it was balanced and seasoned nicely and had an enjoyable, crumbly texture which complimented the perfectly cooked quail egg.

 

My Take 

Many factors dictate a good or bad experience and n=1 is not always indicative of a restaurant’s overall semblance which is a big reason that the opinions of others are important.  My experience was in between bad and terrific.  In other words,  it was good. On one hand, I’m keen to come back and admire the Gaudiesque interior while sipping coffees or signature cocktails while eating pastries, pintxos, the raw bar or some other type of tapas  I didn’t get to try this time.  On the other hand, the thought of being crammed shoulder to shoulder with hipsters in close quarters like the sardines I’m eating is far from appealing. However, in the end, I will side with optimistic  neutrality give Bar Raval a very Justinesque “4”. This wishy-washy, indecisive and up the middle denouement  leads me to conclude that not only do I sound like a politician…I also sound like  a liberal.

Bar Raval 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?

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