The Solemn Story of Snackies by a Montgomery who wasn’t Lucy

One of the most treasured stories in Canadian folklore is that of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  It’s the coming of age story of a determined redhead who was mistakenly adopted into a farming family in PEI and has been told and retold through books and other media such as film, television and even live productions.  Over a hundred years later, numerous Toronto restaurants are writing their own stories in an effort to capture the essence of Canadiana. Montgomery’s is one of these. Although I can’t attest to the origin of the name (it certainly isn’t that of the owners), I could use my creative licence and suggest that it is may be named after the famed author.  So, although I’m sure she could pen a much better story than I, I’ll attempt to summarize the experience in my own literary style:

There’s a restaurant called Montgomery’s.  It’s a modest place and apparently purposely so. One could easy walk past the meager storefront searching for a place to dine.  The interior is a bit meager  highlighted by a rather large and seemingly cozy rug/tapestry hanging along one wall and tables and chairs that looked like hand me downs from an estate sale. With the plain white walls it looks a bit like a prison visitation room.  Once seated, you may hear a fable from the waitstaff justifying a thirty dollar price tag for an Italian beer. If you are really lucky, in surroundings lit only by the small candle flickering on the table you may hear the tale of Snackies the Omish cow.  Snackies was aptly named by a 2 year old on a farm that, despite, her tender age, was a bovine clairvoyant who knew that one day, her farmyard friend would adorn a plate in downtown Toronto served medium rare.  In the original story, the name of the cow remained a secret, only to be shared with those who were curious or wanted to know the name needed to canonize this cow into culinary sainthood.

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Snackies

The trout, sadly, did not receive the same attention. It was simply called trout, named in a fashion much like the majority of the characters (ie. bear, skunk and muskrat) in the Franklin cartoon.  Perhaps the two year oracle would have named it Fishy or Swimmy but alas one will never know.  The only other protein of mention was an small egg custard who’s bite was bigger than its bark in that it was full of sweet, salt and unami flavours. The bread took a dip in the lentils or camouflaged itself behind vibrant green butter. The chain gang of vegetables were housed on white plates and bowls as bleak as the walls themselves. The lettuce drowned in its sorrows and the beans, carrots and potatoes were particularly sour to be there. The tarte tatin, however, was the apple of everybody eye.  The entire group, when together, made for a fun and eventful adventure despite being housed in a concrete tundra. The end.

My Take

I’m a bit behind in my reviews so the menu has changed often since I went a couple of months ago.  That said, the concept seems to have remained the same; seasonal vegetables with a few proteins served in a fashion (ie. plain) which forces the food to do the talking. That said, the cup of lettuce seems to be a consistent character in this story and is worth a try although you probably won’t dream of bathing in the broth at night.  All in all, the food was not mind blowing but it was good.  The custard was divine and Snackies represented. The vegetables were a bit hit and miss but all around good.

The concept of the restaurant, from the shabby store front to the ugly floors and odd rug/tapestry thing on the wall, bothered me. Some people have told me this is purposeful and if it is I apologize for not understanding.  Maybe it’s like that painting at a museum I stare at thinking “WTF”, but I perceive more as “we couldn’t be bothered so let’s pretend like we meant to do it”.  From a decor perspective, to me there is a difference between industrial and correctional.

I’m a bit perplexed at the lack of social media coverage.  Sure, the opening was covered by Toronto life and Blogto but other than that the normal review sites have been as barren as Montgomery’s walls. There are only 9 yelp reviews and zomato hasn’t registered enough voters to even have a rating.  This is not always indicative of overall noise but it’s a bit odd.  I do, however, notice that they do take time to respond to many of the reviews, good or bad.  They are also closed on Sunday and Monday now which could be interpreted in a number of ways.  I guess we have to wait and see if this place will turn out more like Anne of Green Gables or the Pat of Silver Bush.

Given the story of Snackies the cow as the lead character among a diverse cast of plain, misunderstood and diverse characters all set in a drab decor, if I was a literary critic I would say Montgomery’s can best be described as  a tale in which AA Milne meets Orange is the new Black.

Montgomery's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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I Had DINR with the Prime Minister in the North and with the Navy…Sort of.

I’m oblivious sometimes.  Sure, I can navigate through a number of websites searching so what’s hot in the restaurant world but I often miss things right in front of my face. I was in Ottawa for a conference recently and needed a quick spot for dinner.  As part of my search, I stumbled across DINR, a rather new app which revolves around last minute reservations at some of the most coveted restaurants in the country.  Luckily, Ottawa is one of the featured  cities so I managed to secure the chef’s table at North and Navy with a few hours notice. North and Navy is a relatively new restaurant which moved into the space left when Beckta switched locations. The concept plays on what the owners call similarities between the climates of Northern Italy and Eastern Ontario with a focus on local ingredients.

I was staying at a hotel down the road so it was nice walk to the Nepean street location. I noticed that the air was crisp indicating that fall was here.  What I didn’t notice was that there were a number of black sedans outside the restaurant.  We were quickly seated at the rail and waited for our last guest who arrived and immediately commented on the motorcade parked outside.  I laughed and offered to look around the restaurant on the way to the washroom in case the beloved Justin Trudeau may be in the house.  On the way back I made eye contact (well..maybe one way eye contact) which somebody who faintly resembled Sophie who was sitting with a man with flowing Pantene locks.  I didn’t dare stop or make eye contact to confirm given  I’m not sure of the Canadian rules around approaching a head of state in a dining establishment (although a shirtless selfie may have been in the cards), so I went back to my seat and mentioned I thought it was him. Another member of our party got up, walked past the table, did a 360 and quickly returned to confirm the sighting.

We were greeted by a pleasant employee who went through the description of the menu using the airplane safety speech that has become the norm for any shared plate eatery currently in existence.  We were encouraged to try the cicheti (ie. Italian snack plate) which featured grissini, marinated anchovy, oyster, mackerel and a homemade meatball.It was served on a silver platter worthy of let’s say….a prime minister.  We collectively destroyed the plate’s contents with good reviews.

north-cichetti
Cicheti $2-4 plus funky socks and crocs in lieu of a Prime Ministerial selfie 

There were four primi pasta courses on the menu and we ordered them all. The potato tortaletti with matching brodo was pleasantly plated with some pickled onions. The tender and unique pasta was spot on but the delicate but precisely seasoned  broth stole the show.  A bit more along the traditional path of Northern Italy, the bigoli con le vongole was another hit in its simplicity. Great pasta, great sauce and great seafood. I’m typically not a risotto fan but I thoroughly enjoyed  the pancetta and corn offering.  It provided cream corn comfort sprinkled with salty pieces of pancetta. The mint parpadelle with abundant mushrooms was an incredible concoction of earthy flavours.  The mint leaves offered a unorthadox yet pleasant freshness.  In the end, each primi choice offered textures and tastes that ranged from Harper conservative to flowing lock liberal.

As an intermezzo, we went for the raw zucchini with olives, mint and pecorino plus cured eggplant with house yoghurt.  I love chef’s tables, especially when dishes involve meticulous construction.  Both this dishes were assembled with a pinpoint precision which made then as appealing to the eye as to the tongue. The zucchini cleansed the aftermath of the previous dishes while the eggplant foreshadowed what was to come.

Given the sizable amount of food we had already consumed, we decided on two of the  available entrees; the trout with brussel sprouts and parsnip and the Quebec duck with fennel and pear.  The fish was brilliant.  Maybe it was my bias given the fact that I’m tired of every fish dish in a restaurant currently being served with some kind of tomato.  Instead, crunchy sprouts and a rich and pleasantly pungent parsnip puree were the perfect compliment to the pristine pesce. The red cabbage and the pickled squash (which was addictive by itself) added colour and another dimension to the dish.  Duck, especially Quebec canard, seems to be a staple in Ottawa and North and Navy was no exception.  There is an emerging trend coupling fresh fruit with protein and in this case, it was sliced pear.  It wasn’t my favorite dish of the night but still hit decent flavour and textural notes.

Since we were sitting at the chef’s table, we were able to get some great reflections and insights from the kitchen.  Adam Vettorel, North and Navy’s head chef, stopped his meticulous plating to chat for a bit.  He had a confident yet awkward personality which is seemingly quite characteristic among those with the role of chief cook.  We were treated to a story about a recent competition in which he opted for successfully pickling of squash instead of cooking it, a tactic which was transferred with some regularity to his menu soon after.

Dessert was classic Italian which nicely reflected the  general theme of North and Navy; traditional tiramisu and playful panna cotta. Like the rest of the meal, the fundamental execution was brilliant and combined old and new world ingredients and flavours.

My Take

Although I doubt Mr. Trudeau used nor needed the DINR app, it is a great tool for an unorganized, indecisive and whimsical food fan.   I would personally argue that a culinary celebrity sighting if usually more exciting than a political one but dining with the prime minister (sort of) makes for a good story, especially when chatting with friends and colleagues who figurative bleed red or appreciate good hair. That said, North and Navy made its food, especially the pasta, worth throwing into the discussion as well.  Adam Vettorel et al., unlike his famous guest,can effectively  execute a plan. North and Navy’s campaign promised Northern Italy with local influence and they delivered.  In the end, they get my vote even if I’m not a card carrying Liberal.

North & Navy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mr. Flamingo, Mr. Featherstone, Mr. Pink and Ms. Sitherwood all in an Avian Mating Dance Orgy

Flamingos are one of the more recognized avian species in popular culture.  Whereas the bald eagle is synonymous with courage and nobility, the flamingo is a bit more mysterious and is often associated much less stoic characteristics.

The Flamingo hotel, for example, is the longest standing (and probably cheesiest) hotel on the famed  Las Vegas strip. Afterall, it is decorated with pink shag carpets and a live wildlife habitat featuring the namesake birds.

“Pink Flamingos” was a low budget movie directed by John Waters, the odd director who brought us the original cult classics “Hairspray” and “Serial Mom” was notorious for working  with even stranger actors and actresses like Divine, Traci Lords and Ricki Lake.

Although not entirely related, when I heard the name of the restaurant I couldn’t help of think of Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs .  In what I would argue is  the most famous Tarantino restaurant scene after the five-dollar milkshake in Pulp Fiction, Mr. Pink, played by Steve Buscemi, goes on a rant about the concept of tipping, arguing that it should not be an automatic gesture (he must have visited a few places in Toronto’s west end along his travels).

 

On the small screen, flamingos,  along with other Florida vestiges such as fancy cars, jai alai, dog racing, beaches and boobs were prominent in the iconic opening credits of Miami Vice.  Speaking of televisions shows, the short lived prime-time soap opera called Flamingo Road starred Morgan Fairchild and Mark Harmon dealt with the frantic and fast-paced lives of elite Floridians.

All of this said, perhaps the most recognizable use of the pink flamingo in popular culture is the plastic lawn ornament.  Primarily used to signify key life events (like a 50th birthday let’s say), this tacky accessory was first produced by Don Featherstone , an employee of the union plastic company in Massachusetts.  This achievment was significant enough to have him recognized  in a New York times obituary the day after his June 22, 2015 death.  Here are a few interesting facts about the pink flamingo:

  • They were initially offered in the late 50’s sold for $2.76/pair in the Sears catalog.
  • In 1999, the city council of Madison, Wisconsin voted the plastic flamingo, coined Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus by Featherstone himself, as the city’s official bird.
  • In the 2011 Disney film “Gnomeo and Juliet”, there is a flamingo named Featherstone which is an interesting twist given the well- established competition between the gnome and the pink bird for cheesy lawn ornament supremacy.

Probably the oddest use the Flamingo is the Quebec food company whose catch line is “an excellent source of fun”.  First, the primary foodstuffs produced by the Flamingo company are poultry products which is just weird.  Second, I don’t equate the consumption of chicken burgers as fun, yet alone an excellent source of it.

All of this said, I can only speculate as to the rationale behind Mr. Flamingo’s name.  I think some would  speculate that the bird symbolizes the simple yet swanky theme of the restaurant.  The menu consists of small plates which in many cases contain upper echelon foods such as oysters, fois gras and truffles.

Although, I would almost expect a cocktail to be named after Mr. Featherstone ,I couldn’t find one so I ordered the bourbon based Ms. Sitherwood ($14) instead.  The first page of a google search identified Ms. Sitherwood as the  Chief Executive Officer of The Laclede Group although I have no idea if that’s relevant at all.    It was served in a dainty glass adorned with mint leaves. The general vibe of the drink was a sophisticated but not mind-blowing  long island ice tea ($14).

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Ms. Sitherwood $14

Before I go into the food choices, let me say that the staff were extremely accommodating.  The menu prices listed on the web are for a specific portion but they were more than happy to modify the portions and prices in some cases (eg. oysters and scallops) so that everybody had at least one piece.  Futhermore, they split the bill in 5 and printed one out for each of us.  These things seem simple  but can be surprisingly hard to find among  many Toronto eateries.

Since we had a fairly large table, we were able to order most of the menu.  First on the list was the steak tartare ($14) served with a quail egg and chips.  It had a symmetrical and pretty appearance and its moderate spice was driven more by pepper than other heat sources.

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Steak Tartare with chips $14

The burrata ($16) was served with a gorgeous  tomato salad. The cheese was seasoned nicely and had a beautiful texture similar to that of a soft boiled egg; firm on the outside and runny in the middle.

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Burrata $16

The lobster based oysters ($3.50/piece) wouldn’t have been my first choice but they fit the swanky theme of the place.  The lobster hollandiase had a sweetness and creaminess which nicely offset the salty and not over-cooked oyster, making  it a decent bite.

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Lobster Baked Oysters $3.50 each

Based on other reviews, the scallops with popcorn puree and sea asparagus ($22.50 as shown) could very well be their signature dish. It hit all the elements of such a dish; the scallops were cooked properly, the puree was divine and the sea asparagus added the colour, texture and taste needed to balance everything out.

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Scallops with popcorn puree and sea asparagus ($4.50 each)

The trout  was another tasty dish but  at this point the menu was getting a bit monotonous as many of  it’s elements were near identical to the previous two (oysters and scallops), adhereing to the theme of well cooked protein plus rich sauce plus green vegetable.

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Trout

On paper, the mushroom risotto topped with shaved truffle may have been the  pinnacle of Mr. Flamingo’s swanky small plate experience.  Although I’m not generally a risotto fan, I appreciated the avoidance of truffle oil as an excuse for fancy flavoring.  It was a nicely prepared dish but was still highlighted by rich flavours similar to many other items on the menu.

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Mushroom Risotto

The duck and steak were both nicely prepared but not unlike anything you can get at any other restaurant in the area.  It seems almost mandatory that these dishes appear on menus, prepared and seasoned the same way and served alongside the rather predictable sides.

After a meal in a place named after a suave and sexy bird serving oysters and  truffles,  I expected some kind of lavish desert. Instead, the sole offering was a donut with a sparkler in it.  It was a rather carnival ending to an otherwise posh meal.

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Donut with Sparkler $6

My Take

I may have missed my calling as an ornithologist so I’m never upset when I can eat at a place named after a feathered friend (yes I must admit I like eating some of them as much as I like watching them). After my dining experience, I can’t say I was as excited as the majestic flamingo during its mating ritual but it was still a decent meal.

 

Mr. Flamingo offers a mix of the standard sharing plates seen in a lot of the area’s eateries with the addition of a few unique ones, in particular the scallops with popcorn puree. In general, the majority of the menu is a bit monotonous in flavour though. Overall,  it was a good experience, highlighted by above average service starting with the fact they will actually split a bill, a fact that may even convince Mr. Pink to throw a few bucks on the table after all is said and done.

Mr Flamingo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Slanted Door: Lessons from Russell Peters and the Danger of Arranged Lunches

I was listening to Russell Peters on Sirius radio the other day.  It was a replay of his classic rant on arranged marriages.  I thought a little about it and tried to imagine being in that situation.  In a universe filled with energy flow and frequencies, I can’t imagine  being attached to a  woman who would nag me about my food desires, affinity for a pint or the fact that I sit up at weird hours documenting the trials and tribulations of my culinary journals while watching HBO shows.

That said, it was at that point that I realized I have had an experience almost as excruciating…the “arranged lunch”.  Let me explain.  While in San Francisco, I sent out a general invite offering  to bring any of my colleague’s customers out for lunch. I had a few bites and arranged to bring out a group.  I had no idea who they were but figured lunch at the Slanted Door, the well established Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco’s pier would be a safe call. I met the first of the four at the convention centre for a walk to the pier.  I had met her once before so it wasn’t hard to strum up some conversation.  We arrived at the rather large and very busy restaurant about twenty minutes later.  It has a wide open concept with tables offering various views including the kitchen and bay areas. The rest of my group hadn’t arrived yet, so we waited by the door (I never noticed if it was slanted or not) so we could be seated.  Much like a blind date, I watched people stroll in trying to predict who I’d be meeting.  Finally, three ladies walked in who seemed to the fit the bill.  After some quick introductions, we were seated around the corner in a half circular booth against the wall.

I’ll be the first to admit the menu is a bit long but these ladies made it look like they were reading the bible. The scowls and whispers trying to identify any dishes somewhat recognizable.  I quickly realized the extent of their Asian experience was limited to chicken balls and fried rice.  My fears were further confirmed when the table seemed either confused or appalled when the waiter suggested we order family style.   To avoid further hardship, we agreed to choose a dish each. My dreams of trying some of the more innovative offerings of the James Beard recognized iconic eatery was going up in smoke.

In addition, my guests continued to make various observations including the fact that most of the waitstaff were males and they need more women on the floor.  Nothing like a gender equality talk to spice things up.  That said, I did find the service a little arrogant.

The scowls continued when we were notified that diet coke was not a menu option.  The non-alcoholic drinks mainly consisted of spritzers and juices. So, a couple of them ordered lemonade.  I had a a ginger soda.

I decided to be a bit greedy and order the gulf shrimp and pork wonton soup ($7) to start.  I don’t think anybody cared.  After all, the combination of seafood and pork might have thrown things into array.  Fragrant, light broth housed noodles and dumplings which were tender and perfectly cooked.  It was a large bowl but didn’t care much that I didn’t have to share.

Gulf Shrimp and Pork Wonton Soup $7
Gulf Shrimp and Pork Wonton Soup $7

The vegetarian rolls ($12)  served with peanut sauce were stuffed with mushroom, tofu and cabbage.  They hit the mark although nothing spectacular but seemed to be acceptable at the table.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls $13
Vegetarian Spring Rolls $13

The grilled organic chicken with vermicelli ($16) was one of the safer bets on the menu so I wasn’t surprised to see it ordered.  It went pretty fast but I did manage to get a bite or two.  Nicely seasoned and nicely cooked but once again, nothing remarkable.

Grilled Organic Chicken $16
Grilled Organic Chicken $16

Sticking with the safe poultry theme,  we also had lemongrass chicken ($18).  A few mumbles about the spice levels circulated the table but I found it had a nice level of heat.

Lemon Chicken $18
Lemon Chicken $18

The woman I walked over with ordered the trout served with green mango and a chili sauce.  It was easily the best dish of the meal.  The fish was moist and the accompaniments were a great contrast.

Trout Filet $20
Trout Filet $20

My choice was the cellophane noodle with dungeness crab ($20).  Very disappointing.  I probably could have had all the crab in the dish on a tablespoon.  It was so torn up that the pieces looked like specks in the abundant heap of noodles.

Cellophane Noodles with Dungeness $20
Cellophane Noodles with Dungeness $20

 

Vegetables included boy choy and snowpeas (each $11)  from local farms.  They were  fresh, simple and nicely prepared.

Bok Choy $11
Bok Choy $11
Snow Peas $11
Snow Peas $11

My Take

Slanted door is likely the most well known Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco.  It’s location and reputation makes it a popular destination for lunch and dinner. Personally, I found it a bit overpriced for very good but not spectacular food.  The lack of crab in a San Francisco restaurant overlooking the ocean  is the ultimate and sad irony.

In the end, I don’t recommend arranged dining, especially at a place that revolves around family style dining.  I walked back to the convention centre with the first woman I met and couldn’t help but ask if that was the most painful dining experience she ever endured.  She enthusiastically agreed and  I felt a little better.   If the success of  “It’s just lunch” or other dating sites hinged on a dining experience like this, there’d be a lot more single people in the world.

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