If You're Hip Read This Because This Restaurant Just Might Become One of Yer Favorites

I’m a big Tragically Hip fan. In fact, I recently was informed by spotify that I was one of the top 1% fans worldwide so I figured it was time to write about them. I spent many university days spinning Road Apples, Fully Completely and Day for Night over and over while doing everything from drinking to…ummm….studying. The release of their greatest hits album, “Yer Favorites” solidified the age old argument of whether the slang for yes should use the letter “e” or “u”. Yep..I was right all along.

North of the border, they have had countless cult and commercial hits. Many tell stories of Canadiana or human struggle (which in many cases seem synonymous) . Others are poetic recounts of important historical moments. People like Tom Thomson, Jacques Cartier and Bill Barilko became household names because we sung them out loud while reciting songs like Three Pistols and Fifty Mission Cap while trying not to fuck with the 401.

During their farewell tour, CBC ran a poll to determine the favorite hip songs of Canadians. Not surprising, many of the mainstream classics topped the list including Fully Completely’s Locked in the Trunk of a Car, Courage and the number one fan favorite Wheat Kings, a haunting ballad about the false conviction of David Milgaard. It also cited Day for Night’s Grace, Too and Nautical Disaster which were the songs they performed during their only SNL appearance in 1995. Also on the list was Ahead by a Century which was later resurrected as the theme song to CBC’s Anne with an E.

Instead of reiterating the obvious, I thought I would focus on my favorite but less mainstream Hip songs (you can’t become top 1% in the world only listening to New Orleans is Sinking). Here are my top 10 lesser known buy favorite tracks (in chronological order):

10. Cordelia- Road Apples

It starts with Angst on the planks, spittin’ from a bridge…Just to see how far down it really is. ..a vision that brings me back to days when I would guesstimate height using my own saliva at various Sudbury landmarks. It’s a little angry with fantastic sound and was often overshadowed by more pop-like and popular songs like Little Bones and Twist my Arm.

9. Put if Off- Trouble at the Henhouse

While many default to Gift Shop and Springtime in Vienna, this is one of my favorites. In fact, I usually listen to this album backward, not for satanic purposes but it makes Put it Off the lead track. This song speaks of many dichotomies in which I can relate given my documented and less than adorable moodiness. I often either hum the mantra Put it on or Put it off depending on my state of mind at the time.

8. Emperor Penguin- Phantom Power

I never understood why this song isn’t more popular. It pops into my head constantly, especially when I’m watching Atypical because of Sam’s love for Antarctica and penguins in particular. Plus, given the devotion to the egg, it reaffirms that the fact that not all males in a given species are complete assholes.

7. Sharks- Music@Work

Sharks don’t attack the Irish, It’s mostly Australians. Whew, I’m safe. I just love Gord’s mumbling chorus in sync with the brilliant guitar.

6. The Dire Wolf- In Violet Light

I had no idea who Tallulah Bankhead and Canada Lee were before this song but their story of strong friendship in an era of racially motivated social nonacceptance was impressive and inspiring. They costarred in the 1944 Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat. This song is another example of excellent songwriting with a great story.

5. The Dark Canuck- In Violet Light

If this song came out before my kids were born, it might have considered naming them apple, zippo or metronome. I love the rather radical change in tempo partway through this song. It goes from a classic Hip ballad to a uptempo and haunting tune reminiscent of Nautical Disaster or Locked in the Trunk of a Car.

4. World Container- World Container

The poetic lyrics of this song combined with the crescendo of angst in Downie’s voice makes for a great listen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “How’d it get so late so early?'” in my own life so I karaoke that lyric in the car every time I listen to the song.

3. Last Night I Dreamed you Didn’t Love Me Anymore- World Container

This is a song about an exaggerated paranoia about falling out of love which can also serve as a great breakup song. Gord’s singing which escalates from frustration to desperation as the song progresses gets me every time.

2. The Depression Suite- We are the Same

This song reminds me of a Day in the Life by the Beatles and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel. Sure, it doesn’t tell a story quite the same but does give one a rather decent lesson in geography and is a near 10 min experience with a few different and equally enjoyable melodies.

  1. Queen of the Furrows- We are the Same

This is just a good old farming song with a great beat and a signature Hip sound with nothing so deep that it’s meaningless. There’s even mention of a toasted Western..can you ever go wrong with a toasted Western.

