Bono: Two Degrees from Kevin Bacon but Only “One” from Mark McEwen

I have a love/hate relationship with U2. One can’t help but appreciate the talent of the four Irish boys even if it at times their music is clouded with political mumbo jumbo and the haze of enormous egos.  Perhaps my opinion in this regard  was somewhat softened when it was revealed in 2014 that Bono wears blue-blockers in front of the world’s dignitaries not to look like an assclown or in public in order to qualify for  the Senior rate at the movies but because he suffers from glaucoma which he has for years. That said, it  still doesn’t forgive the fact that they were found guilty of pure arrogance for their “Songs of Innocence” iTunes  fiasco where they made the assumption that the entire world wanted their new album.

If one were to ask me my favorite U2 song from their vast library of music which spans a number of musical decades, I would have to say the live version of “Bullet the Blue Sky” off of the Rattle and Hum album. As far as bad songs, I’d say anything off the Zooropa album.

So what do Mark McEwan and Bono have in common?  Probably nothing.  One’s a singer and one’s a chef.  One is moderately tall and one is moderately short. I imagine the two of them would interpret the word “edge” very differently.  Maybe I can make a case by saying that the title “One” is not only one of  U2’s biggest hits but also the  name of  Yorkville’s contribution to the  McEwan eatery empire and that in fact Bono has been seen dining there during one  of his many stops in Toronto.

I was there with a larger group and the night got started with a cocktail. In my case, it was the paper plane. Made with bourbon, amaro nonino,  aperol and lemon juice and with a staggering price tag of $20, it was supposed named after the song (paper plane by MIA) the creator was listening to at the time. It certainly met my cocktail criteria in that it was pink ( a running joke regarding my normal choices). It came with a small fruit fly as well which I wasn’t overly concerned about given the warm weather.  The waiter took it back with an apology and promptly replaced it.

For my starter I chose the Heirloom carrot salad, pomegranate yogurt, cauliflower, avocado, orange, pistachios, raisin chutney and cilantro vinaigrette.  Despite a mishmash of ingredients you normally wouldn’t expect together on a plate, it has a predominately middle eastern taste and was beautifully presented for a reasonable $16.  The cauliflower was seasoned nicely and the raisin chutney and yogurt were fantastic. The orange and avocado were a little odd but added a nice dimension of texture and flavour.  

one salad
Heirloom Carrot Salad $16

For the main I decided on the Ravioli Duo heirloom squash and ricotta raviolis, short rib ragu and Pecorino Romano for $26.  The pasta was tender and fully stuffed with a nicely seasoned filling.  The short rib, in addition to the pecorino, added a welcomed saltiness to the dish.  I can argue it was a little chintzy for the price but it was reasonably filling and allowed some room for dessert.

one pasta
Ravioli Duo $26

Dessert was banana cream pie with peanut shortbread crust, malted chocolate pastry cream, butterscotch and vanilla chantilly and was a steal at $9.   It was elegant and filthy at the same time. The fresh bananas were a smart addition as was the thin, crispy brittle on top.I also snagged a bite of the white chocolate cheesecake served with a sour cherry compote.  It too was a bit bipolar; the comfort of Sara Lee on one side and a whimsy delicateness on the other.

one dessert
Banana Cream Pie $9

I finished the night with one of the worst americanos I have ever had.  If I’m paying $6 for a coffee, it better be mind blowing and not something that tasted like it came out of a Keurig.

My Take

I couldn’t help but hum a few U2 songs along with the lepers in my had while dining at One.  From the clean and crisp decor to the pristine presentation and premium pricing, it’s a piece that fits perfectly into the Yorkville puzzle where the streets have names although  it can take me a while to find what I’m looking for.  The food and service was quite good highlighted by a really pleasant salad and the sinful dessert which was the sweetest thing. The coffee was bad. Although I couldn’t help but sing “One”  when I got there, after a couple of sips of the paper plane I couldn’t help humming “The Fly” until the appetizer came.

One Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

East Thirty-Six: Breaking Down the Yonge Street Wall

A riddle…

Q. Why did the foodie cross the road?

A. He didn’t.

This is a dumb joke but one that reigns true when we speak of Canada’s longest street. Yonge street is a bit like the Berlin wall. On the west side a vibrant dining scene.  Queen, King, College and Dundas are lined with dozens of hipster havens.  The east side, however, consists of  a bunch of restaurants  compartmentalized into chains, fine dining and student friendly venues.  It’s like there’s a force field of some kind which repels plastic-rimmed glasses.   There are a few hipster oases in the otherwise barren east but for the most part there’s work to be done before the wall is torn down.

