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

The Coast is not Clear: The Case of the Gluten Containing Eel and the Undercooked Scallop

After a trip to the Vancouver aquarium as part of a team building activity (even though only three of us went), we went to look for a quick bite knowing the evening fare at the meeting would be less than appealing.  It was an abnormally warm May day, so we wanted a patio,a drink and some decent food.

Coast is part of the Glowbal group conglomerate which owns a number of popular Vancouver restaurants. Having previously dined at Black + Blue and the Fish Shack with reasonable success, it sounds like a good idea, especially with the advertised cocktail menu and half price appetizers.  After making the uphill trek to Alberni Street, we were able to secure a table on the front patio. The three of us were wearing casual team-building clothes (ie. yoga pants and shorts). We were hardly dressed for the occasion, especially in the midst of the attire of the waitstaff and  numerous suits coming in but we were quickly comfortable in our outdoor seats.

Both my colleagues have what I consider excellent palates and both do not consume gluten.  One of them has also never tried nigiri, so we took the opportunity to run an experiment with the small list on the menu. My thought was to hit her with the ebi thinking it would best to start her off with something cooked not to mention the fact that there was no guilt based on the fact we were just at the aquarium watching numerous other species splash around. The waitress, however, insisted that we opt for the unagi (since it was cooked) although I thought eel may not be the best way to initiate a novice sushi eater.  The shrimp arrived without issue but the eel arrived coated in what appeared to be a brown sauce. Even as a gluten glutton, I have become aware that any brown sauce is an alarm bell, especially on a piece of sushi.  It usually means soy sauce which means gluten. Keep in mind the menu clearly stated this item was gluten free but after deliberation by the waitstaff and kitchen slightly longer than the OJ Simpson verdict, we were told it in fact contained gluten.  Big mistake.  In the end, I ate the eel (which was decent but expensive) and I succeeded in introducing her to the world of nigiri albeit a tame piece of cooked shrimp.

Shrimp and Eel Nigiri ($3.95 and $5.30 respectively)
Shrimp and Eel Nigiri ($3.95 and $5.30 respectively). Note the brown sauce…

 

I will give Coast credit for it’s buck a shuck special.  I indulged in a half dozen oysters, portraying behaviour similar to that of a five year old opening a new set of lego.  I become mesmerized by combining oyster flesh with pungent horseradish and some type of mignonette.   In fact, I don’t think anything gives me as much enjoyment in the area of seafood relations since Mr. Tecklenberg showed me how to hypnotize a lobster when I was 8 or 9 at a table in his namesake Sudbury restaurant. I was so giddy I forgot the picture.

Each of us weren’t up for a whole lot of food (beside the after effect of seeing a whole lot of underwater life), but we each ordered a dish and did a family style sorta thing.  First were the thai mussels (minus the bread).  They were tasty but a rather dismal serving for $19. Maybe it would have come with 17 pieces of garlic bread which would have made it a bit more economical.

 

Thai Mussels (18.95 or each)
Thai Mussels (18.95 or about a buck each..I’d rather have the oysters)

 

 

Second was the grilled halibut.  It made a lot of sense given the fact it was the season and there was not a hint of brown sauce anywhere on the plate.  Instead, it was served with a decent potato salad.  The fish was cooked nicely but it’s difficult to justify the $38 price tag.

 

Grilled Halibut ($37.95)
Grilled Halibut ($37.95)

Finally, my choice was the apple chopped salad ($12.95) with the optional upgrade of two scallops for a whopping ten bucks.  It arrived with a lone scallop and I made a note to see if it was reflected properly on the bill.  I never had the chance.  The salad itself was fresh, crisp and nicely balanced but when I cut open the scallop I looked at my colleagues and in my best Gordon Ramsey accent yelled “The f@*%ing scallop is raw”.  In fact, it was a bit of a relief because paying 5 bucks for a scallop the size of a jawbreaker just wasn’t worth it.  Perhaps the  biggest annoyance of all was when the manager returned with the plate to confirm with me that, after careful deliberation with the chef, the scallop was in fact raw and they would gladly take it off the bill.  I guess all those years of watching Hell’s kitchen finally paid off since it saved me the embarrassment of being corrected in front of my esteemed colleagues.