Favorites is a newish Thai BBQ joint which opened on the Ossington stretch. It’s secretly tucked behind a Sam James coffee bar. Once you enter, you are brought into a surprisingly spacious area with a variety of seating options. It’s unique among many Thai places in Toronto for a couple of reasons: first it focuses more on grilled items versus standard noodle rice dishes or spring rolls and second it suggests wine as the main alcoholic companion to the food as opposed to Singha beer or cocktails. According to the restaurant, the key is smart whites and lighter, chilled reds to compliment but not drown to the more intense Thai flavours. We complimented our meal with la Cuvee du Chat, a fantastic French Gamay which makes me want to head to the SAQ in Quebec to grab a few bottles.

La Cuvee Du Chat

Food wise, we selected a variety of dishes from each section, all of which was served sharing style of course. First was the Betel leaf wraps (nope..not shrimp fresh rolls) with smoke trout, roe and galangal caramel. The edible leaf housed a variety of flavours and textures which will well rounded and a great indicator of what was to come.

Betel Leaves with Trout

Next we had the octopus salad complemented with pomelo and banana blossoms. The octopus, although hidden under a copious amount of greenery, was well prepared and the flavours once again were bursting with classic Thai sweet and salty notes.

Octopus Salad

Since the whole concept of favorites is Thai BBQ, we ordered a trio of options from the grilled menu which included Chiang Mai style pork sausage, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and grilled duck. The mushrooms were the star, full of smokiness and subtle heat from the BBQ and chili vinegar respectively. The raw cabbage leaves, which were served with all these items, best complimented this dish the best, both in flavour and texture. The duck was nicely rendered and served a stunning medium rare which was nicely complimented with classic thai flavours in the form of a tamarind dip. The sausage was decent but the least thrilling of the three. I just didn’t find it as abstract and entertaining as the other grilled dishes.

The last dish, the curried prawn pineapple fried rice, was the most recognizable dish on the menu by traditional Thai restaurant standards. It was as good as the others I have had at places like Pai but after the rest of the dishes I had, maybe a little too normal.

Curried Pineapple Rice with Prawn

The dessert choices were small but still represented a return to the bold, vibrant and unique flavours of the rest of the menu featuring a passionfruit and chocolate parfait as well as coconut pannacotta. Thankfully, neither were extreme on sweetness but both were bold on contrasting textures and flavours.

Coconut Pannacotta and Passionfruit and Chocolate Parfait

My Take

I’ve always thought if I ever open a restaurant I might name it “Whatever” or “Not Sure” since that’s the answer I usually get when I ask the family where they want to go. That’s why I like the name of this place. If a friend comes up to me and asks where I want to go I can simply say one of my favorites. It deviates from the noodle heavy tendencies of most Thai joints and offers the same balanced flavours in the form of more protein heavy BBQ choices. Even the wine and desserts, two aspects normally less anticipated in Thai cuisine were some of my favorites, much like listening to songs like Sharks or the Depression Suite on the same playlist as New Orleans is Sinking.

Nana: Daycares and David Bowie

I was pondering how to incorporate the recent passing of David Bowie into a blog post when serendipity occurred. I went to dinner at Nana and the soundtrack was nothing but the Thin White Duke.  Starman, Heroes, Jean Genie and a number of other classics blasted from the rafters, reminding me that Bowie was truly a chameleon in that a skinny white dude’s music fit perfectly within a crowded Thai restaurant.

Social media has changed the way we recognize dead celebrities.  My facebook was littered with tributes from people telling the world what Bowie meant to them from a fashion and music perspective.  Others credited him for making them feel unapologetic about being different and how they changed his life. Maybe I’m just a clueless moron or a heartless muttonhead (which I think is the perfect insult for a person who writes about food), but his impact on my life was less exciting. That said, I appreciated his quiet and private approach to stardom.  He lived by example and not by sponsored endorsements or fabrications.  From a music perspective, I would always stop on a Bowie song if I was flipping through my Sirius.

I tried to find some sort of relationship between Bowie and Nana and the closest I came was that Nana (along with a whole bunch of other nana’s) were lyrics in a 1968 song called Ching-a-Ling written by Bowie as part of a trio named the Feathers which also consisted of his girlfriend at the time and guitarist John “Hutch” Hutchinson.

