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Toronto, at the moment


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#376 Sneakeater

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Posted 04 February 2019 - 11:02 PM

Bairrada Churrasquria

 

My hotel was right near Little Portugal, so I thought to venture there for lunch.  I probably could have done something more imaginative than to choose a branch of citywide chain -- but it seems to be a chain that people like.

 

Now everyone seems to get the chicken or the shrimp here.  But I wasn't up to more than a sandwich.  So, a prego no pão -- can't get more classic than that.

 

It was good enough, but I was vaguely disappointed.  I wanted it to be super.


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#377 Sneakeater

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Posted 04 February 2019 - 11:14 PM

Fishman Lobster Clubhouse Restaurant

This was my meal of this trip. It might have been my meal of 2018.

Here's what's funny about International Food Media Culture. We went to this place because it's in my Tornotonian friend's mother's neighborhood. My friend's sister, who lives nearby, recommended it as a local Chinese place that she really likes where we could all go for lunch after visiting their mother.  We didn't know that Tony Bourdain had been there. We didn't know that David Chang had visited the week before. We didn't know it was A Thing.

But I'll you what. It deserves to be A Thing. You look at the menu and pretend to decide what to order. But that's a sham: there's one thing to get: their special HK fried lobster plate. (I suppose you could get the same thing with crab instead.) The lobster is expertly, beautifully fried, with perfectly modulated chili pepper. The pieces are piled high in a cone on top of french fries and shredded lettuce. (My one reservation about this meal: it used to come piled on fried smelts instead of potatoes. How great must THAT have been?) Fried rice with the tomalley mixed in on the side: boy was that good.

It is very hard for me to describe how utterly fantastic this was.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if a version of this showed up as a large-format item at Momofuku. Of course, Fishman Lobster Clubhouse Restaurant practically gives this ambrosia away. I laugh to think what Chang & Co. would charge for it.

(Speaking of which, we were seated next to this huge, wall-size wine cabinet. Literally, it took up the entire wall. Filled with trophy bottles: 1982 and '83 Château Le Pin, like that. In view of the ridiculously low food prices, we asked the waiter what a bottle would cost. "Those are not for sale," he answered. "Those are the owner's.")


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#378 Sneakeater

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Posted 05 February 2019 - 06:19 AM

I wouldn't be at all surprised if a version of this showed up as a large-format item at Momofuku. Of course, Fishman Lobster Clubhouse Restaurant practically gives this ambrosia away. I laugh to think what Chang & Co. would charge for it.


This came out a little wrong. I don't mean to imply that Chang is a rip-off. I just mean that given the realities of opening up heavily designed restaurants in urban centers, as opposed to an essentially undesigned barn in a non-central residential area -- plus his higher ingredients costs -- would force Chang to charge a lot for a plate like this. (He'd probably use some exotic small fish -- neonata? -- where Fishman Lobster Clubhouse used to use smelts to seem to justify the cost.)


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#379 Sneakeater

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Posted 05 February 2019 - 06:41 AM

You look at the menu and pretend to decide what to order. But that's a sham: there's one thing to get: their special HK fried lobster plate. nswered. "Those are the owner's.")


We didn't know this going in. My friend's sister is much too Canadian to tell all us pretentious New York food people what to get. If the waiter hadn't pretty much insisted, we might have ordered something else.

You'd be able to hear everyone in Toronto saying "you ordered wrong" all the way here in New York.
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#380 Sneakeater

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Posted 05 February 2019 - 06:43 AM

On my way out, I almost hugged the waiter. There were almost tears in my eyes.

"That was the best thing I've eaten in months," I said.

"I know," he answered.
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#381 Adrian

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Posted 05 February 2019 - 11:50 PM

I know that you had feelings about the lack of chairs at Raval, but there are a (limited number of stools) and I think the presence of chairs would have the dual effect of both hurting the economics (you know, it's a place where people sit down and linger) and diminishing the utility of the place. It is one of the few restaurants that is useful from 8 am until 2 am and transitions very easily between those times. It's great before dinner, and after dinner, and for a quick coffee, and for whittling away the afternoon. Sharing the dishes standing around a barrel or the counter isn't that inconvenient. There's also seating in the summer outside, but I won't begrudge you for coming to town in the pit of winter.

 

That said, Raval isn't quite what it used to be. Mostly, the menu has contracted to the point where it's merely very good to excellent as opposed to outright spectacular. 

 

Anyway, it was a super fun lunch.

 

Also, Bairrada is kind of fine for a sandwich, but it's really all about the giant patio and the charcoal grilled chicken at the College St. location in the summer and some cheap beer or Aveleda (go on and @ me). That is super. 