Wellington road east is proxy to a number of upscale condos which have tenants who prefer suits to plaid.  It is also within walking distance of venues such as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. As a result, bahn mi sandwiches and pulled pork tacos aren’t an automatic go-to.  Instead, restaurants in this area need to offer refined yet current fare or offer a unique enough concept whereas to not be a dreadful bore and keep people coming back. Places like Trevor Bar and Kitchen and C’est What have had longevity whereas Lucien and the Olde Towne Bistro and Oyster bar had shorter lives.

East Thirty-Six now occupies the old quarters of the above mentioned restaurants.  It’s first plan of action was to name itself after its address, a witty move employed by numerous others recently. The second was to adopt a menu which focuses on innovative cocktails and small plates as opposed to the traditional three course meals the east side aristocrats are accustomed to. The focal point of the interior is a large bar which is stocked with a variety of alcohol (including house-made varieties) larger than Lindsay Lohan’s minibar.  Otherwise, it is a classy and well designed east side bar and bistro.

In addition to a panoply of the most current  wines (New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, German Rieslings etc.) Eat Thirty Six boasts an impressive cocktail list with emphasis on and fruit and  fruit-infused liquors ranging from $12-14.  I had read about the high touted E36 smoked Boulevardier, a spin on the classic yet rather unknown cocktail from the 20s.  Called a cousin of the Negroni, E36’s version includes a bit of Lillet Blanc and some smoke tincture.  The solution is allowed to conflate  for a number of weeks to create an elixir which is as smooth as a gossamer.  Frankly, it’s  the best cocktail I’ve had this year. I’d equate to it any dish which is allowed to sit and marinate versus being callously put together and served immediately.  There is no rawness or disjointed flavour..just a general smoothness enhanced with ethereal undertones.

E36Smoked Boulevardier $14
E36 Smoked Boulevardier $14

To date, the menu has been classified as french tapas.  I asked the owner about this and he said this wasn’t intentional.  A small plate concept was definitely the intent, but the influence of chef Brent Maxwell resulted in a seeping of French influence into many of the dishes.  Take, for example, the pork caillettes. E36’s version of these sausages are bite-size morsels stuffed with among other things  pork and liver.  Served like a hors d’oeuvre,  each well seasoned bite was a pop of all things porcine. I also ordered some mixed pickles ($4) which made for a nice starter.

Pork Caillettes $9 (Note: Cameras don't work in the dark)
Pork Caillettes $9 (Note: Cameras don’t work in the dark)
Pickles $4
Mixed Pickles $4

The scallop crudo ($14) was little Italy meets Mexico. It takes the sweetness of scallop and the richness of lardo and  dresses it with tequila and lime.  The rather unorthodox addition of  celery added  a little texture and taste that worked. It didn’t present with the intensity of a ceviche but had enough of an acidity to cut through the lardo and  provide a nice reprieve from some of the heavier items on the menu.

Scallop Crudo $14
Scallop Crudo $14

 

Speaking of heavy, we went to the bottom of the menu for our  dishes.  My colleague and I decided on the short rib ($21), duck confit ($19) and boudin blanc ($18).  That said, all three dishes were delicious choices.  I think I can summarize them with one word: balance. The short rib was nicely accompanied with brussel sprouts, parmesan grits and horseradish.    The duck leg was rendered down nicely and served with egg, mushroom and semolina. If anything, I would have switched the starches because I think corn/duck and beef/wheat pair better together but that may be a bit of a moot point given both dishes were rather delicious. The boudin was an modish interpretation of the sausage in that it used elegant ingredients such fois gras and tarragon.  The additional of the apple and cabbage didn’t make it any less pedestrian.

 

Short Rib $21
Short Rib with Grits $21
Duck Confit $19
Duck Confit with Semolina $19
Boudin Blanc $18
Boudin Blanc with cabbage and apple  $18

For dessert I ordered the lemon custard with shortbread and macadamia ($8) while my colleague ordered another plate of caillettes.  The custard was nice and tart and was served with an impressive number of (hopefully foraged nuts… AND it was served in a mason jar.  Pure hipster bliss.

Lemon Custard $8
Lemon Custard with M academia nuts $8

 

My Take 

On the heels of the short lived Olde Towne Bistro and Oyster bar, E36 has moved into a tough spot with an attempt to fuse modern food and drink trends with the principles of upscale casual dining this area of town is accustomed to. It can best be described as small plate with french influence although there are a number of surprises on the menu.  I wasn’t able to try the bone marrow (served with chicken liver pate), razor clams, sweetbreads or octopus nor one of the other 10 interesting cocktails, many of which frolic with fruit  or tinker with tinctures.   The decor is clean and modern with a beautiful well-stocked bar as its centrepiece.   The service was great but it was a slow night so it would be interesting to see if the conversation and attention to detail continues with a busier assemblage.

