Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where is the Love?

I was just on Twitter and in my feed read, "BeastRestaurant: @PizzaLibretto What's worse? Nasty food critic or a food blogger with no cred running home after a meal and bad mouthing resto?"  It made me think, "huh ... would most restaurants call me 'a food blogger with no cred'"?  And, (swallow ego here), they likely would.

As I let insecurity settle in, enter the next questions to my head, "Does anybody actually care what I write?  Respect it?  Recommend it?  READ it?!!"  Well, this is where the answer is much more hazy.  I'd like to think it's 'yes' to all, but I am a realist.  I have a modest group of followers, more than half of whom are friends (so they feel obliged more than compelled to follow).  The rest of the followers I can only assume found me through seeing what their friends 'liked' or who they followed.  I have no fan club.  My posts rarely get re-tweeted.  My daily site visits are nominal.  It's all actually pretty pathetic when I compare it to metrics I'd use in my real profession.  I am, what they call, small fries.

So why bother with all this TRC nonsense?

Well, because I enjoy it.  And, some people seem to genuinely like it and share (or trust) my opinion.  Though I will likely never become the next James Chatto, nor rub elbows with International top chefs, it gives me pleasure and I have a POV.  So what's my point?  Am I turning this into a personal therapy session?  Am I giving up TRC?  The answers are these:
  1. My point is that, cred or no cred, anyone who eats is a critic.  My fucking dog is a critic.  So my suggestion to restaurateurs who are fed up with food bloggers is this: suck it up and take the comments as learning.  Don't take a disgruntled back seat.  It's a two-way conversation.  Your restaurant is not just a restaurant: it is a brand you need to manage, protect, and cultivate.  If you disagree with a legitimate review, write back.  You needn't be a dick about it, but I swear it will go a long way towards positive brand image if you become a more active participant in your brand.
  2. I hope not.  Otherwise that's pathetic.
  3. No.  Not until I come up with something better.
I feel like I'm Rick Mercer doing Rick's Rant.  Can you see me now?  Walking down a back alley full of cool graffiti?  No?  Oh.

Anyway, thanks to those who read this.  And to those who comment.  Or criticize.  It's all part and parcel of my little online conversation and of developing my TRC brand.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

TRC Does Cucci

I don't make it outside of the heart of Toronto too often.  It takes special people to get me to come visit them in the burbs.  So, when my special friends suggested we do dinner at Cucci in Oakville I said, "done" (I am so seriously eloquent).

Now, for those of you who know Oakville, you know people in Oakville have money.  Lots of it.  A restaurant the likes of Cucci fits in very well.  I'm told when Cucci first opened it was panned for being too elitist (as in, "You want to make a reservation?  Who are you?  Oh, nobody?  Sorry, we're full.").  Thank GAWD they had their anal pickle extracted ... we got a reservation!

Situated at the edge of a residential neighbourhood, the restaurant's space is welcoming and upscale without being too pretentious.  It was bustling as we walked in and were greeted by the hostess, the manager and the singing pianist, crooning something decidedly un-Toronto.  The room was filled with terrible blonde dye jobs, zillions of over-sequined tops, and ill-fitting suits.  Do I sound bitchy yet?  I totally sound bitchy, don't I.  Whatevs.

The menu is very well designed and reads as their tagline states: modern Italian cuisine.  There are a number of selections without being overwhelming, the ingredients are all pronounceable without being too pedestrian, and the price points are within reason ... I was excited.

The first course arrives and we all stuck to the classic: Caesar salad.  It looked promising but sadly lacked flavour.  Garlic was barely discernible, the lettuce had started to wilt, and the crouton was so over-toasted it flew across the table as you tried to break into it.  *sigh* ... maybe the wild mushrooms on toast would be better?  Nope.  In concept it was right.  In execution, it tasted just of cream and I sorely missed proper seasoning and the promise of truffle.  On the plus side the black trumpet mushrooms were a nice touch (underutilized) and well cooked.  NB: forgive the pics ... I stupidly forgot my camera and so these are courtesy of my brother's Blackberry.
Cucci Caesar 
Wild Mushrooms on Toast
As our mains arrived, I again got my hopes up.  The plates looked great.  In writing, the dishes sounded delightful.  In real life?  So-so.  The lobster in my spaghetti, although an ample serving of it, was overcooked and the dish was once again light on seasoning and missed the brightness of the lemon.  The scallop risotto was more like al dente rice than creamy risotto.  While the scallops were cooked perfectly, something in the dish had not been washed properly so had a gritty bite (it could also have from the crab if not shelled carefully).  The salmon was more positive and had a lovely mild flavour and cooked to perfection without drying it out.  The rabbit tagliatelle was possibly the winner of all the dishes and while enjoyable and the rabbit nicely braised, lacked somewhat in depth of flavour (despite the olives - which were a nice touch).  The beef was the only dish I did not try ... I'm not sure why, since it was offered to me.  My friend did finish the entire dish and it looked like it was cooked well.  Plus, they get points for the Amarone jus.
Spaghetti with Lobster
Steak with Amarone Jus
Diver Scallops with King Crab and Pea Risotto
Salmon with Mussels
The service was pleasant and attentive, though in my opinion we waited a bit too long to order and also for the bill (Who just keeps coming around giving you more water when the table is clearly done?  Bring. The. Bill.).  For 6 people with 2 bottles of wine and no dessert our bill came to a modest $400 (excluding tip).  Totally reasonable.