 

Apple Chopped Salad ($12.95) with a $5 scallop
Apple Chopped Salad ($12.95) with a $5 scallop

 

The source of much deliberation....
The source of much deliberation….

 

My Take

Vancouver’s Glowbal group seems to be like olives, cilantro or goat cheese; you either love them or hate them.  Some see the group as an innovative and eclectic collection of restaurants showcasing an incredible arrays of foods.  Others see it as an overpriced series of misguided trends in which the decor is more important than the food. The inability to properly display gluten-free foods combined with minute mussels and an undercooked and underwhelming five dollar scallop (that included  a second opinion on doneness) makes me lean toward the latter.  This was just a bad experience with no effort made to fix it.  Good thing there were crudites back at the meeting.  I swear a carrot stick never tasted so good.

Coast Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

 

Review:Toronto:The Junction:Roux

I had to get my manager to the airport so it made sense to hit the junction so she could get to the 427 relatively quickly after we were done.  Other than that, I decided to ad lib dinner and saw Roux sitting on the corner Indian Grove along Dundas street. It was still rather early so it wasn’t too busy but the dining room was filled within an hour of our arrival.  It’s a smallish place with a number of tables, a few high stools by the front window and a dozen or so seats which faces the bar/open kitchen. There are oysters on display is an ice filled bin as you walk in.  It had a comfy aura; mixing the feel of an underground speakeasy with a southern US kitchen.  The walls are filled with artistic script  outlining recipes for  jambalaya or what looks like hand drawn pictures of oysters.

Whether the concept of southern hospitality is a theme or we just had a friendly waiter, we were immediately made to feel at home.  We were offered a drink from a short list of local brews (including a Conductor’s craft ale from the Junction Craft Brewery down the road),  one of two kinds of wine on tap and a short list of cocktails including a blueberry old fashioned and the suffering bastard. I opted for the latter; a simple mix of bourbon, gin, bitters and a splash of ginger ale for $8.50.

Perhaps in the spirit of both famous and infamous cinq a sept (referring to Quebec’s happy and/or France’s term for the time a debutant may plan a tryst with his mistress) , the waiter boasted a $5 at 5, a  list of appetizers  taken from the menu with slightly smaller serving sizes.   We opted for a trio of mussels, shrimp fritters and pulled pork poutine.  Although smallish, the mussels, soaked in a beer broth seasoned with a mirepoix.were rather enjoyable.  All of the components of the pulled pork poutine had great flavour although it was served a bit cold.  The shrimp fritters were a bit disappointing…the flavours hit the mark but they were doughy in the middle.

Cinq a Sept- Mussels, Shrimp Fritters and Pulled Pork Poutine ($5 each)
Cinq a Sept- Mussels, Shrimp Fritters and Pulled Pork Poutine ($5 each)

In addition to the nine or ten entrees, there were a number of specials that evening. Despite these numerous temptations,  I was sold on the yardbird (fried chicken). Furthermore, I had the dubious task of choosing between sides which included waffles, creamy grits and spicey slaw.  I was promised the waffles were the way to go.  The chicken was middle of the pack (I was hoping for it a little crispier) but the waffles were terrific especially when coupled with the bourbon maple syrup.  Despite the fact I was reluctant on the liberal use of powdered sugar and cranberries, it kind of worked.

Yardbird with waffles and bourbon maple sugar $16
Yardbird with waffles and bourbon maple sugar $16

My manager opted for scallops.  Although I didn’t try them, I did request a taste of the grits (the boundary between manager/employee sharing food starts at protein so I was safe).  They were a fantastic twist on the standard. They lacked the normal cream of wheat gruelness  and instead were presented with the firm yet soft texture of a risotto.   I completed the experience with a side order of collard greens which hit the mark made with a simple yet authentic recipe.

