Lunch at the Trump: Not Even Neil Diamond Would Come to This America

I have fond memories of my grandparents and blame them for some of my suspicious musical preferences.  Beside the rusty orange la-z-boy was an eight track player which sat atop a faux leather stand which housed a mix of country and adult contemporary music.  I particular, I remember Neil Diamond.  Even today, at the age of 74, Neil remains a stud in the music world. As a high school student, he would write poems for his male classmates so they could pass along to the ladies in an effort to seal the deal. He was a pre-med student at New York University and excelled at fencing.  He has be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and some of his music remains among the most recognizable over the past 3 generations.  I challenge you to go to any bar, wedding, Red Sox game etc. and not see a drunk crowd of anybody over the age of 25 not belt out the belt out the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” when cued.  He also wrote “I’m a Believer” which any Shrek or Monkees fan would recognize instantly. In this context,  I was reminded of Neil as a result of his epic song America in which he sings of an immigrant’s triumphant arrival to the U.S. with such lyrics as “Everywhere around the world, they’re coming to America,ev’ry time that flag’s unfurled, they’re coming to America”.

America recently replaced Stock at the Trump hotel and is a surprising partnership between two of Toronto’s biggest hospitality groups: Charles Khabouth’s Ink entertainment and restaurant juggernauts Oliver and Bonacini.  As a result, one would expect lavish surroundings and trendy menu choices.  I went for lunch as part of a meeting recently and ordered off the menu.  There is a mix of items including soups, salads and pastas as well as daily specials ranging from lobster rolls to seared tuna.  I fought the temptation to grab a mid meeting nap on the velvet banquette complete with comfy  decorative pillows and ordered the wild and tame mushroom soup ($14) and america’s caesar salad ($16).  I was appalled.  The soup, described on the menu as “enough said” should have said “four mushroom pieces floating in a flimsy broth with no substance” or “mild and lame”.  At least the Caesar salad had a more accurate description which simply stated “creamy roasted garlic dressing”.  There was A LOT  of dressing and the only other component other than the red romaine was a few “croutons” which were nothing more than a dried version of the same jalapeno corn bread that was in the basket on the table. In addition,  I spoke to a few colleagues after and they were equally unimpressed.  The tuna special was sleepy and the shrimp and squid tagliolini had the too long under the  heat lamp look to it.  One of my table mates asked for some Parmesan (I didn’t blame him) which seemed a bit insulting to the waitstaff. Other than that, although the service was pretty good, it was rather slow and inconsistent which was a far cry  from  the service I received in other areas of the Trump throughout the week.

Wild and Tame Mushroom Soup $14
Wild and Tame Mushroom Soup $14
America Caesar Salad $16
America Caesar Salad $16

My Take

Although it was in a different context, I enjoyed Stock when it was open.  I was expecting that if anything, America would elevate at 31st floor of the Trump hotel to a new level.  Instead, it seems to quality of the food has been comprised. Perhaps the dinner experience is better but I would have expected  more from a $30 lunch.  It was surprisingly more stagnant than it was stuffy and I left with a bad taste in my mouth…literally.   In the end, Neil Diamond’s America is much better than Trump’s…and I like his hair better too.

America Restaurant - Trump International Hotel and Tower Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Meni Midi Meh

I had a business lunch in the Mount Sinai hospital area, so I needed a place close by. I have walked past Midi back numerous times and figured it would a good time to give it a try.  I showed up from my reservation and was handed  the $18 summerlicious menu which offered the standard starter, entree and dessert.  It was the only menu available but I wasn’t super upset since most of the regular items (most of which were French inspired) were also featured.

It has a small interior that is quite modest and rather worn down.  It doesn’t hold a whole lot of people and it was manned by one waiter who also seemed to be responsible for ordering the restaurant’s food supply as well.

I started with the soup of the day which was split pea. It was a decent consistency but was rather starchy and slightly underseasoned.  The fish special was a seared tuna served with a mango salsa and frites.  The tuna was cooked rare as requested but was horribly underseasoned.  The salsa was a mess…overly sweet with no contrast whatsoever. The fries were marginally warm.  Dessert was a vanilla cardamon creme brulee which I was pretty excited about given my love for that spice in a dessert.  The flavour was there but the consistency of the creme brulee was a little clumpy.

My Take

Lunch at Midi was like a trip back in time.  The worn, unwelcoming decor matched the equally outdated food.  All three components of the $18 summerlicious menu were mediocre at best.  In stark contrast to Caesar’s triumphant Veni, Vidi, Vici war cry, foodies flocking here would likely wimper Meni, Midi, Meh.

