Monday, August 30, 2010

TRC does Scarpetta

As with every new restaurant opening in Toronto that has any kind of name behind it, there was much ballyhoo in the food world over Scarpetta's arrival.  All the major papers buzzed about it, bloggers tweeted about it and the chef behind it, Scott Conant, wrote Toronto a letter about it.  Well, it wasn't just about Scarpetta.  It was also about how Mr. Conant is kinda douchey.

Chef Scott Conant
"I don't know if you're into etymology or anything like that" ummm, no I'm not really into geeking out on etymology but I swear if I gave a shit enough to figure out what a word's history was I'd check it out on this thing called Google.  "Miami is really beautiful, T-Dot. You should check it out sometime." right, because after trips to Walmart and some huntin' in the back 90 I'm plum too worn out to get off my ass and see the world, let a lone South Beach.  "Anyway, then some other people came to me and asked me if I would ever entertain the idea of opening one of my restaurants in Toronto -- that's you." Ohhhhhh, THANKS.  I wasn't sure if you meant Toronto.  Since the letter was addressed to Toronto.  Or T-Dot as you've cleverly learned we looove to call it.

Anyway, enough about the letter.  It's really about the food.  Here goes.  Preface: I have been to Scarpetta in Miami, and despite being about 17 sheets to the wind, I do happen to recall the meal was delicious.  So I was looking forward to the same food delights on home ground.  I was mostly appeased.  

On a Wednesday night in August, 10 of us arrived at Scarpetta for our bi-monthly TRC dinner.  Service was slow from the get-go.  Menus were not delivered straight away (i.e. 10 or more minutes in), drink orders took a long time to be taken and then served, and our waiter had the personality of an inch worm.  We placed two orders of Fritto Misto ($17) as a precursor to appetizers, but despite being ordered well before the first courses, all of the first courses arrived together.

When everything did arrive, it was for the most part a success.  The cauliflower puree was well liked, though texturally was a bit thin.  The creamy polenta with mushrooms was incredibly flavourful; one diner felt it got a bit soupy but I personally didn't mind that part - the saucier the better.  And, as another diner proclaimed, the dish was real comfort food.  The braised short ribs with vegetable and farro risotto ($14) was a good combination of textures and flavours, though I would have liked the ribs cooked longer as they were a bit on the chewy side.  The diver scallop ($17) was fresh and nicely cooked but nothing overly special.  Oh, and the fritto misto?  Well, it WAS delicious ... though finding the seafood was like finding a needle in a haystack.  A haystack of delicious crispy-fried vegetables.
Cauliflower puree with oysters
Creamy polenta with truffled mushroom fricasee
Braised beef short ribs with veg & farro risotto
Our mains brought an overarching theme: salt.  Now, let me say first that I love salt.  I love how it can transform foods, I love how it contributes to the umami of a dish, I love how it tastes on my tongue.  But, there is such a thing as over-salting.  And regrettably, many of our dishes suffered from this.  The spiced duck breast ($34) was cooked rare, with a beautifully crisped skin.  It was a perfect portion size.  But - the organic radish flavour was indiscernible for salt.  I had the agnolotti with mixed meat (chicken, beef and pork I'm told) with fonduta ($22), which was a modest portion but bursting with flavour.  My one criticism was the flavours of this dish were quite close to my first dish - the polenta with mushroom.  The duck foie gras ravioli ($23) was incredibly rich, and the marsala reduction slightly tart.  All that could be said of the black tagliolini with lobster ($29) was that it was over-salted.  The ocean trout ($27) had a great depth of flavours but again - salty.  One of the stars of the evening's mains was the moist-roasted capretto - or milk-fed baby goat - ($29) which was wonderfully tender, well balanced, and perfectly rich yet not cloyingly so.  The pitfall of the goat?  The sauce was again over-salted.  The pheasant tortellini ($23) which is served in a brodo, or broth, was a nice light dish with fresh flavours.  A-OK on the salt front with that dish.
Black Tagliolini with Nova Scotia lobster
Duck foie gras ravioli
Agnolotti dal plin (FYI, plin means "pinch")
Finally, the desserts.  The goat cheese cheesecake with pistachio brittle was a wonderful balance of just enough savoury with sweet.  One could have eaten a plate of that brittle it was so delicious.  The coconut panna cotta was very light and flavoured with just enough coconut.  Finally, the chocolate cake.  It was disgustingly rich, warm and gooey - just the way you'd expect it to be.  It's flaw was the gelato accompaniment; it sounded good but its flavour was too weak to pair with the chocolate.
Goat cheese cheesecake
Chocolate Cake
Overall, the experience wasn't as stellar as I would have expected.  The service was slow and not attentive enough (we were in the back room, removed from the main diners but that shouldn't matter), and the food was over-salted.  That said, there were many other dishes on the menu I'd love to try.  And, the ones that were executed properly were absolutely divine.  So, would I go back?  Yes.  Let's just hope with a bit more time they get things sorted out.

Scarpetta is located at the Thompson Hotel on Wellington at Bathurst.  Average price per person is about $120.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Babbo Bolognese with Pappardelle

A couple years ago, I had the pleasure of eating at Babbo in New York.  The meal was divine, the atmosphere was lively (who blares Guns 'n Roses in a place like this?  Apparently Mario Batali), and I've been dreaming of my pasta dish ever since.  Fast forward to my recent Chapters visit.  I sit down to peruse the Babbo cookbook, and happen upon the goat cheese ravioli with fennel and orange - the dish I ate at the restaurant!  I had to buy the book.  OK so the first dish I made wasn't that amazing ravioli - it was this bolognese with pappardelle.  It was just going to be simpler than the ravioli.  While I've made better bolognese sauces (check out the one in Stir), this is still very tasty and perfectly soul-warming.  Plus, you'll love the satisfaction you get from freshly-made pasta.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Summer Corn with Bacon, Miso Butter and Caramelized Onions

This is one from the Momofuku cookbook.  I've been to Momofuku Noodle Bar, but have yet to visit Momofuku Ssäm, Ko, Milk Bar or Má Pêche (so many New York restaurants, so few New York visits!).  David Chang certainly has created an empire for himself; I'm just happy I can replicate some of his dishes at home.  As for this particular recipe, well, I love corn.  And bacon.  And butter.  And miso?  Why not.  Rest assured, it is DELICIOUS.  NB: it's best eaten straight away; all the nice crunch is gone on day 2.

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as a side dish):

  • Corn kernels, cut off 6 fresh cobs
  • 6 slices bacon, cut into small lardons
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions, sliced (white and green parts)
  • 1-1/2 tbsp white miso paste
  • 1-1/2 tbsp unsalted butter at room temp
  • kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
  • grapeseed or vegetable oil
  1. In a small bowl, mix the miso paste and butter together until well incorporated.
  2. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat.  Add about 1 tbsp grapeseed oil and the onions.  Let the onions cook on high heat for about 2-3 minutes, turning once.  They should be deeply browned, but not burnt.  Turn the heat down to medium low and let cook for about 30-40 minutes (it should be 40 minutes, but I sometimes get impatient and short-change the cooking time).  Season with a pinch of salt.  Set aside.
  3. In a cast iron skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until just crisped.  Set bacon aside, but keep the bacon fat in the pan.
  4. In the same pan with the bacon fat, add the corn.  Cook on medium high heat, tossing so the corn doesn't stick.  Add more oil if you need.  After the corn starts to brown, turn down to medium.  Add the bacon, caramelized onion and miso butter.  Continue cooking until the corn still has bite but is cooked through.  Season with a good 6 or so turns of black pepper, a pinch of salt (taste it first - the miso and bacon are salty so you might not need it).  Top with the scallion and serve!  This dish would go well with burgers or pork chops or a nice steak.  Hell, it'll go well with anything you want.

Turkey Burgers with Dill Havarti on Rosemary Focaccia

Turkey burgers aren't the easiest thing to do, since turkey has very little fat content and so the burgers tend to dry out easily.  Buuuut ... they can be done.  And in this case, it turned out to be a perfect summer afternoon lunch.  Pair it with a margarita (as we did) and you really can't go wrong!

Ingredients (makes 4 or so burgers):
  • 1lb ground turkey
  • rosemary focaccia (you could substitute for plain foccacia or sourdough)
  • 1 smallish white onion, grated or finely minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1-1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • dill havarti
  • tomato slices, lettuce & mayo to dress
  • kosher or sea salt & pepper
  1. Preheat BBQ on medium-high.  In a bowl, mix the turkey, onion, egg, breadcrumbs, Worcestershire and thyme until just mixed (you don't want to over-work meat or it will toughen).  Season with a good amount of salt and pepper.  Make into patties, shaping them more oblong to fit the foccacia bread.
  2. Lightly oil the BBQ - the turkey burgers will stick otherwise.  Cook, flipping once, until cooked through - about 5 minutes per side.  If you have an instant-read thermometer, they should be 165F - or just feel them, they should be firm with a bit of give but not squishy (like how the raw meat feels).  If your BBQ is hot, turn down so as not to burn the meat.  Just before they're done, top with slices of the havarti.
  3. Meanwhile, slice the focaccia and lightly oil each side.  Place on the BBQ at low heat to toast them lightly.  When done, assemble the burger, top with tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise, and enjoy!  Oh, and don't forget to mix that margarita for yourself ;)