Scallops and Grits
Scallops and Grits $20
Collard Greens $5
Collard Greens $5

As mentioned above, early on the service was friendly and prompt but did diminish a bit as the place filled up and things got frantic. There were a number of forgetful moments and it took quiet a while to get the bill despite many indications we were done.  For this reason (and the need to get my manager back to Saskatoon that night), I skipped on dessert.

My Take

There has been an emergence of high and lower end BBQ joints that have opened up across the GTA.  However, most focus on the art of low and slow smoking and sides more characteristic of  a Texas family gathering than a Louisiana cook-off. Chef Derrick Markland infuses New Orleans into the junction, offering a joint that is casual, unique and refined.  One can argue that the junction’s clientele can be described the same way.  Beside us sat a couple; the guy looked like the white version of the Fresh Prince’s Carlton and she looked like a very feminine incredible hulk, complete with bright green hair and matching eyebrows (which left me wondering….never mind).  On the other side was a guy and his date who were clearly fans of the Big Bang Theory (I think I even heard a bazinga once or twice).  Even an cute, older Asian couple showed up to share a few of the $5 at 5 choices and sip on water while blending in with the mosaic of characters which graced the small dining room.

In an environment of restaurants serving small plates with inflated prices, Roux does bring some promise of value back to dining out.  The $5 at 5 choices, cocktails under $10, six dollar glasses of wine on tap and a number of good sized entrees under $20 make it worth the cab ride or the extra gas you’ll need driving a few blocks further west to the bustling Junction triangle. Plus, it’s kind of fun with a passionate chef, a zany cast of fellow diners and sultry blues filling the air in between laughs, conversations and the bumbling banter of pleasant yet overwhelmed waitstaff.

In the end, Roux is like a wedding. Passion reigns as you hang out with a cast of characters you may otherwise never associate under the same roof.  In this case, it’s a passion for food as opposed to that shared by your third cousin on your mom’s side and his high school sweetheart from smalltown Ontario. Even if everything isn’t perfect, you’re still glad you went.

Roux on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Little Italy/Portugal Village:The Guild

Guild is a cool and near forgotten word in the English language. It was once a medieval term used  to describe a a pseudo-union of artisan specialists who unified to protect their trade. Secrecy was a prominent component  necessary to protect things like unique trade secrets.  Since then, the word has become a bit dormant. Today, we do see it used in Hollywood. The Screen Actor’s Guild, a group formed in the 1930s to combat deplorable working conditions in the film industry and  has now evolved to over 105000 thousand numbers when it merged to form SAG-AFTRA a few years back. The modern quilt guild (MQG)  is another organization which uses this term. With over 150 worldwide chapters devoted  to the art of making quilts, it appears to be a bit more than it seems.  A  quick check of their blog (http://themodernquiltguild.wordpress.com/) shows members sporting bad ass tattoos and racy pictures from the Quiltcon conference’s 80’s night. It  makes you think they might do more than make pretty blankets. Needless to say, I was intrigued when a somewhat secretive restaurant aptly named “The Guild” opened its doors recent in the Dundas/Davenport area. I guess my question was “Would this eatery be like every other trendy restaurant or might it have some unique attributes like cool menu items you could only consume  if you executed a secret handshake that you learned  from a MQG creation? Let’s start with the set.  It’s a large space with a window front which opens to the street and an open kitchen in the back.  There are centrepieces on the solid wood tables, funky hippie murals painted on the walls and shiny gold ceilings. Think of it as Casino Royale  meets Austin Power’s shag pad.  There is a large bar stocking all sorts of sinful potables. There is an abundant drink list with everything from the standards (eg. old-fashioned) to funkier choices (e.g. cider sours) to non-alcoholic shakes made from almond milk. The cider sour was a special drink they made for a private function the week before and it stayed on the secret menu.  It was tasty although I would have liked it a little more sour.  The shake was refreshing as well; a good example of a grown-up non-alcoholic cocktail other than a virgin daiquiri.

