Thursday, September 24, 2009

Recipes!

When I've got some free time and feel inspired, I'll cook up some tasty meals that I enjoy and you might want to try, too.  They're often inspired by or flat-out borrowed from published recipes ... I'll usually make a tweak or two to call it my own (and appease my tastes).  As I believe with all cooking, it's really up to what you like and what your taste preferences are - trust your own palate, and you'll never be disappointed.  Check back from time-to-time and see what's new.  Enjoy!
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=124376&id=148393032072&l=738b86de00

p.s. - I do know both my plating and my photography skills could use some work ... but trust me, when you're cooking for yourself or just for friends, it's most imporant that it tastes amazing :)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Visit Now: Local Kitchen & Wine Bar

Just one week old, and Local Kitchen & Wine Bar has got its groove ... and my vote.  Located on Queen West, just East of Roncesvalles, Local prides itself on homemade artisan salumi, incredible fresh pasta, and a Sicilian heritage.

It's a small 26-seater space with rustic charm and a homey appeal, complete with graphic tees hung along one wall and a boar's head over the door.  The music is spun from turntables in the back ... "feel free to make a request", says co-owner Michael.  I'm at a loss and so I jokingly suggest AC/DC.  I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm an ass, though never really lets on.  Our server is an adorable German woman who is on sabbatical and in Toronto because she "always wanted to work in a foreign country".  I'm a tad jealous of her gusto.  She's sweet and accommodating and perfectly attentive.

To start we decide to order the small salumi plate, and it is FABULOUS.  The dill cappicollo is to die for; the boar salami is perfect, and guanciale is fatty and lovely.  One of the specials of the day was braised rabbit stuffed olives which had been lightly battered and deep fried (served room temperature).  It's hard to balance the briney taste of an olive and so I found the rabbit to take a bit of a back seat, but it was delicious all the same.  And who doesn't want fried stuff?!

For the mains we ordered seared duck breast which sat atop baked apple and lentils with a cider gastrique, and the smoked potato gnocchi with rapini and taleggio.  First, the duck.  It was sweet and a touch tart, balanced by a flavourful rub and the buttery lentils.  SO good.  The gnocchi was made perfectly - pillowy and smooth.  The taleggio cream sauce was subtle and the rapini added a nutty, slightly bitter complement.

We opted to pair each course with a different wine at Michael's discretion.  The list is primarily Ontario-based, though you can find some BC wines along with lovely Italian options as well.  Take a little extra time and read through the preamble to each page of the wine list ... they're amusing stories of why the wine or varietal has made the list, sometimes even personifying the grapes (like the poor White Cab who was once cast away but now making its due comeback).

I have no doubt Local Kitchen & Wine Bar will enjoy a loyal following.  I only hope they one day decide to offer their salumi for retail ... I could indulge in their charcuterie just about every day.  http://www.localkitchen.ca/

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Apres Coucher: Lady Marmalade

Somehow sounds of Christina Aguilera fill my head when I think of the name of Leslieville's latest brunch hot spot: Lady Marmalade.  My guess is its name wasn't borne from the 2001 re-make pop hit.  Or maybe it was.  I don't know.  All I know is Lady Marmalade, a quasi-transplant from Victoria, BC, is a hit.

It's filled with the prescriptive super-hipster East end crowd (although I live in the neighbourhood, I am not quite as cool for school).  Its decor has got that kitschy retro flare, coupled with an arty mash-up.  The servers are mostly wholesome-looking beauties who, despite the seemingly constant stream of waiting customers, maintain their pleasant demeanour with a smile.

The prices are just right for a brunch/lunch spot; not much is more than $12 or so.  It's cash-only (boo), except there's a TD bank 2 doors down for those feeling terribly inconvenienced.  The only other let-down I could discern was that they don't make good-morning poutine (or good-afternoon poutine, for that matter) on the weekends.  Being a Northern Ontario girl and somewhat of a poutine connoisseur, I was excited to try it.  Then, sadly shut down.  *Sigh* - I'll have to go back for that one.

