Astronomy vs Astrology: A Story of Getting Lucky with Mira and Dasha..Two Urban Dictionary Sweethearts

I like astronomy. In fact, it was my favorite elective and turned out to be my best mark in university. It’s a fun combination of three of my favorite things; math, science and trivia. I still remember the order of the stars (OBAFGKM) and my facial haired professor’s challenge to deviate from the sexist “Oh be a fine girl, kiss me” and come up with a more politically correct mnemonic. Mine was “Only Bearded Astronomers Feel Good Knowing Mars”. Not sure he was impressed.

Astrology, on the other hand, is less about science and more about entertainment. I certainly don’t believe in the validity of horoscopes beyond coincidence but it’s at times refreshing to attribute your issues and actions to planetary alignment. That said, it’s really easy to pin my sometimes ridiculous stubbornness on the fact I’m a Taurus and not just an Irish asshole.

The name Mira has a number of meanings and is common in Latin and Slavic cultures, usually meaning admirable, wondrous or related to peace. Urban dictionary calls Mira a extremely lovable girl. Miras are usually the smartest in their class and will go to extreme lengths to show it. Mira’s are loyal people and when given a chance, could grow to be your bff. Mira is also a red giant star in the constellation Cetus and is sometimes visible to the naked eye. In astrology, some cite Cetus as the 14th zodiac sign.

Mira is one of the handful of new Peruvian restaurants which has popped up in the GTA over the last couple of years. Located in an alley between King and Wellington and only identified by a small, worn metal plate, it can be a little tricky to find. Once inside, it opens up into a busy space highlighted by an open kitchen above and a large bar within a narrow space below filled with murals, mirrors and funky flooring.

Drinkwise, I started with the El Manana cocktail, a bourbon based “booze forward” spin on an old fashioned flavored with honey, mint and lime (not pictured). From there it was wine. Truth told it was tough to find a great selection at a price point that less than three digits. First, we decided on a rather disappointing Andover Pinot for $80 followed by a more adventurous and better Portuguese Uivo Vinhas Velhas blend for the same price.

As expected, the menu is a smorgasbord of all sorts of proteins in the form of ceviches, anticuchos and larger mains. From a seafood perspective, the octopus, accompanied with aji and potato, although well prepared, was a bit of a flimsy starter at $22. The tostada morado ($18) was clever collection of classic tuna and central American flavors (corn, avocado and cilantro). The tiradito hiramasa ($21) was the best of the smaller seafood dishes we sampled…fresh kampachi marinated in citrusy tiger’s milk and topped with sweet chili jam. The last fish dish was a fantastic whole branzino ($46) topped with a rich sauce which enhanced the subtle of the fish quickly nicely.

Land anticuchos included costilla (short rib $19) and cordero (lamb $17). The fatty short rib was balanced with sweet, spice and earthy truffle. Admittedly, I’m not a lamb fan so I wasn’t surprised to find the cordero rather unremarkable. In my opinion, the pollo inchacapi ($28) was the STAR of the night. The hen was covered in colourful sauces and garnishes with peanut, chili and tamarind notes which added visual appealing in additional to the incredible flavors. The side corn dish mimicked the flavours of the other dishes and was a nice colourful addition to whole spread.

Dasha is a girl’s Russian name meaning “god’s gift”. According to urban dictionary, Dasha is the sweetest girl in the universe. If u mess with her friends u will have 2 deal with her. She is caring, funny and very talanted. She will always be there 4 u when ur in trouble. If u meet a Dasha, ur life will change and u will always have a smile on ur face. In astrology, Dasha is a Hindi term used to indicate planetary periods. Vimshottari dasha  assumes that the maximum duration of life of an individual human being is 120 years which is the aggregate duration of all nine planetary periods reminding us that Betty White still has a while to go.

Dasha is the newest project of esteemed chef Akira Back and features classic and upscale Chinese food along with traditional karaoke rooms available upstairs. Like Mira, finding it is not intuitive..it a bit off the beaten path tucked down an alley off of King street. It also features a larger bar and an open kitchen. The interior can be described as Chinese market meets the standard Toronto industrial look.