Cider Sour and Chocolate Mint Almond MIlk Shake
Cider Sour and Chocolate Mint Almond Milk Shake

The staff seem to be made up of SAG actors themselves,  sporting nice coifs and good looks.  They knew their lines as well, reciting the menu with expertise and confidence. In fact, my waiter looked like Zachary Quinto.  Even the kitchen staff look the part, wearing mechanic uniforms in the garage-like open kitchen and moving fluidly while adding pinches of salt during food preparation. There is a bit of secrecy around the menu.  The website posts a sample menu but it changes frequently given the availability of local ingredients. The bits and bites menu is like a series of movie trailers.  It offers a morsel of entertainment instead of a whole dish  for just a couple of bucks. guild menu bits I opted for a trailer trio; the white cheddar croquette, the guanciale wrapped cherries and rabbit haunches (a secret menu item available to members of the guild).  The cherry was a delectable little treat and the croquette was ok. The rabbit, which I equate to a dark meat version of a chicken wing, was spiced nicely and cooked well.

Bits and Bites $2
Bits and Bites $2

With the trailers consumed, it was time for feature presentation: guild menu main . The beet salad was kind of like Scream 5… pretty predictable.  Despite the use of the trendy sous vide cooking method , it was a nicely dressed but still a standard salad.

Beet Salad $7
Beet Salad $7

The local mushrooms, pine nut puree and egg emulsion was like a remake of a classic flick. It was a twist on a classic mushroom omelette except it was deconstructed so that the mushroom was the prominent ingredient. It was a pleasant starter as it strongly resembled  the taste of the original it was based on.

Local mushrooms, pine put puree and egg emulsion-$9
Local mushrooms, pine put puree and egg emulsion-$9

Unfortunately, the octopus was sold out (kind of like trying to get a ticket for a marvel comic film on opening night), so I opted for the quail and scallop dish.  It was a tale of two proteins.  The scallops were cooked wonderfully and seasoned well.  The quail, on the other hand, was overcooked and rather dry. I’d equate it to seeing a movie with a great and no so great actor (eg. any Lethal Weapon, Good Will Hunting  or Rush Hour).

Quail and Scallops $19
Quail and Scallops $19

I’m always intrigued as to whether or not a place with a small menu can accommodate various food requirements including vegetarian options.  In this case, a “not on the menu” gnocchi with a tomato sauce was the offering.  Like the beet salad, it was fairly routine and fairly predictable but tasty nonetheless.

Not on the menu gnocchi $16
Not on the menu gnocchi $16

The dessert menu offers a half dozen reasonable priced options.  I opted for the bruleed fennel, rum kumquat ice cream and coffee panna cotta.  I expected the brulee to be a fennel flavored custard, but instead it was a knife and fork requiring  caramelized piece of fennel . The apple and chocolate accompaniments were perfect although the kumquat was a bit odd.  The oddity of the kumquat continued in its matching with the rum in the main flavouring of the ice cream which in itself had  a great texture. The coffee panna cotta had an intense, almost overwhelming flavour that was somewhat offset by the condensed milk  ice cream.  The hazelnut crumble was pretty chewy and a bit too sticky, making for difficult eating from a dental perspective.

Bruleed Fennel $6
Bruleed Fennel $6
Rum Kumquat Ice Cream $3
Rum Kumquat Ice Cream $3
Coffee Panna Cotta $6
Coffee Panna Cotta $6

My Take The Guild follows most of the rules, but offers some uniqueness in the bits and bites and relatively inexpensive dessert menu.  There is a good, diverse cocktail menu and the decor is funky and current.  In general, the food is predictable and gets one thumb up and one thumb down. It’s still early in production, but I can see the potential of this place.  Fixing the simple problems, removing their infatuation of kumquats and promoting their uniqueness will no doubt make me a guild member moving forward. Speaking of guilds…I think I’ll approach SAG with an idea.  I’m going to propose a spinoff called “Daughters of Anarchy” starring Charlize Theron.  The premise is that the MQG is no doubt a secret organization with the intention of sending messages on behalf of  the Illuminati via the fabrication of Hello Kitty and Holly Hobbie  quilts.  In episode one, Toronto calls on the Cleveland MQG chapter to complete the patch over of rival quilters the Sassy Scarborough Stitchers, lead by Mabel MacKinnon (played by Betty White). After succeeding, the group is on “pins and needles” and must devise a “cover-up” to stay out of the limelight. Then again, maybe I’ll just stick to stuffing my face and blogging about it. The Guild on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:King West:Weslodge

