Astronomy vs Astrology: A Story of Getting Lucky with Mira and Dasha..Two Urban Dictionary Sweethearts

I like astronomy. In fact, it was my favorite elective and turned out to be my best mark in university. It’s a fun combination of three of my favorite things; math, science and trivia. I still remember the order of the stars (OBAFGKM) and my facial haired professor’s challenge to deviate from the sexist “Oh be a fine girl, kiss me” and come up with a more politically correct mnemonic. Mine was “Only Bearded Astronomers Feel Good Knowing Mars”. Not sure he was impressed.

Astrology, on the other hand, is less about science and more about entertainment. I certainly don’t believe in the validity of horoscopes beyond coincidence but it’s at times refreshing to attribute your issues and actions to planetary alignment. That said, it’s really easy to pin my sometimes ridiculous stubbornness on the fact I’m a Taurus and not just an Irish asshole.

The name Mira has a number of meanings and is common in Latin and Slavic cultures, usually meaning admirable, wondrous or related to peace. Urban dictionary calls Mira a extremely lovable girl. Miras are usually the smartest in their class and will go to extreme lengths to show it. Mira’s are loyal people and when given a chance, could grow to be your bff. Mira is also a red giant star in the constellation Cetus and is sometimes visible to the naked eye. In astrology, some cite Cetus as the 14th zodiac sign.

Mira is one of the handful of new Peruvian restaurants which has popped up in the GTA over the last couple of years. Located in an alley between King and Wellington and only identified by a small, worn metal plate, it can be a little tricky to find. Once inside, it opens up into a busy space highlighted by an open kitchen above and a large bar within a narrow space below filled with murals, mirrors and funky flooring.

Drinkwise, I started with the El Manana cocktail, a bourbon based “booze forward” spin on an old fashioned flavored with honey, mint and lime (not pictured). From there it was wine. Truth told it was tough to find a great selection at a price point that less than three digits. First, we decided on a rather disappointing Andover Pinot for $80 followed by a more adventurous and better Portuguese Uivo Vinhas Velhas blend for the same price.

As expected, the menu is a smorgasbord of all sorts of proteins in the form of ceviches, anticuchos and larger mains. From a seafood perspective, the octopus, accompanied with aji and potato, although well prepared, was a bit of a flimsy starter at $22. The tostada morado ($18) was clever collection of classic tuna and central American flavors (corn, avocado and cilantro). The tiradito hiramasa ($21) was the best of the smaller seafood dishes we sampled…fresh kampachi marinated in citrusy tiger’s milk and topped with sweet chili jam. The last fish dish was a fantastic whole branzino ($46) topped with a rich sauce which enhanced the subtle of the fish quickly nicely.

Land anticuchos included costilla (short rib $19) and cordero (lamb $17). The fatty short rib was balanced with sweet, spice and earthy truffle. Admittedly, I’m not a lamb fan so I wasn’t surprised to find the cordero rather unremarkable. In my opinion, the pollo inchacapi ($28) was the STAR of the night. The hen was covered in colourful sauces and garnishes with peanut, chili and tamarind notes which added visual appealing in additional to the incredible flavors. The side corn dish mimicked the flavours of the other dishes and was a nice colourful addition to whole spread.

Dasha is a girl’s Russian name meaning “god’s gift”. According to urban dictionary, Dasha is the sweetest girl in the universe. If u mess with her friends u will have 2 deal with her. She is caring, funny and very talanted. She will always be there 4 u when ur in trouble. If u meet a Dasha, ur life will change and u will always have a smile on ur face. In astrology, Dasha is a Hindi term used to indicate planetary periods. Vimshottari dasha  assumes that the maximum duration of life of an individual human being is 120 years which is the aggregate duration of all nine planetary periods reminding us that Betty White still has a while to go.

Dasha is the newest project of esteemed chef Akira Back and features classic and upscale Chinese food along with traditional karaoke rooms available upstairs. Like Mira, finding it is not intuitive..it a bit off the beaten path tucked down an alley off of King street. It also features a larger bar and an open kitchen. The interior can be described as Chinese market meets the standard Toronto industrial look.

There is a mystic component to the drink menu. I ordered the Iron Fist, Dasha’s take on an old fashioned which pours from a kettle amidst a cloud of dry ice. It was slick and smooth and booze forward of course.

Iron Fist Cocktail

Food wise, we started with a couple of small plates including chicken balls ($9) and wasabi prawns ($14), the latter at the recommendation of the waitstaff. The chicken balls were pretty standard and a lot less bulky than the ones which normally headline your local joint’s family dinner combo and the dipping sauce lacked the fluorescence of the standard sweet and sour sauce but that was made up with the bright green wasabi shrimp which glowed in the surrounding dim light. The crunchy shrimp was surprisingly balanced with sweet accents and heat typical of horseradish.

Next were the dasha fried noodles ($12) and steamed har gow dim sum (which I’m told is a traditional way to celebrate Chinese new year) for $14. Neither dish was overly memorable…the noodles were pretty generic and the dim sum was a bit disappointing. Also, I was with a Chinese colleague who literally cringed at the har gow’s price point which she deemed almost insulting given the same offering usually goes for 1/3-1/2 the price at any other dim sum house and one might argue those ones taste even better.

We finished the dinner with the black cod, black truffle duck ($49) and side miso eggplant ($13) both in which I thoroughly enjoyed. The cod and duck was masterfully prepared and presented. The shaved black truffle was delightful. The eggplant was also flavourful and nicely highlighted the proteins with the unami flavour of both the eggplant itself and the miso seasoning.

I’m also reluctant to go too crazy with dessert at most Chinese restaurants because I honestly can’t recall any Asian dessert topping my list of best of all time sweets. Regardless, we tried the banana spring roll with strawberry ice cream as well as the with green tea ice cream. Let’s just say neither cracks the list. The ice cream was quite good but the accompanying pastries were average at best.

My Take

Despite being very nice ladies according to urban dictionary, Mira and Dasha are also two new and highly sought eateries with many similarities. Both are located in hidden spots off of King street west. Both have busy and vibrant interiors with open kitchens and disproportionately large bars. Both offer exciting cocktails and nicely represent their respective culture through traditional yet clever food. You will pay for the ambiance however and may even overpay, especially if you want mediocre wine, dim sum or dessert.

Despite this adventure, I have to admit I’m still a bigger fan of astronomy than astrology. I much prefer red giants and white dwarfs to mercury retrogrades and horoscopes. That said, perhaps my old scientific and stubborn Taurean mind could be changed to better appreciate astrological intervention, especially if my Dasha fortune cookie ever rings true. Where’s Mira and Dasha when you need them.

My Dasha Fortune Cookie

New Orleans Day 3: Beignets, Trolling in Area 3 and a Graham Elliot Doppelganger

My commitment to three square meals continued on day three in New Orleans; that is if you are willing to accept the fact that a beignet and a cafe au lait is breakfast. Instead of hitting the Cafe Du Monde’s original location, I opted for one close to the convention centre.  It’s hard to argue that dough deep fried in cottonseed oil and covered in powdered sugar can be a bad thing and I was neither let down or really surprised.  I was, however, more intrigued by the coffee.  Historically, chicory was added to coffee by the French during their civil war to preserve rations and that tradition continued from Acadians right through the Louisiana settlers.  The intense bitterness of this plant from the Dandelion family is likely part of the reason the cafe au lait is preferred to straight up black. That said,   I picked up a can and drink it black but it’s certainly a sipping coffee more than one you would down like a shooter during the morning rush.

beighnets-cafe-du-monde
Cafe Du Monde Beignets $5

Lunch was at Peche, which won the 2014 James Beard award for best new restaurant in the US and is part of the Donald Link empire. This seafood-focused eatery is conveniently located a few minutes from the convention centre so it was relatively safe even among the pop-up thunder storms which seem to blast through the Big Easy at any random moment throughout the work day.

Living in southern Ontario, my access to fresh oysters is few and far between and when I can get them, they are usually overpriced Malpeques so I was delighted at the chance to pound back a dozen gems from gulf coast for a buck or two each.  On this day the features included Louisiana Area 3 (shellfish harvest area are given a number which stop at 28 and luckily do not go up to 51).  Area 3 is the easternmost harvest area.  The others were from Alabama, specifically Dauphin island.  Let’s just say if I lived here I would have absolutely no chance of pernicious anemia, would have frank hypercalcemia and I could probably play Robert Downey Jr.’s iron man double.

peche-oysters
Area 3 and Dauphin Island Oysters (much cheaper than land-locked Ontario)

Looking back, I think I told myself I would order anything with the word Louisiana in it.   In this case it was the Louisiana shrimp roll which seemed a suitable lunch choice.  Much like it’s Canadian cousin, it features a soft bun stuffed with mayo drenched seafood.  It was the prefect lunch choice….good size, good taste and good value.  For dessert I couldn’t resist the strawberry custard which was a trendy version of the no-bake  old school strawberry cheesecake my mom used to make.

Although I didn’t have the full booze laden dinner experience, lunch gave me a flavour of the food and vibe of this accolade filled eatery which was impressive.  The service was prompt and courteous but pleasantly pompous.

After a number of modernized New Orleans meals so far, it was time to go old school and visit Brennan’s for dinner.  This well established destination has a long history in the big easy.  What’s not to like about it:it’s  been around since 1946, it’s cheesy and they use words like old-world elegance and pampering service in their description on the website. Plus, their chef’s, Slade Rushing, has a name that sounds like he should be designated chef for the Sons of Anarchy. After a sazarac in the roost bar, I rewound the clock and had a seat in the tacky rounded booth in one of the many dining rooms.

I was pleased to be greeted by a waiter who looked like Michelin star chef Graham Elliot. He was quick and courteous and knowledgeable;another reminder that there still is good and traditional service in the world.  He was pleased to discuss the many aspects of the menu including the specials which included steak Diane.  I quickly checked my phone to ensure I hadn’t stumbled upon a wormhole which transported me back to the mid 20th century when tableside flambees were all the rage. Despite the date confusion, my mind was made up..I was dining on American nostalgia tonight and it was gonna be good.

brennans-elliott
Graham Elliot?

I was at a large table so collectively there was good opportunity to get feedback on a number of menu items. Appetizers ordered included the Jackson salad, turtle soup and chilled fois gras. I opted for another bite of history…crab remoulade modernized with shaved jicama, avocado and a mango vinaigrette.  It was a smart and fresh summer starter.  I had a spoonful of the turtle soup as well which was bursting with great flavours but I pondered how anybody could eat it regularly in the midst of regular tropical temperatures.

As I mentioned, the steak Diane was automatic. The other choices at the table included the filet Stanley, grouper and lamb.  We also had a vegetarian at the table who was offered the chef’s special which more or less ended up being a plateful of sauteed vegetables. Back to my dish;  Graham cooked up the steak filet like a pro and entertained us with Louisiana banter the whole time.  It was served with potato medallions and a few carrots…brilliant.  The time machine was still working. It was exactly what I expected… a pan seared piece of steak covered in salty juices. The feedback from the rest of the table on the entrees was positive…even the vegetarian seemed satisfied…but that may have been a side effect from the protein deficiency.

Going to Brennan’s and not ordering Bananas Foster would be like going to McDonald’s and never trying a Big Mac.  This labour intensive dessert’s origins lie within Brennan’s seventy year history. According to Brennan’s website (which annoying has the heading Banana’s Foster…the misuse of apostrophes is a real pet peeve of mine) It was created in 1951 after the chef Paul Blangé was challenged to come up with a dessert using surplus banana’s from a family  business.  As mentioned, table side cooking was all the rage so the bananas foster was born. I’m a true believer that nostalgia tastes incredible so I wasn’t disappointed.  There were a smorgasbord of other desserts which arrived as well including a bread pudding, chocolate pave, creme brulee and crepe Fitzgerald (also prepared tableside). The savory palate at the table opted for the cheese tray which was nicely presented with a trio of offerings.

Brennan’s is a retro oasis in a culinary scene driven by an industrial revolution driven by hipster foodies who dismiss table side cuisine but drink Manhattans because they saw it on Mad Men.  This eatery doesn’t budge on bow ties, lavish decor, crafty cocktails and insisting waitstaff earn their gratuities.  The food is unapologetically  New Orleans with the odd twist here and there.  In the end, like a handful of other eateries in the Big Easy; one can rewind the clock and dine like a mid-century aristocrat for a couple of hours and if luck is in the air, you might actually have a masterchef flambeing fare table side.

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

 

Chicago: Day 6: White Palace and Black Sabbath

My final day in Chicago was a race to see how many DDDs I could hit before my 2 pm flight.  After a strategic session with a map, I determined a route that would allow me to hit three; two within walking distance and one on the way to O’Hare.

Having spent most of my time in Chicago on either the Magnificant Mile, the convention centre or West Randolph, it was nice to get off the beaten path a bit.  My first stop was the White Palace Grill.  Opened in 1939, this place is the traditional 24 hour American diner. It has all the classics, from eggs to waffles to Mexican breakfast platters.  I sat at the counter and joined the show as one of the many cast and characters of the Chicago scene.  A very pleasant waitress quickly came to my rescue, offering me the large menu and a newspaper which I much appreciated.  It’s amazing how out of touch one falls when stuck in a conference for 4 or 5 days.  I scanned the menu and ordered a coffee, some strawberry banana french toast with a side of bacon and some grits to try.

The banter in the place  was primarily focused on the Hawks Stanley cup win the night before.  People were walking in and out proudly donning T-shirts and jerseys.  There seems to be a trend among couples to walk around Chicago wearing matching shirts…it’s rather endearing. I was rather amused when another waitress checked in to start working.  I think her name was “Happy” or something like that. If so, the name fit her personality and I quite enjoyed listening to the conversations and laughter that erupted during my breakfast.

Without much of a wait, breakfast arrived. The strawberry sauce was on the side, so some assembly was required. It was classic french toast with classic toppings.  I love grits and I wasn’t disappointment by the Palace’s butter laden offering.

Strawberry Banana French Toast sans strawberry
Strawberry Banana French Toast sans strawberry

Strawberry Banana French Toast
Strawberry Banana French Toast

MMMM...bacon and grits.
MMMM…bacon and grits.

My Take

White Palace grill is an all American 24 hour diner.  It has all the attributes of a good experience; good food, good service and good decor. Although it may not  top the Zagat guide, it’s a place where you eat lots and leave feeling happy, happy, happy.

Verdict: 4 Guyz

White Palace Grill on Urbanspoon

Stop number two was Panzanno’s Italian Market which was about a 10 minute walk from White Palace.  During this time, I got to admire some of Chicago’s downtown architecture from afar while walking over the West Roosevelt bridge. The bridge itself is quite interesting. I snapped a pic of one of the numerous icons which lined the street.  I did a quick internet search to find out the meaning of these depictions but came up empty.

Despite the name, I wouldn’t call Panozzo’s a market.  True, they sell a small array of pastas and Italian staples, but the main attraction is the deli and take out sandwiches.  There are a few “old school favorites” but the signatures are the crescentine sandwiches.  Like the name suggests, they are crescent shaped sandwiches stuffed with all sorts of delicious fare.

I ordered two sandwiches to go; the porchetta crescentine and the meatball sandwich. It was hot as hell outside, so I was also drawn to the ice cream freezer which was sporting an array of Zarlengo’s Gelato.  There was an article hanging on the wall touting the frozen treats, so I grabbed a Rum and Raisin  for the walk back to the mile. It was smooth and creamy with lots of raisins and lots of rum flavour filled the cup.

Porchetta Crescentine
Porchetta Crescentine

Meatball Sandwich
Meatball Sandwich

Zarlengo's Rum and Raisin Gelato
Zarlengo’s Rum and Raisin Gelato

I like when thought is put into things, even simple things. Sometimes the difference between a good sandwich and a great sandwich is one ingredient.  There is always the opportunity to push the boundaries just a little and I feel Panozzo’s does that.   Both sandwiches were delicious. I think the pickled fennel and chilis  in the porchetta and meatball respectively added enough to make these sandwiches stand out.  The bread was fresh and the fillings were ample.

My Take

Although the decor is a little barren and the vibe a little flat the sandwiches were delicious. The offering of Zalengo’s at Panozzo’s is another example of the comradery that exists between restaurants and other vendors in Chicago.  Like Metropolis coffee and Graham Elliot’s eateries, it’s a win-win and refreshing concept.

Verdict- 4 Guyz

Panozzo's Italian Market. on Urbanspoon

Zarlengo's Soft Serve on Urbanspoon

After I devoured the gelato I walked through the park, took a few pictures of Soldier field from afar, made a wish in a fountain, admired some more Chicago architecture and got soaked in a short but intense downpour.  I did a quick change into some dry clothes, repacked, hailed a cab and proceeded to my third DDD of the day, Kuma’s Corner, which is located on the way to O’Hare.

Kuma’s corner prides itself on a fantastic concept;  the fusion of burgers and head banging metal.  This is not a superficial claim.  Everything from the decor to the staff to the name of the burgers scream the theme.  I see metal this way….stubborn and abrasive on the outside but with a core of justice and determination in the middle.    Take their beer philosophy for example.  One may attribute the “No Bud and Miller” philosophy to a pretentious and elitist attitude.  Consider the possible lyric:

“Drink no Bud, drink no Miller,

I’m a commercial lager killer.”

Sounds a little nasty, but the foundation in rooted in supporting the small guy, a concept as important to the brewing industry as it is for food. To this point, I started with a Three Floyd’s Robert the Bruce Scottish ale on tap and was later hypnotized by a bottle of  Apocalypse Cow  housed within one of the the many bar fridges and brewed by the same Indiana brewery.  Although it came with a $20 charge, it was a fantastic IPA . Rich and citrusy, almost sour and intensely hoppy , it was a wonderful complement to the burger.

The menu itself is burger-centric with a spattering of bar food available as well.  The three guys beside me were indulging on an order of mac and cheese which looked divine (mind you when does mac and cheese not look divine).  There are almost 20 burgers available, each with a combination of standard and not so standard toppings such as avacodo, smoky and spicy cheeses, wing sauce, poached pears and yes, a fried egg.  I went Ozzy and ordered the Black Sabbath burger which was a patty seasoned with blackening seasoning, spicy jack, chili and red onion.  I chose a salad as the side which turned out to be pretty good.  My colleague went with the burger of the month which in this case was the Stranglehold, an 8 oz buffalo patty garnished with aged cheddar, arugula and habanero mustard.

Kuma's Side Salad
Kuma’s Side Salad

Black Sabbath burger
Black Sabbath burger

Black Sabbath burger..Take 2
Black Sabbath burger..Take 2

There’s a whole lotta burger.  The bun was delicious and the toppings worked well together.  I had a nibble of my colleagues bison burger which hit the mark as well.  If anything, I wish there was a little more liberty to choose the wellness of the burger because a patty cooked medium would have been over the top.  Instead, the patty was a bit on the dry side although far from inedible.

My Take

Kuma’s concept is a fun one.  I may have seemed out of place hauling a week’s worth of luggage into this tiny joint and sitting among biker types and foodies who were embryos or twinkles in their father’s eyes when the majority of the metal playing in the background came out.  Needless to say, I received the same rugged yet considerate service despite the fact I don’t sport a tattoo, two inch spacers or a permanent chip on my shoulder. The food was good, the gimmick works and the beer selection was amazing.

The first line of Metallica’s Fuel is “Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire”.  Big burgers, plenty of local beer and whisky on tap do just that.

Verdict- 4 Guyz

Kuma's Corner on Urbanspoon