A Midmost Rating of Bar Raval and Why Justin Trudeau Would Make A Promising Food Reviewer

 

I think food blogging is a bit like being a  member of parliament.  First, you have the liberty of being able to say whatever you want but with the knowledge that somebody is going to publicly disagree with your opinion.  In fact, some of them will just be nasty about it.  I remember writing a rather negative review of Hudson Kitchen shortly after all the TIFF sightings a couple of years back only to have a reader tell me how wrong I was (for the record I need to point out that Hudson Kitchen is now closed so I wasn’t that far off) and suggesting that I was not a blog to follow.  Second, like politics,  there is an element of responsibility with any kind of blogging.  I’m not saying what I write is going to make or break a restaurant, but what I say is very public and readily accessible so I try to be extremely careful even if I don’t like a place.  It is never my intention to shit on a chef or their restaurant because it’s like shitting on their character. At the same time, however, I shouldn’t be crapped on as a patron either.  Third, I have to consider not only my opinion but also the opinions of friends and colleagues I respect much like a politician has to respect his or her constituents.

For these reasons, I think Justin Trudeau would be a good food reviewer.  Consider the following:

  1. He has a sizable following on social media . For example, he has 1.2 million twitter followers which means his omnipotent opinion would be read (and maybe even retweeted)  by the masses.
  2. Many of those who read food blogs are his target audience…the entitled generation.   His election win was driven by, among others, those who believe that social injustices of the world can be solved by T-shirts, tattoos and that eating ethnic food is a symbol of global solidarity.
  3. He can post his pretty profile pic along with his reviews because that face can’t lie, right?
  4. Since both yelp and zomato use a 5 point Likert scale to rank restaurants, he can rate everything 4. That way we could count on his nauseating neutrality knowing he doesn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or show favouritism, even if they deserve it.
  5. He can change his opinion whenever it’s convenient.  Even if his initial review makes absolutely no sense and sounds like it came out his ass, he can always revisit things under different circumstances and use reasons beyond his control  to justify changing his mind…again and again.

So how does all of this relate to Bar Raval? I have two colleagues who I respect as good judges of restaurants.  That said, they differ on a few  and Bar Raval is one of them.  One found it charming and delightful and other thought it was crowded, over hyped and served marginal food. Keeping in mind that one experience doesn’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of a place, I felt like I was going to be the tie breaker.

One of the early criticisms I heard about Bar Raval was its tiny size and no reservation policy which obviously makes it difficult to ensure a spot upon arrival.  A few months ago, when patio season was still feasible, I decided to go in the mid afternoon to grab a drink and an early dinner.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because viewing their menu online is more difficult than playing Myst.

Having secured a corner patio seat, I did a quick survey of my surrounding and realized I was in hipster haven.  In fact, one of the many hipsters ended up being my waitress for the afternoon. Drink wise, I was drawn to the Gothic quarter ($13).  I was a bit excited because, although I’m far from a world traveler, I HAVE been to the Gothic quarter in Barcelona and thought I was REALLY cool to have this namesake drink.  As scripted, however, it was pink ( I have this habit of ordering pink drinks regardless of what the description is). I can swallow my manhood and say it was a decent and despite its appearance, even a little bit manly.

Gothic Quarter $13
Gothic Quarter $13

Since I was solo that afternoon and most of the  came in pairs,  I spent a good amount of time wondering how I was going to spend my finite gut capacity yet still get a good flavour of the place. The problem was solved when the waitress indicated I could order singles of any of the pintxos on the menu.  As I was deciding, I ordered some delicious aged Mahon cheese ($8) with some bread ($2) which I easily consumed while deciding on the rest.

Aged Mahon Cheese $8 with Bread $2
Aged Mahon Cheese $8 with Bread $2

I ordered singles of the tuna pickle gilda, the stracciatella with boquerones, the morcilla with egg and the cojunado.  As an afterthought, I’ll admit they were not the most diverse choices but I love tuna, lovingly remember the boquerones from Bar Isabel and can’t turn down an egg on anything. Plus, I wasn’t about to crack a can or sardines without somebody else helping me. Ranging from about $3.50 to $4.50 per piece, each dish was representative of what I remember from both Barcelona and other Spanish tribute restaurants such as Coqueta in San Francisco and Amada in Philadelphia.  My favorite had to be the morcilla. Flavourwise, it was balanced and seasoned nicely and had an enjoyable, crumbly texture which complimented the perfectly cooked quail egg.

 

My Take 

Many factors dictate a good or bad experience and n=1 is not always indicative of a restaurant’s overall semblance which is a big reason that the opinions of others are important.  My experience was in between bad and terrific.  In other words,  it was good. On one hand, I’m keen to come back and admire the Gaudiesque interior while sipping coffees or signature cocktails while eating pastries, pintxos, the raw bar or some other type of tapas  I didn’t get to try this time.  On the other hand, the thought of being crammed shoulder to shoulder with hipsters in close quarters like the sardines I’m eating is far from appealing. However, in the end, I will side with optimistic  neutrality give Bar Raval a very Justinesque “4”. This wishy-washy, indecisive and up the middle denouement  leads me to conclude that not only do I sound like a politician…I also sound like  a liberal.

Bar Raval Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Advertisements

Han Ba Tang- Still Drawing the Short Straw Years after Toughskins and Crooked Haircuts

I had a dismal month of blogging in November, primarily due to the fact that my real job gets in the way when it’s busy.  I hope December is better. Speaking of busy, the every day trails and tribulations of life lead one to fall into rhythms of the present.  Aided by facebook, which has seemingly rewound time and made friends of the past friends of the present, I made a commitment to myself to reconnect with some of these friends and personally I see no better way to do it than over a bowl or plate of something.

I was a small, quiet kid who had a crooked haircut and wore Toughskins, which were corduroy pants with reinforced knees meant to withstand the harsh treatment an 8 year old had to offer.  I didn’t understand why people laughed at “Taxi” and why that old man Edward Woodward was scary as “The Equalizer”.  I liked when my mom brought me to the hotel bar down the road from my grandmother’s house because I could eat all the maraschino cherries I wanted. I went to a tiny school in Sudbury so whether I liked it or not, I had to hang out with a small group of people…in Sudbury. I got the hell out as soon as I could and somewhat lost track of 90% of those in my past life until Facebook. Now, I have reconnected with historical figures in my life ranging from elementary school to university.

It seemed totally logical to meet a friend I haven’t seen in almost 30 years at Han Ba Tang, A Korean joint in North York (I keep thinking it’s called Hang Ten after the company with the big foot slogan that kids cooler than me wore although we lived no where near waves bigger than those made from a 20 HP motor on Lake Ramsey). What drew me to this place was not the easy to remember name ( I forget it every time) but the fact that it scores one of the highest ratings on Zomato. That and the fact that 2015 appears to be the year of Korean food in Toronto and I wanted to compare it to Korean Cowboy and other similar eateries scattered across the GTA.  Plus, we both decided that we should have something that didn’t exist in our Sudbury days where Asian food was limited to sweet and sour chicken balls at the Pagoda.

I arrived, went to the bar and ordered the Caesar on fire. The twist was the addition of jalapeno soju.  I was tempted to ask the bartender for ID since he acted like a teenager.  This perception was aided by the fact that he opened up a recipe book and meticulously measured every ingredient into a Steamwhistle pint glass only to realize after the fact that he had no straws long enough for the glass.   It was good but a full pint of caesar makes for a big drink so the flavours were somewhat diluted even with a short straw.

Caesar on fire with Jalapeno Soju $11
Caesar on fire with Jalapeno Soju $11

Dish one was the Kalbi salad ($10) which highlighted the short ribs in a forest of romaine, onions, bell peppers and an onion dressing. It was topped with some deep fried onion as well.

Kalbi Salad
Kalbi Salad $10

One cannot go to a Korean restaurant withour sampling the tacos so I ordered the spicy pork, kalbi and unagi trio.  The shells were oddly shaped and the fillings was flimsy for $4-6 bucks each.  Flavourwise, they were ok but overall the touted tacos were a bit of a let down.

Spicy Pork, Kalbi and Unagi Tacos
Spicy Pork, Kalbi and Unagi Tacos

The kimchi pancake was fantastic.  Laced with bacon, mushroom and pepper it was browned perfectly which maximized both taste and appearance.  It had great textural contrast as well.

2127

I love rice cakes and Han Ba Tang’s were no exception.  These were filthy good and reminded me of days of warming up a can of Campbell’s mushroom soup after school which was well in line with the evening’s theme of reminiscence.

Creamy Rice Cake $10
Creamy Rice Cake $10

Finally, we ordered the black calamari which was coloured with a roasted seaweed sauce,further seasoned  with baby dried shrimp  and garnished with cucumbers.   The calamari was cooked well but it was little too much fish on fish flavour.

Black Calamari $11
Black Calamari $11

My Take

Before fall foraging became cool, Korean was all the rage which saw Han Ba Tang and other snack/bar food joints vault up the charts. Traditional soups, rice cakes, pancakes,  tacos and wings are served with both a taste and an environmental twist. Instead of the flat surroundings of some the College street eateries, most of the new places offer fancy drinks, loud music and a very North American vibe. There’s a fun, thoughtless innocence to these places which is often exemplified by…let’s say naive bartenders who need a manual to make a drink.  One can only imagine what would happen once the Karaoke machine goes full throttle and  “Crystal Chandeliers” by Charlie Pride fills the air.

In the end, Han Ba Tang is a bit quirky, a bit trashy and a little fun.  The tacos were a bit of a mess but otherwise the food was good and not too silly of a price. Although I don’t think it’s a 4.7 on zomato, it sure as hell beats heading to the Pagoda with a crooked haircut.

 

Han Ba Tang Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
 

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