Behind the Yellow Door- A Western Romance

A Novel by Gary Tayles

Introduction

If you ask any foodie for an opinion (which they are willing to give) , I think they would compare a Charles Khabouth restaurant empire to a romance novel. Romance novels are pretty on the outside, using  bare-chested, robe wearing, chiseled men with flowing manes who embrace buxom babes with their eyes closed and mouths open.  The interior, however, often lacks substance, with predictable themes of forbidden love and turgidity. The Khabouth empire, on the other hand, have beautiful decors, characterized by trendy themes, hardwood accents and big, well-stocked bars. Yet, in the opinion of some, the menu is often overpriced and lacks taste and substance.

Chapter 1- I Must Have Her

I opened up the large door and entered the saloon called Weslodge.  Smiling damsels greeted my group and we were sat beneath the watchful eye of a stuffed ptarmigan.  The holster wearing waitstaff were rag proper;  with coifs and pressed shirts who asked me to choose my lotion.  There were 4 or 5 pints of purge available on tap   but I opted for an orange spiced old-fashioned. The bourbon was nicely complemented by strong bitters which flirted with my eager tongue.

Orange Spiced Old-Fashioned ($15)
Orange Spiced Old-Fashioned ($15)

Of the number of tantalizing smalls offered on the bill of fare,  the  scallops were anything but tiny. I was seduced by the ample cleavage which was  accented with iberico crumbs and placed atop tender, firm lentils.  They were  tender and had a taste as fine as cream gravy.

Scallop ($14)
Scallop ($14)

As I did at Patria, Weslodge’s equally attractive sister (I musn’t tell her to avoid the family drama), I gambled and opted for shishito peppers; each was breaded and salted delicately.  This dish was flirtatious in that one out of every 10-15 are extra hot.  It took only two to find the spicy vixen I was seeking.

CRISPY SHISHITO PEPPERS $6
Crispy Shishito Peppers
$6

My search for a sweet piece of calico succeeded in the form of a sticky pudding.   She was traditional, with a simple beauty and a presentation that was highly desirable.

weslodge pudding
Sticky Pudding

Chapter 2- Maybe Baby

I liked her buns…they looked nice beside my pickle.  The burger itself was decent (I would call it average among the many burgers in the area) and a few more of the delicious  fries (to go with the tomatillo ketchup) would have been nice.

Weslodge Burger $18
Weslodge Burger $18

The chickpea panelle is one of the only truly  vegetarian items on the menu (many things are sprinkled with chorizo or iberico).  This bella donna is a sexy side with the mouth feel of a voluptuous  set of  lips.

Chickpea Panelle
Chickpea Panelle

The dessert  menu is elusive, so I inserted a pistareen to get a look at the Weslodge peepshow. Two sisters emerged; one was a prim and proper chocolate toffee bar donning  gold (well..gold leaf). The other was a bit more a hot mess, speckled with  meringue pieces (I really don’t get this trend), strawberries and sweet biscuits and cream.  I can’t remember the exact name of these two lasses (I didn’t write them down in my black book), which is ok because what happens at Weslodge stays at Weslodge.    In the end, after the sticky pudding, I felt a bit adulterous consuming these sweeties anyway.

Elusive Weslodge Dessert
Elusive Weslodge Dessert
Weslodge Gold Donning Dessertn($10 I think()
Weslodge Gold Donning Dessert($10 I think)

Chapter 3– Ugly as a Mud Fence

The Squash taters tots arrived as cold as an unpaid wag-tail. They were sent back and the second batch arrived only slightly warmer.  Regardless, they wouldn’t have  been that good even at the right temperature.

The arctic char  was a bit flimsy, underseasoned and wasn’t exactly charred.  I had to look up Henry Moore (to ensure he was not some sort of jilted lover who would come back carrying a peacemaker and a frown).  It turned out it’s a South Carolina plantation which grows rice and other grains.  Whew!  The grits were tasty and creamy but a bit mismatched with the oils and the char itself. The $26 price tag was steep. Honestly, I would have liked to see the grits without the char on the sides menu for a more reasonable price.

Squash Tots ($& Squash Tots ($7) and Charred Arctic Char ($26)
Squash Tots ($7) and Charred Arctic Char with Henry Moore Grits($26)

Afterward

In the previous western romance, a group of  schrunchers enters the yellow doors of Weslodge looking for sheconnery. The decor, from the large central bar to the quincy, is adorned with trinkets and taxidermy that would appease Ernest Hemingway.  The bar is without any sheephearder’s delight and instead offers high end and often house made firewater. The service had fits and starts, but the holstered staff were welcoming and the flow of food was reasonably steady.

 Weslodge possesses a definite culinary sexuality which relies on attractive decor combined with  delicate feminine dishes and desserts coupled with the masculinity of  3o+ ounce chucks of bone-in meat to feed testosterone-driven cravings. Charles Khabouth may in fact be the equivalent of Fabio in the restaurant world.  Nobody will admit they like him but his popularity remains unquestionable.  I would be remiss if I said that Weslodge had the substance of a Harlequin romance (or let’s say 50 shades for those who have no idea what I’m talking about) but  it does have a few things that left me a bit mitten.

Weslodge on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Downtown:Reds Wine Tavern

Reds Wine Tavern recently underwent a metamorphosis in an attempt to appeal to a crowd outside of the confines of the financial district.  With a 2-million dollar renovation and the recruitment of Top Chef Canada favorite Ryan Gallagher from Ruby Watchco,  the new Reds promises an upscale yet casual environment to appeal to the Bay street traditionalist and the nomadic foodie alike. One of the highlights of Reds is the availability of over 75 wines by the glass in addition to the over 350 bottles.

I took a chance and asked for the chef’s table via open table with a few days notice knowing the chances were slim to none that I would succeed.  However, I found it a bit annoying to not have the request even acknowledged either in advance or when I checked in at the venue.  In addition, I had to wait at the front door to be seated since the remainder of my party (2 of 4) had not arrived.  They were stuck in a line of traffic on Adelaide which was being diverted around yet another falling glass disaster at the Trump tower two blocks away. We were finally seated at a rather large wooden table in the back corner of the second level overlooking the bar below. I quickly realized we were in for a noisy experience when I heard six or seven guys hollering obnoxiously over a game of table shuffleboard with ties undone and drinks in hand. I  felt like I was an extra in a  whisky commercial. Well…sort of.  Based on the amount of time it took us to receive any sort of service, I could of watched the commercial plus half a sitcom as well. A round of drinks eventually arrived and the food was slowly delivered afterwards.

Must

I must admit I was quite excited for a few menu items at Reds Wine.  I’ve often imagined my own ideal restaurant menu and deviled eggs are definitely on the  list.  Better yet, it was a trio of deviled eggs ($11), each containing all sorts of add-ins such as crispy onion, seafood and even a  delicious avacado and tender pea mixture.   Based on menus I’ve seen online since,  they may be like Cadbury Easter cream eggs; not around all the time but worth it when they are on the shelf.

Deviled Eggs
Deviled Eggs

The triple cooked smoked wings ($15) were braised with duck fat to facilitate a crispiness and flavourful skin while maintaining a tender and juicy flesh underneath.  The two house made side sauces  (especially the BBQ sauce) were a great match for both the crispy vegetables and the wings themselves.

Triple Cooked Smoked Wings
Triple Cooked Smoked Wings

There was a lack of consensus at the table over whether the chicken pot pie with fois gras gravy ($18) was a must or maybe but I’m writing the blog so I vote must.  The pastry was light and baked golden-brown.  The filling was brimming with flavour highlighted by the faint but evident taste of fois gras in a very distinct gravy and a array of fresh vegetables and tender chicken.  The only issue was the scarcity of the stew compared to the abundant crust which I can forgive in lieu of the tremendous taste.