Looking for a link between Bowie and anything related to food also proved a dubious task. I did find one interesting story however. Prior to Bowie’s leap to permanent stardom in 1969, Bowie briefly appeared in a rather psychedelic  commercial for Lyons Maid ice cream Luv lollies as a way to make a few bucks. The following clip is worth a watch, but  here are a couple of interesting facts:

        • These treats came with rock star trading cards which included the likes of the Beatles and Davy Jones.  The latter is actually David’s real name but he chose Bowie as his surname to avoid confusion.  A series of trading cards from Mr. Softee in the early 60’s depicted an astronaut named Tom and rumours suggest that this was, because of Bowie’s need to collect, the inspiration behind Bowie’s most famous protagonist Major Tom.
        • The commercial was directly by Ridley Scott. It’s quite coincidental that in the year the rock icon dies, Scott may finally win an Oscar for best picture (he has been nominated for best director thrice in the past but has yet to win) for “The Martian”  which one can argue has a plot similar to “Space Odyssey”.

 

Nana is a spinoff of Khoa San Road, the highly successful downtown Thai restaurant. According to the website, Nana means meeting place.  According to me, it means daycare since the plastic red seats and big tables, looks more like you find them at a babysitting service than an Asian street market . Unlike KSR, Nana takes limited reservations which a least gives you a hope of eating without a wait.The menu offers KSR favorites as well as a spattering of items which represent the Thai street experience.  Each dish is described in detail on the second page of the menu which makes things easier for people who don’t know the difference between pad mama and pad prik.

They offer a small selection of wine, a few unique draughts and a Thai themed cocktail list. I started with a Silom Sour which incorporated Thai flavours such as ginger, lime and chili in a very enjoyable cocktail. It was topped with chili powder which surprisingly numbs the lips in seconds.

nana drink
Silom Sour $12

Tom yum soup is usually my go to measure of a great Thai experience and I thoroughly enjoyed Nana’s version. It was a true testament to intense Thai flavours boasting a great level of heat and plenty of chunky mushrooms and tomatoes. It was one of the better Tom Yum soups I have had in a restaurant.

nana soup
Tom Yum Soup

Our other appetizers included spring rolls and chicken satay but saying por pia tod sai moo sub kub nua pu and sa tay kai kub nam ar jad sounds a lot more fun (although it’s a spellcheck nightmare).Both were good.  The mushroom was a great addition to the rolls and I thought the lightly pickled veggies were a great addition to the normally predictable chicken satay.

We ordered a variety of mains for table including pad mama with hot dog, pad prik king with chicken, pad thai bo lan and pad see ew.  We also tried to get the mi ga ti with pork which looked incredible based on the description but was unavailable.  In general, the dishes are in the $15 dollar range for a slightly skimpy portion size.  The pad mama, supposed the mac and cheese of thailand, was gimmicky and resembled something a creative university student might with make with leftovers.  The pad prik king was the best dish of the night.  The chicken was tender and bursting with heat and extreme Thai flavours.  Both the pad thai and pad see ew were a terrific testament to two of Thailand’s most recognized noodle dishes.

I never get excited about Thai desserts but the roti kuay (buttered roti dough, cooked and folded with banana) was a decent finish to the evening.  The table split an order which was plenty, especially after a mass infusion of rice and noodles. Cutting it was a dubious task, however, since there are no knives available to customers (once again reiterating the fact that this place is probably in fact a daycare).

nana dessert
Banana Roti $8

My Take

Nana is a funkier version of its sister restaurant, Khao San Road.  It is smaller but does entertain the thought of reservations which made it a feasible destination for my group. The draught list is small but good and the cocktails are smartly constructed. The Tom Yum soup is among the best around and the dishes pay commensurate homage to Thai flavours.  I’d highly recommend the pad prik king and you won’t be disappointed with any of the noodle dishes.  The pad mama is a good gimmick but not a great dish.

In the end, Nana is a place where you can enjoy pretty good food in a communal environment and if you’re lucky, you may even hear some Bowie in the background or get to  play Simon says, I spy or clapping syllables to the names of Thai dishes such as por pia tod sai moo sub kub nua pu.

Nana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pai, Pai, Toronto’s Northern Thai…I ordered Farang Spicy Heat and I Didn’t Cry

A short, short time ago
I can still remember how good thai used to make me smile
And I knew if I gave pai a chance
That I could make my tastebuds dance
And maybe I’d be happy for a while

The waitstaff made me shiver
With every dish that they’d deliver
After all the food they schlepped
I couldn’t take one more step

I sure remember all I tried
Whether it was a main or a side,
It seemed the yelp ratings didn’t lie
The day I went to Pai.

Pai, Pai, Toronto’s Northern Thai
Drove my Jetta to find parking but the rates were so high
And them good ole boys were serving  two beers that were Thai
The pogues sung Singha beer don’t tell no lies,
That Singha beer don’t tell no lies.

Let me tell you what I did love
The level of spice mentioned above
And the menu told me so!
Now do you believe in good spring rolls?
With a dipping sauce served in a small bowl.
And with a heat that tends to kick in real slow?

Well, I know I’m in love with Tom Yum
Specially when it makes your tongue numb.
The flavours really fused
Man, I dig those good soups and stews

There’s a green curry filled with lots of stuff,
And it’s cleverly served in a coconut
All for the price of 16 bucks
The signature dish of Pai

Pai, Pai, Toronto’s Northern Thai
Drove my Jetta to find parking but the rates were so high
And them good ole boys were serving  two beers that were Thai
The pogues sung Singha beer don’t tell no lies,
That Singha beer don’t tell no lies.

Now for eighteen bucks you can own
A shrimp platter that I can’t condone.
The caesar’s not how I thought i’d be
It was mucky as opposed to light and clean
And the shrimp was rather plain cuisine
although others may disagree

And while the Caesar was going down
I ordered Thai’s culinary crown
It was pad thai I yearned
a good verdict was returned

With flavours complex instead of stark
The sausage really hit the mark
With sauce that deserves good remarks
The day I went to Pai

Pai, Pai, Toronto’s Northern Thai
Drove my Jetta to find parking but the rates were so high
And them good ole boys were serving  two beers that were Thai
The pogues sung Singha beer don’t tell no lies,
That Singha beer don’t tell no lies.

My Take

For the most part authentic Thai food in Toronto has been served in places decorated with elephants and Buddha statues but Pai has introduced the concept of serving this popular fare in a Duncan street rabbit hole designed for basement dwelling hipsters. It is small, crowded and hectic. The service was efficient but a little scattered and inconsistent at times. They do take bookenda reservations, however, so planning ahead ultimately avoids a lot of headaches.  The food lives up to the hype by offering authentic recognizable dishes such as pad thai, tom yum soup and spring rolls as well as other favourites such as green curry and Thai sausage.  The rolls (with the kicking dipping sauce), soup and noodles deserve honorable mention but the curry, in particular, was among one of the best I have had.  Maybe it was the cute coconut as a vessel but the consummate flavours and tender beef made it the premier dish of the evening.   The accompanying sauces such as the Thai relish served with the sausage were delicious.  The Thai caesar platter, although an interesting and exciting concept, was disappointing mainly due to the lackluster Caeser mix and boring shrimp sauce.  I loved the option of farang (foreigner) spicy which added a great bite while respecting the other flavours such as kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass.  Price wise, it’s definitely more expensive than Salad King or most hole in the walls but very much in line with other hipster destinations offering noise and chaos as menu options.

They were serving Thai, Thai, at Toronto’s Pai
I liked the food and bevies and my standards were high
Them good ole rolls and curries were worth the buy
So I’d suggest that you give this place a try.

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The Coast is not Clear: The Case of the Gluten Containing Eel and the Undercooked Scallop

After a trip to the Vancouver aquarium as part of a team building activity (even though only three of us went), we went to look for a quick bite knowing the evening fare at the meeting would be less than appealing.  It was an abnormally warm May day, so we wanted a patio,a drink and some decent food.

Coast is part of the Glowbal group conglomerate which owns a number of popular Vancouver restaurants. Having previously dined at Black + Blue and the Fish Shack with reasonable success, it sounds like a good idea, especially with the advertised cocktail menu and half price appetizers.  After making the uphill trek to Alberni Street, we were able to secure a table on the front patio. The three of us were wearing casual team-building clothes (ie. yoga pants and shorts). We were hardly dressed for the occasion, especially in the midst of the attire of the waitstaff and  numerous suits coming in but we were quickly comfortable in our outdoor seats.