There is a mystic component to the drink menu. I ordered the Iron Fist, Dasha’s take on an old fashioned which pours from a kettle amidst a cloud of dry ice. It was slick and smooth and booze forward of course.

Iron Fist Cocktail

Food wise, we started with a couple of small plates including chicken balls ($9) and wasabi prawns ($14), the latter at the recommendation of the waitstaff. The chicken balls were pretty standard and a lot less bulky than the ones which normally headline your local joint’s family dinner combo and the dipping sauce lacked the fluorescence of the standard sweet and sour sauce but that was made up with the bright green wasabi shrimp which glowed in the surrounding dim light. The crunchy shrimp was surprisingly balanced with sweet accents and heat typical of horseradish.

Next were the dasha fried noodles ($12) and steamed har gow dim sum (which I’m told is a traditional way to celebrate Chinese new year) for $14. Neither dish was overly memorable…the noodles were pretty generic and the dim sum was a bit disappointing. Also, I was with a Chinese colleague who literally cringed at the har gow’s price point which she deemed almost insulting given the same offering usually goes for 1/3-1/2 the price at any other dim sum house and one might argue those ones taste even better.

We finished the dinner with the black cod, black truffle duck ($49) and side miso eggplant ($13) both in which I thoroughly enjoyed. The cod and duck was masterfully prepared and presented. The shaved black truffle was delightful. The eggplant was also flavourful and nicely highlighted the proteins with the unami flavour of both the eggplant itself and the miso seasoning.

I’m also reluctant to go too crazy with dessert at most Chinese restaurants because I honestly can’t recall any Asian dessert topping my list of best of all time sweets. Regardless, we tried the banana spring roll with strawberry ice cream as well as the with green tea ice cream. Let’s just say neither cracks the list. The ice cream was quite good but the accompanying pastries were average at best.

My Take

Despite being very nice ladies according to urban dictionary, Mira and Dasha are also two new and highly sought eateries with many similarities. Both are located in hidden spots off of King street west. Both have busy and vibrant interiors with open kitchens and disproportionately large bars. Both offer exciting cocktails and nicely represent their respective culture through traditional yet clever food. You will pay for the ambiance however and may even overpay, especially if you want mediocre wine, dim sum or dessert.

Despite this adventure, I have to admit I’m still a bigger fan of astronomy than astrology. I much prefer red giants and white dwarfs to mercury retrogrades and horoscopes. That said, perhaps my old scientific and stubborn Taurean mind could be changed to better appreciate astrological intervention, especially if my Dasha fortune cookie ever rings true. Where’s Mira and Dasha when you need them.

My Dasha Fortune Cookie

SOS: Pasta, Palindromes and Growing Up with ABBA

A few days ago, number nerds across the earth ignored the annoying celebration of #okboomers worshiping portending rodents and instead praised palindrome day (02022020). This year’s focus on palindromes have also brought back childhood memories. Growing up, I’ll REFER to the time I spent at my grandparent’s house. My grandmother was an avid reader and I dedicated a good amount of time to flipping through the pages of novels and scaring the shit out of myself by reading a few pages of Stephen King or Dean Koontz when nobody was looking. The other thing I loved was their eight track player. Their music collection made me realize a few things; I was never a fan of country music and I loved Roy Orbison and yes…I also loved ABBA.

ABBA was a universal phenomenon in the 70s and were on LEVEL with the disco craze in terms of popularity. To me, ABBA was the transition from kiddie music to the real stuff. The catchy beats and simple lyrics made it easy to follow along at a time when I was still uninhibited by grown-up social standards. I thought Chiquitita was a song about bananas and Waterloo was about the city my uncle lived in.

Getting back to 02/02/2020, I made sure I opened my spotify account so I could pay homage to the ultimate pop culture palindrome…SOS by ABBA. This song is the only hot 100 single to date in which both the title, the credited act and the musical genre are all palindromes. Plus, I have to admit it is still catchy as hell.

In commemoration of palindrome day from a culinary perspective, it made sense to check out SOS (although pronounced sauce), a casual pasta joint on John Street that’s been on my RADAR for a while. Their sign encourages you to change your past(a) which isn’t hard because my historically my Irish MOM was hardly creative with Italian food…except for the fact she adds carrots to spaghetti sauce. The concept is simple…you can choose a house made short or long pasta with a preferred sauce and optional toppings. Alternatively, you can opt for one of their daily specials. If gnocchi or ravioli is your vice instead, you can go that route as well. They also offer gluten friendly and vegan options as well.

Since I wanted the full experience on visit one, I went with the surf and turf which was a busy mix of crab and lobster ravioli topped with a wine alfredo/ragu sauce accompanied with a couple of shrimp and meatballs. I’ll admit, it was a little over the top but gave me a great opportunity to experience the diversity of the menu all in one dish. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the sauces were robust with flavour. The alfredo was drenched in garlic and the ragu was brimming with tender chunks of braised beef. Both the meatballs and the shrimp were nicely seasoned. Since the pasta is made to order, it’s not RACECAR fast but is quick enough the visit over the the NOON hour and still get back to work on time.

SOS Surf and Turf Pasta $18

My Take

The last time we had a palindrome day, Henry V was the King of Germany and the Holy Roman Emperor of Italy. I hardly think the Italians celebrated by eating surf and turf pasta so times have changed. I celebrated 02/02/2020 by listening to ABBA and eating ravioli. I need to reiterate that although I have an emotional attachment to the Swedish quartet, my regular playlist usually focuses on music influenced by my DAD including Beatles songs and great Gilmour guitar SOLOS. In the end, SOS is a quick and relatively inexpensive choice if you are craving pasta and if your lunch partner is craving charcuterie instead, you can just tell them it’s 2020, so GO HANG A SALAMI, I’M A LASAGNA HOG.

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.

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

The Solemn Story of Snackies by a Montgomery who wasn’t Lucy

One of the most treasured stories in Canadian folklore is that of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  It’s the coming of age story of a determined redhead who was mistakenly adopted into a farming family in PEI and has been told and retold through books and other media such as film, television and even live productions.  Over a hundred years later, numerous Toronto restaurants are writing their own stories in an effort to capture the essence of Canadiana. Montgomery’s is one of these. Although I can’t attest to the origin of the name (it certainly isn’t that of the owners), I could use my creative licence and suggest that it is may be named after the famed author.  So, although I’m sure she could pen a much better story than I, I’ll attempt to summarize the experience in my own literary style:

There’s a restaurant called Montgomery’s.  It’s a modest place and apparently purposely so. One could easy walk past the meager storefront searching for a place to dine.  The interior is a bit meager  highlighted by a rather large and seemingly cozy rug/tapestry hanging along one wall and tables and chairs that looked like hand me downs from an estate sale. With the plain white walls it looks a bit like a prison visitation room.  Once seated, you may hear a fable from the waitstaff justifying a thirty dollar price tag for an Italian beer. If you are really lucky, in surroundings lit only by the small candle flickering on the table you may hear the tale of Snackies the Omish cow.  Snackies was aptly named by a 2 year old on a farm that, despite, her tender age, was a bovine clairvoyant who knew that one day, her farmyard friend would adorn a plate in downtown Toronto served medium rare.  In the original story, the name of the cow remained a secret, only to be shared with those who were curious or wanted to know the name needed to canonize this cow into culinary sainthood.

mont-steak
Snackies

The trout, sadly, did not receive the same attention. It was simply called trout, named in a fashion much like the majority of the characters (ie. bear, skunk and muskrat) in the Franklin cartoon.  Perhaps the two year oracle would have named it Fishy or Swimmy but alas one will never know.  The only other protein of mention was an small egg custard who’s bite was bigger than its bark in that it was full of sweet, salt and unami flavours. The bread took a dip in the lentils or camouflaged itself behind vibrant green butter. The chain gang of vegetables were housed on white plates and bowls as bleak as the walls themselves. The lettuce drowned in its sorrows and the beans, carrots and potatoes were particularly sour to be there. The tarte tatin, however, was the apple of everybody eye.  The entire group, when together, made for a fun and eventful adventure despite being housed in a concrete tundra. The end.

My Take

I’m a bit behind in my reviews so the menu has changed often since I went a couple of months ago.  That said, the concept seems to have remained the same; seasonal vegetables with a few proteins served in a fashion (ie. plain) which forces the food to do the talking. That said, the cup of lettuce seems to be a consistent character in this story and is worth a try although you probably won’t dream of bathing in the broth at night.  All in all, the food was not mind blowing but it was good.  The custard was divine and Snackies represented. The vegetables were a bit hit and miss but all around good.

The concept of the restaurant, from the shabby store front to the ugly floors and odd rug/tapestry thing on the wall, bothered me. Some people have told me this is purposeful and if it is I apologize for not understanding.  Maybe it’s like that painting at a museum I stare at thinking “WTF”, but I perceive more as “we couldn’t be bothered so let’s pretend like we meant to do it”.  From a decor perspective, to me there is a difference between industrial and correctional.

I’m a bit perplexed at the lack of social media coverage.  Sure, the opening was covered by Toronto life and Blogto but other than that the normal review sites have been as barren as Montgomery’s walls. There are only 9 yelp reviews and zomato hasn’t registered enough voters to even have a rating.  This is not always indicative of overall noise but it’s a bit odd.  I do, however, notice that they do take time to respond to many of the reviews, good or bad.  They are also closed on Sunday and Monday now which could be interpreted in a number of ways.  I guess we have to wait and see if this place will turn out more like Anne of Green Gables or the Pat of Silver Bush.

Given the story of Snackies the cow as the lead character among a diverse cast of plain, misunderstood and diverse characters all set in a drab decor, if I was a literary critic I would say Montgomery’s can best be described as  a tale in which AA Milne meets Orange is the new Black.

Montgomery's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Case of Deja Yuzu Involving Sake and Slot Machines

I was in the mood for sushi so I opened up my Zomato app in downtown Toronto. Not surprisingly, a 100 places popped up (including a place I think was called 100 sushi). I was quickly grouping them into a number of categories:

  1. Cheap, no frills places where a California roll runs you $4 and you’re lucky if you find anything fancier than a dynamite roll on the menu.
  2. All you can eat joints where quantity usually beats quality for at least $25.
  3. Omakase, where you hope the chef gives you all you can eat for a good chunk of change.
  4. Moderately priced destinations boasting nice decors, signature rolls and even some uni if it’s in season.
  5. Places were sushi is an afterthought among a number of other bite size delights such as izakaya.
  6. Super expensive (ie. access to expense account, trying to impressive your friends or hoping to get laid) locales.

Before becoming zomato, urbanspoon used to have an app which looked like a slot machine.  You’d identify an area, type of food and price range and voila…it would spit out an option.  It was a brainless and chancy endevour but I kind of miss it, especially considering it now required me to actually ponder my options.

I quickly omitted option one since I have an expense report and my son, whose sushi diet consists solely of California rolls, wasn’t with me.  I also omitted six because my expense account isn’t that big, I was alone and not looking to hook up. Two was off the table because it’s January and my Christmas girth was telling me all you can eat was not on option.  Three would take too long and when your primary objective is sushi five just doesn’t cut it.  This left option three which I further narrowed down to Yuzunohana, the relative longstanding Adelaide street favorite.

At first the service was steallar. It was a chilly and I was quickly offered some green tea as I was seated at the sushi counter.  As I peered over the menu, I was offered a spinach amuse  bouche which was quite fresh and delicate.  I decided on a few of the chef’s sashimi choices including King Salmon and an order of uni.  Both came quickly and were ridiculously fresh and beautifully presented.  I was reminded once again why uni is one of the most unique foods around.  It was silky and naughty.

I also went with my sushi standards; miso soup, gyoza and spicy tuna rolls along with their house specialty yuzu roll . The dumplings were some of the best I’ve had in Toronto. The miso was spot on as well.  The rolls were acceptable but average.  I was a bit disappointed about both the taste and appearance of the spicy rolls.  The yuzu rolls (which was topped with torched salmon and scallop) were nicely presented but were overly sweet for my liking.  With my tea long gone  and my dishes empty, I did need to wait a bit for the bill which seemed to correspond with the surge of online orders from  uber eats, foodie, hurrier and whatever other food delivery services that might exist.  The ground zero of assembly was right beside me and the paper bags were flying out the door as  I was ignored just a little bit.

My Take

As I was sitting there, I had a little deja yuzu.  I’m not sure how long Yuzu No Hana has been around, but I swear I went here with a buddy in the 90s. Throughout the night I felt like the Flash or another tv character who has frequent recollections of past events. I recall we were smashed and decided we were going to drop in for a quick sake. I remember being told that they weren’t a bar and that we needed to get food in order to have a drink.

Although I wasn’t overly thrilled by the sushi rolls the gyoza, sashimi and miso soup were excellent. All in all I enjoyed the experience and it met the aforementioned criteria for a mid-range sushi joint even without the help of the urbanspoon slot machine.

Yuzu No Hana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I Had DINR with the Prime Minister in the North and with the Navy…Sort of.

I’m oblivious sometimes.  Sure, I can navigate through a number of websites searching so what’s hot in the restaurant world but I often miss things right in front of my face. I was in Ottawa for a conference recently and needed a quick spot for dinner.  As part of my search, I stumbled across DINR, a rather new app which revolves around last minute reservations at some of the most coveted restaurants in the country.  Luckily, Ottawa is one of the featured  cities so I managed to secure the chef’s table at North and Navy with a few hours notice. North and Navy is a relatively new restaurant which moved into the space left when Beckta switched locations. The concept plays on what the owners call similarities between the climates of Northern Italy and Eastern Ontario with a focus on local ingredients.

I was staying at a hotel down the road so it was nice walk to the Nepean street location. I noticed that the air was crisp indicating that fall was here.  What I didn’t notice was that there were a number of black sedans outside the restaurant.  We were quickly seated at the rail and waited for our last guest who arrived and immediately commented on the motorcade parked outside.  I laughed and offered to look around the restaurant on the way to the washroom in case the beloved Justin Trudeau may be in the house.  On the way back I made eye contact (well..maybe one way eye contact) which somebody who faintly resembled Sophie who was sitting with a man with flowing Pantene locks.  I didn’t dare stop or make eye contact to confirm given  I’m not sure of the Canadian rules around approaching a head of state in a dining establishment (although a shirtless selfie may have been in the cards), so I went back to my seat and mentioned I thought it was him. Another member of our party got up, walked past the table, did a 360 and quickly returned to confirm the sighting.

We were greeted by a pleasant employee who went through the description of the menu using the airplane safety speech that has become the norm for any shared plate eatery currently in existence.  We were encouraged to try the cicheti (ie. Italian snack plate) which featured grissini, marinated anchovy, oyster, mackerel and a homemade meatball.It was served on a silver platter worthy of let’s say….a prime minister.  We collectively destroyed the plate’s contents with good reviews.

north-cichetti
Cicheti $2-4 plus funky socks and crocs in lieu of a Prime Ministerial selfie 

There were four primi pasta courses on the menu and we ordered them all. The potato tortaletti with matching brodo was pleasantly plated with some pickled onions. The tender and unique pasta was spot on but the delicate but precisely seasoned  broth stole the show.  A bit more along the traditional path of Northern Italy, the bigoli con le vongole was another hit in its simplicity. Great pasta, great sauce and great seafood. I’m typically not a risotto fan but I thoroughly enjoyed  the pancetta and corn offering.  It provided cream corn comfort sprinkled with salty pieces of pancetta. The mint parpadelle with abundant mushrooms was an incredible concoction of earthy flavours.  The mint leaves offered a unorthadox yet pleasant freshness.  In the end, each primi choice offered textures and tastes that ranged from Harper conservative to flowing lock liberal.

As an intermezzo, we went for the raw zucchini with olives, mint and pecorino plus cured eggplant with house yoghurt.  I love chef’s tables, especially when dishes involve meticulous construction.  Both this dishes were assembled with a pinpoint precision which made then as appealing to the eye as to the tongue. The zucchini cleansed the aftermath of the previous dishes while the eggplant foreshadowed what was to come.

Given the sizable amount of food we had already consumed, we decided on two of the  available entrees; the trout with brussel sprouts and parsnip and the Quebec duck with fennel and pear.  The fish was brilliant.  Maybe it was my bias given the fact that I’m tired of every fish dish in a restaurant currently being served with some kind of tomato.  Instead, crunchy sprouts and a rich and pleasantly pungent parsnip puree were the perfect compliment to the pristine pesce. The red cabbage and the pickled squash (which was addictive by itself) added colour and another dimension to the dish.  Duck, especially Quebec canard, seems to be a staple in Ottawa and North and Navy was no exception.  There is an emerging trend coupling fresh fruit with protein and in this case, it was sliced pear.  It wasn’t my favorite dish of the night but still hit decent flavour and textural notes.

Since we were sitting at the chef’s table, we were able to get some great reflections and insights from the kitchen.  Adam Vettorel, North and Navy’s head chef, stopped his meticulous plating to chat for a bit.  He had a confident yet awkward personality which is seemingly quite characteristic among those with the role of chief cook.  We were treated to a story about a recent competition in which he opted for successfully pickling of squash instead of cooking it, a tactic which was transferred with some regularity to his menu soon after.

Dessert was classic Italian which nicely reflected the  general theme of North and Navy; traditional tiramisu and playful panna cotta. Like the rest of the meal, the fundamental execution was brilliant and combined old and new world ingredients and flavours.

My Take

Although I doubt Mr. Trudeau used nor needed the DINR app, it is a great tool for an unorganized, indecisive and whimsical food fan.   I would personally argue that a culinary celebrity sighting if usually more exciting than a political one but dining with the prime minister (sort of) makes for a good story, especially when chatting with friends and colleagues who figurative bleed red or appreciate good hair. That said, North and Navy made its food, especially the pasta, worth throwing into the discussion as well.  Adam Vettorel et al., unlike his famous guest,can effectively  execute a plan. North and Navy’s campaign promised Northern Italy with local influence and they delivered.  In the end, they get my vote even if I’m not a card carrying Liberal.

North & Navy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

New Orleans Day 4: Compere Lapin and Shaya Reminded me that Drew Brees Won’t be Around for Ever

With the NFL season now in full force, I am reminded that there is a changing of the guard when it comes to quarterbacks.  With Peyton’s retirement, the Brady suspension and iffy performances by some of the league’s veterans QBs coupled with the emergence of new blood lad by the likes of Carson Wentz, notice has been served.  This might not be that different than the food scene, especially in New Orleans.  Although the long standing staples of Cajun cuisine continue to be alive and well, one can argue that they are being upstaged by the new kids on the block which include Shaya, the 2016 James Beard winner for best new restaurant in the US.

Day 4 was a brunch more than breakfast day so my food adventures began down the road at Compere Lapin in the Warehouse district.  Once again, the weather was ominous so a location close to the convention centre was most desirable.  The website describes this destination as follows :”Inspiration for the menu comes from the traditional Caribbean folktales featuring a mischievous rabbit named Compère Lapin that Chef Nina Compton read during her childhood in St. Lucia. Drawing on the story’s themes of exploration and play, she mixes the indigenous ingredients and rich culinary heritage of New Orleans with those of her Caribbean roots. Tapping into her classical French culinary training and deep experience with Italian cuisine, the result is a playful menu that takes food you know, and makes it food you love”. In addition, Eater New Orleans included it on their where to have brunch list.

The decor is roomy and industrial.  We were there early so the crowds had yet to materialize.  The smallish brunch menu featured a mix of sweet and savory so I indulged in a little of both.  I started with a vanilla bruleed grapefruit which I thought was a smart twist on the breakfast classic. Next was a mix of two of my favorite things: biscuits and gravy and poached eggs. I found it a bit underwhelming; the heat from both a spice and temperature perspective was a bit lacking.  The service was decent but I actually found the cleanup crew better than the waitstaff. My water glass was never empty and the gentleman was polite and courteous.  The actual service was just ok.

Since it was brunch I really didn’t have a formal midday meal but took the opportunity when I had a few minutes to sample the famous grilled oysters from Drago’s. Almost 25 years ago, a little experimentation with one of nature’s most delicious offerings became what is now Drago’s signature dish.  I was a bit reluctant given my wariness toward cooked oysters in general but figured garlic, butter, herbs and cheese on anything is never a bad idea on anything.  I sat at a seat in front of the grill and watched the magic happen.  With a beer in and a cup of gumbo on the side, I delved into a half dozen for $12. Even with the large chunk of baguette covering part of the plate, it’s clear that a New Orleans half dozen is a bit generous.  Not only that, I felt like a bit of a seagull because I was also thrown an few extra by the guy at the grill once in a while.  I wasn’t complaining because they were delicious and cooked just enough to maintain the taste and texture I enjoy with a platter of raw ones. The gumbo was pretty solid too.  In the end, it was an excellent pseudo-lunch rounded out by great food and incredible service.

Dinner was at the highly anticipated Shaya which took this year’s James Beard crown as best new US restaurant. Also located in the popular garden district,  Shaya, which is the namesake of respected chef New Orleans Alon Shaya,  totally deviates from the definition of New Orleans cuisine and instead offers food inspired by Israel. The decor is a modernized old Europe but we found the table a little odd in the sense that it was ridiculously high.  Perhaps it was a means to deter people from putting their elbows on the table because unless you were six foot five, this task was nearly impossible.  I was happy to be with a larger group which allowed me to sample a number of the small plates they offer on the menu. For example, they offer ten or so small plates for a reasonable $23 when you order 5.  We went with the tabouleh, morrocan carrots, ikra, pickles and baba ganoush.  To go along with it we also got the tahini and soft cooked egg hummus.  All hit the mark in their respective ways.  With that we also ordered a spattering of other traditional offerings including fattoush, crispy halloumi, falafel and some tahini and soft cooked egg hummus.  All were fresh, nicely presented,well spiced and a reasonable value.

The service was less than stellar which is likely one of the reasons there were long delays between the above and main dishes.  That said, it allowed our bodies to adjust to the copious amounts of freshly baked pita (there is an oven in the back) that we inhaled with the above dishes so I wasn’t upset that we only opted for three mains; the chicken, hanger steak and the slow cooked lamb. Each main incorporates both elements of middle-eastern ingredients and cooking styles (eg. tagine and slow roast) to produce food that hit both modern and traditional notes.

Ok, maybe my visit was reminiscent of my childhood compete with soft food, a high chair and service on my mother’s terms but the food was spot on and beautifully presented.  Whether or not it is deserving of best new restaurant in America I will leave it to the real critics but I’m convinced the James Beard committee has a soft spot for both New Orleans and for pumping up the ethnic flavour of the day and Shaya meets both criteria.  What was most disappointing was the service.  It seems like even the boundaries of the big easy, which once housed the definition of southern hospitality, can’t repel the infiltration of self-centred service typical of the new foodie generation. Oh well, I guess even Drew Brees will have to hang up the cleats someday.

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

Drago's Seafood Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Compere Lapin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

New Orleans Day 1: Hanging in The Garden of Eatin’with a Few MoPhos

I have heard mixed things about New Orleans.  Some have told me they love the party atmosphere while others say the city was a mess before Katrina and is even worse after. I landed with “New Orleans is Sinking” playing over and over in my head.  The flight from Detroit was decent and was made more exciting by a half dozen drunkish but well-behaved  guys who were on the way to a bachelor party.

My goals for the day were simple. First, I wanted to get accustomed to the weather which  characterized by constant humidity, warm nights and random thunderstorms.  Second, I wanted to explore the city a little and hit up a few DDDs along the way. Third, I was looking forward to ending by going to the James Beard nominated Mo-Pho for dinner.

Once I hit the hotel, I began my trek toward the lowering garden district which is characterized by small shops and some of the hottest restaurants in NOLA.  Among these eateries lie 4 triple Ds. My first stop was Joey K’s, an American restaurant with a cajun/creole flare and daily specials ranging from oven roasted turkey to ham hocks with lima beans. I was surprised how busy it was given the time of day.   I sat at the bar and was greeted by a friendly waitress who promptly served me a frozen goblet of Abita.  Afterwards, I chatted with the waiter and, given I had just landed, decided to go authentic with the eggplant napoleon appetizer ( I was drawn to the crawfish cream sauce) and rice and beans with smoked sausage. He chuckled a bit and suggested I stick with a side of the rice and beans since the appetizer was “big”. It was a good call.  The eggplant was huge and ridiculously delicious.  It was served piping hot and the sauce was the star.  The rice and beans were bona fide belly friendly and I was quite happy I didn’t opt for the full portion.

In the end, Joey K’s has a fun vibe, good service and great food whether you are looking for comfort food or authentic southern cooking.

Food-4.5 Guyz

Service- 4.5 Guyz

Vibe- 4 Guys

Total- 13/15

My second stop was Mahony’s Po’boy which was located just a little down the road in the Garden district.  It wasn’t nearly as busy as Joey K’s but it was a bit later.  Once again, I was greeted by a friendly waitress who recommended a Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager which was the perfect pairing for the heat and humidity.  The Po’Boy is a New Orleans staple which legend says was named after the fact that striking workers were named poor boys and that restaurateurs Benny and Clovis (great names) Martin coined the term for that reason.  The peacemaker is a particular po’boy which at one time contained shrimp and oysters but has evolved (at least in the case of Mahony’s) as a sandwich with one or the other.  After a chat with the waitress, I opted for the fried oyster version.  I realized I’m not really a fan. I love raw oysters and frying them is a disservice, especially when served between a toasted baguette, especially when the condiments are skimpy and the cheese isn’t melted.

mahonys sandwich
The Peacemaker $14.95

Food- 3.5 Guyz

Service- 4 Guyz

Vibe- 3 Guyz

Total- 10.5 Guyz

My third stop in the Garden district was the Creole creamery,a rather unorthodox DDD in the fact that all they serve is ice cream.  From reading the reviews, I was told to expect bold and unique flavours.  Deep down I was hoping for something really cool like rice and beans but that said, there was still some interesting choices.  Even better was the fact they offered a 4 scoop sampler for $4.50 which allowed for a little diversity.  I decided on cream cheese, hibiscus cranberry, thai basil coconut and magnolia flower. When I have ice cream I hope the custard base balanced enough to give great mouth feel but not so overwhelming that it masks the unique flavour of each offering.  CC passed the test.  Each scoop was distinct and recognizable.  The magnolia flower was the best of the bunch; it was subtle but very present. The environment was very American ice cream parlor but the service was quite laissez-fare.

creole creamery ice cream
Croele Cream Cheese, Hibiscus Cranberry, Thai Basil Coconut and Magnolia Flower Sampler  $4.50

Food- 4/5 Guyz

Service- 3/5 Guyz

Vibe- 3.5/5 Guyz

Total- 10.5/15 Guyz

I was hoping that a 15 km walk through the garden of eatin’ would burn some of the food I ate and get me ready for my nightcap at MoPho. Lead by James Beard and food and wine “best new chef” Michael Gulotta, MoPho is best described as Southeast Asia by way of New Orleans. I was excited to see how exactly the two would be fused.

The location is a bit of a hike out of our New Orleans core and the space itself is very stripmally. That said, the interior is a trendy interpretation of a Thai joint and they have a great and nicely cheesy patio out back which we braved along with the normal early summer humidity of Louisiana.

For the most part, the menu was straight forward Thai and Vietnamese with a little Southeast America in the form of Cedar Key clams and P and J oysters.  Other hints of New Orleans included Creole cream cheese (similar to the aforementioned ice cream) roti and  annatto (a condiment commonly used in Latin food sometimes in the Philippines) beignets. They also offer a nice array of local pints which strengthened the local flare just a bit.  

We ordered an array of dishes including the Som Tan salad, mimita brisket, clams, paella, the pork belly bowl, wings, brussel sprouts and the lamb curry. In general, the flavours were very South Asian and one would need to use their imagination a little to fully appreciate any huge gulf coast influence.  That said, the food had good, aggressive flavours and a nice amount of spice. If you are a fan of a delicate pho, “the standard” was a bit heavy compared to most I have had.  The roti and the beignets were delicious.  The brussel were the comfort foodie food and the wings were a decent representation of this seemingly southeast staple.

In the end, I was hoping for more of a Southeast meets Southeast experience but that said, it was still a tasty experience in Thai/Vietnamese fare.  In general, Day 1 was a good day. Traditional food started the day and some Asian fusion ended it.  It was clear I needed a few more days of stuffing my face before I could reach a verdict on the state of the dining scene in a city that the Tragically Hip have assured me has been sinking for almost 30 years.

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