Tag Archives: Cheese

Salted Brick: simple honest intentions that make complex flavours

30 Oct
No Filter!

No Filter!

In September,  I had the chance to work in the beautiful Okanagan Valley for a couple of weeks.  The picturesque and almost desert-like interior of British Columbia proved to be a powerhouse for fruit orchards and of course, as everyone has heard, vineyards.  The best part was, almost all the top restaurants sourced locally and stressed (ha!) the slow food movement.  Yeah, I had trouble booking a flight home.

I confess, I had a prejudice prior to my arrival that I would be served mostly vegetarian health-conscious fare (as if you don’t think granola when I say West Coast).  Much to my surprise (and relief), I found the complete polar opposite of fresh kale salad – really great charcuterie!  And one of my favourite places to split a board of locally sourced cured meat  in Kelowna was at Chef Jason Leizert’s Salted Brick.

Located next to the old Paramount Theatre, Salted Brick is a stylish but unpretentious eatery that makes food an accessible event.  Seven days a week they serve up mind-blowing affordable sandwiches to the lunch crowd (get the smoked chicken!  No, wait, the brisket! Ugh, no, the smoked chicken!)  while Wednesdays to Sundays there is dinner service and on weekends only, brunch. Everything is priced extremely reasonably and prepared with such care. Also, with the small seating space close to the food prep and bar, you cannot help the intimacy forged between the diner and the plate creator and that is part of the experience of their locavore’s menu.

As soon as I walked in, I could smell the aroma of cured meats and cheeses.  It was prevalent enough to almost act as an amuse bouche but certainly not overpowering.  My dreamy-eyed look must have indicated I would get a kick out of their ‘meat closet’ because guess where I was seated?  Yup right next to it- I could stare to my heart’s content.  My friends, all of this locally-sourced, free range and hormone and antibiotic free charcuterie was created in house!

A lot of glare, but even more meat.

A lot of glare, but even more meat.

My dining partner and I decided to start off with oysters from Salt Spring Island.  They were creamy, briney, and matched perfectly with a mystery house-made hot sauce.

Oysters from Salt Spring Island

Oysters from Salt Spring Island

Next came two giant boards which we unabashedly demolished.  Local cheeses and in-house cured meats.  Paradise!

Cheese board

Cheese board

 

Meat board

Meat board

The cheese pairings ranged from traditional to whimsical.  The charcuterie board was out of this world good; with each bite we proclaimed we found our favourite until we tried the next one.  Our server felt like a pal who casually wandered by and made sure we were having a good time.  We were never rushed, and with the beers and wine flowing, food to share, and a great atmosphere, we were shocked to find 3 hours had passed!

Salted Brick emphasized my belief that dining is an intimate event to be enjoyed with friends and the creators of your meal.  It also bridged the gap between food source and my plate – I could read about the farmers they sourced the meat from and see, with my own eyes, the curing room at the back of the restaurant.

Simple honest intentions and complex flavours – thank you Salted Brick.

 

Edit: I mentioned this was accessible to most wallets and I forgot the prices we paid for the above but just to give you an idea, they do offer a Family Dinner priced at $25/person!  And this is the ridiculously delicious sample menu: 

Bouillabaisse

Squash Ravioli, Brown Butter, Parmesan

Pork Cheeks, Mushrooms, Buttered Kale, Apple Sauce

Goat Cheese

Apple Tart Tartin

Salted Brick on Urbanspoon

 

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Return To Sudbury: How Gourmands Camp

1 Aug

Last year some friends and I were spoiled rotten with a bountiful harvest of wild blueberries foraged from the Sudbury area.  We planned the same camping trip for this summer and you can bet for weeks leading up to it, we talked a big game.  C even bought four new 4-L tupperware containers, and worried that they’d overflow. Let’s just say, this year, our trip was not fruitful (sorry, sorry…).  We each left with a sad sandwich bag worth of tiny blue berries.  We think we missed the first harvest by a week, and were too early for the second round.  Woe!

Falls

It was still a fun time camping near Onaping High Falls, a gorgeous natural wonder made famous by Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson’s painting, Spring on the Onaping River.  (There, your art fact of the day!  Cherry would be proud.)  And of course, we ate like gluttons.

The difference between camping when I was a teenager versus camping as an adult  who makes more than minimum wage: we used to pack the cooler with frozen hot dogs (and cheap beer) and lived off that.  Now, we take the time to make sure that the benefit of living outdoors doesn’t cost us our enjoyment of a really good meal.  Camping is really about spending quality time with some good friends in beautiful scenery while breathing fresh air and that is all made better with a bountiful feast on a picnic table.

One of my favourite camping meals?  Breakfast (well, it’s a three-way tie, really….)

Open Faced Fancy Breakfast Sandwich

Ingredients:

  • smoked bacon from a butcher on Roncesvalles
  • one of de la Terre’s amazing organic artisan breads
  • free-range organic eggs
  • pre-washed and pre-chopped red onion and cilantro (pre-washing and pre-chopping is KEY to camping gourmand)
  • Black River Cheese Company‘s 6 year old cheddar (strong flavour means you use less, pack less!)
  • homemade preserved cherry tomatoes (no Heinz for us!)
  • homemade sriracha (go ahead, close down that California plant…we’ll survive)

Bacon!

The first step: cook up that bacon!  And yes, it’s so that you can use the bacon grease to cook up the rest of your breakfast (nobody said we’re cardiologists). This way you don’t have to pack cooking oil and everything tastes like delicious bacon.

onions

Next, brown those pre-chopped onions in that bacon grease.  Yup, pre-washing and pre-chopping some of the vegetables will make things a whole lot easier while camping.

eggs

Once those onions caramelize, crack some eggs into the pan and soak up the remaining bacon grease.

Preserves

Bring out the jars of preserved cherry tomatoes and homemade sriracha from the cooler so that they can come up to room temperature (forest temperature…?).  Preserves are a great way to add flavour, and don’t even necessarily need to stay in the cooler if you plan to finish a smaller jar rather quickly.  It also reduces prep as you really just need to spoon out a cherry tomato instead of washing and chopping.

Sammy

Once everything is finished, take a piece of incredibly dense de la Terre’s artisan bread, put some of that 6 year old cheddar on it, then top with the warm eggs so that the cheese melts a bit.  Then a dollop of preserved cherry tomatoes, a smidge of homemade sriracha, and a sprinkle of pre-washed, pre-chopped cilantro. Eat this masterpiece while throwing the bacon-grease-soaked paper towels into the fire for a little show.

Sam Adams Backyard BBQ: a symphony of beer and cheese

27 Jul

Everyone knows that wine and cheese go together like Velveeta and rednecks. Beer and cheese, however, is less of a common pairing in these parts. This makes the Backyard Barbecue co-hosted by Samuel Adams and the Cheese Boutique at the Workshop on Roncesvalles a bold move. The good news is that it worked, and masterfully so. The bad news is that it’s not a regular occurrence.

 

The lush, inviting back patio at Workshop

The lush, inviting back patio at Workshop

Afrim Pristine, of Cheese Boutique fame, used the lush, treed setting of the Workshop’s back patio to showcase an innovative cheese and charcuterie board that actually incorporated the Sam Adams Boston Lager into the cheese. Afrim sourced a cheese from Quebec and then gave it a luxuriant bath in a vat of Boston Lager for thirty days. The result was gloriously nutty, hard yet creamy, and understandably well-paired with a pint of cold Sam Adams. Just in case there wasn’t enough beer involved, the cheese was served with a Boston Lager reduction. I welcome this sort of dedication to the art of cheese-making, because Toronto truly does not have a cheese of its own. While the beer used was from Boston, Afrim’s innovation is a solid step in the right direction.

 

Afrim's cheese and charcuterie board

Afrim’s cheese and charcuterie board

 

The other items on the board were thoughtfully paired with the Sam Adams beers on offer. The robiola from Piemonte, while not marinated in beer, was nonetheless a fantastic pairing with the Sam Adams Summer Ale. The beer’s citrus notes cut through the creaminess of the cheese like a good Chablis would have. The Sainte Maure was clean-tasting, with the grassy notes that are the hallmark of this type of cheese. Again, it went very well with the light Summer Ale. The Bleu d’Auvergne was very well ripened and full of bold flavour, and it screamed for a powerful red wine rather than a beer.  That said, the cheeses were generally very well paired with both the Sam Adams beers.  Aside from the outstanding Boston Lager-marinated cheese, the best pairing in my opinion was the Summer Ale with the Italian robiola.

 

Lamb burger with Sam Adams

Lamb burger with Sam Adams

Workshop’s contribution was equally solid. The lamb burger was lovingly grilled over charcoal by Mat, and the minty goat yoghurt spread was the perfect complement to the pleasantly gamey meat. The accompanying corn and cherry tomato salad was fresh, spicy and a good demonstration of how local, in-season produce can elevate salad to a delightful art form.

 

Mat grilling up some juicy lamb burgers over charcoal

Mat grilling up some juicy lamb burgers over charcoal

The entire evening was well executed.  The Sam Adams beers were thoughtfully paired with cheese, charcuterie and BBQ in ways that heightened each component of the meal.  As well, Afrim and Mat gave fantastic service to the diners, and took the time to explain each course in such detail that their passion for food and drink was immediately apparent.

 

3.61 out of 5 brown thumbs up, and a nod to Afrim and Mat for the excellent service.

 

NB. All photos were taken by Mauricio Jose Calero.

Three spots to support in Toronto now! (Or, lessons I learned from #TOGrilledCheeseFest)

1 Mar

How you experience an event depends on so many variables, some of which can not be controlled by event organizers: the weather, who you are with, how you’re feeling that day. My experience of last night’s Grilled Cheese Fest by Joylister was great : they provided me with a media pass so I was granted early entry and the ability to meet with other food writers and bloggers, have more in depth talks with the vendors and see the space before the crowds arrived. I left before 7pm and stood with friends in the long line outside until they got in – at this point it was still moving quickly! – and gave them tips about how to best take advantage of the set up (my recommendation was two people in two separate grilled cheese lines, and have the others in the group bring them soup and beer as those lines were still short). Lines are a part of food events, right? We’ve all been to TUM and Food Truck events, we know how that works… So I was surprised when I woke up this morning to read about how the event quickly went south after I left. I’m not going to comment everything as I wasn’t there and didn’t see it happen. Instead I wish to share the best of what I had and which places deserve your visit to try their grilled cheese (and soups!), even if it might be out of your way!

Cherry’s top pick :Cut the Cheese and go to the Junction! 

No photo of the grilled cheese as I kept forgetting to take photos before eating it! THAT good.

No photo of the grilled cheese as I kept forgetting to take photos before eating it! THAT good.

The General Kim was the food item that I was most excited about. I wrote about that in my pre-event post. As a huge fan of everything kimchi, it did not disappoint. I  I might have be more of glutton than a gourmande when I went back for … 3rds! (it was all quarter sandwiches,  I swear). I had the pleasure of meeting the Cut the Cheese team back in September at the Foodival before they opened their doors, and I’m ashamed that I haven’t been to visit them in the Junction since they opened. You should go! Great team who is dedicated to what they do. While their Junction location might seem out of the way if you don’t live in the hood they are open till 2am on the weekends, so make a night of it and have grilled cheese for dinner pre-going to the bar and then as a midnight snack! And tell them Cherry from YYZGourmand says hi.

Best surprise soup: The Beaver Beets all!  

Confession: I love Parkdale as much as the next Torontonian but too much of my time spent in the neighbourhood after dark. I have had the pleasure of spending time at the Parkdale spot The Beaver, but only so late that I had no idea that they also did food and cool events like NetFlix Pub Quiz nights!

They might have had the coolest table at the Grilled Cheese Fest as they brought along a little friend.

Ohhai there.

Ohhai there.

Their offering was likely the most nutritious of the whole evening. After so much cheese, I was in need of some vegetables. The soup was very light, which I appreciated after all the cheese, and even if it wasn’t a perfect compliment to flavours which were being presented in the grilled cheeses, it acted as a smooth palate cleanser.

A wonderfully light soup for beet lovers!

A wonderfully light soup for beet lovers!

Good Will Grilled Cheese: CHEESEWERKS

My second favourite grilled cheese of the night goes to a new creation by CHEESEWERKS, titled the ZURICH. Apples and Cheese are always an excellent combination, and this one had the lovely little kick of *figs*! Just the perfect amount of sweetness. I hope it will become a standard on their menu.

They also win the best PR and communication move of the whole event. Not wanting to be taken down with the ship, they are offering a FREE grilled cheese sandwich to everyone with a ticket to last night’s event. Class act, non? Even if you didn’t go last night, or had to wait in long lines, go support them. Or, meet me and the rest of the YYZGourmand team at one of their upcoming Food Fight Trivia nights? Those seem to be well attended and very well organised events.

Were you left empty handed at Grilled Cheese Fest TO? Go take advantage of CHEESEWERK's offer and try the ZURICH.

Were you left empty handed at Grilled Cheese Fest TO? Go take advantage of CHEESEWERK’s offer and try the ZURICH.

My biggest takeaway from #TOgrilledcheesefest? Don’t let a mismanaged event taint your tastebuds for the food and the vendors. Remember that Toronto has some truly inventive chefs who are doing cool things with bread and cheese. Support them by going to their restaurants, eating at their food trucks and telling them if you like what they do.  

The San Fran Bay Series: Bouchon Bakery & Bouchon Bistro

24 Jan Bouchon Bistro

Over the holidays, I went to visit my brother who lives in the San Francisco Bay area.  He is a Renaissance man – athlete, artist, academic, and all-around-great-guy.  On top of that, he has a super refined palate!  So when I showed up at the airport, I wasn’t surprised to hear he made several reservations for us between Monterey Bay to Napa Valley.

The next day’s plan was to hit Napa County, which is a 2 hour drive from my brother’s home in San Jose.  We left early at 7 AM PST which is 4 AM EST!  Fortunately, as my vacation chauffeur sped us along the highway, I got to doze in and out of a nap with the sun on my face (sorry people back home in -30 C weather).

Our first stop was a no-brainer.  With French-pressed coffees in hand, we stood in line at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery for our first meal of the day!

Always a line at Bouchon Bakery!

Always a line at Bouchon Bakery!

While at first I was super impatient and scowled at those taking their sweet (pun intended) time at the bakery, I developed a lot more empathy once I ditched my ‘Outside in Line’ status and became an ‘Inside the Bakery’ folk and witnessed the jaw-dropping French patisserie splendor that was being created.  We were faced with tough decisions in there, evidenced by the fact that I spent $70 USD on baked goods.

My Bouchon stash!

My Bouchon stash!

 

Macarons!

Macarons!

This is what a small fortune in sweets looks like. My bag was filled with: 2 dozen macarons (a mix of pistachio, salted caramel, black cherry, lemon meringue and vanilla…all with light and crisp outside and soft and chewy inside), Chocolate Bouchons (small brownie-like cork-shaped treats), and my breakfast…

My breakfast: bacon and cheddar scone!

My breakfast: bacon and cheddar scone!

A delicious savoury bacon and cheddar scone.  Although light and moist, it was also so rich and filling I could only eat half!

With my closely-guarded treats in hand, we wandered around Yountville, enjoying the sun, checking out artisan craft stalls and felt a similar vibe to Toronto’s Distillery District.  Basically we were killing time until our next meal at:

Bouchon Bistro

Bouchon Bistro

Yep.  Bouchon Bistro!  (FYI: the line at Bouchon Bakery next door was still ongoing!)

Bouchon Bistro table bread: perfect start.

Bouchon Bistro table bread: perfect start.

The table bread was straight from the bakery next door.  Crispy exterior and chewy interior, I could have easily eaten the entire thing for lunch and been a happy camper.

Gin 'n juice

Gin ‘n juice

I can’t remember what was in this cocktail but it was refreshing and easy to rationalize as my vitamin C intake for the day.

French onion soup!

Soup a l’Oignon

I am a sucker for a good French onion soup so I couldn’t resist testing Thomas Keller’s. It was, as expected, perfect.  Savoury rich wholesome broth that wasn’t oversalted, and perfectly broiled crispy melted cheese…I was in onion-breath heaven.

Confit de Canard

Confit de Canard

I am also a sucker for duck (my favourite dish of all time is Peking Duck) and I guess I was testing the ‘standards’ so I ordered a Confit de Canard.  Now this dish I did want a bit salty because there’s nothing better than crisp fatty duck skin with salt melting on your tongue.  It’s a fancy potato chip on steroids, really.  And did they ever deliver – and it balanced so nicely against the earthy lentils with root vegetables.

Truite

Truite

My brother ordered the pan-fried trout which he said was quite enjoyable!

Holding our full bellies, we decided, naturally, to walk to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and gaze wistfully outside like sad groupies.

French Laundry

French Laundry

**SHAMELESS ASK: If any of you know someone who knows someone and can get me on their 3 months in advance reservations list, I will be FOREVER grateful.  My brother and his friends have been trying for over a year.  Let’s just say, now that I’ve tried Bouchon Bistro, I KNOW I will need to go to French Laundry!**

Of course nobody inside French Laundry responded to our telepathic pleas so we settled for a tour of their farm which is right across the street from the restaurant.

The farm

The farm

The rest of the afternoon we toured around Napa Valley, visiting wineries, shopping at gourmet shops…basically killing time until our dinner reservations!  (See a theme?)  Stay tuned for my next post – dinner was Morimoto’s omakase!

 

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Bouchon on Urbanspoon

Canadian Artisan Tasting Fair, 2013

3 Dec
The rain didn't keep these food enthusiasts away!

The rain didn’t keep these food enthusiasts away!

The inaugural Canadian Artisan Tasting Fair, held at hidden urban gem Wychwood Barns, played host to 40 different cheesemongers, bakers, and charcuterie butchers. Tickets were $35 and included a tote bag (for all of the cheese you were going to buy), $10 in coupons to purchase your favourite discoveries, and all the samples you could eat! Think: Delicious Food Show but a smaller carefully curated selection of food vendors in a way more intimate setting. It was crowded but you felt like you had a manageable selection from which to sample. We loved the emphasis on local and sustainable food production!

Sanagan's Meat Locker

Sanagan’s Meat Locker

There was a huge selection of cheeses from which to sample. Many of them award winning and all of them delicious. We were delighted to see Best Baa there – Clementine is obsessed with their sheep’s milk yogurt. Yummy and gentle on your tummy. Our highlights were definitely Dough on the Danforth (bakery) and Sanagan’s Meat Locker in Kensington market (butcher). HoM was particularly enamoured with Sanagan’s pork cretons. This French-Canadian dish consists of ground pork simmered in milk with spices like cloves, nutmeg, and allspice until it becomes a spreadable paste. With its wintery spices, this dish was perfect for a cold December day.  HoM may have gone back for THIRDS and then had it again for breakfast the next day.  At this rate the two containers he purchased may not last long. Dough has a SCHEDULE for all of the different breads they make – so that no one is disappointed. They’re also doing Panettone by special order! Clementine is really excited to try it fresh as opposed to the boxed version, which is ubiquitous in York Region.

IMG_00000394_edit

We also LOVED me-n-u. Their dishes are inventive, artfully presented, and really yummy. They also name all of their rice-balls. The above is called, Gangnam Style (bulgogi beef, cheese, and veggies). These guys are approaching food truck cuisine in a really fun way. We can’t wait to see them cruising around town in their own truck in 2014!

Food festivals are a dime a dozen in this city and they’re gaining in popularity (if that’s even possible). A lot of them lack a cohesive vision. The Canadian Tasting Festival has staying power because it caters to a discerning crowd ( who would gladly shell out the clams if it meant one-stop shopping for all of their favourite cheeses and cured meats) and we felt that it successfully showcased the bounty of independent and delicious locally made food from which we have to choose. Patronize your local baker, butcher, and cheesemonger! Until next year, Canadian Tasting Fair.

TOMA Burger Addiction: how the French elevate burger-making to an art form

25 Nov

I have rarely been to a restaurant where the time that it had been open could be properly counted in hours. This opportunity presented itself in the form of the newest gourmet burger joint to join Toronto’s growing stable of self-proclaimed burger kings (pun most certainly intended). Whimsically named TOMA Burger Addiction, this particular establishment on the sensory-overload strip of West Queen West just past Bathurst caught my attention in mid-stride – as a good brown man, the A-frame sign advertising discounted food made me stop in my tracks.

The impetus to actually go in came from the subtle signs that a Frenchman surely was in charge of the place.  Fortunately, I was with Cherry, who is also an adept detector of all things Gallic.  We noticed the slow-cooked compotes and the decidedly French ingredients.  Only a French chef would use gratuitous amounts of truffle oil, fleur de sel and foie gras on what is little more than diner food.

TOMA interior, Image credit: TOMA's official press kit.

TOMA interior, Image credit: TOMA’s official press kit.

The dining room is an oasis of cleanliness and quasi-Teutonic order in the Queen West sea of skinny-jean-inspired resto-bars with mismatched chairs and a surfeit of dusty mirrors.  While the design came off slightly cold at the time, it was late on Sunday night and there were only two other customers in the restaurant when we walked in.  A bustling dinner will no doubt give TOMA the soul and atmosphere it needs.  The décor also provides yet more hints at French management.  The untranslated quote from Auguste Escoffier on the accent wall inspires patrons to discover the source of true happiness in their burgers.  The meticulous cursive lettering on the wine list resembles exactly what Cherry and I were made to learn by our French teachers in primary school.

quote

The choice of wines from the Southwest of France was what finally prompted us to ask the (very friendly) waitress whether the owners were French.  She confirmed our hunch, and this immediately made us love the place even more than we already did.  We were excited to see what a chef more accustomed to magret and Madiran could do with the food of choice of the North American proletariat.

Cherry and I made strategic menu choices so that we could determine whether TOMA could get both fancy and basic burgers right.  Cherry went all out with the Fabulous Las Vegas, and I chose the more traditional Old School.  The Fabulous Las Vegas was the burger equivalent of a bling-tastic pink Escalade with 23” chrome spinner rims – it was slathered with truffle mayonnaise, truffle olive oil, caramelized mushrooms and brie. At the other end of the bling spectrum, the Old School was essentially a bacon cheeseburger with barbecue sauce and onions.

Le Old School

Le Old School

The presentation of the food mirrored the design of the space.  Spotless, simple white plates supported perfectly formed burgers that looked neither 50’s diner-sloppy nor White Castle-esque generic.  The real revelation came when we tucked into our food.  TOMA proclaimed all over its menu that everything – down to the buns – was homemade and fresh.  Our first bites were incontrovertible proof that this was indeed the case.  TOMA nailed it. What I had in my mouth was essentially the bacon cheeseburger that every diner in North America aspires to achieve – the perfect harmony of beef, bun and toppings.  Each element burst with the right flavour and texture – a testament to the freshness of the ingredients and the skill of the chef cuisto.

Cherry’s burger put her in roughly the same condition as she was at Bar Isabel (Cherry: Whenever I stop talking at the dinner table, he calls it a foodgasm, I call it culinary satisfaction. Tomatoe, Tomatoe.).  Here’s what she thought in her own words: Imagine yourself at your most hungry and how relieved and happy you were when your food arrived. Now imagine that your meal exuded a truffle aroma. Would your eyes light up and would you lick your lips and forget you were supposed to be a good dinner companion? Imagine your first bite and the overwhelming joy you felt when you realized that your burger was not only on a brioche bun, but was also topped with brie! Such experiences of pure epicurean joy are much too rare. This meant that Majid did not get to try the oddly-named Fabulous Las Vegasit was fabulous, but was much more Île-de-France than Nevada dessert.

Middle view of the Fabulous Las Vegas... before Cherry stopped talking and stuffed her face. (Cherry: as gracefully as possible!)

Middle view of the Fabulous Las Vegas… before Cherry stopped talking and stuffed her face. (Cherry: as gracefully as possible!)

Cherry and I also shared frites and roasted garlic aioli.  Each bite of aioli-laden spud, with its flawless yet simple execution, took us back to our respective French happy places. Escoffier would have been proud.  The julienned potatoes were the perfect size, and the hint of oil that deepened the flavour of each fry was pleasantly fresh.  The aioli was equally flawless – the texture was silky, yet not as fluid and creamy as the coagulated white paint that passes for mayonnaise on this continent. The chef clearly understood the need to choose the freshest eggs and the right oil.  He also understood that aioli is not simply mayonnaise with a fleeting soupçon of garlic – garlic was front and center, and it had a distinctly nutty and toasted flavour.

Our great experience was completed when we met the chef, Thomas Sedille, and his partner, Clémence Gossiaux. Their enthusiasm for food and for Toronto shone through in our brief chat, and this passion goes a long way in explaining why the food was so well executed.  Toronto is fortunate to have them, because their restaurant is one of the few places that can offer equal quality on the basic and gourmet ends of the burger scale.  TOMA is certainly worth the stop, especially if you appreciate the decidedly French passion for selecting the best ingredients and crafting them into great food with flawless technical execution.  I give TOMA a hearty 3.78/5 brown thumbs up, and wish Thomas and Clémence merde for the success of their first restaurant endeavour in Toronto!

Toma Burger addiction on Urbanspoon

The YYZ Top Three(s) at The Delicious Food Show

30 Oct
P1010447

Delicious Food Show, 2013 (Exhibitor Floor)

YYZ attended The Delicious Food Show on Friday and Saturday and we’ve each rounded up our top three vendors/features/moments from the weekend:

Friday

Cherry When I told my Mom that Martha Stewart was going to be in Toronto for the Delicious Food Show, she nearly lost her mind. It reminded me of the time we saw Oprah in Chicago – I had no idea it was a huge deal for her until she was outside the Harpo studios jumping up and down. And, much like Oprah, Martha didn’t disappoint. Unlike the others, I managed to get Friday afternoon off work so I could have some quality time with the person with the most refined tastes and palette of those I know: my mother.

  1. Watching Martha Stewart work her baking and brand magic in front of an adoring crowd of hundred like it was NBD. She is so polished in her presentation and in her self-promotion that it was spellbinding experience.  And I would have done almost anything to try a slice of one of her cakes, or specifically, a bite of her Baked Alaskan. Oh, and my mom was not disappointed in MarthaTwo fun facts: (1) People still adore her (all of the questions from the crowd started with “Martha, I really love your show and I’m a big fan.”) (2) She has a 6  person security detail (!!!!!). Made her look very presidential.

    Even my mom said "^$%* that's good! Worth the drive to Acton, as they say!"

    Even my mom said “^$%* that’s good! Worth the drive to Acton, as they say!”

  2. Hotbunzz – Have tried them before, at both Toronto Underground Market and the ROM’s Friday Night Live, but this experience (we bought the Turkey Dinner and the Roasted Beat) really stood out as unique worth going out of the way for. It’s the only food in my top 3!
  3. Chef Mark McEwan – I’m more familiar with McEwan than I am with Martha – I eat at Frabbrica, my mom shops at McEwan’s and I know someone who worked for him at One. But, I don’t watch Top Chef Canada so I also didn’t know what to expect from him as a “TV Food Personality”. While Martha was a polished practised package, Chef McEwan was much more relaxed and willing to share cooking tips and frustrations. This is his city, after all! Watching him prep scallops and talk about PEI beef and fish, I was struck by how he was aware of his limits (no, he’s not opening his own cooking school) and his desire to stay in the kitchen.

Saturday:

P1010448

Say it with FRUIT!

Clementine It was rainy. It was cold. When we finally found the building and parking after a few wrong turns, I was ready to sample any and all foods the show had to offer. I was first time attendee BUT I didn’t give my stomach to the first booth that smiled at me. We sampled: artisanal crackers, roast beef paninis (from Pillers), and A LOT of cheese. We were having so much fun stuffing our faces (and being knocked over by sample-mad-swine) that we didn’t notice the hours pass by.

Samuel Adams & Rock Lobster

Samuel Adams & Rock Lobster

  1. Cheese – This wasn’t just a booth … it was a super-booth presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada featuring award-winning cheeses from local artisans. We met an ultra friendly cheese-maker from Holland who immigrated to Canada and just set up his operation! Their Mountainoak cheese comes in black truffle and red pepper flavours. We also tasted a smoked cheddar the 2013 Grand Champion, Ricotta made by Quality Cheese Inc., Ontario (Vaughan, ON).
  2. Lobster Boil – Rock Lobster shared a booth with Samuel Adams beer (a perfect combination) and offered: lobster rolls, lobster tacos, and a classic lobster boil (with shrimp) for only $5. That’s right, RL had a big ol’ pot and was boiling lobster tails to order. The simply cooked shell fish served with lemon and hot sauce was so very sweet.
  3. Kombucha – I am detoxing. So while my colleagues were sampling adult beverages, I had teas and club soda. I have been itching to try fermented tea, which offers a healthy dose of probiotics to your diet in the form of a refreshing digestif. Rise Kombucha makes flavourful thirst quenching teas. Their favourite was ginger. We agree.

HoM (Nathan) The key to events like this is pacing yourself.  You want to sample everything, but that’s impossible.  Rather than trying everything, you must be selective.  Don’t be a hero.  Check your ego at the door.  Additional out-of-place sports cliche.  I think we did a pretty good job, but alas there were still a few things we regretfully were unable to get to.  Missing out on sampling from a giant paella pan (Patria) may cause me to lose some sleep tonight.  Such is life.

Patria paella.  You will haunt my dreams.

Patria paella. You will haunt my dreams.

  1. Home wood-fired pizza ovens!!!! – It has been a dream of mine to have my own wood-fired oven.  I have visions of myself making pizza, naan, tandoori chicken, and all sorts of delicious dishes like a Canadian Jamie Oliver.  Outdoor Pizza Ovens (Barrie) now offers a compact model made by Finnish company Uuni.  As someone of Italian and Finnish ancestry, I feel that it is my birthright to own this oven.
  2. Lavender gimlet – I am re-toxing.  I like gin-based cocktails.  I love lavender.  This cocktail by London Dry Gin may have been made specially for me.  I liked it so much that I picked the bartender’s brain for the recipe so that I can make it again: 1 part gin, 1 part lemon juice, 1 part lavender earl grey syrup.  He unfortunately did not know how to make the syrup so I am going to have to figure that one out myself.  Stay tuned…
  3. Kanga meat pies – As loathe as I am to admit that I liked something Australian, these pies  were pretty damn good.  The pastry was flaky, the filling saucy and savoury.  I am told that they are a popular post-bar snack down under, but these deserve to be eaten when you have all of your faculties and not when your tastebuds have been dulled by copious amounts of spiritous liquors.

Alice Like Clementine mentioned, it was cold and rainy.  I arrived looking like that wet cat depicted in posters from the 90’s plastered in Stephanie and Michelle Tanner’s bedroom with the words ‘Bad Hair Day’ scrawled across.  On top of that, I confess to you dear readers that I was hungover from a charity boxing match the night before. But getting to spend a lovely day with Clementine and Nathan cured me of my ailments and in general, I had a great time.

  1. The Dairy Farmers of Canada’s cheese station – Talk about a mobius line – never ending with no real beginning.  I probably sampled my weight in great local cheeses and bought my weight in more cheese so that I can sit on my couch and relive that moment.
  2.  The President’s Choice Black Label Collection – I love The President’s Choice line of products and how great is the Black Label, making what are considered to be ‘high-end’ and imported products to be more accessible and affordable?  Really great.  They had a station where for $5 they served you a lamb pizza on naan bread with a side salad and you got to take home a full sized bottle of their Lambrusco Grape condiment (retail $6.99).  I can’t wait to see what dressing I whip up with this.
  3. Samuel Adams Brewery – As Clementine mentioned, they shared a booth with Rock Lobster and I was happy to try their Latitude 48 not once, but thrice (what hangover?). It is their 2013 IPA release named after the 48th latitude that runs through the ‘hop belt’ of the northern hemisphere and it used a blend of hops from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.  It was a refreshing well balanced ‘lighter’ IPA that would’ve been a good contrast to a margherita pizza (perhaps from Nathan’s new wood stove?) or accompaniment to a white bean and turkey chili.

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Mama Cherry has granted her blessing for a union between Cherry & Chuck Hughes because: “Il est un Quebecois!”.
  2. New cinnamon bread from Manoucher. Cherry warmed it up and had it for breakfast the next morning and it was just as satisfying as a cinnamon bun!
  3. The Apple Crumble Company (Port Hope, ON) – Baked goods using fresh local ingredients, no additives or preservatives, and darn friendly owners to boot!

Disappointments:

  1. Jamon Iberico – We had heard that this cured ham from Spain was expensive and difficult to get your hands on. This may have raised our expectations a tad. We were underwhelmed.

    Jamon Iberico ... meh

    Jamon Iberico … meh

Welcome to the neighbourhood!

15 Oct

Three recent facts about me:

1. I moved a month ago.

2. And I started a new job 4 days before the move.

3. And one week after moving, I had the bright idea of hosting a dinner party.

The last one is the really craziest of all thing that I’ve managed to pull off in a while. Maybe even more stunning than when I secured the new job and the new place within 24 hours. The whole dinner party was cooked up as a way to use my awesome outdoor space before winter settled into Toronto. In an email to the YYZ crew, I joked that it should be a YYZ Gourmand writers meeting, and that Nathan and MC would have a cook off. People laughed, asked me for more details and then I disappeared under a pile of work and moving boxes … and in my absence they thought that maybe I was serious. Never was I happier to have a joke be taken seriously. I even took it seriously myself. On the Saturday of the dinner party, on my way home from work, I realised that it was what Clementine had dubbed “YYZ Summit” day and that while I’d taken the time to clean the place up, I had bought absolutely zero things for my own dinner party.

Until then, my worst (dinner party) fear had been reserved to Bridget Jones levels of food failure and my guests being so bored that they leave early. I had never expected that I’d completely forget the food. Here’s where Majid and Nathan came to the rescue. They did so by taking me up on my dinner party dare and actually planning a cook off. And these boys were serious! 

Bresaola, lemon, parmesan, olive oil and pepper... Before Nathan served this to me in my own own, I'd only ever seen this served in restaurants!

Bresaola, lemon, parmesan, olive oil and pepper… Before Nathan served this to me in my own own, I’d only ever seen this served in restaurants!

Nathan, who had come in from Waterloo for the event, showed up with fresh bread and Monteforde cheese, couscous and vegetables from his own garden.

The lamb doing its last leg of marinating before being put on the grill...

The lamb doing its last leg of marinating before being put on the grill…

Majid had bought everything fresh that morning at the St. Lawrence Farmers Market. Including lamb steaks from his “lamb guy” which Majid marinated and prepped in a lemon garlic base.

Nathan's hands were hard at work while Clem and I enjoyed the fruit of his labour.

Nathan’s hands were hard at work while Clem and I enjoyed the fruit of his labour.

Clementine and I could have helped prep the food… but instead we sat in the living room and gossiped and wistfully wondered why I didn’t yet have cable so we could watch a baseball game. Feminism at work, folks.

Part of the spread that Clementine and I were digging into before we were supposed too. Opps!

Part of the spread that Clementine and I were digging into before we were supposed too. Opps! (And no, my plates don’t match. Don’t judge me!)

There was more food at the dinner table than there was at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner this past weekend! No matter how hearty our appetites, we just couldn’t finish it…

A feast for many, but served to four.

A feast for many, but served to four.

It was the best dinner party that I’ve ever had the pleasure of (accidentally?) hosting (and not cooking for). My gracious guests/cooks generously left with me all the leftovers… which fed me for the next 3 days. A good meal is all you need to feel instantly at home. Thanks for the welcome to my new hood, MC, Nathan and Clementine! Come over any time! (I’m serious, please do, I barely know how to feed myself!).

The cheap and greasy NYC pizza adventure

13 Sep

Everyone knows that a cheap pizza slice done right can be one of life’s great pleasures. Unfortunately, establishments that do cheap pizza right are few and far between in Toronto, aside from the obvious gems located in and around Little Italy (think Bitondo’s). New York City is possibly the only leading city in the world that is known just as much for its cheap, greasy fast food as for its haute cuisine. Of course, to treat its fabled pizzerias as producers of the former would do a number of them a great disservice. Some are just cheap and some are just greasy. There are also the unfortunate ones that are neither cheap nor greasy. So, during my recent NYC weekend, I made it my goal in life to find cheap, greasy pizza that was also intensely satisfying in flavour and quality.

My search for pizza nirvana was extremely scientific, in that I set a very scientifically-calculated price limit of $3 per slice and opted to avoid all major chains (that I knew of, being a lowly Canadian). And then I went to the first place I saw. It happened to be a pizzeria that was hilariously named Not Ray’s Pizza, located in the hipster-infiltrated Fort Greene neighbourhood of Brooklyn. On its face, it looked perfect – the promotional A-frame sign with a few slide-in letters missing, the facade untouched since about 1962 and the bright fluorescent lighting – so I boldly walked in and ordered a plain cheese slice. The man behind the counter took my order in a curt fashion and carelessly tossed my slice into the oven; an approach to service that was exactly what I was looking for. I had high hopes for the pizza when I saw it emerge from the oven, its generous helping of cheese glistening with glorious grease. I eagerly took my first bite, and was immediately in two minds.  The cheese was suitably stringy and melted. The sauce had a hint of sweetness that highlighted the quality of the tomatoes. However, the crust was reminiscent of the worst French baguettes in the bargain bin at a suburban Carrefour. It had all the texture appeal of a miserably undercooked piece of tofu and the flavour of tepid cardboard. It was also far too thick for a slice of New York pizza, which is meant to be folded over and enjoyed as an impromptu sandwich of glory. A pizzeria where the attention to detail stops where the crust starts does not deserve praise and, accordingly, Not Ray’s Pizza gets 2.89 out of 5 brown thumbs down.

notrayspizza

Not Ray’s Pizza

My disappointing experience with Not Ray’s Pizza prompted me to look for its positive doppelgänger in the hopes that Ray was doing a better job. In classic MC fashion, I stumbled upon it after walking the Highline Park on Manhattan’s West Side. Original Ray’s Pizza had the right look and feel, and I was optimistic when I walked through the door. The decor was nice and kitschy, with garish tile murals of the Rialto bridge and other Italian tourist traps.

originalrayswall

The dining room was surprisingly large given its prime location – it must be packed on evenings and weekends.  When ordering Alice and I ordered our slices, the service was subpar, in that we weren’t treated with the brusque efficiency of your average pizzeria employee.  Since I love nothing more than being able to fire an order across the counter and get an equally rapid-fire response without so much as a millisecond of eye contact, I was slightly disappointed.  The pizza, however, was a different story.  The slice was a saucy mess in my mouth, which was fantastic since there was enough cheese to match.  The sauce itself was tangy, which, unsurprisingly, demonstrated a different sauce development strategy than the one espoused by Not Ray’s Pizza.  Crucially, the crust had the right balance of crunchiness and chewiness, which sets great pizza apart from the merely mediocre.  All in all, Original Ray’s Pizza scored well on the food, but fell short on blatant indifference toward its clientele.  3.53/5 brown thumbs up and half a fuck you.

Original Ray's

Original Ray’s

I ended up finding pizza nirvana in a place that managed to nail down a slightly grimy décor several generations old, a quality slice with solid sauce and a thin, crispy-chewy crust, and gruff apathy towards its customers – my troika of tremendousness, if you will.  Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village was this place, and it unabashedly yet accurately described itself as a neighbourhood “institution”.  It’s a hole-in-the-wall spot near a subway entrance, with just a handful of seats inside and what can only be described as a more or less horizontal piece of timber attached to the wall outside, so that the overflow customers don’t have to sit on the ground.  I was momentarily discouraged by the raft of glowing reviews taped to the front window (I have a non-hipster-ironic distrust of reviews), but once I passed through the door I was heartened to see the old diner-style wall menu, the crusty staff and the thin film of grease and sweat that generally covered the place.  My order was met with the cavalier it’s-nice-that-you-want-pizza-but-don’t-expect-a-smile attitude that I was hoping for.  This primed me for the awesomeness that landed on my paper plate.  The slice that the portly pizzaiolo proffered was thin, cheesy and had little gobs of sauce protruding from every orifice.  The crust was perfectly chewy and crispy and, when I folded it over, it made for a truly tremendous pizza sandwich.  The sauce was a bit sweet and screamed freshness, like the one at Not Ray’s.  The whole slice worked so well that, even though we had just had a delicious brunch at Puerto Viejo, when Alice took a bite to try it, she was so impressed that she made me give her half the slice.  I guess restaurant reviewers can get it right, because Joe’s Pizza is officially the winner of my NYC pizza-fest with 3.77 brown thumbs up.

Joe's Pizza

Joe’s Pizza

Pizza is firmly established as a New York grab-and-go snack/drunk food of choice, and it has evolved to the point where even a dirt-cheap slice of pie can be good enough to make a foodie moan with glee.  Unfortunately, Toronto isn’t quite mature enough yet to claim anything more than mediocre street meat as an institutionalized snack.  We need to do better on this front, and hopefully our answer to NYC pizza will be quality food-truck fare that takes advantage of all the great food cultures that have come to be assembled in this city.  Of course, the oafish, Ottawa-inspired technocrats at City Hall would have to join the rest of us in the 21st century in order for this to happen.