Chicken Pot Pie with Fois Gras Gravy
Chicken Pot Pie with Fois Gras Gravy

Maybe

Another item on my imaginary dream menu is a variety of caesars, so I pleased to see a small variety here.  I opted for the charcuterie caesar ($11.50) which is a classic vodka caesar served  with cool things like Tabasco barrel-infused tomato-clam juice and  housemade hot sauce with a small side bowl of meat, cheese, gherkins and olives.   The complete package was fresh and fun but the drink itself was pretty bland. Perhaps a bacon and tomato jam would of helped…

Charcuterie Caesar
Charcuterie Caesar

The fish of the day items (around $25)  appear to be to the foundation of the menu, likely influenced by Ryan himself.  I ordered  the grouper but they ran out so it gets no points.  I tried the salmon which was moist but under seasoned and lost amongst the abundance of green lentils and apple fennel slaw (the latter was quite tasty).   The New Bedford scallops were large , cooked nicely and served on a pleasant fresh carrot puree with smoky bacon and some pistachio pesto.  The dish blended well and gets a resounding OK which is more than I can say for missing grouper and bland salmon swimming upstream in lentils.

Salmon with Lentils and Apple Fennel Slaw
Salmon with Lentils and Apple Fennel Slaw
New Bedford Scallops
New Bedford Scallops

Three types of mussels were available and we opted for the tavern caesar variety.  The broth was top-notch and the mussels were fresh, hearty and flavorful.  The $18.50 price is a bit high but they do provide a nice start to a good meal although I’m not sure about the bread sticks.

Tavern Caesar Mussels
Tavern Caesar Mussels

The dessert menu only offers three choices for $8 each.  As a table, we opted for the grasshopper parfait (in a mason jar, of course) and an apple tart.  I wouldn’t say it’s must have but it would appease a sweet tooth if you needed the boost.

Grasshopper Parfait
Grasshopper Parfait
Reds Apple Tart
Reds Apple Tart

Mundane

My vision of an $18 lobster guacamole was a bit different than 15 upright nacho chips stuck in a scarce amount of lobster,a runny guacamole and a blob of sour cream.  It’s not that the dish was terrible but if didn’t make me want to throw a flashy new $20 on the table and say thank you.

Lobster Guacamole
Lobster Guacamole

As mentioned above, the service started poorly and didn’t get a lot better. When we ordered wine to complement  the entrees it just didn;t come and otherwise check-ins were infrequent. A chat with a member of the waitstaff afterwards left me even more confused as I was unable to determine from his comments if it was a bad night or if short-staffing is a general philosophy of the restaurant.   It seemed both scatter-brained and laissez-faire and soured the overall experience.

My Take

The emergence of shows like Top Chef Canada and other food network shows have opened up diner’s eyes to some of the brilliant minds who define cuisine in Toronto and other metropolitan areas.  This has allowed a flow of celebrity character into many of the establishments opening up across the country.  Richmond Station in Toronto (Carl Heinrich), Sidedoor in Ottawa (JonathanKorecki) and  Charcut in Calgary (Connie DeSousa) are all stamped with a hip, youthful flare, open kitchens  and sophisticated menu which draws a diversity of clientele. Although the Reds menu synched with my imagination and met the grade, other than his name on the menu, Ryan’s presence seemed absent. The renovation to a relaxed environment has not trickled down to the waitstaff and service mentality. I will say that  Reds realized their mistakes and offered a solution which, in the end, was satisfactory to our dinner party.

I was thinking….perhaps dousing the shuffleboard champion with a charcuterie ceasar from 20 feet up would draw in the resounding claps of the Wiser guys to provide a much needed personality boost to an otherwise stuffy environment. If anything, it would appease to the numerous patrons around me who felt like they were witnessing cantankerous behavior inside a glorified frat house….minus the copious and timely alcohol…at least upstairs anyway.

 

 

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