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Tinder Surprises and Scenes from the Red Wedding while Bymark Hits the Mark

My job allows me to attend a number of group dinners.  I’m often reluctant to write reviews of these experiences since they are a bit artificial and may not apply to somebody  looking to grab dinner for two on a Saturday night.  That said, I imagine smooth execution of a delicious dinner for 100 people would speak highly of the quality of the food and the service.  This was the case during a recent visit to Bymark. I wasn’t involved in planning this dinner so I can’t comment on the price per head as part of this review.

I’m used to standard set menus which offer soup or salad as a starter, fish, chicken or steak as he entree and some dessert which usually includes a cheesecake and something chocolaty.   Bymark’s options blew my mind.  There were five starters that included butter braised lobster poutine, fois gras, yellow fin tuna with yuzu, buffalo mozzerella and mixed greens. I sat staring blankly at the menu as I had to reprogram my brain think outside the soup/salad binary code I’m so used to.  I’ve been in a fish mood lately and I’m quite sure “yuzu” is Japanese for “tasty little bastard”, so I went for the tuna.  It was seared and served beautifully .  I would have liked a bit more of both heat and acid to tear into the richness of the tuna but it was fresh and clean and the pop from the odd ginger crisp was memorable.

Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with Yuzu Pearls
Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with Yuzu Pearls

My colleague opted for the lobster poutine.  It was a modest portion served on a circular lobster shell and topped with bernaise sauce.  I think I saw him cry a little bit.  I managed to score a few frites and thought it  was greasy sweetness…literally and figuratively.  I cried a little too.

Butter Braised Lobster Poutine
Butter Braised Lobster Poutine

Another colleague of mine from Quebec stuck to her roots and ordered the fois gras.  As a disclaimer, I am not wacky over fois gras.  I enjoy a think slice of torchon as opposed to a hunk of liver on a plate.  This appetizer was the latter.  Maybe it was the garnish which was a bile-looking sage puree coupled with a bloody looking compote and swimming in a pool chocolate jus. It might have been the fact that the fois gras itself was not served cooked throughout. Either way,  it looked like aftermath of the red wedding scene from Game of Thrones.  Since I am not a savage medieval warrior or Hannibal Lecter, it wasn’t my thing and wouldn’t have been any better even  if there were a few fava beans thrown on the plate.

Fois Gras and Sage Eclair
Fois Gras and Sage Eclair

The selection of entrees were equally as impressive.  There was the choice of steak, lamb, black cod, chicken and vegetable risotto Black cod is one of my favorite fish and I was particularly intrigued with the octopus and crab cakes, so my choice was a no brainer.  To me, the key to good black cod is to achieve the same silky mouthfeel as if  you were eating a pound of butter but without the probable ill-filled aftermath.  Mission accomplished.  The citrus butter balanced the sweetness of the cod and with the help of the coriander crust and subtle broth enhanced it at the same time.  The crab cakes were delightful morsels and the eggplant and  zucchini strands brought some earthiness to the dish.

Coriander Crusted Black Cod
Coriander Crusted Black Cod

For the most part, dessert adhered to the group dinner blueprint in offering chocolate something and cheesecake.  They did, however, offer a delightful selection of cheese (including a killer blue) served with honey, grapes and bread.  It was a nice way to finish the evening.

After Dinner Cheese
After Dinner Cheese

There is something to be said for a restaurant’s ability to execute a large group dinner.  Although it cannot always be compared to the service required for a smaller, more intimate dinner, there is a standard which includes ensuring 100 wine glasses are never empty and that everybody gets their meals within a short window of time.  The service was flawless other than a few hiccups regarding coffee service at the end of the meal.  That said, maybe we scared them off given the fact that our table looked like a bunch of adolescence watching Porky’s for the first time. One of my single colleagues decided to open her tinder app and demonstrate the concept to a bunch of us.  Essentially, you scroll through pictures of people within a defined radius of where you are sitting, squatting, drinking etc.  You either like or dislike them based on a few pictures and whatever witty (or ridiculous) banter they include in their profile.  A yes means if that person also approves of your posted resume, an “It’s a match!” flashes on your screen and the happy couple can be begin a chat which may or may not lead to other things including a walk in the park or a deep discussion about existentialism. A no means great big red letters are stamped over the unsuspecting dude’s picture and the girl can smirk with the satisfaction that she temporarily ended somebody’s hopes and dreams. During the lesson and in the presence of the opposite sex, there were a couple of quick observations I made about this phenomenon called tinder:

1. Guys should not put pictures of cats on their photo roll.  Cat guys seem to be a turn off to women (although I can think of a few guys that really like pus…never mind).

2. Guys should not post pictures of themselves hanging with their buddies, especially if it’s every picture.  There were a few cases where we actually wagered who the actual guy was.  Plus, it may lead one to believe that you either need your buddies in  a picture  look better or you are into threesomes, foursomes or frat parties.

3. Girls and guys differ on the definition of witty and/or funny.  For example, one guy’s status was “My mom says she likes me”. The girls at the table thought that he was clever; the guys thought he was a putz.

4.  Girls want to see the whole package.  Close-ups of a bicep or upper abs along with a shot from distance demonstrating a dude’s love of barbecuing veggie skewers in bad lighting doesn’t work.  It’s  a hook-up app, not a 100 piece puzzle.

5.  I suspect that pseudonyms are acceptable if not encouraged.  Let’s face it…if your name is Marvin or Randy you don’t have a chance.  The brown guys have no problem changing their names to Richard or Jacob (I had an Indian guy beside at dinner who confirmed that Richard was actually his cousin Ashok).  That said, some white guys have figured it out.  Take Roberge for example.  This french prince (whose name is likely Bob) was sleek and suave and would likely want to any girl to roll the “R’ and extend his name to a 3 second ROOOOOBBBEEERRRRRRRRRRGGGGGEEEE!

My Take

As mentioned, I am reluctant to suggest that a good group dinner means that a table for two will have the same experience.  What I can say is that the execution of dinner at Bymark was close to flawless.   Although the fois gras was a bloody mess, the other starters, including the lobster poutine and the seared tuna were delicious.  The entrees were served hot and I heard no complaints (whether it was the steak, fish, lamb or risotto) across our table.  For the most part, the service was prompt and professional.  In the end, I think both the guys and girls agreed  that the pieces of meat served on the plate were much better than those offered on tinder.  Sorry Bob.

Bymark on Urbanspoon

The Irony of Happy Hour at Lee

I’ve met a few celebrity chefs in my travels.   I ran into Lynn Crawford at a food truck festival, met Mark McEwan at a Second Harvest event and snapped a picture of Guy Fieri through the glass at Lakeview diner.  I’m not very bold in these endeavors.  I usually only approach if they are available and usually if somebody else has already asked for a picture before me.  This might explain my reluctance to Susur Lee.  First of all, he scares the hell out of me.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile  and I still remember the way he ripped apart chef Eric Wood during an episode of Chopped Canada.

I was in Toronto at staying in the King and Portland area so I decided to stroll the neighbourhood in order to grab a bite.  I was thinking Portland Variety, the new menu at Valdez or maybe a sausage at Wvrst.  The last thing on my mind was Lee but as I walked down the sidewalk I looked up and sitting on the patio of his own restaurant was Susur himself.  He was dressed in a burgundy blazer with the same stoic look I have always seen on TV.  He seemed engrossed in a business meeting with members of his staff so the last thing I wanted to do was interrupt. Instead I texted a few food geeks I knew  informing them of my discovery.  I attempted to snap a picture but  with my already horrendous camera skills it didn’t go well.

I was still undecided about where to dine until I saw a small sandwich board advertising happy hour at Lee which offered $10 cocktails and a small 1/2 price bar menu.  Sounded good to me.   I walked in and had a seat at the decent size bar.  A friendly bartender was waiting and quickly handed me a food and drink menu.   The drink menu offered 6 cocktails which had an array of spirits as a base.  I started with a burnt orange manhattan (knob hill bourbon, vermouth, grand marnier, cointreau, orange cream citrate).  It had a classic taste with a little twist. The bartender even flamed  the orange peel for extra effect. Although Knob Creek is not my favorite bourbon, it was still a great cocktail, especially for $10.

Burnt Orange Manhattan $10
Burnt Orange Manhattan $10

The half price bar snack menu consisted of 5 items so I went all in and ordered them all.  The first to arrive was the edamame hummus dip ($4) served with sesame crisps, taro root chips and pomegranate.  The silky texture was heavenly and the normal earthiness of a chickpea hummus was replaced with a fresher flavour. The punchy pomegranate seeds and taro chips were great compliments.

Edamame Hummus Dip $4
Edamame Hummus Dip $4

At this point, a buddy of mine joined me.  Shortly after, the spicy tuna tartare and black pepper tuna tataki ($6), spicy jerk chicken ($6) and cheese burger spring roll ($7) arrived.   The tartare and tataki were served on a rice cake and topped with red pepper relish.  The tuna was prepared perfectly but was blunted by the overwhelming rice cake.  The flavours were there, just disproportionate.  The cheeseburger spring egg roll was a brilliant concept, especially with the lettuce wrap and pickled vegetable.  Once again, like the tuna, the main protein was lost among the numerous other things on the plate.  The spice jerk chicken served with the tamarind glaze and chili sauce was phenomenal and easily the best dish of the night.  Moist chicken and a very crisp and aggressive seasoned coating was perfect as a stand alone but the sauces enhanced the flavour even further. It was so good we ordered another one.

Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7
Tuna Tartare Tataki $6, Jerk Chicken $6, Cheeseburger Spring Rolls $7

The last dish on the bar menu was the fois gras and chicken liver pate. Served with ice syrup, ginger mango and ciabatta for $7.  It also had some housemade blueberry compote.  Although pate is rarely my preferred choice on a menu, this worked on all levels. The texture of the pate complimented with the contrasting sweet and  gingery condiments were delightful to the palate.  Ironically, I didn’t eat all the pate but the the rest of the plate didn’t stand a chance.

Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7
Fois Gras and Chicken Liver Pate $7

For a second cocktail, I ordered a Mayan Solstice, a tequila and gin based drink with chili infused lime juice, cucumber and green apple (with a little chartreuse).  This was fresh and delightful but the heat from the  chili was adequately present with every sip.  It was a great cocktail.

Mayan Solstice $10
Mayan Solstice $10

Whether it was a few cocktails or an general enjoyment of the food and atmosphere, I saw a couple across bar order Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style Slaw.  I felt that the guy from “The Source” commercial who sees his creepy neighbour dancing, looks at the speaker and says “I want that”.  This $22 salad is one of the most recognized dishes at Lee.  It’s an architectural feat, constructed with 19 ingredients.  After a detailed description. the waitress skillfully destroyed  it into something that could fit in one’s mouth.  As much as it was eye candy, it was alliterative mouth candy as well; sweet, salty, sour, spice, savory and sublime.

Susur's Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22
Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style slaw $22

My Take

I stumbled across happy hour at Lee by chance.  It started with a chance sighting of Susur itself and lead to an enjoyable meal. Although it is not your typical cinq a sept joint, the staff are welcoming and treat you as well as somebody who might be dropping a few hundreds bucks for dinner. The cocktails were above average and a great value at $10.  The bar food was a nice representation of Susur’s intense and diverse flavour profiles although I found the tuna and spring rolls  a bit  disproportionate. I’d order two jerk chicken right off the bat just to save yourself a wait. If you like pate,  Susar’s is a must.   The hummus was excellent as well.

The King and Portland area has become the epicentre for the snack food movement in Toronto and Lee has jumped on board (at least between 5 and 7 anyway). The result is a successful menu which offers a sample of Susur’s bold flavours.   Both the cocktails and food are a great value but be warned, you may be tempted to indulge in things like the signature slaw or other dishes which cross your path. In the end, although Susur didn’t look overly happy during his own happy hour, I sure did.

Lee on Urbanspoon

DDD:Cleveland:Momocho Mod Mex

Another old yelp post with a few updates…..

It was a swell night and I was sitting in a hotel at the Cleveland airport. I called down to Momocho Mod Mex and they assured me I would get in without too much of an issue. I arrived to be told it was a 30 minute wait but was seated after about 15. I opted for the patio which provided lots of room in nice backyard type surroundings.

I started with a michelada ( beer and hot sauce wit some lime and salt on the rim). Well done and good price point ($4.50) and  I liked the ability to choose from any of the numerous Mexican and non-Mexican beers on the menu. I opted for an old school Tecate. There are also plenty of margarita choices on the menu as well.

After mulling over the array of guacamole (there’s everything from goat cheese to crab), I opted for the jicama/pineapple ($8.50). It was a big portion, was fresh and tasty but not as unique as I hoped. Maybe it was my choice!

The tamale dumplings ($8.50)  were ordered as a side and were very authentic although served with the same side as the taquitos.

momo tamale

From the mains, I ordered the Machaca (brisket)  ($15.50) and atun (tuna) ($17.50) taquito plates at the recommendation of the waiter.  The tuna was a perfect medium rare and the brisket was tender and flavourful.  The highlights were definitely the  brisket   and the blood orange marmalade that came with the tuna. The chile rajita served on the side was good but not spectacular.

Atun Taquitos (Tuna $17.50)
Atun Taquitos
(Tuna $17.50)
Brisket
Brisket

Dessert was the Capirotada ($6). Despite the unique menu description (gingersnap and jalapeno) and promise by the waiter, I would say it was an average bread pudding.

Dessert
Dessert

Decor inside was unique and very tasteful. Cozy in and out even though some of the art is a bit creepy!  Service was slow at times but the staff was pleasant.

My Take

All in all, a nice experience in a relaxed environment with refined, modern Mexican food, although the flavours became a bit monotonous as the meal progressed. The guacamole was a tiny let down, either because it was so highly touted or because I went conservative and shied away from the trout, crab, goat or blue cheese.  This place is an atypical DDD  in both cost (I found it a little pricy) and decor.  Plus, I swear Guy Fieri was one of those strange masked men in the pictures hanging on the wall. It didn’t blow my mind but I also didn’t leave disappointed although I do believe,based on the pictures inside, I had a few nightmares of masked Mexican wrestlers administering full nelsons on me while screaming “Mi comida es la mejor del mundo” in my ear.

Verdict: 4 Guyz

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