A #Zomato Lesson at Portland Variety

I don’t get twitter.  I mean I understand the general premise (most of my tweets are simply links to my blog posts or a picture of a half empty beer that I might think would be cool to post in a drunken stupor) but I can’t get my mind around hashtags. First of all, it’s a pound sign.  I’ve never been asked to enter a hashtag after entering my PIN or a password  during a phone call.  Second, I don’t know which hashtags are correct or incorrect.  Perhaps the strategy is to simply guess in hopes that somebody else has the same thought process as you.  Maybe there’s  a secret directory I could access at #hashtags or that it’s a matter of practice makes perfect. Let’s give it a try.

I recently agreed to meet a staff member of #Zomato, a new foodie site set to launch in Canada in the coming weeks.  Legend has it Zomato started in India by an entrepreneur who was tired of not having access to the most #currentmenus at local restaurants. Since then, it has evolved to a information/social network designed specifically for #foodies .  The staff work vigilantly with local eateries to ensure that the information is up to date and accurate.  Sites like #urbanspoon and #yelp rely on the customer who often can’t tell time, have a odd definition of the phrase average noise and assumes a place has take out if they see styrofoam containers stacked in the #openkitchen. You can also form networks and bloggers can link their #nonsensicalrants  directly to the site.

I figured#portlandvariety would be an ideal place to meet for a coffee.  Located at the esteemed corner of #KingandPortland, Portland Variety is following the lead of places like #barbuca by opening all day.  During the day, it is a haven for #coffee and #pastries and transforms into #smallplates as the day goes on.  The front of the place has high marble-topped  tables and glass cases displaying cookies, pastries and other #sweettreats. The back of the house has  some yellow bench seating #againstthewall (wait….I have a feeling  this hashtag would solicit comments that have nothing to do with comfortable seating) and tables scattered throughout the open space. There is also a large bar which promises #libations once the party starts around 5 pm.

After a brief introduction to #zomatogirl, I ordered a decaf #amerciano and a shrimp salad sandwich. The coffee was made quickly but they had to verify that the sandwich was still possible before ringing me in.  After getting the #thumbsup, we had a seat in the back.   I wasn’t sure if they would bring the sandwich out or if I had to head back to the front to pick it up.  After I waited #whatseemedlikeaneternity, I walked up to inquiry.  I was able to witness the final assembly and watched it sit on the counter for a bit before I finally #waveddown a staff member to get it.

The americano #hitthespot and the sandwich was decent as well.  In particular, the croissant was #lacedwithbutter, resulting in a flaky and  moist #breadstuff (I’m convinced I can make up words with hashtags).  The delicate texture of the well prepared shrimp were not dulled  by the sweet dressing.

Shrimp salad on a crossiant
Shrimp salad on a crossiant

 

Shortly after the meeting, she posted a picture of her sandwich to twitter, copied me and included the hashtags #inmytummy and #sandwich me!. I have no idea where she got these hash tags from but I almost wanted to ask if she just made them up.   I mean…why not #betweenthebread or #lunchplate? I’m still confused.

My Take

Although I can’t comment on the #dinnerrush, Portland Variety is a comfortable place to grab a pastry and a coffee, both of which are much better in quality than what you might get at #overratedcoffee jaggernaut.  I can’t confirm the wifi situation, but yelp tells me they dont…so #whatashame.  I would easily sit here for an hour and get some computer work done as opposed to the cramped quarters of #seattlesfavourite.

I plan to come back for #whatsfordinner sometime soon.  In the meantime, Portland Variety will be #topofmind for a #daytimepitstop, especially if I can confirm they  have or decide to get a wifi connection for customers. Ironically, this is one of those places that doesn’t post their menu on their website which is #annoying.  Maybe Zomato will help.

Portland Variety Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

 

Review:Toronto:Entertainment District:Beverley Hotel

There has been much anticipation over the opening of The Beverley, a boutique hotel on Queen just west of university,   Ever since leaving Hawthorne earlier in the year, Chef Eric Wood’s twitter account has counted down to the opening of the inn which features a restaurant and rooftop patio.  I decided to give it a whirl despite the fact it still seems to be in the soft opening phase.

I was greeted outside by a smiling young lady who asked if I wanted some lunch.  It was a little later in the day so seating was ample.  I was seated at a shaky table adjacent to the bar.  Almost immediately a friendly waitress dressed in black came by and asked me if I wanted a drink. There are choices from a snug list of new and traditional cocktails featuring no alcohol in particular.  There’s cognac, bourbon, rye, gin, vodka, tequila, rum and pimm’s. There’s even sangria. I went “Old School” with a Pimm’s cup 335 selling, like most of the other cocktails on the menu, for $12.  It was well done. As I was sipping away, it was apparent I was crashing  a meeting with many of the hotel’s stakeholders (no worries, I had no inclination to listen in and heard nothing other than the occasional bellow of laughter).  Shortly after, one of the gents got up and walked toward me in the bar area.  For a second I pictured a scene from the Sopranos and figured he may throw me out ass over tea kettle.  Well….not really. Instead, he gave me one of those “uncle Fred at Christmas” shots in the arm and said “get the burger”.  Shortly after well…I ordered the burger.

Pimm's Cup #335 $12
Pimm’s Cup #335 $12

Before the burger, however, I ordered the caesar salad which is something I rarely do. What intrigued me, however, was the fact it was made with dinosaur kale instead of romaine lettuce (although I suspect it was in fact baby kale).  It was a good size and served with asiago cheese, smoked tomato chips and rye croutons.  It like a traditional Caesar salad except was a little less crispy because of the kale.  That said, the flavour was better and the risk of sogginess was missing.  The tomato chips were amazing and adequately dobbleganged the traditional bacon.  One suggestion (in my best Obi Wan-Kenobi voice): USE THE LEMON. One squirt of the wedge gave it the acid needed  to cut through the sulphur of the kale.

Kale Caesar $9
Kale Caesar $9 (Dinosaur or baby?)

At first I misread the description of the burger to say “pickled watermelon” instead of “pickle and watermelon”.  One I noticed my error..well it didn’t matter because I ordered it anyway. I’ve told a few people since and they look at me like I’m a nuts. Well, it worked.  Unlike a lot of other burgers, the patty was seasoned very well.  It was a tad tough to eat given the large watermelon and pickle slices and the latter was the prominent taste,  What made the watermelon work was it’s contrast against the tangy cheese (Guernsey is great on a burger) in both taste and texture. In the end, I pictured it as a juicy monstrosity in which the act of biting  would squeeze Bordelaise sauce out of the patty like a sponge, forcing it to drip down my hands with mudpuddle messiness .   Instead, it was a bit overdone, so I missed out on the adventure although it tasted damn good, The fries made me wonder if Eric’s recent trip to the West Coast had an influence on the menu.  Kennebec fries are a staple out there and in my opinion, truly make the best fries.  They also had a shot of crispy garlic chips but surprisingly were not served with any sort of dipping sauce. A house ketchup is available with the starter order, so I’m not sure if the omission with the burger was an oversight or planned that way.  I actually think the house ketchup would have helped the burger too.  Hey, it makes me wonder if the Bordelaise sauce would of worked on the side as an au jus for the fries as well.

Beverley Burger $17
Beverley Burger $17

Dessert seems to be a work in progress. There is no menu as of yet, but the kind waitress provided me with three options: a choice of two homemade ice creams (orange szechuan and malted barley), a couple of in house popsicles (I think pineapple jalapeno was one) and a smores dessert.  With no concept of portion size or price, I asked if I could sample both types of ice cream. She said she would check with the kitchen.  A few minutes later she returned with a defeated look on her face and informed me it was not possible because the ice cream was proportioned when prepared.  A little perplexed, I opted for the orange Szechuan and realized I would have to satisfy my craving for malted barley over a pint later in the day. The ice cream was fantastic.  It had the texture of silk, a rich taste but not an overwhelming heaviness.  The brownie was decent but wasn’t needed because it wasn’t as good as the ice cream itself.

Orange Szechuan Ice Cream. $3.  Charge me $6 and give me two!
Orange Szechuan Ice Cream. $3. Charge me $6 and give me two!

My Take

Eric Wood is a chef who, in my opinion, is very friendly and open with his customers.  He comments on blogs, answers tweets and is not afraid to make recommendations for other restaurants among other things. His new endevour is a little boutique mixed with a hint of hipster, sprinkled with a bit of West coast and dusted  with a scent of his old gig at Hawthorne. It’s boutique in that it delves into cuisine which is veggie-centric and focuses on choices that include raw and gluten free dishes.  The kennebec fries are very west coast.  With his Hawthorne exodus, he brought the “4 Play for lunch” concept (app, salad, main, dessert) for $16.  Both the drink and food menus have no defined focus which I find highly acceptable in an environment which has been populated with ramen, snack food and  bourbon or tequila bars.  That said, it’s far from a traditional menu as indicated by a watermelon topped burger and steak and potatoes made with beef cheeks.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out.  Will the menu be sophisticated enough to attract a boutique hotel crowd and yet be hip enough to draw in the curmudgeon foodies, especially given the fact they tend to stray away from pretty decor and gravitate toward tiny rooms that look like their parent’s basement apartment or a janitor’s broom closet?  Maybe the rooftop will become the foodie haven as it appears to be focused on grilled meats a la izakaya (although it’s still Paleo I suppose). This paradox even resonates with the waitstaff.  I saw a couple of staff drop in with back-size tattoos, presumably only to jump into sheer black dresses and assume an old school service model free of angst and pretension. Bravo!

In the end, I think the menu hiccups are growing pains associated with any new franchise.  A tweak of the burger, a little ketchup with the fries and an extra scoop of ice cream would make me a happy boy. I know I can say this knowing that next time I drop by, the shot in the arm won’t turn into a punch in the face from anybody from the board of directors, especially uncle Fred.

The Beverley Hotel on Urbanspoon