East Thirty-Six has a name, a menu and a cocktail list that would appeal to any hipster. I mean, think about it.  Pickled cauliflower in a mason jar?  The dish alone contains three of the Huffington Post’s  22 essential hipster foods:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/15/hipster-food_n_5146632.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

So, does this mean we finally have a place that would allow the tearing down of the Yonge street wall, finally allowing  the two sides to dine together in harmony while eating offal pork sausage and drinking bourbon concoctions?  Probably not. After all, there’s no need to worsen the carbon footprint  as long as there’s kimchi, kale and PBR on the west side I suppose.

 

East Thirty-Six on Urbanspoon

I Decided to Pukka Place off the Beaten Path

Pukka opened last year along the relative foodie-free St. Clair West area.  Until then, I’ve always associated the word Pukka with something that happens after a few too many pints or the name of a popular pie advertised at football matches across England. It’s real definition is “genuine”.  Pukka touts itself as being the “best modern Indian restaurant in Toronto”. To date, most Indian restaurants in Toronto have been either small, family run hole-in-the-wall cubbies, extravagantly decorated upscale chains such as the Host or all you can eat buffets which dull down flavours to appease the boring palates of Caucasians who just looovvvveee Indian food. Pukka takes a page from Vancouver’s Vikram Vij, an international celebrity chef who gained fame by introducing Indian flavours into mainstream dishes in a stunning environment with excellent service.

Unlike Vij’s, Pukka takes reservations, so that’s a great start.  I booked a table to have dinner with some colleagues.  The decor mimics numerous other Toronto dinner hot spots. It’s cozy and noisy with a huge bar and colourful art all over the walls. The staff were courteous, dapper and as I would find out later, very knowledgeable.

First off was the drink order.  Choices include wine, martinis, a small beer selection and traditional cocktails such as mojitos and old fashioneds. I was intrigued by the Chai town ($8.40), a clever mix of bourbon, chai tea, pomegranate liqueur and bitters.   It tasted a bit like a Negroni’s younger brother.  It had a pleasant sweetness coupled with the subtle tickling of chai on the tongue.

Chai Town $8.40
Chai Town $8.40

 

The menu is divided into snacks, eats and sides as well as bread and rice.  We got the normal banter of how many  dishes four grown men should order to ensure they leave happy. From the list of snacks, we ordered vegetable string chaat, tandoori chicken tikka and gunpowder prawns.

The chaat was one of my favorite dishes and certainly was the lightest. I’d best call it a bowl of Rice Krispies gone Bollywood.  Visually stunning, the flares of colour and flavour provided a different snap, crackle and pop to this vibrant dish.

Vegetable String Chaat $8.70
Vegetable String Chaat $8.70

The chicken tikki was another visually stunning dish.  More importantly, it maintained the moisture commonly lost when smaller pieces of chicken are overcooked.  The seasoning was subtle and authentic and the saffron butter sauce added brilliance to the dish.

Tandoori Chicken Tikka $12.8
Tandoori Chicken Tikka $12.8

The gunpowder shrimp with moong bean salad was twice the price of the other snacks.  Four hearty shrimp were presented atop of an earthy bed of beans.  They were well seasoned although maybe a tad overcooked.

Gunpowder Prawns $17.90
Gunpowder Prawns $17.90

For “eats”,  we ordered the boatman’s fish and prawn curry, the madras pepper steak and beef short ribs.   As one of the most expensive dishes on the menu ($25.80), I was hoping for a little more content.  Only a few prawns and a couple of chucks of fish swam in the thin but flavourful broth. One of the sides was Bhindi bhaji; tender okra which simply seasoned with onion, ginger and garlic. It was a fresh addition to the heavily sauced entrees which surrounded it.

Boatman's fish and prawn curry $25.80 Bhindi bhaji 8.7
Boatman’s fish and prawn curry $25.80
Bhindi bhaji $8.70

The pepper steak ($19.70) was a flat iron cut served in a fragrant sauce with pepper, onion and coconut.  Although it didn’t swell with Indian flavours, technically it beat others I’ve had from the likes of Ruby Watchco and Bestellen. The meat was tender and cooked beautifully, needing little more than weak pressure of a butter knife to get through. The side of green beans were jazzed up nicely with onions, tumeric and coconut.  They kind of reminded me of a  healthy version of pakoras.

Madras Pepper Steak ($19.70) and French Beans ($9.80)
Madras Pepper Steak ($19.70) and French Beans ($9.80)

The highlight of the night was the beef short rib ($22.40).  The cook on the meat was perfect….no grit, no string, no chewiness.  The sauce was an aggressive blend of traditional Indian flavours which enhanced the star of the plate instead of drowning it.

Beef Short Ribs $22.40
Beef Short Ribs $22.40

Naan ($2.70) and basmatic rice ($4.60) were offered as sides.  I swear Mason jars make everything just a little more expensive.

Naan Bread ($2.70)- Two Orders
Naan Bread ($2.70)- Two Orders

 

Saffron Rice $4.60
Saffron Rice $4.60

From the small dessert menu, I went for the sweet plate ($9.80) as I was intrigued by the marshmallows rolled in garam masala sugar.  The plate also came with a torte dipped in ginger and topped with whipped cream and tandoori pineapple.  The third was naan khatai, a traditional Indian sugar cookie.   The marshmallows were a tease and I easily would have traded the rest of the plate for four more.

Sweet Plate ($9.80)
Sweet Plate ($9.80)

My colleague ordered the toasted coconut panna cotta topped with lemon and tandoori pineapple.  I had a morsel which was quite brilliant.  It was a tad unorthodox, lacking the extreme sweetness of traditional Indian desserts.

Toasted Coconut Panna Cotta $8.50
Toasted Coconut Panna Cotta $8.50

 

My Take

Pukka could be the best modern Indian restaurant in Toronto.  It fuses traditional but subtle Indian flavours with a decor and vibe indicative of Toronto’s trendy dining scene although it’s in a bit of an odd location. The dishes avoid the salty/fatty flavours that have become the seasoning of choice for many other nightspots and replace them with vibrant flavours including a whole lotta coconut.

The staff were friendly and knowledgeable, replicating a passion that mimicked the flavours that radiated from the plate. The chaat was brilliant.  The meat dishes were executed to near perfection although the seafood was steeply priced and a little less impressive. The panna cotta and marshmallows were delicious.

If you’re looking for your taste buds to get slapped around by a dabba for a great price, one of the many mum and dad shops may serve your purpose.  If you’re looking to overindulge on limitless portions of curries, there’s many a buffet for that.  If, however, you want more subtle Indian flavours fused with trendy dishes at lofty prices in the context of a modern automat, Pukka is your place.

Pukka on Urbanspoon
 

 

 

Review:Ottawa:Rockcliffe/Beechwood:Farb’s

It was a stormy, cold  night (that narrows it down to one of about 40 nights in the past couple of months) as I made the trek out to Farb’s in Ottawa.  Farb’s is a smallish, gimmick free place that focuses on the elegant presentation of standard bistro fare such as walleye (you think they’d call it pickerel, especially in the nation’s capital), chops, steaks and even Moo Goo Gai Pan for a little ethnic diversity. It’s a meat heavy menu with one vegetarian starter (a ubiquitous beet salad) and one main (risotto with trendy sunchoke and tomato jam).

Must

If this was a short rib, I’d like to see a long rib. It would probably look like that hunk of meat that tips Fred’s car over at the beginning of the Flintstones.  The meat was tasty and tender and abundant.  It sat upon a blissful mess of beans and root veggies and a jovial jus. I’m not sure who Rodney Blake is (I’m assuming it’s not the Aussie rugby player also called Rodzilla) , but his wilted greens are pretty darn good. I would of picked up the bone and savagely tore meat of the bone but….

1. My guest would likely think I was even crazier than I am (after all I do take pictures of everything I eat and interrogate waitstaff like a defense lawyer).

2. There was so much meat I probably couldn’t lift it or get anywhere close to the bone even if Adam Richman was helping me out.

3.  It only looks funny and appropriate on cartoons (how do they clean the bone in one fell swoop?).

Short Rib $30
Short Rib $30

Maybe

With a price just below double digits (restaurant soup prices in the past five years have escalated well above standard inflation rates), Farb’s does a decent one. This one was a carrot soup topped with a bit of salty. melty cheese and flavoured oil to offset the sweetness. The rawness of the carrot was evident and it was seasoned well.  Overall it was a good cure for the wintertime blues.

Market Soup $9
Market Soup $9

My Take

This is my second visit to Farb’s and both have been solid.  It’s a quaint, family run bistro with a focus on well-prepared food.  Starters range from $9-18 with most mains around $30. The wine selection is average and the dessert selection is somewhat minimal.  It’s not a place that will blow your mind with creativity or the use of unmentionable animal products, but you can get a classic dish done well. It comes accompanied with an intangible but important touch of family pride which is often missing from other establishments. In other words, when your with the Farber’s, you’ll have a yabba dabba doo time, a dabba doo time, you’ll have a gay old time.

 

 

Farbs Kitchen & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon