Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Thing About Meat

For those of us who can't imagine life without meat, do read on. Meat is incredible. It's versatile. It can make you happy. You can crave it. It can find itself in almost any meal. Its texture and taste can't be replicated. Traditions are built around it. And, you can screw it up. But here's a thought: a lovely, living animal gave its life for your fabulous meal. Take care not to screw it up.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to trick you into converting into a vegetarian or tell you to write a poem for little moo-cow or write to the pig's parents to tell them how their young son made a lovely sausage or say some prayer for the chicken whose head really was cut off. No, nothing kookie like that. It's a little more practical than that.

Let me write it straight-up. When you cook meat, take care. Pay attention. Don't let it burn. Don't let it dry out. Don't overcook it. You may never witness a slaughter; you may never yourself kill your own meat, but for real; an animal died so you can eat. Pay it some respect and cook it to the best of your abilities. Not only will you and your guests be happy with the results, but you might actually think for a second about the animal's moment of death and feel good about how you've done it good.

To Cook Or Not To Cook

Cooking is one of my most favourite things. It's relaxing, inspiring, fulfilling, exciting, curious, delicious and (usually) social. Yet so many times I hear from friends, "I don't know where to start", or "It's too much work", or "I don't have time". I promise you, it's easy, it can be simple, and it can be done in really no time flat.

What cooking can bring you is a sense of accomplishment. It can be a creative outlet. An edible, wondrous, succulent outlet. And you know what? If it fails, so what. It's easy to try again. It's easy to just order pizza instead. It's OK if it takes you longer than you thought; it's just more time for conversation and wine. Isn't conversation and wine what some of us live for anyway? Food is a necessity, and it can easily be one of the most enjoyable ones. Right up there with the best night's sleep.

Okay, so let's assume I've piqued your interest in actually trying a bit of home cooking. Where to start? Epicurious.com is one of the best sites around to find incredible recipes. They have a multitude of filters (from 'quick' to 'chef recipe'), and what's better is recipes are rated by users. Chances are, if more than 5 people have tried the recipe and don't recommend it, WALK AWAY. Find another one. Don't waste your time.

What else? Well, over time, you'll learn what you like and what you don't. You'll learn what you think goes well together, and what might not. It's all about personal preference. Sure, there's some science that goes into a truly mind-blowing meal, but you needn't make it a Michelin 3-star night each time you cook! Some of my simplest meals have garnered the highest compliments. And my friends are not those who blow smoke up your ass just for the hell of it.

So the next time you reach for the frozen dinner, think again. Pick up 4 ingredients. Make a meal. It's easy. I'll even come over and help you figure it out the first time around ;)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Service Matters

It baffles me the restaurants I visit where servers are less than courteous, less than kind, and less than helpful. Having been both a waiter and a bartender, I can say with all fact that serving is not simple. One must endure 'the public'. The hours can rot. There are hazards. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you are not rewarded appropriately. And it can suck.

But in the end, aren't we all looking for some entertainment? Some form of pleasure? Some new story to recount? The food and the company and the environment may very well be incredible, but if the service is poor, it can flat out ruin a dining experience.

We are a city of attitude and deservedness and opinions and swagger and sometimes just a tad too much ego. But for the love of god, servers, DO YOUR JOB. It's showmanship and elegance and etiquette as much as it is taking an order and bringing food and clearing the table.

Now, there are MANY wonderful servers in this city. For each and every one of you, thank you. Thank you for not being pretentious. Thank you for not one-upping me unnecessarily. Thank you for sharing a good story or for offering a laugh. Thank you for actually giving a shit. Being personable and likeable - two of the first traits I believe you should have if you're going to take on serving.

So, in my opinion, service matters more than you may think.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

An Event Not To Miss

If you're looking to be wowed by some incredible, delicious and socially conscious food, get your tickets now for this event:
http://www.evergreen.ca/picnic/
Buy your tickets before August 14th to get the early bird rate.

The Places I Have Been ...

So, I've started this club. Without much thought, other than I liked the idea. I have people I'd like to see. I have places I'd like to go. And so, The Restaurant Club is born.

First, there are many restaurants I've already been to, and so The Club might not find itself there ... after all, it's about new experiences. I've never thought to keep a diary of them, but here's my best recollection of the tops:

Colborne Lane. One of my favourites. Been twice, and would go all over again, and again, and again. Magnificent.

Nota Bene. Just delicious. So elegant yet somehow still a bit rustic. One must go; perhaps take a client as a good excuse to expense it ;)

Frank. Just being within the architectural beauty that is the AGO is enough to go. But wait ... the food! The food is clean and fresh and local and lovely.

Coppi. Thanks to Michelle and John, I was introduced to this unsuspecting little Italian 'ristorante'. Go when the white truffles have been flown in; a delight that will not disappoint.

Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant. Okay, so it's not that the food is out of this world (though it is extremely tasty), but it's the atmosphere. The energy. The vibe. Go with friends. I'm sure you have already.

Lee. Of course Susur Lee is to Toronto what Bobby Flay is to New York. You've just got to go to one of his restaurants. Lee is full of variety and interest and sass and flavour.

Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner. Yet another architectural beauty. The view is lovely, and the food is, in true Jamie style, just as lovely. Of course Gilead Cafe is wonderful, as is Jamie Kennedy and Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar (how's that for good branding?), but JK at the Gardiner has something just a little bit more.

Other notables: C5, One, Osteria Ciceri e Tria, PicNic, Table 17, Milagro, Grace, Joso's, Trevor, and so many more I'll continue to add as my fond food memories continue.