East Side Social: A Lesson in the Evolution of My Homophobia

I think I’m still homophobic.

Before you cast stones and banish me to hell, let me explain.  I believe there has been an evolution in the definition of homophobia over the past two or three decades.  As a high school student at an all guys school in Sudbury, Ontario in the late eighties, I sat around the lunch table with a bunch of social rednecks and laughed at  gay jokes like the rest of them.  I had little regard for the struggles associated with homosexuality. First, I naively thought that none of my friends could possibly be gay.  Secondly, I believed that in fact nobody in Sudbury was gay and that the whole movement was a trendy urban phenomenon.

After high school, I was keen to get out of Sudbury (much like my gay friends it turns out)  and I pursued my post-secondary education  at the University of Guelph.  Guelph was interesting in the sense that it was quite dichotomous; one one side were flocks of macho agricultural students and on the other were the advocates for social justice in which gay and lesbian rights lead the charge.  Add the learnings from my first year sociology course, and I grew to realize that I needed to tolerate people who were different than me in whatever way that was.  Still, I was leery to full embrace the movement because, while I was being taught the need for tolerance in order to live in a utopia, my science courses challenged me to believe that everything, whether it was faith in God or same sex attraction, required a biological rationale.  If you could show me that brain size or the expression of a specific gene could explain why I don’t steal or why I would prefer men over women then I would be much more accepting.  I never found definitive evidence which continued to allow me to live in a bubble and live with the mentality that,although I was in the midst of gays and lesbians, I still really didn’t know many so I really need to understand.

Years later, with the advent of social media and other means of communication, I learned that many of my schoolmates and,  in fact, a few of my  closer high school friends were now overtly gay. It was a bit of an epiphany and really the first time when I truly understood my self-righteous nature.

There is no question that in the past few years, gay rights have been at the forefront.  The explosion of the pride movement and changing legislature catalyzed by a proactive federal and provincial government have set the stage for mass social acceptance of anybody regardless of gender, race, age and, of course, sexual orientation.  During this movement, I have further evolved along my homophobic spectrum to a point where I think I finally get it.

So, why am I still homophobic and why the hell am I writing this stuff on a food blog?  It’s simple; I had a dining experience which put things into perspective.  I met a couple of work colleagues for dinner at Eastside social.  Located in mercurial Leslieville, Eastside offers a seafood heavy menu in the trendy prohibition decor. Since it was still summery outside, we opted for the quaint back patio and were introduced (or at least playfully warned) about our waiter for evening.  Eccentric to say he least, we was a 53 yo gay guy who hails from…yes….Sudbury, Ontario.  I relayed that this was my hometown and for the remainder of the night we had conversations about our native neighborhoods, porchetta bingos at the Beef ‘n Bird, Tarini’s meat shop and why we both got the hell out.

Fighting the desire to order off the small but impressive cocktail menu, we each ordered a pint each from the small draught menu (I went with the Junction Conductor’s ale). His passion for life mimicked his passion for the food.  He quickly agreed when we suggested the sardine crostini to start.  For the main, he proudly boasted that there wasn’t a bad offering but in particular recommended the fish tacos and octopus. We agreed and also added the crab stuffed leeks to the mix. One of my colleagues had a seafood allergy, so, although there was an arctic char special, it was suggested that he stick to land dwelling protein for safety purposes.  When he asked about the hanger steak, the waiter explained it was quite good, especially since it was seasoned with a rub and that he likes anything which involves rubbing meat.  My normal reply would have been “Why do you think I’m ordering the char?” but a total lack of confidence in the given situation killed it and I simply laughed.  This is why I think I’m still homophobic; my phobia lies in my confidence about being straight. For some reason I have it in my head that I should be apologetic about liking woman; a philosophy which upon reflection is simply ridiculous.

As for the meal, the sardine crostini was brilliant in its simplicity and presentation.  The crab stuffed leeks were quite interesting in that they were almost a modern spin on the famed Crab Louis salad.  The fish tacos were smartly served on corn tortillas and gently breaded so the flaky fish instead of everything else was the star.  The octopus was charred a little more than I prefer but still very tender and seasoned beautifully with olive oil and citrus (personally it’s nice to see a generous portion of octopus minus the potato and/or olive which seems to grace most of the other menus in town).  Each of the dishes, however, was served with the waiter’s confidence which almost forced me to agree that the meal was great and maybe even better than it actually was.

As mentioned, the whole experience got me thinking.  The biggest barrier I had in the past was the need to believe that people needed to make decisions for reasons which are rooted in science or logic or whatever you want to call it and that by making decisions outside of norms will draw attention so a person needs to consider this when deciding what to say or do.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. Some people seem to think that our forefathers fought for the freedom of our country with some sort of stipulations. I don’t think even the most conservative veterans put their lives on the line for some Canadians..they did it for all Canadians.  They were protecting the freedom and liberty of us all and last time I checked, this meant making whatever decisions we want.  If someone wants to wear pajamas to Walmart, so be it.  If sometime was to tattoo their mother’s name on their shoulder or the first letter of Paul to Corinthians on their forearm then so what.  If a little girl decides she’s going to escape poverty and blow the world away, she has the ability to do so.  What took me years to understand was whether a person chooses to be gay or is biologically gay is a moot point..the fact is they are gay and have a right to be.  In saying that I came to realize that I can be confident and proud about the fact that I’m straight in the same way I’m proud to be of Irish or English descent.

In the end, confidence is a virtue, whether it is expressed as an establishment or as a person. Claims  such as “The Best Wings in Town” or “Sudbury’s Best Fries” have been effective and primarily unproven claims of restaurants for years because they are rooted in confidence.  Despite the aforementioned waiter, an experienced owner and a swanky decor designed by celebrity stylist Cherie Stinson, perhaps the biggest swagger Eastside Social has is setting up with some success within the boundries of the stubborn Leslieville scene.

On a personal note,  I can get up in front of a group of 200 and speak.  I can lead a team building discussion with ease.  So why can’t I declare my frank heterosexuality in the midst of a confident gay man?  Maybe it’s because I’m still homophobic. In this regard, next time I come here I’ll confidently order the char and better yet, switch to the chicken shortly after.

Eastside Social Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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La Carnita: Hanging with Abercrombie Smurfs While Seeking Solice From Seniors and Evil Wizards

I’ve had La Carnita on my list for a while but the dinner only hours and location has made it a bit difficult so I was happy to hear that a location opened at the more convenient intersection of King and John and that it was actually open for lunch. I made my way over shortly after not realizing it had just opened the Saturday before.

The layout is quite impressive.  The two-floor trendy and nicely decorated interior offers a bar area on both levels and abundant seating.  Unlike other snack bars, there is a good amount of breathing room so those with varied degrees of claustrophobia or agoraphobia can rest a little easier.  I was quickly seated at the bar and handed a menu.  Normally there is a good draft selection but since the place had just opened the taps were not working properly so I ordered the “Who shot ya?” cocktail instead. At this point I had no idea that this was the La Carnita signature cocktail which was developed by a bartender at the original location and has survived the test of time.  A twist on a bourbon sour, it was a simple offering with great contrasting flavours including a stinging ginger and a sweet/sour pomegranate syrup.

Who Shot ya? Signature cocktail
Who Shot ya? Signature cocktail

I should back up a little and let you know that this story was told to me by what I assumed was either the manager or owner of La Carnita. What I found fascinating was the fact he had a hipster look despite the fact he had to be older than 30 and lacked complete self-absorption.  Although I have equated hipsters to zombies in the past, this got me thinking that maybe they are more like smurfs, especially if we consider the fact that the majority would be either Vanity, Greedy or the tattooed Hefty. If so, I had just found Papa. He directed the staff (many of which I swear I’ve seen on the side of an Abercrombie bag) with kind authority much the same way Papa Smurf would with his clueless blue minions whenever their rather sterile environment was threatened with things like cats, birds or other natural predators.

The menu is taqueria style with a few apps thrown in.  The also feature a special of the day which was a chorizo/kale empanada.  I was all over it and I added a carnita and crispy cotija taco to the mix as well.  From a visual, taste and texture perspective they were all brilliant.  Punches of heat, sweet, crunchy and chewy were present in every bite and I was tempted to scoop up every morsel that fell into the tin tray. For example, the crispy cheese with the cauliflower and pinto beans garnished with a bit of pickled carrot was tastebud blowing and the pork confit in the carnita was melt in your mouth.  Not quite satisfied, I had to try the special taco of the day;chicken fried steak. The thought of stuffing this ridiculous southern delicacy into a taco shell was very appealing to me and it paid off.  The outside was crispy, and the inside was tender and still a bit pink. Once again, the accompaniments were a perfect balance of all things good…kind of like a good shot of Smurfberry juice while building a catapault. Other than forgetting the empananda the first time around,  the rest of the food was served within what seemed seconds after I ordered.

My Take

Despite the one service hiccup and the volatile beer taps, La Carnita was a slam dunk. The days of the stagnancy of King street eateries may be coming to an end.  No longer are the only choices those which require an invitation from a disgruntled maitre d’ standing on the sidewalk waving a 15 year old pre-theatre menu in your face.  Instead, La Carnita offers a welcoming environment with great booze, a cool modern vibe and terrific food served fast and fresh. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about hanging with seniors ordering off the modified menu before “Kinky Boots” and you’ll be good as gold if Gargamel ever shows up.

La Carnita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I Didn’t Get Crabby but I Managed to Get Bitter at Oxbow Public Market in Napa

Almost every city, big or small, boasts a market and Napa is no different.  Shortly after arriving in town, I headed down to the Oxbow Public Market  to check it out and grab some lunch at the bib gourmand rated C Casa.  Oxbow is a mid-sized indoor market with a combination of shops and restaurants. You can get anything from charcuterie to ice cream.

My biggest target at Oxbow was C Casa, a bib gourmand rated joint featuring unique tacos and other fusion Mexican fare. I was giddy in line in preparation for my  $9 fresh crab taco.  Sadly, the crustacean was not in stock and I had to resort to other options so I settled with the pork carnita tostada with white beans, corn relish, poblanos, micro greens, romaine, lime crema and cotija cheese  ($5.75) and the rotisserie duck  taco with spinach, red onion, goat cheese, oranges, cumin vinaigrette, avacado crema and cilantro  ($8.00).  These were expensive tacos so I was happy to see them arrive with a heaping pile of fillings. The pork tostada was a mess as there was no graceful way to eat it. The beans were such a smart addition and the crema was equally intelligent. The thought of duck and citrus was a little frightful  but it worked reasonably well.  It was less like a taco and more like a spinach salad on a tortilla.  There is a good variety of local pints as well. Beer and tacos are a beautiful couple.

Pork Carnita Tostada ($5.75) and Rotisserie Duck Taco ($8.00)
Pork Carnita Tostada ($5.75) and Rotisserie Duck Taco ($8.00)

 

After barely finishing the Mexican monstrosities, I strolled around the rest of the market in complete awe.  It was like an angel met me in my sleep and asked me “If you could build a market, what would  be in it?”.  My answer would be an oyster house, a spice shop, a kitchen gadget place, a butcher, charcuterie, ice cream and a fancy place where I could get bitters and shrubs to tinker with my own cocktails at home.   Voila!  That’s Oxbow Market.  In particular, let me focus on the last place.  I have gotten a little more experimental with my homemade potent potables and my struggle has been the inability to find bitters outside of the standard angostura.  Many of the Toronto bars brag about walnut, green tea, cherry bourbon and other fancy additions to their old fashioneds and it pisses me off.  The Napa Valley distillery has the largest variety of bitters I have ever seen.  I was a kid in a candy store as I wandered around  aimlessly thinking of the adultery I could commit but combining a number of these flavours with a bottle of Bulleit bourbon. Ironically, it was the first time I realized a significant number of the bitters were produced by Dillon’s, the Niagara distillery a mere 160 km away from my house.

Oh ya…they have a bunch of organic crap at Oxbow too.

My Take

If you go to Napa you most definitely should drink wine but you have to come here!!!!!! I have to admit knew nothing of the Oxbow market prior to my Napa visit. Once there, however, I entered this nirvana which contained all my vices under one roof. Although I didn’t indulge in every one, I got to sip pints, eat tacos, taste bitters, smell spices, stare at striploins and sleep well afterwards. C Casa was probably deserving of bib gourmand status but did not serve the best taco I ever had (and they didn’t have crab).  They were busy and overfilled but had good flavour.  For any foodie,  I highly recommend a dreamy wander through Oxbow Public Market. Although C Casa made me a little crabby, I’ll save my bitterness for  Dillon’s on Tufford road in good old Beamsville, Ontario.

Click to add a blog post for C CASA on Zomato

 

 

 

 

Korean Cowboy: Fried Spaghetti Westerns and a Mad Hatter Menu

Cowboys have always been a focal point in pop culture.   Bon Jovi is a cowboy…on a steel horse he rides.   Paula Cole asked us where have all the cowboys gone? after she does all the laundry.  Jon Favreau reminded us why Olivia Wilde should stick to television and Daniel Craig to James Bond when he directed Cowboys and Aliens (which only received 44% on rotten tomatoes).  Whether you watch American Idol or read Louis L’Amour, the cowboy is one of the quintessential symbols of Americana.

Korea on the other hand, elicits another series of thoughts and feelings.  Political pundits will cite the lovable Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea or the infamous Kim Jong-un of  the North.  Youtube junkies have hummed and danced to  Psy’s Gangnam Style behind closed doors since 2012.  Foodies hear Korean and think about  bibimbap, bulgogi and hot pots.

So, when thinking of a Korean Cowboy, any number of images come to mind. One may think of Glenn Rhee swapping out his ball cap for a Stetson in the Walking Dead or the purposely annoying Ken Jeong following the gang to the Alamo in the Hangover 15.  Regardless, I suspect the vision of such a cowboy would be more in line with wackiness and fun as opposed to a cameo in a somber scene from the Unforgiven. When looking at the rather insane offerings at Korean Cowboy in advance, I was reminded of the phrase mad hatter which originated from the overt symptoms hatters use to exhibit due to mercury poisoning from the felt used inside of hats and wondered if this menu was a side effect. However, when the website explained  that Koreans are fun people who enjoy lots of booze, fun food and general goofiness,  I figured the menu was a reflection of the fact that this establishment promised  a forum for all three.

Located on Yonge just north of Eglinton, Korean Cowboy had an exciting buzz from the minute I entered. I was greeted by a bubbly waitress and seated at a table with a good view of televisions and saloon-like surroundings. The bar was reminiscent of a scene from an old spaghetti western and offered craft beer, soju and a decent rail of spirits.   The name of the restaurant is painted across mirrors situated behind the shelved booze.  Speaking of spaghetti, I was intrigued by the first of many anju dishes available on the menu; fried spaghetti.  Anju, as I learned from the website, is a generic term given to snacks which are usually served and  enjoyed in the presence of alcohol. This fried spaghetti was not the traditional throw leftovers it in a pan and heat up type.  It was fried in its dry state, creating an odd but intriguing nibble.  For a buck, you can’t go wrong.

Fried Spaghetti $1
Fried Spaghetti $1

It was a Wednesday which happened to be oyster night, meaning you could get a dozen for $12. Instead of the traditional hot sauce and horseradish, they were served with a carousel of unique toppings which included among others Korean tabasco, chili vinegar, sesame, coffee and soju.  Each put a fun and unique spin on eating a plate full of the molluscs. The coffee was probably the most unique and the chili vinegar was one of the best.

Oyster Condiments
Oyster Condiments
Wednesday Night Oysters  12/$12
Wednesday Night Oysters 12/$12

There are no apologies on the menu for the lack of fine food.  Instead, the menu items looked like the product of an episode of Chopped held in a dorm room.  Take the hot dog stir fry ($3.99)for example.  The simple combination of chopped wieners, vegetables and a ketchup sauce result in a dish you want to hate but can’t. It’s tangy and sweet and something you would crave on a street corner after a few pints and allow you to go to bed confident that you’d wake up fine the next morning.

Hot Dog Stir Fry $3.99
Hot Dog Stir Fry $3.99

The cheesy spicy rice cakes were a cross between laffy taffy and ball game nachos with that repulsive yet delicious spicy cheese sauce. The chewy rice cakes may not appeal to everybody, but as a guy who loves tapioca and any kind of pudding I found the texture oddly appealing especially when hidden among the nostalgic stadium flavours. This dish was a home run.

Cheesy Spicy Rice Cakes $5.99
Cheesy Spicy Rice Cakes $5.99

The steamed bun burger ($3.99) was a decent attempt at this classic Asian snack.  The Korean spiced beef sat nicely in the white folded bun riddled with black sesame seeds.  Green onions and cucumbers finished it off. It was messy, wonder bread fun.

BBQ Beef Buns $3.99
BBQ Beef Bun $3.99

Strategies to get kids to eat vegetables usually involves dousing them in cheese, sauce and/or butter.  This is usually the case with brussel sprouts and broccoli but Korean Cowboy does it with corn.  It tasted like one of Gramma’s casseroles before anybody gave a shit about butter or fat.   It was ridiculously but regretfully good, much like a vat of movie popcorn or a slice of greasy, deep dish pizza.

Skillet Corn $5.99
Skillet Corn $5.99

I’m always interested in a good taco so I ordered one of each of the korean beef, spicy pork and chicken.  Each was filled with a cabbage salad and the aforementioned meats in a rather large flour tortilla.  They were decent but in a city in which tacos have become a foodie staple, they fell a little short.  The shell was too much and swallowed instead of housing the taste of the proteins.  Retrospectively, I should have ordered ssam (lettuce wraps) instead to allow the filling to shine a little more.

Tacos $10.99 for 3
Tacos $10.99 for 3

The wings were also a bit disappointing.  They were “cooked the Korean way” and bathed in your choice of a number of sauces. After the anju, I expected a wing with a compilation of crunch, succulent sweet and sinister spice. They weren’t as crunchy nor sweet or spicy enough.  They had the texture of a M and M breaded wing that had been baked in the oven for 20 minutes. The fries were fresh cut and tasted especially good when dipped  in the hot dog or rice cake sauce.

K-wings and Fries $14.99
K-wings and Fries $14.99

My Take

Korean cowboy is a playful addition to mid-town Toronto dining.  Whether it is the decent choice of craft beer, a glass of soju or a variety of anju, malarkey ensues the minute you sit down.  The food is a mix of dorm room creations and campfire provisions developed through the delirium of a culinary mad hatter who wants to fuse Korean fare with edible Americana. The tacos and wings were average.  Despite the fact I tore through a good part of the menu, there are still things like sawdust chicken,G-PO (file fish), kimchi fries and squid and pear salad not to mention a number of pork dishes including mocha pork belly and the King Koink platter.  Maybe next time I visit I’ll throw on a mercury-free fedora and hum Kid Rock’s “I’m a cowboy baby….I can smell a pig from a mile away” as I strut up Yonge street and sniff the air.

Korean Cowboy on Urbanspoon

El Sol y La Luna sin el Paraguas: Taking a chance at La Loteria Tacqueria

One of my routines is to hit a food truck at the Sony centre on my way back to the train station.  This often means I forfeit the meal on the Via when heading back to London but one can only enjoy so much panko encrusted tilapia. There are different trucks on different days, some of which are difficult to consume, especially if I’m in a rush or don’t want the to burden myself (or the guy beside me) with  a pound of pulled pork poutine before a two hour train ride home. La Loteria is a newer food truck which promises real Mexican tacos, a bold statement in a city which had been so tacophilic for the last few years. The truck pays homage to he  Mexican game of chance  with the same name.  Like bingo, it used pictograms with clever riddles instead of numbers.  One wins when they have a combination of four pictures in a row, square or each corner.

The menu is simple.  You get three tacos for 10 bucks.  As for choices, on this day there was  no pig tail,cauliflower or beef cheek choices.  Instead, it was simply carnita, al pastor and chicken.  I ordered one of each.  They were  served on soft yellow corn tortillas and simply garnished  with cilantro and fresh onions.  Condiments include green and red salsas. The al pastor tacos were delicious, seasoned with fragrant spices and the right amount of heat.  The carnitas were  moist and meaty.  The chicken tacos were tasty as well but my least favorite of the three.  Personally, I like a stringy, dark meat chicken taco and find those made with cubed chicken breast a little bland. I loved the fresh onions and modest use of the cilantro. The limber yet crunchy shells were some of the best I’ve had in Toronto.

 

Tacos Three Ways $10
Tacos Three Ways $10

My Take

Tacos remain one of the staples on many menus and the preferred snack foods of across the GTA.  In many cases, they are filled with unorthadox ingredients, coated with cereal or given names like the Gobernador.  Most of the time these modifications come with an increase in pesos.  If you’re looking for a simple, cheap and delicious taco, this is your place.  The carnita and al pastor tacos are delicious.  Despite the fact that the rooster. heron, shrimp, deer and watermelon are all depicted  on loteria cards (let’s not get any weird menu ideas here), marking a pig card would make me wanna scream  “Loteria” everytime.

 

La Sandia Loteria Card
La Sandia Loteria Card

La Loteria Tacqueria on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:St Lawrence:Pacific Junction Hotel

Pacific junction hotel is a newish joint on King East. The exterior blue gives this place away at street level and the inside is even more eccentric.  It looks like a garage sale gone wrong, complete with a bathtub posing as a seat, formica tables and mismatched chairs ranging from cast iron to benches.  A large TV hangs over the dining room and at the time was projecting life size images of Guy Fieri biting into sloppy sandwiches.

Although it sounds like it should be in Vancouver, I imagine the name of the restaurant has something to do with the fact that it’s a mix of food found in countries with some association with the Pacific Ocean.   It’s sort of an Asia meets Mexico thing, with a little South America thrown in for good measure. Oddly, there’s also a bit of the Atlantic ocean added in the form of a few jerk recipes.  You can choose among wraps and rolls,burgers, tacos or a mishmash of standard bar food including nachos or artichoke dip.  There are a few vegetarian options as well.

The menus were thrown on the table and the waitress quickly disappeared.  They looked well-used, a few pages of printed paper housed with duo tangs that probably had everything from hot sauce to draught beer spilled all over it.  The cocktails feature rum or tequila/mezcal, served in a mason jar or a bowl. There are also a few beer (either in a jar or a pitcher) available as well. I opted for a jalapeno/pineapple mojito in a large jar for $9.30. It was minty and sweet although the added flavours were almost undetectable. I should of savored it more but I was unaware it would be the only drink I was having on this night.

Jalapeno and Pineapple Mojito $9.30
Jalapeno and Pineapple Mojito $9.30

I started with bison sliders for $13.  Each were topped with a different concoction of flavours although I was particularly interested in the blueberry compote.  They arrived in a Asian bamboo steamer.  The patties were overdone, charred to the point where the toppings (even the blueberry!) couldn’t save them.  The chips were hidden in the second steamer beneath and were ordinary and unseasoned but were made a bit better with a slather of hot sauce sitting at the table.

Bison Sliders $13
Bison Sliders $13
Hidden Chips (served below sliders)
Hidden Chips (served below sliders)

Next were the chimichurri tacos (3 for$12). It’s almost tearful to watch beef tenderloin cooked beyond recognition. Even the shells were overdone and cracked when I attempted to bend them.   The intense heat and acid I expect from a good chimichurri was absent.

Chimichurri Tacos ($12)
Chimichurri Tacos ($12)

At this point, with my mojito drained in an attempt to offset the dry meat (I wasn’t so much as offered a water at any point in the evening) I ordered one of the half dozen or so draught beer available.  Perhaps she was upset at the fact I asked her to recite the choices (I had to laugh because one of them was simply “IPA”),  but I never saw it.  She walked by a few times and scanned the table but no pint arrived despite the fact I had no drinking vessel anywhere is my vicinity.

Spinach dip is an iconic bar food that’s a bit difficult to master.  In addition to flavour, it needs to achieve that optimal solidity window, meaning it’s neither too runny or too thick.  The dip hit the mark in flavour, but once it cooled a bit, it was near impossible to navigate through it, especially with the skinny, generic, rainbow nachos chips (yes, 2005 called and they want their trend back).

Spinach Dip ($10.50)
Spinach Dip ($10.50)

Finally, there were the spring wraps.  More commonly called spring rolls, they are usually available for about $4 at any Thai restaurant (maybe $5 if they throw shrimp in it). The price points at the junction were $8 and $12 respectively.  Both the rolls and the  side sauce were pretty average and not worth the price, even with  dry tortilla thingys on the side.

Mango Spring Wraps ($8??!!)
Mango Spring Wraps ($8??!!)

My Take

Serving overcooked bison sliders in a bamboo steamer is not fusion…..it’s confusion. The tacos were average at best and the mango spring rolls were overpriced. The artichoke dip was flavorful but once it cooled below the dipping point the frail chips didn’t stand a chance. The service was not good.

In other words, Pacific Junction Hotel reminds me of going  to that house in the neighbourhood with the guy who entertains out of his cluttered garage.  Everybody calls him Uncle Gus because he burns his eyebrows off twice a year singeing meat with a three foot flame while the wife attempts to cook ethnic food with bottled sauces and her fingers crossed.  Their disgruntled daughter is forced to help serve as opposed to locking herself in her room to share anecdotes of her embarrassing parents with her facebook friends. Even worse,  the six-pack you bring over to drown the predicted pain suddenly disappears and you’re left drinkless for the remainder of the evening and develop a increasing desire to drink out of the garden hose.

Much like the Bermuda Triangle may be the bane of the Atlantic Ocean,  the junction  may be that of the Pacific, with the triangle representing bad service, bad decor and bad food.

Pacific Junction Hotel on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Kensington:Seven Lives

Kensington is often a turnstile for what’s trendy.  As a result, it’s not surprising that Seven Lives has opened in an attempt to follow the lead of  tacocentric eateries such as Grand Electric and La Carnita.  Sitting in the middle of this neighbourhood, it’s a small space with great music and seating for no more than a dozen people plus a small patio area in front.  The menu consists primarily of tacos although one could get ceviche or fries as well.

Seven Lives Menu
Seven Lives Menu

In honour of the fact that seven lives has a  logo which strongly resembles internet sensation grumpy cat, I’ve invited him along to assist in the review.

Seven Lives Logo
Seven Lives Logo
Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat

One of the features is three vats of juice (flavours rotate)  sitting on the counter.  You get a pint size serving for only $2. I opted for mango over tamarind and it was quite refreshing, which was a good thing since it killed the significant amount of time I had to wait.  I managed to beat the crest of the the rush, which topped 30 or so people in line, but I still had to wait 20 minutes (or 3/4  of my mango juice) for my 3 tacos.

$2 Mango Juice
$2 Mango Juice

Grumpy Cat?

Grumpy-Cat1
Waiting  Sucks

My definition of a good taco: one with moist, well seasoned fillings and abundant toppings.

I decided on the signature $5 Gobernador (stuffed with smoked marlin, shrimp and cheese).  The taco was stuffed full and its flavour was dominated by plenty of smoky fish, which was slightly dry.  The shrimp, cheese and other ingredients couldn’t compete with the intensity of the marlin in either texture  or taste, so in the end it was quite monotone.

seven marlin
The Gobernador $5

Taco number two was the $5 pulpo en mole verde (octopus with pumpkin seed mole). Unlike the Gobernador, the flavours were much more complex (as a mole should be), complete with a little sweet and a little spice.  The condiments were also more abundant, so the flavours were more rounded. The pumpkin seeds added a nice crunch.  The octopus was a bit chewy however.

Pulpo en Mole Verde $5
Pulpo en Mole Verde $5

The standard $4 carnita (pork) was taco number 3.  It was topped with the standard guacamole, tomato and onion.   I didn’t understand the huge chunks of pork which resulted in a dryer, less flavorful filling.  It lacked much of the pizazz of other pork tacos I have had.

Carnita Taco $4
Carnita Taco $4

The Seven Lives’ salsas were well done.  I tried both medium and hot, both of which were a nice balance of flavour and heat.

Grumpy Cat?

There's more to like than salsa.
There’s more to life than salsa.

My Take

In a taco shop containing all things Mexican, Speedy Gonzalez wasn’t one of them. Even by beating the rush, I still had a 20 minute wait.  Bring your pesos, because Seven Lives is CASH ONLY.  For the most part the tacos are quantity versus quality. relying on copious amounts of overcooked  and underseasoned meats at the expense of  the delicate architecture which normally exists  between shell, fillings and condiments.  In the end, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Grumpy Cat?

If this is Seven Lives, I don't want the other two.
If this is Seven Lives, I don’t want the other two.

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