So here's my verdict.  If you are looking for somewhere to go in Oakville, don't write this place off.  If on the other hand location is not an issue, there are many other places I'd recommend over Cucci.  My gut tells me the restaurant has a talented chef, but that their line cooks are somewhat green and failing to perfectly execute on their chef's vision.  Maybe we hit it on a bit of an off night.  But with over 10,000 restaurants in the GTA to choose from, can anyone afford to have off nights?

Grandma Marg's Cheese Cookies

My Grandma Marg didn't love to cook.  But, she loved to entertain and so cooked out of necessity (well, that and having to feed 4 kids and a husband).  Like or not like, she was very good at it.  As she got on in age, she cooked less and less.  I recall staying with her when she'd had a knee replacement and I swear all she wanted to eat was gummies, candied ginger, and peanut butter.  Aaaaaaaaaanyway.  There was one recipe Grandma Marg made that will forever be tied to her memory: cheese cookies.  I was about 8 or 9 when she visited us from Toronto and I tried them for the first time.  I fell in love instantly.  Here's the recipe so you can fall in love, too.  If you don't fall in love then you just suck.  So, get ready for love.  Or suckdom.  But hopefully love.

Monday, December 13, 2010

2010 List of Foodie Gifts

Alright so maybe this post is really only going to serve the last-minute shoppers (forgive my tardiness), but Christmastime or not, people who love to cook love receiving cooking-related gifts.  I know.  I am a fucking genius.  Here are the ones I think are neat / worthwhile / dream-worthy.

Emile Henry makes all kinds of nice things and this one is no different.  The pizza stone is glazed so it promises to make removing easy.  I like the handles, plus the nifty colours it comes in.  Us Canadians can get it on Amazon for about $57.

These little oil spritzers from Sur La Table are super-cute and ... useful!  Sometimes you don't need a pile of oil; just a spritz will do!  Use them to make a pan non-stick, to add flavour to salads, to ready a baguette for toasting, or to give yourself that greasy body-builder look.  $12.95US.

The Vitamix blender has been touted by chefs like Thomas Keller as "THE" blender to have.  So if TK thinks it's aiight, I think so too.  It comes with a hefty $580CDN price tag and so falls under the "dream-worthy" category.  I remain a dreamer.

I admit these aren't really for cooking, but every decent cook enjoys a wobbly pop or 5 from time-to-time.  I have a friend who once searched for "suitable ice" for his scotch ... I think this is a great (re-usable) alternative.  Buy 'em from ThinkGeek for just $20US.

For the foodie who really has everything and for the gifter with a conscious, try doing good this season with the Heifer Hope Basket.  For just $50US, you can provide chickens and rabbits to a farmer in need.  Heifer International aims to end world hunger so don't be a Scrooge and help 'em out.

For the home cook who loves to make all things Italian (like me), pick up the super-affordable gnocchi board.  It makes rolling the grooves into gnocchi ΓΌber-easy.  Plus, it's fun to do!  And who doesn't like fun?!  And exclamation points!  Get it for just $5 at The Inspired Cook.

Alright so most foodies already know a thing or two about cooking, but everyone can still use a bit of learning for their brain!  Why not try gifting a cooking class?  In Toronto there are many options - I'm sure in your city there are, too.  Usually from $75-$150/class.

Sous vide cooking remains, for the most part, something only restaurants can pull off with success.  Wellllll, not anymore, bitches.  Enter the SousVide Supreme.  For the low, low price of $299.95US, you too can make super-succulent meats and tasty water-cooked treats at home!  p.s. - I once tried to jimmy rig a sous vide device.  Not so good.  Buy the real meal deal.

Another nifty gift is an egg topper.  Did you ever see that episode of Top Chef where Anita Lo did soft scrambled eggs with shitakes and then presented them in the shell?  That was some kick-ass presentation, in my opinion.  This one is $54.95US from Sur La Table, but there are other, cheaper options out there.  I just figure if you're going to get a new gadget, get the one the pros would want.

Well, there you have it boys and girls.  Select gift ideas for the foodie in your family (or, the foodie in you).  Happy shopping!  And cooking!  And entertaining!  And eating!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Braised Chicken Thighs in Rosemary Jus

It never ceases to amaze me how simple ingredients can make for such a beautifully flavourful dish.  I served this with mushy peas & asparagus (peas, asparagus, chicken stock, cream & parmesan ... cook, season and mash coarsely), plus a rice pilaf (slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, parsley and basmati rice).  The jus for the chicken is super flavourful and is also nice poured over the rice.  Give it a whirl.  I promise you'll love it.  Otherwise, maybe don't read my blog anymore.

Okay I take that back.  Keep reading me.  For ever and ever and ever.  And ever.

Oeufs en Cocotte (or, eggs in ramekin)

When I was in Paris recently I enjoyed "oeufs en meurette"; basically a poached egg in red wine and mushroom sauce.  Dee-effing-licious.  So, it got me inspired to make some other fun eggy dish, except this time for brekkie vs. a dinner appetizer.  The brilliant thing about this dish is it is infinitely bespoke.  And, it takes so very little time.  All you need is a ramekin, an egg and a bit of an imagination (well, and hopefully some good stuff in your fridge).  This one was with leftover potato gratin, cauliflower, sambal oelek and Beemster XO.  I do love me a warm, comforting and savoury dish for breakfast but scrambled, poached, fried and fritatta can sometimes bore me.  Enter oeufs en cocotte!