I ordered the baked crepe croque monsieur and was delighted.  Wrapped in a light crepe was ham and cheddar, topped with a miso-scallion cream, perfectly poached eggs and wilted spinach.  I was a tad intrigued by the miso-scallion cream (also an option for the poutine: miso gravy), but found it to be light, balanced, and a perfect complement to the dish without being overpowering.  The side of hashbrowns were some of the best I've had: crispy on the outside, fluffy inside, not greasy and properly seasoned.

The eggs benny options are plentiful with many flavour-pairing favourites to choose from.  One friend ordered the huevos rancheritos which, despite tasting good, looked a bit like dressed-up cafeteria food (I suppose it's hard to make a mound of beans look pretty).  One other plus: fresh-squeezed orange juice.  One would think it's a staple for every good brunch spot but I'm surprised at how many rely on good 'ol Old South.  Lady Marmalade offers both options but don't skimp - fresh juice all the way.

I'm excited the good restaurant options are continuing to grow in Queen's East end.  Better still that there's another yummy brunch option for the 'I'm-so-hungover-all-I-want-is-fucking-tasty-food' crowd.  Check it out ... I know I'll be going back.  http://www.ladymarmalade.ca/

Monday, September 14, 2009

BYOW Etiquette

During a recent visit to Loire restaurant on Harbord Street in Toronto, our somewhat large group opted to bring our own wine. The owner/sommelier, Sylvain, agreed to $25/bottle fee up to 1.5L (which was the size we brought). No problem. I get it. Restaurants are in it to make money. OF COURSE. But when the fee turns to $50/bottle at the end of the night, simply because the owner decided they needed to turn a bigger profit, I say it's entrepreneurial gluttony. And, a surefire way to elicit a serious piss-off factor.

Here are some 'rules' of BYOW:
  • check in advance if there is a corkage fee and if there are restrictions (like number or size of bottles)
  • don't bring your own wine just to avoid restaurant prices; you will pay more for a bottle at a restaurant, yes - but you are paying for service, stemware, maintenance of a great wine list, and part of general overhead
  • don't try to serve yourself and expect a discount on the corkage fee
  • don't bring a wine that's on the restaurant's list, it's rude
  • depending on the establishment, corkage fees could be the amount of profit on the restaurant's least expensive bottle (typically priced at three times wholesale, so if it cost the restaurant $10, you would pay $30 ... corkage would be around $20)
Now, did we follow all the 'rules'? Maybe not. But the fact of the matter is we were gouged. Perhaps the owner relised $25 per 750ml bottle was more adequate and changed his mind last minute. But simple business sense says keep your customers happy and you will keep them coming back. I don't know about you, but I find unannounced price increases are generally not well received.

So, be a good little restaurant goer and brush up on BYOW etiquette. And, if you're a restauranteur, don't be a dink. Honour your pricing. After all, bad press travels a lot faster than good.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Premiere Event: Conviction

It's been but a couple of months since the idea for The Restaurant Club came to me. I feel as though it will continue to morph and evolve; I'm happy about the direction we're headed in. And, on September 10th, our first event unfolded.

First, I want to thank all 19 members who were able to make it. It filled me with joy to have such an incredible group of people gather for the first of what I hope to be many events.  Second, I want to thank the team at Conviction.  I changed our numbers several times, requested Biana and Marc address the group (they graciously did), and made special requests that were met with not a tinge of resistance.

So, how was it?  In one word: amazing.  True, there were shortcomings.  The service was slow (the restaurant was not packed), however they had launched their new menu that day.  Servers were friendly but at times lacked attentiveness and knowledge - I suspect a result of both newness (the restaurant had only recently re-opened after being closed for the month of August), and a product of the restaurant's concept.  The staff are, after all (and as one waitor described) 'misfits'.

I would have to say the stars of what our group ordered were the braised beef short ribs, fois gras & sweetbreads, acorn squash potage (soup) with fois gras confit & coconut foam, and the crab & lobster topped with a poached egg and 'no beluga' caviar - which was israeli couscous with squid ink.  Many also thoroughly enjoyed the beef tenderloin.  One of my favourite quotes was about the charcuterie plate: "a delight of slices" - how fun!  On the less favourable side, the arctic char was underseasoned, and one member wrote that the bone marrow was 'bland'.

My only criticism of the restaurant is that, despite having re-launched under a series of names (Thuet, Bite Me, Conviction), the decor remains largely unchanged.  I would have expected that, given the latest concept, there would be a more dramatic shift in the overall vibe of the room.  In my opinion, it's a missed opportunity.

All-in-all, the evening was a great success.  I felt good about the restaurant selection, and for the most part was happy with how the evening played out for the members.  I'm already giving thought to our next event coming up in November.  Well, once I make myself some coffee and breakfast ... maybe just after that ;)

Monday, September 7, 2009

An Afternoon At Peter Cellar's Pub

Located about an hour and 15 minutes North of the city lies the charming, tranquil and idyllic town of Mono, Ontario.  You don't find much in that town, but there are two things worth doing there: hiking through any of the numerous trails, and visiting Peter Cellar's Pub at the Mono Cliffs Inn.

The pub, located in the basement of the main restaurant, is small, dimly lit, eclectic and inviting.  If you visit on the right day, you'll be greeted by Wayne, the charismatic, sweet, and delightfully gay bartender/server extraordinaire.

The menu isn't vast, but has something for everyone.  It's a mixture of Asian-fusion, French, Italian and British, with apps like phyllo-wrapped brie, panko-crusted shrimp with sriracha, oysters, grilled calamari, lamb burgers, lemon poppy seed supreme of chicken, and veggie curry with chickpeas and pappadum.

Between us, we ordered just about everything on the menu.  I had the pleasure of trying almost everyone's dish (a benefit of my new project), and found some winners and some mediocre dishes.  The grilled calamari with sriracha mayo was flavoured deliciously by the charring of the grill; one order was cooked nicely while the second was a little overdone and chewy.  The lentil bacon soup was a bit of a let-down for me - the lentils were cooked fine, but the bacon was barely discernable (I do love my bacon), and the soup base lacked seasoning and depth of flavour.

The supreme of chicken, though it looked slightly plastic because of the glaze, was in fact sweet, savoury and cooked perfectly.  It sat atop a salad that included cherry tomatoes and melon - one of my least favourite fruits.  Despite the melon, the dish was lovely and fresh-tasting.  The lamb burger for me was overpowered by mint sauce, but true lamb-lovers at the table (I rarely eat it, and prefer the tender chops) raved about its success.  So, I'll default to them and go with 'it was a hit'.

For dessert, the kids somehow got tricked into a 'surprise' dish.  Of course they all thought it was going to be cake or chocolate or a brick of sugar topped with more sugar, but out came pavlova.  It's a dish I've never cared to make (I rarely make desserts), but it was just divine.  The meringue was soft on the inside; just crusted on the outside.  The fruit salad that was sandwiched between two white mounds was bursting with flavour and pretty colours.

Service by Wayne was accommodating and personable - just how you'd expect it to be in such a tiny local's haunt.  I was even the fortunate recipient of an impromptu shoulder massage ... simply amazing.  And according to Wayne "it's been a long time since I've made a woman moan".  Charming ;)

So, city kids, pack your SUVs and hybrids, bring your hiking shoes and camera, and plan to make it for lunch or dinner (and a pint or three ... you can always stay at the Inn), and make your way up to Peter Cellar's at The Mono Cliffs Inn.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's All About Conviction

The first event is coming up for The Restaurant Club.  I'm getting excited.  I'm also a bit anxious ... maybe that's what my dream about my molars falling out meant (yes, creepy and gross, all at once).  And, as the title of this post alludes, the chosen restaurant for the first event is Conviction.

Why Conviction?  Well, it promises something very different and yet something very reliable, all at once.  Marc Thuet is one of the city's most talented chefs.  Thuet and Bite Me and Atelier Thuet have each given me wonderful meals.  I can take comfort in knowing the food will not be a let-down.  The 'something different' comes from the fact that his restaurant is staffed with ex-convicts, both at the front and the back of the house.  I think it's both curious and caring ... everyone could use a second (or 5th) chance, and hey - I'm game to hear a story or two about a life 10 times rougher than mine.  Okay, maybe 100 times rougher.  Let's face it - my life has rarely been 'rough'.
For those of you who have been invited to the dinner, I am truly looking forward to seeing you.  I'm excited that you're a part of a new idea for me.  I'm optimistic for the potential outcomes.  I'm hoping for some great feedback.  Most of all, I'm ready for a glorious meal in great company.
http://www.convictionrestaurant.com/