Both my colleagues have what I consider excellent palates and both do not consume gluten.  One of them has also never tried nigiri, so we took the opportunity to run an experiment with the small list on the menu. My thought was to hit her with the ebi thinking it would best to start her off with something cooked not to mention the fact that there was no guilt based on the fact we were just at the aquarium watching numerous other species splash around. The waitress, however, insisted that we opt for the unagi (since it was cooked) although I thought eel may not be the best way to initiate a novice sushi eater.  The shrimp arrived without issue but the eel arrived coated in what appeared to be a brown sauce. Even as a gluten glutton, I have become aware that any brown sauce is an alarm bell, especially on a piece of sushi.  It usually means soy sauce which means gluten. Keep in mind the menu clearly stated this item was gluten free but after deliberation by the waitstaff and kitchen slightly longer than the OJ Simpson verdict, we were told it in fact contained gluten.  Big mistake.  In the end, I ate the eel (which was decent but expensive) and I succeeded in introducing her to the world of nigiri albeit a tame piece of cooked shrimp.

Shrimp and Eel Nigiri ($3.95 and $5.30 respectively)
Shrimp and Eel Nigiri ($3.95 and $5.30 respectively). Note the brown sauce…

 

I will give Coast credit for it’s buck a shuck special.  I indulged in a half dozen oysters, portraying behaviour similar to that of a five year old opening a new set of lego.  I become mesmerized by combining oyster flesh with pungent horseradish and some type of mignonette.   In fact, I don’t think anything gives me as much enjoyment in the area of seafood relations since Mr. Tecklenberg showed me how to hypnotize a lobster when I was 8 or 9 at a table in his namesake Sudbury restaurant. I was so giddy I forgot the picture.

Each of us weren’t up for a whole lot of food (beside the after effect of seeing a whole lot of underwater life), but we each ordered a dish and did a family style sorta thing.  First were the thai mussels (minus the bread).  They were tasty but a rather dismal serving for $19. Maybe it would have come with 17 pieces of garlic bread which would have made it a bit more economical.

 

Thai Mussels (18.95 or each)
Thai Mussels (18.95 or about a buck each..I’d rather have the oysters)

 

 

Second was the grilled halibut.  It made a lot of sense given the fact it was the season and there was not a hint of brown sauce anywhere on the plate.  Instead, it was served with a decent potato salad.  The fish was cooked nicely but it’s difficult to justify the $38 price tag.

 

Grilled Halibut ($37.95)
Grilled Halibut ($37.95)

Finally, my choice was the apple chopped salad ($12.95) with the optional upgrade of two scallops for a whopping ten bucks.  It arrived with a lone scallop and I made a note to see if it was reflected properly on the bill.  I never had the chance.  The salad itself was fresh, crisp and nicely balanced but when I cut open the scallop I looked at my colleagues and in my best Gordon Ramsey accent yelled “The f@*%ing scallop is raw”.  In fact, it was a bit of a relief because paying 5 bucks for a scallop the size of a jawbreaker just wasn’t worth it.  Perhaps the  biggest annoyance of all was when the manager returned with the plate to confirm with me that, after careful deliberation with the chef, the scallop was in fact raw and they would gladly take it off the bill.  I guess all those years of watching Hell’s kitchen finally paid off since it saved me the embarrassment of being corrected in front of my esteemed colleagues.

 

Apple Chopped Salad ($12.95) with a $5 scallop
Apple Chopped Salad ($12.95) with a $5 scallop

 

The source of much deliberation....
The source of much deliberation….

 

My Take

Vancouver’s Glowbal group seems to be like olives, cilantro or goat cheese; you either love them or hate them.  Some see the group as an innovative and eclectic collection of restaurants showcasing an incredible arrays of foods.  Others see it as an overpriced series of misguided trends in which the decor is more important than the food. The inability to properly display gluten-free foods combined with minute mussels and an undercooked and underwhelming five dollar scallop (that included  a second opinion on doneness) makes me lean toward the latter.  This was just a bad experience with no effort made to fix it.  Good thing there were crudites back at the meeting.  I swear a carrot stick never tasted so good.

Coast Restaurant on Urbanspoon