I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#382 Wilfrid

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 12:00 AM

The description made Bar Raval sound like La Paraigua, but looking at images the design of the wood is quoting Gaudi’s windows from the Casa Battlo, which is very cool.

There used to be bars in Barcelona where you would eat and drink standing around barrels, but good luck finding them now. But in the modern pintxo places, standing to eat is still not unusual (yes, pintxos, nothing complicated).

#383 Wilfrid

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 12:03 AM

Oh but these are pintxos, so to be eaten standing.

https://goo.gl/images/QxRpVQ

#384 Adrian

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 12:27 AM

Gold Star Wilfrid.

 

It's not just pintxos - like the morcilla and chickpeas or octopus - but the food is pretty standing friendly.

 

No doubt it vastly helps the economics. And you can sit outside during the warmer months. 

 

Anyway, the room at Raval is beautiful (four years today) and it's settled into being a mandatory stop for any tourist.


I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#385 Adrian

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 12:54 AM

Alo
 
Alo is a fancy French (but, looking over the meal card now, weeks later, I have to say not too French) tasting-menu place.  It's on the top floor of a Victorian low-rise, and the dining room feels notably spacious and airy.  (That's how you know you're not in New York:  this is really spacious -- not made to look more spacious than it is, or designed without a thought given to elbow room, other than to eliminate it).
 
Now I have to say I thought this dinner was just wonderful.  And it had to be the quality of the cooking, because looking the meal card over, nothing jumps out as seeming particularly "interesting".  This was just a case of excellent ingredients, thoughtfully combined and excellently prepared.
 
I'm not saying I didn't wish I had more of that venison saddle and whatever game bird it was I begged them to add to my card even though the wimpy rest of the table didn't want any.  But this was a very enjoyable extended tasting-menu meal.
 
So where does Alo stand in the scheme of things?  The first thing to note is that although they do (I think) have a counter, the seating is predominately at tables.  And it's a good-size dining room.  So Alo feels like a restaurant, not a cultic center.  That's an advantage.
 
The next thing to note -- if I didn't make this clear already -- is that while the cooking is modern, it's not in any way experimental.  There are Asian influences (because 2018) (yeah I've been remiss in writing this up).  But it's not as out-and-out fusiony as Brooklyn Fare (or even Blanca, for that matter).  It's more like Jean Georges when that restaurant was still fresh.  (Of course, I have no idea how JG is now, as there's no way I'm entering that building, much less spending money that will go into that rent stream.)  But that's fine.  And the cooking was very, very good.  Like, really good.   Like, superb.
 
So I really loved this place.  On the other hand, if I lived in Toronto, I doubt I'd be there very often.  (And yeah, Ian, I did go to a Balkan dance party afterward.  But I didn't see anybody else from the dining room -- not even from my table -- there.)

 

Wrong Balkan dance party, I think.

 

Anyway, a good assessment of Alo. I was there recently for the second meal in a short window. I do have to say, the overall food enjoyment gap between the two meals was larger than expected. Across the meals the execution was very high and, I think more than it has ever had, each dish was committed to a very clear idea. For example, the cuttlefish with pistachio and orange or the kampachi (I think) with a green curry or the small piece of venison with chestnuts were all very distilled, modern interpretations of the culinary traditions they reflected. What surprised me was that ideas that enthralled on round one landed much flatter on round two. What surprised me though was that this is modern cooking, but it's not pyrotechnic. With limited menu turnover, I thought that would be a much greater advantage versus at a place where there is a "trick" to the food, or the food is intellectual and not fundamentally delicious (see a version of that argument at this site which is still around? https://www.gastromo...eleines-of-2018).

 

I mean, it's still superb as you say and the technique is very good. And it is still somewhere I will find myself at multiple times a year. The more puzzling question is why this format - intense, multiple small dishes, large variety of flavours, even if relatively classic in technique - basically needs full seasonal turnover to be fully enjoyed, while restaurants like Edulis, Chasse et Peche, even Toque!, don't have the same drop-off. Or, to take your example, there are Jean Georges dishes when made correctly (the foie brulee, the asparagus) I could eat practically daily, while there are dishes at Alo that impressed as much on first instances, but I would tire of.*

 

*Of course, there are Alo dishes I've had I don't feel that way about. Like the scrambled eggs with caviar or a variation on mushrooms a la creme that haven't had that dropoff, but they are among the most classic dishes. 


I think you need to interpret what I'm saying in a reasonable way.


#386 Wilfrid

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Posted 16 February 2019 - 01:26 AM

Adrian gave me a star :wub: