Oretta: The Importance of Auditory Authenticity: Madonnaism vs Real Accents

I’ve only come to realize recently the important role that accents have on pop culture.  The attention to detail and need for authenticity has often required actors to hide their native tongues to better represent to the role they assume.  Actors like Charlie Hunnan and Hugh Laurie fooled us for years by Americanizing their voices to play the leader of a Charming biker gang and a Jersey cocky doctor respectively.  Most recently I’ve heard interviews from the cast of the Walking Dead only to realize that both Rick and Morgan among others are from across the pond and their American grunts and mumbles amidst the zombies are just part of the act.  It’s not always English to American either;  I recently binged watched season 1 of Fargo and  listened to hours of Californian Colin Hanks and Texan Allison Tolman speak in Minnesota and surrounding accents.

On the other hand, bad accents can counter attempts at authenticity.  For example, shortly after marrying Guy Ritchie, Michigan native Madonna felt the need to let the world know that she became English overnight driven by a lukewarm British accent. The act was deemed rather inauthentic and lead to a good amount of backlash.

The need for some degree of authenticity seems to exist in the restaurant business.  In addition to a decor which reflects a restaurant’s overall concept, some insist on ensuring that the staff are equipped with a lexicon synonymous to the overall theme. It makes sense; I love to grab a Guinness from an Irish barkeep or listen to the proper pronunciation of a great Asian dish. Although the logic and emotion behind this is obvious, I think a couple of rules need to be established:

  • Let’s avoid Madonnaisms. If you are not from the country, don’t use the accent. A crash course using Rosetta Stone won’t fool anybody except the hipsters who did exactly the same thing to create the appearance that they are more intelligent consumer.
  • If you are fluent in the language, don’t be arrogant about it.  If I order rigatoni, I don’t mind having it repeated back to ensure accuracy but don’t need it done to correct my pronunciation. I’m North American; rigatoni is the same as Reeg-a-tow-naaay.
  • Make the menu authentic but readable.  I can figure out that secondi means second but let’s draw the line at having the ingredients listed in a different language along with a 4 page glossary in the back.

I suppose at some point I should get back to reviewing a few restaurants so this may be a good segue.  I went to Oretta a while back.  I was looking for a semi-quiet Italian place downtown that didn’t have the name Cibo, Terroni or Mercatto in it.  I had strolled by it a couple of times prior and was impressed with the roomy layout and decor of a traditional Italian ristorante mixed with a little King Street cheesiness.  Not surprisingly when we were seated we were greeted by a young waiter will a full out Italian accent.  I didn’t for a second think it was fake or phony but it did make me ponder the impact it might have on my dining experience.

The menu was a shortlist of classic Italian salads, pizzas, pastas and “secondis”. In the dead of winter the Cavoletti  salad (shaved brussel sprouts, almonds, pickled red onion, pecorino and crispy prosciutto) was a crisp, fresh and balanced reminder that  sulfuric and pickled vegetables can nicely bridge our extreme Canadian seasons.

oretta salad
Cavoletti $14

From the pasta menu we opted for gnocchi and risotto (aka. Riso di Ieri).  The former was doused with a rich meat sauce which made for a heavier dish, especially with the dense dumplings. The flavours were great but it grew monotonous rather quickly. Regarding the Riso; the normal and often overemphasized creaminess and volume of the risotto itself was de-emphasized.  It was hidden in a pan fried crust and served atop a generous portion of mushrooms.  As somebody who’s not the biggest fan of risotto, I found this version much more balanced and exciting mainly because the rice was de-emphasized. More traditional risotto fans, however, could easily be left disappointed by this interpretation.

oretta gnocchi
Gnocchi $19
oretta risotto
Riso di Ieri $23

I failed to capture a picture of the Margherita pizza ($16) but it looked like…well..a pizza. It passed the test; simplicity by means of a thin crust and fresh ingredients and would reasonably match the others along the King or Queen street strips.

Dessert was “cocco bello”; a tart with fresh fruit, cream and coconut housed in a nutty crust.  Perhaps it was not a standard winter dessert but a few berries when it’s below zero is always a kind reminder that, like the salad and despite a horrendous winter, spring and summer are always on the way.

oretta dessert
Cocco Bello $9

My Take

Deciding where on the spectrum between nouveau cuisine and authenticity one’s restaurant will fall must be a difficult decision. Not only does the food have to fit the bill but the vibe and environment also  needs to reflect the theme.  This includes the manner in which the staff addresses its patrons. I mean, it goes without saying that Game of Thrones would be ridiculous if the Lannisters sounded like Joe Pesci  or Donnie Wahlberg.

Oretta was a happy medium along the spectrum of ignorance and imitation.  Everything from the decor to the food to the waiter’s accent was authentic and not arrogant.  The menu was smallish but highlighted the simplicity of Italian cuisine.  The salad and pizza were the highlights although pasta and dessert were more than acceptable. In the end, I found Oretta a welcome change from the hipster-driven Terroni-like chains that have popped up all over the citta.

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

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Mr. Flamingo, Mr. Featherstone, Mr. Pink and Ms. Sitherwood all in an Avian Mating Dance Orgy

Flamingos are one of the more recognized avian species in popular culture.  Whereas the bald eagle is synonymous with courage and nobility, the flamingo is a bit more mysterious and is often associated much less stoic characteristics.

The Flamingo hotel, for example, is the longest standing (and probably cheesiest) hotel on the famed  Las Vegas strip. Afterall, it is decorated with pink shag carpets and a live wildlife habitat featuring the namesake birds.

“Pink Flamingos” was a low budget movie directed by John Waters, the odd director who brought us the original cult classics “Hairspray” and “Serial Mom” was notorious for working  with even stranger actors and actresses like Divine, Traci Lords and Ricki Lake.

Although not entirely related, when I heard the name of the restaurant I couldn’t help of think of Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs .  In what I would argue is  the most famous Tarantino restaurant scene after the five-dollar milkshake in Pulp Fiction, Mr. Pink, played by Steve Buscemi, goes on a rant about the concept of tipping, arguing that it should not be an automatic gesture (he must have visited a few places in Toronto’s west end along his travels).

 

On the small screen, flamingos,  along with other Florida vestiges such as fancy cars, jai alai, dog racing, beaches and boobs were prominent in the iconic opening credits of Miami Vice.  Speaking of televisions shows, the short lived prime-time soap opera called Flamingo Road starred Morgan Fairchild and Mark Harmon dealt with the frantic and fast-paced lives of elite Floridians.

All of this said, perhaps the most recognizable use of the pink flamingo in popular culture is the plastic lawn ornament.  Primarily used to signify key life events (like a 50th birthday let’s say), this tacky accessory was first produced by Don Featherstone , an employee of the union plastic company in Massachusetts.  This achievment was significant enough to have him recognized  in a New York times obituary the day after his June 22, 2015 death.  Here are a few interesting facts about the pink flamingo:

  • They were initially offered in the late 50’s sold for $2.76/pair in the Sears catalog.
  • In 1999, the city council of Madison, Wisconsin voted the plastic flamingo, coined Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus by Featherstone himself, as the city’s official bird.
  • In the 2011 Disney film “Gnomeo and Juliet”, there is a flamingo named Featherstone which is an interesting twist given the well- established competition between the gnome and the pink bird for cheesy lawn ornament supremacy.

Probably the oddest use the Flamingo is the Quebec food company whose catch line is “an excellent source of fun”.  First, the primary foodstuffs produced by the Flamingo company are poultry products which is just weird.  Second, I don’t equate the consumption of chicken burgers as fun, yet alone an excellent source of it.

All of this said, I can only speculate as to the rationale behind Mr. Flamingo’s name.  I think some would  speculate that the bird symbolizes the simple yet swanky theme of the restaurant.  The menu consists of small plates which in many cases contain upper echelon foods such as oysters, fois gras and truffles.

Although, I would almost expect a cocktail to be named after Mr. Featherstone ,I couldn’t find one so I ordered the bourbon based Ms. Sitherwood ($14) instead.  The first page of a google search identified Ms. Sitherwood as the  Chief Executive Officer of The Laclede Group although I have no idea if that’s relevant at all.    It was served in a dainty glass adorned with mint leaves. The general vibe of the drink was a sophisticated but not mind-blowing  long island ice tea ($14).

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Ms. Sitherwood $14

Before I go into the food choices, let me say that the staff were extremely accommodating.  The menu prices listed on the web are for a specific portion but they were more than happy to modify the portions and prices in some cases (eg. oysters and scallops) so that everybody had at least one piece.  Futhermore, they split the bill in 5 and printed one out for each of us.  These things seem simple  but can be surprisingly hard to find among  many Toronto eateries.

Since we had a fairly large table, we were able to order most of the menu.  First on the list was the steak tartare ($14) served with a quail egg and chips.  It had a symmetrical and pretty appearance and its moderate spice was driven more by pepper than other heat sources.

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Steak Tartare with chips $14

The burrata ($16) was served with a gorgeous  tomato salad. The cheese was seasoned nicely and had a beautiful texture similar to that of a soft boiled egg; firm on the outside and runny in the middle.

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Burrata $16

The lobster based oysters ($3.50/piece) wouldn’t have been my first choice but they fit the swanky theme of the place.  The lobster hollandiase had a sweetness and creaminess which nicely offset the salty and not over-cooked oyster, making  it a decent bite.

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Lobster Baked Oysters $3.50 each

Based on other reviews, the scallops with popcorn puree and sea asparagus ($22.50 as shown) could very well be their signature dish. It hit all the elements of such a dish; the scallops were cooked properly, the puree was divine and the sea asparagus added the colour, texture and taste needed to balance everything out.

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Scallops with popcorn puree and sea asparagus ($4.50 each)

The trout  was another tasty dish but  at this point the menu was getting a bit monotonous as many of  it’s elements were near identical to the previous two (oysters and scallops), adhereing to the theme of well cooked protein plus rich sauce plus green vegetable.

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Trout

On paper, the mushroom risotto topped with shaved truffle may have been the  pinnacle of Mr. Flamingo’s swanky small plate experience.  Although I’m not generally a risotto fan, I appreciated the avoidance of truffle oil as an excuse for fancy flavoring.  It was a nicely prepared dish but was still highlighted by rich flavours similar to many other items on the menu.

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Mushroom Risotto

The duck and steak were both nicely prepared but not unlike anything you can get at any other restaurant in the area.  It seems almost mandatory that these dishes appear on menus, prepared and seasoned the same way and served alongside the rather predictable sides.

After a meal in a place named after a suave and sexy bird serving oysters and  truffles,  I expected some kind of lavish desert. Instead, the sole offering was a donut with a sparkler in it.  It was a rather carnival ending to an otherwise posh meal.

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Donut with Sparkler $6

My Take

I may have missed my calling as an ornithologist so I’m never upset when I can eat at a place named after a feathered friend (yes I must admit I like eating some of them as much as I like watching them). After my dining experience, I can’t say I was as excited as the majestic flamingo during its mating ritual but it was still a decent meal.

 

Mr. Flamingo offers a mix of the standard sharing plates seen in a lot of the area’s eateries with the addition of a few unique ones, in particular the scallops with popcorn puree. In general, the majority of the menu is a bit monotonous in flavour though. Overall,  it was a good experience, highlighted by above average service starting with the fact they will actually split a bill, a fact that may even convince Mr. Pink to throw a few bucks on the table after all is said and done.

Mr Flamingo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review:Vancouver:Robson St:CinCin Ristorante and Bar

While in Vancouver, I had a business meeting  in the private room at Cin Cin, an old school Italian eatery on Robson Street. I was shuffled to the private room which housed hundreds of bottles of wines, some at hundreds of dollars.  Speaking of cost, expect to pay a pretty lira here; apps are $13-18, pastas start at $15 and entrees go from $30-45.   Noise was an issue even in the private room. The only thing separating us and the boisterous outside crowd was a thin sheet of glass and a thick wood door that constantly opened and closed, allowing the drone of human banter to roll in like thick fog.There was a four course set menu featuring an array of choices for the appetizers, mains and desserts with a mushroom risotto as a middle dish.
I opted for tuna tartare to start. It was a large portion on the modest side of seasoning and acidity although I got the odd big chunk of salt here and there. The radish was a nice addition to add a bit of crunch to the otherwise silky texture.

Long line caught albacore tuna tartare
Long line caught albacore tuna tartare

The risotto was well prepared and seasoned nicely. The rice had a subtle crunch and there were plenty of tender mushrooms scattered throughout. It was served hot and it held its temperature well.

Mushroom Risotto
Mushroom Risotto

The sable fish was treated with the utmost respect, its delicate integrity preserved in the cooking process. Ever bite melted like butter in my mouth. The mashed potatoes were subtle and allowed the fish to shine. The kale was simply and perfectly prepared and added great colour, texture and a punch of bitterness to the sweet filet and creamy mashed potatoes.

Sablefish
Sablefish

I strayed from my normal tendency to order tiramisu for dessert and opted for a lemon tart instead. It really wasn’t a tart; it was served cold and with a side of strawberry coulis that brought me back to days of scraping the last morsels of baby food off the side of the jar and shoveling it into my kid’s waiting mouth. The tart as a whole had that “sitting there for a bit” taste.

Lemon tart
Lemon tart

There is pride in the service, characterized but constant wine and water pours by the head waiter who is as well seasoned as the risotto was. The table’s dishes were served  by numerous waitstaff on a way that would make the Canadian synchronized swimming team envious.  I received “Sir, that’s an excellent choice!”  for each and every order I placed, an accolade I’m not sure was entirely deserved, especially in the midst of my tiramisu regret.

My Take

CinCin is a well established and expensive Italian restaurant promising good food, good service and good wine. The sablefish was spectacular and clearly the godfather of the evening. The rest of the food was more Godfather III.   The decor is old school Italian villa; respectfully cheesy while embracing the dwindling art of old school service which is as much choreography as it is  functional. However, there is no music for the dance. Instead there is plenty of noise which could become quite aggravating if you have anything important to say or hear…like how great my dinner choices were.

CinCin Ristorante + Bar on Urbanspoon