Fring’s: Let’s Just Say I Wasn’t Yelling HYFR Afterwards

Susur Lee has continued to expand his mini empire by securing the old Crush wine bar space.  Instead of opening another Asian-themed eatery, he has teamed up with entertainment icon and fellow sixite Drake to try and bring high end comfort food to the city’s streets.

I’m not sure why this new enterprise has been named Fring’s.  I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Torsten Frings, the German midfileder who played 33 games and scoring 2 goals with the Toronto FC only to retire after requiring surgery and returning to Europe to coach in his home country.  Perhaps it’s an homage to the trademarked side available at Harvey’s, Canada’s own fast food restaurant.  A combination of about 3 onion rings and six or so fries, it is the ideal accompaniment for the indecisive.  Maybe it’s the name is a term coined by Champagne Papi to describe the merging of two fundamental components of Drake’s brand, friends and bling, into one happy milieu.

The decor is also a milieu; in this case a trendy industrial style mixed with a cheesy VIP lounge.  Brick walls and wooden window panels combined with fuzzy if not hairy lounge seats with marble tables means both a downtown ambiance and  a nightclub aura.

After being seated, we were greeted by our waiter. The slick hair, glasses and demeanor screamed hipster but I questioned his authenticity as he was trying way to hard.  Like most other restaurants, he gave us the recited speech explaining the proper process for ordering off a sharing menu.  His entire demeanor seemed scripted as well, especially when we heard him deliver the exact same speech, in exactly the same way, to the table beside us.

I’ll admit part of the reason I came here was to have the ability to report back to my daughter who is a massive Drake fan.  So, it goes without saying that my first question to the waiter was “What would Drake drink?”.  He quickly answered that his the pop icon’s favorite drink was the Tom Skudra ($18), a rum based cocktail with a mix of juices, mint and raspberries. I’ve taken to doing google searches on cocktail names and found that Tom Skudra was a Canadian photojournalist who passed in 2007  and best known for TV series called Programme X in 1970. That said, the drink also went along with the ongoing joke that, whether I try or not, I usually end up ordering the girliest looking  which is usually pink (mostly the result of my affinity for Campari) and this was no exception.  Unlike a Campari drink, however, it was exceptionally sweet and somewhat resembled a daiquiri. I was left wondering whether the waiter was lying through his teeth or Drake has a reeeealllll sweet side I don’t know about.

frings drink
Tom Skudra $14

Nothing says comfort food like toast so what better to start with than some homemade ricotta with jalapeno plum jam and pomegranate ($10). It was presented nicely and in Susur fashion, was an explosive blend of flavours and textures.

frings ricotta
Ricotta Toast $10

Next was the steak tartare ($20).  I was expecting a bit more of the aforementioned taste and flavour explosion but it fell a little flat.  The presentation, usually rather extravagant  on a plate that anything to do with Chef Lee, was uninspiring.  Plus, if they put egg on the octopus dish; why not a little on the tartare!

frings tartare
Steak Tartare $20

The southern spicy maple fried chicken ($26) seems all the rave by reviewers across the board but then again, any fried chicken seems to be.  Some will argue that the art of perfecting this comfort food is an intricate as a souffle while others say it’s pretty freaking hard to mess it up since it involves deep frying something.  I adhere to the latter.  I’ve made a few batches in my day and although some have been better than others, none have really been bad.  There was nothing wrong with the chicken at all.  It was crispy on the outside, moist and the middle and adequately seasoned. The sauce was good as well.   All I’m saying is I can get a bucket of KFC with 8 pieces, popcorn chicken, fries, gravy and two salads for about the same price.  Am I saying that KFC is a good as Susur’s fried fowl?  Not at all.  I’m just trying to point out that I might expect a little more for $26.

frings chicken
Southern Spicy Maple Fried Chicken $26

I find a burger an excellent benchmark of a restaurant.  The burger is a canvas for creativity, the variations are endless and the price point can range from a few dollars to a few hundred.  The Susur burger, served with JK fries, comes in at a hefty $24, which is more than other iconic burgers in the city including Richmond station ($21), Marben ($19) and Harbord Room ($19) and wasn’t anyway close to as good.

frings burger
Susur Burger with JK Fries $24

At this point, I begged the waiter for a drink a little more manly than the Tom Skudra  and preferably not as pink.  He suggested the Waste Man ($18), a cocktail with brandy, chamomile bitters and peach.  Although one might expect it to be sleepy (get it?..chamomile) this was a good strong drink more reflective of the 6God’s brand.

frings drink2
Waste Man $18

 

For dessert, I went with the waiter’s recommendation for the overpriced warm plum tart served with creme fraiche and almonds ($14). It was a bit chic and a bit homey, both of which aligned with the general theme of the place but otherwise was average and contained a whole lot of pastry and not enough plum.

frings dessert
Plum Tart $14

My Take

From a pop culture perspective, the marriage of Drake and Susur Lee makes perfect sense.   Much like Chef Lee’s fusion cooking, bringing two variant entities together often results in spawn which are both unique and exciting. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Fring’s.  Instead of being an innovator, it seems like Chef Lee is following trends which include cheese topped toasts , burgers  and comfort foods like fried chicken.  Not only are they average from a taste and presentation perspective, they are astronomically priced. The cocktails, steak tartare, fried chicken and burger are at least $4-5 higher than similar drinks and dishes at comparable Toronto eateries. The service was robotic.

In the end, I just expected two of the most innovative minds in Toronto to dream up something a little more exciting.  The cocktail list is overly fruity and juicy and the drinks have boring names.  I mean, any Drake song would make a cool cocktail name.  Take “Teach U a Lesson”‘ “Worst Behavior” (come Drake..you’re Canadian…add a u) and “Star67″ for example . The food is uninspired.”Big Rings” would be like a great side to a burger that can be bigger, better and cheaper.  Even some “Pound Cake” for dessert would work. There’s no tellin’ what the future holds for Fring’s but it’s too expensive and may get boring really fast. After all, I sure as hell didn’t leave yelling HYFR down King street after I left.

Fring's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Advertisements

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).

2201
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.

2202
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.

2203
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.

2204
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.

2205
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.

2206
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.

2207
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.

2211
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

Snack Bar Crawl #1: Frolicking in the Fashion District

A group of friends and I had decided to embark on the first of many snack bar crawls around Toronto. The trend toward small plate menus and relatively geographical proximity allows for a well structured venture to experience a number of tastes and concepts on a given night. What makes this particular group interesting is the diversity of food preferences and aversions.  Instead of the Fantastic Five, we may be better referred to as the Finicky Five.  First of all, none of us are fond of bad food.  In addition, we have one celiac, one gluten intolerant, one fish aversion and a couple of gluttons (yours truly included). That said, I have my own dislikes and aversions, so it made for a bit of a long, tedious decision process at times.   The first target area was Fashion district/Trinity Bellwoods. Starting at 430 pm, we arrived at Bar Buca which made sense considering its day long menu and happy hour in which a few complimentary snacks are provided. The drink menu has an array of wine and a number of cocktails both tradtional and unique.  While my collegaues started with processo,  I opted for a Sicilian Old-fashioned which was true to form.  It was nicely balanced with an aggressive but appropriate amount of bitterness.

Sicilian Old-Fashioned
Sicilian Old-Fashioned

At the same time, we were treated to a nice array of snacks as we decided on the menu.  The small tower had olives, meat, squid, cheese and nodini (bread knots with rosemary and garlic).  It was a nice way to start, especially given the diversity of eaters at the table.

Snacks
Snacks

After careful consideration, we opted for the following four dishes: Ciccioli ($4)– Pork cheek with chili.  Delicious taste and texture with a nice bite from the chili. A steal at four bucks.

f
Ciccioli $4

Vongole alla Carbonara.($9)- Little neck clams, guanciale,   egg yolk and amido.  These tasty morsels were packed with flavour and were prepared without the use of pasta water, making them gluten free.  Too bad..because  I could have had more than one.

f
Vongole alla Carbonara $9

Polpette di Capra ($14)- Goat and Ricotta meatballs.  Fantastic texture and moisture.  Definitely tasted like goat.  The tomato sauce cut nicely through  the richness of the meatball.  A little pricey.

m
Polpette di Capra $14

Arrosticini ($7)– Ewe’s meat, salmoriglio, aged ricotta and lemon.  The meat was not dry and the salty ricotta and acid of lemon created a nice harmony….despite the fact I’m not a fan of lamb.

Lamb
Arrosticini $7

 My Take This is my second visit to Bar Buca and my first for dinner.  Like breakfast, I remain impressed by the diversity of food and drink offered at reasonable price points.  The service is professional and knowledgeable. The complimentary snacks are a great touch and make you feel part of the family.  Despite the fact I don’t know a stitch of Italian, there is no pretension attached to the description of the menu items and they are very willing to accommodate diet restrictions.  A nice start to the snack crawl, even at 430 in the afternoon.  I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to try a few of the more adventurous choices such as immature smelts, offal sausage or  beef heart or even stick to one of the stuffed fococcia or cold plates.

Bar Buca on Urbanspoon

 

416 snack bar has been a thorn in my side for a while.  I have attempted to go a few times but the waiting crowds have kept me away.  Part of the reason is the small quarters and limited seating.  Having arrived around 6, we were able to secure 5 seats around the bar before the dinner crowd arrived. I grabbed a local pint as we once again huddled to decipher what we could eat as a collective whole. Moroccan Vegetable Skewers ($6)– The safest choice on the menu, they were also pretty boring.  Very modest seasoning atop cauliflower with a token olive here and there. Gluten-free and flavor-free.

Moroccan Vegetable Skewers
Moroccan Vegetable Skewers $6

Korean Fried Chicken ($5)– Tasty, crispy morsels topped with fresh green onions.  More batter than chicken but delicious flavour.

Korean Fried Chicken
Korean Fried Chicken $5

Steak Tartare ($7)-Ordered gluten free version atop lettuce instead of crostini.  Asked for crostini after.  Fresh and nicely seasoned, the bread worked a heck of a lot better than the lettuce.

Steak Tartare
Steak Tartare $7

Pork Steam Bun ($5)– Bread was soft and the pork was crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and nicely seasoned. However, they have been utensil free since 2011 which made for difficult sharing since I couldn;t get a knife. At the same time, the couple beside me was using a spoon to ladle sauce onto something.  Isn’t that a utensil?

Steamed Bum-Pork
Steamed Bum-Pork $5

The churrasco quail for 2 ($13) was by consensus the best thing we had on the menu (partially due to the fact is was something we could all eat).  The sauce was a great compliment to the nicely cooked bird.  In a world where a  2 pc KFC dinner in considered a snack, don’t be alarmed at the definition of a snack for two at 416.

Currasho Quail for 2
Churrasco Quail for 2 $13

My Take

I never know whether to respect or roll my eyes at gimmicks such as “no utensils since 2011”.  It’s cute but proves a bit cumbersome at times.  Perhaps I’m still annoyed by buddy beside me taunting me with a spoon while I tried to break a pork bun like the Eucharist. Maybe I’ll pull a John Catucci and pull a fork out of my shirt pocket and watch all hell break loose.  416 snack bar is loud and crowded but has a fun vibe and decent food. The price point is low but you really don’t get a lot of food.   Wait, am I allowed to put this on urbanSPOON?

416 Snack Bar on Urbanspoon

 

This was my second visit to Lisa Marie. Memories of my first visit included the pork belly cheese thang and the getaway car (a Ceasar with a beer chaser). Needless to say, I was a bit dismayed to see the former missing from the  menu.  So, I put in faith in some of the other dishes that were offered on the menu. Pad Thai Fries ($12)-  People rave about these fries.  I expected a gloppy mess that I could spill on my shirt as I ate them poutine style.  Instead, they were a dry,seasoned fry that resembled the coated fries from Cavendish.  I suppose a few sprigs of cilantro, a dozen bean sprouts and a lime wedge was supposed to increase the authenticity, but I didn’t get it.

Pad Thai Fries
Pad Thai Fries $12

Moroccan Beef Rib ($15)-  I had visions of he beginning of the Flintstones when this hunk of meat was delivered.  I thought the table was going to tip over like Fred’s car. It was huge.  The rib was fall apart tender but  its sheer size made the seasoning almost undetectable.  A crust would have been ideal to create some texture contrast to the hunk of beef.  We all agreed that some kind of sauce (tomato based?) to cut through the richness would have a nice addition.

Yabba Dabba Do Beef Rib
Yabba Dabba Do Beef Rib $15

We put our innovative minds together and ended up adding the beef to the pad thai fries which added some moisture to the fries and some flavour to cut the monotony of a whole lot of meat.  Bulgogi Ravioli ($11)–  This was a smart dish that was ok.  The beef was nicely marinaded and stuffed fusion style into pasta.  The presentation was kind of sad and underwhelming for the price.  Once again, a little sauce poured over or served on the side might had added a little punch despite the fact the filling was well seasoned.

Bulgogi Ravioli
Bulgogi Ravioli $11

Deep Fried Pizza ($9)- After getting the Flinstone rib, we weren’t sure what to expect with the pizza so we were a little surprised to get a tiny piece of pizza dough with a couple slices of duck and a bit of slaw.  The flavours were there but the portion size wasn’t.

Deep Fried Pizza
Deep Fried Pizza $9

My Take

After voting Lisa Marie one of my favorite restaurants in 2012, I was a little disappointed.  The crafty, brilliant snacks I had before have been replaced by inconsistent dishes from the perspective of size, value and flavour. The pad thai fries were generic and the rib was monotonously large.   The vibe was different too. I’m not sure if it was an off night, but it lacked the energy of the previous two venues.   The service was mediocre.  The getaway car was still delicious and they had a few bottles of wine under $25 on the menu.  I guess even Elvis had a bad album or two.

Lisa Marie on Urbanspoon

The final stop was Fonda Lola, the recently Queen St. stop promising fresh Mexican fare.  We arrived around 930 to find the place still full.  It’s a small venue which maybe seats around 30 or 35 including the bar. The decor had hints of Mexican influence but also had metal blinds covering the windows. The bar was a good size and had knives and forks fused into the covering.  After a short wait, we were seated together and it was margarita time. I was intrigued by the kombucha (a new and emerging food trend) margarita.  It was easy drinking although not what I would call traditional other than the 2 ounces of tequila. The menu, like the restaurant itself, was rather small, offering a dozen items including dessert. It offered a mix of traditional Mexican dishes combined with some dishes more indicative of the Queen Street dining scene.

Trout Aguachile ($8.5)- A nice example of the combination of a trendy fish prepared in the style of a traditional Mexican ceviche.

Trout
Trout Aguachile $8.5

Frijoles and Cinnamon Chile Rice ($8)- Disappointing dish.  The runny beans were confusing and the rice was unspectacular.  I was hoping for popping Mexican flavour that wasn’t there.

Rice and Beans
Frijoles and Cinnamon Chile Rice  $8

Panela Popper- ($7.5)- An attempt at a jalapeno popper, they were gluten free so there was some excitement at the table.  The jalapeno was almost undetectable and in the end they tasted like blandly battered cheese sticks. The sauce on the bottom created a bit of a punch but nothing really memorable.

Poppers
Panela Popper $7.5

Taco al Pastor-Pork ($11)- The pork was decent but there were no condiments other than the pineapple which seemed seperate from the meat as opposed to the  pator package.  For $11 you got 3 or 4  shells full of boring.

Tacos al Pastor
Tacos al Pastor $11

My Take

The concept of fresh is great, especially with Mexican cooking but it can’t come at the expense of flavour.  The margaritas were fun and delicious even if not traditional.  From a food perspective, the trout ceviche was smart..the rest wasn’t.  The tacos were substandard, especially when compared to others which have graced the palates of hipsters over the last couple of years.    The fried cheese was a poor attempt at healthy bar food and the rice and beans were a sad interpretation of the traditional Mexican dish.   I can’t say I was Fonda Fonda Lola.

Fonda Lola on Urbanspoon

In the end

The fashion frolic faded as the night went on.  Things went south as we headed west.  Bar Buca was the best of the night, offering good food and good service.  416 snack bar had a great vibe but no utensils.  Lisa Marie has become less fashionable since my first visit.  Fonda Lola was kinda mala…and that’s not the tequila talking.  I look forward to taking a summertime schlepp down Ossington.