My NFC Divisional Round Cook-Off: Seattle vs Green Bay

I think the excitement in this match stemmed from a few things:

  1. Rodgers vs Wilson- Both QBs are former Super Bowl champions and definite Hall of Fame candidates. Part of their legacy, however, may involve losing the big game as well.
  2. Under most circumstances, Seattle would be overjoyed to add the 12th man to a divisional playoff game but if the regular season was any indication, you could argue that Seattle would have preferred to be on the road given their 7-1 away record. That said, Green Bay’s domination at Lambeau continued this season and they boasted the identical record at home.
  3. With the return of Marshawn Lynch, it would be interesting to see if he even sniffed of his old self and if Pete Carroll would even dream of doing anything other than handing him the ball anytime the Hawks were inside the opposition’s 5 yard line.

With the Seattle hot dog used for the wild card game, I had to renege on a previous post when I stated that I wouldn’t resort to the use of little neck clams to represent Seattle cuisine given my location and questionable freshness. I didn’t mind because I still reminisce about sucking back steamers steps from the Pike market in Seattle. With a quick trip to my local RCSS, I was set although I did cringe a little at the price tag which is always the case when buying seafood in a landlocked city. The advantage of littleneck clams is the simplicity of preparation; you simply soak them in some salt water for a while, steam them up and serve with a little melted butter and a bowl of the juice from the pot which adds a little salt and helps cleans the clam of any residual sand. The physiology of the clam itself even allows for easy dipping….it almost has a natural handle. The only downfall is the tendency for the bivalues to retain sand in all their nooks and crannies despite a good soak and stir.

Littleneck Clams

Green bay is certainly not known for exquisite cuisine. Cheese, brats and fish fries are often on the city’s menu. However, when i did a little digging I discovered the story of booyah, a slow-cooked stew which has become synonymous with Wisconsin tailgating. The story is that a local minister was looking to raise funds for his church and solicited donations from local farmers. Using beef and chicken he received as the protein, he added whatever vegetables he had around, threw it all in a large cauldron and let it simmer for a few days. The result is a thick, hearty soup thickened by the gelatin from the beef bones. Afterwards, when a local reporter asked what it was called, he was told it was bouillon (a traditional Belgian stew) but heard it as “booyah’ and the rest is history. My version did not take a couple of days (I wasn’t feeding the masses after all) but it did require a good part of the day in order to maximize the effect of the beef bones. In addition to the shredded chicken, I threw some rutabaga, potato, cabbage, carrot, peas and a can of tomatoes. The result was excellent and I could see why it would be so sought after on a cold Sunday afternoon in Green Bay.

My Take

The game was one of the more exciting in this year’s post-season docket and unlike most of the other games, relied mainly on a pass and catch strategy between each QB and his favorite receiver while the rest of the team generally spectated. Marshawn Lynch did run for 2 TDs (I guess Carroll learned that regardless of the outcome he had to give Lynch the ball to avoid embarrassment) but only had 26 total yards in total rushing. In the end, Rodgers emerged victorious and removed some of the stigma regarding losing the big game. Honestly, despite my respect for Russell Wilson, I was just happy because the Seattle loss means I don’t have to witness Pete’s buffoonery again until next year. Booyah!

Breaking the Monotony of Winterlicious with a Real Barn Burner

With early April’s reminder that winter wasn’t quite over, it opened the door for me to rewind the clock a little and talk about Winterlicious. I’ve always been on the fence about this beloved annual event.  On one hand, it allows the masses to have a taste (literally) of one or more of the hundreds of restaurants that make up Toronto’s proud and diverse culinary culture.  On the other hand, it is a little artificial and contrived. Some the city’s restaurants stay at arms length from this festival and those that do participate often offer menus that are far from representative of their everyday vibe.

I figured I’d bring my dad out for dinner during Winterlicious.  I chose Barnsteiner’s ($35 set menu) for three reasons.  First, it’s located outside the downtown core. Two, it was relatively new on the scene. Thirdly, it actually had a menu that actually bordered on the side of creativity, offering both 5 appetizers and entrees as well as three desserts.  Barnsteiner’s is named after chef and owner Herbert Barnsteiner who, with his wife Michelle, ran the Corner House with great success for a decade and a half.  After a short break, they took over the old John and Sons’ oyster house just south of Yonge and St. Clair.

The vibe is a busy European bistro  feel.  The actual floor plan is a bit of a maze with lots of twists and turns and awkwardly placed tables.  Memories of the old oyster house exist, especially the ceiling mirrors which used to reflect visions of staff shucking oysters on the prep stations but now have benign angles that just miss most of the kitchen’s angles.

I started with a paper plane, a cocktail with  bourbon, montenegro, aperol and lemon. I’d put it at mid-range in terms of bourbon cocktails available throughout the city.

1273
Paper Plane Cocktail $12.5

Among the starters, we decided to split the smoked chicken salad with
grilled oyster mushrooms, arugula, fois gras croutons and finished with a raspberry-sherry dressing and the garlic and chili grill shrimps with crusty bread, and salsa verde.  The salad was a smart blend of colours, textures and flavours.  The sweet berries and dressing was dumbed down by the smoky chicken and the peppery arugula was a smart medium.  The shrimp were cooked to perfection and simply but nicely seasoned with the salsa verde.

From among the entrees, we opted for the  whole roasted black angus striploin with
crushed fingerling potatoes, crimini mushrooms, red-wine jus and the venison stew
braised in juniper red wine sauce with spaetzle and brussel sprouts. I don’t often order steak in a restaurant but I quite enjoy a good roast.  It was a simple dish but very well executed from the beef itself to the flavourful au jus.  The stew was the perfect winter dish; hearty yet refined.  The meat was super tender and the spaetzle was reminiscent of the chef’s proud German heritage.

For dessert, we chose from both ends of the spectrum, opting for the comforting apple and cranberry crumble and the more delicate lemon panacotta with toasted coconut. Once again, no complaints with either one as they were both well executed and exactly what I expected.

My Take

Although the Winterlicious experience is not always a fair representation of the essence of a restaurant, Barnsteiner’s succeeded in making me want to come back. There was good variety as far as a winterlicious menu goes and all the offerings I tried were well executed.  I plan to return to try one of the numerous menus offers such a the many flatbreads, seafood options and chef’s homeland dishes.  In fact, I was asked by a colleague for a last minute dinner suggestion for her team and I suggested here.  I called and they were able to accommodate 8 people with a little shuffling.  Although I didn’t go myself, the feedback from my colleague was a quick  twitterlike …”it was really good! And lots of fun.  Very good price wise.” I nodded in agreement as I thought $35 for a solid winterlicious meal wasn’t bad either.

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

 

 

Review:Toronto:Midtown:L’Avenue

A business meeting brought me midtown for dinner.  Midtown is a place where restaurants are restaurants and not political statements or abstract expressions of social activism.  You can get an appetizer, main and dessert for a decent  price without the need for  an explanation about the difference between a starter, small plate or large plate.  The menus tend to be simple and the decor looks like a restaurants and not like Johnny’s auto shop.  Plus, you can have a conversation without having Radioactive by the Imagination Dragons blasting or listening to  Run DMC remind me about footwear:

Now the Adidas I possess for one man is rare
myself homeboy got 50 pair
got blue and black cause I like to chill
and yellow and green when it’s time to get ill
got a pair that I wear when I’m playin ball
with the heal inside make me 10 feet tall

(This is no crack at Run DMC.  I’d just as upset if Locked in the Trunk of a Car by the Tragically Hip  were blasting in my ear).

Unlike it’s name, L’Avenue is a smallish bistro on Bayview, not Avenue. It’s easy to miss with its quaint front; a freckle of the mosaic  that makes up the Leaside neighbourhood.  Like the name suggests, it focuses on french style cooking, although updated with lighter, fresher techniques and local, seasonal ingredients. There is an fairly extensive and reasonably priced list of red and white wines available  (many bottles are in the 35-50 dollar range) from a diversity of regions, Krombacher (Pils and Dark) on tap and a spattering of local and world renowned beer included a gluten-free choice as well

This night featured an oyster special which was served on a cloud of salty meringue.  They were fresh and meaty and seasoned nicely although I’m always a fan of a little heat on the side.

Oyster special
Oyster special

For my  hors d’oeuvres (or appetizers for the anglophone), I opted for sweetbreads in a promise to exchange some of them for the bone marrow at the table.  Sometimes sweetbreads run the risk over being overly greasy or gritty.  The chef avoided both and offered a simple dish atop fragrant streaks of coulis. The marrow was also served in it’s fundamental form, simple seasoned with some herbs and bread crumbs to add some crunch.

Sweetbreads
Sweetbreads

Bone Marrow
Bone Marrow $12

Our table’s family style commitment continued with an array of entrees which included the Fried Chicken “a la Basque”, Catalan Seafood Stew “Zarzuela” and a duck feature (we played rock paper and scissors to actually determine who would order the latter).   In summary, the execution of each dish was spot on.  The fried chicken was moist, the duck a beautiful medium rare and the scallop had a perfect char which  housed a glistening white interior.  Instead of relying on traditional french flavours such as ummm…butter, the chicken and seafood stew (as the names suggest) were  infused with Spanish flavours including tomato and saffron respectively. The duck was a bit more traditional but the addition of rhubarb  was stellar and a testament to their commitment to  use seasonal ingredients.

Fried Chicken “a la Basque” $21
Fried Chicken “a la Basque” $21

Catalan Seafood Stew “Zarzuela” $25
Catalan Seafood Stew “Zarzuela” $25

Duck Feature (mmm....Rhubarb)
Duck Feature (mmm….Rhubarb)

Here’s an interesting fact.  The pavlova dessert was named after the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova (God,  I love wikipedia).  You would think that a dish with meringue as its foundation would have European origins, but in fact Pavlova is a creation of culinary juggernaut New Zealand (although Australia also tries to lay claim, possibly fueling the bitter Rugby rivalry which exists to this day). It was presented on a plate and with a style reminiscent of tea at  Gramma’s on Sunday.  Let’s call it an endearing cheesiness.  Like the dishes before, it was well executed with a twist, in this case a tart passion fruit custard.

Pavlova $8
Pavlova $8

My Take

Calling L’Avenue a french bistro is a bit of a misnomer.  Instead of small rich portions served in the most pretentious manner, the chefs invite Basque and Catalan flavours into many of the dishes and serve hearty portions in the midst of a casual environment.

L’Avenue bistro is like a good nap. It’s not the most exciting thing but it is refreshing and satisfying.  You get Egyptian cotton sheets and a small mint on your fluffed pillow iwhile relaxing as soft music senerades you in the background.  They adhere to a theme of comfort and tradition instead of throwing down an air mattress and trying to convince you it’s cool to sleep on it while blasting 2 Live Crew and then retweeting it when you do.

L'Avenue Bistro on Urbanspoon